anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘Food

Soleil Ho

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“…you can choose to continue learning about perspectives that aren’t your own: “I don’t know” isn’t an end, but a beginning.”

-Soleil Ho

Food can be a unifying force. It can also be a divisive one. Through food we carry memories, experiences, people. What we eat and what we make often tells a story of who we are. Food is also a lens and a bridge to so many other topics, an entry point to tackling the critical issues of our time–like gender, class, and race.

Soleil Ho is doing just that. You may know her from her podcast Racist Sandwich, or now in her position as the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. She’s a self-described “ethno food warrior,” and she’s using this platform of food as a way to challenge people to rethink their perceptions, their assumptions, and their judgements about people, food and in turn, culture.

Growing up in New York, she spent over a decade working in restaurants. Her grandparents came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam, and that family history has informed her work. She has been diligent about showcasing how embedded racism and oppression is in food, writing pieces on food assimilation, how white chefs win most food awards, a restaurant chain that tried to ban Hawaiian businesses from using the word “aloha,” how to avoid cultural appropriation, and the outdated concept of colonial food. As she wrote in her review of Le Colonial, a French-Vietnamese restaurant, “nostalgia is a blurry lens through which we can view history. We often rewrite it so that the hard, inconvenient parts are pushed to the sidelines in favor of what makes us feel good.”

Food criticism has always been a mostly white and male dominated profession, and her position as the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle offers the opportunity to bring an entirely different lens to looking at restaurants, one that’s more holistic and honest about what making and serving food means. As The Washington Post wrote in a profile of Ho, “Having traversed both sides, she’s uniquely positioned to tackle some of the most pressing issues in the food world, some of which were themes in her first reviews: What’s the difference between appreciation and appropriation? What’s the true cost of food and the labor to produce it? How do we make the restaurant industry more equitable, more accessible, more just?”

These are essential questions, because they are not just questions about what we eat, they are also questions about who we are as a culture, where we have put our values, and how we might challenge ourselves to not avoid the inconvenient parts of history (as well as those of modern day) but to acknowledge harsh realities and build a better system moving forward.

I am so glad that Ho took time to answer some questions for the Women’s Wisdom Project, and I hope that perhaps she might challenge you to start thinking a little differently about what’s on your plate, and your own connections to food.

What does wisdom mean to you?

The way I try to act out wisdom is through silence: really considering my words before I speak so that I can stand by everything that I say. To me, it’s also accepting that I don’t know everything and making sure that, to the best of my ability, I consult with others and do my research before talking about things that are new to me.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

After the trial that let George Zimmerman off for the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2017, filmmaker Tanya Steele wrote an incisive and real essay about the constant work that Black people need to do to look harmless to white strangers. There’s a line from the piece that I keep going back to: “I will stop contorting my being to accommodate white neuroses. That’s my new civil rights movement.”

Your work includes being a chef, podcaster, writer, and restaurant critic. What would you say is the driving force behind what you do? Is there a common thread that ties all of those things together? 

Each of those roles was motivated by the acknowledgement that food — like many cultural productions — is an easy way for us to talk about bigger things. A chef knows this because food (and by extension music, decor, language) is part of how they tell their own story. I see my role as a writer and critic as respecting the thought put into that by interpreting and analyzing what those values mean in our social contexts. There is so much that lies beneath the surface of our most minute actions and interactions; revealing the breadth of what everything means is the point of my job, in my mind.

You’re currently working as the SF Chronicle food critic. The Washington Post has referred to you as the “third wave” of food critics. Does working in an industry with such a long history that you are consciously working to change feel like a lot of pressure? And along those lines, how do you see the food media landscape shifting and how would you like to see it continue to evolve?

It does feel like a lot of pressure! If you’ve been working to diversify your field and then become that diversity, the pressure to perform excellently is enormous. I think that thought about food has become more rigorous and serious — no longer an escape from politics — thanks in part to the burgeoning interdisciplinary Food Studies work in academia, and that excites me. With that in mind, it’s also really important to not just discount the work that’s been done in the field prior to that professionalization: people outside of academia and the professional critic class have understood how food could serve as an apt metaphor for social issues for a very long time. So many indigenous and marginalized organizations around the world have historically focused on food sovereignty as a way to galvanize their communities.

