Blog Archive: Adventures on a Food Truck
Ought to be
Living Fully on a Food Truck: An adventure in saying “Yes”
Embracing the winter has taken on a whole new meaning for Ross and me lately. With so much time spent on food-trucking during the other three seasons, we are trying to live very intentionally while we have time off. But what does it mean to live life "fully"? This has been on my mind a lot lately. Owning a new business has meant a lot of shifting of perspectives for me. Before we opened MO I thought, "yeah, owning a food truck would be such an adventure!" translating to: "this is what it means to live life fully." Yet opening the truck does not mean I feel fulfilled or that I'm living a full life. It means I'm busy, I understand business ownership differently, and I live more "full-ly" i.e. I'm never hungry in this line of work. How can it be that I can take the leap to open a crazy, fun "hip" business and still not be seizing each day?
My mom gave me a great piece of advice lately. She said, "say 'yes' as often as possible, even if you don't feel like it". MO keeps us so busy that Ross and I say "no" a lot to friends, family, and even event planners. However, when I asked Ross if we could please live frugally so we could not work through the winter, he said "yes". When I asked him to go road-tripping with me through Canada and around the United States, he said "yes." And when I said, "let’s spend every day until then nurturing our relationships", he said "yes". Suddenly I feel like we are living life fully, but it's not because of the "cool" food trucking adventure we embarked on or the long road trip we're taking time for. It's because when we combine all those "yeses", we're left with very few days to wish our life looked differently. Living fully means we say "yes" to invitations whenever we're able; we take on the challenges of family life because we get as much say as any other member when it comes to choosing what kind of family we want to build together; and we say "yes" to our partner when asked to join in on "crazy" adventures.
The food truck certainly doesn't feel like an adventure most of the time. Most days it's simply a job. I wake up and go to work just like the majority of Minnesotans. But two years ago, at The Crooked Spoon in Grand Marais, Ross asked me to open The Moral Omnivore with him, and I said "yes". And that is where the adventure lies-in the intentionality of living. So on this first day of traveling, sitting in a little hotel in Thunder Bay Canada, I ponder the ways we said “yes” to our moments: laughing with Ross over our perpetual tardiness as we got on the road two hours later than we meant; visiting with our grandparents in Two Harbors despite being behind our schedule; enjoying a meal at Gun Flint Tavern while we watched the ice on Superior shift with each wave. It was a pleasant start to this crazy trip, so here’s to living life fully! Mo-Mo Here We Go!
Cranberry Bogs & Climate Change
We finally made it to Toronto! Along the way we tried to stick to our newly-adopted say 'yes' philosophy. As a result we had a great time, despite getting to Toronto a little later than we initially anticipated. We made an unplanned stop at an Iroquois cranberry farm. The kind woman in the shop told us about how the farm was started in the '60's and has been going ever since. Every year another farmer brings in his bees to pollinate the cranberry blossoms, and they sell the honey at the little shop. We had the pleasure of tasting the smooth gold, enjoying the sweet, faint cranberry flavor. While there, the teller told us that she's heard of more people finding cranberries farther north than she's ever heard in the past. When I asked why that might be, she responded, "climate change, I guess."
Ross and I recently started listening to a book called Eaarth by Bill McKibbin. The book begins by covering the ways in which our planet has permanently changed due to the increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Many people claim that scientists still debate whether humans contribute to these increased levels of carbon, but this is a somewhat misguided notion. It's true that carbon levels increase and decrease without human interference, but the degree and rate at which they have continued to increase leaves little doubt in any scientist’s mind that people significantly contribute to the continually increasing levels of carbon in our atmosphere. The debate we should be having is not whether it exists, but rather what affect it is having and we can do about it. This is the discussion that Ross and I entered into on our continued car-ride east.
I did a little research on how climate change has affected cranberry farms in both the US and Canada, and found that cranberries, one of North America’s only native fruits, are struggling. Not only do cranberries rely on cold weather to get their beautiful crimson coloring, but warmer average springs and falls set the cranberries up for pests and fungus, while hotter summers mean more water is needed to keep the berries irrigated (i.e. more money from the farmers). Some larger cranberry farmers here in the US are moving up to northern Canada to try and keep their businesses alive. So why does this actually matter? In a capitalist system, if a business can’t adapt, it fails. Is this our problem or the business’s? Unfortunately, the individuals disproportionately affected by climate change are those who are also economically disadvantaged. Large companies with the money to move their businesses to new climates can survive, while independent, smaller companies are less likely to have the capital to pick up and move.
Cranberry farms and farmers are not the only businesses and families affected by climate change. Bill McKibbin speaks extensively about how climate change is melting glaciers, leaving communities who rely on slower snow melt from those glaciers without a source of water. Those same communities most affected by climate change are also the communities less likely to be contributing to the increased levels of carbon affecting that change. It’s those of us with money who are least affected by climate change, and yet the most likely to be contributing to it. It is in this way that I see climate change as more than just a political or environmental issue; it is an issue of social justice.
When Ross and I agreed to open our food truck, we decided we would do our very best to not only run our business as ethically as possible, but to serve food that represents a very real change we are all capable of making. Sourcing our food from local farms and making vegetables rather than meat the primary focus of our entrees, represents a way of eating that significantly reduces an individual’s carbon footprint. This is an issue that all of us have to work together on, because it affects those in our global community who do not have a voice. When we all change the way we eat, we change the world. Thank you for supporting this mission!
