Category Archives: overpriced food

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.

Advertisements

Poverty Contests

An article published in today’s New York Times reports on efforts in India to enshrine access to food as a constitutionally protected right, a law its proponents expect could enable the food-insecure to make their own market choices to purchase food with food coupons or cash, instead of waiting for monthly 77 pound bags of grain, sugar and kerosene under the current regime. The article also goes on to highlight statistics about how India’s poverty is more widespread and intense than Africa’s, despite the “Tiger” rebranding and annual economic growth rate. A report compiled in India Current Affairs in July also highlights these poverty rankings, comparing the one Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in the country’s center with the entire Democratic Republic of Congo, both of similar population (though the Congo’s size is more comparable to India in its entirety), and finding the same levels of deprivation, even with DRC’s wars (though Madhya Pradesh is not without Naxalites and other struggles for land and resources between communities and multi-national mining and other interests, not unlike DRC).

On the one hand, the expectation around the world seems to be of Africa as the world’s eternal poverty yardstick. This in spite of similar levels of conventionally measured economic growth in a number of Sub-Saharan countries that approach such activity as seen in India in recent years. By comparing favorably to Africa, a government should have license to claim progress in the war on poverty – that’s the ridiculous, racist assumption, an assumption of development stasis.

On the other more important hand, these rankings and contests, especially as presented in the links mentioned above, are patently absurd in themselves, ignoring the basic fact that most of the annual GDP growth measures the rise in income of mostly exclusive urban, male, elite high-end sectors which determine and direct mining, cash-crop, real estate (land displacement), and [cheapest] labor configurations which exclude vast rural populations, whether in India, Congo, or Colombia. Human beings are impoverishing other human beings – not continental geographies. And the story is similar in most geographies including those concerned in this essay – Adivasis in rural Chhattisgarh struggle to hold on to their land in the face of “Memoranda of Understanding” signed by illegitimate politicians to mining interests to violently displace the people from their land, similarly to how Niger Delta militants attack oil infrastructure and kidnap oil workers in response to land displacement and ecosystem destruction by a half century of oil exploitation by foreign corporations in happy concert with local state governments and the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Once you understand neo-colonialism and neoliberal market economics, these patterns can be easily understood as to how they determine poverty and struggle around the third world. Malnutrition and poverty propagate fastest and most consistently wherever governments fail to prioritize enabling peripheral population groups to exact their own capacity to cultivate, live and eat of the land. Changes in the environment, and dietary demands which may place undue stress on the ecosystem and reduce its carrying capacity, may further impede nutrition and food security, as predominates in Sahelian countries that currently suffer serious drought. But policy-makers in much of the third world more often than not do not care, since they do not share the same fate as those far beyond the capitals, the urban and privileged spaces where they bury their heads, forgetting what rural populations go through, forgetting they exist.

I think that in itself, that food security should become a constitutional and human right anywhere is excellent. But a shifting in societal priorities would be a more lasting solution, towards actually considering the plights of women, of agriculturalists, and enabling their self-determination while the wealth of the nation focuses first on human and ecological needs rather than profit for exploitative corporations and salaries for ministers and bureaucracies.

Why focus on these poverty contests, with Africa at level zero? These statistics only measure those who, already in positions of control over powerful economic interests, are getting richer as they exploit more underpaid, vulnerable workers, and the land those workers may have been displaced or evicted from. These statistics don’t measure women’s reproductive work, don’t measure broader levels of quality of life that get inflated by those at the very top, even while the masses at the bottom suffer more dispossession and malnutrition year after year.

Human solidarity is to be encouraged instead. The same problems in Nigeria or Congo are found in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia or Peru, the same exact identical types of fierce corruption, the same exact types of high-official sellouts, the same exact identical types of Western aspirationalism and mimicry, the same exact types of ideological and religious extremisms and hysterias which cripple the masses from thinking critically and boldly enough to challenge the regimes that cause their suffering, the same exact multinationals praying on their resources, human and natural, to be exploited to the lowest common denominator. The same exact types of ignorance forced upon the masses with the absence of schools and the tolerance of illiteracy, despite official claims to the contrary. The exact same types of oppression of labor activists and human-rights campaigners and journalists. The exact same types of classisms and casteisms that compel generations to accept their designated desperation. The same exact types of false democracies in which the people do not have choice or voice in the structural economic questions of society, only at best over the latest personality who says the prettiest things or just looks pretty, but in power does little to nothing of the good he or she promised.

