(Literally) Food for Thought: A Discussion about Conscious Eating with Sophie Egan

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We face ethical choices every day, like when we stand in the grocery store line. Is this food good for me? Is it good for others? Is it good for the planet? Health, nutrition, and sustainability expert Sophie Egan will be at Town Hall on March 19 with insight from her new book How to Be a Conscious Eater. She’ll be in conversation with environmental author and journalist Tim Egan. Tickets are on sale now.

Sophie Egan recently sat down Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley to discuss organic foods, the bulk aisle, and how to carry a couple of cucumbers.

JS: What did you eat as a kid? How ingrained are those habits as we become adults?

SE: Pizza. A lot of pizza. My parents told me I was going to turn into a pizza. I was a picky eater and ate what kids eat: chicken nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. These sorts of foods become our comfort foods as we grow older. Top Ramen for me. They are given a special status for life. They’re called foods of privilege because they were given to us in our formative years when we felt safe, secured, and loved.

It’s actually about exposure. Kids can eat all sorts of things. There’s a program called 100 foods before one. Kids can eat spicier things than you may think—can eat different textures, different flavors, all sorts of things.

JS: When did you start questioning what you were eating from an ethical perspective?

SE: My own habits have been informed by my work. For over five years, I served as the Director of Health and Sustainability Leadership and Editorial Director for the Strategic Initiatives Group at The Culinary Institute of America. I couldn’t help but start thinking about what I was eating in that role.

The food systems were much more opaque before. Now they’re much more transparent. That’s a good thing, but the pace of the issues we have to contend with has accelerated, from the plastics used in food production to slave labor used in our shrimp supply. There is a lot to be cognizant of, and with all these issues making decisions on what we eat is becoming more and more complex. My hope is that my book helps inform those decisions.

JS: Organic food: is it worth it?

SE: There are two good starting points. The dirty dozen are the foods that have the highest pesticide residues. The clean fifteen are the foods with the least.

JS: For those with limited financial means, what do you suggest at the grocery store?

SE: Eating in ways that are good for the planet tends to be good for people. Plant-based food is good for the planet and less expensive. Compare a bag of lentils versus a pork chop, for instance. You want whole grains? Buy a tub of oats. Wild salmon? Buy canned or frozen. Organic produce? Buy frozen. The bulk food section is a great place to get good food at the best price. You can get your granola there without the packaging and without the marketing.

JS: What simple tips can you give someone going to a grocery store wanting to be a conscious eater?

SE: Labels are confusing. Flip the package over. The front of the packaging is nothing but marketing. The information you need is on the back.

Evaluate foods based on what’s in it (is it healthy?), what’s on it (be cognizant of stickers and claims), and the package itself (what will happen to this package when you’re done?).

JS: You don’t need a plastic bag for your cucumber.

SE: Use a reusable grocery bag and reusable produce bags.

JS: What should meat eaters consider?

SE: First—less is more. Less red meat is better. The red meat you buy most often comes from factory farms, which is incredibly harmful to the planet in a wide variety of ways. When you buy your meat, make sure it’s not factory farmed; that it’s more humanely raised; that it’s got grassfed certification. It was raised on a pasture and not in a factory. 

JS: Aside from personal changes in eating, what can people do to help the planet food-wise?

SE: Speak up to local governments to incorporate food solutions when it comes to climate change. Food is often left out of climate change discussions when it’s a key facet of it. Raise your voice to institutional purchasing. Look at your kids’ school, your workplace, your healthcare provider. Are they being ethically conscious about their food choices?

Want to digest more about conscious eating? Join us on March 19 as Sophie Egan takes the stage with Tim Egan. Tickets are $5 and FREE for anyone under the age of 22.

Renowned Mathematician And Physicist Freeman Dyson Has Died At Age 96

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Town Hall Seattle sends our condolences to the Dyson family. Renowned mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson passed away after suffering a fall at Princeton University.

Dyson’s most useful contribution to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga. He subsequently worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology, looking for problems where elegant mathematics could be usefully applied.

Town Hall Seattle hosted Freeman Dyson on two occasions. His last visit was in May 2018. He was joined on stage by Neal Stephenson to discuss his autobiography, Maker of Patterns.

That discussion:

It was an honor for Town Hall to host Freeman directly and to consider his work and enduring legacy.

What Are People Doing?

