The Power of Gathering

There is power in the act of gathering.

Every two years, Terra Madre demonstrates that power by pulling crusaders of good, clean, fair food from every corner of the globe, descending on Torino for a week of intensely meaningful connection. Even once the workshops are over and the tents have been torn down, the ripples of those interactions extend far beyond Italy’s borders in the months and years that follow.

The weekend before I boarded my flight to Italy, that collective energy kicked into high gear at Eat Retreat. A four-day creative retreat of 40 food leaders from across industries and disciplines, in many ways Eat Retreat feels like a mini, domestic Terra Madre (but with more marshmallows).

I first learned about Eat Retreat when the directors - Kathryn Tomajan and Heather Marold Thomason - came through Chicago in search of ideas, local producers, and ingredients to feature, which would be held in the Midwest for the first time since Eat Retreat was founded in 2011.

If you know me, you know that I cannot pass up an opportunity to share the gospel of the Midwest, especially the farmers and producers who steward the land, promote biodiversity, and carry on the Midwestern food traditions of our grandparents, and those who lived from this land long before them.

Slow Food was present (directly or indirectly) in every aspect of Eat Retreat, not only in the spirit and shared values of conviviality, pleasure, and tradition - but in the meals we planned and cooked together. The Ark of Taste was featured prominently in the ingredients expertly sourced by culinary coordinator Lesley Stockton. We dined on Beaver Dam Peppers, Turkey Hard Red Winter Wheat, Pawpaws, and Anishinaabeg Manoomin Wild Rice. Oh, and a fair amount of American Rye Whiskey.  

There were Brandy Old Fashioneds and cheese curds. There was Malort. We talked about fish fry’s and meat raffles. We also talked about culinary appropriation, the food culture of poverty, and the connection between food/guilt/body image/sex.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised TSA allowed any of us to actually travel to Lake Delevan, Wisconsin. Attendees stuffed suitcases with citrus and mushrooms, knives and sharpeners, whole frozen fish from Alaska, sourdough starters and cricket flour. And even a moldy heritage breed Tamworth ham cured in a basement for four years!

I quickly learned that the Slow Food community has (unsurprisingly) been integrated into Eat Retreat for years! Jana Kinsman, the farmer and bicyclist behind Bike A Bee and 2016 Terra Madre Delegate attended Eat Retreat in Pennsylvania in 2015. Isabel Eljaiek, former Network Engagement Manager at Slow Food USA, attended Eat Retreat in the Finger Lakes in 2013 (and shared this Millet Muffin recipe!) Erdem Durgunoglu is a butcher and anthropologist who studied Slow Food in Turkey as a Fulbright Scholar! Eat Retreat co-founder Kathryn Tomajan attended the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra! Next year, when Eat Retreat 2017 rolls around, I would encourage the Slow Food community to apply and continue building on these national and international bonds.

Gatherings like Eat Retreat and Terra Madre sustain our spirits and inspire us to continue the long and hard work of fighting for the food system we all imagine is possible. Gathering provides us the opportunity to share our food identity and traditions with others, so we can continue to weave our stories together. Gathering shows us new ways of thinking and doing that we’ve never encountered before. And gathering sets the stage for the countless future projects, ideas and collaborations that will come from the relationships formed in a particular place and time when we meet, eat, drink, and depart as changed people.   

This piece originally appeared on Slow Food USA's blog on October 28, 2016.

International Women's Day

Thanks to Slow Food USA for celebrating International Women's Day and featuring women from around the country who are working towards a good, clean, fair food system! #IWD2016

"I am driven by the belief that everyone deserves access to good food. International Women's Day happens to also be my mother's birthday, which seems completely fitting given how powerful all of our mothers and grandmothers are in building community and culture through their kitchens and recipes. Today as we celebrate the contributions of women to farms, fields and kitchens around the world, let's also recognize that we have a long way to go to reaching a food system that is truly equitable. I am committed to carrying out the work of generations of women before us to feed our families, nourish our communities, and cultivate a just food system for all. " - Cortney Ahern, Slow Food Chicago