Last week I went to the 'Open Beta Launch Party' for the Open Food Network (OFN), which was hosted at Nest coworking space in Thornbury to celebrate another milestone in that project and acknowledge their crowd funding partners.
The night included a great band, a demonstration of the sign-up process for OFN (which is really quick and easy) and a live cross to Terra Madre where Kirsten from the OFN team and Daniel from FarmHack told us what they're up to. Even with all this excitement, I reckon the centrepiece of the evening was a fantastic 'pot luck' dinner with plates of food that the guests brought to share. Having just organised a dinner for 100 people with a bunch of chefs I thought this was a well-chosen format!
Rather than simply ask people to "bring a plate" they asked for a plate with a story, which was fitting given the nature of the event and the philosophy behind the OFN. this request was at once more challenging, more interesting and more satisfying than picking up a chocolate cake from the supermarket en route.
I'm quite fond of the idiom "they have a lot on their plate", maybe it's because I like the idea of comparing life to food or maybe it's because, being the glutton that I am, I can relate to that overwhelming feeling of dishing up too much dinner and wondering how on earth I'm going to eat it all (and why on earth did I over-commit myself when I'm fully aware of my limitations).
In any case, when responding to the catering brief I began thinking abiut my plate and my story. I began thinking about my connection to food and and how I could manifest that in a tasty morsel to share with my fellow guests.
One of my earliest memories involving food is sitting in my grandparents' backyard downing a glass of cordial and a couple of gingernut biscuits. My grandmother, Eileen, always had a packet of Arnotts Gingernut biscuits in her pantry, which is kind of funny because she had red hair and apparently her nickname in primary school was "gingernut", which she hated. Obviously her love of the biscuits outweighed any negative connotations to the name. I was very close to my grandparents and spent a lot of time with them when I was very young while my parents were working long hours. No matter how I was feeling or what had happened at school I always knew Gran would have a delicious gingernut and a cup of tea for me.
Eileen died the morning after my 18th birthday party, exactly half way through the summer break between finishing year 12 and starting uni. An awful lot has changed in my life since then but I still love a good gingernut biscuit and whenever I take a fresh batch out of the oven I conjure up those wonderful memories of my gingernut Gran and her endless tin of biscuits.
For me, food is intrinsically linked to people - people I care about. My best food memories involve some of my favorite people and they're memories I created with them. They might not have been the healthiest, most organic or most local thing on the table but I couldn't think of anything better than a plate of gingernuts to take to the OFN party and I couldn't think of a better story to share.
Preparing my contribution to the dinner really got me thinking about how we attach memories to food and how our memory prompts us to make particular choices or see things in a particular way. I have a few other thoughts on this but I think I'll leave it here and save some for another day.