Through your podcast Racist Sandwich and your writing you have focused on food as a lens for tackling important issues like race and gender. Why do you think food is a good vehicle for doing this?

Food makes for an excellent starting point for a Socratic way of getting to the politics of everything. Why are you eating this? Who made it? Why do you call it X? Where did it come from? Who harvested this?

How do we work to better amplify marginalized voices, whether that’s in food or elsewhere?

A good thing to always remember is that you can choose to continue learning about perspectives that aren’t your own: “I don’t know” isn’t an end, but a beginning.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

You’re gay!

You can also sign up for Ho’s weekly San Francisco Chronicle newsletter, Bite Curious

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 9, 2019 at 08:16

Andrea Bemis

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“…food is the center of our lives and connects us to our community, our landscape, and our homes.”

-Andrea Bemis

Farmer and author Andrea Bemis is dedicated to not just growing food, but helping people have a better connection to what they eat.

Bemis and I met in person last spring when we worked on a project together, but I had been a follower of her blog Dishing Up the Dirt for a long time. In 2008, Bemis and her boyfriend (now husband) Taylor were living in Bend, Oregon, when they decided to move to Massachussets to work on his family’s organic farm. After a few seasons, the West Coast was calling, and in 2012 they landed on a 6-acre plot of land near Parkdale, Oregon, which they lovingly named Tumbleweed Farm.

With her hands literally in the dirt, Bemis has taken her love of growing food and turned it into a platform for not just getting people excited about what they eat, but having a deeper connection to it. She wrote a cookbook with the same name as her blog, sharing her recipes and wisdom for what to do with local and seasonal ingredients. She started an initiative called Local Thirty, where for a month she committed to sourcing her food from a 200-mile radius: “local food from local dirt.” That spawned a documentary film following Bemis and her husband on their journey, meeting local producers along the way.

I think that Bemis is wise in her understanding of the soil and what it produces, and her understanding of community. She knows that food is not just something that we eat, it’s something that sustains us, physically and emotionally. It connects us to people and places, and the more that we honor that, the more enjoyment we get.

What does wisdom mean to you?

Wisdom to me means having empathy for other people.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

My older sister is very wise. She’s strong, thoughtful and has always encouraged me to not judge others and always put myself in their shoes.

What does investing in local food bring to your life, both as a farmer and as an eater?
I believe food is the center of our lives and connects us to our community, our landscape, and our homes. Knowing how, where and who grows my food is something I am extremely passionate about. When you know your farmers you are rooted deeper into the place you call home and I think that is very powerful.

How do you see the local food movement growing over the next few decades?

I think people are so damn hungry for connection. I have to believe that the local food movement will grow. It’s a great way get to know one another and discover a bounty that is all our own. When we start looking around and talking to each other I think we’ll discover that we all have so much. It’s time to ditch convenience and start connecting with our neighbors, our landscapes and our homes.

What lessons have you learned from being a farmer?

Being a farmer has taught me about patience, discomfort, and perseverance. When you’re a farmer you give, and then you give some more, and just when you think you’ve got nothing left in your fuel tank the farm gives back, and rewards you with bountiful harvests that will not only feed your household or your community, but it finds its way to feed your soul.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

The wisdom I would share with my younger self is to always be kind, and more often than not, be kinder than necessary. With myself, my friends, strangers and acquaintances.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

June 28, 2019 at 09:36

Simran Sethi

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“Empower women and we all do better.”

-Simran Sethi

Journalist, writer, podcaster, speaker, professor: Simran Sethi is many things.

Her work centers around food, sustainability and social change, and whether she’s penning an article about bees for the Smithsonian, podcasting about chocolate, or speaking at a conference, whatever medium she uses, she is committed to connecting with people.

In 2015 she published an excellent book titled Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. That book is ever more topical given the recent United Nations report on the shrinking biodiversity and the risk for global food and agriculture. For example: while 6,000 plant species are cultivated for food, just nine of them account for two-thirds of all crop production. If we don’t prioritize biodiversity and conservation, we are in risk of a serious crisis.

