I got back from France on Tuesday, with what I have taken to calling "my Parisian cold," crammed in the work, and made it to the Food, the City, and Innovation Conference at UT (specifically, The Food Lab at UT) this past Friday/Saturday. In fact, that trip to France was compelled for many reasons, but primarily for getting up-to-date intel on what the France start-up scene looks like in the food systems sector. Not just so I can be a part of that dialogue as well and connect us with the innovations over there, but also to figure out which one of the many ill-fitting, half-made hats I am trying on these days -- putative food entrepreneur, food system critic/problem-solver to entrepreneurs -- suits me best.
Between the head cold, the work, the brain-smashingingly awesome new jargon I learned (e.g., "hyper-local" and "restorative ecosystems" and "food system resiliency" and "bio-economy") that infuses the debate about local, sustainable, urban agriculture, by the time Friday night's dinner rolled around I was doing good just to get myself there. I had no idea what it was that I had purchased a ticket for months earlier. But someone had come all the way from Delaware just to see her friend, Molly O'Neill, run this show. I started to take it all a bit seriously.
All I knew was the space was gorgeous. We were there early, Melissa and I, to be almost first in line at the bar (tequila tasting, etc. and an actually pretty darn good Texas wine) and take in what this place, this thing was going to be.
As in many, many things, I was starting to learn that I am a little late to the party on this food systems stuff. Yet I come at it from such a different perspective - funding/legal challenges these folks face as they (we) seek to change the world (lawyers, we're such total buzzkillers) - but even though I am late, I am delighted to be seeing my city in a whole different light. Much like I saw Paris for the first time in a very different way this time: the young, hipster, smart entrepreneur/challenge the system side. (Young being an operative word.)
I had just learned about Hope Farmers Market that day, and it so happens that this particular market, when it happens, is at this Pine Street Station where the LongHouse Food Revival Dinner was happening. It is a complex of old barn buildings or lean-tos, with rafters, soaring ceilings, and metal siding and roofing, just east of I-35, which can be rented out for private events. Exquisitely rustic. I take pictures. I look for snacks to accompany the really not bad at all, and really pretty good, Texas red wine. Melissa finds Iliana de la Vega. They do their gorgeous Spanish thing. I do not even try to keep up.
Soon we are herded from the now very energetic crowd of folks around the bar, under the lights, into a separate room, one that is not the dining room. This concerns me, as I am very hungry. And the dining room looked so adorable all set up improvised like in a farm to table dinner-at-the-field/farm dinner.
But as the music starts -- guitars, some percussion, some singing -- I am easily distracted from the crankiness of no food. (The tamales out for aperitif dining were great, but I stopped after a couple of halves....practicing moderation.)
I am handed a gorgeous program. I am very critical of printed products. This one is really well done: lovely font, lovel graphics, right size. I sit on a back row with new friend, whom I figure out I must have partied with here in 1990 in the early post-grad school transition year to law school, and long-time friend Melissa from that same era (who also knew said new/re-met friend).
Now the magic begins. LongHouse Food Revival is a multi-media performance art statements of sorts about food. Our food stories. Our communities and our food, our personas and our food. Including recipe demonstrations -- Iliana de la Vega - poems, with powerful visual background of a daughter's recounting her memories or mother's soup juxtaposed against the loss of her mother to dementia; more music, interviews - with Gustavo Arellano of the Ask a Mexican column - with Melissa Guerra, a Nortena, whose husband, Kiko, we learn is the one out there cooking the cabrito. Ah, so there's a goat on the fire. That's what that's all about out there.
We hear this other Melissa's back story, her 300+ year old cattle ranch around the border, the many hours of getting here, the many hours her awesome husband (her words) has been tending the cabrito - just for us to eat.
It is cumulatively charming, inspiring. Even with the flawed sound system.
Molly has some serious verbal skills. I was a little jealous, yea, but between my cold and the red wine, I just sat back and delighted in her prose in setting up the various stages of this event, in explaining what she does - to those of us who were clueless.
LongHouse Food Revival is this:
Based on the 19th century American Chautauqua movement, LongHouse Food Revivals are a series of annual gatherings of thought leaders across the United States. The Revivals are designed to stretch the boundaries of how food stories are told, raise the bar on the nation’s food news agenda and, most of all, foster the community between generations, regions, cultures and media platforms that support innovative work of the highest quality. Produced by CookNScribble, the online educational resource and virtual editorial office for food writers, bloggers and producers, LongHouse Food Revivals are intimate gatherings that are large in vision. No two Revivals are alike. All are serious fun
After that, I lingered. I loaded up on beads, set up in the bottom bin of a rustic wood display stand. Molly applauds me for getting that I needed to get some beads. The NOLA thing in me I guess. I see beads. I grab. Told Molly, genuinely, this was so well done. I love it. Needed it. Have found my people.
At the end of all that, and then the meeting of new friends--the Shrimp Boat Projects guys, a landscape architect professor specializing in urban agricultural designs and rhetoric (I felt very out-intellectualized)--there were small cups of Mexican hot chocolate. Some ice cream. I went for the chocolat chaud.
Said newfound old acquaintance of mine, who does a lot of cool things in Austin, echoed my own random thoughts at about that same time when she said: This is the coolest thing I have ever done in Austin.