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Passion and Pride Through Young Eyes

Feast on the Street 9

I had never before attended an event designed so specifically for all things food-related.

Having never seen anything like this, you would think that my most inspiring memory would be of something monumental, like the mile-long table which spanned the entire event, or the numerous food trucks each with their own personality and long line of hungry and excited customers, or maybe even the dozens of 5-gallon buckets loaded with seedlings and plants for the mobile-garden-parade, solar-oven demonstrations, hand-crafted goods, people just wanting to talk, and a mobile seed bank truck spouting out stories and information over a bullhorn like a commanding preacher at Sunday mass. All of these elements were exciting and fun and I will always look back on them with a smile. However, there was one display which evoked more emotion and inspiration than the rest.

At first glance, most would not think much of the horseshoe setup of tables dressed with white tablecloths and covered with stacked baskets of freshly harvested vegetables slowly being cooked by the hot Arizona sun, even though partially covered by a small white canopy.

In fact, I would have walked past it myself had I not made eye contact with the young boy standing in front of the display. He was shy, but solemnly asked for a donation. I was interested and thought that there had to be more to the story, so I began to inquire about their display and why exactly they were participating in the event. He quietly told me about their organization, Tigermountain Foundation, a non-profit community garden which targets the youth for participation. Upon showing more interest, a second young boy appeared and was eager to talk about the garden and how they both helped to grow all of the vegetables and harvest them. Their pride and confidence began to emerge, and as I watched I became fascinated and excited at the fact that gardening was truly something special and important to these two boys. Amazing! I thanked them both, gladly handed over a modest donation and bagged a few carrots and jalapeños from their collection to take home. I didn’t expect this brief exchange to stand out in my mind, but as the following days passed I could not dismiss the importance of what I had witnessed.

When I saw these two boys and their passion and pride for growing their own food it gave me a sense of hope that maybe someday gardening will be a bigger part of all of our lives, and not solely left up to large profit driven corporations to figure out how to grow it, engineer it and deliver it to our dinner plate. A growing primary concern of mine is the food infrastructure and in what direction it is headed. We went from the days of early settlers who focused almost exclusively on food, its production, harvest and storage to modern times where knowledge about the origin and processing of our food is at the bottom of the priority list for the average citizen. As a result, our whole system has gone totally awry and will eventually prove itself to be unsustainable.  As you walk through the grocery isle tonight, or as you prepare those carrots and jalapenos for your dinner I urge you to think to yourself, “Where did this food come from? Who grew it? What pesticides were used? Are the crops genetically modified? Was there any passion or excitement put into growing this crop?” At your typical grocery store, you’ll never know the answer to all of those questions. However, when sourcing from your local farmers market, community gardens and even from food grown in your own backyard you’ll know the answer to each and every one of those questions, and you will feel a new satisfaction during the simple act of eating dinner.

Gardening is cool, it’s important, and these two boys from Tigermountain Foundation totally get it!!! My hope is that we all follow their lead.

Be sure to visit both Tigermountain Foundation and Feast on the Street.org. I hope that inspiration finds its way into your heart and garden too!

With gratitude,

Sean Macdonald

Meeting Dr. Campbell

A week before my birthday I remember having a conversation with Sean about how excited I was at the thought of our new venture slowly coming to life; our dream of owning a restaurant (more on that later).

I was ranting about how I wrote three pages of topics for educational classes and events we could host and then rambled on and on about my newest and grandest idea; a book-club dedicated to reading about food and getting Authors to come out and do book signings and lectures. Then I said something along the lines of, “If the author from, The China Study ever came to Arizona I would be in awe.”

Well, wish granted! The next week and the night before his appearance we found out Dr. T. Colin Campbell would be at Pomegranate Café doing a lecture. Tickets were expensive but we had planned a weekend trip to eat there for my birthday lunch anyway and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet one of my greatest sources of inspiration

My decision to become vegetarian started when a friend lent me, The China Study.

