There was a long queue, which I’d come to expect at this type of event. It was winter in Ottawa, but not a brutally cold day – just medium cold, so standing outside was manageable. We were waiting in line for what was billed as the premiere foodie event of the season in Ottawa – all local restaurants and brewers, serving new creations in an urban, albeit slightly hipster, venue. There were many skinny jeans, plastic rimmed glasses and straight cut bangs in line; even a few trucker hats were seen (a strange choice for winter in Ottawa).
After a good fifteen minutes in the queue, we finally made it inside. As cold as it was outside, it was basically the exact opposite inside. Once through the doors, we could feel the heat wafting down from the top floor. I was immediately on edge. Being hot is one of my least favourite things in the world, and being hot while wearing wool pants and a wool sweater (it was winter in Ottawa, after all), was a recipe for a major freak out. I was also hungry, another key ingredient in the freak out recipe, so it was shaping up to be a spectacular afternoon.
The event was held in an old Polish community centre. It was a squat building, only two stories, and square, grey inside and out. It hadn’t been re-decorated since it was built, and everything about it screamed 1970s, or perhaps even earlier. Essentially, it was hipster / foodie / scenester ground zero – the decor was old enough to be interpreted by those in the know as cool again, although to my untrained eye it was just hideous. But who am I to know.
Inside, we tried to locate a coat check – there was one apparently, but it appeared to be mostly a pile of coats that someone was ingenious enough to charge three dollars to tend. It didn’t seem to be associated with the organizers of the event at all. Already we could tell that the event was entrepreneurial.
I waited in line to buy tickets for food and beverages, trying to calculate how many we would need. Five tickets for a beer, three tickets for food. Ross and I could easily put away a beer or two each, plus three or four food stations worth of food. I settled on about forty dollars worth of food – enough for us to have a good time and try several things. We were here to have a good time and a bite to eat, so why not!
There were about six food stations set up – all local restaurants – and three or four beer stations. The restaurants all had a set menu – three items at the most, and from the looks of the place, they were running out fast. The room was at capacity – hundreds of people in a small space, all dressed in winter gear, and milling about looking for food and drink. The vendors were using deep fryers, hot plates, pans and all kinds of contraptions to heat and cook their food, adding to the steam in the place. All of the stations were set up on folding tables, giving the food preparation stations an element of the precarious that was not lost on me. I found myself wondering what a health inspector would make of both the temperature and the preparation instruments in the building.
I managed to get my hands on a few vegetarian options – one was a deep-fried mac and cheese. It was literally creamy creamy mac n cheese in a pastry, deep fried. Amazing. Another was a vegetarian taco. But mostly I drank beer. Several vending stations seemed to have been created specifically as alters to the cult of meat eating. There were several versions of meat on a stick, and even a meat cone (like an ice-cream cone, but with meat inside). And there were meat sandwiches (of pulled pork variety), Everything was, of course, local and mostly organic, or at least sustainable and cruelty free. Although I can’t quite figure out what about raising animals specifically to kill and eat is cruelty free. Enough buzzwords on the vendor signs to sate the ethical conscience of even the most diligent food devotee.
Because here we were, celebrating the height of local food at the low point of local food production capability (mid winter in Ontario, naturally). We were celebrating our choices, our ethics, and our ability to sate our consciences about the foods we eat and the impact that has on ourselves, others, animals and the planet. And it was raging hot. The temperature kept climbing. At one point most of us abandoned any attempt at looking cool and just started sweating freely. I began mopping my brow with the handkerchief I had brought. And all of this did nothing to increase our appetites, but it did increase our thirst, to the point that several stands ran out of beer.
Inevitably, an indie band played a short set, and some people started dancing while those still eating tried to avoid being smacked by a dancing hipster. The temperature did not decrease during this episode, but my willingness to continue pretending to enjoy myself certainly did.
After about two hours of this, we made our escape. We made our way to a bar we’d never been too, previously deemed too “divey”. They didn’t have any food cred – they served pub fare in its most basic form. They had a couple of local beers, but by no means a selection. And it was a fantastic little watering hole. I even ran into my cousin. Now that’s local.