The People’s Potluck at Taller Boricua Gallery

by Hans Bernier
July 28 2011, for Food Systems Networks NYC

On Thursday, July 14th, I was invited to share an evening of food, friendship, and conversation at The People’s Potluck, a collaborative dinner and discussion group exploring ideas concerning living as conscious citizens in an interconnected global and local society. The event was part of a series of artist-led dinner dialogues held throughout New York City this summer. The series was created by MAPP International Productions, a group of the world’s most innovative performing artists that sees art as the spark for igniting conversation and change in communities worldwide. The evening was moderated by Emily Harney, MAPP Director of Community Engagement and Marketing. The People’s Potluck, as well as all the events in this series, are recorded and will be turned into a documentary that will be on display on September 15th at “WeDaPeoples Cabaret” presented in collaboration with Harlem Stage.

The event was hosted at the Taller Boricua Gallery in Harlem. Upon entering, the guests were greeted by Gallery Director Marcos Dimas and Associate Curator Christine Licata. The dinner was organized by Hatuey Ramos Fermin, an artist whose personal work is deeply embedded in his local community. Attendees came from various parts of New York cultural life while several artists, including  Elizabeth Hamby, Amanda Matles, and Colin McMullan (aka Emcee C.M., Master of None), all work to tackle issues of food disparity in urban communities. The panel included Ramon Murphy, a representative from the Bodega Association of the United States, Madeline Nelson, a representative of, Terry Rodriguez, who started a Community Supported Kitchen in Spanish Harlem, and myself.

Emphasizing the theme of community and common purpose, the evening began in true potluck style, with each invitee bringing a dish of diverse fair, including traditional Latin American entrées, a Haitian specialty called djon-djon, and a Freegan apple pie for dessert.

The goal of The People’s Potluck is to initiate collective thinking about our shared roles and responsibilities in creating humane and democratic systems of food access that reflect the interdependent nature of contemporary society. Hatuey Ramos Fermin helped focus the discussion upon our relationship with food and why people make the decisions they do, highlighting that some people have more choice in the matter than others. Because food is such a necessity, we may not view it as commodity. However, when perceived as an investment, we begin to notice the disparity between high and low quality food across the board: from price, to access, to forms of distribution, to subsidies, etc. Good food can be hard to find if you do not know where to look for it.

Another conversation that was sparked concerned nutrition as a learned concept, one that requires knowledge, access, and resources to make informed decisions about what one puts on their plate. As a first generation Haitian-American child lucky enough to have a family style dinner nearly every night, I still sought out processed fast food, just as others within the group discussed similar experiences with their own children.

Given the panel’s diversity of experience, it was interesting to see how each person was creating change and bringing much-needed information to their communities in their own way.

Most of the artists work with kids in some capacity. Working in collaboration on the EAsT Harlem Exhibit, Hatuey and the students from Elisabeth Hamby’s Museum of the City of New York Neighborhood Explorers after-school program, were able to build a live model of Hatuey’s Grocery Map. Amanda Matles created a curriculum that asked her students to track where their favorite foods come from and how they are created. Focusing on every step in the process, from points of origin for various ingredients to centers of distribution, allowed kids to ask questions about processes they never thought of.

Terry Rodriguez and Madeline Nelson are working to help communities change their thinking around communal eating. Terry offered an informative sound bite stating that the Community Supported Kitchen, or CSK, “brings back the tradition of eating with your neighbors” by using food as a connector. Madeline holds trash tours throughout the city highlighting our ‘throw-it-away culture.’ Ramon Murphy from the Bodega Association discussed how they are working on creating a “green bodega” movement. Ramon, who owns a bodega and is working with his store owners to introduce fresher, healthier alternatives, said: “You’re going to have more vegetables, more organic products. The way the world changed and the community changed, that’s the way we want to do it.”

Overall, it was an extremely informative and inspirational evening. With great food and even better people, these individuals are walking the walk in their respective fields. Though the evening focused on questions of how change can be made, it is clear that this panel will be the ones doing the work to close that food disparity gap.

Love Thy Neighbor – East Harlem Community Supported Kitchen (CSK)

Posted on July 10, 2011 by glowinski on the blog across 106th street

Eating healthy is easy if you have the know how and means (money and availability to healthy food) to do it. In Spanish Harlem, our food shopping/acquiring choices are simply not adequate. It’s basically a choice between a large supermarket filled primarily with processed and canned foods that are neither particularly wholesome or affordable or the local bodega that is great if you need a pint of milk, a roll toilet paper, or an egg and cheese sandwich.

The 106streeters are really lucky to be members of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Splitting a share with our neighbors, our weekly vegetable costs from June through October are way lower than at a grocery store (lower than even most of the non-organic produce) in NYC, and the quality of produce (all organic New York State produced veggies and herbs) is amazing (though you need to clean off some dirt and a few dead insects now and then). Using CSA as a model, Community Supported Kitchens (CSK) are popping up across the county. In Spanish Harlem, we are lucky to have an amazing CSK and neighbor, East Harlem CSK, founded by The Kitchen Table–an East Harlem-based community kitchen and parenting collective, who recently organized one of the most amazing events the 106streeters have been a part of in NYC.

