From the Editor: The Hard Work in the Weeds
At some point in getting out the vote for the Charlies, I turned to Sue Zelickson, the co-founder of the event and my new best friend, and said, "How did you do it all? This could easily be a full-time job."
I'm not complaining, mind you. But as the consummate procrastinator, I'm amazed at all the moving parts associated with an awards show that's not taking the stage until February 25 OF NEXT YEAR, and how easy Sue and Scott Mayer made it look for six years. But then everyone who works in the weeds wonders at some point if anyone ever notices how much time and effort goes into a project that when delivered right looks effortless.
Tunde Wey, the activist/writer I interviewed for the cover story, said that even though he likes to personally cook the four-course meals he serves as part of his Blackness in America dinner series, guests "don't often see the work that goes into it." In his case, he's not aiming for the glam food that's all the rage right now, but rather food as a conduit to meaningful conversation. Which often involves "how do you get white folks to look at their actions differently?"
Diversity is a huge issue for the restaurant community, as is ethical treatment of workers, and animals used as protein. (Often those workers are only one rung up the ladder from animals, another activist pointed out to me.)
I once spent three days in Wey's home town of Lagos, Nigeria. I was on a trade mission with a group of franchisors interested in bringing their concepts to the most populous country in Africa. When we drove from the airport to the hotel—the only time we were allowed out on the streets by the U.S. Commercial Service officers—it looked as if every one of those 186 million inhabitants were out walking down the main roads (see aerial shot above). It also looked like it was where every old, beat-up Volkswagen van went to die. I'm not being critical because when I traded in my old van years ago when my kids finally no longer needed a minivan-driving mother, the car wasn't a resale, but a donation to a Mexican orphanage. (I knew I shouldn't have let my kids eat every meal in the car. )
When it came time to fly home, an inspector at the airport gate wouldn't let me go through the checkpoint with the rest of the group because my plane ticket wasn't in first class. I remember the panic I felt when our escort from the U.S. embassy began arguing with her and tried pushing me through the gate. Soldiers with guns and dogs were patrolling the concourses and there were what seemed like hundreds of people behind me in line. I suddenly understood the meaning of white privilege. The guard didn't like having to grant special treatment for a white woman, nor did she like being told what to do. Since I didn't have first-class status, in essence I needed to go to the back of the bus. But I was afraid to maneuver the unfamiliar airport on my own. In the end, I was yanked through the line by one of my fellow travelers. But until I boarded the plane and the doors closed, I waited for the tap on the shoulder or a police dog sinking its teeth in my calf.
I don't pretend to understand what it's like to be black in America, but my brief time in Wey's country made me more aware of what it's like to be at the mercy of the majority. Especially when you're not sure they have your best interests at heart.
The Seward Community Co-op has been covered in these pages a lot lately, but I'm impressed with its mission of inclusivity. I didn't attend Wey's talk at the annual meeting, but some day I hope to be a guest at one of his dinners and work on my discomfort again.
I promise that's the only story that will make you uncomfortable in this issue.
We're welcoming back Mecca Bos as our new reporter/columnist covering institutional dining—and she's off to a great start with a really interesting read on dining at the capitol. As always, Laura Michaels shares her encyclopedic knowledge of the local food scene. Our columnists are pithy, we're newsy, and I even had a religious experience this month—on page 13. Enjoy.