IFBC: When The Universe screams in your ear, you better listen.

When I headed to Seattle for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), I expected to be educated. I expected to eat some great food. I expected to try some interesting wines. What took me by surprise was the validation.

I know, I know, that sounds just a teensy bit melodramatic. Validation? Really, Jordan?

Hear me out. Let’s recap what happened in the weeks leading up to this trip. I said, out loud, that I wanted to quit my corporate gig and go work in food for real. I did the first thing, and got a job that fulfills the second thing. I said I wanted more time to focus on school and the blog. The new job gives me that. I’ve also had the chance to work with and talk to some really great local chefs over the past month or so. Once I made the decision to finally follow my bliss, The Universe answered.

And then I went to IFBC. I had the sessions I wanted to attend all mapped out, and then I ended up going to completely different ones that turned out to be exactly where I needed to be, hearing speakers that so loudly echoed all of my most recent decisions that I had no choice but to pay attention. Two sessions really spoke to me on a pretty personal level.

It started right off the bat with the Keynote from Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible and the soon to be released Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

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If you  had been watching the IFBC tag on twitter, you’d have seen the same quote tweeted out from nearly everyone in the room at once:

“Being a good writer has to do with living an authentic life.”

Seems like that message hit close to home for a lot of us. Page and Dornenburg encouraged us all to follow our chosen path regardless of how popular/unpopular it might be, and to keep walking it no matter how many times we fall or get pushed down. They showed us samples from rejection letters they received from publishers telling them that their first book idea was too narrow, and wouldn’t reach a large enough audience to be marketable. They kept trying, and eventually they got that book deal. Needless to say, that book (Becoming a Chef) sold well, and won a James Beard Award.

They also encouraged us to taste everything. Every taste, every texture, every smell goes into our taste memory, ready to be called up, “like a song in a jukebox.”

The next big food trend? Vegetables! More and more people are moving to a plant based diet, and chefs are paying attention. They’re treating veggies like meat– braising, smoking, grilling, and curing them, just like they would meat. For vegetarians and vegans that’s good news, especially when they go out to eat. They won’t get stuck with some boring rice and veggie skewer dinner. It’s also pretty great news for us omnivores, because it means that we can order veggie based dinners and get the same kind of satisfaction that we’d get from one with meat as the main event.

They closed out their session by reminding us how powerful we can be as food writers, and leaving us with an important question, one that’s really got me thinking, “What kind of world do you want to create with this power?”

Joe Yonan, Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, was another speaker whose message resonated with me. His story, one that started with a confluence of not so wonderful events, led him to make some big changes in his life and his approach to writing.

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He took a year off from the paper to write a book and spend time working on his sister and brother-in-law’s homestead in Maine. He spent mornings working on the farm, doing just one task at a time. It was difficult at first, he said, to focus on “uni-tasking,” and to avoid the temptation to constantly check his phone. But over time, he found that he began to enjoy the opportunity to focus, and when he set out each afternoon to work on the book his head was clearer.

I really loved his sense of humor. While telling us about his obsession with keeping the chicken coop clean, he likened it to “being a Lilliputian in the world’s biggest catbox.”

Well, maybe you had to be there. 🙂

When he went back to work, he continued making changes, and decisions, that helped him keep his perspective. He encouraged us all to think about the changes we can make to keep ourselves happy and passionate about what we’re doing, to give ourselves time away from the craziness (whatever that craziness is for us), to pick a day to unplug from all our technology and just be in the moment, and to learn new things by doing, not just by reading about it or watching a video about it.

I feel like there was so much more covered, but I’m still ruminating over all of it and trying to figure out how to apply all of this great advice. I’ve already picked Sunday as my “unplug” day. I’ve never considered myself a social media addict, but as a food blogger every time I’m around food, or someone cooking, or the farmer’s market, or a hundred other places, out comes the phone so I can take a picture and try to turn it into a writing opportunity. I feel like much of what I heard over the weekend said, “Don’t force it. Be yourself and there will be plenty to write about.”

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