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Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Nathaniel Parschall will be the hostess of a dansant at the Red Cross lunchroom” and, “Mrs. Grace Matters spoke on Thursday at noon about food conservation.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

On the cover of the December 7, 1918 edition of the Town Crier was the dashing Lucien Perrot. Perrot, for years, had been teaching the citizens of Seattle the French language and was a professor at the University of Washington for the Student Army Training Corps.

The Student Army Training Corps is no longer. UW continues its French language studies. But did you know there’s a place in Seattle where anyone can learn the French language from children to adults? C’est vrai! It’s true!

Alliance Francaise is in the Wallingford neighborhood. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it offers French language classes to all ages and levels and offers French and Francophone cultural events locally. 

You can learn about their languages classes here and their coming cultural events here.

Learn something new. Lucian Perrot would be so fier (proud). 

Rosa Floribunda are Red, Viola Odorata are Blue

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Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m going to the Ross Bayton Town Hall event, and you should, too.

On March 4, horticulturalist Ross Bayton will present a crash course in plant history, ruminating on the origin and significance of the Latin plant names we encounter every day.

Before the event (and be sure not to miss the NW Flower and Garden Show at the Washington State Convention Center) here are a few interesting plant facts! Be astounded. Impress your friends at your next backyard barbecue!

A sunflower is not just one flower.
Both the brown center and the yellow petals are actually about 1,000-2,000 individual flowers held together on a single stalk.

There are more microorganisms in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth.
Microbes are EVERYWHERE and are important for keeping soil full of nutrients.

Some of your favorite fruits are members of the rose family.
Apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, strawberries and more are cousins of the rose.

You can change a hydrangea’s color by altering the pH level of the soil.
A more alkaline soil will result in pinker blooms. A more acidic soil will produce bluer blooms.

Be careful of foxglove.
The flowers, stems, and leaves can be deadly. The chemicals deslanoside, digitoxin, digoxin, and digitalis glycosides make this popular perennial quite harmful.

There are at least 10,000 varieties of tomatoes.
Over 60 million tons of tomatoes are produced each year, making it the world’s most popular fruit. The second most popular fruit is the banana.

Learn more about plants at Town Hall! Unlock the secret (and not-so-secret) origins of the growing world around us with Bayton’s illuminating exploration of the plants we know, and some we don’t. Tickets are on sale now ($5, and FREE for anyone under the age of 22).

Oud Intentions

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What happens when you merge fluid improvisation and subtle noise with traditional Arabic music—then add the talent of a guitar master? The Vancouver-based band Haram aims to find out. Led by award-winning oud virtuoso Gordon Grdina, Haram will be joining us at Town Hall on 3/1 in a Global Rhythms performance alongside legendary guitarist Marc Ribot.

Town Hall’s Alexander Eby sat down with Gordon Grdina for a conversation about ouds, band history, and the spirit of collaboration.

AE: Initially, what got Haram together? What factors steered the band towards including elements of traditional Arabic music?

GG: The band came together in 2008 from two main ideas. First, I wanted a band that could play the traditional Arabic music I was studying but in an unorthodox way. This was the Iraqi folk music I was learning from my teacher Serwan Yamolky and the traditional radio music from Egypt in the 50-60’s by musicians like Oum Khalsoum Farid Al Atrache, Abdel Wahab etc. We’ve since expanded to include Sudanese and Persian music from the same period. 

Secondly, aside from my trio I wasn’t playing regularly with a lot of the incredible musicians in Vancouver and wanted to have a larger ensemble where we could all play together and get a chance to hang out. Some of the musicians were already versed in this music but most weren’t. I knew their incredible sensitivities would bring out new aspects of this ancient music and the repertoire would bring out aspects of their own playing we hadn’t heard before. It ended up being a great idea and we’ve enjoyed many great nights of music since then.

AE: Why are you drawn to the oud as an instrument? What’s it like to try to merge that sound with the rock/jazz/indie/improv sensibilities of the band at large?

GG: I had a very good guitar teacher when I was young who always brought new interesting music to each lesson, and left it with me so that I would get inspired. At 13 I was into a lot of blues and slide guitar, and my teacher Marko Ferenc brought me a Vishwa Mohan Bhatt record with Simon Shaheen. He wanted me to check out Vishaw’s slide playing, but as soon as I heard the Oud for the first time I was blown away. I couldn’t understand how the sound was being made but it grabbed me and I fell in love with it instantly. Simon Shaheen is also one of the greatest Oud players in the world so that didn’t really hurt either. I then got interested in other Oud players like Hamza El Din and Rabih Abou Khalili and later Munir Bachir and others. 

