One of my grandfathers was a consummate storyteller. He alternately raised and lowered his voice as he spun a yarn, and his eyebrows wriggled across his forehead as he spoke. We hung on his every word.
Preachers are good storytellers; so are insurance salesmen and actors and successful real estate agents. Farmers? Scientists? Usually not such great storytellers - or if they are, their story hasn't been getting out.
For the past few decades, farmers have been delivering their onions and apples to the back doors of vast supermarkets; we walk in the front doors and select our produce from gleaming, shiny heaps without any knowledge of the farmer, or the farm, or the people who harvested our food. Scientists bend over lab benches and discover amazing things, but their findings are usually printed in obscure journals that no one reads.
Thankfully, that's changing. We're starting to hear stories from farmers and scientists, and real, measurable change is occuring as a result. Case in point: Al Gore turned global warming into a gripping story, and it spread like wildfire. A good story turns facts
and figures into meaningful components of the human experience. When we know what happened to the cow we're about to eat, or we know where our carrots came from, or when someone takes the time to explain what genetic recombination in soy beans really means, it changes the whole dynamic of our experience as consumers.
One of the Taste3 sessions was called Storytellers, but it was immediately clear to me that the whole conference was about the art of telling a story. The presenters who knew how to communicate their passions in the form of a story had me on the edge of my seat.
These were some of my favorites:
Jeffery Henderson. I met Jeffery, otherwise known as “Chef Jeff” in the hallway between sessions, and got to hear his story before he delivered it onstage. A striking man, Jeff grew up in a poor neighborhood, and began dealing drugs while he was still a teen. He spent 19 years in prison, and afterwards turned to cooking as a way out. His is a riveting story about redemption, determination, and the power of a dream. Will Smith has already purchased the rights to this tale; I’ll be first in line for a movie ticket. But first, I’m ordering Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, From Cocaine to Foie Gras.
Dennis Van Engelsdorp. I’ve never met a bee expert before, but listening to Dennis made me want to don a jumpsuit and a faceguard and walk amongst the bees. He was witty and gregarious, while making it clear that the recent mass bee deaths are more than just a random occurrence; they’re a tragedy that will ultimately affect all of us. Are the bees the canaries in the coal mine? he asked. That's the million-dollar question...