As much as I love to read I have never been interested in factual or scientific novels. Among my favorite’s were Mary Higgin’s Clark’s suspenseful murders, Ann Rue’s true crime mysteries, Jennnifer Weiner’s practical woman theatrics and who doesn’t love Harry Potter? I was at a point in my life where I shredded my chicken with scrutiny because the thought of anything but the white fluff in the meat turned my stomach. I was on the fence about becoming vegetarian. The China Study is what pushed me overboard. Not just a splash in the water either; a full dive to the bottom of the sandy banks and back to the surface with a new outlook on food and life.

The book launched me into an obsessive need to read countless other books about food. I’ve got about ten under my belt and a wish list that keeps growing. Now those other fiction-based books seem so bland and unimportant. The China Study was my life changer and my gateway to turning a new leaf. It shocked and frightened me just how little I knew about my food and now I had to know everything. The more I read the more it pushed me into a need to get away from factory farmed meat, genetically modified plants and closer to the communities of people who cared about what was going into their bodies. So for the second time since our son was born we left him a bottle and in the care of my sister and her husband and we made a birthday dinner date to see Dr. Campbell.

Cassie, owner of Pomegranate Café, greeted us at the door and made sure to tell us she was spreading the word about our restaurant opening up in East Mesa. She (being another one of my sources of inspiration) made me gleam from ear to ear. This is why I love being a part of this community – you meet amazing and supportive people that care about good food and the ingredients that are put on a plate, not their competition.

It was also a nice surprise to see my photography professor from ASU show up at the event (besides being an amazingly encouraging and compassionate human being, she saw my post about it on Facebook and I am happy to have reached an audience, – even if just one single member). We counted about fifty heads and they all piled into the restaurant placing orders for drinks and finding a spot to sit. I stared at the menu playing tug of war between the Chai or the Summer Breeze juice. Cantaloupe was just coming into season and was enticing but I settled for the warm cup of Chai with almond milk. I was immediately jealous when I saw everyone else sipping from their brightly colored mason jars of freshly pressed juices. Sean ordered a coffee with hemp milk. It was his one comfort after a long workday.

Pomegranate served up a delicious vegan meal of creamy pea soup, farm fresh greens and raw flatbread sandwiches stuffed with mushrooms, sprouts and other colorful vegetables that performed a silent symphony of beautiful colors. One thing I have come to learn about good food is that a plate with a variety of colors displayed upon it will dazzle your every sense and leave you with a feeling of satisfaction like nothing else in this world.

Then came the main event. Because Dr. Campbell was on New York time and due to speak at the Mayo Clinic at 6:30am the next morning, his lecture was brief. He gave a brief overview about his book then talked about his non-profit organization the, T. Colin Campbell Foundation and how they were trying to change the world’s view of food. In the end his message was clear; government was set to uphold and sustain a system that is in place and frankly … stubborn. A grassroots movement was taking place and those had to be the people to help spread the word and make a change in the world. Butterfly’s fluttered in my stomach as I thought about our future restaurant; our gamble with our once secure lifestyle to pursue our passion for a greater cause.

Now I don’t have fantasies about meeting movie stars or famous people, although I might get excited about meeting a musician whose music I admire or perhaps the President if ever there were an opportunity, but when it came to meeting Dr. Campbell I was star-struck. I stood in line with my copy of, The China Study and practiced my speech. In my head it sounded something along the lines of, “I know you probably hear this all the time but I just want you to know how much I admire you and that you changed my life. I want to make a difference in the world. If I hadn’t read your book, I wouldn’t have become a Vegan and my husband and I wouldn’t be fulfilling our lifelong dream of owning a restaurant.” Instead I handed him my book and stared at him, dumbfounded. “How are you doing today?” I asked and then mentally started to badger myself about how completely stupid that sounded.

My husband chimed in, “her name is Krystal. K-r-y…” I finished the spelling of my name for him as he scribbled the letters in my book and then muttered something about the restaurant and the educational classes and how we would love to have him out if the opportunity of presented itself. Then asked if I could get a picture with him. Minuets later I was shaking his hand goodnight and feeling my moment to shine slip into the darkness, still at a loss of words and dignity.

On the car ride home, as I dwelled over my embarrassing display of whatever it was that happened back at the restaurant, I still felt a sense of empowerment and excitement for my husband and our future; we were the grassroots movement of Dr. Campbell’s vision. Maybe we would be someone’s inspiration. We could change lives by following in the passionate footsteps of others; their passion was fuel for our fire.

