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by Willow Blish and the Slow Food East Bay team

Slow Food USA nurtures food justice through being a weaver of communities, a disruptor of injustice, a builder of relationships and a storyteller of our diverse foodways. This month, we’re going to explore each of those roles we play, starting with serving as weavers within communities through our 80+ chapters.

In November 2022, Slow Food East Bay shut down a street in West Berkeley and held a sprawling Bean Feed complete with six chefs, three wineries, two aligned nonprofits, one farm and a copious number of bean-centric fun and games — plus a couple of DJs too! Over 200 people tasted Rockwell Bean cassoulet, patan wake, Arikara Yellow Bean bao, Gallo Pinto, Zuni Gold Beans & frybread and Cherokee Trail of Tears & griddled corn dumplings. Guests drank natural wines, guessed the number of beans in a large jar and shared their first memory of eating beans.

The event showcased the way that SFEB has endeavored to gather people together – never on our own, always with community partners and always with an eye toward the vibrantly diverse community of Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and all of the East Bay.

When we first began dreaming of the Bean Feed, we imagined chefs from different cultural backgrounds each taking one of these “American” beans from the 2022 Plant A Seed kit and being given free range to create a dish through their own cultural heritage lens. Despite many (many!) hurdles in finding the beans (who would have thought that heirloom beans in danger of extinction would be so hard to source?), we managed to make the dream happen! 

We sought out chefs who had roots from all regions of the world in order to highlight how beans are present in most every cultural foodway, and also to invite folks that hadn’t had a lot of previous promotion, perhaps due to lack of experience or time in the industry. Two of our chefs “debuted” at the event, selling to the public for the first time! Our chef friends came through recommendations from colleagues and our community, as well as from a small-scale incubator program that we had worked with previously for our Cultural Food Traditions Project. 

We used our volunteer labor force to not only source and deliver beans to the chefs, but also to secure permitting and complete health department applications, looking to alleviate the administrative burdens that can distract a new and upcoming entrepreneur. 

And in order to make things a bit easier for us, we approached the local wineries that had been holding a regular “First Friday” event, shutting down the street the same way we hoped to – building on their expertise and knowledge and relationships with city officials. And in return, they got to sell wine at the event (“paired” with each of the dishes from the six chefs!). 

It truly takes a village — and honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way!