Sethi and I have only met in person once, but thanks to this thing we call the Internet, we have been able to cultivate a friendship. I have a deep respect for the work that she does, and over the course of knowing her, I have discovered many of the commonalities that we share. We had a long conversation last summer, and I only recently got around to transcribing it.

It was so refreshing to listen to it after all this time, the things that we talked about are still relevant and I found myself appreciating this new dose of wisdom from her.

Who is Simran Sethi?

I’m a writer and I’m a professor of journalism and have been a podcast and broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker. I’ve had a number of different designations, but all of them at their very core are about creating something. For me the act of creation is one very specific intention of helping people make better decisions in their lives, providing the kind of information that will support some small or large level of transformation.

You told me that a woman who you shared an apartment with when you were teaching in Rome last summer referred to you as an artist, and that you really appreciated that. Why do you think you haven’t referred to yourself as an artist?

I’m still pretty new to referring to myself as a writer. It has taken me a long time to do that. I mean, even after a major house published my book, I would apologetically and sheepishly say, “I wrote a book.” Probably it comes from very early on in my childhood. My family and I immigrated from Germany, but my parents are of Indian origin. As far back as I can remember, my father gave me five job choices: teacher, lawyer, engineer, doctor, or scholar. My mom encouraged actual artistic creativity in my sister, but I was the bookish one, with glasses at age six, reading a lot. I didn’t see myself as, A: someone who a was creative, or B: was allowed to be creative.

It’s so interesting to me that so many people say “I’m not creative,” even though it’s not a thing that we inherently have or don’t have. It’s something that we can work on. Everyone gets to be creative, no matter whether you’re an engineer or an illustrator. I wonder what it is that’s kept us from embracing that culturally.

I think it even ties in to the notion of a storyteller. Certain people claim that mantle, but we all are telling stories every day. Like I write in my book, we’re made of story. I firmly believe that: we’re engaged in creative acts every day. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, a book or a loaf of bread. We can look to the age of rationalism and philosophers like Descartes, and I can’t really go too far down that road, but I think there’s something there separating out an artist from a thinker, as if these things are mutually exclusive. They are not, they are embedded in each other.

When you think of the word wisdom, what does it mean to you?

The first idea that comes to mind is roots going deep. And the distinction I would make between being smart and being wise. Wisdom feels like a grounded knowledge, being centered and steadier in yourself. To describe someone as wise, to me is to describe someone who is not only knowledgeable about the world, but has a deep relationship with their inner world.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece, or sense, of wisdom that you can remember?

It sounds a bit cliche, but the person who has done this the most, is my mother, with little dust bunnies of wisdom. So much of how I felt about recent decisions that I have made have been elevated by her support. I live a pretty nomadic existence, and there’s a part of that absence of a singular home that feels weird and ungrounded. My mom reminds me how remarkable these decisions are, how lucky I am, how her life would have been so different if she had been allowed to make different kinds of decisions. Her feedback and insights have been really reaffirming for me.

How do you stay grounded within that existence?

I’ll share with you what I share with my mother, to reassure her: I have to find “home” within myself. I used to be a labor support doula, helping women during childbirth. When you’re actually birthing, you’re not moving, you’re birthing, right? You’re walking around ahead of time, you’re rocking or on your hands and knees or doing whatever you do. But in the moment when you’re pushing that life into the world, you’re stationary.

It’s a little bit difficult to drop down into my creative work when I am moving; I have to find still points. And I also know the movement feeds the work. In many cases, it is the work: taking in the world and bringing it back to my respective audiences – whether in print or on a podcast.

I feel like that constantly, that I need solitude and stillness to create the work, but I need movement to inspire the work. That is a tough balance to find.

Exactly. It’s dynamic. So many things feed us. It’s a gift. And, at the same time, I occasionally – rarely now but still – feel like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live a calmer, contained life?” To pick the kids up from soccer, to make dinner with the husband, et cetera.

