FOR THE LAST 30 MONTHS I've had one of the most enviable jobs in Portland: I've been paid to eat and write my way through one of the best dining scenes in America today. As this is my last Last Supper (for now at least), I'll make the following admission: There were times while doing my job—on my third visit to the same restaurant in the same week—I'd crave a bit more variety, or maybe a meal I cooked at home. But more often than not, after writing my column, I'd lean back in my office chair with a big grin and think to myself, "I'm the luckiest goddamn eater I know."
In Portland, we are particularly blessed. Everything we could possibly want for robust, creative seasonal cuisine is so very close. We have the Columbia River Valley fruit orchards, the bounty of Willamette Valley farmland, and fresh seafood just hours out of town. On top of that we have a cost of living low enough to attract creative individuals who know how to take these ingredients and turn them into amazing drinks and comestibles. We also have a city government that has fostered innovation in the food scene by allowing entrepreneurs to flex their creativity in food carts.
Sure, the city's dining scene isn't without its flaws. Sometimes the spirited debates of area foodies can turn downright nasty. Sometimes rabid localism can turn violent. Sometimes Portland diners can seem like a bunch of entitled assholes, and the chefs that cook for them can sound like a bunch of stuck-up babies. But really, is there a healthy food scene anywhere in the world where this isn't the case? And I don't count myself out here, being admittedly at times both a stuck-up baby and an entitled asshole.
Looking back, though, I can say I found good in every place I ate, enjoyed the company of all my fellow food and booze fanatics, and never met a chef or distiller I didn't like. I'm proud of every person who makes our dining community work, from the chefs de cuisine, to the line cooks and bartenders, to the prep cooks and dishwashers.
Not only am I proud of the work they do, I'm proud of how charitable they are. It seems every single week of the year I receive a press release detailing a dining event with proceeds going to a worthy cause, from a group of carts banding together on the third Wednesday of every month to donate a portion of the day's proceeds to a worthy charity (see thirdwednesdaypdx.com for details) to restaurants like the Gilt Club celebrating human rights by setting aside a series of nights with proceeds going to Basic Rights Oregon.
Beyond that there are bigger events, like Taste of the Nation, and even a new dining club called Portland Eats Out where 10 percent of the cost of every membership is donated to the Oregon Food Bank.
We should all be so generous. The fact is if you have the luxury to read a restaurant review and allow it to sway your dining choices, you are in a pretty good spot. According to the latest data from the Oregon Food Bank, as Oregon's unemployment rate remains in the double digits, need for emergency food boxes continues to increase. Since 2009, 240,000 people per month have sought emergency food—that's 40,000 more people per month than in 2007-2008. Also over the last two years, soup kitchens and shelters doled out 3.8 million emergency meals. A good deal of those who suffer in poverty and food scarcity are children, and most hungry adults are actually working but still living below the poverty line.
There is a lot of need in Oregon, as there is everywhere in our country. As I leave this enviable position I'll only ask that you take time to remember those less fortunate who may not be able to enjoy the bounty of our area with the same verve as you.
I'm not saying you should feel guilty as you tuck into a beautiful dish at the next greatest restaurant. That's not helping anyone. Just know there are ample opportunities to fill your belly while helping others. Go get drunk and overstuffed at a charity dinner. In fact, get so goddamn drunk that you write a fat check and agree to volunteer. And when you sober up, actually go and volunteer. Take it from the luckiest eater you know: Nothing tastes as good as being generous feels. That's a fact.