I may not have made the impression I wanted or displayed my sense of gratitude in any way resembling the grandiose moment that we all see in movies but I still felt like the night was worth every second.

My book was signed and I shook the hand of the man that changed my life.

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Feast on the Street

I am living in an age of technological advances and an era built around convenience. You can find the location of any restaurant you want in one minuet by commanding your handheld, fit-in-your-pocket device to look it up for you. Let’s face it, every major corporation or small business has the same goal: to save you time and money.

We build our lives around this idea when in fact we have neither time, nor money. We wake up to agendas that barely leave us time to stuff our face with the one thing that will keep us alive – our food. How convenience and food got mixed up together makes sense but certainly make for a deadly combination.

Somewhere between the morning ritual of cologne and picking out the days outfit of this years latest trends we lost breakfast. We speed to our jobs in our cars pushing the speed limit on freeways that make it faster for us to get us to there. Maybe you have just enough time to use the drive through at Starbucks for your morning dose of sugar-loaded-cream and burnt tasting coffee beans. Most

of us will spend the day being “productive” by sitting at hard surfaced tabletops and staring at brightly lit computer screens. Human contact is the tiny voice talking to you through receiver on the other end of the black Cisco phone with the fancy transfer buttons, or coming out of one of the craziest devices I’ve ever seen invented – the Bluetooth headset; a plastic and rubber contraption you stuff in your ear that makes it look like we are all ranting lunatics talking to ourselves. I’d like to be an alien looking down at earth and watching us humans and our technology. It would be a comical display of dependency.

We lost lunch too. We get back in our speedy cars and gobble down whatever we can grab on our way to run those errands you can’t seem to squeeze into your schedule. Don’t forget that side of salty French fries that always seem to leave you wanting more.

But our biggest loss was dinner. Dinner is not a shared meal anymore. It’s a frozen meal of choice and everyone gets to choose his or her own entree.

It’s a box of hamburger helper cooked in less than 10 minuets; an array of corn based noodles with soy oils and fillers and not a spec of green color in sight. It’s a senseless meal gulfed down with your eyes glued to the television so you can catch up on your favorite shows. You probably won’t even remember eating it or remember the company of the person sitting next to you on the couch.

I only have one rule in my house. No TV’s in any room but the living room. There was a time when my husband and I first started living together in our one bedroom guesthouse on his family’s property that we had no TV at all. We never watched it and we were never home so we moved it to the garage and there it sat collecting dust for months. It did make a reappearance in our lives later but mostly for getting our daily Seinfeld fix (we watched the episodes so many times we could recite every line with our eyes closed) but even in all the years of this never ending marathon we never ate in front of a TV. We eat every meal together and enjoy the company of one another. I would be lying if I said in our more recent years together that the TV was never on (since How I Met Your Mother seems to have take Seinfeld’s spotlight) but we still come home to each other, sit together at the bartop and converse over a pot of boiling homemade veget

able stock or burritos with the beans we made from scratch, slowly simmered in spices and topped with the sprouts we grew in a jar by the kitchen sink. The act of cooking and eating together takes precedent in our lives. It’s our time to decompress, to vent and to enjoy the love and warmth of a meal while sharing yourself with one another. The smell of vegetables simmering in garlic and olive oil is enough to make anyone’s mind settle into a state of relief and relaxation. It will dazzle your every sense; it’s aromatherapy for the soul.

This act of sitting down together as a family is becoming extinct. So when I heard about the, Feast on the Street Event in Phoenix to dine at a dinner table half a mile long with strangers – I had to share in the experience.

I knew it was going to be a little bit of a challenge with the baby but it was something I simply could not miss and it would be our first big event together as a family. So we stuffed the diaper bag and packed hats, sunscreen and our reusable water bottles and off we went.

We got there right at 2:30pm and parking was only a blink away from Center street. The half-a-mile-long table was gleaming its pearly white clothes in the desert sun and it filled me with excitement. I couldn’t wait to be sitting together with everyone and toasting in celebration. We crammed as much as we could in between feeding the baby and waiting in line for the much-anticipated vegetarian Hot Dog at the Short Leash Hot Dog Food Truck.

