When a table for one isn’t big enough

At the risk of jeering from my peers and a barrage of angry reader letters, I must admit to being underinformed about politics and current affairs right now.

My energy has been wholly focused on familiarizing myself with Atlanta’s food and dining scene and, when time permits, dealing with the intricacies of relocating my family to this city. These are excuses, to be sure. But it has gotten me thinking: Will I ever be able to stay on top of all the news? Can any journalist stay on top of everything?

It’s the strangest thing to delete emails that hold (heart)breaking reports of terrorist attacks, downed airplanes and death by lethal injection. Yet, if I didn’t detach somewhat, I couldn’t focus on the issues that I’m tasked to manage, from assigning stories to editing articles to reviewing restaurants to getting out in the community to understand the issues that shape the big picture of food in this city, state and region.

The latter has meant meeting chefs, restaurateurs, food producers and growers, members of food advocacy groups and other stakeholders. Recently, I got to put a face to the aptly named Alice Rolls and her staff at Georgia Organics, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable foods and local farms in this state.

They explained their efforts over a potluck lunch at their office, located across the street from SweetWater Brewing Co. We dove into aromatic dal and rice, salad, pea soup, roasted potatoes, sautéed greens, cookies and more. Everything was homemade. Everything was fresh. Everything was delicious. But the lasting memory isn’t what was served.

I left with amazement at the extensiveness of their efforts to build a more sustainable food system through education and outreach, which requires dialogue among communities, universities, government agencies, farmers, schools and corporations.

Rolls and her team are pushing Georgia residents and companies alike to think and plan for what they want their food landscape to look like in the future. The big picture and the minutiae will be addressed at their annual conference, which will take place Feb. 26 and 27 in Columbus. Anyone can attend.

I also left with the very simple, but smile-inducing, memory of 12 passionate people coming together at the table.

When I first arrived in Atlanta, I was eager to write a story on dining for one, since I’d be living solo for a number of months. You know what? I have been hard-pressed to dine alone at a restaurant these many weeks. Some people thoroughly enjoy eating out by themselves. I’m not there yet.

Eating is such a social affair. It’s not just about fueling up or nit-picking a dish with the tines of a fork, but taking the time to step away from work to enjoy sustenance with others. And it’s interesting how we find common ground through food.

A couple weeks ago found me dining with strangers at a dinner held by Judith Varnai Shorer, the consul general of Israel to the southeastern United States. Shorer; her husband, Oded Shorer (director of economic and trade affairs for the consulate); and their daughter arrived in Atlanta only four months ago. They were playing host to leaders from the Latin community in an effort to build relationships. I attended on behalf of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Talk about nerves. I didn’t know anyone. My fluency in Spanish and knowledge of Latino culture might serve me, but these were political figures. I gave myself the best crash course I could, researching the organizations and backgrounds of the esteemed attendees. When the hour came, I reassured myself with this thought: Everyone eats. Keep it to food, and you’ll do fine.

Food is, in fact, where conversation led. Jerry Gonzales, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, chatted about his favorite restaurants. Oded Shorer discussed Israeli wine as he poured me a glass by one of its producers, Recanti. David Lefkovits of real estate firm LEFKO Design + Build (and a committee member for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival) gave me the heads-up that the 2016 festival (Jan. 26-Feb. 17,) will include food-related films. (Food lovers will want to see "In Search of Israeli Cuisine," a documentary that follows chef Michael Solomonov of lauded Zahav Restaurant in Philadelphia as he talks to Israeli chefs, home cooks, winemakers, cheesemakers, farmers and others about their culture, heritage and what they're cooking.)

It was a delicious dinner, but, once again, the conviviality and conversation outweighed the need to dissect the components of every single dish that was served.

As a parting gift, the consul general presented each of her guests with a pocketbook of facts about Israel. I’m reading up so that, when we have coffee next, I’m better equipped to converse about important issues like agriculture and trade, which intersect with a growing interest in modern Israeli cuisine among U.S. diners and home cooks.

Someday, I’ll get around to researching and writing that table-for-one story. Right now, it’s on hold because there’s so much to be learned when every seat at the table is taken.