I have been thinking a lot about what women have to contribute. And I was thinking about all of your work in chocolate, meeting women on the ground. What are some of maybe the old traditions are wisdoms that they have that can help to move us forward in a sustainable way?

Women have a much harder time getting access to capital and land. Yet, they’re the ones who, with whatever money they earn, do a much better job at sustaining the household. It’s just so simple, right? Empower women and we all do better, our entire society will be better. If you give women access to education, credit, work, leadership positions, things will be better.

There’s this one collective of women farmers I met in Dominican Republic who make chocolate. I referenced then in a story I wrote for Yes! magazine. All they wanted was be treated the way the men were and to earn enough money to have some agency in decisions in around their families. Some of them are farmers, but they’ve now also moved into making this value added product, chocolate. The way I saw them take care of each other at the conference where we met, and what I learned about how their role in their communities were being elevated as they were seen as business people. It was quite inspiring.

From a global perspective, women feed us. We grow the crops, we make decisions around food purchases and make the food. We nourish. But these acts have also been taken from us. Women were the first people who made beer – they were called “ale wives” – women were the first to make farmhouse cheese, and so on. It’s only when these kinds of drinks and foods become commodities – when it’s taken away from the province of the home – that they seem to accrue value.

I want to continue to be somebody who calls attention to that and does whatever I can to help shift perceptions around who – and what – women are. I don’t fully know how that will play out but it starts, I think, with what you’re doing: elevating women’s voices.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

March 8, 2019 at 06:43

‘Extra Helping’ – a Cookbook for Caring Through Food (Preorder)

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Last year I was very honored to be asked to create papercut illustrations for a cookbook. That cookbook is out next month and I can’t wait for it to be born into the world. Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community One Dish at a Time by Janet Reich Elsbach is a beautiful collection of recipes and essays, all based around the idea that food is caring.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 15, 2018 at 11:53

Marion Nestle

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“Food choices are about your future and that of your children.

They are about nothing less than democracy in action.”

-Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle is one of the leading thinkers and activists when it comes to nutrition and food politics. In fact it’s hard to do any reading or research about food politics without coming across her name.

She is the author of several books, including Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health and the most recent Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).In October, she will release her latest book: Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We EatShe is Paulette Goddard Professor, of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003 and from which she retired in the end of 2017.

There was a point in my life when I debated on applying to NYU’s Master’s Program in Food Studies (a program she pioneered), just so that I could have the opportunity to have Marion as a teacher. And while I never got around to that, she has kindly answered various interview questions of mine over the course of many years as I have written about food and nutrition myself.

The quote that I decided to use for her portrait is from her book What to EatThe book was originally published in 2006. That feels like an eternity ago when it comes to food politics. After all, it feels like a lot has changed in our conversation about food over the last decade. There are many more options at the grocery store, and the conversation about health has begun to shift to not only our personal self, but that of the environment and the workers who put food on our table.

And yet despite some of the progress that we have made, we still face many of the same problems, and some have gotten worse. Over the last decade, obesity rates have jumped. In 2007-2008, the CDC reported that 33.8% of American adults were obese. For the period of 2015-2016, that number grew to 39.8%. Food insecurity has grown a small amount as well; today 12.3% of American households are food insecure, compared to 10.9% in 2006. Some of us may have easier access to things like farmers markets, and yet, independent farmers are struggling; in the U.S. the suicide rate is double that of veterans. Systemic racism and economic inequities continue to plague the food system.

In researching this piece, I came across an interview with Marion on Civil Eats, taking a look back at her three decades of work and what has changed and what hasn’t. It’s a reminder that even when it comes to our conversation about food, the basics are still the same.

I went into nutrition in 1976. And everybody was saying, I remember quite vividly, “We want you to teach this nutrition class because there’s so much public interest in it.”

Three books had just come out. Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet, which is still in print, was cataclysmic in its impact. I mean, think about what she talked about in 1975: Eat less meat, and it’ll be good for health and the environment. You know, we’re still right there. 

So what’s keeping this from truly moving forward? The combination of a food and agribusiness industry that’s about high profits and high margins that don’t consider things like human and environmental health, and the political policies that are at the base of that system. Real change requires industry, infrastructural and political change.

