For a dinner party to be a transformative political-cultural experience, we need to find delightful ways to make connections … to farms, producers, culture, history and memory … to other spaces, like urban farms, solidarity networks, educational resources, organizations working on policy … and to models for alternative community economics.  We don’t want to give speeches, so we try to integrate information into the physical landscape of the evening, and to make it participatory and playful – party games! Here’s our manifesto.

We like maps. Once we put up a map, encircled by the words “These are your farmers, This is your foodshed.” There was an index card pinned to the map for each ingredient, showing a photo of the farmer, a list of the markets where they sell their produce, and then a line from the card to the location of their farm on the map.

Working with Felix Jacques Frey’s idea that the metropolis contains villages that take the form of traveled networks with specific nodes, we also put a huge map of LA on the wall and invited guests to add pins. Each guest received a unique color-coded set of pins along with tags on which they could write the name and description of their favorite foods in the city. Of course people wanted to discover one another’s favorite treats. When these conversations happen in front of the map, all kinds of discoveries emerge – history, geography, community, memory.

The Viand makes food more meaningful, brings it alive for people, connects food to community, and stimulates guests to talk about their own stories, food memories, cooking experiences, comfort foods… And then links out to the economics and politics.

The Political Economy of Food is a class I created in 1998 (waaaaay before local food was popular). The class involved eating, because we were hungry. It involved meeting our farmers (because they made all the abstract economics real), it involved cooking (so we could put in practice what we learned about sustainability)… More info about the class and a link to the syllabus is here.

The connections are themselves connected, weblike, and different diners will be interested in different threads. Some people are concerned about health and nutrition, others about the fate of family farmers or farmworkers, others about the safeguarding of food culture, some with growing and preserving their own food, and others with the decline in food quality and freshness. The Viand is an opportunity to build on people’s interests, and to stimulate new intellectual and political interests among those for whom, before tonight, it was “just food”. We don’t aim for people to leave with just one specific logic, but with an abundance of ideas accompanying the abundance of tastes they have experienced. We’ve posted handfuls of news and ideas here among the event photos and recipes. We trust you to follow up, and, when you’re ready, to create your own connections.