In less than 48 hours a second edition of M.E.A.L will be taking place The Farm Centre, 420 University Avenue, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, Plant Earth. To say I am excited,would be a substantial understatement. The way things seem to be shaping up, this is going to be a fantastic evening. To summarize by letter:
What is MEAL all about? I've been asked this question umpteen times over the past month, as I've tried to subtly sneak it into conversations at every opportunity. It's a valid question and every time I've been asked it, I've been able to provide an answer. That being said, it wasn't until today, when Shannon and I were hashing out what we'd say during a CBC interview tomorrow, that I think I finally solidified the answer in my own head. So here is what I think MEAL needs to be about and what it needs to communicate:
MEAL is, ultimately, about Eaters starting to actively participate in conversations about the food system we all depend on daily. For too long the onus has been on our farmers to wave the flag for sustainable agriculture, to lobby the government for investments and appropriate policies, and to try to educate the masses about the many issues that farmers are facing and which, ultimately, will affect eaters.
So the key is the eaters. We are all eaters. Every single person on this island is an eater and if we are ever to affect change in agriculture and our food system., then we need to get on board with our farmers (who make up 2% of the population).
I see MEAL as one of many emerging opportunities for eaters to let farmers/food producers know that they are valued and appreciated. MEAL provides for dialogue to occur outside of the transcation-based interactions that eaters and farmers typically encounter each other at (e.g. the Farmers' Market). This is our opportunity, as eaters, to say 'Thank you and we are ready to stand with you and help develop a food system that will sustain all of us and the environment that we depend on.'
When Shannon and I first got together back in October to discuss the possibility of having another MEAL, we both agreed that the food sampling was a key part of the event and that we absolutely, without a doubt, needed to secure a Chef if we were going to go through with this crazy plan. Alas, our head Chef from A Local MEAL, Christine Farkas, had since departed PEI for the big city lights of Toronto, so the search for a new Chef began. As luck would have it, the search didn't take long, as we were tipped off that Chef Dave Mottershall of Red Shores Racetrack and Casino was a huge proponent of local food and an all-round awesome guy. When we explained what we were doing, Chef Dave agreed without hesitation. He also peppered the entire conversation with very enthuiastic 'this is AWESOME's and the such. Exorbitant amounts of energy seems to be a theme amongst the chefs I have met in the past year - Dave, Christine, Jonah, and Jared.
So, with our Chef lined up, we went about with planning other elements of the MEAL. We correctly anticipated that getting food donations would take a lot of legwork, however, what we did not anticipate was how amazingly generous everyone would be. We've been repeatedly overwhelmed our Island food producers. Without hesitation, everyone we have approached for donations of everything from lamb to cheese to beef tenderloin to turnips to wine has answered with an emphatic 'yes'. A lot of emails, phone calls, and accosting of folks (not really) took place over the past month, but the efforts were most certainly worth it!
Over the past week we've finally been able to get a visual of how much food has been donated, and all I can say is that I do not think we will be wanting for deliciousness at the Farm Centre on Thursday night. I just can't wait to see what Chef Dave creates from all the foodstuffs we've delivered!!!
A big component of MEAL is learning. I have found, in my travels and observations, that the best educators are the story-tellers. Rarely does an audience react to a fact-based, emotionless lecture, but they will almost always get behind a person who invites the audience into a slice of their life. With that in mind, we will have seven presenters sharing stories about food/farming from their unique perspectives. I'm pretty excited about the diversity we have - including a chef, an organic farmer, a conventional farmer, a documentary filmmaker, and a pair of vodka distillers.
The learning doesn't begin or end with the presentations, and it is our hope that MEAL will serve as a venue where eaters and food producers can have a dialogue about the challenges and opportunities facing us as we work towards shaping a local, sustainable food system. There is plenty to learn, plenty to do, and little time, so let's get together and get going!