Posts Tagged ‘labor

28
Jul
10

attitudes toward diversity in food

Thanks to Joan for pointing out the differences in tone and language between these New York Times articles, one about Bulgarian-British star chef Silvena Rowe, the other about Tomas Lee and the increasing availability of Korean tacos.

Rowe can indulge, without reproach, an “Orientalist vision” in her “sexy,” “hedonistic” “signature dishes.” (Perhaps she gets a pass because she caters to “the pomegranate craze” in a “Britain avid for new cuisines.”) Her food is the product of great thought and creativity: she “reinvents” herself, “finds” herself, “locks herself in her room” until she gets her variation on someone else’s recipe right. She “preserves” recipes through her innovation, and looks to the past (that outdated Orientalist vision again).

Meanwhile, Tomas Lee and the other Korean taco chefs profiled in the second article (note that they are many; Rowe is one) are “making up a cuisine as they go along.” They hardly think about what they’re doing, much less lock themselves away for research. Inevitable product of the interaction between Korean shopowners and their Mexican employees, Korean tacos were “just lunch” for all these “entrepreneurs” (not chefs, note) who are now trying to “mainstream” Korean food in America. Dave, though, pointed out my favorite line: “The tortilla and the toppings are a way to tell our customers that this food is O.K., that this food is American.” Even so, the article sounds rather concerned that there are so many “trend-conscious restaurateurs with few apparent ties to Korea” who are getting in on the act. (Compare to how Rowe’s tenuous ties, as a Bulgarian-born, Russian-educated British citizen, to the Middle East go unremarked in the previous article.)

Meanwhile, in Arizona, SB 1070 (otherwise known as the Your-Papers-Please Law) with go into effect tomorrow. Andrew Leonard of Salon’s “How the World Works” noted an uptick in Google searches for Pei Wei, the casual pan-Asian spin-off of Scottsdale-based P.F. Chang’s. Were people searching for information on the Pei Wei franchise in Chandler, Arizona, that fired 12 employees for taking May 29 off (unauthorized) to protest SB 1070? Nope, the buzz was all about the cut-rate entrees the chain is offering to celebrate its tenth anniversary. This leads Leonard to a wonderful rant:

What really gets me riled are the ridiculous contradictions baked into the ersatz globalization symbolized by a chain of faux-Asian eateries in a state like Arizona.

Diversity is fine if it applies to the ability of Arizonans to eat cheaply priced cuisine that imitates Chinese or Malaysian or Thai (albeit with all the sharp edges sanded off.) The fact that producing such cuisine for such low prices requires exploiting cheap labor gets swept under the rug. The fact that actual Asians have almost nothing to do with the production of the food is also considered irrelevant. …

But god forbid society itself should become more diverse, along with the food.

The actually interesting story there, about the workers who were fired for knocking off to go to a protest, also shows a limit to the kind of “community organizing” that has been most effective in the minority- and immigrant-heavy service sectors. Not only are significant classes of these workers (domestic workers, farm laborers) not even covered by basic labor protections, but those who are covered are only protected when they’re involved in straight-up labor organizing. Fighting against “race-baiting laws” that make the whole community insecure (including workers who might otherwise organize)? Not covered.

Thanks to J-P for the Andrew Leonard tip. (He also points out that William Gibson probably feels slighted that his 1991 coinage “kimcheewawas” didn’t make the Korean tacos article.)

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26
Jul
10

my vicarious blow for workers rights

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Guillermina Castellano passed her citizenship test today! She’s a major activist for domestic workers’ rights here in San Francisco, and she wanted citizenship partly to feel more secure in her activism. I’d been tutoring and advising her (along the lines of “Tell yourself, ‘I’m already a citizen,'” and “Remember to breathe”) off and on for the last couple of months.

