Here’s some good digestible information about what Baltimore is doing to accomplish a more sustainable city!
Great read… been thinking a lot about what it really means to “help” a community. Often times it seems more selfishly driven than realized…. Thanks to Mira for sharing.
White people aren’t told that the colour of their skin is a problem very often. We sail through police check points, don’t draw sideways glances in affluent neighbourhoods, and are generally understood to be predisposed for success based on a physical characteristic (the colour of our skin) we have little control over beyond sunscreen and tanning oil.
After six years of working in and travelling through a number of different countries where white people are in the numerical minority, I’ve come to realise that there is one place being white is not only a hindrance, but negative – most of the developing world.
In high school, I travelled to Tanzania as part of a school trip. There were 14 white girls, 1 black girl who, to her frustration, was called white by almost everyone we met in Tanzania, and a few teachers who chaperoned. $3,000 bought us a week at an orphanage, a half built library, and a few pickup football games, followed by a week-long safari.
Our mission while at the orphanage was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.
Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level.
That same summer, I started working in the Dominican Republic (DR) at a summer camp I helped organise for HIV+ children. Within days, it was obvious that my rudimentary Spanish set me so far apart from the local Dominican staff that I might as well have been an alien. Try caring for children who have a serious medical condition, and are not inclined to listen, in a language that you barely speak. It isn’t easy. Now, 6 years later, I am much better at Spanish and am still highly involved with the camp programming, fundraising, and leadership. However, I have stopped attending having finally accepted that my presence is not the godsend I was coached by non-profits, documentaries, and service programs to believe it would be.
You see, the work we were doing in both the DR and Tanzania was good. The orphanage needed a library so that they could be accredited to a higher level as a school, and the camp in the DR needed funding and supplies so that it could provide HIV+ children with programs integral to their mental and physical health. It wasn’t the work that was bad. It was me being there.
It turns out that I, a little white girl, am good at a lot of things. I am good at raising money, training volunteers, collecting items, coordinating programs, and telling stories. I am flexible, creative, and able to think on my feet. On paper I am, by most people’s standards, highly qualified to do international aid. But I shouldn’t be.
I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a 5′ 4″ white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, joke around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else.
Some might say that that’s enough. That as long as I go to ‘X’ country with an open mind and a good heart I’ll leave at least one child so uplifted and emboldened by my short stay that they will, for years, think of me every morning.
I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.
After my first trip to the Dominican Republic, I pledged to myself that we would, one day, have a camp run and executed by Dominicans. Now, about seven years later, the camp director, programme leaders and all but a handful of counsellors are Dominican. Each year we bring in a few Peace Corps Volunteers and highly-skilled volunteers from the USA who add value to our program, but they are not the ones in charge. I think we’re finally doing aid right, and I’m not there.
Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white saviour” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about travelling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.
Source: The One
The new Lucky Peach Chefs & Cooks issue is extremely well done, to the point of extending beyond the standard magazine format. In this mini magazine, you will find an article that dissects and compares the carbon emissions of a meal cooked at home, a meat-centric restaurant in New York, and NOMA. Proves that with connections and drive, you can dispel a lot of valuable information. Really inspiring, but I’m not sure how I’m going to incorporate that information into my own life or possibly book.
Thanks Taylor for this fantastic read, really hit me a way that I didn’t expect regarding all of the sustainability classes that I’ve been taking recently. Very profound novel, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Watching the documentary on El Bulli totally changed this book for me. I am so happy that it’s in the MICA library, but sorry everybody I’m going to have it until like mid October at least so let’s not all get excited.
So far whilst reading, I’ve had many questions that I had about El Bulli answered, so thank god for written word trumping speculations and rumors!
“Baltimore chef Spike Gjerde recently revealed that he is going to be adding a new member to his family of restaurants. In mid-September, Shoo-fly will join Gjerde’s acclaimed Woodberry Kitchen and buzz-worthy Artifact Coffee in the Baltimore dining scene. And Gjerde’s not just opening this “farmhouse diner” concept — a descriptor which he admits “doesn’t really mean anything.” He’s also moving all of the canning and preserving operations from his flagship over to the newer and bigger kitchen. And there are even more projects coming up beyond that (including retail, butchery, and beyond).
Eater caught up with Gjerde by telephone as he and his team drove out to look at soft-serve machines for Shoo-fly to see if they can make soft-serve work on Gjerde’s local sourcing ethos. “We get some amazing local milk, but the whole question about how to create a soft-serve mix based on local dairies is kind of up in the air. It hasn’t been done very frequently,” he explains. In the following interview, Gjerde explains all that he’s got in store for Baltimore, reflects on how “the energy is returning” to the city’s dining scene, and shares his philosophy on creating food systems and appreciating Chesapeake cuisine.”
