Thursday, July 26, 2012

Terrible Tapestry

Another food writing workshop exercise, this one in response to a prompt to "write a food piece that makes a point":

One twelve-year-old, Jon, played the role of Jose. Jon traded his South Chicago accent for that of a Mexican migrant worker (or what he imagined it to be). A girl in the class, Lindsey, assumed the role of the overseer, pushing Jose to work long hours in the grueling sun, offering only measly wages in return. 

The class of kids, part of a summer pre-college pipeline program for students from under-represented groups, tried to put themselves in a whole other world. 

The skit, set in the tomato fields of a southern Florida plantation, encouraged the students to think about the deep and complicated picture of agricultural labor in this country. It made them consider how deeply intertwined immigration issues were with the tomatoes on their hamburger, made them realize that a form of slavery exists in our modern world in which migrants are forced into labor, and gave them some foundation to understand why it's so unfair that farmworkers are the only sector of our economy who don't get paid over time, who aren't allowed to organize or collectively bargain with their bosses.

The kids found all of this shocking, and these facts angered them. They asked, what can we do? And why is the world like this? 

The teachers certainly didn't have all the answers, and could only began to tease apart the thousands of yarns that form this terrible tapestry. Yet, they offered the kids a few ways to address the problem through pushing for change at both the level of policy and the level of consumption. 

The kids made posters as part of a Campaign for Fair Food by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The posters they produced would be sent to the Coalition, who would have a chance to share them with the group's 4,000 members, and would then forward them on to Congress, along with all the other posters drawn by children across the country, urging the legislators to bolster farmworker rights. In bright shades of green and blue, the kids drew posters thanking the farmworkers for their hard work. They illustrated pictures contrasting the idyllic farm scenes of their imagination with realistic ones filled with mistreated laborers. They colored in hand-drawn sketches of big, red, juicy tomatoes with voice bubbles saying, “I want to be picked by a farmworker who is paid enough to feed her family!”

And then, they got the chance to see how delicious it can be to begin to address this problem at the level of consumption. The teachers brought in tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, all from a Wisconsin organic farm that employs seasonal farmworkers from Mexico, who are paid well under an H2A special agricultural visa, and who are provided comfortable housing and fresh meals made by a chef hired just for the job. The kids got to chop the vegetables themselves, got to add the salt and lime, and then got to load the cool, spicy salsa onto tortilla chips and savor this possibility. 
Suddenly, one of the students, Jermaine, jumped up from the table, and said, “I know what would make this even better!” He ran over to his backpack, hastily unzipped it, and pulled out a bright orange bag of Doritos. He ripped the bag open, and plunged the fluorescent orange chip into the salsa. 

Then Trang ran for her Sun Chips, and tried them with the salsa.

Marnie eagerly tested her Lay's.

All the chips came straight from the bin of snacks provided by the program in the morning, after free breakfast, before the kids came to class, to ensure that the students were properly fed.

Marcus loaded his Cheetoh with the fresh salsa and pronounced it delicious.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Morning Memoir

Here's a brief vignette I wrote this morning, in twenty minutes allotted to write some short food memoir piece. This exercise was part of this wonderful food writing workshop I'm taking part in this week at the New York Public Library (about which I hope to write in more detail soon!).

For now, the story:

It was common practice I suppose, finding ways of getting kids to share and to reflect. We perched on our mats before nap time, in a circle, sitting, as we then called it, Indian style. (The other kids all had special sleeping mats intended just for nap time, in bright shades of red and blue. But mine was a dull gray, with small drawings of women in leotards and legwarmers bending their bodies into various poses. Why waste a perfectly good exercise mat?)

Mrs. Gardner, our kindergarten teacher, in a long Southern drawl, put the question before us, “What did y'all all have for supper last night?” The kids in my class went around, offering a peek into their kitchens—fried okra, pork chops with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders, kool-aid, ham sandwiches.

And then it was my turn.

“Rice and milk,” I said.

The teacher, with a pause, looked at me a little longer, not yet turning to the next kid in line.

“Oh,” she said sweetly, “were you still sick?”

All of the alarm bells were flashing, warning signals shining bright letting me know, even with my dim, five-year-old awareness of social positioning, that I had exposed myself. Revealed myself to be something other. Reminding my friends that I was the outsider, whose parents were immigrants, who did not go to the Baptist church on Sundays or Wednesdays, who didn't watch sports or own any camouflage clothing. I was the girl who ate warm rice in a bowl with milk poured over it.

And it's true, I had been sick the week before, had stayed home from school with a stomachache and fever. But that had nothing to do with my dinner the night before. Still, my teacher was offering me a way out.

 “Yes,” I nodded, “the doctor told me I had to eat it.”

And with that, I was off the hook, the teacher had made sense of this culinary anomaly, had smoothed over the rocky shores of cultural difference with the cool balm of medical expertise.

 Rice and milk. What made sense and what did not.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lunch Hour NYC

For those of you in New York, or anyone who will travel to NYC before February 17, 2013, the New York Public Library has put together a real treat. The exhibition "Lunch Hour NYC" has recently opened, to much acclaim.

"Can an exhibition about the history of lunchtime in the city have that much to say? Yes: Going to this show is a bit like heading out to a street cart or a food truck and finding that there is much more to choose from than you thought possible...It is all playfully and elegantly designed. The Web resources are rich as well, including detailed links to images and invitations to help transcribe menus from the library’s collection."
 Here's a video trailer for the exhibit:

And I'll be getting to see this exciting display for myself in two weeks, when I head to New York for a Food Writing Workshop at the Cullman Center Institute for Teachers, led by the one and only Laura Shapiro--curator of the Lunch Hour NYC exhibit and author of some of my favorite books: Perfection Salad, Something from the Oven, and a biography of Julia Child.

More on my food writing workshop soon! Until then, go explore this beautiful exhibit, either in person, or digitally!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Baking with Burdock!

Watch this video featuring a surprisingly sweet burdock root recipe, prepared by Annemarie Spitznagle of Bloom Bake Shop with burdock from our own Harmony Valley Farm!

If you watch the video and leave a comment, you'll be entered to win a $15 gift certificate to Bloom Bake Shop, which is "downtown Middleton small-batch local, organic, and fair-trade bakery offering cupcakes, brownies, whoopie pies, coffee, tea, and more!" Yum!