Category Archives: food deserts

Sixty-Dollar Finger Food

This blog really isn’t about restaurant reviews, but I’m gonna throw this out there anyway, since I recently went with a friend who, like me, just wants to get out the low-down on this joint. Pure Food and Wine, an all-raw vegan gourmet restaurant on Irving Place near Union Square in Manhattan, is a joke. Don’t go there, raw vegans, if you don’t want to get robbed. They charge an insane premium for presentation, prestige and pop marketing, and they don’t even really feed you. Both of us recognized that the food tasted good, but they have you paying around $25 for a plate of grub no bigger in volume than a fist, maybe a fist and a half.

I had the “Zucchini, Local Heirloom Tomato Lasagna” off their menu. Delicious. Cost $24 and it was one small little plate. My friend had the “Sweet Corn and Cashew Tamales with Chili Spiced Portabella” dish. Also delectable and scrumptious. Cost $26 for a single modest serving. And we were told that these were the largest dishes they served. We were far from full after chomping those. Already the money spent would have paid for like seven bags of produce – fruits and veggies – to fill me for days, not minutes. This was the first blow.

Meanwhile, as we ate, we were bumped from our seats so they could combine our old table with others to accommodate a larger party. My friend wondered if they felt comfortable doing that since we were the only Africans at the time in the establishment, but then the house promised us a single desert dish for the inconvenience, and we held them to that. We decided to share the “Pumpkin Cheesecake” dish, worth $15. And we were astounded when they presented this dish to us, a single slice of this mock cheesecake literally two square inches in size. Not making that up – it was a little square like a Rubik’s cube. And a spoon – one spoon – of the faux “brown ale ice cream” that goes with it. Worth fifteen freaking dollars! This was the second blow, the one that truly knocked our heads sideways. Thank goodness that little morsel was on the house!

My friend had some insightful comments about the food culture this represented, a French or European one that valued presentation over everything, over actually being fed. It’s artisanal food. We as Africans, she remarked, could perhaps do a better job of presenting our food, in the broader culinary world. But as a general rule, we serve food to feed each other, to get full. At African households the world over, people are making food and then hollering “come eat!” in whatever language they may be speaking over the sweet or savory aromas of food prepared with a purpose.

I added that this is a result of successful marketing and the brilliant manufacture of taste that is also a part of culture and commerce. Those who have real money to burn – not us, who did this as a one-time excursion with the mindset of culinary students – seem not to mind paying such a great cost to have the experience of “beautiful food” over which only to socialize and make aesthetic remarks. The rest of us just need to eat and sooth our hunger.

I’m not a calorie-counting, portion-size worrying eater. As a raw vegan and a person who lives a physically active lifestyle, I don’t much need to be. I eat when I’m hungry and until I no longer am. So I need to be fed well and good. And the sorts of portions you’ll find at Pure Food and Wine will not do the trick, nor is it worth the money to take a gamble and see if it will work for you – if you’re anything like us, it won’t.

Furthermore, the sort of premiums a place like Pure Food and Wine present are perhaps what can make veganism, particularly raw veganism, unappealing to the everywoman and the everyman out there struggling to get paid by whatever means. An aloof, wealthy, overwhelmingly white crowd hobnobbing over expensive nibble-food turns my comrades and I the hell off, and every other person from the world I know of working-class folk of color. Veganism should look good, taste good, be practical to prepare, be abundant, and most of all be affordable. Fresh fruits and veggies and other healthy plant-based items are still largely unavailable in all the hoods I know around the NYC area. How much of an extreme is it then to take a stroll out of a food desert to downtown to see what veganism looks like as this fancy highfalutin finger-food experience.

So we learned something through the whole affair, and socialized with one another, and made a pleasant evening out of the wallet-vacuuming experience. The flavors presented to us were excellent and unique, inspiring more curiosity about how to combine spices to match or surpass those wonderful tastes.

But we were also reminded that we’re just fine doing things practically, the African way, in which we eat to eat. Any place you go out for food where they charge Fort Knox money for finger food, walk away, walk to the farmer’s market or grocery store nearest you, get whatever healthy stuff you can get, and do something funky-fresh and dope with it in your own kitchen.

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Kinda speciesist…

I’ve had trouble updating this blog for a while since I realize I no longer want to discuss just plant-based diets up in here. I’ve come to admit that Afrikan liberation at large – organizing for it, articulating it, propagandizing for it – is of more consequence to me than only advocating that we black folks eat plants.

