The California Drought Dinner - A Los Angeles Pop-Up Event

An urban setting for dinner at a local artist's studio.

An urban setting for dinner at a local artist's studio.

Figs, goat cheese, and paprika.

Figs, goat cheese, and paprika.

Drinking strawberry and watermelon shrubs during cocktail hour.

Drinking strawberry and watermelon shrubs during cocktail hour.

After an amazing experience talking about and eating sustainable food recently at Casamor Farm (read about it here) I decided to attend another pop-up style dinner here in Los Angeles.

This one, titled “Beyond Water, A Studio Dinner,” was hosted by A Sustainable Kitchen (a community organization that “brings people together to learn, share, and discuss sustainable strategies for everyday life”) and local artist, Jeff Hastings. The chef for the evening was Jeston Garner.

The idea of this dinner was to experience eating and drinking as an artistic and culinary exploration of the current California drought.
Table decorations for the A Sustainable Kitchen Drought Dinner.

When we sat down to eat, the chef explained the concept for the meal. (1) We would be eating foods that didn’t require much water. (2) No food products were wasted in the cooking process---everything re-purposed to something else. And (3) we wouldn’t be eating with any utensils or off of plates. Yep, we were going with finger food (how this related to the drought, I have no idea).

Chef Jeston then talked about the large amount of water used to grow food, and how when food is wasted, water is wasted (true story). His suggested solution to this waste is for home cooks to turn kitchen food scraps into something else edible and delicious.

Grilled fruit with sauce made from re-purposed berries.

Grilled fruit with sauce made from re-purposed berries.

The suggestion of re-purposing food sounds good in theory, but it’s thinking too small. We need to be talking about the big water issues--the crops farmers grow around the state, the effects on California’s economy, whether we’ll start pulling water from the Columbia River in the future. The leaders of the dinner didn't create a space to discuss these topics, and the guests I sat near weren't interested in exploring them. Such a missed opportunity!

As we proceeded through four courses (there happened to be a lot of elk) I discovered that dinner was unusual in one more way: no water was served. Thirsty? Stick to the wine you brought because there were no water glasses and no water pitchers. Was this part of the art experience? I wasn’t feeling it; I like to stay hydrated.

If the lack of drinking water was a way to conserve, it was ridiculous. Even if our current drought gets much much worse, clean drinking water in LA is not going to be reduced. Lawn care, washing clothes, and washing dishes would all be limited long before drinking water.

Dessert: a shortbread cookie with cream and fruit.

Dessert: a shortbread cookie with cream and fruit.

As we munched on dessert, I realized I wasn't going to get the deep dive I wanted at this dinner. It seemed, instead, like a foodie-centric indulgence allowing attendees some feel-good warm and fuzzy moments about saving water. It was out of touch with the bigger issues.

And I LIKE talking about those bigger issues. That’s how we begin to make large-scale change.

As we left, I surreptitiously filled my water bottle in the sink in the bathroom and chugged it while walking back to the car. Is there a drought? Yes. Do I still need to drink water? YES.

A Sustainable Food Dinner and Discussion: LA+Acumen & Net Impact LA

I walked into the LA+Acumen and Net Impact LA sustainable food dinner at Casamor Farm a week ago feeling like I had just stepped into Narnia through the back of a wardrobe. Where was I?! Is this still LA?! Lofty sunflowers towered in the front yard and around back, behind a sprawling house, bright green plants shot up toward the sun. No vibe of “LA: the second biggest city in the country” here.

This event was a joint offering from the local chapters of two national social impact organizations. The first, Acumen, raises money to invest in individuals ending poverty around the world. The second, Net Impact, is a community of students and professionals dedicated to positive social change. When my local chapters announced a dinner and discussion on sustainable food, I knew I had to go.

Casamor Farm, the event location, is a new urban farm on a residential property near Culver City (in Mar Vista). The farm was created a few months ago and between then and now the main gardeners planted, tended, and harvested tons of vegetables and herbs. The gardeners live in the house on the property and rent the remaining rooms in the house as short-term vacation rentals.

The farm has become a popular locale for dinners because of the three large tables and mismatched chairs set up under the branches of a towering tree adorned with soft white lights. A beautiful spot. AND, we drank wine out of mason jars. Does this sound like LA? No!

Our talented chef for the evening was Loghan Call of Planted Cuisine. Loghan specializes in delicious vegetarian dishes that highlight the flavor and uniqueness of local farms as a means to connect eaters back to their dinner. Much of the produce we ate was from Casamor Farm and was picked earlier that day!

Dinner! Note the mason jar.

Dinner! Note the mason jar.

Our menu for the evening.

Our menu for the evening.

Prior to attending this dinner, the organizers sent out articles on sustainable food as a starting point for discussion. Wow! Homework for a dinner? As someone who reads a plethora of articles on the food system anyway, I loved it.

This assignment, it turns out, really set the stage for an intellectual discussion. Once everyone sat down with heaping plates of food, the event organizer at each table facilitated the discussion.

My tablemates and I shared our observations, questions, viewpoints, and experiences of food.

The conversation continued during the delicious chocolate and berry dessert.

The conversation continued during the delicious chocolate and berry dessert.

I deeply appreciated everyone’s openness and honesty as we wrestled with questions of how to integrate eating “right” (and what that means) into our current lives in a balanced way.

No easy answers here.

Of course we didn’t solve any of the food system’s major problems this night. Realistically, can we say we changed the world? Probably not. But we created a community of support and trust around this topic while sharing a meal. And it felt really good.

So thanks, LA+Acumen, Net Impact, Casamor Farm, and Planted Cuisine. Events like this matter because promoting awareness and initiating conversations are a crucial early step toward mainstream change. Let’s find ways to transport ourselves to settings like this and have these conversations more often.