My Most Important Project Yet
Plus: Dishing with the Sesame Street monsters, the good kind of summer rain, and the best daily chore
This Week’s Marksisms
Community Kitchen: Let’s Do Everything Right
Since The Guardian did a great piece about it last week, I am now officially “out” about Community Kitchen, a project I’ve been working on passionately and fairly quietly for the last three years. (Or, in some ways of thinking, for the last 20.)
The idea of Community Kitchen is to demonstrate that you can get food to people by doing everything right. I’ll write about this more in coming weeks and months, but briefly: For the most part we do everything wrong: We grow food in a resource-heavy, extractive manner, much of the food we grow gets turned into anti-nutritious junk that causes disease and early death; the people who work in the food industry are among the worst-paid in any jobs (and are disproportionately people of color and women, so the people who have historically borne the brunt of a racist, sexist system continue to do so); and, finally, to the extent there is good food, it’s mostly available to people with money.
Suppose there were a restaurant that sourced great food; used the MIT Living Wage Scale to determine the pay of everyone associated with it; cooked delicious, nutritious food (not that hard, but few people do it); and served that food on a sliding scale so that it was affordable to everyone.
What’s wrong with this picture? Here’s what: It’s impossible to do those things and to make money at the same time—affordable restaurants usually cut corners on food and/or labor, restaurants that source and pay workers well are unaffordable to a majority of the population, and so on. The formula doesn’t work. So the formula has to change.
Looking at all of this over the years, it’s become clear to me that it’s worth demonstrating that any part of the food delivery system (I’m choosing restaurants because they’re visible, and people rely on them, but this same model would work in schools, hospitals, prisons, even supermarkets) can be shown to work well while prioritizing protecting the environment, encouraging good farming, treating workers well, and providing nutritious food for everyone.
The last is, in a way, key. We — the United States — do not have a policy that says, “We guarantee that every person living in this country has a right to nutritious food.” (Through SNAP, and to a lesser extent WIC, we sort of guarantee that no one will starve. This works, however imperfectly, but there’s a big difference between “not starving” and “eating well.”) We seem to agree (I mean, not really, but we mostly pretend to agree) that we all want a Department of Defense, of Education, of Transportation, and so on, so those things are mostly supported by tax dollars. We don’t agree that we should all eat well, so those tax dollars that are spent supporting “food” mostly support the junk food and CAFO (factory farming of animals) industries. We subsidize junk food and profits, and the vast majority of people in this country bear the costs of those subsidies.
We face catastrophe if that doesn’t change, so it must. And I believe it will: The question is when.
I’m convinced that a model like Community Kitchen can show the way, can demonstrate that by shifting the motive for feeding people from profit to fairness, equity, nutrition, public health, and so on, we can begin to go down the path toward building a food system that works for the majority, not the minority. And I’m convinced enough to put loads of time and energy into this.
As I said, I’ll write more on Community Kitchen as things develop, but I’d love to hear your reactions.
A couple years ago, my grandson, Holden, was still watching Sesame Street — which just finished its FIFTY-THIRD season — and one of his favorite skits was “Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truck,” where the blue guy and his friend Gonger make food based on “requests” they get from kids. And Kate made it her mission to have Cookie Monster and Gonger on the podcast.
To our great delight, the monsters were available, as was Rosemarie Truglio, who is Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Content at Sesame Workshop. The amount of work that goes into producing such a thoughtful, educational, and delightful show is tremendous; you’ll see that when you listen to my chat with Rosemarie, which comes after my chat with the guys, who talked to me about a variety of things, including missing Gordon’s presence on the show, a sentiment that I share. There’s not one thing not joyful about this conversation (seriously! How cool is that?); listen again if you heard it the first time!
The recipes featured on today’s episode, Tofu Jerky and Whole Wheat Farfalle with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, can be found here.
A Gentle Rain
Summer rain is the best thing there is (as long as there’s not too much of it!)