The weather was quite warm so the tables stayed vacant during the early part of the day. People camped out in the small grass patch shaded by the food trucks. Our baby boy tangled his toes in the grass for the second time in his three months of life. In the evening when the sun was a little mor

e forgiving and the breeze picked up we parked ourselves at the very head of the biggest table you’d ever see and enjoyed every bite of our veggie dog with freshly made pinto beans and soft fluffy flat bread. Then topped it off with a vanilla and orange flavored vegan icy and made sure to throw our disposables in the proper recycling and composting bins lining the streets. I collected business cards like a mad woman and tried my best to be social when the little one wasn’t demanding my attention or setting off my Mom alarm. I was bummed that we missed the community salad toss where salad ingredients were thrown onto a huge parachute tarp and tossed together by participants. Word has it that the ingredients went up and then were carried away by the wind.

We talked to two young boys from The Tigermountain Foundation about the non profit organization they were a part of that was helping to bring better, healthier choices to the Phoenix food desert through their CSA program. It was so wonderful to see these two young boys, excited to talk

about the food they had grown and hear about the ways in which they were helping and building the community with gardening. They had a learned appreciation for food and plants and were passionate about being a part of the community. We made a small donation and they proudly gave us a few carrots and jalapenos that they had grown. I have no doubt this program was keeping many kids off the streets, out of trouble and instilling in them knowledge that many kids of our generation will regrettably miss out on; knowledge about the importance of food and it’s vital link to our communities and most cherished friendships.

Art and food were dancing hand in hand everywhere we went.

Propped up on the side of a building was a gigantic painting of a landscape outlined in pencil and sectioned off into squares. By the time it was completed everyone would have partaken in painting a lively scene of hot air balloons hovering over an Arizona landscape. Decorating the table were ceramic bowls and dried desert herbs and flowers with laminated placements that sported explanations for the unique use and history of each plant, created by Artist Joan Baron. We made sure to fill up our aluminum water bottles at the water filling stations (which was my only complaint since they kept running out and were hard to find). Children dressed in vegetables bounced and danced in a see-through white tent resembling something

like a scene in an independent film. There were solar cooking demonstrations and booths with information about classes and events from organizations and Meet-Up groups like Valley Permaculture Alliance and GMO Free Arizona. And to satisfy photographers from all walks of life, a scissor lift machine was giving rides to the sky; the perfect way to capture an aerial view photograph of an event making history.

We weaved through the brightly painted Home Depot buckets planted with the summers best fruits and veggies, soon to be parading through the street in the Plant Parade and carried by volunteers from the crowd. We were stopped by two anxious girls who gave us white hats with words on them, encouraging us to find strangers wearing the same hats and make different sentences out of them. Other hats handed out encouraged people to be at designated locations at certain times to meet a stranger and have a conversation. We met an invigorating young man who wasted no time introducing himself and earnestly involved himself in a conversation with our 94 year old grandmother. These hats were also part of the project for when helicopters captured pictures of the event from above they would surely see a traveling sea of white hats dancing together. Seeing all these young volunteers, gave me hope for the future of our food and our world. They were excited to give a moment in their lives to stop and talk to an old woman in a wheelchair or pass a piece of their passion for watching food and people come together in the ways in which history tells us.

What I loved most about the event was the giving of seeds. What better place to start changing the world of food then at it’s foundation.

Heirloom varieties of seeds were being handed out in plastic bags and water bottles. There were booths like, Seed Broadcast dedicated to the rich stories of seeds and people excited to educate the public about the importance of seed saving and sharing. It was reviving of a tradition rooted in our ancestry and I left the event eager to bring home new life to our garden and privileged to feel more connected to my food then I ever have before.

That evening the white folded chairs around the table were filled with people and our trip was being topped off with a sampling of beer from the beer garden and the six o’clock sunset toast, conducted by a Ford Expedition and a black bird moving slowly down the street along side the table and getting people to raise their glass in honor of food. Cheers! Until next year …

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For more photos of the event visit our Facebook Page!