To kick off the Real Food Real Stories blog, we wanted to share a story with you — a story at the core of Real Food Real Stories. During an especially loud, buzzing happy hour at Archive Bar & Kitchen (the Game Developers Conference was in town!), our Food Stories Stylist, Amanda, sat down with Real Food Real Stories founder, Pei-Ru, to learn more about Pei-Ru’s own journey of starting the community. This is part one in a three-part series.
What is Real Food Real Stories?
Real Food Real Stories is formed from a collective effort. A powerful convergence of friendships. It is also an attempt to offer my passion and skill, which is storytelling facilitation — storytelling from a place of heart, and storytelling from a place of authenticity and vulnerability — as a way to bring people together and as a way to pause and listen to each other.
Real Food Real Stories started from a place of gratitude. Gratitude for the Bay Area’s numerous food makers and producers who grow and produce food in a thoughtful way that helps the land heal and helped myself heal from a serious autoimmune condition.
I never imaged living in the Bay Area for very long [Pei-Ru left her family and moved from Taiwan in 2011 to learn to use food to restore her health] or that I would work in food. But I’ve always been passionate about creating time and place, where it is appropriate for people to share their stories and for community to gather. It was friendship with producers such as Michelle [Pusateri], of Nana Joes Granola, that got me to fall in love with the Bay Area. These friendships got me involved in the local food movement and helped shape what Real Food Real Stories today. Michelle became one of the earliest storytellers at Real Food Real Stoires.
In the earlier days of my move, I would visit Michelle at the farmers market regularly. Along with the autoimmune disease, I developed a lot of severe allergies, one of which was gluten, and Michelle sells the best gluten-free granola in town. I started going to her table and asking about her process and what gluten-free means to her. I then learned that she also sources organically from farmers, dry and hand-cut the fruits without added sulfite. Not only was I touched by producers like Michelle who were doing things right, but also by them really caring about relationships.
One day, I went to Michelle and said, “I can’t even eat grains now. My system is just getting so whacked out. I guess i won’t be coming for your granola anymore.” And she said, “Well, come to my kitchen this week, and I will make you a special blend of my trail mix with no oats in it.” I was so touched by the fact that Michelle didn’t even really know me, but is in this business because she really cared about people and wanted to feed people right. And it is this kind of relationship-based food system that helped make me heal.
When I began to recover and think about how I could give back, the idea of Real Food Real Stories just came to me one night when I couldn’t fall asleep.
But honestly, during these years dealing with health issues at a young age, when others are finishing their graduate degrees and getting promotions and I was going to bed at 4pm and filling my days with doctor’s appointment- I lost a lot of trust in myself. In those really dark days, it was impossible to imagine starting a project, an enterprise, an organization. I was just beaten down by powerlessness. But then, again, it was another powerful relationship with a food producer who helped me get off my feet with Real Food Real Stories. When our first storyteller, Martin [Reed, now a collaborator for RFRS], heard about my idea, I can only use the word “nag” to describe how he helped me to take my first step to starting the organization. He asked me to meet up for breakfast, and asked to meet up again. He wondered, “Where is Real Food Real Stories going?” and “How can I help you? What is your next step? Where do you want to be in five years?” Without people like him, I wouldn’t have been able to start [Real Food Real Stories].
During the years I was focusing on healing, I volunteered a lot — at 18 Reasons, Edible Schoolyard — and the silver lining is that because I was so ill, I didn’t have time to be the social butterfly that people would typically be in this area. They collect all these business cards; they meet all these people — but I couldn’t. All I could do is when I met really great people — like Olivia Maki, who was the program director for 18 Reasons [and now a collaborator for RFRS] — I just invested in those relationships. So when I had this budding idea, I realized I have so many people who were my friends, who can help make it happen. All of it was unplanned, but all of it came from a really honest place, and all of it came from a place of gratitude. I was not alone. Somehow, moving to San Francisco to heal my body through food became the perfect recipe for starting Real Food Real Stories.