Monday, January 28, 2013

Is Sustainability Sustainable?

A business closed today. 

I guess some of you are thinking "Yeah, so? Businesses close everyday."

While you're absolutely correct, this one was different. This one was important. The funny thing is, while I did occasion this neighborhood shop, I was by no means a regular. I didn't know the staff like I do at a lot of places I shop. I didn't go in and ask what's good today or anything like that.  But knowing they're gone has affected me emotionally.

Why? Well, read this letter from the owner. 

It's sad, you know. Here's a guy who passionately went after the thing that's important to him and it just didn't work. But these things happen. Sometimes very little things affect the viability of a business. Espescially a small local one. So they close. It happens. 

But the one line of the whole letter that really got me was this one " the end I found that sustainability - an undying commitment to what that means - wasn't sustainable."

Can that be true? Are we doomed to fall prey to Big Ag feeding us GMO poison?

I say no. No we're not.

And what this really tells me is that while Mr. Friedman is the one suffering the loss of his dream, it's not he that failed, but us. We failed.

We failed to not buy our meat where we buy our toilet  paper.
We failed to support local business.
We failed to work a little harder and pay a little more for the food we eat.
We failed to support local farmers.
We failed to eat locally, seasonally and organically.
We failed.
Not him.

Why? Because it's cheaper and easier. We failed.

And that's too bad. It's too bad that our food system has lied to us and told us that food is cheap and easy. It's not. Well, not if you want to eat good food.

Cleetus Friedman is a hero, who, as my friend Mark said, was a guy who "fought the good fight."

So let's all try a bit harder this time. Shop at a local butcher. Buy your produce from a farmers market. Stay away from products with non organic soy and corn that are nothing more than GMO products forced down our throats by the makers of Agent Orange (and these things just might make your pubic hair fall out.)

Work a little harder to shop locally. Ask about the food you buy and eat. If it came from half way around the globe how good can it really taste anyway?

Mr. Friedman, you likely won't read this blog, but I wish you all the best and keep fighting the good fight. I'll try not to fail you in your next venture.

Follow Cleetus on Twitter @CleetTweet

Saturday, January 26, 2013

No, It's Not All About You

OK, this post isn't so much about food or cooking so if you are looking for that you can stop reading now.

The food world has taken a funny turn over the past few years, and a few events in the Chicago food scene in the last couple of weeks highlight a lot of wrong in it.

So it got me to thinking, just where did it all go wrong?

From the time I was young what fascinated me about food was not only the act of cooking and eating, but  more how it brought people together around a table enhancing family and community. And as the food movement grew, and more and more folks got interested in eating and cooking well, a community of like-minded folks grew. We talked with one another about what made a certain restaurant great, or about how a certain ingredient or technique could make a dish you like to cook so much better.  Tips were exchanged, friendships were made. It was really great. The media became interested in our passion and the community grew.

Then somewhere along the line things changed. No longer was food about gathering and enjoying the sense of community. It was all about "Look at me!"
 "I'm eating something or someplace that you can't. That makes me cooler than you."
 "I was the first to eat at so and so's new restaurant."
The focus turned from community to self. And that makes me sad.

These people seem to look at the food world as a way to enhance their own self esteem.  Somehow people with very little idea about food, who rarely, if ever really cook something, can appoint themselves "experts" or "reviewers" because they can post their (often misguided, ill-informed) thoughts on sites like Yelp.

A perfect example of this, and one of the events I mentioned earlier that took my brain down this path, was a "review" of a highly anticipated new restaurant in Chicago. The author of this "review" was the very first customer this restaurant ever served.  So what does he do? Frankly, he pans the place. Now, I don't know this person, and he may be a perfectly nice guy. He may love to cook at home. But, his "review" (notice I use the quotes whenever I use that word?) shows a clear lack of understanding about the very nature of this type of restaurant. But he trashes it while standing atop a pillar of self appointed authority. Basically he's saying "Look at how cool I am, I was first in the door and the chef didn't kiss my ass while I snapped photo's of him, while he was trying to work on a very important night. I could have used some bread too." Sigh. Do you see a sense of community here? What I see is a lack of understanding and an attempt to boost ones own ego.  Sad.

The other event that got me to thinking about all of this was an actual review by a paid critic. In this review the critic spent 4 of 13 paragraphs writing about his fellow diners at this restaurant where the seating is communal. Whether what he wrote about these folks is true or not is unknown to me, but what sparked from the review, sadly, was a lot of chatter on various food chat sites not about this restaurant or its food, but rather outrage from the people written about, and who knew more, who was right, and who was the better diner and person. Again we see this "It's all about me." And that's sad.

Many of these people (or people like them) refer to themselves as "Foodies." DAMNIT! I hate that word. If you ever hear someone refer to themselves as such it's highly likely that they are an insufferable jerk.

Finally, this last event takes the cake. This one is so absurd that there's actual discussion about whether or not it's all just a big ruse. I'm not going to even discuss it because writing about it more makes me feel like I need to shower. Read it for yourself, but remember I warned you, it's slimy. If you are ever in the presence of someone with this card please, do us all a favor and tell them how disgusting they are. I sure will.

It's like these three episodes are all some sort of joke. The food community has actually become a parody of itself.

Where did it all go so wrong? I don't know. Actually I don't even care.  But I just want people to remember, food isn't about exclusivity, or who's first, or who's right or wrong, or who knows more. It's about taking an active role in community and family. It's about sharing, it's about friendship. Next time you eat or cook keep these things in mind.

It'll make for a much more enjoyable experience.