Connected Through Food
Food brings people together. You don’t even have to speak the same language to bond with someone over your love for food. It is a great way to access your community and relate with those around you. I had the privilege of talking with Howie Southworth, host of one of my favorite shows on evōx, Sauced In Translation, about his role within his community and how he uses his passion for food to connect people all over the world.
How has the show (Sauced in Translation) affected your outlook on community?
There is no doubt that my perspective on community is nurtured through the show! I learn something new about people, culture and community whenever we shoot. I'm flabbergasted by the learning that comes from the folks we meet on location! This may seem obvious, and a tad cliché, but people simply coalesce around food, and since we're making food TV, it's a given that we'll make new friends on our path, and essentially become visitors to their community. With any luck, we'll also be forming a growing community around the global love of food, too!
We were shooting episode 2 in Harbin, China a few months back. When we got to the first place we were filming, a really old bakery, we were surprised by a dozen folks that came to watch, and even a Chinese TV crew! They had heard through the grapevine that we were filming in town and decided that it would be cool to come watch and film a show about us. That was an entertaining twist. They spent the whole day with us and we shared several delicious meals. We had a cast of characters ready-made for our show, to boot. It wasn't a shock that we picked up stuff about the locals that we hadn't planned on learning. Made for a much richer episode than we had sketched out!
From the outset, Sauced may look like a show about me traveling the globe cooking up American food for people unfamiliar with it. Yet, if you allow yourself to go one step closer to the screen, Sauced becomes a showcase of culture and community. The show is set up in three acts. First, I eat a lot of local dishes; Second, I shop at hyper local markets; and Third, I find somewhere to cook and feed folks. We learn and leverage so much about the community that surrounds us and despite language differences, the communication is astounding! Without saying a word, cool relationships form around the food we buy and the food we cook. The world becomes a much smaller place during the shoot, as we find commonalities in taste, values and quirks wherever we go.
If any part of this comes across on screen, even better!
2. How can people use their love for food to get involved within their own communities?
Cook. Cook a lot. Teach people how to cook, and then go cook again! Potlucks are awesome. Bring a casserole! Bake some cookies for your coworkers. Throw block parties and banquets. Grill. Invite people you don't know (yet). Share food photos across your social networks. It'll get people talking. Engage the sellers at the farmers market. You will learn something new. Ask someone about his or her latest meal. It's a nice thing, and you'll start a rich conversation. Start a book club...a cookbook club! There is simply nothing better than food as a vehicle to relate to people. It's the low hanging fruit.
On the volunteerism side, food is also a great starter. There are so many wonderful opportunities to give something back to the community through cooking. Whether you're volunteering at a soup kitchen or passing out loaves of homemade bread on street corners, the simple skill of cooking has application all over the map. What I find very common is that folks may have skill in the kitchen, but may not have the time to devote to these types of volunteerism. Food related charities give this person a chance to be a part of the effort by donating.
When we are shooting Sauced, one of the things we try to do, though not always successfully, is feed a crowd that doesn't expect it. Obviously, we're not selling the food; we are sharing it with a community in hopes of building bridges. Sometimes the target community is planned and sometimes it takes us by surprise! For a future episode, we have a plan to make veggie burgers for a group of Tibetan monks. But it's a secret. Don't tell them :)
3. What communities do you yourself belong to?
That's an interesting question that I've never really thought about. Well, if I were to parse out the communities to which I belong, I would have to start with my family, then broaden out to include my friends, then coworkers, then folks in the general environment, rather, my orbit. We all walk past the same monuments every day (I work in DC). We have stuff to talk about, if ever given the opportunity. I would also say that the otherwise invisible community of travelers is a strong group, even though most of us will never meet. It's an assumed or expected community. Frankly, any set of folks with similar needs, similar desires, and similar frequent flyer miles counts!
Whenever I am on the road or in the air, it's pretty easy to find commonalities with fellow people on the go. For example, when I am in China, far off the beaten path, and bump into a fellow foreigner, there's an instant connection and plenty to chat about. An undeniable bond. Where have you been? Where are you going? What foods have you tried? Nice backpack! That leads me to online forums, actually. That is most certainly a community. I get vast amounts of information for the show by inserting myself into communities of knowledgeable adventurers who have already been where we plan to shoot an episode.
We're all students of the world. That should mean something big.
4. What is the message you would like to pass on to others through your brand and your show?
Sauced in Translation is all about forming bonds through the sharing of food. The goal is to make a better community, and that actually applies to three very different communities. First, we have the group of folks living and working in the neighborhood, in which we will eat, shop, cook and film. Then we have us, the crew. We're benefiting from their centuries of tradition, learning from them and allowing this to influence us. Hopefully, we're doing the same for them. By teaching them that American food is more than just cheeseburgers and fried chicken, we're helping them to grow as well. Lastly, we have the community that will watch the show. If I'm lucky enough to be in their living room and help them to learn about the places we go and the people we meet, they are connected to everyone else tuned in! One big, happy, well-fed family.