The website of the cranberry farm we visited is under construction, but you can read a little more about them here: http://www.iroquoiscranberries.com/
If you would like more information about how climate change is affecting cranberry farmers, check out these articles:
If you’re interested in reading more about climate change, check out these books:
If you’re looking for an academic book that really digs into the issue and the surrounding controversy, try out: Eaarth by Bill McKibbin http://www.amazon.com/Eaarth-Making-Planet-Hardcover-McKibben/dp/B00488DBCO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1388374898&sr=8-2&keywords=eaarth
If you want something a little lighter that looks at the issue through the way we eat, check out The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen: http://www.amazon.com/The-Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History/dp/1594132054/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1388375327&sr=1-1
Culinary Creativity at the Cost of Communion
Today was another day we meant to focus around food. Whenever we're not sure of what to do with a day, we resort to eating. Perhaps this sounds like a bad habit that could end "waste-full" (see what I did there? It was a getting-big-around-the-middle joke) but we generally find the best inspiration from roaming around trying foods that we've never tasted before. As you can see from the pictures, our quest for food never resulted in anything worth telling you about.
Staying at a lovely bed and breakfast in Niagara, we met another couple from North Bay Canada, also here to celebrate the New Year. After chatting all afternoon around the breakfast table, we decided to venture out into the cold to see the falls, giddy that there would be no need for failed selfies this time around.
Having done his research before hand, Ross recommended a place we eat lunch, which ended with us failing to find it and settling for “perogi pizza” (potatoes, sour cream, chives, a little bacon & a little cheese). We found fellowship in our mutual love for perogis, a food that most people in the United States are likely not familiar with, and our shared accent that, again, we don’t share with the rest of the United States. We thoroughly enjoyed that pizza, with ketchup, because we’re good Minnesotan kids.
The story was similar for our search for dinner. We invited our fellow travelers and set out, confidant that we could find one of the two places we wanted to try. After navigating an obstacle course of King Kong and dinosaurs to find parking, we headed in the dead wrong direction, snow blowing in our faces, climbed through a fence, across a gully, over another fence, and several kilometers to a restaurant that was definitely not open. Back we went in search of the second choice, only to give up and walk into the closest steak house where we enjoyed fried mac’n’cheese on a burger while we drew pictures on the table cloth with crayons.
Now, I’m not sure if you’re all familiar with the dining experience Ross and I try to enjoy when we’re looking for inspiration for MO, but it generally involves a seasonal tasting menu with a little food gastronomy, interestingly paired flavors, and definitely no fried mac’n’cheese. We go out in search of food ‘artists’ that we are given the opportunity to commune with and learn from, yet sitting around that table with our burgers, we enjoyed ourselves as much or more than when we’re finding flavor heaven. Today was a great reminder that the point of food is not just for the art of the food, it’s as much about the communion that food opens the opportunity for. It’s as much about who’s around the table as what is on the table.
As we go forward on this journey, creating new menu items for MO, I promise that Ross and I will not forget this lesson. It is important to us that the food we serve is a balance of expressed creativity for your toung’s enjoyment, and an opportunity for fellowship with your community. Your food will have a story, it will be approachable, and it will fill you in more ways than one. This lesson couldn’t have come at a better time, because starting tomorrow we will have access to a kitchen again, and then the fun really begins!
Peace out for now friends,
Linnea, Ross, & MO
Loving the Ordinary: Finding Enjoyment in the Creations of our Fellow Human Beings
Wandering around Chester Connecticut turned into a really lovely day. Although I proclaim to hate shopping, Chester was filled with independently owned shops that Julia and I marveled at. Window after window contained beautiful hand-made jewelry, paintings, pottery, delicious smelling candles and quirky little goods that we wouldn’t find anywhere else. We explored the shops, exclaiming at the beauty of a ring, sighing as we felt the cloud-that-was a $300 scarf, gingerly fingering the fragile pottery, laughing at the wall hangings embroidered with Sherlock & Downton Abby quotes. Part of me felt shallow. “Why should I get so much enjoyment from looking at stuff”, I wondered.
We stopped at a lovely little restaurant for lunch, and were as overcome by the food as anything we spent time looking at that day. The food was incredible, the cocktail we shared was exquisite, and we left as happy as we’ve ever been. The River Tavern was inspiring to say the least. Check out what they’re doing here: www.rivertavernrestaurant.com/River_Taver/Welcom.html.
As I reflected on the day, I realized that looking at “stuff” made by local artisans and finding genuine enjoyment from it, is no different than finding enjoyment in exploring flavors at an independent restaurant featuring creations from a local chef. Middletown and Chester are booming with locally owned shops and eateries. In fact, you have to drive out of town to find a Subway, McDonalds, or Starbucks. This community has made itself a safe space for the members of their community to exercise their creativity. Whether it takes the shape of food, drink, or another art form, the community is willing to marvel at the locally made goods, try the locally brewed beers, and explore the world through interesting flavors their local chefs create. Local businesses cannot thrive in a community that isn’t willing to be adventurous in this way. If we scoff at the expensive albeit beautiful plates because we know we can get perfectly good dishes at Target for a fraction of the cost, we are choosing what kind of community we want to live in. Of course I’m not saying that everyone should shell up the hundreds of dollars it might cost to buy an entire set of dishes made by a local potter, but I am saying that we should be open minded.
