I’ve spent the last week in Portland learning about, and eating, very good food. I was attending a training for my new job teaching gardening, nutrition education, and food systems to elementary school kids in Oakland. (The name of the organization is not important. Or so they would like me to say. Basically, if I express any political beliefs I’m not allowed to associate with them. And I have and will continue to express beliefs the organization will think are political and will continue to do so, so we’ll just call the organization I’ll be with for the next year Carrotz4Dayz. )
And the training was great. sort of. For about 9 hours a day I had a steady stream of useful information delivered to me via powerpoints, hands-on lessons, stories, assemblies, videos. It was was an onslaught I was neither ready nor necessarily retained; but that’s what notes are for.
If I took home anything, it was this: food is powerful.
And I believe that, right? I mean, I’m working in food justice for chrissakes. I know that. I know that.
Sometimes I feel we are subconsciously raised to devalue food in developed capitalist countries. I feel this in the way we skip breakfast before work or class. I feel this in how we lunch eat at our desks, staring at a screen. I feel this in how we only allot minimal time to eat, or consider grocery shopping a chore.
I feel this in how, if you’re a poor college student or a poor college graduate who has gone out to eat more than you are financially able because of exhaustion or limited time or lack of adequate cooking facilities, your friends are probably familiar with the lament that you “wasted money on food.”
This was not a mentality I was raised with. I think back on being possessive over a special snack or hiding a piece of chocolate from my father, who was notorious for taking what he wanted from the fridge, even if you told him you were saving it, even if you wrote your name on it. I’d shake the empty wrapper furiously at my dad and my mom would tell me, “It’s food. We don’t need to hoard it. We can always get more food.” Even when money was tight, food was top priority, even foods that fell outside the realm of necessity.
To this day, food is something I consistently try not to skimp on in my limited budget. It’s such easy happiness. And I thinking budgeting down to only repetitive essentials on food is the quickest way to feel the misery of paycheck-to-paycheck.
I’ll be living that way regardless, but if I can make myself happy with some ice cream, or mangoes, or avocados, I’m probably gonna.
Anyway, even knowing all of that, even going into my preferred profession, even while I am considering continuing my education in food justice, a little voice in the back of my mind was still like really though? How much impact can food actually have on your well-being? As long as you’re getting enough, and a have a balanced diet, does liking what you eat really make that much of a difference? I mean, it does to me, but does it matter that much people in general?
At the end of the week, I was dropped off at the airport by a family friend I’d visited. We’d gone to Pip’s Donuts, and I grabbed a dozen fresh mini-donuts to bring home to my boyfriend, as he’d been pestering me all week to at least try that donut shop. In classic Portland fashion, flavors included things like blackberry lavender and sea salt chocolate and raw honey.
I went to check-in for my flight at the automated kiosk and realized I’d misread my ticket. The connecting flight I’d completely forgotten about, despite checking my ticket multiple times, boarded in 30 minutes. I was too late to check-in.*
Wide-eyed, I made my way over to the Alaska assistance desk. I told them I misread my ticket. One of the attendants kind of laughed at me because I was so pathetically close to making my flight. A flight Carrotz4Dayz was paying for, a flight I had little flexibility with. I asked what my alternatives were. The attendants checked. The flights to San Jose were full. The flights to Oakland were full. The flights to SFO were full.
If I wanted, I could upgrade to first class for another $200 and pay close to another $200 for the last minute upgrade. Or I could try another airline, where I was unsure my organization would cover any of my flight. I’d just gotten paid after over a month of no income and my funds were already pretty earmarked. Please, I said. Were there any other options?
One of the attendants walked over to another computer and started rapid fire typing in possible flights. The other tried to walk me through viable options so I wouldn’t be out $200 – $400 for my mistake. I stood, bracing myself for another two weeks of self-inflicted financial discomfort.
Finally, the first flight attendant returned with a flight to SFO that afternoon with one seat left, in price range my organization would cover. I had to pay a small flight change fee, but would otherwise be set.
I almost cried. Instead, I set my box of donuts on the table and opened them. Please take one, I said.
We’re ok, they insisted. They’re fresh, I said. I just bought them. This was enough for the first flight attendant to select a blackberry lavendar. The other hesitated. I’m ok, he repeated.
Are you sure, I asked, holding the box a bit closer.
No, he said.
I convinced him to take a bacon-covered one since I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it in my vegetarianness anyway. The donuts were grade-A and they asked me to write down the name of the shop. I thanked them profusely for the inexpensive flight change and made my way to the gate. I thought about gratitude. And food’s power to convey it, among so many other things I haven’t been giving it enough credit for. And how fresh donuts could say more than a “thank you,” or even a blog post ever could.
*Part of me wants to blame the 5 consecutive days of informational onslaught for putting my brain at capacity and crowding out the important information of when I needed to check-in for my damn flight. Part of me knows that me forgetting this critical detail is perfectly in character.