Ready, Set, Swap
The national food-swap movement, blending old-school kitchen craft with new-school values, has arrived in the Twin Cities
(page 1 of 2)
Anissa Gooch was feeling self-conscious about her hummus. It was the 29-year-old actress’s first food swap, and, for a split second, the dish she had placed on the trading table—a bowl of chickpeas whipped with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic—seemed worryingly pedestrian. Could she really trade for that infused vinegar? Or the garbanzo-bean tempeh? She eyed a glass bottle of home-brewed kombucha, the raspberry-hibiscus-ginger variety. The cherry-colored tea practically glowed in the sunlight. Gooch’s hummus, she lamented, was plain-old beige.
“I just want the kids to like me,” she joked.
I knew the feeling. I was fretting over my brandied mincemeat. I had managed to come up with six jars of the stuff, thanks to much hand-holding from a canning friend. But in the midst of prepping my samples, it hit me: none of the ingredients were organic. None came from a co-op. My friend, who canned fruit out of pure frugality, had advised against it: “If you’re gonna can,” she said, “don’t be a yuppie about it.”
Gooch and I set out to find some friends. Of the 40 or so swappers in the rented space, few were dudes. I looked to one for support. Tim had tagged along with his wife, Odia. Had he helped at all with her dandelion jam? “Not really,” he said. “But I built the kitchen where it was all made.” Damn.
The bidding sheets threatened judgment. Upon entering, we had each listed the item we brought on a square of paper, along with any ingredients problematic to a restricted diet. The five bullet points at the bottom, where interested swappers would write their bartering offers, seemed unnecessarily numerous. Could I really tempt five of these foodies with my Rainbow Foods-sourced mincemeat?
Kim Christensen, the Minneapolis Food Swap’s founder, sensed my mood.
“It doesn’t really matter,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s about preparing food with love. Everything someone brings is going to have value to someone else, even if it is really simple.”
Yeah, but…didn’t I hear someone had made their own mustard? With horseradish she had foraged in her own backyard?
It’s a week before the swap, and Christensen, 29, is making jam—“a nice, thick, happy jam,” she says, made with “cute little peaches.” Warm and welcoming, sporting thick-framed glasses and a hand-sewn apron, she makes a convenient spokeswoman for the movement she’s come to represent: the hipster domestic. She’s a bundle of cheer in her south Minneapolis kitchen, chopping rhubarb stalks near the sink, then whisking over to the stove, where six mason jars are submerged in a pot of boiling water.
“The dietary restrictions were a big catalyst for kicking all this stuff off,” Christensen tells me. “I had known forever that I had a screwed up digestive system.”
It’s hard to imagine her ill. But just three-and-a-half years ago, she says, she had frequent, knifing stomach pain. She couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs. She was depressed and forgetful, leaving stovetop burners on and losing her cell phone in the refrigerator.
“I had lost 50 pounds in six months,” she remembers. “I wasn’t digesting food. It was just bad, and it wasn’t getting better.” Fearing food allergies, Christensen put herself on an intense healing diet, axing all the major nutritional no-no’s. She was already a vegetarian. Now she quit dairy, eggs, gluten, and nightshade vegetables. She saw a naturopath and an acupuncturist. And she launched a blog about the whole ordeal, called “Affairs of Living.” That was 2008. It would be another year before she figured out what was really going on: she had Lyme disease.