Eat and Run
couple months ago, some friends and I had tea with British aristocracy at an apartment in the Mission. As the late afternoon light filtered in through the bay windows, I enjoyed a jovial conversation about the family's farms in Central America with my new buddies David Anderson and Becky Farrar. We made light of the hardships of modern romance. And we nibbled on tasty hors d’oeuvres – biscuits with jam and cups of tea infused with shots of tequila.
When we finished, we bid our hosts adieu and caught a second meal down the street. These hosts were slightly less civilized. No sooner had we stepped through the front door than the lights cut out and the proprietors began chanting like savages. We were given candles. Bound and terrified, a virgin was brought from the dark shadows. With the fierce cry of a priest who speaks from the far beyond, our host plunged his hand into her “chest” and tore out her heart, chomping a bite and raising the dripping crimson mess for all to see. Then we danced around the body and feasted on panko-coated eggs and asparagus.
After we finished eating and said our good-byes, we moved on to the next apartment to eat tacos and play celebrity trivia. Then we had delectable veggies and jammed out to Motown's grooviest hits. Then we had more tacos and played a Spanish version of bingo.
Don't be. This is the Urban Eating League (UEL), which is basically a Sunday of chowing down, drinking, and meeting new people at oddly themed parties. You do the whole thing while feasting on locally sourced foods. Each stop features original dishes made (almost entirely) with herbs, vegetables, and meats you can find within a reasonable driving distance of San Francisco. The UEL is basically a Michael Pollan book crossed with the Food Network competition crossed with a pub crawl crossed with a theme party.
Participants are divided into two groups: Eaters and Hosts. Teams of three Eaters rove a specific neighborhood between mapped checkpoints. Each of the five Host teams serves a unique concoction of dishes and cocktails, all with a theme – like British tea or human sacrifice. The Eaters score the Hosts’ effort and creativity as they move along.
But the competition is secondary. The "best team" gets a fun trophy and hugs; the British aristocracy, or team "Downtown Mission," took the honor when I participated. But every Host gets some honor. The remaining four each get an award for having the best presentation, creativity, cheer, or, my favorite: flavor slam.
Ceremony emcee and 28-year-old cofounder Morgan Fitzgibbons explains to me that while people will have fun and laugh until their faces hurt, the bigger point of the UEL is community sustainability. "People feel like they've been a part of something that’s on the right track of where we all need to go," he says. By celebrating consciously sourced dishes prepared on a shoestring budget, Morgan wants San Franciscans to realize that "you can feed a lot of people from local, seasonal ingredients for not a lot of money."
Participants also end up blazing an entertaining trail through a San Francisco neighborhood. The other UELs have taken place near the Wiggle. Morgan organizes the Wigg Party, a group dedicated to bolstering the hoods around the famed bike route. This was the first UEL that went through the Mission. Along with team members David and Becky, I ended up touring all the way from Bissap Baobab on 19th – our start and end point – down to 25th and Alabama, through the lower Mission, back up near Bissap Baobab, then down to Fair Oaks and 24th, and back to Bissap Baobab.
And we took this circuitous route all while dressed as Discovery Channel mammals, our team theme. The theme of the whole UEL was "Spring Equinosh" (get it?) so we riffed from there. And, yes,we got some awesome looks as we meandered between eating hubs. I was a kind of shaggy tiger. Becky was a cute skunk. David was a sort of mangy wolf-dog that busted out some very un-canine dance moves later when the festivities got under way at Bissap Baobab.
Morgan told me that breaking bread is the best way to feel connected with someone. That's true, and so is exploring San Francisco, rocking costumes, trying new food, learning about the ones you already know, and, of course, drinking homemade cocktails. Or, as Morgan says a little differently: "[The UEL] shows people that the work of transforming our neighborhoods and city into something more sustainable can actually be the epitome of a good time."