(Note: In August, during a trip to Pittsburgh, maybe the second time in my life I had ever visited the city on the delta, my friend Weldon and I came upon a peculiar sight - a vintage RV surrounded by three young women, one cooking, one setting up a fire, and the other, clipboard in hand, talking to passers-by about what they were doing. These women - Laura, Claire and Dawn - have set up shop as RV Eatin', a portable catering company that is more non-profit than business. Their goal is to facilitate great food, great company and great discussion about food, sustainability, nutrition and resources through the cooking and sharing of a local, mostly vegetarian meal out of their portable RV.)
It was one of those perfect Pittsburgh Saturday mornings in early August - no humidity, a light breeze, a clear sky and not too hot. As we were walking to the car after visiting the local/organic/sustainable farmers market in the strip district, we found a young woman busily chopping vegetables in front of a vintage RV while another young woman asked us if we wanted to make a reservation.
A reservation? For an RV?
We were intrigued.
Outside the RV, Laura, a passionate cook, was preparing to grill a range of fresh vegetables that Claire, one of the three partners in RV Eatin, their collective, had procured through her work at one of Pittsburgh's urban farms, Mildred's Daughters.
While Claire and Laura cooked, Dawn (who is their spokesperson and main server) told us about their RV (borrowed from a Carnegie-Mellon professor, Jon Rubin), and their brand new endeavor, RV Eatin'. All three were Carnegie-Mellon art students and met through the program there. Through a mutual love of food - and lucking into the RV - they decided to create a performance space cum 'inverted food truck' that they would use to connect people to one another and people to the source of their food by making and serving simple vegetable-based meals.
They explained to us that for $10 per person, RV Eatin' would bring their RV to Weldon's house (or farm or school or pool or playground or parking lot or anywhere, really) and cook, either alone or with our help, a nutritious meal made from local produce. They would eat with us in the RV (if there was room) and talk to us about what they were doing, where the produce came from, and how we could make similar meals at home. Weldon and I loved the idea.
RV Eatin' is similar in some ways to the better known (and more commercial) Outstanding in the Field (meals start at $180), but with an eye toward community outreach and education and, in contrast with Outstanding in the Field, less about bringing wealthy foodie consumers to the farm to commune with the source of their food than about bringing the farm to communities and people that otherwise may not have access to it. With prices last summer starting at $10 per person per meal, the women of RV Eatin' are trying to create a service that almost anyone, regardless of socio-economic status and buying power, can enjoy. Another advantage the women enjoy is that they did not create RV Eatin' to be a profit-center and their sole source of income but to be a low-cost, seasonal labor of love that generates enough money to cover their gas and food costs.
Although Weldon and I didn't realize it at the time, this canvassing of the parking lot in the strip district was RV Eatin's first day out. We weren't the only ones to take notice of the RV and the BBQ in the parking lot. Other photographers stopped by to capture RV Eatin's set up and a few others even made reservations for meals. I found this out reading their blog, which documented the day we visited.
Because they all work other jobs, reservations are taken primarily for Saturdays. I don't know if they are going to run RV Eatin' this coming season (2009) but I certainly hope they do. And I hope other people in other cities around the country try their hand at this type of community outreach. Not every effort to educate and feed and share needs to have a profit motive or be backed by a deep-pocketed non-profit. All it takes is desire and passion sprinkled with a little luck and a lot of idealism. Right now, I'd say we all need more of that.
If you want to know how other people in other communities are fighting back in their own way, check out Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays post.