Pastoralia is extremely profound and speaks to human relationships, very powerful stuff. Highly recommended if you are interested in how to be a human being.
Can Chefs Do It All?
The hard-hat restaurant tour of the new, much-hyped Mission district restaurant was winding down. I’d been shown where the herbs, foraged by the chef, would be drying. It was not a news flash that the charcuterie items would be made on the premises from whole animals, but I didn’t know you could use the leftover bones to make charcoal. Almost everything was being crafted in-house, from the vinegar to the mustard to the bread. It was only when the chef earnestly expressed his dream of raising a goat on the restaurant rooftop—right next to the herb garden and the beehives—that the New York publicist gave a shrill laugh while glancing in the direction of my notepad. Using her hand to mock-cut her throat, she gave the chef the universal sign for “TMI.”
Clearly the publicist wasn’t from around here, because in San Francisco this kind of utopian restaurant talk elicits oohs and aahs, not censorship. “Maybe you should have your own little slaughterhouse too,” I said as a joke. But being a much more idealistic person than I, the chef took the quip to heart, nodding deeply— yes, one day he’d love to do that.
If you’ve paid any attention to the city’s restaurant scene of late, you’ll know that this is just one example in a growing movement that makes DIY look like a slacker way of life. I’m talking DIAY, where the A stands for “All.”
At State Bird Provisions, it’s no biggie that chef Stuart Brioza makes his own kimchee when you know that he also puts on his potter’s hat to make many of the restaurant’s plates. At Wise Sons, they cure their own pastrami and bake five kinds of bread (and close a few hours earlier than they had initially planned in order to pull it all off). At Bar Tartine, chef Nick Balla dries, smokes, and pulverizes his own chilies to make paprika—and that’s just the beginning. “They pickle anything that walks in the door,” says chef Laurence Jossel of Nopa with admiration.
Not that Jossel is any slouch. Just ask him about the tortillas at his two Nopalito locations. “To make our own masa, we cook over 220 pounds of corn every single day,” he says. “And someone grinds that corn every day for two hours. Then to make the tortillas, we have four people each working eight hours a day. And tortillas are a giveaway item. Our labor cost is incredibly high.” He pauses to question his own sanity. “Are we smart? The highest thing on our menu is $16.”
Jossel’s rationale is that there aren’t good, fresh tortillas to be had—not even at the beloved La Palma tortilleria in the Mission. Chef Dennis Lee of Namu Gaji echoes this sentiment when I ask him why his restaurant has its own farm in Sunol. “We can’t find what we need,” he says, showing me teeny, tiny wild-radish pods as one example and different varieties of perilla as another.
Of course, the chefs aren’t alone in their DIAY determination: Customers are actually starting to expect it of them. How dare Cotogna import excellent dried pasta from Verrigni, where they’ve been making it since 1898, when it could buy a pasta extruder with a copper die and do it itself like Locanda?
Whether or not the pasta is superior is besides the point. For both diners and chefs, the romantic notion of everything being made under one roof is all the proof they need. And food writers—myself included—lap it up.
But there is a downside to this noble crusade. Fatted Calf charcuterie maker Taylor Boetticher is right when he warns, “You can’t be an expert at everything. And balancing labor and raw goods is part of being a good chef.” In other words, if overly high food and labor costs aren’t being passed on to customers, they’re being eaten by the restaurants, which—in the wrong hands—can be an unsavvy business practice. The Shutter column on Eater has its share of tales of restaurateurs who have overreached in the name of ego.
I don’t mean to discourage chefs who find all of this to be a creative challenge. It’s also clearly a good way for a restaurant to set itself apart from the fierce competition. But the self-imposed pressure to produce every little thing in house could drive a chef to drink. Jossel sheepishly admits that he was “a little embarrassed” that Nopa has actually served fresh mozzarella hand-pulled by someone else.
But look: In the restaurant world, there’s nothing wrong with a little outsourcing. Sure, there’s something quintessentially American about going it alone. Why buy apple pie from someone else when you can bake it yourself? But supporting artisans within one’s own community is an act that should make locavores proud. And who knows? The end product might even be tastier.
Gerald Hirigoyen, the chef-owner of Piperade, grew up in the French Basque country, where restaurants get their charcuterie from the charcuterie maker, and bread from the baker. “For 25 years, I’ve had someone making my gateau Basque,” he says of one of his more coveted desserts. “I made the decision that hers is better than mine. I have no shame, and unless you have an army to make everything for you, it’s tough. You have to make money, too.”
Ah, money—the five-letter word that DIAY chefs are loath to utter. A restaurateur admitting that he or she wants to turn a profit kind of sours the goats-on the-rooftop ethos. But I’d rather chefs outsource their hamburger buns if it means that their restaurants stay open for the long haul. My utopia? A world where the word sustainable is applied to both business and food.