Over days 13 and 14, while eating only rice and beans, I had a unique opportunity to see the diversity of food which can be sourced primarily from local establishments and farmers in the middle of a Colorado winter. During these last two days, I’ve been at the Local Food Summit in Denver. About 400 Denver local food professionals had the chance to speak to one another, share our perspectives with elected officials of the city and state, and find a new direct contact for fresh organic food such as Lion’s Mane mushrooms grown in the middle of winter. Keynote Speakers at the conference included Chef Ann Cooper, Alan Lewis of Natural Grocers, and Mayor Michael Hancock; all of them spoke about the necessary and real transformation of our food system that is taking place today and how much is still left to do.
During the summit, I spoke with the winning chef of the competition among professionals for who could cook the best locally-procured meal for a judges-panel of other chefs. She won with her Ricotta and Herb Stuffed Chicken Leg, topped with a palisade peach preserve reduction sauce; the plating was beautiful, I can only imagine it tasted as good as it looked. As we spoke about her dish and she flipped through closeup pictures—on day 14 of eating only rice and beans, all I could do was stare at her amazing meal—and not a casual stare. It was a lusty gawking like a newly pubescent boy seeing girls differently for the first time. Gandhi once said “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” In that humanely raised organic chicken which was beautifully plated, I didn’t see the face of God; I wasn’t that hungry. I saw the reflection of my life like the psychological “Mirror Stage” showing me my self-identity in my imaginary order. I saw my routine self in a whole new light, or more exactly, I imagined it.
What’s more imaginary than trying to empathize with people who suffer from food insecurity and chronic hunger and doing so by imposing an imaginary prohibition to only eat the same types of school meals they eat and to only eat them when 100 meals are provided for them? But what is empathy except the attempt to imagine ourselves in the situation of another?
In my food over the last couple days, I see my weakness for tasty food in the strong environment of producing delicious local food in the middle of winter. With rice and beans, I see the strength of students who are so hungry that they are willing to eat rice and beans for years as school meals in order to survive in the weak food environment of lush jungles in the DRC. I see the double-sided paradox of our food; something which is, but shouldn’t be.
I’m looking forward to the end of this round of 25 in Change which so far has made it possible to provide over 33,000 school meals in just 15 days (with 10 days left to reach 55,000 school meals), and the beginning of the Hunger Faith and Food Conference for a couple hundred clergy in the area which will feature a four-course meal I’m coordinating of Denver sourced food in the middle of three inches of snow. I’ve made over 20 different goat cheesecakes for this event to dial in the recipe perfectly, and the newest versions I’ve been shoving at friends and family to taste and tell me what they think, but I’m going to leave that story untold until we near the end of this round of Advocacy.
For the next 11 days, I commit to live in this paradoxical-tension between Haves and Havenots, definitely imaginary, but that is the only way to empathize locally with the radical other’s reality, and so far as I know, the only way to live a life that moves beyond the imaginary.