Taste of the Nation 2008

I’d say that my childhood lacked any really distinct memories of food. Aside from the warm gustatory embrace of my grandmothers comforting Sunday dinners, my life was a barren suburban flavor desert. I mostly grew up on meals from boxes and cans. At least, that’s how I remember it. My family did not garden. “From scratch” was a foreign concept. Dinner was rarely, if ever, eaten at the dining room table. I generally scarfed my spaghetti-o’s or enchiladas and canned corn while sitting on the floor with my plate on a low serving tray, pointed toward whatever pap the television was putting out—Webster is strong in my mind for some reason.

But there were a few transcendent food moments that brought me to the conclusion something more was going on with food than the sound of a can opener or the ripping of a cardboard box top. They were bright, sparkling moments of intense flavors: ripe apricots fresh from the tree, the odd twang of venison, chewing the soft white tip of rhubarb plucked from the ground—its flavor like a natural version of the sour candies that I loved. These remain in my mind, hard and constant after years of tasting and exploring, like precious stones in the slurry of memory.

But what’s more important is that I never, ever went hungry. When I came home after school, the cupboards were bulging with snacks. As I got older, I had the luxury of annoying my parents by standing in front of the refrigerator (door wide open) and mulling over shelves of pre-prepared goodies that I could stick in the toaster oven.

Too many children in Oregon will never know this feeling of abundance. They will come home after school and be lucky to get a piece of fresh fruit and few saltines. Dinners will be thin affairs as ingredients are stretched to last the week.

It’s clear that hunger is growing in our state. The need for emergency food relief from organizations like the Oregon Food Bank has taxed those agencies ability to provide for families facing food insecurity. It’s the same story across the nation. Many future adults will have the wan food memories of poverty. That is a shame.

The national non-profit Share Our Strength has been working to end hunger since 1984 by creating charity events like Taste of the Nation, a gourmet smorgasbord of good food and better intentions. The first Taste of the Nation held in 1988 netted $50,000 for charity, and that number has grown since.

Next Monday, April 27th, marks the annual return of Portland’s Taste of the Nation with 100% of ticket and auction proceeds going to state hunger relief organizations. That would be reason enough to attend the event. But there are many more reasons, all in the form of food from some of Portland’s best eateries. The list of participating restaurants participating in the event is extensive. Some of my favorites are: Simpatica, Tastebud, Bamboo Sushi, Andina, East India Co., The Country Cat, and Paley’s Place. There are many, many more.

Tickets for the event, taking place at LUXE Autohaus at 6:30pm, are $75 general admission, which may seem steep at first blush. However, if you consider there are 47 participating restaurants, that means you have a chance to taste your way through Portland’s culinary scene for about $1.60 per dish, or less when the restaurants are serving more than one selection. I know it’s strange, but basically we’re talking about gluttony for a good cause. You can eat like Roman aristocracy without the pesky guilt of excess. Huzzah.

But guess what? One lucky Blogtownie is going to receive two free general admission tickets to Taste of the Nation! Here’s what you do: e-mail me your best childhood food memory (in 50 words or less) with the subject line “kid food,” by noon tomorrow. I’ll select the winner and post the winning memory on Blogtown tomorrow afternoon. So simple.

Make sure you include your full name in the e-mail. Go!