This is the third and final post in our series of alumni interviews about new IFBC attendees, this one with Lauren McElwain from The Filigree Fig. Lauren has a great story, in that she used her blog to launch a non-profit that benefits expatriates living in her hometown – through cooking – and so we are using this post to change the focus of this series. If you are an alumnus and interested to share your own inspiring story with us, please contact Sarah Wohlner who sends out the alumni emails.
Why/How did you start your blog? Tell us about your brand/ mission.
I started my blog about five years ago because food inspires me to be creative! I love to make vegetables more fun and just cook and share the dishes that I love to eat…especially dishes experienced while traveling! I started my nonprofit organization, Cooking as a First Language, because I am passionate about bringing people together over food! It thrills my soul to see the ways cooking, sharing a meal and hospitality can break down barriers and build up community!
Tell us a bit more about Cooking as a First Language
Blue Springs, MS (on the outskirts of Tupelo where I live) is home to a major Toyota manufacturing plant. Over recent years, many Japanese families have relocated to our area for jobs and to make a new life. I believe that Tupelo natives should be proud of diversity and should work to make these families feel welcomed and even celebrated in our community.
I discovered very quickly that many of our Japanese neighbors speak little or no English. When some of these ladies saw that I was a food blogger, they asked if I could conduct a cooking class to teach them some recipes that are popular in this part of the world. When we cook together, our primary mode of communication is food prep tasks. Working together to reach a common and fun goal formed a lasting bond between us that we needed no spoken words to create. That gives me chills every time I say it!
We started reaching out to many different people and since beginning the cooking classes we have tasted: American, Sushi/Japanese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese New Year, Korean, Ecuadorian, Cuban, and International Desserts! Upcoming classes include Filipino, Venezuelan, Chinese Takeout and Moroccan. Each class is taught by a person who is from the given country…so you know it’s going to be legit!!
What were your thoughts and feelings about the conference before you actually attended?
I was excited about doing something new, but didn’t really know what to expect. I just hoped to learn a lot and connect with other food bloggers. I was also excitedly and a little nervously preparing my presentation for the Lightning Talk event.
What was your experience like at IFBC?
The conference exceeded any expectations I had! I was completely intrigued and inspired from beginning to end with the information that was presented. I learned some things that have helped me a lot with my blogging and social media presence. I LOVE all the people I got to meet and am still in touch with most of them! I felt as if I had found my tribe at IFBC! I said to my husband, “This is where people like me come together!” The excitement for food, travel, creating and enriching the lives of others is contagious at IFBC and that’s something I want to catch!!
What would you like to tell food bloggers who have never attended the IFBC but are considering doing so?
I would say do not hesitate any longer! Sign up for this conference and be a part of something you’ll never forget! Get ready to be inspired to write and create and to make fabulous new foodie friends! That was a very rewarding experience for me.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have to say that the “speed dating” event for bloggers and brands was a highlight of the weekend. The fast pace of it was so fun and I enjoyed getting to taste the products. I made connections that night that I am still benefitting from today. I’m actually about to do a big giveaway on my blog of a product that I discovered that night! The “Taste of” event was also fabulous!! I can’t wait for the Taste of Juneau event this year!
In closing, I would just say that IFBC is a very well done conference. It’s a big deal, but still small enough that you feel like you’re friends with everyone there. And I think that’s awesome!