I didn’t get an Oud and start playing the music until I graduated from Jazz School. I got one off of Ebay and instantly started a band called Sangha with my friends Hidayat Honari Neelamjit Dhillon and Hamin Honari. We play original music based in Arabic Persian and Indian concepts. So my understanding of the instrument and practice of it has always been within a blending of tradition. I’ve since studied traditional Arabic music more in-depth, but using the traditional alongside all of the other aspects of my musical understanding is intrinsic to how I make music. I knew that this band would bring out different aspects of the musicians and I could see how their unique voices could add a different dimension to these timeless melodies. 

AE: What interests you most about working with Marc Ribot? What do you think the result will be of blending his musical style with Haram’s?

GG: Everyone in the band and myself are huge fans of Marc. He is one of the icons of the instrument because he transcends the guitar and creates music that immediately touches you. He is soulful, always interesting and intriguing no matter what he does. His sound isn’t based in flawless technique—even though he has that too. It’s based on creating the most direct and honest music in the moment. The most exciting part of this band is that everyone thrives on freely creating in the moment with a sense of abandon.

I think that Marc will meet this abandon and take us all to the next level. I’m expecting excitement, surprise, a fair amount of ripping and the unknown!

Haram and Ribot join forces onstage on 3/1 for an energetic and intuitive concert in a unique exploration of Arabic musical traditions. Get your tickets here!

What Are People Doing?

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Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “The Junior Prom takes place tonight at the Masonic Temple” and, “The Smith College Club of Seattle is giving a series of dances at the Women’s University Club to aid in raising the $4,000,000 endowment fund for their alma mater.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

Gracing the cover of the February 7, 1920 Town Crier was none other than Mrs. Margaret P. McLean. McLean taught at Cornish College and was to give a dramatic reading of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables to rapt and adoring fans.

Town Hall fans, there are a variety of events involving drama this very month on our stages:

February 12: Diane Rehm: When My Time Comes. Arguably the most dramatic event in one’s life is at the end of it. Rehm talks with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds about the Right-to-Die movement.

February 15: Julie Blacklow: Diary of a Badass Reporter. Blacklow was among the first generation of women in television news in the United States.

February 19: Pacific Flyway: Waterbird Migration from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. The incredible stories of migratory birds and their challenges for survival. 

February 25: Susan Fowler: Fighting Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley. A chronicle of her stand against the pervasive culture of sexism, harassment, racism, and abuse at Uber.

For our full calendar of Town Hall events visit us here. Most tickets are only $5 (and FREE to anyone under the age of 22). We look forward to having you join us. 

A Five-Decade Debate as Important as Ever: James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr.

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On February 20 at Town Hall, Nick Buccola brings to the the stage a debate about race reverberating 50 years on. 

“I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I was going to use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” James Baldwin grew up poor in Harlem in New York City. His stepfather treated him harshly, so from a young age Baldwin retreated to libraries where he read and started to write. By his 35th birthday, he’d become one of America’s great writers, penning such books as Go Tell It On the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son. He also came to be considered one of America’s great thinkers and human rights advocates, stepping forward to guide critical discussions in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

“Liberals claim they want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” William F. Buckley Jr. was born in 1925, not long after Baldwin, in the same city. Privileged, his mother filled their home with servants and tutors. Buckley attended Yale, became an informant for the FBI, and worked for a time with the CIA. He also founded National Review, a publication that has become a prominent voice on the American right and has played a significant role in the development of conservatism in the United States.

These two men—diametrically opposed intellectuals—met at the University of Cambridge on February 18, 1965. There they debated the question “Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?” Yes, said Baldwin. “I picked the cotton, and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing.” No, said Buckley. “The fact that your skin is black is utterly irrelevant to the arguments you raise.” Buckley positioned himself in the debate as a reasonable moderate, one that resisted social transformations Baldwin sought—in particular, desegregation. “The fundamental friend of the Negro people of the United States is the good nature and is the generosity and the good wishes…the fundamental decency,” Buckley said, “of the American people.”  

Fifty-some years later, debates on race relations are still at the fore of our country. Viewpoints on race are still in sharp contrast; in a 2018 Gallup Poll 54% of non-Hispanic whites said black and white relations are good, as opposed to 40% of blacks who said the same. This is marked drop even from 2001 where 70% of blacks said relations were good—more so, at that time, than whites (62%).