The Moral Omnivore does not create the most ordinary food. We are not serving up hot dogs and hamburgers with a side of fries. We are playing with flavors, exploring cooking techniques, and working to do it with the local ingredients Minnesota has to offer. You all make this possible. You have given us a safe space to play, have supported our efforts, and as a result we enjoy our job. What would the world look like if we did this at every opportunity possible? If we went out of our way to support our local businesses? I saw the result in Chester, and I found inspiration in it. We have the opportunity to choose what kind of world we want to live in, simply by choosing our attitude (say “yes”!), reaching out to our neighbors, and supporting their endeavors whenever possible. Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir here. Perhaps you’ve all already thought of this, and this is why you support The Moral Omnivore. But I understood its importance on a whole new level when I realized I could choose from three locally owned coffee shops, that anyplace I chose to buy a souvenir from would be supporting a local artist, when I needed groceries and by default walked into the local co-op. When people in your community open a business, you approach the people of that business as your friends and neighbors. They become more than the cook or kid flipping your burgers; they become Phil, or Hannah, or Ross-they are humanized. Our willingness to try new things, to be open minded, leads to a more connected community. Thank you for connecting with us. Until I write again, peace out friends.
If you want to check out the other restaurants we had the pleasure of trying during our time in CT, check out these links:
6 on Main, Chester CT: Head chef Rachel Carr plates up delicious & almost completely vegan dishes. The mushroom pot stickers, portabella Wellington, and potato & mushroom gnocchi were the favorites. The line up you would expect of local beers, good wine, and house cocktails accompanied and great service makes dinner a creative, enjoyable experience. The changing weekly prix fixe menu would keep us coming back, if we lived in CT! Check them out here: www.sixmain.com
Café 56, Middletown CT: We grabbed breakfast here when we had to get some paperwork done for MO one day. The breakfast menu is simple, but expertly prepared. Eggs cooked perfectly, buttery crispy bacon, & delicious toast topped with homemade compotes mingle with the friendly small-town atmosphere for a lovely start to the day. Once a month they do a dinner tasting, and I highly recommend checking them out if you’re ever in the area: www.cafe56ct.com
Krust Pizza Bar, Middletown CT: We didn’t have the pleasure of eating at Krust, but we stopped by for cocktails before a get-together one evening. The drinks were some of the best we’ve had, and one of the bar tenders chatted with us about the love the owner of Krust had put into the restaurant. From the handmade chandelier and wall separating eating space from the bar, to the delicious drinks and great smelling pizza, this place had a wonderful atmosphere worth visiting. Check them out: www.krustpizzabar.com
Sea Chanties & Northern Lights: Another Lesson in Saying “Yes”
This new philosophy of saying “yes” is not always easy. I’m sure you’ve been there. You’re sitting at home on the couch after a day at work, the T.V. is on, and you’re curled up in your comfy cloths with a drink, ready to relax for the rest of the night. You remember that Mondays are the nights when there’s reggae at the little café down the road that you’ve wanted to check out, but you’re so comfortable you decide, “next week”. In your heart, you know you’ll have a great time if you just get up the motivation to say “yes”, but the comfort of home is overpowering. “Another time” you decide, secretly knowing that next week will likely look the same.
Last Monday, Ross and I ran into this situation. We were sitting with our Connecticut friends chatting over local beers and hot tea respectively, when we recalled that there were “Sea Chanties” being performed at Griswold Inn (www.griswoldinn.com), an old tavern in Essex Connecticut. We knew we would have fun going, but were a bit worn out from a day of exploring Chester. I didn’t particularly want to go, and in fact told my friends that I would go if they wanted to, but I wasn’t going to push it-until I remembered my commitment to saying “yes”. I’m not even sure how we all agreed to leave in the sleepy state we were in, but we piled into the car and were soon singing “Love Shack” together in an effort to warm up for singing at the tavern. Dirk and Ross, it turns out, are very good at this song, and I think Julia and I laughed through most of our back-up singing to them as they swayed and danced to their own funky vocals.
We knew we would have fun that evening, but it was probably our most enjoyable in Connecticut, which is saying something since we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves all week. The Jovial Crew was singing that night, and as I later learned, was formed when the lead singer came to Connecticut from Liverpool London 40 years before. The group had been performing at this tavern for so long, that the majority of people crowding the space had been showing up every week for years. The people we sat with had been showing up for the last eight years! The whole crowd knew the songs and happily sang along, stomping their feet, and waiving their beer glasses in the air. It was contagious. After a cocktail or two, all four of us found ourselves singing with the rest, making up words, and keeping beat with our feet. To top it off, Julia and I were called up to the front while the band sang us a very lewd but ridiculous happy-birthday song.
Later in the week the opportunity came again when my mom texted me, letting us know about the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. A little after midnight we headed out, giving our eyes time to adjust to the darkness, and started driving to a rural part of Connecticut in the hopes of a show. I’d love to say that saying “yes” was rewarded in this instance, but a cloud cover moved in, keeping us from seeing the sky very effectively. Regardless, I was happy we went out. It was a beautiful night, and we thoroughly enjoyed the peace of the evening as we stared into the sky together. Saying “yes” seems to be leading us to some interesting adventures, so I think I’ll keep the philosophy for now. It’s not always easy, but nothing truly worthwhile in this life is.
