Do you speaka my language?

By Emily Torgrimson

I am fluent in Food. For me, food has become almost a native language – I speak it, I think it, I dream it. And of course, I eat it.

I am, however, not yet so comfortable with the two new languages I’ve been learning this year. Hables Legalese? Sprechen Sie Construction? I’ve needed Legalese in order to navigate Eat for Equity through trademark applications, branch structuring, and tax reporting. I’ve needed Construction to lead Eat for Equity through in the unexpected process of gutting and rebuilding the RV trailer we bought to take on the road. And damn if I forgot how frustrating, challenging, and empowering it is to learn a new language.

Like any language, I first had to learn the basics and rules of Food – which for me, started with baking. My parents gave me free rein of the kitchen, and would return home to an incredible mess – every bowl used, drips on every surface. “What’s for dinner?” they’d ask. “Chocolate Mousse!”

I don’t really remember the first time I made a crisp. But I’d imagine, I would have followed pretty close to the letter of the recipe. Two cups of berries exactly, not two and a half. The recipe said fresh, not frozen. No cornstarch or quite enough butter? We’d need to get some more before I could attempt the recipe. I had to get the basic vocabulary and grammar down before I felt confident about putting together a culinary sentence.

After enough times of making a crisp, though, I began to understand when rules are rules and when they’re suggestions. I realized there’s an incredible range of flexibility within the rules. Don’t have enough butter? Substitute another liquid or fat, like coconut oil or apple juice. Don’t have cornstarch? Use another thickener, like most kinds of flour or tapioca starch. Don’t have enough berries? Mix in other fruits, frozen or otherwise. You’ll still have a crisp, and chances are, it’s still going to be delicious.

This is where I’m getting stuck with the languages of Construction and Legalese. I’m starting to get the hang of the vocabulary. Yeah, I still call a drill a screwdriver most of the time, but I now know the difference between a joist and a stud. I can distinguish a sawzall, a spiral saw, a circular saw, a jig saw, a table saw, a hand saw. I can distinguish between individual donations made at our regular feasts for other nonprofits [that’s “program service revenue”], individual donations at feasts to benefit our own organization [a “fundraising event”], and individual donations made online or unconnected to any event [that alone is an “individual contribution”]. Still with me?

But every time is like a new recipe. I’m chained to the cookbook, constantly consulting the recipe to make sure I’m doing it right. It’s easy to get derailed with each new piece of jargon, which may require me to consult a specific subsection in the Employers’ Tax Guide and Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide [which I’ve actually read front to back], or one of the fifty pages of the Instructions to the 990EZ [why a form labeled “EZ” would require a 50-page long instruction manual is another subject]. I want to do things right, and by the rules, which for me are still very narrowly defined.

Thankfully, I’ve had excellent teachers who’ve helped me realize there’s flexibility in both languages. Gray Plant Mooty has been an invaluable interpreter, bringing creativity and expertise to a language that I thought was bound by strict rules. They’ve graciously connected us to others who know the legal language inside and out, like Schechter Dokken Kanter, a new and valuable conversation partner. Winthrop Weinstine helped us secure an Eat for Equity trademark. The Matts – Matt Sand of Rogue Arc and Matt Hauck – and Josh have patiently taught me Construction and helped me troubleshoot in a new and difficult language.

I may never be fluent in either language. I don’t want to dream in Legalese, I don’t want to think in Construction. But I want to be able to communicate, and understand. So if you speak Construction or if you want to learn, we’re bringing our trailer up the Cities to finish work on the interior. And we could use your help. Let me know at [email protected] if you’d like to lend a hand, and I’ll definitely thank you in my native language.