One idea that surfaced from the recent VAT meetings was to foster a vision of Sisters Country as the artisanal capital of Oregon.
That idea may be one of the better ones to have emerged from the project, if only because it is an organic outcome of broad-based community support. It is also something that is already happening, and largely independent from political or economic winds that blow beyond anyone’s meaningful influence or control.
It is the essence of the “grass roots” meme.
Sisters Country already punches above its weight with the number of successful artisans and artists (I’m not really sure I know the difference, or care if there is one) whose work carries a strong, and far-reaching, reputation for excellence. In some cases that recognition is international. No small feat.
I’m not sure how I was picked to be among the VAT members. I have suspicions, but alas, lack evidence for a prosecution. And not that it really matters, because even though I’m not generally well-suited for committee settings – and therefore never expect to be on one — I had a great time, met some wonderful people, and was eventually voted best-dressed.
Okay, I made that up, but I was, on the occasion of our first meeting, greeted with a kind of laconic “Oh, you’re THAT guy,” which probably wasn’t meant to be entirely complimentary, but which, in the moment, seemed to provide confirmation that throwing off my inner JD Salinger for a trip into town was a bad decision.
Such is the fabulous life of a small-town newspaper columnist.
But, truth be told, and despite the opening hiccup, I found the work to be meaningful and fun, and was impressed by the high level of commitment and sincerity displayed by the VAT team. That’s true even though, at one point, I was proffered to become a participant in a political discussion — based on misperceptions of my views. The offer was a compliment, but I’m just not in the bag for either of our antique political parties, who are poster-children for the ills of institutional inertia.
Which was really the driving force, for me, behind joining the VAT team. It’s local. And it matters.
If you haven’t looked at the results of the VAT meetings, it’s probably a good idea to go on-line and take a read. It’s a good idea because that document will, if adopted, backstop political decisions well into the future of Sisters Country. What I found in our meetings was that the work was done in exceptionally good faith by people across the spectrum of ideas – with plenty of disagreement and compromise – and the final product, while perhaps a bit pie-in-the-sky in some respects, is the result of genuine commitment to a future of shared success.
That’s always fun, and good, to be a part of.
And if the meetings had not been that, rest assured this space would say so — even if it meant I’d never be invited to play with the other kids again.
Recently, and I think these things are related, I’ve been enjoying a series on Netflix called Chef’s Table. It is a profoundly interesting, extremely well-produced, and wholly moving series of profiles on various chefs around the world who have made a mark on the culinary world.
And not just in the areas of creating terrific food. Each of the profiled chefs has a different story, but all of them seem to have an intense commitment to preserving the very best of their cultural traditions, while creating amazing and fresh cuisine for everyone else.
One of those profiles is of Cristina Martinez, co-owner and head chef at South Philly Barbacoa. Martinez fled from Mexico – where she was forced to leave her daughter — to escape an abusive husband, then walked fifteen days through the Sonoran desert to enter the United States illegally. Eventually, she made it to Philadelphia, where she worked numerous jobs at various restaurants and where she was eventually fired — after marrying an American and asking her boss to write a recommendation letter so that she might finally apply for a green card.
The boss said he couldn’t get involved. He didn’t fire anyone else.
Sicilians like to serve revenge cold, but Martinez serves it hot. In 2016 her restaurant, specializing in barbacoa and pancita, was recognized by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the top 6 restaurants in the United States. With her success, Martinez has become a vocal advocate for the rights and conditions of America’s millions of undocumented restaurant workers. These are the unsensational immigrants, you know, the ones who don’t shoot cops or peddle dope, just decent folks working feverishly in jobs Americans actually don’t want to do anymore, but who remain subject to the Byzantine stupidity of our immigration law.
Seen through the lens of my recent VAT experience, whose task was to envision what kind of place we want Sisters Country to be, and while expired politicians continue debating expired ideas on fixing the immigration problem, Martinez’s hard-won experience and successful contributions to her South Philly community seemed remarkably poignant. Because who cares where she is from? Starting with nothing, using only her considerable talents and inexhaustible work-ethic, all she has managed to do is to create an artisanal capital, recognized around the world, from her tiny barbacoa joint on South 9thStreet.
Which is exactly the kind of thing I support. Always. Papers or no papers.