If the lace-up crowds and white tents covering our public parks have made you roll your eyes over the years, I feel you. Food & Wine Classic in Aspen comes to town every June, whether we’re ready for it or not.
And from the side, looking at, well, outside, I’ve probably made assumptions too often. But this year, a work-related opportunity has allowed me to peek behind the canvas curtains, and my somewhat skeptical self has mended, or at least straightened out a bit.
Previously, in what seems to be a different life in another local magazine, my experience may have been a bit superficial. But now, from an additional perspective, I see that this event is not only about indulgence and excess (although there is plenty of both). I may have wandered into some of the right tents, but I quickly realized that many of the speakers and presenters seemed to be in good faith touching on some pressing social issues and adding more than just a touch to the climate discussion.
They asked their audience to reflect on how food truly provides so many opportunities to improve our impact on the planet, support our sense of connection, and provide ways to express and pay for that passion for food. And food, in my experience, can start some of the best, most open-minded conversations.
Then again, perhaps the conversations I had were unique and perhaps a little evoked by the pink beer – or should I say wine – glasses we all seemed to be wearing after a few hours. But the energy certainly seemed a lot less justified and a lot more fun than the crowds that our city I’m more used to often draws.
I can honestly say that the infusion of eclectic people the event draws in was more educationally appetizing than I imagined. There was a general curiosity that reminded me of sitting in an inspiring seminar in college where the students were hungry for new ideas and, of course, hungry for food. And there was, believe it or not, a level of appreciation and gratitude for the experience that I never expected.
Maybe it was all about sharing good food.
Sharing food connects us on a more intimate and even molecular level. After all, humanity depends on the exchange of food. We are accustomed to sharing food and we can still live or die through food addiction. Our human existence has always depended on a common table, and since then our sense of community has developed from this space. So I guess it’s only natural to find a more conventional place for open discussions when there’s food.
This may be my observation, but it’s not just my opinion. For decades, social science fact-finders have studied how eating together helps people feel closer, communicate better, and come to consensus more naturally—a topic I crave more.
We’ve been in a drought lately too when it comes to “breaking bread” and exchanging ideas with others. First, the pandemic and social distancing have created a desire to avoid too much contact (and therefore connection) when it comes to food, or at least eating out. Add to that a retreat into tribalism with less eclectic gatherings of different people with different ideas.
And now, again, we’re fighting a whole new era of restaurants for Aspen, filled with fewer local options available, resulting in many missing our former favorites and struggling to find this new place where everyone knows your name, and social ties cover some social ties. -economy.
However, we cannot resist the attraction to others and this feeling of a shared table. That may be because this is nothing new: we have retained the part of the brain that relied on millennia of sharing food to survive. The primary social structure built relationships and taught us to trust our tribes.
We yearn for more, yearn for those connections, and while we may have drifted apart, we will navigate this new landscape to find ways to revive our center. It was at the center of many of the conversations I enjoyed over the past weekend and it gave me a very fulfilling feeling.
Maybe we’ll even recover in a way that brings us closer by finding new ways to come together around food. Spaces and places that offer us the opportunity to share food can flourish, perhaps when we understand that food doesn’t have to be decadent, formal, or pretentious.
Maybe we need to have more picnics or fortify our neighborhoods with food parties. Perhaps having fewer affordable and more expensive eateries will encourage creative thinking, leaving room for abandoning the notion that someone else’s food is somehow our only food-centric social option. And perhaps our new catering establishments could recognize that great food must also include integrity and coherence as ingredients.
Maybe the inflationary economy will be the last push we need to push us towards more backyard barbecues and homemade goodies, community gardens and greenhouses. Perhaps we will become more aware of how severe food insecurity can be and find ways to waste less and share more. Perhaps these idealistic musings are too Pollian for your taste, but why not let some of them simmer while the challenges of our age seep in?
Let’s trade a piece of my mind for some peace of mind; for if we always agree, what shall we talk about? Britta Gustafson values open-mindedness; share yours and email her at [email protected].