Thus I reject poverty contests. Instead, I move towards human collaboration and solidarity in the third world in pursuit of revolution! Towards the African revolution, the South Asian revolution, the Latin American revolution, the world revolution! Towards human-based economics! Towards the end of rapacious capitalism, the end of the rush to privatize water, seeds and land! Towards human and community-level self-governance and self-determination! Towards the humanization of labor such that people are not reduced to pack mules to produce Wal-Mart products at competitively lower and lower wages in ever more dangerous workplaces!

Towards human development work which is interested in human development, not numbers nudging and statistics masturbating.

Fresh Produce in the South Bronx by Ownership Societies (Not the Bush Kind)

This is Professor Dennis Derryck of the New School in NY, as profiled in this very good NY Times article from Tuesday (“For a Healthier South Bronx, a Farm of Their Own“). At the very least, it highlights the power, the empowering sense inherent to feeling ownership of the means of one’s life, whether that means the building one lives in, the land where one’s food is grown, or the means of production (as we build the global ubuntu step by step). When the people find opportunities to feel in true fundamental control of their livelihood, social space, the streets, and their economic structures, conditions inevitably improve where they live. The bourgeois class has a sense of stability where it dwells in comparison to us proletarians precisely due to the security of control. By control I don’t mean dominion and domination. By control I mean being able to act the agent who defines and arranges one’s means and chances of survival, for better or worse. To be impoverished and disempowered is to be deprived of this sense of control, which at the psycho-social level initiates destructive forms of desperation within environments that are materially, dietarily, educationally, and judicially impoverished.

It’s no accident that the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn, Newark, Detroit, West and South Philly, and on and on are what they are, disparaged at leisure by the white supremacist establishmentarian mainstream zeitgeist. A friend of mine who used to live in the South Bronx constantly referred to it as a reservation, depressing to just live there amidst its oppressed ambiance. People are disfranchised and pushed into disowning any sense of fundamental ownership of their circumstances – as immigrants, as refugees, as oppressed peoples.

The human project at hand for we of the reservations and slums of the world is to claim our lives, claim our lands, our social spaces, our food sources, as our own. It may seem that the very notion of self-actualization is made foreign to us within the anti-human, anti-African, anti-Latino, anti-Indigenous, anti-freedom education system – corporate training camps and prison seeding centers. But this is why we must un-school into the mindset that, as Nas said, the world is yours.

The world is yours.

The world is yours.

Whose world is this?

A revolutionary assertion indeed. From another reservation called Queensbridge, Nas in the simplest terms told us to claim our world boldly. Claim the land, including every NYCHA project and every street and household and body deemed rejected and flotsam by the likes of the NY Times.

I’m often anxious when I read the NY Times and they talk about us. This past Saturday they ran a showcase of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the heart of Afro-Caribbean BK and where my heart lives. Whenever they do shit like that it’s like they’re claiming space to push out poor people and bring on the hipsters, bluppies and yuppies and their damn coffee shops. The Real Estate section is often a lens to the newest front-lines of gentrification. With critical eyes we must stare down attempts to get us to disown our lives, land and liberty further.

It’s war out here. While Prof. Dennis Derryck’s work is not pure non-monetized socialistic exchange, it is proper for the world we live in, and for the South Bronx. As a black man and homebody to the Harlem/ So. Bronx world, his practice is relevant, buying farmland collectively on behalf of his community, in partnership with farmers upstate, to bring the freshest food to this utterly neglected and poisoned community.

He is claiming the resources that we need on behalf of the people.

To me he is already winning on behalf of all of us.

We only begin to win when we claim ownership over our minds, bodies, lives, homes, communities, and planet, the type of ownership that places us in full responsibility to realize human potential as fully as possible. It is by owning the land for the people that the people may consume actual food in greater quantity and quality. See how this works?

Whose world is this?

The world is yours.

The world is yours, fool!

Let us join the battle.

——-

Blog written while listening to “Walk Alone” (and some other tracks) from How I Got Over by The Roots.

West Africa’s “slow-motion” famine

This is why Pan-Africanism or African Internationalism is the answer. And I don’t mean at the level of the institution of the nation state, as I’m an anti-fascist anarcho-syndicalist and ubuntuist (all useless labels). I’m talking about at the level of the grassroots in a situation where borders are erased and collective well-being is recognized as crucial for the prosperity of Africa. Africans in the regions of Niger or Chad don’t have to find themselves trapped inside those map boxes as food runs out in those countries over climatic and geological time and in the very near future and present. As climate changes, landlocked Sahel countries, whose existence was precarious to begin with, will only get drier, more arid and less agriculturally productive. It is all but inevitable, thanks to the profligate pollution of the stubborn West+China and their erstwhile refusal to arrive at a climate deal that would cap carbon levels in the atmosphere at 350 parts per billion, a threshold beyond which would essentially broil Africa in the long run. When, over the course of the coming months, years and decades, Sahel countries realize even more desperate climatic circumstances that are irreversible short of the construction of the great “Green Wall” of Africa which, given African corruption, will probably never happen, where will its people go if they are prevented from moving freely across borders? Will they be expected to starve into extinction due to the accident of their geographies of birth? That is why borders must be erased in Africa, borders imposed by imperialists at a conference in Germany 125 years ago at which not a single African was present.

