This morning at Creative Mornings Charleston (if you haven't been yet, get hip to it
) food writer and podcaster Stephanie Burt spoke on the topic of 'Preserve.'
Chosen by the Charleston chapter of CM, Preserve is a topic that always seems fitting for our old city, from conservation efforts in and around our shorelines to the preservation of heirloom food ingredients and food processes. The morning even started with a brief talk from a local preservationist, Brittany Lavelle Tulla, the proprietor and lead architectural historian of BVL Historic Preservation Research.
Lavelle Tulla discussed the history of the building in which we sat, Redux Contemporary Art Center a.k.a. Big Bertha (the building's original name and the current name of the storage facility that sits above the art center). Built by Albert Sottile in the 1920s the building was originally supposed to be a movie theater, but has served pretty much every other purpose since then, including hosting training videos for soldiers during WWII.
Now, of course, Big Bertha is home to Redux, a thriving arts space and perfect spot for a group of like-minded creatives to get together on a Friday morning.
Stephanie Burt, host of The Southern Fork
, and full time freelancer for a wide variety of local and national publications, took the mic to talk all things Preserve — and she let us know up front that she wasn't going to handle the topic in a typical way. You see, Burt interviews a lot of chefs about preservation, about the handling of food histories and cultures. Hell, she's even talked to people about the literal preserving of fruits and veggies.
But that's too obvious.
Today, Burt told us how food can help us preserve our community. Or, rather, how conversations around food can preserve our community.
"Food is a hack to intimacy," she says. Burt says that she can get a chef or cook to open up to her in an interview with two simple questions. First, you come at things from a more general perspective with, "How'd you get into cooking?"
Then, when they inevitably respond with tales of mornings in the kitchen with their mom, aunt, grandma, big brother, you ask, "Did you spend a lot of time with that family member?"
And the stories flow out.
Burt talked about meeting strangers on planes, at cocktail parties, in line at Starbucks. "Food is a question you can answer," says Burt. Even if the woman in Starbucks gets something you wouldn't — "she's getting four pumps and whip and there's a cake pop happening" — Burt can connect simply by asking, "What flavor did you get?"
Burt challenged every CMCHS participant to take some time this weekend (we've even got an extra day for it) to pause while eating or drinking around town. Look to a stranger and ask them a question about what you're consuming, or even, what's on their plate. "You have to ask from a place of curiosity," says Burt.
And maybe nothing will come from it. Maybe you'll make a friend. Maybe, like Burt, you'll get just a few moments of reprieve from the conversations you're having in your own head.
"There's a dire need for real connection," says Burt. So go ahead, use food to foster community. We could all use a little more of that these days.