A food scene, foodie culture, and the death of Old Portland

Background

On a rather chilly February morning, my girlfriend Elise and I got into an unreasonably long line to wait at one of the more popular doughnut establishments (not the pink one). Clearly, this is purely anecdotal in nature, but as I looked down the line and eavesdropped on many conversations, it was apparent that most of the people in the line were visitors, foodies browsing Instagram, and most likely not from Portland. Now, it was natural for me to think in the moment, “why are there so many people here?!”, especially since I was freezing my ass off, but then something dawned on me. I looked at Elise and said, “Ugh, I ruined Portland, didn’t I?”

Oh, the Guilt

I am not an asshole. I’m actually a good guy. Really, I am. I was, however, born in San Francisco, California, a city that many people fear Portland is becoming. While I don’t believe Portland will ever have quite the extremely problematic economic conditions of the City by the Bay, I do completely understand the sentiment that a place that was once very livable is rapidly becoming less so. I have this understanding and sympathy because this very thing happened to me. While I was living there, the very place that birthed me appeared to have transformed during my watch, and it changed to the extent that I stopped being able to recognize it as the same place. Yes, certain spots became less dangerous, but people of color and LGBTQ people were being pushed out. A very homogenous tech community seemed to be taking over, and while I personally make a reasonable wage, I still felt I was just trying to catch up, so I decided on a big move up north to Portland.

I have been visiting the Rose City since 2008, and in the past 12 years, I have seen quite a few changes: increased housing prices, increased rent prices, much busier freeways, in addition to many restaurant openings and closings. Even since I moved here in 2016, these same things have changed. The popular idea is that Californians like myself are coming here, buying property, moving here in droves, and clogging up the freeways. Having befriended many people who have been here much longer than me and even some natives, I realize I am doing what was done to my own hometown. So, while I had been pointing my finger at the very tech bros who are accused of ruining my hometown, I’m fully prepared to point three at myself for what is happening to Portland.

Personal Accountability

I used to visit Portland and plan big food trips where I’d have food from the latest and greatest restaurants in the food scene at the time. I thought about how much I was like the people I was so quick to judge, and to be perfectly honest, it was rather uncomfortable because I basically am them, except in some ways, I am worse:

  • I moved here and purchased a house, removing at least one unit from the market, which potentially drives up prices of residential housing.
  • I live in Southeast Portland and commute to Hillsboro, which means my vehicle is one of the many cars painfully crossing bridges during commute times and causing congestion on highway 26.
  • I took a valuable job that perhaps could belong to someone who’s from here. This one is debatable as my position is very particular where perhaps I am actually one of the only people anywhere capable of doing it.
  • I specifically write about the food scene, not just on this site but also on Eater PDX. As a contributor to one of the bigger online outlets of food news and information about Portland, I am actively promoting a food scene and foodie culture that some might argue is causing an influx of tourism and increasing the popularity of this city. Cultivating this food scene is perhaps part of the undoing of many of the things people came to Portland in search of.

It is somewhat sobering to consider how much of what I am personally doing is contributing to the overall problem. buying a home, taking a job from a potential local person, adding to traffic, food writing promoting a food scene and foodie culture contributes to the destruction of what some might consider actual culture and what made Portland a desirable destination in the first place.

Responsibilities

Inspecting the toll I feel I am putting into this town, I feel I have a responsibility to being more aware, promoting local artisans, local artists, “weird” culture without fetishizing it. I also have a desire to create and contribute to the overall well being of Portland population. One of the tenets of Pip’s Doughnuts is the idea of community over competition. Owners Nate and Jamie Snell aim to cultivate this through executing well and staying simple. I believe this is the spirit in which I personally need to embody when looking at the impact I want to have on my new home.

Actions

Coming up with a few action items for the year (yes, I know it’s almost a quarter way through):

  • As a person who writes about food, I’d like to promote Portland small businesses. I try to do this already, but perhaps I could back off on buying things from Amazon and buy more local.
  • Building on the first bullet and trying to honor the history of this city, why Portland is the way it is, I will support businesses from people of color, especially in marginalized neighborhoods.
  • Volunteer for at least two non-profits benefitting the overall community in areas of need that I care about.
  • Support creators and see more local bands play.

Conclusion

I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. These are just some thoughts I have on my impact as a citizen in a new place. I don’t want to be a consumer intent on living off a culture someone else built, and perhaps you’ll find some of my words will inspire you to build your tribe a little more in a strange land to which you’ve immigrated. And to Portland, Oregon, sorry for fucking up. I promise to try better. ILYSM!

I’d love to hear what you guys think! Feel free to contact me.


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