Exploring the food chain, one job at a time.
Alright, newsletter number 2!

First things first:
  • Contrary to the first newsletter I'm writing this one in English. Since this part of the journey is more international - volunteering in Copenhagen, cycling from the Netherlands to Italy - it makes more sense to be able to communicate to a more international group of readers. To all Dutch readers who have some trouble understanding one or two words: call me, I'll give you a live translation :)
  • I've promised you all some answers on the eel questions, most notably: 'Can you still justify eating eel?'. Those answers will be up on the website this week, pending one last phone call with a marine biologist. Yes I am taking this all very seriously.
So what has been going on? The past two weeks have been MAD. Exactly 14 days ago I set out on a road trip from Amsterdam to Copenhagen with two dear friends, Dionne and Guus. We went there to volunteer at the MAD Symposium. This event has been taking place since 2011, founded by Danish chef René Redzepi, to 'expand knowledge of food to make every meal a better meal; not just at restaurants, but every meal cooked and served'.

This year's theme was 'Mind the Gap', posing questions about how to shorten the distance between the current restaurant world and the one we aspire to. Participants were triggered to consider the barriers that prevent them and their peers from achieving meaningful lives in the food community. This was done in two days packed with 26 keynote speakers, 30 break out sessions and a lot of really good food. All keynotes will be published on the MAD Youtube channel, I highly recommend you take a look there.

So what does the volunteer life during MAD look like? Let me give you a quick rundown:
Monday - Long drive from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, mediocre curry wurst along the way.
Tuesday - Meeting 50+ fellow volunteers, getting our volunteer t-shirts and receiving a briefing at the garden of Amass Restaurant. We're shown around the event location and Noma. Released early due to lack of work. So to start the week of right we get michelada's and taco's at Hija de Sanchez and an amazing first experience of Danish cuisine at Barr Restaurant.
Wednesday - First day of actual volunteering, still not a lot of work to be done due to lack of materials. We're released early around 15.00, so we visit the Mikkeler Brewpub in Baghaven where I get to spend far too much money on really amazing beers.
Thursday - We're volunteering our first full day, putting up fences around the perimeter, filling up the eating tent with seats for around 450 guests that will arrive in a few days. At the end of the day, we eat another amazing meal at Baest. Homemade charcuterie & burrata, matched with amazing wines. After three nights of enjoying some of the best food that this city has to offer, the culinary side of this adventure has ended. From now on only hard work and maybe a kebab to close the day. Or so we think.
Friday - We go to Noma. Through some lucky alignment of the stars a table for six has come available, and has been offered to the volunteers of the Symposium. Dionne, Guus and I are three of six people that 1) respond first and 2) are willing to spend this copious amount of money on one night in one of the best restaurants of the world. None of us have a single doubt that it will be worth it, and we are proven right. The 20 dishes and the hospitality, the entire experience is nothing short of epic. We spend the next days reliving and retelling details to each others like excited prepubescents who've been to Disney World for the first time in their life.
Saturday - Final day before the Symposium starts. Where the previous days have brought nothing but blue skies and sunshine, today it's raining cats and dogs. In the downpour we make sure the location is good to go tomorrow morning, 08:30, when the first guests will arrive.
Sunday - First day of the actual Symposium. My assigned duty is welcoming guests on the Nyhavn dock where they will be ferried across the water to the event location. At 07:00, channeling my inner cheerleader 200 times: 'Good morning, how are you, registration over there, enjoy your day!'. The volunteer life at it's best! The rest of the day consists of hosting a break out session, serving lunch, and serving beers at the end of the day. Diner is enjoyed with the fellow volunteers on site, after which we attend an unofficial afterparty hosted by Empirical Spirits.
Monday - My day of, I get to enjoy the symposium as a guest, hearing inspiring speakers like movie producer Lynda Obst on her 30+ years of experience navigating male-dominated Hollywood, Dan Giusti of Brigaid on his mission to improve American school lunch programs and Starbucks' Director of Coffee Traceability Arthur Karuletwa, all of them speaking about different ways the world we are living in is not as just as we want it to be, and how they're working towards it.
Tuesday - Time to digest! A few hours helping to break down the site, then road trip back home.
Lessons so far.
So what have I learned so far, working two weeks in eel production and one week at the Mad Symposium?

1. There are some amazing people working in food. I already knew that, but sometimes I forget the things I know and need to be reminded.

2. Slowly, things are coming into perspective, and different aspects of this journey become connected. For example: the MAD team published a book this year, 'You and I Eat the Same' on the many ways food and cooking connect people and cultures across the globe. This mission connects strongly to all I've learned about eel in the past weeks. Eel is a perfect embodiment of migration, being born in unknown parts of our oceans, finding it's way to fresh waters of the Netherlands, Japan, New Zealand and connecting these countries through the significance of this one fish for it's history and culture.
Things to read, watch and consider
'Cuisine can not exist without the free and fair movement of ingredients, ideas and people. Deliciousness is an undeniable benefit of immigration When people move around, food gets better'. - Chris Ying, You and I Eat the Same
The Collection of essays 'You and I Eat the Same' published by the MAD team and edited by Chris Ying is one of many great things to come out of this year's Mad Symposium. If you can get your hands on a copy, get it.
'I believe that work is a privilege of life'. - Ray Turner (eel fisher in Maine), Eels
If you're ever interested to learn more about the eel and it's place in global histories and cultures, this is the book to go for. Artist and author James Prosek spent over eleven years piecing together a fantastic narrative, travelling from New Zealand, to the US, to Micronesia and many places in between. This specific quote really spoke to me, as I'm really happy learning through working in food these past few weeks. PS: Not feeling like reading? James Prosek also made a one-hour documentary with National Geographic based on the research he did for this book.
Up next:
This Thursday I'll set out with a group of fellow Slow Food Youth Network members to travel by bike from the Netherlands to Turin, Italy, where we will attend the biannual Slow Food event Terra Madre - Salone del Gusto. You can track our adventures through my instagram and the hastag 'girodisfyn'. 
In October I'm working for Schaap-Holland, harvesting and processing potatoes. Later that month I'll sail along for a with the the Nordlys, a fairtransport emissionfree cargo ship, from Den Helder to Bremerhaven. 

What's up after that I don't know yet, but I'll keep you posted. Thanks for exploring along!

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De Seizoensarbeider · Hoofdweg 229-2 · Amsterdam, Netherlands, Noord Holland 1057CV · Netherlands

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