Music is the Spice of Life: Dance Parties, Open-Mic Birthday-Night, & Eva Walsh
The end of our stay in Connecticut was bittersweet. Our last evening was spent dancing. The fact that most of us were strangers didn’t matter-through the playfulness that becomes dancing in such situations, we connected with some amazing individuals. Scarves were brought out, twisting between us, songs were requested, and excitement over old, familiar tunes kept us together. We found friends that night, who we will visit for years to come.
We headed out the next morning to meet up with one such friend, who I met many years ago through music, in Brookline Massachusetts. Friends, I have the pleasure of introducing you now to the beautiful, the talented, the Minnesota Native, MIIIISSS Eva Walsh! Before you read the rest of this, please take several minutes to watch her performing. Eva’s folksy style, clear voice, and many-instrument talent will lift your spirits, I promise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMeUVDQu1nE Or take a look at her youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/EvaWalshMusic/videos?shelf_id=1&view=0&sort=dd My favorites include: her originals “Bittersweetheart” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMeUVDQu1nE “It’s Up To You”, her cover of Ingred Michaelson’s “The Way I Am”, and another original “Waiting” (which is coincidentally not on the channel and can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je0NafllLrA)
Ross and I listen to Eva every morning on MO to relax and get ready for the day. So, now that you’ve had a moment to fill your soul, let’s talk about it. Along this trip, I’ve been thinking a lot about our role in our community, both as independent business owners and as supporters of other independent shops. Being here in Boston with such a great musician, we’ve spent a lot of time in the local music scene. Our first evening here, we enjoyed fiddlers & accordionists accompanied by local river dancers & Gaelic singers at the Boston Celtic Music Festival; I had the honor of messing around on my ukulele with Eva the other afternoon after spending hours sharing our favorite music over youtube videos; and the finale of my birthday party consisted of a trip out to open mic night at the Lizard Lounge, where we met some incredible musicians, including a young couple from Iceland, a gentleman who was quitting his job to walk the 700 miles from France to Spain, and a young man who had us all singing a tune honoring mustaches following his incredibly humanizing performance dedicated to his friend who recently passed from brain cancer. Now, sitting here tonight, I’m contemplating how you and I will soon share a connection through Eva’s music.
I proclaimed in my last post that our shopping habits should be at least in part dedicated to the local artisans selling their food, drink, textiles, home-goods and more. In doing so, I argued, we create a community in which we are more supported and more connected. In these scenarios we get to take something home in exchange for supporting a local artisan, whether that be a piece of pottery, a new candle, or a full belly. I’m now proclaiming the same for our entertainment. When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I’m kind of board” or “I’m not sure what to do tonight” or asked someone, “what do you want to do today?” Ross and I go through this Every. Single. Day. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of you do too. So what should you do today? You should get your friends or neighbors together and dance, even if it will start out a little awkward. Just make sure you have some glasses of wine for them when they walk in the door. Find the closest karaoke bar; look up open mic nights; spend time admiring local musicians on youtube with your best friends over coffee or a cocktail; say “yes” to connecting through music. We are privileged to live in communities filled with such talented people. Support them the next time you are left wondering how to spend your time and you will take home a soul that is filled up, emotionally connected to your community in a way that only the arts can connect us.
Adding to the Food Trucking Venture
Arizona's Lost Dutchman State Park Flat Iron hike is quite possibly the hardest hike that Ross and I have done. Since that hike last week, we have done five other hikes, and with each one we compare it to Flat Iron. After a cliff-hugging hike along one of the canyon walls of Zion National Park today, we reminisced about these challenges. At some point during every hike, one of us wonders aloud why on earth we put ourselves through the misery of it. These hikes are more physically challenging that almost anything we've ever done. We push our bodies to the point of exhaustion, and then push them farther, up elevation changes that make their presence known on our lungs and beating hearts. Ankles twist on loose stones, hands are scraped as we climb cold rock faces, and yet we push on.
Reminiscing today, it occurred to me what a metaphor these hikes are to our chosen life on a food truck. Although the life looks exciting, every day Ross or I ask aloud why we do it. From day to day we never know whether we will find the parking spot that will pay that day's bills; of the 15 hours on our feet, 11 hours are filled with the monotonous act of cutting produce, breading mushrooms, cooking sauces, doing dishes and repeating; our bodies are entirely subject to the elements, one month subjecting us to 130* where we simply can't cool ourselves and the next to 7* where no amount of heat will loosen stiff fingers. Our feet ache, our backs ache, and our hearts ache for the time we don't spend with family and friends. "why?" we ask ourselves. "Because we're crazy" is the preferred answer.
But why really? After fatiguing our muscles and bruising our bodies, we reach the summit of a foot hill, a canyon or a mountain, and we say, "...and this is why we hike". And it is. Take a look at the pictures I'll be posting of the hikes we've done over the last week, and know that they don't do the view justice. We climb the last pile of rocks, look out over the edge, and see the world as the tiny speck of this universe that we are. The millions of years that it took to form the world is laid out before us, sometimes over 100 miles in every direction, with rock formations, lakes, rivers, and the cities, built up by the thousands of people that we will never meet. We are humbled.
