IT'S STARTING to smell, and taste, like Savannah is beginning to understand how important our food industry is to our local culture.
Or maybe us locals are just fed up with how things have been, and we are being the change we want to see, as we take actions into our own hands.
Either way, I’ve had the privilege to see first-hand some of these changes happen, and it has started to bring a sense of excitement to the city. Our communities have been waiting for things to develop, and the locals are about to start reaping the benefits of being patient and sticking it out in Slow-vannah.
I’ve also seen some of the national trends regarding food begin to trickle its way into the roots of the South, and their impacts are on the precipice of changing some of the fibers that have woven this city through all of its history.
I think some of the resistance comes for people who aren’t used to change, so protecting what they know and have grown accustomed to is more important than growing and evolving into the next phase. Those are dangerous precedents, and are a big reason why Savannah has stagnant for so long.
It is important that the people who are in charge of making the big decisions see through the past and the right now, and start preparing to embrace the future. One huge nod to that notion was the decision by the City Council of Savannah to pass the ordinance to allow food trucks to have a bigger influence on our culture and food industry.
That decision said to us that they are willing to look at things a little differently, and allow us as a city to continue to find our voice in this day and age.
Another subtle thing I’ve noticed that has shifted is in people paying attention to what they are putting in their bodies. Reading food labels, and researching where their produce and meat come from, have had people questioning their eating habits. And as a result, we have seen an influx of vegetarians and vegans begin to pop up, which I believe is a testament to how far we have come from how food was intended to be.
To bring it all together, I was invited to attend a vegan pop up last week called “Tephra,” put on by Chef Shawn Harrison and Foxy Loxy. I had the privilege of speaking with him and the person who helped him coordinate and put this event on, Clay Ehmke, who is also the manager of The Coffee Fox.
“I’ve been cooking professionally for about twelve years, but I have been developing vegan menus for the last 6 years”, Shawn explains. “Clay started following my action via social media, and reached out to me to help push this wave of veganism further in the city of Savannah.”
Shawn lives in Charlotte, NC, and works in a vegan restaurant, as well as hosting weekend vegan pops up around his city.
“My goal is to plant a seed in someone’s head every time I get the opportunity to cook,” Shawn says.
And that is exactly what he did on this very night. Living in the deep South comes with many stigmas that we as locals know aren’t wholeheartedly true, but which may still be lingering in certain aspects. For example, our food.
I know before I moved to Savannah, I assumed everything that was cooked in the South was either deep fried or came with a pound of butter attached. True in certain aspects, but however that isn’t the only truth that exists in Savannah.
On the contrary, in other communities it is almost the opposite of that fabricated reality. There are communities dedicated to pushing the mold and who are aware of the importance of knowing what you are putting in your body.
“Veganism isn’t a fad, it is a way of living that just so happens to be currently trending upwards, and in my opinion is a trend that I don’t believe will plateau for years to come,” Clay explains.
“Whether chef prepared or at home, veganism is gaining popularity in many different places. We are at the beginning of the bell curve, and there are so many aspects of veganism, from animal advocacy to fashion, but we all believe that food is the driving force for this shift in consciousness,” Clay says.
I believe just like most paradigm shifts that happen, there is usually something that happens to shake people awake to what is really going on. I believe if we look at the rate of increase of diseases such as diabetes and cancer over the last seventy years, we can begin to put together the puzzle of the bigger picture.
The food we have been conditioned to eat, even before we take our first breath on this planet is filled with ingredients that cater towards our tastebuds, and not our bodies.
“The most important word of this movement has to be transparency,” Clay says. “From farm to table restaurants, to open kitchen layouts, people are over their food being a mystery, and want to know exactly what they are putting in their bodies.”
Most people have been conditioned to want what tastes good, and not what is actually good for them in the long run, and are completely unaware that there is a space where both of those things can be accomplished.
“People have an aversion to the word vegan, which in a sense, shuts down the opportunity to experience what that food can actually bring,” Clay says, bringing things full circle.
“We we’re fortunate enough to have an amazing turnout, of people whose experience range from being vegan for years, to never intentionally trying a meal that was vegan, and we are proud to say that everyone loved it.”
Which puts a smile on my face, as I see the development of our culture and food industry push on the gas pedal. If we can continue to educate people on the importance of supporting these industries, we can break the conditioning that has a grip on people’s psyche as well as their health.
We need to step out of our comfort zones and experience new things, in order to shape our perspective for the future. If you happen to be in Charlotte or want to see more of these pop ups here in Savannah, visit his website chefshawnharrison.com and tell him what you want to see!
Also keep your eyes peeled for a potential vegan cafe which could be here before you know it. Let’s keep stirring that pot, people.