Since the 1930s, when Congress passed laws protecting workers’ right to organize, setting the federal minimum wage, making rules about overtime pay and maximum hours, and establishing other rights we now consider basic (or take for granted), domestic workers and farm laborers have been left out. These workers were majority black at the time (and these have remained jobs for minorities ever since), and the Southern Democratic caucus insisted on their exclusion in exchange for their support of the legislation. While the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice are fighting to secure these rights for the people who grow your food, Guille and her camaradas in the National Domestic Workers Alliance are working to do the same for the people who cook it for you (or for your neighbors).

My contribution isn’t much, but I’m going to go enjoy the chocolate that Guille gave me as a thank-you gift.

25
May
10

link round-up

More Questions of Authenticity and Fusion
Members of the Daring Kitchen take on Robb Walsh’s recipe for stacked green chile enchiladas. Australian suggestions for simulating tomatillos include gooseberries with sugar and green tomatoes mixed with tamarind paste, lime juice, and prune juice. Robb Walsh’s report on the results of the challenge links to recipes from London, the Netherlands, and Canada.

Taste of Beirut reminisces about a childhood favorite, chocolate salami: a French confection made from American and Middle Eastern ingredients and exported back to the Middle East. In which of those locations is it most authentic?

The National Museum of American History’s cafe celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May) by adding Asian flavors to the menu at each of its stations. You’ll find pizza with Asian plum sauce and black rice used in a recipe that actually called for purple rice, but the title of their blog post about it proudly proclaims the exclusion of one of the oldest Asian-American fusion dishes (one with a history similar to chili gravy’s): No Chop Suey Here.

Locavores Tackle Meaty Questions
Culling the pest population in a deer-hunting class (actually, a deer skinning and processing class) in Charlottesville. Thanks to Jon of Audrey and Jon for the tip.

Mission hipsters consume another kind of pest at a cricket- and mealworm-tasting.

More Things Hipsters Do
Sell coffee from a bicycle-mounted stall.

Sell seed packets (seed bombs) from old gumball vending machines.

Follow-up: More on Arizona, Tavern on the Green, BP
Arizona’s racial profiling law raises worries about this fall’s lettuce harvest in Yuma.

New York City has revoked Dean Poll’s contract to re-open Tavern on the Green after he failed to reach an agreement with the restaurant’s workers’ union. The city is looking for a new new operator.

It’s about time: the BP oil slick has made Cake Wrecks.

13
May
10

link round-up

A Glimmer of Green in Houston
Restaurateurs, urban farmers, and investors are working together to plant gardens to serve local vegetables to Houston diners.

Gulf Fishing News
The South I know and–um, love?–has finally appeared in coverage of the BP oil slick. Only part of Louisiana’s shoreline and Gulf waters are directly affected by the oil, and fishermen west of the line blame media coverage for driving the tourist trade away from their charter boats. Yep, the gol-darned liberal media absolutely caused the BP oil slick.

Meanwhile, though Mexico is unlikely to see oil from BP’s slick wash ashore, the country is considering legal action against BP for damage to wildlife species that spend time there–and attract tourists.

Unrelated to the BP oil slick, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1529 are ready to strike against Delta Pride Catfish for proposing contract changes that would greatly reduce benefits and job security, eliminate daily overtime pay, and increase the work week–erasing all the benefits the workers won in their three-week strike in 1990.

Restaurant Labor News
Central Park’s Tavern on the Green, which has been closed since January 1, is transferring to new management, who are having trouble agreeing to honor the terms of the employees’ previous contract.

Marc Forgione kicked a New York times blogger out of his restaurant last weekend for asking him not to yell at his staff so that his diners could hear.

Everybody Knows About Arizona, Goddam
What with his state’s new requirement that brown people carry their papers at all times, John McCain feels he has to get tough on immigration. That’s hardly news, but what I really appreciate about this post at the Latin Americanist is Vicente Duque‘s comment listing municipal governments, school districts, and sports teams that are boycotting Arizona by refusing to fund employee, student, or team travel to the state. San Francisco, Oakland, and Boston are among them.

