Category: community

Dining At A Table Set For 2,000. Create: The Community Meal

It’s hard to describe dining at a half-mile long table set for 2,000.


My place at table 123 wasn’t just part of a meal, but a massive art piece that finally came to fruition after two years in the making.

Artist and host Seitu Jones was inspired to partner with Public Art St. Paul and plan CREATE: The Community Meal after watching people pass by his residence and studio located in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota carrying grocery bags of processed foods from the convenience store. He embarked on a food assessment of the community with the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and Afro-Eco to learn what factors drive people to choose unhealthier foods. The study identified cost, a lack of access, and lost sense of knowing how to cook whole foods to be these driving factors.

Volunteers played a pivotal role in cultivating community. They set up and tore down. They greeted us at every entrance gate and helped us find our tables. And at least one volunteer sat at each table to facilitate the moving pieces of the meal’s artistry.

Even the table settings had a very intentional layout.

recycling Collage

The whole event was designed to have zero waste and these Zero Waste Labs dotted each block. The place mats were handcrafted by Jones’ neighbor Mary Hark from neighborhood plants like burdock and rhubarb.

Empty seats were offered to those who were not able to reserve a ticket online and anyone else that wanted to join.

When it was time to eat, our hosts processed to the tables with platters of honey-ginger chicken they served in unison with gracefully choreographed movements.

meal procession watermark

We dove into the tender chicken with our fingers and enjoyed it with rice and beans, cornbread, salad greens and Salad Girl vinaigrette, and spicy collard greens with carrots and green beans all sourced within 40 miles (except for the rice). Of course, everything was served family style.

Meal Serving Collage

It’s impossible to be an island to one’s self while eating from platters meant to be shared. At some point, even the shyest person would have to ask for more of something, as every component was worthy of seconds. Chef James Baker of Elite Catering & the SunnySide Cafe prepared the type of meal that I will try to replicate over and over.

During my first year after college, I interned at Redeemer Center for Life located in the Harrison Neighborhood of Near North Minneapolis across the street from SunnySide. Elite catered some work events and I was filled with excitement when I first read that Baker would lead the menu.

Plate Watermarked

Throughout the meal, our gracious host facilitated discussions about our favorite childhood meals, favorite desserts and asked us to brainstorm one way we could overcome an obstacle in our community to healthy and sustainable food.

Growing up in Apple Valley, Minnesota, we didn’t eat too adventurously. Therefore, my favorite meals were the special occasions where we would order Chinese take-out. I’ve always had a taste for spicy foods and preferred savory over sweet, so as an adopted Korean, I was interested to learn that one’s food preferences can be influenced in utero. In my case, this explains a lot.

All of our food stories are so unique and worth exploring.

When the final bell sounded we read a closing written by Soyini Guyton that ended with the final words, “We wish to never forget the healing power of food, community, and love. We go in peace.” 

Those who walked by and wanted to dine was offered food and a seat at the table, yet some leftovers remained. These were offered to anyone who wanted to take them home and finally delivered to a shelter.

The rhythm of spoken word drew us down Victoria towards University and continued to weave personal stories of food and identity.

spoken word

Participating in Jones’ community meal was a humbling experience. There’s something humbling about being cared for by strangers.

I left overjoyed at connecting with old friends and making some new. Is there a better way to bring people together than over a meal? Good things happen when you break bread with strangers.

My Morning at TECHmunch & The State of My Union

We find ourselves back in the Twin Cities for a family reunion of sorts.  Jake’s brother just returned home from his second tour in Afghanistan and we’re elated.

On Saturday morning, I was able to attend TECHmunch.  I was humbled to wander amongst many who contribute to the Twin Cities’ vibrant food community and write blogs that I personally love.  Giant chocolate croissant from Patisserie 46 and smooth, Bull Run coffee in hand, I met my seat mates and soaked in thoughts from Andrew Zimmern, Jason DeRusha, and Daniel Klein.  Their workshops inspired me to begin the process of re-evaluating what on earth I am actually doing and where I would like to go.  
What is my voice and do I have a distinctive voice?  Am I trying to write about too many things in a mediocre manner or should I hone my focus and try to do one thing really well? 
I question whether my voice is compelling enough to sustain what I think I’ve been doing. . . sharing my experience as an adopted Korean in the Midwest (more recently, Fargo) and the interesting food that I meet and make.  Maybe I need to find more of a niche.
I am, by no means, an expert on anything, but I want to tell good stories.  Zimmern notes that it’s best to tell stories no one’s heard before.  It is my hope to merge memoir and food.  As I’ve mentioned previously, food is never just about the food.  I want to highlight the oddities, heartbreaks, irreverencies, and humor in life and connect these with food.  Life isn’t always pretty and it sure isn’t polite.  That’s what makes its stories all the more compelling.  
During my quarter-life, I’ve managed to simultaneously attract and pursue chaos which has gifted me with more stories than one might imagine a 27-year old might have.  And as Jake has pointed out, I have an uncanny food memory.  At any point of time, I can remember what I ate or drank along, with those who surrounded me.  I want to dig deeper and share more of my life as it connects with food, saving some of the best stories for later.  They may be too soon to tell.  
Simply put, I hope to connect my passion for food with better stories.  
I am a reluctant North Dakotan who continues writing my love song to the Twin Cities while exploring the cafes, cultural celebrations, and restaurants of North Dakota and rural Minnesota.  I’m an Asian who is just learning she is Asian.  As I explore markets and restaurants of all ethnicities, I want people to fall in love with the diversity of food and those to whom it’s connected.    
Somehow, I’ve also found myself behind in technology, a reminder that was all too apparent at TECHmunch.  I aquired my first smartphone this weekend and look forward to Instagramming and Tweeting with the best.  My Tweets have come from a laptop and I’m happy to announce this will occur no more.  I was late to the Twitter party, but look forward to using my new tool to further illuminate my blog and connect with those in our vibrant food communities.  Eventually, I’d like to transition to my own website or a self-hosted website.  If you have any suggestions, I’d love to know.  
Since April 2011, An Herbalist Eats has evolved from 70% food and 30% herbalism to 90% food and 10% storytelling/travel/opinion.  Although I have been very much influenced by my studies in herbalism, my heart is leading me to focus on food, exploration, and storytelling, allowing the herbalist to speak when it seems authentic.
This blog is my love song to food.  To the people who make food and the journeys to find it.  This is a love song to my life and to my home.  My old home and my new one.  I hope you will continue to follow my blogs and I, as we evolve.  

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