On February 20, Linfield College professor of political science Nicholas Buccola joins us to tell the full story of the Baldwin Buckley debates. His book The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William Buckley Jr, and the Debate Over Race in America explores the radically different paths of Baldwin and Buckley and the controversies that followed their fraught conversations. Buccola shows how the decades-long clash between these two men illuminates America’s racial divide today and echoes the necessary work still to be done by liberals and conservatives alike. 

Buccola delves into Baldwin and Buckley’s conversation as a remarkable story of race and the American dream that still resonates today—an unforgettable confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy.


Join us on February 20 for this important talk. Tickets are on sale now ($5, and FREE for anyone under the age of 22).

The debate:

What Are People Doing?

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Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Myra Pless will be hostess this evening at a supper dance in honor of lieutenant commander Robert Bachmann of the USS Tennessee” and, “Captain Roald Amundsen, the noted Arctic explorer, will be the honor guest at a dinner given by the Rainier Club.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?” 

Today’s entry…

The Big Game is this weekend. The San Francisco 49ers will be playing the Kansas City Chiefs for the NFL trophy. It’ll be East vs. West. East, to us, anyway. In the December 10, 1921 edition of the Town Crier, they were discussing the football teams of both sides of the country in a brief story about the UW Huskies. “The football game last Saturday lent additional support to the belief that some of us have been cherishing in our breasts for, lo, these many years, though only of late have we been sufficiently iconoclast to whisper it,” the story begins. “It is to the broad and general effect that out here in this wild and woolly west we raise a crop of athletes that is superior to any to be found elsewhere in the world.” The Town Crier writers would undoubtedly be cheering for the 49ers this weekend. “It has been satisfactorily demonstrated that apples, oranges, and other fruits, wheat, oats, and other grains, trees, stock of various kinds, and pretty nearly everything else that grows in this part of the country sets a standard of superiority for all other sections to aspire to, so why should not the rule hold true with young men?” 49ers fans, indeed! The Chiefs, Town Crier prognosticators believe, are going down thanks to our ample supply of fruits and grains.

After watching the game, or the commercials between the game, come back to Town Hall in February for a variety of great events that you’ll cheer for.

Diane Ravitch joins us February 4 to discuss the fight to save public schools.

On the same night Bob Redmond will moderate a panel discussion about bees, guts, soil, and cancer.

On February 5th, with Gage Academy of Art, the artist Gary Hill takes the Town Hall stage.

Rick Steves returns to Town Hall on February 6 with a message of hope.

The Westerlies will play their signature music with the spoken word stylings of Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye on February 8.

Whether you’re coming from the West or East (say…Bellevue), tickets are on sale now! We assure you they’re cheaper than football tickets! Most are $5 and free for anyone under the age of 22.

For our full calendar visit us here.

Checking in with Cheikh Lo: A Global Rhythms Concert Review

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Emily Slider, a local world music aficionado, was in attendance at our most recent Global Rhythms Concert. She was kind enough to send along this review.  She’s reviewed Town Hall concerts in the past for KEXP

Friday, January 17th, at Town Hall Seattle, the Great Hall was transported around the world by the warm African sounds of Cheikh Lo and Thione Diop. The evening began with a solo performance on the kora, a West-African lute. One member of Thione Diop’s ensemble came out after the lights went down and danced his hands on the strings of the instrument, plucking them upward and outward to fill the hall with a harp-like sound. The entire ensemble came onstage after the kora player had disappeared backstage. The instruments played by the group were percussion, but a few of them, like the xylophone and the cowbells, played tones that became the melodies. Each song felt like a jaunty saunter through lush faraway lands. Thione Diop demonstrated his djembe prowess with a captivating solo. He leaned into his drums with the audience leaning forward in anticipation of his next strike, both the drums and the audience under his command. The ensemble carried equal weight as they waded further into a colorful landscape of sound together. After a couple of songs, of the bell player passed off his instrument and got up to dance. He delivered a beautifully choreographed dance, moving each section of his body independently then interweaving his motions to the roll of the song. He sat down without even breaking a sweat and began playing with the ensemble again. Two more dancers came out wearing ropes and grasses as ornaments to their dancing and each taking a turn demonstrating how to move to the music. The only female dancer was particularly graceful and athletic. When she sat down and began to jam with the rest of the ensemble, the hall was left to wonder how much talent can fit inside one body, and whether they had just witnessed the depth of her talent or only the tip of it. 

