When I think of Sarah Weiner I think of this quote by LP Jacks: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.” Sarah and I met in Napa, at our Food Heroes dinner, and then again in New York over tapas at Seamus Mullen’s El Colmado and every time we chat I’m so moved by her passion for good food and the notion that people who make food that is delicious, respectful of the environment and connected to communities and cultural traditions deserve recognition--hence her current role as Director of the Good Food Awards. Having worked as Alice Waters’ “Girl Friday,” as Content Director of Slow Food Nation and as Co-Founder of the Seedling Projects prior to the Good Food Awards, Sarah is always up to something super interesting in the food space and I’m energized whenever I speak to her. It’s been several months since our dinner together so I thought I’d just catch up with her by phone and ask her instead about any progress and inspiration that may have emerged since our dinner together:
On something exciting in the food scene that’s inspired her in the last few months:
I know I’m slightly biased because I have gotten to know them over the years as they keep winning Good Food Awards but the Olympia Provisions new book is fabulous - from the writing, which sounds just like Eli Cairo’s humble and frank way of talking in person, to the breathtaking pictures of the Alpine Mountain town where Eli staged for four years and learned to make charcuterie. Those pictures are captivating, and came just as I was thinking about where to go for vacation, which made the choice really easy.
On the best advice she’s ever gotten:
The advice was told to me as: “Ha il potere chi fa,” which roughly translates to “Power lies with those who do.” It came from Paolo DiCroce, Slow Food’s International Secretary (basically, the man right below founder Carlo Petrini when it comes to the international Slow Food movement). I was a year or two into planning Slow Food Nation, which would become the biggest Slow Food event ever to take place on American soil with 85,000 people outside San Francisco’s City Hall. As often happens with a big ambitious project that many different people have set their hopes on, there were a lot of struggles in the vision, the scale, the right team to lead it forward. I was 26 and trying to get this thing off the ground and was complaining to Paolo about things that were ultimately unimportant - this person saying this, or that person representing what we were doing in some way that didn’t seem right - and I’ll never forget this super simple and true message. None of what people were saying mattered, it’s the doers that shape the world.
On what she’s most excited about in the next ninety days:
The Good Food Awards will be hosting its first traveling Mercantile this weekend! On May 1, we’re helping to gather together 85 of our past winners and Good Food Merchants Guild members - with all their amazing food - to meet 300 grocers, chefs and media. It’s so fun because the food crafters are with “their people,” other small and medium sized food producers that deeply care about their craft and the integrity around sourcing their ingredients sustainably and socially responsibly. While we have done this as an annual event in San Francisco and New York, this is the first time we are taking it on the road and if it works we’re planning to go to a different city each year. When we go, we spend a lot of time finding and inviting that region’s food community to attend and it’s really neat to see what is happening in the Midwest especially because I grew up in St. Louis and I see how far my town and the towns nearby have come; how pervasive the ideas around what good food is have become. We have a couple really wonderful food crafters driving 8 hours from Kansas City to make it - a brother and sister team who are working with a local salt mine (and foraging midwestern sumac and other native ingredients) to create “Made in Kansas” culinary salts, and a spitfire husband and wife that are working with a bunch of great farms to make shrubs, pickles and preserves (Kansas City Canning Co.). It is really exciting to see these people following their passion and conversing all day with people who appreciate them for what they are doing and could make a huge difference in building their businesses. Owners of some of the best grocery stores in the country are flying out for it. I can’t wait.