My food writing workshop last Sunday (5/31) at the San Francisco Writers Grotto exceeded my wildest expectations! Not only were the 9 international participants totally interesting, worldly, and open, but they rose to every challenge gladly and graciously. Rather late in the game I asked them to bring dishes of personal or cultural significance to introduce themselves, and they provided delicious, funny, poignant feasts for all the senses. Both Ellen and I asked them to dig deep into their personal, family and cultural histories and share, and they did. It all proved that food is one of the primary ways ethnic groups are able to maintain identity and ritual in the larger society (which of course is also being transformed by these global food ways).
Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.
–Jonathan Safran Foer
And our guest speakers were the cherries on top. Virginia Miller is SO delightfully, infectiously enthusiastic you must love her, and her journey from part-time blogger (The Perfect Spot) to full-time food and drink writer and editor for Zagat is unbelievably inspiring (she’s also one of the hardworkingest gals in food writing, so don’t try this at home, kids!). One of the coolest things she shared was her determination to develop her palate for every food; some things have taken her years to learn to appreciate, but “if an entire country can love it, why should’t I?” The dynamic, multi-talented director, writer, creative consultant Ellen Sebastian Chang led two wonderful writing/performing exercises – one about “sexy” food moments. For her, sharing a meal is an act of storytelling, just as choosing what and where to eat are political acts. After talking the talk, she walked the walk, feeding us a lunch from the innovative FuseBOX she runs with her husband partner, with some addictive add-ons like white miso cream cheese (!) and the most flavorful micro-sprouts I’ve ever tasted. Can’t wait to see both women again!
We use our love of food to access family, culture, and emotions
I thought my contribution would be my Finnish mummi’s blueberry tart with rye crust (in which the fruit-loving child in me make peace with the rye-tolerating adult in me), but I ended up starting a piece about the moment I became addicted to coffee, which is of course about so much more.