Photo by Roy Kuraisa

Cheikh Lo took the stage after a generous last jam session with Thione Diop wrapped up. He began his set at the front of the stage flanked by members of his ensemble on either side. He strummed a mellow song and released his raspy, burdened voice out into the hall. Without speaking his language, the audience could get a sense of his message just by the way he expressed himself. His necklace, a custom made leather and wood holds an image of his spiritual leader close to his heart to guide him while he plays. This, along with the crown of dreadlocks wrapped atop his head, signify his allegiance to Baye Fall, a Senegalese Muslim sect. The band had a more western representation of instruments, using a full drum set and a saxophone, but the sound was quintessentially African. The bass and percussion reigned supreme supported by an intermittent vocal melody. Cheikh Lo shifted from leading up front to behind the drumset, the spot where he began his career more than forty years ago with Volta Jazz. He started this portion of the set happily riding the hi-hat and snare, coaxing his ensemble into his sound. His lead guitar player played a tremolo on the neck of his instrument before surfing his fingers down the instrument and exploding into sound. Pockets of people began dancing. Some groups wandered onto the stage, danced for Cheikh Lo, and then exited to shimmy just offstage. The energy in the room relaxed enough for the audience to empty the pews and begin to dance with each other. The crowd cut loose as Chiekh continued to jam.

Chiekh Lo had not played in Seattle for over twenty years; and considering how much the Seattle crowd picked up whatever Chiekh laid down, another twenty years will not slip by before he returns.

After the concert, Slider was able to talk to Lo through an interpreter. A brief interview is below.

ES: I want to hear about what you’re wearing. Whose image is on your necklace?

CL: This is my spiritual guide.

ES: and you keep him on you all the time?

CL: Yes, all the time.

ES: For those of us who don’t speak your language, what is the message of you music?

CL: Lots of things. I talk about the spiritual, I talk about love, the social issues, and environment.

ES: Seattle loved you, will you come back again soon?

CL: Of course! The people were dancing! It was good.

Global Rhythms returns to Town Hall on March 1. Haram with special guest Marc Ribot will take the Great Hall stage. Tickets are on sale now.

What Are People Doing?

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Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Now that the holidays are over there is an aftermath of deadly quiet in social circles” and, “In celebration of the wedding day of George and Martha Washington, the Rainier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is giving an elaborate card party at the Scottish Rite Temple.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

There was an ad in the January 17, 1920 Town Crier for Violet Tatum Hats. “Already-are hats appearing in the shiny straws and bright flowers- suggesting early Spring.” Hats were a big thing in the 1920s. And Spring is a big thing at Town Hall.

True, Spring 2020 doesn’t begin in the Northern Hemisphere until Thursday, March 19 but Town Hall’s got an early spring with a plethora of events. For instance:

January 17: Mozart Birthday Toast. Raise your glass to celebreate Mozart’s birthday with an evening of intimate masterpieces by one of the most beloved composers of all time. The concert will be performed by Byron Schenkman and friends.

January 31: Lyric World. How can poetry expand our understanding of civic life? Poet and former Town Hall Artist-In-Residence Shin Yu Pai invites us to the first of her Lyric World discussions, exploring the role of poetry as it stokes our curiosity and gives voice and attention to the human experience.. 

February 8: Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye. As part of Westerlies Fest 2020, spoken word poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye join the Seattle-bred, New York-based brass quartet The Westerlies.

February 9: Ensemble Caprice. Early Music Seattle presents a rendition of Vivaldi’s Montezuma.It is a semi-staged opera production reconstructed and reimagined by Ensemble Caprice Musical Director Matthias Maute.

February 22: Showtunes Theatre Company’s 20th Anniversary Gala. It will be a night filled with laughter, music, memories, and surprises.

February 23: North Corner Chamber Orchestra. “Through the Glass,” the third concert cycle in NOCCO’s 2019-20 season, shines a light on important though often forgotten elements of our musical fabric: women composers and young performers.

February 29: Miguel Zenon Quartet. Earshot Jazz brings one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation. 

March 1: Haram with special guest Marc Ribot. Our Global Rhythms series continues with Haram, a Vancouver-based group led by Juno Award-winning oud virtuoso Gordon Grdina. Also on stage will be legendary guitarist Marc Ribot.

Come on out to Town Hall before Spring. Wearing shiny straws and bright flowers is entirely optional! We’re looking to seeing you.

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