thoughts on feeding community

The second installment of Food Notes comes to you later than expected. I’ve retreated to the beach with my mom and brother. The ability to work outside in the quiet here offers me the time to clear my mind, something that has felt increasingly harder to accomplish. I’ve returned to this beach for as long as I can remember. It feels like home but devoid of the weight of sentimentality that home always seems to unload.

Last week I listened to a virtual conversation with Sandor Katz hosted by Now Serving, a Los Angeles based cookbook store, to promote his new book Fermentation as Metaphor. What I thought would teach me new fermentation techniques—some takes on kimchi, vinegar, perhaps?—instead got me thinking like this for the past week:

After listening to the talk twice, I decided to read the new book that Katz was promoting. The book was honestly underwhelming. It felt like just a one-hundred page manifesto of Katz’s beliefs coupled with microscopic images of his household ferments. So, rather than you spending the time parsing through this yourself, I’ll share what resonated with me most.

Food and food production are quite profound as we try to shift our relationships to the Earth and to one another. Food can be a means of building and strengthening community. Producing food is a very ethical way to channel one’s energy. You’re doing something productive and creating some sustenance for yourself and other people. Localizing food production stimulates local economies more broadly, by recirculating resources rather than extracting them. Getting involved in food production can also help us feel empowered and more connected to the world around us.

While cooking at an artist residency a few summers ago, I was most impacted by the experience of engaging in the local food economy of Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Almost all of the food that I used in my cooking was sourced nearby. The produce was handed to me directly by Farmer John down the road, the meat was slaughtered by Brett across the River. I drove to pick up all of the ingredients I worked with, seeing the land that everything came from for myself. I had never had the experience of knowing so intimately where my food came from.

The food practice I had that summer is what Katz describes as critical for everyone to have: to engage in local food consumption, which, in turn, creates the potential for the growth of community-driven food production.

Our dominant food system is polluting, resource-depleting, and wasteful, and what it produces is nutritionally diminished, causing widespread disease. Perhaps, even more profoundly, it deskills and disempowers people, distancing us from the natural world and making us completely dependent on systems of mass production and distribution … Expanding local and regional food production, and in the process transforming the economy that goes along with it, is the only real food security.

What Katz is advocating here suggests educating people on how to produce food themselves, which expands upon the ethos of “do-it-yourself fermentation”. Providing people with the means to produce their own food offers a sustainable model for combating food insecurity.

Last Fall, I had the opportunity to spend time with artist and community worker Linda Goode-Bryant, the founder of Project EATS: a response to the global food crisis in 2008. Originally a gallery owner, Goode-Bryant has shifted her art practice from working within the art world to community organizing centered around food justice in New York City:

I believe firmly in the fact that communities should be growing their own food. I think [COVID-19] has made that even more clear—that our food supply and food prices are determined outside our communities. If we were growing food right where we live, we could steward it, protect it, and make it available in ways that make it possible for everyone to have and eat fresh and nutritious food.

Over dinner Linda spent a lot of time talking with me about her vision for the project, emphasizing that the farms that her project works to establish directly benefit the communities they are in: providing them with nutritious fruits and vegetables, a place of employment, and an opportunity for young people in the area to come to learn about farming. I’ve added a recent interview with her to the foot notes that gives more justice to her work than I can synthesize in this newsletter.

Fermentation takes time. Its change is gentle, inherently sustainable and ever-evolving: “an infinite source of mutation, transformation, and regeneration”. That’s at least the condensed metaphor of fermentation that Katz articulates in his book. While I’m still unconvinced of the fermentation metaphor and I have a long way to go myself (ask my roommate Jess about my gardening fail by way of Kaleidoscopic Carrots), I am compelled by the call to invest in local food production as a way of being connected not only to the environment, but to my community.

foot notes

on chocolate …

Speaking of understanding the dynamics and ethics at play in food production and distribution … chocolate has been swirling around in my Twitter feed this week:

otherwise …

This week I’m really interested in what food discoveries you all have made over the past year. Following this newsletter, I’m going to start a thread to begin a conversation, please join me! And, thank you to all who read my last note and baked the cookies from my recipe. It means so much to me — a new recipe will be in the next note, which will be more focused on what I’ve been cooking and eating recently.