Oh, and by the way–ethnic studies classes are now outlawed in Arizona. “It’s just like the Old South,” says Arizona schools chief Tom Horne. And he’s right–except he means that ethnic studies classes cause Chicanos to resent and oppress white people. No, Mister Horne, it’s not my education that makes me resent you–it’s stunts like this. Which, I’ll note, you have the power to pull. So where’s the oppression again?

11
May
10

sciencing the frozen margarita

Duke University Press’ blog post about Gabriela Soto Laveaga’s Jungle Laboratories says that the book “challenges us to reconsider who can produce science.”

In a much lighter vein, I was reminded of that challenge this morning while reading Robb Walsh‘s recounting, in The Tex-Mex Cookbook, of Mariano Martinez’s invention of the frozen margarita machine. In 1971, Martinez relayed his diners’ complaints about his restaurant’s inconsistent margaritas to his bartender. The bartender, “sick of squeezing all those limes,” threatened to quit. Martinez found inspiration at a 7-11 the next morning and decided to automate–but he couldn’t get his hands on a Slurpee machine. Instead, he bought a soft-serve ice cream machine and began experimenting–or holding “a lot of tasting parties,” as he put it. The problem was how to get the alcoholic mix to freeze. Adding enough water to cause freezing diluted the drink too much, but adding more sugar… It turns out that “with a high enough brix level (the scientific measurement of sugar content), you can freeze quite a bit of alcohol.”

Mexican campesinos can certainly produce science, and so can tipsy Tex-Mex restaurateurs. Martinez never patented or trademarked his method, but his first margarita machine does have a place in the National Museum of American History.


In more serious news, US federal courts have been voiding clauses of BP’s exploitative clean-up contracts with Gulf fishermen left and right, preserving the fishermen’s rights to sue BP for damages from the Deepwater Horizon disaster and to talk freely about the situation, even if they do accept clean-up work from BP.

02
May
10

link round-up

The Bad
BP’s massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico has imposed a fishing ban in affected waters, stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi to Pensacola Bay. As Mississippi shrimper Jimmy Rowell puts it, “Nobody wants no oily shrimp.”

For the fourth year in a row, more than a third of US honeybee colonies did not survive the winter. Scientists still have no solid answers as to why, and no effective solutions to the problem.

The Good
Two renewable energy companies are testing a greenhouse that integrates photovoltaics–producing both food and electricity–in Savona, Italy.

This semester, California College of Arts and Crafts learned to cook soup from five immigrant women, then produced marketing materials for the women’s entrepreneurial pursuits.

21
Apr
10

link round-up

Labor
My friend Guille came back yesterday from a week of pressing OSHA and DOL officials for better legal protections for domestic workers, day laborers, and farm workers. It looks like Secretary of Labor Solis is on board.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, federal marshals are trying to keep H-2A guestworkers out of a Friday court hearing that could affect their working conditions. They’re being excluded, presumably in the name of homeland security, because they don’t have US-issued IDs, though they all have their Mexican passports and H-2A visas.

Cuisine
Robb Walsh catches Mi Abuelita’s Homestyle Mexican Restaurant in Galveston mixing restaurant and homestyle versions of Tex-Mex by offering a chile relleno served with beans and fideos. Fideos are pasta, usually vermicelli, for those not in the know–like commenter Mary, a life-long Texan who nevertheless had to Google the term.

Mexconnect reports that “creative Mexican chefs” are now using hibiscus juice “in a variety of both sweet and savory dishes, including marinades, sauces, sorbets, granitas, jellies and trendy cocktails.” The article makes me think about how the status of the people doing the cooking–in this case, “creative,” “trendy,” and “Mexican”–affects what we think about the food’s authenticity. It also makes me wonder how long before the jamaica craze sweeps north.

And more east-meets-west Tex-Mix from Taste of Beirut: Lebanese quesadillas.