Looking back on our first year of this venture, I see that I am at the summit. The work is hard, but this adventure is extraordinary. Ad-venture. Who knew that those two words would be so closely linked forever in my mind? The business venture we've created and the adventure it's led us on...This is not that way that most people get to see the world, and yet here I am, meeting amazing people such as yourselves on the several hours we're open every day; connecting to farmers at markets vendor-to-vendor; meeting up with old friends and making new ones as we search for couches to sleep on from state-to-state; seeing the Earth in all its magnificent beauty. And I am humbled.
Adventures on a Food Truck: Sick, Homeless, & Suffering
This last week MO’s curried mushroom fries were awarded “Best Alternative Fries” in the twin cities, leaving Ross and I surprised, elated, and entirely humbled. Why is it that something so wonderful could leave someone feeling so humble? Proud, excited, happy, & overjoyed I understand, but where does the humility come from in winning an award? My answer to this question came today after an encounter with one of our most enthusiastic and altogether enjoyable customers.
Walking up to the truck with a walker, this customer was a joy to see. The entire family appreciates our food enough to take school holidays to visit, remembers to ask about my graduate school, and always have smiles to share. When I asked about the walker, I was told by this customer that he has MS, which progressed over the winter. Shocked, I stumbled for something to say that would express compassion without that sappy sympathy that comes across as disempowering. Sometimes as a therapist-in-training I feel like I’m supposed to know what to say in these scenarios, and yet I don’t. What can you say when a lovely human being, who does nothing but bring joy to the world, is suffering?
Doing dishes today, I contemplated my new knowledge. “If there is a moral God, why does God allow such wonderful people to suffer?” The age-old question slipped into my mind without thought, despite how often I have expressed frustration with that very question. Reversing the question now I wonder, “what would the world be like without suffering?” Humility wouldn’t exist, I realized. People suffer daily. Everyone. Regardless of how small the suffering in a day, it exists, uniting humanity on this front. So frequently this suffering is ignored by the rest of our global community, that when it is acknowledged, we are humbled. “Of all the many people who work hard, who suffer, I am the one being recognized.” It is as though the recognition has the power to remind us of all the times we weren’t recognized, and all the people who aren’t recognized. Instead of inflating an ego, it has the power to remind us of how small we really are in this global community.
It is not lost on me that all this thought on suffering has arisen on Good Friday. Good Friday has always been my favorite Christian holiday. It may seem grisly, but hear me out. 2000 years ago, a man communed with his friends, telling them that if his community wished his death, he would submit, because immortalizing his message of love was more important than keeping his body. His suffering was deemed unimportant, because people suffer daily. What was important was the act of communing. Touching the sick, speaking with those who others refused to speak with, and eating with people from all walks of life, eating with the community, is what sealed his fate. Recognizing our common suffering by taking the time to commune with one another, makes our world a better place, regardless of our religious beliefs, but for many, this has particular significance today.
Last week a homeless gentleman approached our truck who was obviously mentally ill. His speech didn’t make sense, and I struggled to understand what he was trying to communicate as he jumped from one topic to the next. One thing was clear, however: he was hungry. Without sharing a glance with Ross, he began cooking up an assortment of goodies to fill the homeless gentleman’s belly while I reassured him that we would take care of him. While he waited, he harassed one of our customers who, to her credit, was kind, gentle, and didn’t walk away from the truck because of him.
Several days later the man returned, this time loudly harassing customers attempting to read the menu. He sang, panhandled, and made unwanted advances on women. I watched several customers walk away before Ross politely asked him to leave the customers be. Instead of leaving, he approached me, and while I handed an order out the window, he dug his hand into my tip jar and walked away with my tips. While there wasn’t much in there, both myself and my other worker depend on those tips. By the end of the year, they can be the difference between putting money into savings or not. We decided that $10 wasn’t worth doing anything about, but at the end of lunch, Ross walked over to the man, to dissuade him from continuing to steel from other trucks on the block. Before he could say anything, another owner picked the homeless man up in a rage and shoved him against a tree. While I was horrified at the entire situation, the incident left me wondering what my role is as a community member and a business owner. The community member in Ross and I fed this man, but as a business, I recognized the hazard of letting him harass potential customers. How do we balance making money, caring for our customers, and also caring for the vulnerable in our society, when these three things don’t always mesh nicely?
While I don’t have a good answer for this, one of our customers did. The day after all this happened, one of our customers came to the truck asking to purchase food for some of the homeless men on Nicollet. I sold the food to him for the cost of the ingredients, wishing to do my part in communing with members of our community. You see, it would be easy to get angry at the mentally ill for bothering us on the streets, but I don’t see what good that does. You see, when we suffer day in and day out, it is sometimes easy to become bitter and frustrated when we’re not recognized. Sometimes I work so hard that I can only cry while washing dishes at one in the morning, knowing that tomorrow if I’m not at my best, I will mix up orders, frustrating customers, starting the bitter cycle again. But sometimes my hard work is recognized. A customer thanks us profusely for the work we’re doing, or an award is received that reminds us of why we do what we do. These moments, though sometimes far between, hold us out through those other hard, bitter times. I tell Ross I hate the truck, and he smiles gently, and reminds me of that customer, or that award, washing the bitterness away. Giving a hot meal to someone hungry is not about simply filling a belly, it is about saying, “I recognize your suffering. Commune with me, and forget your suffering for a moment”.
