Social Connectedness / 2013
Loosely based on the ubiquity of food trucks in the landscape of Los Angeles, the Potluck Truck is a mobile unit that encourages community engagement through informal cultural activities and collective meals. Moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, the Potluck Truck is a temporary community center that offers discussion groups, film screenings, and workshops all related to food and food production in Los Angeles, as well as related topics that address ideas of growth and sustenance. By not limiting itself to one location, the truck-space will interact with multiple publics and connect people in different cultural and geographic locations in the city. Our indicator is social connectedness, and the Potluck Truck brings people together. The name reflects the idea that everyone brings something to the table, metaphorically or practically, whether that be a story, seeds, a soup, or their wonderful selves. When people come together, especially when there is food involved, there is encouragement to relax, and conversations happen. Project Food LA is excited to retrofit a food truck and transform the interior space into a seed and book library, a space for people to leave poems, recipes and photos as well; the truck becomes a reflection and archive of the diversity of Los Angeles. We would joyously partner with local farmers and create programming around seasonal produce. Farmers will be invited to present about their farming practices, water conservation methods, and showcase their produce. The truck will include a film screen and pull out benches and poofs - the ability to turn an empty lot into a makeshift outdoor theatre. Food connects people; we all have to eat and the Potluck Truck uses this simple fact as a platform to challenge the normalization of areas of the city being food deserts, and the potentially isolating nature of domestic space. It harkens back to the idea of the commons, a space where everyone has a right to be, and inscribes food democracy into that shared privilege to congregate, and act, as empowered citizenry.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
When the City of Los Angeles passed a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in 2008, Project Food LA (PFLA) was formed to bring diverse, creative voices to issues of food and justice in Los Angeles. Since its founding, PFLA has staged a series of provocative events in diverse locations in the city.
Hungry Urbanism In this panel discussion series taking place over 4 months, PFLA engaged diverse thinkers to help look at the food system as an urban planning/design issue. The series of four discussions were staged at locations including Habeas Lounge and Southern California Institute of Architecture, the MAK Center in West Hollywood, and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee in Watts. The discussions tackled a range of topics including the role of local urban planning in the context of a global food system, a survey of urban food practices, the cultural conditions of health in South LA, and proposals for an urban farm in Watts.
Fragrant Flavor Freeze Six local chefs were asked to create ice cream featuring a local, seasonal herb for a tasting event on Father’s Day. Visitors were invited to sample, smell, touch, taste the herb and the ice cream on which it was based. The goal of the event was to celebrate flavor and local, seasonal ingredients. Participants were challenged to reconnect multiple senses to the experience of taste.
Sage Table For an exhibition of creative family practices with Broodwork at Otis College of Art & Design, PFLA created the “Sage Table.” This table was an apothecary of sorts, cataloguing 17 types of local sage in a unique table. The tabletop contained the sage varieties as well as a series of seeds for collection and home planting. Visitors were invited to sow the seeds with pots and organic soil that were provided. The table also housed a variety of reference materials and didactic information about the sage so common in California.
Micheltorena Tree Planting With a grant from Closed on Mondays, PFLA was able to provide materials and labor for a tree planting at Micheltorena School in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. As part of the school’s community work day and the United States Green Building Council’s day of service, PFLA engaged a school mission to transform asphalt to permeable surface and fruit trees. A Guava Tree was planted in the playground, and has grown since we implemented the project.
Mudtown Farms PFLA has been engaged with Mudtown Farm, an initiative of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. We have been involved with a series of events for this project. With a successful Prop 84 grant of nearly $5 million, PFLA has staged tours, cross promoted and advocated for the realization of this project.
In addition to these past events, the Potluck Truck is something we have discussed for quite a while. Currently, events are being planned around the conflict between indigenous Mexican farmers and the Monsanto Corporation as big agriculture attempts to take over the Mexican production of corn.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
LACMA - www.lacma.org
Santa Monica Museum of Art - www.smmoa.org
Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) - www.wlcac.org
Large Marge Sustainables - www.largemargesustainables.com
RootDown LA, A Project of Community Partners - www.rootdownla.org
Los Angeles Walks - www.losangeleswalks.org
Big City Forum - www.bigcityforum.blogspot.com
delab - www.designeastoflabrea.blogspot.com
COTE (Committee on the Environment - a campaign of the AIA-LA) - www.facebook.com/COTEAIALosAngeles
[Beyond Los Angeles] Future of Places International Conference (New Urban Agenda), Sweden (organized by the UN Habitat and Project for Public Spaces) - www.futureofplaces.com
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Often times, success may be evaluated in numbers: one million “likes,” two million “followers,” three million “repins.” As the events of the Potluck Truck may be rendered digitally in the forms of video, online blogging and publications, the Truck will eventually earn “likes,” “followers” and “repins.” While significant in helping to prove and proliferate success, the levels of achievement of the Potluck Truck cannot be evaluated solely on these terms.