See, the thing is, as oppressed people, in so many places where we are, we don’t have access to affordable and sound whole foods and produce in the first place. It’s not affordable or accessible to those of us who pull in little income despite busting our asses the hardest, and furthermore live in “food deserts.” Our pro-corporate food systems subsidize cheap empty calories (corn-based processed food-like substances) at the expense of whole fruits and veggies, which are overpriced. So it is not easy to advocate, as one’s sole agenda, a vast black vegan renaissance, when most Afrikans will have a hard time funding it or justifying it at the expense of other concerns in the life of someone of limited means and oversized responsibilities.

I promote a more plant-based lifestyle for Afrikans as a means towards optimal health, the health-consequences of meat- and fast-food- and junk-food-heavy diets being more expensive to the individual health of Afrikan peoples and to the shared ecosystem than would occur if more humans ate more plants primarily and increasingly spared this world of animal husbandry.

But I don’t viscerally care so much what individual Afrikans are eating off the bat, don’t want to question one’s private choices, not outside of the context of recognizing that our inability to even access healthy plant-based lifestyles is due in large part to imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, neocolonialism, etc. themselves, the first causes of overall black suffering in the contemporary world.

To my current thinking, encouraging healthier lifestyle choices in the Afrikan community must always occur with the naked fact of segregation, exploitation, geographic and economic limitations and imposed ignorance about such choices, and so on, laid bare on the table, so we don’t fall into the trap of just talking about “let’s go vegan and it will all be fine, brothas and sistas!”

I’m not so interested in talking about saving the animals in this context either. In stating this I suppose I’m toying with blatant speciesism, which I’m not supposed to do as an ardent vegan. Make no mistake about it, I’m an ethical vegan, personally. I’m not interested in oppressing non-humans. But I have a whole lot more visceral solidarity with Jamaicans, Haitians or Nigerians than with cows and turkeys and pigs. And I’m not a back to nature man, I’m not one to stand still and be non-violent in the midst of being bitten by mad mosquitos or while suffering super-massive ant-infestations in my apartment (as occurred when I lived in Accra, Ghana). I’m not even a pet owner and never will be. I’m primarily interested in talking about and resolving human suffering by any means, and in particular the suffering of Afrikans.

Comparing slave ships to the animal slaughtering industry may have it’s place, somewhere for some minds. But I’m currently more interested in discussing eating healthy for the self-interested agenda of building a healthier and stronger black race, period. Getting folks more liberated from all these chronic diseases, and using my own experience as validation and evidence, is what suits me more these days. I think discussion of the Afrikan Holocaust, the Ma’afa, is not even deep enough in the Afrikan community worldwide, not in everyday parlance. We need to think deeply about the legacy of that holocaust, and talk loudly about it because it continues in new ways today, before casually introducing notions of animal holocaust into discussion, at least in the sorts of circles I run in. We Afrikans are still being treated, and are treating each other, like animals. Thus I don’t think some non-veg Afrikans are ready to immediately express profound sympathy for non-humans.

I am critical of Afrikan cultures that hold a prestige on meat. But that won’t stop me from working with said Afrikans toward common liberatory goals in the broader areas we can and must collaborate on. I still hint at putting more fruits and veggies in the body than dead flesh, since that’s my practice, I’m always asked about it by Afrikans, and most people intuitively know it’s healthier to eat more fruits and vegetables. But it’s not a make or break issue for me interpersonally.

So I just had to share that and update the blog. My pro-human speciesism is exposed. The direction of this blog, while still hip to discussions around plant-based diets and radical ecological justice struggles, will only entertain such struggles in full acknowledgment of the fact that capitalism/imperialism/patriarchy/white supremacy are the problems, to be resolved not by one-issue campaigns built on concepts hard to relate to intimately for all but the most privileged and aloof, but by humanistic revolutionary struggle to more fully meet human needs and enable human freedom for oppressed, dispossessed peoples, led by indigenous peoples, peoples of the third world, Afrikans. As sound, well-informed minds vying for healthier communities introduce their efforts into the revolutionary mix and see results, then in the course of a blatantly human struggle – this black struggle, land justice, sustainability and the needless waste of life and resources in current regimes of consumption can be overturned as well.

But for me it has to be about black liberation in total. Humans. To be fully human.

Discuss.