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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Posted on 08 October 2014 by robwas66

Community table stretched for half a mile on Victoria St.

Feat10_14CommunityMeal1

The table stretched for six blocks along Victoria St., from University to Minnehaha Ave. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

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By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN[spacer height=”-10px”]
On Sun., Sept. 14, places were set for 2,000 guests along Victoria St. in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. The community table, and the joy that surrounded it, stretched for half a mile from end to end. [spacer height=”-10px”]
Artist Seitu Jones, in collaboration with Public Art St. Paul, local foundations and countless volunteers, worked  together to create this very special meal. In Jones’s words, “We gather together as beloved community in a work of art. We tell our food stories. We celebrate the bounty of the earth, and the labor of those who bring food from farm to table. We share a meal prepared with love by gifted chefs. We gather in an act of love to intervene in our food system so that all may have access to healthy food and healthy life.”[spacer height=”-10px”]
Over two years ago, Public Art Saint Paul commissioned Jones to do a living work of art that would make a real impact on the community. “CREATE: The Community Meal”  aimed to encourage making healthy food choices and lowering barriers to buying and preparing healthy food. Arising from the Central Corridor Public Art Plan, CREATE illuminated how artists and their collaborators could help transform the urban food system – which is no small undertaking.[spacer height=”-10px”]
CREATE drew its inspiration from Jones’s on-going collection of food stories and spoke of food traditions and rituals of the world’s cultures. This multi-media experience engaged a host of artistic partners:
—Mobile Art Kitchens by Emily Stover
—Handmade paper placemats by Mary Hark & Community
—Spoken Word by TouSaiko Lee, Deeq Abdi, Laurine Chang, Nimo Farah, & Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria with youth of the community
—Poetic grace by G. E. Patterson —Choreography by Ananya Dance Theatre [spacer height=”-10px”]
Jones worked with new immigrant farmers from the Minnesota Food Association, who planned their summer season to grow crops for the community meal. Guided by Melvin Giles, veteran peace and diversity educator, Victoria St. neighbors prepared to host guests for this free event in their neighborhood. [spacer height=”-10px”]
Cooks of Crocus Hill co-owners Marie Dwyer and Karl Benson, along with their staff, were invaluable. Dwyer said, “It felt great to be involved in CREATE from both a food and a community perspective. It was a beautiful day in every way.” [spacer height=”-10px”]
Chef James Baker and his team of 15 cooks made it possible for 2,000 people to sit down at a very large table and enjoy a delicious meal together. He and his wife Alice own the Sunnyside Café and Elite Catering in North Minneapolis. “We’ve had to deal with 500 chickens, 60 cases of collard greens, six cases of cabbage, 40-50 pounds of black beans and 100 pounds of rice,” said chef Baker. Preparing a meal on that scale took a lot of thought and coordination.[spacer height=”-10px”]
Food justice. Transforming the urban food system. Food infrastructure and better access to it. What does all this new language mean? It’s about communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers and animals. Practicing food justice leads to a stronger local food system, a more self-reliant community and a healthier environment. This isn’t something that only the wealthy deserve.[spacer height=”-10px”]
Jones is well-poised to deliver this message. “I’m a visual artist using ceramics, metal, glass and wood.  On a core level, my practice is about social  engagement and creative place-making,” he said.
“I have been exhibiting and creating works of public art for 40 years. I have partnered with Public Art Saint Paul for more than 20 years on projects in Frogtown and the Central Corridor, and am excited about our collaboration to make the food system more visible and accessible,” added Jones.[spacer height=”-10px”]
The sun was shining in Frogtown as the guests streamed in from all directions for the community meal. People seemed to greet strangers and old friends with equal ease.  [spacer height=”-10px”]
“At its heart,” Jones concluded, CREATE was really about love. And as Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us,  the “beloved community” is the basis for a healthy society.”


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