I fully recognize that there are varying levels of suffering. The homeless man who stole our tips was desperate in a way I hope I will never understand. My lovely customer suffering from MS deals with physical and emotional tolls that I also hope to never understand. But the fact that we all understand suffering on some level unites us as a community. It allows us to let empathy guide our actions, because without it, pushing the vulnerable around, physically or symbolically, becomes far too easy. On this day in particular, I thank you all for taking the time to commune with us. It is an honor to be the bridge between farmers and foodies, a customer and my homeless neighbor. Marv, thank you for your generous act to feed someone in our community who is hungry more often than not; to my MS friend, thank you for continuing to fill the people you encounter with joy; and to all of you, thank you for recognizing all the work Ross and I do to make the food we make while running an ethical business. I am humbled.
Last week my family recognized the 15 yr mark of my dad's passing. I can't tell you the number of people who reached out, often from the truck, to tell me they too were grieving or have grieved deeply in the past. I continue to be honored that so many of you opened yourselves to me. Thank you. As you might expect, I do a lot of reflecting in September. Perhaps all of us in this state do. Minnesota starts truly changing in these fall months, and that change has a beautiful melancholy about it, reminding me of the passing time.
When my dad died, I was eleven. Within the first hours of learning of his death, I was struck by the tenuousness of our lives here on this beautiful planet we call home. "How is a person supposed to balance planning for the future and living in the moment?" my eleven-year-old self kept asking. I've continued to ask that question over and over again throughout the years since. This week, MO has given me the answer, though this is not the first time I’m learning this lesson, and will not be the last. But today friends, I know the answer. It's simple: faith.
When Ross and I set out to start this food truck, we did so because "it's an adventure!". This isn’t the first time I’ve told you that it's been harder than we expected, as most adventures are. I'm also attending grad school, which means any time off I have is spent doing homework or in class. Looking ahead, I know my days will get longer as I start an internship and attend class, all while running a business with my husband. I don't know how I can work harder, but I've said that numerous times over the last two years, and somehow I always do.
Tomorrow Ross and I are leaving for the Boundary Waters, one of my dad's favorite places to visit. In fact, years ago my mom, sister, uncle and I took his ashes up on a canoe trip so he could become a part of that which he loved so deeply. I always find a sense of peace in that treasure encapsulating Minnesota's North. The truck makes taking any time off in the spring summer or fall difficult because we only have so many days to make our year's salary, and that precious food that takes us so many hours to make, is quite perishable. This trip friends, is a pure act of faith.
We are losing money in food, insurance, kitchen rental, and a million other things, but what is life if we are so focused on the future that we forgo enjoying the things we love most in this world right now? So we’re giving it all up with the faith that we will find the ways to pay the bills, find the energy to re-make the food we need to re-make, and that ultimately, this trip will be good for us.
Sometimes taking a moment to breath in the middle of our marathon life is all we need to catch our second wind. Life is work. The work doesn’t stop unless we give up life. We are constantly confronted with scenarios we never imagined we would have to deal with. (What eleven year old anticipates losing a parent?!) We can sulk and wallow in the “unfairness” of it all, or we can take it for what it is (life) and move forward with the adventure. No adventure worth going on is ever easy, but it’s worth it. Sometimes we just need to pause and breath so we remember.
I hope you forgive us for not being out this week friends. We will be back next Tuesday, full of breath and ready to finish the year. As you continue working through this season, I hope you too take a moment to marvel in the changing colors of our home, breath deep, and let that breath fill you up. Reflecting on the past is how we learn; looking ahead to the future gives us hope; and enjoying our moments today gives life meaning. It’s your adventure to choose.
A means to an end...
For those of you who don’t know, I was a philosophy major in college, so sometimes I say or think very philosophy-geeky things, and today I’m sharing one with you.
Kant is an important philosopher who coined the idea that people wrongly use one another as a means to an end rather than as an end in themselves. It’s a pretentious way of saying that liking people for our own utility is wrong-we should like them for who they are. Sometimes, working as a cashier and cook, I feel like a means to an end (filling a hungry belly) and I feel you all are a means to an end (paying my bills). When I get thinking this way, I’m not the most pleasant business owner. Not that I’m ever unpleasant (I hope!) but sometimes we simply interact on a very surface level because we don’t mean anything to one another. This kind if interaction is empty, and leaves me wondering about the importance of how I currently spend my days.
Today, friends, was an empty kind of day. You probably didn’t notice, but I feel compelled to apologize anyway. I’m sorry. Let me explain.
The vast majority of customers today asked for menu items not currently on the menu. There’s obviously no way for anyone to know that the last 7 people have asked me the same question, yet I found myself irritated and just a little sassier than necessary rather than simply saying, “I’m so sorry, but I don’t have that today-I’ll be making more tonight since so many of you have asked!”
You see, I really really hate disappointing people. In my masters classes we learn that everyone has their main “thing” that stresses them out more than anything else. For some it’s not having control, for others it’s not feeling important. For me, it’s disappointing others and risking rejection. (Perhaps that’s why I’m here apologizing.) More importantly though, is the realization I came to while venting to my sister in the kitchen after service.
