Discover more from From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
and who's allowed to have nice things.
I’m typing this through the browser on my iPhone because my MacBook Air won’t start up, as of yesterday. The store where I would take it to be fixed is closed; Apple support says I’m ineligible to be sent a box for shipping to the warehouse because I reside in a US territory. Without my laptop, my usual method of doing this newsletter, at least today, is shot to shit, because it depends upon a lot of references and links and very free typing. I’ll do my best.
Let me say: The response of food writers and adjacent media on Twitter to people’s quarantine cooking and eating habits has been absolutely batshit. There’s been a backlash to the backlash now, but the immediate decision to judge people for overbuying beans and flour and yeast—cheap subsistence items—was born of… what, exactly?
We know that in pre-pandemic times, Americans had spent more money eating out than at the grocery store. We know that despite entire lives (hello) lived and industries built focused on how to cook and how to cook well, most people either do not give a shit or do not have the time and money to give a shit. These are deep systemic issues rooted in a bad government that doesn’t serve working people and bad agricultural policy going back decades, etc., but watching the same people who would go googly-eyed for a Rancho Gordo bean or gaga for some baker in the woods making bread tell people their attempt to gain some control in unprecedented times via a new relationship to wild yeast shows that these people are only interested in food in so far as it remains some tool for their bourgeois exuberance. When they come down to earth for a Popeyes sandwich, it is an act of cultural solidarity. When someone who can’t get through on the unemployment line mixes their first high-hydration starter, they’re contributing to hunger by using up necessary goods. Who is allowed to buy a sack of flour, I wonder! Who has written the rules? (I loved Phoebe Maltz-Bovy on this.)
What we are being reminded now is that food is what we eat to live—something banal—and that understanding food isn’t just an affectation, and that it’s a survival tool to make that food delicious, nutritious, and serve a larger purpose than one’s stomach—something profound. Why would we ever try to use shame to keep people from this, a primitive right?
The best days of my weeks in quarantine are when the produce arrives from Siembra Tres Vidas and when I buy a loaf of sourdough off of the bakers around town. They’re also the meals I share with my boyfriend who’s just starting to learn how to make simple breads and pizza doughs, watching someone understand for the first time the labor and knowledge that goes into such seemingly simple things. That’s a profound and important learning experience. All of this, if we’re lucky to not be suffering illness or lacking resources, can be a profound and important learning experience. Who does food media think these experiences should be reserved for? Why do they believe that everyone buying up flour has other options, like wild boar, to reference a certain critic’s tweet? Who is their audience? To whom are they speaking?
I expounded more on these issues in these two How We Get to Next pieces:
This piece on Refinery 29 really is just—and I keep saying this about everything I’ve been working on—the tip of the iceberg regarding how to fix labor issues in hospitality.
My research context for it, honestly, was the zine Abolish Restaurants. (I hope to write something soon about my love for anarchist work and theory but the realization that I’m just a socialist.)
I’m going to be referencing my friend Layla’s extensive chronology of bar labor history in the US forever, though!
I haven’t had much luck focusing on reading but if I were on my laptop I’m sure I’d remember some good articles. I am reading Deborah Madison’s forthcoming An Onion in My Pocket for a review, which I suppose I can focus on now that my laptop isn’t working!!!
I’m in the process of perfecting my banana bread, which is Nigella’s banana bread but veganized and spiced and with the addition of chocolate and removal of raisins.
Last week, our farm order came with way more Napa cabbage than I anticipated and everyone told me to make kimchi. I’m not making kimchi because I have no more kosher salt and there’s none available. I’m just eating the cabbage as salad. I’m dying to make dumplings but haven’t gotten around to it: Somehow, the weekend still gets totally consumed by cleaning and functional cooking and I lose my will. But I think we are making gnocchi today, and then I’ll do my dumpling project tomorrow. I will let you know how it all goes next Monday!