Story of Self, Story of Us, Story of Pizza

Jul 10th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog

About a month and a half ago, I attended a three day punk festival in Montreal. Late one night, exhausted and hungry after spending the previous hours crashing and clashing with the crowd at Dillinger Four, I and a couple of the folks that had been spending the weekend with went in search of sustenance. Given the hour and our budgets, we ended up at a greasy pizza joint, trying to figure out what exactly the alarmingly orange pellets on the “Montreal” were. Our confidence in the place was increased somewhat, though, by the presence of one of the bands that we had seen earlier, munching quietly at one of the formica tables. 

As we waited for our slices (including a piece of the mysterious Montreal) to be revived from their heat lamp stasis, a belligerent drunk stumbled in and began hassling the woman working the register. Things were escalating in a bad way – he threw his drink across the floor, she threatened to call the cops, he responded with volume – until the bassist from the other band stepped up and diffused the situation. A gaunt, angular dude dressed all in black with the exception of red Keds, he convinced the drunk to leave, placated the hostess, then came to shoot the breeze with us for a bit. Language barriers placed some pretty severe limitations on our conversation, but we stumbled along long enough to lick the grease from our fingers and part ways. 

In many ways, it was a disgusting meal. The pizza had been made hours ago – at the very earliest – from ingredients chosen far more for their resilience and ability to deliver on fat and salt content than health, freshness, or nuanced flavor (not to mention any sort of ethical or sustainability concerns). However, at 2 am, it was the perfect meal for a bunch of grubby punks. Even better, it provided the space for an impromptu community to temporarily spin itself into existence. I’ll likely never see any of the people from that night ever again, but, in that place, in that moment, we were all responsible for each other. However briefly, we took care of each other. It was pretty beautiful.

Which is all a very longwinded way of saying that I’m deeply suspicious of the tendency within the food movement to focus on intimately shared, tender moments like individual meals. This shared pizza met many of the criteria of that someone like Berry or Pollan might revel in. It brought people together. It founded community. It was pretty damn delicious. It also had absolutely no connection to a just, sustainable food system. It’s a terrible paradox of the food movement: while it’s crucial (and really easy when dealing with food) to foster personal connection, it’s also really easy to get stuck at that place and fail to connect our individual experiences to the leviathan that we are tied up in.

I find community organizer Marshall Ganz’s “Story of Self, Story of Us, Story of Now” model to be really useful. Within this framework (which I’m probably grossly oversimplifying – sorry), you first articulate a personal link to the issue at hand, then find systemic connections, then finally determine an immediate action forward. My pizza story didn’t really follow that arc at all. However, it did meet the goals of this prompt. What should we do with that?

 

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