We started talking about faith and love and all sorts if giant topics perfectly suited for talking about over a cup of coffee while making mushroom fries, and she said, “Love is knowing that you love people even in the moments when they frustrate you the most.” Now, we weren’t talking about friends and family (though this obviously applies there too) but rather about agape-the unconditional love for our world and the people in it. It’s so easy to talk about agape on a theoretical level, but sometimes remembering in those moments when you’re not in tune with the rest of your community and it seems every person you encounter is a little extra cranky (even though you know it’s probably just you) is really, really hard. Sometimes, seeing people as ends in themselves takes a little extra work, and having faith that you yourself are more than a means to an end (and subsequently that the day’s emptiness is your own fault) is admittedly also hard.
Today was one of those days for me, but please know that even when I am not at my very best, and I’m a little put off by the cold and the lack of business and the disappointment I see in your faces, I still love you. You are my community, and you make my world possible.
Tomorrow is a new day, and Ross and I stayed at the kitchen late to make beet Mac AND portabello bowls for you all. The most practical apology I could think of as your cashier and cook and fellow community member. :)
I hope you have a warm evening. Thank you for being, friends.
The Original Food Truck Story and the Acceptance Speech I Wish I Had Given
Fourish years ago, a group of food enthusiasts with a mission began fighting day in and day out for hardly enough customers to pay the bills. They built up what we all know as Marquette until it is what we know today: a busy, food bonanza. Us new trucks never had to fight this way. In fact, when MO came out on the streets two years ago, these original “heavy weight” trucks were a little weary, reminding us who built the spots up. We were competition, benefiting from the hard days they had put in for so long. But food trucking isn’t easy, and Ross and I didn’t choose real “street food” to serve. We chose food that requires prep cooks, long days in a kitchen, and more organization that Ross or I have ever had combined. We don’t have prep cooks, but we’ve been willing to put in long hours ourselves, and we’ve had an amazing community to learn from. These original trucks, She Royal, World Street Kitchen, Get Sauced, Foxy Falafal, Simply Steve’s and Dandelion Kitchen, recognized the struggle and opened themselves to us. They have consistently re-tweeted our tweets (a big deal when they have three times the audience that we do), given us priceless advice (“Is this your menu? You need something people can actually read. Get that taken care of before you come out again.” “ Do you know an easier way to peel beets? Just rub them with a towel, it will save you hours”…), shared portion cups, spices, basil, napkins, red onions, buns and everything else you can imagine when we’ve parked the truck and realized in an exhausted panic that we’re out. These trucks have their sh** so figured out that they can serve 3x the number of people we are capable of serving in a lunch period…In short, we would have not only failed without these amazing people, but there wouldn’t be a food truck community without them. We know we work hard, and the Charlie Award we won last night feels like a recognition of that hard work, but these people arguably deserve that recognition more than we do. Ross and I say little “thank yous” every day for the good people who run these trucks, and every time you eat at a food truck, you should too.
There have been other people who have been instrumental in our success. Hot Indian Foods shared a kitchen space with us last year, and spend countless hours with us, struggling to make enough food, sharing their knowledge as trained chefs and business-people, crying with us when we’d slip and spill the salads, curry etc we’d spent the last three hours making. MidNord Empanada Truck is another truck we go to when we’ve forgotten something, when we’re running a stop light behind and need someone to block the limos so we can get a parking spot, or when we just need a little Moral Support. Sassy Spoon has let us use more of her cooking equipment than is reasonable (because we’re ALWAYS leaving our knives on the truck, and when we’re on the truck we’ve realized we left them ALL at the kitchen), Buddy’s Nut Butters has provided us with the chocolate peanut butter that I pair with a splash of red wine every single night (because my chocolate fill has a direct correlation to our daily success) and visits us at the farmers markets, putting me in the proper mood to see customers despite the earliness of the morning.
Ok, I know that I’m long winded, and I know I’m forgetting to mention others who deserve our mentioning this Monday morning, but I feel like everyone mentioned here deserves a little verbosity. They are our friends, our community, and deserve more recognition than they get. Yes, we won a Charlie Award, and Ross and I are stunned and over-the-moon excited about it. But there’s a reason no one says, “I deserve this” when they make their acceptance speech. It not only sounds like a jack a**y thing to say, but it’s not true. For every person or organization that is recognized, there are a thousand others who aren’t and deserve to be. Did you know that when one person dies, an average of 100 people grieve deeply? To extrapolate that out, for every person who is recognized, there are an average of 100 people who have intimately touched that recognized person, and have helped shape who that person is. We have been shaped by many amazing people.
Thank you to our food truck (and food) community, to our families who have put up with not seeing us months on end, to our siblings and friends who fill last minute shifts when we realize we need more workers, to our moms and dads who have done our hours worth of dishes when we have too much food to keep prepping and are running out of dishes to cook it all in, to our brother Cassian who loves us, believes in us, and makes working together every single day something to look forward to, to Buffalo, our hometown that takes pride in us and roots for our success without ever loosing enthusiasm, to our loyal customers, and lastly to my husband Ross, who is my rock when I don’t think I can cut another vegetable, dances with me on the truck when I’m a little too cranky to be seen with customers, wakes me with kisses and coffee every morning, and never, ever lets the long work days blur his vision of the future we are working for. Thank you for the award everyone. You are our 100, and we love you.
