How was MEAL conceived?
M.E.A.L. was originally conceived in the winter of 2011 by a group of passionate eaters who wanted to become actively engaged in supporting the development of a sustainable, local food system on PEI. The MEAL team gathered around a table and discussed the fact that issues around food affect one hundred percent of the Island population, and yet it seemed like most events concerning the future of PEI’s food system were being led by those directly involved in agriculture. The MEAL team wanted to take an active role in helping to shape the future of PEI’s food system by providing an opportunity for eaters and food producers to have an open, engaging and positive dialogue about food issues. As eaters, the organizing group also wanted to celebrate Island food producers and showcase their delicious products to emphasize the diversity of foods available locally.
The result of the team’s visioning efforts and planning, A Local MEAL, was held in March 2011. A celebratory event, the MEAL provided much food for thought through a series of visually-engaging presentations that touched on topics such as organic production, urban gardening and the politics of food. These presentations were carried out in a specific format, known as Pecha Kucha, where each speaker is permitted to use 20 slides (with each one containing a single image) and each slide is shown for 20 seconds. Attendees were also afforded the opportunity to mingle and meet with other eaters and farmers, while free samples of local fare donated by Island producers and prepared by chefs served as a delicious and fitting ‘piece de resistance’ for the evening.
The evening proved an overwhelming success, far exceeding the expectations of the organizing group. Withe expectations of attendance at 50 to 80 people, the organizing team was completely shocked when the room capacity of 200 was exceeded. While the numbers were encouraging, what really entrenched the success of the event was the palpable energy that permeated the room. Farmers provided encouraging feedback to the group, remarking that the positive energy was a welcome exception to the crisis-management meetings they so frequently attend at the Farm Centre. There were also many urban dwellers in attendance that used this as an opportunity to connect with a farmer with a CSA or veggie delivery operation.
Buoyed by the success of A Local MEAL, the team decided to organize a second serving of the event in December 2011. An Island MEAL followed a similar format to the first event and, again, proved that there was an appetite for learning and conversation about local food on PEI.