Every nook and cranny of the U.S. is plagued with divisiveness, a systemic problem that continues to hemorrhage after the 2020 election. But maybe Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle has a solution to address the hyperpartisanship: civil discussions and recipe sharing.
Hoyle’s YouTube show, What’s Cookin’ with Val Hoyle, invites politicians from the two major political parties, activists and other thinkers to talk about policies and share recipes. She says it’s a way to humanize the people who are serving the public.
When the pandemic began, Hoyle says she was looking for news that wasn’t related to COVID-19. She says she saw how divisive and hyperpartisan politics was getting, “and we stopped seeing ourselves as people.” At the same time, people were stuck at home looking for new recipes to try.
“I thought, ‘I know some cool people, and I’d like other people to see them as people, and we need recipes,’” she adds.
In April, Hoyle kicked the show off with Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. In the episode, Rosenblum shares a recipe for lemony white beans with anchovy and parmesan and talks about the work her civil rights office was doing at the time to address hate and bias crimes or incidents in the state. (Back in April, before the Black Lives Matter-related protests, Asians in Oregon were experiencing hate and bias because of COVID-19.)
Since then, Hoyle has talked with Republican state Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of the Albany area, Lane Community College board member Lisa Fragala and Salem Reporter and Malheur Enterprise editor Les Zaitz. In addition to not being limited to her Democratic Party peers, the series isn’t affiliated with her day job at BOLI.
“I just felt like you couldn’t get the same kind of interviews if you make it partisan and about a campaign,” she says. “Then people tune out because it’s too political.”
And, for the most part, every recipe has a story behind it. Dressed in an Army sweater, state Sen. James Manning shares his uncle Dakota Manning’s barbecue recipe, telling the backstory of his uncle’s culinary achievements in Kansas City.
Hoyle says Manning’s recipe is one of her favorites, as well as Boshart Davis’ cast iron focaccia. With winter knocking on the door, she’s looking forward to trying out an elk stew that Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde council member Kathleen George shared.
But what recipe would Hoyle recommend to Eugene Weekly readers? Well, she says, her husband is a trained chef, so he does most of the cooking at home, but she has been making homemade chèvre (goat cheese).
She says chèvre cultures are available at the Home Fermenter in Eugene, and she buys the goat milk from Phoenix Farm Enterprises on Camp Creek Road in Springfield. The chèvre makes great tarts with pastry or on crackers, she adds. “It’s local, it’s good, inexpensive and good for you,” she says.
What’s Cookin’ with Val Hoyle has been on hiatus during the 2020 election cycle since guests were in campaign mode and political discourse was highly divisive, Hoyle says.
But her show might be needed again in a country rife with political divisiveness. A Pew Research Center poll from Sept. 30-Oct. 5 says 80 percent of Biden supporters and 77 percent of Trump supporters not only have different policies but fundamentally disagree about core American values. But a later poll in October by Pew found 89 percent of Biden supporters voters wanted their candidate to address the needs of all Americans.
Hoyle says she plans to bring What’s Cookin’ with Val Hoyle back soon so she can keep talking with people who are doing great work in the community because that’s how to get past the partisan label.
“What’s so important right now — and what we’re losing sight of — is that people who are leaders in our community whether it’s in politics, business or nonprofits are actual people who have favorite recipes who have stories,” she says. “Our political process dehumanizes people who step up to be leaders. This is one way to combat that.”
To watch What’s Cookin’ with Val Hoyle, visit ValHoyle.com/WhatsCookin.