Ought to be as a woman…
There are certain topics I’ve been hesitant to breech on this blog, but it recently occurred to be while talking with a friend, how intimate our bodies and our eating habits are. This is in no way a new revelation. Obviously what we put into our bodies has a direct effect on our bodies on a cellular level, but I’ve been hesitant to talk about it as a woman because sometimes I feel it’s too political, and I “ought not” to. This post is about defying that “ought” however, so here it goes.
Yesterday at yoga, my incredibly thin instructor who is thirty years my senior, was joking with a fellow also incredibly thin yogi who is fourty years my senior, about how we do yoga to avoid having too much “junk in the trunk”. I, the fit but twenty-pounds-heavier-than-them yogi, was not at all offended, but suddenly distinctly aware of my thighs. The same instructor was teaching this morning’s class…I didn’t go. Instead I found myself strangely compelled to clean the house. This is strange because I haven’t felt compelled to clean in…well, let’s not get into that. This compelling had nothing to do with an actual need to clean the house, but rather a feeling of “ought to”. As a woman in this society, I am judged on two levels: how I look, and whether my house is clean. I suspect that when I have children I will be judged as a mother too (though how I look and if my house is clean will probably weigh into my judged value as a mother as well).
Here’s the thing. I love my body. My body is incredible. It can stand for 20 hours a day, can hike to the top of mountains, learns new yoga poses, heals me when I’m sick, lets me be close to my husband, and gains and looses weight with the seasons. Right now I am at least 10 lbs heavier than I was when we started the truck last spring. I’m working to strengthen the muscles I haven’t used all season, and feed my body nourishing food to care for the cells I’ve ignored these last months. These goals are not about weight, and I’m trying really hard to not let them be that. I’ve done the neurotic obsess-about-my-weight thing. When I weighed 115 lbs though, you know what was so great? I didn’t feel an “ought to” in regards to my body. I could just be in the world, freely doing what I wanted to do: swimming without worrying about my thighs, going out without stressing about how this or that outfit would make my waist look, not caring when spontaneous pictures were taken, shopping with the knowledge that I could buy any outfit and look good... I didn’t feel like I “ought to” hide in baggy clothing, but that I somehow deserved to be seen. Being thin had nothing to do with the actual thin-ness of my body. It had everything to do with self-confidence and the freedom that comes with it.
The comments of my instructor ate into my self-confidence last night, on a very subconscious level. I didn’t realize what I was doing until Ross came out of the bedroom with a quizzical look on his face. “Are we cleaning?” he asked. No. I wanted to have my morning coffee, not clean. So I stopped, and had my coffee, and decided a blog post was in order. Why would these women make comments like they did? Because they too feel an “ought to” in regards to their bodies, and sometimes it becomes easy to “justify” our bodies by comparing them to other women. This thinking is so individualistic. It’s not the kind of community we women should be fostering with one another. In Adlerian terms (the kind of psychology I’m studying), it’s “vertical” thinking-the kind of thinking where someone is always below and someone else is always above.
What happens when we start thinking of ourselves and the women around us on a horizontal plane? If I stop caring that she’s thinner than I (that’s what it means to be sexy-I really ought to do more leg work-outs), I gain for myself a sense of freedom to be in this world in which I live. It’s sad that for women around the world, that feeling of “I deserve to be in this world” is something in question; something we have to actively fight for. In some countries that fight takes the form of dressing as a boy to be allowed into school, in other areas of the world it looks like a legal up-hill battle against rape. In our country it’s more insidious. Many claim that women here are equal to men, and in many ways we are. But there are definitely areas in which we aren’t, and one of those areas is in regards to our bodies. Women, we do ourselves an injustice when we think of our bodies only in terms of how they look in the mirror, or to the women and men around us. They are so much more than that! And we, women, are more than our bodies (we are woman: strong, fierce, powerful protector of our communities, take pride in what you are). What do we teach our daughters (and our sons for that matter) when we degrade ourselves in front of them? What do we do to our own psyche when we let the “ought tos” rule our actions, rather than our own desires? In many ways the “ought to” be and look a certain way is perpetuated by us when we let it judge other women, let it keep us from swimming when we want to, let it keep us from eating a fabulous meal because we “ought not to”, or let it keep us from going to yoga because the house is a mess and I really ought to clean it. I’d like to argue that if we let that societal “ought to” wash over us rather than penetrate into us, then our bodies become vessels for action, temples deserving of our love, care, and pride, and the bodies around us can be seen for what they are: the vessels of our fellow community members.
I’ve written many papers on this topic, and there is a wealth of history dating back to Plato to explain why we women view our bodies the way we do, but I don’t want to focus on the academic proof of what I’m saying here today. This is how I feel, and I suspect there are many women out there who feel the same. I’m posting this here, because I deal in food, and you, my friends and customers, appreciate food. Wherever there are women and food, there is an “ought to”. Instead I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Susan Bordo’s book, The Crystallization of Culture:
“You know, the anorexic is always convinced she is taking up too much space, eating too much, wanting food too much. I’ve never felt that way, but I’ve often felt that I was too much—too much emotion, too much need, too loud and demanding, too much there if you know what I mean.”
You deserve to be in this world, your body deserves to take up space in this world, and your inner-self deserves to be at peace with your outer-self (your vessel), not because you ought to be as a woman, but because you are a woman.