This project aims to provide a venue for mutual learning and discussion. The Potluck Truck lends itself to becoming a stage for a lecture series, a wall for murals, unfolds into a table for shared meals, and is a roaming vessel of art. It travels to where the people are, and allows community members to gather around a common table. In this rich environment, discussions will be had, ideas will sprout, relationships will be strengthened and plans for a better Los Angeles will be made. When the event ends and the Truck packs up, however, will that productive environment remain – internally or nurtured through connection? If so, some level of success may be claimed.
The Potluck Truck is an agitator, inciting activity and exciting new or an existing dialogue. While the event itself is brief, a successful event’s impact will not be short lived. On the contrary, it may inspire a group of young film makers to pursue filming a much need documentary, or motivate an individual to organize a compost program in his/her neighborhood. The results are, indeed, myriad and promising.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is often referred to as a city without a center, a city of multiple cities. Within this vast metropolis, many neighborhoods lack adequate public green spaces to enjoy. Only 4% of Los Angeles is devoted to public greenery, compared to 17% in New York City. Additionally, the inequitable distribution of green space is staggering, and lower income neighborhoods suffer the cost in health challenges and increased violence. Studies prove these correlations time and again. This lack of shared public space affects the ability to build relationships in the city; there are remarkably few locations to claim or meet to eat a meal. Los Angeles needs a responsive public arena - the Potluck Truck! The Potluck Truck is a mobile public space where the diverse publics of Los Angeles may choose to engage with each other and their environment, simultaneously reflecting the neighborhood’s character and the way that nature is present in the city. Using nourishment as a catalyst for social engagement, the Potluck Truck reconnects us to the history of Los Angeles as a chaparral biome and its robust farming history.
Los Angeles was not always paved over; until the mid 1950s, LA County was the top producing agricultural county in the United States, surpassing the Midwest. Now only 6,000 acres are farmed in the county. Los Angeles grew as it did because of the fertile soil and year round growing season. The draw to the west came from the possibility of planting one’s desires into the landscape, turning the soil and using the land productively. Downtown Los Angeles was a patchwork of vineyards, Hollywood grew lima beans, Sylmar was the Olive Capital of the World, Watts was home for beef cattle. The Los Angeles Unified School District had required curriculum in agriculture, and specific land allocated for this use. 4-H clubs thrived as youth learned farming techniques, and today, many fallow fields remain in middle schools. The Potluck Truck is a dedicated way to acknowledge, honor and gently reinscribe lost ways of knowing and being with the land, and the value of coming together around food. The Truck is a creative platform encouraging all to participate in a form of art that, implicitly, is the commons. The shared building of ideas, responsive to specific temporary environments, may themselves become more stable in space.
Los Angeles as a city suffers from vast divisions and cultural isolation, partly due to the lack of adequate public transportation and the massive area of the city. As an inclusive space, where all are invited to engage with the Potluck Truck, a shared community resource, the mode of exchange is dialogical, not based on economic currency. The Truck functions in a renewable way, constantly fueled by shifting community energy. This platform challenges cultural and economic alienation, and grows an archive of place and connection. Community members become stakeholders in the Potluck Truck, and are encouraged to create programming and events.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Success would be perceived and visible in people willingly and eagerly showing their empowerment through active participation in the commons. This would be demonstrated, initially, through an ownership of the Potluck Truck (PT). People could suggest ideas for events that serve their community and grow the PT’s exhibitions, film screenings, and contribution to the seed bank, helping to initiate contact with both new publics and connect folks with similar interests. The PT reveals the contribution of all present, shifting the focus from the creators of PT to those gathering together.
Throughout history, food and meals have served as a foundation of community, exchange and societal ritual. The PT reasserts the sharing of meals and breaking of bread as an essential element in a healthy community. The PT is a mobile celebration around food. It is not dinner in front of a TV and it is not lunch in a car. This is a truck that delivers slow food events.
These social events would contribute to an ongoing process of making visible the public sphere, and allow the thematics present during PT to reflect upon a greater LA while helping to soften the current balkanization of the City. The inclusivity would support an embodied equity that would, ideally, extend beyond the PT’s presence.
During PT events, people may explore and express a spirit of civic collaboration, seeing their neighbors and people across the City as allies, unique cuisines and community struggles - to varying degrees - shared by the whole. This would, over time, provide a means to emphasize our interconnection and mutuality. Primary indicators of wellbeing, relationships strengthen resilience and ability to manage stress. Creating social settings for people to congregate that serve the need for recreation, education, culture and health will encourage the establishment of further permanent public gathering places that nurture social connection. Swiftly, the PT shows the importance of the public sphere and incentivize equitable allocation of gardens and parks in lower income neighborhoods. Consciously intending to braid publics, constituents, and local and municipal authorities, the PT chooses to transform and regenerate our built landscape through interventions that leave all involved nourished and considered. Playfulness within a serious willfulness to mobilize change is the methodology.
Running on biodiesel, advocating for local foods, hosting a seed library, showing that art is a right and not a privilege and welcoming all, the PT models an inclusive vision for cultural vitality and dialogical processes that encourage collaboration. PT will affirm one’s sense of importance and deservingness. It will be a platform to motivate and inspire discussions and partnerships that are generative and expand to contribute towards creating equitable distribution of green space, access to healthy foods, engaging cultural programming and livable neighborhoods.