Photos this post by Kenji Miura
Community. What is that?
This summer with an early September book deadline nipping at my heels, I was in the last mad dash to get my manuscript finished. And as I wrote, I thought a lot about community.
For I have many.
I cancelled the annual summer party (much to Christopher’s disappointment) and never did end up staying abreast of weeding my field (much to Tadaaki’s disappointment). But in the midst of this crazy-busy summer we had three different sets of visitors: Rachael Hutchings of La Fuji Mama blog, Mark Wideman, a friend of Outstanding in the Field, and Casa Brutus magazine with Todd Selby (aka The Selby) as photographer. Visitors coming mean I have to clean the house. That’s a good thing. It also means taking a day or so out of my life, not particularly prudent this summer, but completely rewarding for the renewed energy derived from exchanging ideas with people from outside our locale.
We don’t get out much. Truly. I invite friends over for Slow Food or holiday events and the occasional agricultural celebration, otherwise we don’t do much socializing. No movies. No small dinner parties (at our house or at a friend’s). It is just not part of our daily life. We may go out to the ramen shop or local Italian restaurant when no one feels like cooking; or Soba Ra or Ro when we have birthdays or visitors. But the basic model is: stay home, work at home, eat at home. Home is where life is.
One reason for this is because up until a few weeks ago, we lived with Tadaaki’s mother. As a farm wife, she was not used to going out to eat, so always a reluctant participant (or flat out refused to come). Though she did like Soba Ra (Western chairs for comfortable seating and phenomenal Japanese food). Baachan (as we called her), climbed into the bath on Monday, November 14, and slipped peacefully away from us. We are still a bit shell-shocked, but manage to make it through each day—now so much more quiet without her fretting or fussing about this and that. Dinnertime is positively a ghost hour. She used to be the center of attention with all of her foibles. Baachan drove us to distraction, but damn we miss her.
So, I guess first, community is family. (And that extends to my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews in California.)
After that, community is those with whom you spend your daily life. The little SSU! kids are my community. As are Alyssia, my teacher, and Yumiko, my assistant.
But this summer I began to think about my community in terms of the people from whom I buy my food. The fishmongers. The local farmers we use to supplement what we grow. The ladies at the farm stand who are excited to hear when magazine people come or we do a big event. And the people at Yamaki, our local organic tofu/miso/soy sauce place where I bring foreign visitors and where I
buy gobs of products to bring to the U.S. as presents (mainly for restaurant friends). The fact that what they make is so well appreciated gives the people at Yamaki a great feeling of pride. And conversely, I am so deeply thankful (and proud) to have such a place in the next town. It is a mutual relationship.
Besides my writing and blogging community, I also have my childhood and school friends (many of whom intersect more than one of these worlds). It is so much easier to stay in touch now because of email, facebook, and twitter. (Not that I do…)
And then I have a community of food people out in the world. Some in France (the Dordogne and Provence), some in Italy (Piemonte), some in Portland, Oregon, but most in Berkeley, California through Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse is not just a restaurant that happens to make the food that most matches how I like to eat. Chez Panisse is a supportive food community from whose midst have come scores of luminaries in the food world (of course), but more importantly, thousands of other just plain people who were innervated by their time spent mentoring in such an unusual learning environment. As for me, Chez Panisse (and its extended family) is a community of friends with whom I share the same love of that elemental part of food. A love and an appreciation of where the food comes from and a commitment to let that food become what it should be on the plate without heavy-handed manipulation. And it is a place I can relax and be myself.
When friends from Berkeley converged on Japan in October this year, it was a chance to bring two of my main communities together. They were here for a food and art installation project called OPENharvest, organized by the OPENrestaurant group on the U.S. side and Foodlight Project in Japan. I had consulted on the initial planning stages, but the project had taken on a different life under the auspices of the uber-plugged-in Tokyo crew. Out of my purvey. Instead, I set up a series of farm and mountain visits in our area of Western Saitama to introduce our local ingredients to the people who would be putting together the food. And over those two days I got a chance to introduce the members of one of my most important communities from the U.S. to the members of my most important local community. And in those meetings, despite language differences, there was a visible kinship and innate understanding between the members of those two completely disparate, but completely similar communities. As I knew there would be.
And in the middle of the fray, my dear Portland friend, Giovanna Zivny, and her quirky husband, Pavel, arrived. We made the food and antique rounds for a couple days then crossed paths in Tokyo at an edible street fair that OPEN had organized in Shibuya. Tadaaki was there pounding mochi in a traditional get-up that I had never seen before and the young Tokyoites, enthralled with the mochi making, took turns at wielding the mallet. The food was spectacular on that night…especially the deer burgers and the sardine sandwiches.
I never did become much involved with the OPENharvest Tokyo events. Again, out of my purvey. But I kept busy supplying the cooks with organic pork and vegetables, local dairy, and Tadaaki’s eggs. And I came away from the whole project with a deep feeling of warmth for having hosted food people I respect and like in our small part of Japan and for having seen their appreciation for our way of life and for our local friends and producers. It’s not the typical life that can be easily understood by my fly in/fly out visits to the U.S. (especially all dressed up, eating at Chez Panisse). But our life is part of what makes me me and just as I need to go back periodically to the U.S. to be normal, so I want my friends in the U.S. to see how I am in Japan (ripped jeans, garden clogs, floppy sweater…house in constant disarray). It gives me a feeling of being whole, not just showing one side.
And thanks for getting it.
(here's a video of the mochi pounding party we did at our house where Bay Area friends and local friends met over a shared interest in funk)