meet meiko: food justice “guerrilla” in detroit

 

Meiko Krishok, People with Panache

Meiko uses commercial kitchen space behind the yoga studio where she also works. “I’m a person who likes to have multiple things going on at once,” she says. “At first it took me a minute to settle in and be comfortable here, but I actually appreciate that between classes I take and teach I can take inventory, mop, eat lunch.”

By the end of this weekend, I was feeling both weighed down and floating on some dreamy little love cloud. It was the end of the Food Leader Certificate Program retreat No. 1 at Wellspring in West Bend, Wis. Twenty food system warriors both new and experienced joined together to dream up world-changing visions, learn about the food system, and start laying plans for the future—and it was beautiful.

But it’s still hard not to feel powerless amid the daunting problems in our food system and ecosystem and the grief traversing what seems like our entire planet this month—and really any given month. If we were truly able to process and experience the despair and sadness that comes with each tragedy—the bloody attacks in Paris, the landslide that wiped an entire town from the map in Brazil, the harrowing journey of refugees across oceans and continents, and obviously more—I can’t imagine any of us would be able to move on with our lives.

So instead, Kate and I believe that we each must make as positive a mark as we individually can on our loved ones and our communities—and thus the world. (Remember what Grace Lee Boggs said about changing yourself to change the world?)

Who’s with us?

In Detroit, I met Meiko Krishok, 29. Of mixed Korean and Italian-Polish descent, Meiko has been exposed to different cultures her whole life. She has passions for languages and traveling—and food is often her method of exploration. She’s using it to help heal a city in need.

Hailing from Milwaukee, Meiko’s world travels eventually brought her to Detroit to put down roots. Food is still her passion. And it has become her profession, too, through Guerrilla Food.

People with Panache: How have your travels influenced your business?

Meiko Krishok: When I was in college, I spent a semester in Mali in Africa. After I graduated, I spent 2 years teaching spoken English in Martinique in the Caribbean to kindergarteners through freshmen in high school. In this French colony that’s now a part of France, I thought to myself, “As much as this is interesting, why am I not doing this work back home?”

Then I came to Detroit. I taught for a year but really had a hard time in the school; I was helping the vice principal with college prep stuff, teaching ACT prep classes, which was horrible—directly “teaching to the test” with no actual training. Over the course of being a newcomer to Detroit, I spent time trying to figure out what was going on, what had happened, trying to find my place. So that’s when I started gardening, working with a farm in exchange for produce. Within a year, my closest connections to people were centered around food.

Meiko, peoplewithpanache.com

One cool principle of Ayurveda—a system of natural healing—is echoed in Chinese medicine, according to Meiko. It decrees eating each of the “six tastes” at every meal: salty, sweet, sour, astringent, pungent and bitter. “How do you incorporate all those flavors into what you’re eating?” she asks, suggesting eating kimchi with eggs like Koreans might, for example. “The ones that are most difficult are most beneficial. Seek what gives you the most trouble.”

PWP: And now, about four years later, you’re cooking seasonally out of a food truck, catering from a commercial kitchen behind the yoga studio where you also instruct, teaching fermentation and other cooking classes, launching a soup subscription, and more—centering your life around food as medicine. I love this!

MK: I think we should be able to satisfy our basic needs by what we find fulfilling.

PWP: Me, too. How did you decide to name this food adventure?

MK: Well, Guerrilla Food started because what I was doing was completely illegal, but the other aspect is the revolutionary side­—using food as a tool for resistance. As a society, we can and should be more self-sufficient and have more agency to take care of our needs ourselves.

And then I do mostly vegetarian food, so there’s an environmental aspect to it. It lends itself to this double entendre—gorillas eat pounds of veggies per day. They’re very family-centered, very group-centered, so strong and considered so fierce—and all they eat are vegetables.

PWP: What will you sell out of the food truck this week­, one of the last of the season?

MK: I’ve been doing a lot of soup now that it’s getting cold, always a mixed green salad, and then rice balls. My Italian grandma is famous for her rice balls with Parmesan and butter, so I took the concept and did a really lazy version with completely different spices I get from one of the farms I work with, Brother Nature Produce. We do a trade: They give me produce, and I feed them.

“There are all these farms and everyone is gardening, but what’s happening to the produce? I want to keep it in the city.”

PWP: How else does your work empower community?

MK: Part of it is through doing things like trades, sourcing from Detroit growers. And

I do some cooking classes—how to make your own sauces, dressings, dehydrating nuts, fermentation (kimchi)—and other workshops and skillshares.

Guerrilla Food, PWP

“Food has always been a way for me to connect with people, experience people, explore new places,” Meiko says.

PWP: And who do you work with to make all this happen?

MK: I started it before I met my boyfriend, but since we’ve been together, we’ve been doing a lot of the business stuff together. I still do the cooking myself, and I have a couple employees. As a pair, my boyfriend and I work on moving the business in the right direction, figuring out how to really address the needs we say we want to be addressing.

I started mostly as a way to nourish the community and because of my love for food. There are all these farms and everyone is gardening, but what’s happening to the produce? I want to keep it in the city. And we’ve really been focusing on using food as medicine, really using food as healing.

PWP: What is something you’ve learned about yourself through your business? Something you’ve been working on?

MK: Two things:

The importance of assertiveness and clarity. I’m having to learn to be very clear about my expectations, what I need, what I’m offering. It’s a big challenge to be that type of person. I continue to struggle with it, but that ultimately is a fulfilling aspect of the work to have to push myself into areas I’m not comfortable with.

And everybody’s naturally creative, right? But we have to cultivate an environment for that creativity to flourish and to be expressed. Learning how to create an environment that is constantly producing new things in a way that’s connected to a larger goal or mission has been a really interesting project. It requires a lot of drinking water and sleeping.

Meiko, People with Panache

One of Meiko’s classes was taught with another local woman, and they focused on mineralizing your body. I don’t know much about mineralization in this context but gathered that they meant infusing your body with necessary and beneficial vitamins and minerals through food. Meiko recommends eating sea vegetables such as kelp, dulse and other green veggies. I tasted the dulse and found that it would taste great as an extra flavorful salt substitute.

PWP: Amen, Meiko. In all of this food and love and healing, what most fulfills you?

MK: I think it’s the process of seeing something from start to finish. Having a connection to people who grow their food, being able to have a sense of seasons changing, getting the produce, turning it into something, serving it to people, and having it be all gone. The potential of the seed going back into the body­—and being able to be a part of that process from start to finish.

Register for Meiko’s warm and cozy soup subscription here—and even if you’re not in Detroit, share this post and think about how you can use Meiko’s wisdom to heal yourself and your loved ones through food. Will you turn your kitchen into a creative space for your kids? Will you bring a healthier treat to share with your friends at work? Share in the comments!

[Photos by Alysse.]

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