I'd like to buy the world a Coke

2008 was packed with monumental moments....but for me, the most significant highlight was being invited to speak at Antioch University.

Last fall, Antioch's Center for Creative Change offered a master's level class titled, the Political Ecology of Food & Eating. Through a variety of channels (readings, videos, and an "interpretive feast"), students examined the impact food choices have on natural systems, cultural practices, and political economic structures. Topics ranged from food production, distribution and consumption and the effects they have not only nationally and internationally, but also on the human body.

Seattle PI journalist and James Beard Award-winner, Rebekah Denn and I were asked to address a number of points, but I found myself mulling over one question in particular: "What brought you to this point where food and eating is so integral to your career, life and passion?"

This Coca-Cola commercial represents a significant early influence.

As a kid growing up in the '70s, my mother had just entered the job market. Babysitters took the form of TV, and my brother and I watched endless hours of television. I was raised in Peoria, Illinois--a sleepy Midwestern town bordered by the Illinois River, with corn fields and soybean crops as far as the eye could see. Bombarded by commericals and middle-American values, Coca-Cola was the "everyman" indulgence...and we consumed it by the case.

During those countless hours of television, this commercial played repeatedly. My girlfriends and I would roller skate in front of the house--decked out in Princess Leigh braids and tube socks, singing the Coca-Cola jingle over and over again.

"I'd like to buy the world a home...and furnish it with love.
Grow apple trees and honey bees...and snow white turtle doves.

I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
I'd like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company. "

Then, I was infatuated with pre-teen love and a romantic notion idealized by apple trees, honey bees, and turtle doves. And maybe some small part of me believed it could be obtained through a bottle of Coca-Cola. Advertising is powerful.

But it is the visual image that lives with me today. Picture a diverse group of people, gathering together over the slightest common unifier.

What else do they have in common?

We're not sure yet.

Let's bring them to the mountain top and find out.

In this example, the opportunity began with something as simple as a Coke. What about our world today? Where does the dialog begin?

My career has come to signify many things...but ultimately, you could say: I proactively seek opportunities to bring relevant people around the table. And food is the catalyst. It is the reason we come together, but is far from the final outcome.

Flash forward to today.....

Until recently, my eating habits were highly influenced by advertising. Thanks to early imprinting from my childhood...food meant more than fuel to nourish the body. Food was comfort--a substitute for nurturing...and it came in the form of industrialized products and fast foods, American-style.

When I moved to Seattle, a whole new world opened up. Local, seasonal and organic are so embedded in our society, it's almost passe. Then I took a hard look at my eating choices...and Coca-Cola was the first thing to go.

I became serious about food and it manifested itself in a number of ways. Over the years, I've worked with chefs and farmers, politicians, journalists, fishermen, chocolatiers, food writers, photographers, bloggers, and foragers. Their passions became an extension of my own...and I began to realize, directly or indirectly, we all have an impact each other.

Apple trees. Honey bees. Snow white turtle doves.

My mind kept reverting back to that commercial. A hilltop in Italy, drawing people from diverse backgrounds.

What if....

What if....we identified the common bond among leaders in their field...and extended an invitation to the table? What if...we provided a forum for meaningful dialog? What if...a meal...was the catalyst that finally brought us together?

An idea was born.

My background is extremely varied, but all roads came back to food. Whether I was working for the House of Representatives, a non-governmental organization, or one of the top brokerage firms in the country, food was my "true north." For staffers or brokers, interns or elected officials, a plate of brownies or a pint of homemade ice cream greased the skids and bonded us together on more than one occasion.

Food fueled my passions.

Today, I take every opportunity to draw people together--whether it's dinner for 20 in back room prep kitchen, Chinatown Grub Crawls, or a series of tastings in the cupping room.

I have a dream....that as food & travel lovers who are curious about the world, that's all the bond we need. United together over a hilltop in Italy, or the brotherhood of bacon, you have something to share...and we have something to learn. If I can provide that connection...and tip the balance, for me...there is no greater joy.