Welcome to our new Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email email@example.com .
Megan Sheridan and the Sustainable Supper Club at 320 Northeast.
Megan Sheridan (HECUA Environmental Studies 2008) is in the business of narrative. A recovering marketer, she and her husband, Matt, now make their living by hosting weekly ticketed dinners in their home, at a semi-private supper club they call 320 Northeast. They want to reframe the stories Midwesterners tell themselves about food. “Matt and I started this project because we feel that the culture around food is missing something,” Megan says, as we sip tea flavored with locally harvested sumac, seated at their burnished, massive dining room table. “You know, just contrast the attitude that people have about food that is native to the Midwest with their attitude towards food that’s grown in Italy, or the South of France.”
It’s an inarguable point. Imagining a breathless foodie tour of scenic Midwestern corn country is very near to impossible. Megan and Matt want to change that. “We need to find our own imitable culture around food,” Megan says. Imitable culture? What does that mean, exactly? “Well, for example, yes, you can grow grapes here, and make mediocre wine, but apples like to grow here. They’re easily cultivated. Wyndfall ciders is a purveyor we work with who produces ciders that have the complexity and savor of a great glass of wine.” Megan describes the food story being told at 320 Northeast as centered on, “things that are locally rooted. Things that feel good and hearty and warm.” The pair want to ignite a move towards sensual sustainability – a plate that feels like a delight, not just a jumbled collection of locally grown anything-at-all.
Megan and her husband, Matt, prep plates before a meal at 320 Northeast. Photo via: www.320northeast.com
When did Megan first begin to think about the intersection of food and culture? In her HECUA classroom. “HECUA was really where I started to “get” food thing. Growing up I ate a lot of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, doctored with gluten free noodles.” Megan has celiac’s disease, so she’s always spent quite a bit of time thinking about food as fuel. “That’s why I went to St. Thomas,” she confesses, “They said they would feed someone with celiac’s in the dining hall! That’s really why.”
The Environmental Sustainability classroom allowed for a new lens, and a different focus, on food as a story that we tell about our relationship to land, and to other people. “The field trips that we took to farms during the program were absolutely formative. We saw a permaculture set up at Moonstone Organic Farms that had me thinking about what things are meant to grow together. We spent time on two grass fed beef farms, which successfully converted at least one person from a vegetarian to a meat eater.” The people Megan and Matt work with now as purveyors are all small scale farmers with operations less than a day’s drive away from their home in Northeast Minneapolis.
The HECUA Environmental Studies classroom is also where Megan met the cohort of women she now describes as “my people.” After the semester long program concluded, she moved out of her upper classman housing on the University of St. Thomas campus and into an apartment with friends she’d met during her time off-campus. One of the women in her class, Katherine Ploughman, is now her foraging connection, providing the 320 Northeast table with a steady stream of seasonable wild edibles.
The Environmental Sustainability class of 2008 during a farm field visit.
320 Northeast is a new project for Megan and Matt, a way to encourage other people to start to “get the food thing”. They held their first dinner February of this year, and they’ve been booked nearly solid since. You can find more information about their path to 320 Northeast, and their ticketing system for dinners at their website, here: 320northeast.com or on their instagram account: https://instagram.com/320northeast/