Written by Arianna Maysonave
The room buzzed with fervent whispers, the inviting scent of fresh arepas wafting as attendees bustled through our Sweet & Salty night market – the lights dimmed as our first storyteller stepped on stage, graciously inviting us into their world. Sharing the challenges and triumphs of their personal journey in the foodspace, each storyteller brought a different flavor to the evening, creating a feast of stories for us all to indulge in. The level of transparency, honesty, and vulnerability displayed fostered intimacy within a group of strangers — a transient experience with a depth of influence, these connections were what so many long for amidst the anonymity of modern society.
Real Food Real Stories’ first annual StorySlam was a roaring success, and playing a role in its creation was inspiring. The event boasted 300 attendees, 40+ volunteers, 9 storytellers, and 13 local food businesses — individuals from all walks of life, from farmers to entrepreneurs, chefs to business owners, bloggers to photographers — we all gathered, shared, and enjoyed an evening that celebrated the strength in diversity, the potency of mutual support, and the power of sharing our hearts with one another.
The storytellers were raw and real, delivering their messages in a myriad of moving forms – Rebecca King shared a poem reflecting her life as a piece of cheese, Nik Sharma emotionally shared the tribulations of being a person of color in the food world, Erin Gleeson divulged her transition from a vegan catholic to a pork-loving Jew, and Keba Konte told of how coffee has forged a path of healing in his homeland Senegal.
The beauty of Real Food Real Stories, an innovative storytelling organization empowering today’s most dedicated and passionate food change makers, lies in its core mission. Our purpose is to inspire and connect, giving often unrecognized food-folks a platform for sharing their story. We are a community organization promoting human connection, a food systems non-profit humanizing the faces behind our food, and a storytelling group offering pro bono storytelling coaching as a way to give voice to the voiceless. We address aspects of the entire food chain, reconnecting eaters with those responsible for growing, harvesting, distributing, and cooking our food. We ultimately seek to promote environmental and human health by creating a system of empowered producers and conscious consumers. Together, we work tirelessly day by day toward a regenerative and sustainable food system for the masses, not the few.
RFRS hosts a variety of different events throughout the year, most of which include a delicious meal, a moving story, and an opportunity to mingle with like-minded food-folks. The brave and tenacious storytellers encourage us to stand up, to support our local food movement and play an active role in its evolution. One event may highlight the challenges of being a woman entrepreneur in the beer business, elucidating gender issues in a typically male dominated industry, while the next may tell the tale of an African-American woman who found the joy of gardening and opened Acta Non Verba, a phenomenal urban farm in Oakland teaching kids how to plant, grow, and harvest food. Another may trace the plight of strawberry farmers in Salinas, the racial challenges of immigration and the difficulties of balancing profit and sustainability. Their stories are salty and they are sweet, a reflection of the delicate balance of food, of life, and of the interconnection between the two. Events are beneficial for all involved – attendees have the opportunity to network, learn about incredible changemakers, and are encouraged to follow-up with suggested “action steps” to continue making waves in the food system. Chefs or restaurants who provide the meal gain publicity and support. Storytellers learn more about themselves through our founder Peiru’s incredible storytelling coaching, and also share their passion with attendees who may not otherwise know about their cause, company, or organization.
Joining the RFRS team this fall offered me insight into the joys and challenges of working with a small nonprofit. I was able to hit the ground running as an integral part of our small team, working intimately with our three staff members, Pei-ru, Brie, and Sophia on a variety of projects. From crafting newsletters to managing social media, from assisting with events to helping food prep for supperclubs, from participating in priorities meetings to drafting grants applications, I truly saw the behind the scenes world of RFRS. Working with these powerhouse women was inspiring and encouraging, and I am so grateful for their mentorship and support over this past semester. The experience I gained as an intern was incredible, and the exposure to so many passionate changemakers truly empowered me to continue working in the food world. I am thrilled to watch as the organization grows, expanding its breadth of influence through their recently launched podcast + other exciting events in the works!
Real Food Real Stories is a hidden gem in the foodspace – there’s something about the way Peiru is able to evoke such authentic emotion from people, to coach them gently, to craft a cohesive story from the fabric of their lives. Hearing other people’s stories often inspires you to share your own, and thus begins a chain reaction of restored connectedness across families, communities, and beyond. One of the greatest challenges in our fast-paced, industrialized world is the fact that in pursuit of faster, better, more we have lost our connections to each other. Individualistic to a fault, America is a place of personal striving at the fault of societal improvement – we compete more than we collaborate. And maybe, just maybe, if organizations like RFRS were able to bring people together in a genuine way, perhaps we might realize that, despite political, social, and environmental flux, at the end of the day, there remains far more that unites us than divides us.