Climate change is going to dry and fry the already delicate ecosystems of the Sahel especially, while rainfall may increase in other ecosystems. The same is true for dry savannah regions in other parts of the tropics/ third world such as parts of Mexico, Southwest Africa, India, the Middle East, and even some parts of the Mekong River delta in Southeast Asia which is reporting record drought and low river depth (to the point of unnavigability) this year. Each consecutive month this year since February has been the warmest on record.

Pastoralism is also a huge, HUGE part of the problem. I’m not a cultural relativist about this, in fact I’m not a cultural relativist about anything and I criticize everything that doesn’t work and is stupid, even if people have been doing it for centuries. It’s gotta go! Having animals browse the land and eat off every last speck of vegetation, only to slaughter and eat them, and then ask what happened to the arable land, is the mark of woefully uneducated and ignorant people. Education is the answer here, to demonstrate in no uncertain terms how destructive and unsustainable pastoralism is. This will prevent the inevitable and often violent conflicts that so frequently occur at the meeting of pastoralist nomad and settled agriculturalist (i.e. Darfur, Chad, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, etc.). So does this mean I am guilty of privileging the permanently settled farmer of vegetables, produce, fruits and so on? Hell yes! Especially when incorporating the best practices of sustainable, organic, high-yield agronomy and agroforestry. In the Americas, in countries like Brazil, we already know how rapidly we are losing the Amazon rain forest to giant cattle ranches that supply burgers to America and its fattening waistline. This is why veganism is part of the solution for humanity, considering how much more we can feed ourselves eating vegetables grown on the land instead of waiting for other non-human animals to eat them before slaughtering them mercilessly and consuming the most unhealthy products known to the human palate.

Will Africans use this opportunity, at the grassroots civil society level, to overturn centuries of top-down tyranny, capitalist division, unsustainable pastoralism, irrational meat prestige, and export-oriented cash-crop production to realize a borderless and human society of cooperation, collectivism, sustainability and food security first? Will the world? Humans have a lot of work to do on this planet, as we may be either its most inventive beings or its most destructive, selfish and irresponsible children.

On Medjool Dates

So today was interesting. Before attending a critical planning meeting with some elders, I scoped out a capoeira class which met in bourgeois-ass Soho. But they asses didn’t start on time, so I left. I hate lateness, have no tolerance for CP-time and what not. Matter of fact for the record I’ma say it twice: motherfuck CP-time!!! And of all things to start late, a martial arts class? My kung fu never ever starts late. And I’ve only been late once – last week in fact. Time is of the essence! You see that quote over to the right now – take heed. Discipline is sweet like desert blues; indiscipline is bitter like the evening news.

So with extra time to kill I rode my bike up them snow-plowed Manhattan streets and popped into Westerly Natural Market (on 54th and 8th), all trendy and organic and shit. But I doubt I’ll ever go there again – $5.39 for 4.4 ounces of organic blueberries? The fuck are they smoking? They got them trendy white liberal prices – yes. Nonetheless I picked up some organic medjool dates, which I never had until today. Ten bucks for 13 ounces of them – sheeit! I said fuck it, lemme try this.

I almost wanna say it’s like candy (in good ways).

I munched on the dates all day and finished them as my dinner. They really something, so sumptuous, of a most delicate texture, uniquely and profoundly stimulating to an Afrikan palate. In other words, they the shit. I probably won’t go after them too often. They was grown in California, why they cost so damn much? Their expensive price is strongly related to where I bought them, methinks.

Dates are very serious foods. Raw vegans/ fruitarians can have maad fun. It’s a shame I wasn’t introduced to that shit much earlier in life; people been growing dates for thousands of years (in Afrika!). The conventional household is full of such a limited selection of foods. But the curious and adventurous fruitarian almost never runs out of species to taste and flavors to enjoy.

We fruitarians are living in a world of plenty, in other words the real world. Everyone else is stuck in plastic meat trays and cardboard cereal boxes.