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It’s been almost three weeks since we had our potluck. I apologize for the tardy write-up of the event.
There were about 16 of us, with a couple of new faces. Sharing food lent the gathering a sense of being with extended family – a pre-Thanksgiving feast, so to speak. The topic on everyone’s mind was no doubt the economic crisis and how each was faring.
With local papers and blogs announcing almost-weekly restaurant closures, the untold story is the ripple effect the restaurant slowdown has had on suppliers. The farmers, ranchers, butchers and fishmongers, among others, are suffering just as badly. Eating locally supports an entire food system, not just the people who prepare the food.
Comparisons of product/service packaging and pricing, what food pros think consumers are willing to pay in this economy, ideas for new revenue streams – I can’t track all of the topics, there were so many lively and simultaneous conversations.
With so many different businesses represented – food carts, catering, restaurants, cooking schools – there was no single cookie cutter solution. The diversity and wealth of experience in the room ensured an empathetic ear, creative ideas and sage advice for those who needed it most. But we did brainstorm a couple ways to generate business opportunities.
One is a coordinated campaign to bring visibility to and support for women-owned food businesses. The other is to create a “dine-around” campaign that rewards diners for doing business with all participating women-owned restaurants. I’m oversimplifying the details here in the interest of brevity, but the need to organize and galvanize is urgent given that the typically slow winter season is certain to be the toughest we’ve ever faced.
Which is why this next update is critical: Everyone also felt strongly that we should be a grassroots organization, apart from the national Women Chefs & Restaurateurs group. We don’t want to enforce membership fees for participation, and we definitely want to open up the group to include professions that serve the food industry, such as marketing, finance and so forth. On the surface, that means changing the name from PDX WCR to something new. But more deeply, there is a need for broader outreach.
As a nascent group with no financial support and 100% volunteer effort, (the group formerly known as) PDX WCR can’t accomplish anything without reaching out beyond those employed in the food industry. Those of us volunteering already can’t do this alone; we all have our day jobs.
My hope is that we’ll find some willing and interested supporters from other professions who are willing to lend some time and energy to bring either of the two campaign ideas to life.
By word-of-mouth we can make the necessary connections to draw attention, leadership and resources. We need to reinforce the importance of eating locally and generate support for women in the Portland food industry for what looks like a bleak 2009 for most.
Please help spread the word, and I’ll do my best to respond and organize.
We haven’t set a meeting date for January yet. I’ll keep you posted.