In collaboration with Taller Boricua and Hatuey Ramos Fermin’s EAsT Harlem, the East Harlem CSK created a stir in the neighborhood when 50 or so people of varying ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities embarked on the Community Dinner and Foraging Tour led by artist and expert food forager Emcee C.M., Master of None (also known as Colin). Our first stop was a mere 30 feet from the front doors of the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center (at 106th Street and Lexington) where the Taller Boricua galleries are located. In the small fenced in “green” area adjacent to the northeast corner of the building, we stopped and foraged our first edible plants–common plantain (cook it like spinach), dandelion greens (you’ve seen them all fancified on menus across the globe), and violet (eat the greens; the smaller, the less bitter). We collected the greens while Colin educated us about each one, dropping them into the blue bucket as we went along. Heading across 106th Street towards Central Park, we next stopped at a local playground near the Metro-North elevated tracks and found clover flowers (can be used to make tea) and pepper grass (tastes like wasabi and also called “poor man’s pepper). Heading under the Metro-North, our next stop was at the North end of the George Washington Carver Houses where we found a lovely assortment of edible stuff–wood sorrel (lemony; can make drinks from it), ladies thumb (pink flowers with a black “thumbprint” on the mature green leaves which are edible); lamb’s quarters, “cheeses” (the edible fruits look like little cheese wheels and you can also eat the young leaves). Some residents from the Carver Houses clearly took notice of the large group foraging through the overgrown “weeds” and one woman came over to find out what we were doing. Once informed, she took it in New York stride (which is yet another reason this city is amazing). Heading into Central Park (just past the Conservatory Garden and the Harlem Meer), Colin identified many edibles–bay berries (related to the bay leaf and can be used in soup like bay leaves; also can make candles out of the waxy berries), poke weed (an excellent cooking green that tastes like asparagus; Note: the entire plant becomes poisonous after it get one foot high or greater), Mugwort (has medicinal properties related to women’s reproductive system), garlic mustard (from the broccoli, kale, and cabbage family), either raspberries or blackberries (not ripe yet), and a lot more dandelion greens (which you can also roast the roots and make tea).

With our edible wild booty collected in our blue bucket, we headed back to the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center where we ate a seriously delicious meal including a quinoa, turkey, and cashew salad, a red bean salad, a variety of fresh brewed ice teas and a lovely green salad made from our foraged greens, dressed in an olive oil lemony dressing.

The event was organized by several people including Terry Rodriguez from The Kitchen Table and Denisse Andrade, among others. The night finished with the five or so groups who randomly sat together at tables for dinner working on creating a sentence composed of random words culled from newspapers and picked from a hat. Beats the hell out of Scrabble and day!

The poster for the event, plus some foraging and post-foraging photographs:

Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants and foraged greens. C. Nelson, 2011.
Foraging outside the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center. C. Nelson, 2011.
Common plantain leaf, violet leaf, and dandelion green. C. Nelson, 2011.


Field of greens outside the Carver Houses. C. Nelson, 2011.


Colin pointing out edible plants. C. Nelson, 2011.
Unripe raspberries or blackberries. C. Nelson, 2011.


Lady's thumb. C. Nelson, 2011.


The salad made with foraged greens in East Harlem. C. Nelson, 2011.


The post-foraging crew enjoying dinner together at Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center. C. Nelson, 2011.


Word games: our table's sentence. C. Nelson, 2011.



Barri-o-rama Hatuey Ramos Fermín

Barri-o-rama Hatuey Ramos Fermín

Por Mariángel Gonzales | 2 Junio 2011

El artista plástico puertorriqueño Hatuey Ramos Fermín caminó por todas las calles de El Barrio en la ciudad de Nueva York tomando fotos de cada uno de los sitios donde se puede comprar productos frescos para cocinar en la casa. Esta travesía y documentación son parte de una exhibición que comienza el viernes, 3 de junio en Taller Boricua y lleva por nombre Barri-o-rama.

Barri-o-rama es un colectivo que explora diferentes perspectivas, ideas, imágenes de ‘East Harlem’. Cuenta con la participación de varios artistas como Nayda Collazo-Llorens, Rosalinda González, y Johnny Ramos, entre otros. La idea general de este colectivo es de mostrar la visión de estos artistas en cuanto al reto que se presenta en alimentación saludable en El Barrio.

La pieza de Hatuey, ‘EAsT Harlem’ es un mapa que traza donde las personas del vecindario hacen compras: bodegas, ‘farmer’s markets’, jardines, supermercados, ‘green carts’. El tema de su pieza trabaja el problema que existe con el acceso a verduras e ingredientes frescos en El Barrio.

Los exhorto a que se den la vuelta por El Barrio y pasen por Taller Boricua para la apertura el viernes, 3 de junio de 6-9pm. La exhibición durará hasta el 16 de julio.