“We travel to have enlightening experiences, to meet inspirational people, to be stimulated, to learn, and to grow.” – Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act
In 2009, acclaimed travel writer and public television host Rick Steves published a colorful collection of essays titled Travel as a Political Act. It’s a manifesto, delivered through stories from Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Denmark, Turkey, Morocco, Iran and areas of Europe, on his worldview and approach to travel. The book opens with a story about observing and spending time with dervishes in Turkey, who whirl as they pray.
“This man was so different from me, yet actually very much the same,” writes Steves in a description of one of the men. “The chance encounter left me with a renewed appreciation of the rich diversity of humanity…as well as its fundamental oneness. Experiences like this can be any trip’s most treasured souvenir. When we return home, we can put what we’ve learned—our newly acquired broader perspective—to work as citizens of a great nation confronted with unprecedented challenges. And when we do that, we travel as a political act.”
“Travel…,” he adds, “has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world.”
What Steves is describing is not unlike what many of us do, even if we don’t realize it, when we take advantage of the robust international cuisine that Nashville offers. We are enriching our lives, and tuning ourselves in to a rapidly changing city. We are, in essence, eating as a political act. There is probably no better way to do this deliberately, and no better time to do it, than with The InterNASHional Food Crawl, presented each year by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC). The crawl, celebrating its 5th year on September 2, will include close to 50 participating international restaurants, most around or along the Nolensville Pike corridor in South Nashville, with cuisine ranging from Indian to Mexican to Salvadoran to Kurdish to Turkish and more.
“(The Food Crawl) is a unique opportunity for people to engage in our work in a different way,” says Leah Hashinger, Community Relations Manager for TIRRC. “People ask us all the time how they can get involved in what we’re doing. Most of the ways to get involved during the year are by joining a campaign, signing a petition and showing up at an event, coming to an info session or contacting your lawmaker. We understand that is not for everyone. But people who still care about refugees and immigrants in the community and the work that we do sometimes show that through going to international restaurants and getting to know the chefs there. (The Crawl) is a perfect way for a wide array of folks to have a better sense of Nashville’s international community.”
This year’s Crawl, part of the collaborative Welcoming Tennessee initiative, expands in scale on the success of previous years. In addition to close to 50 participating restaurants—a jump from 30 last year—there will be new international cuisine for attendees to taste. The 5th edition of the event will include, for the first time, a Colombian restaurant. There will also be a Nepali restaurant and market, Rajdhani Groceries and Café, started by husband and wife refugees from Bhutan. “Everything on the menu is what someone makes for you in their kitchen at home,” says Hashinger. “My hope is that people will fall in love with Nepali food.”
There will be returning favorites, as well, including Taj Indian in the Plaza Mariachi Shopping Center, which has been involved in the Crawl for many years. Also confirmed at this time are House of Kabob, Bangkokville, La Conchita, Ken’s Sushi, Istanbul, Chismes Café, The Horn Coffee and Carniceria y Taqueria Don Juan, among others. Plaza Mariachi, which completed construction earlier this year and opened in May, will also be a part of the event. Crawlers will be able to sample food from the restaurants and enjoy performances by Mariachi bands, aerial dancers and flamethrowers. “It’s going to be a stop where people will want to spend a lot of time,” says Hashinger.
Other upgrades to the Crawl this year include eight tastings per tract, whether you go on the curated bus tour ($65) or take the go-at-your-own-pace general admission path ($20), up from six tastings last year. Those choosing the curated path will meet this year at the Fairgrounds, while general admission attendees will register at Plaza Mariachi. Also new: adventurous foodies can take advantage of what TIRRC is calling the Off-The-Beaten-Path tract, which will take them off Nolensville Road to visit less-established restaurants. This is good for people who have already participated three or four times, says Hashinger, and want to try something different. This option is only available with general admission, and if you already bought your tickets you can contact TIRRC to request Off –The Beaten-Path.
Community groups and companies this year can take advantage of TIRRC’s Host a Bus Option by buying a block of 10, 25 or 50 tickets and saving $10 on the individual curated tour tickets. It’s a great way for church and civic groups to show their support for the event, and travel together.
Hashinger says curated bus tour tickets, which include a tour guide, drinks, and charter bus transportation to exclusive stops that can only be found on the Curated Food Tour, are close to selling out and should be purchased soon. General admission tickets sell out every year, so if your waiting to buy your tickets, now is a good time to do it.
Toward the end of Travel as a Political Act, Steves quotes Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Flip out the words “eating internationally” or “eating ethnic food” for “travel” and you end up with the same result. Fortunately, we live in Nashville.
The 5th Annual InterNASHional Food Crawl, benefiting Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) takes place Saturday, September 2 in South Nashville. Learn more, and get your tickets, at NashvilleFoodCrawl.com.