That feels overwhelming. But what we as citizens do have control of on a daily basis is what we put into our bodies, and I keep coming back to Marion’s quote from What to Eat. Not everyone has the luxury of making choices about food, but for those of us who do, they are a way to take daily action. What we eat matters, to both ourselves and our communities.

Marion continues to be a resource yet she always provides a fresh voice. She updates her Food Politics blog regularly, and as someone who cares strongly about food and the food system, for me, she is a constant source of inspiration and wisdom.

She kindly answered a few Women’s Wisdom Project Q&A questions.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?

Marion: Wisdom to me means knowing enough about people and history to make thoughtful decisions about daily life.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

A dean in my high school assured me that I would have a much better time as an adult.

We have been eating food for all of human history, and yet today, it seems like these days we need specialists to inform us what we should and shouldn’t eat. Do you think that we have lost our common sense in regards to what we eat? If so, why?

The food industry spends fortunes to convince us that our common sense is wrong.  It’s hard to resist that kind of propaganda.

When it comes to food and food production, as we have modernized, what wisdom do you think that we have lost?

If we are to eat well in the future, we must grow food sustainably, replenish soil, preserve water quality, and do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What do you see as the future of food?

No matter how many of us there are, we will still need to eat.  We must plan for that.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Courage!

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

June 27, 2018 at 07:05

Sliced Rye and Almond Pepparkakor

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Growing up, we always made a recipe out of the classic Swedish baking book Sju sorters kakor, called Franska pepparkakor, French gingersnaps, for Christmas. Why they were French I am not entirely sure. I have lived in France and never encountered anything similar.

A more apt name is skurna pepparkor, sliced gingersnaps. I like making these because they take much less time than rolling out and cutting traditional pepparkakor but still use the same iconic seasonal spices. This year, I adapted the recipe to be a little less sweet and also be made with 100% rye flour. I like making whole grain cookies, because they are far more robust in flavor than baking with traditional all-purpose flour.

These cookies are great on their own, but also pair very well with a little blue cheese. And a mug of glögg of course.

Sliced Rye and Almond Pepparkakor

Ingredients:

1 cup (5 ounces, 140 grams) almonds, coarsely chopped
1 cup (8 ounces, 225 grams) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces, 50 gram) sugar
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) molasses
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups (8.75 ounces, 250 grams) rye flour

Preparation:

Chop the almonds and set them aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and molasses, then mix in the spices and orange zest until well blended.

Mix the baking soda with the flour, then add to the wet ingredients. Work the dough together (it will be quite sticky).

Form the dough into cylinders, about 12 inches long and wrap in parchment paper or a tea towel. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Note: the dough lasts for a few days in the refrigerator so if you don’t get around to baking them right away it’s totally fine.)

Grease a baking tray and cut dough into thin slices. Place the slices on the tray and bake at 375ºF (180ºC) for 10 to 12 minutes.The cookies don’t spread out very much, so you can put them pretty close to each other.

Written by Anna Brones

December 22, 2017 at 07:36

Using Food to Change the Thanksgiving Narrative

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For many of us, our associations with Thanksgiving are mostly about food. Cranberries, pumpkin pies, stuffing and all those other things that turns the food media world into a seasonal frenzy of recipes and roundups. It’s a holiday where we’re encouraged to gather with our friends and family and be thankful, showing gratitude for what’s on the table and the people we share it with.

These are admirable ideals, however when we talk about Thanksgiving, share iconic recipes, gather around the table, we avoid the harsh reality of a holiday with a dark past, one of slavery, plague and massacres. At its core, Thanksgiving is a story of genocide, and instead of facing that reality, it’s a holiday that we have chosen to mythologize, erasing real stories and people along the way. Instead of the truth, the false narrative around Thanksgiving allows us to focus on the easy stuff, in the form of “10 Best Pie Crusts” and “25 Creative Stuffing Ideas You Never Thought Of.

“Food media at large still won’t touch the imperialist implications of Thanksgiving with a ten foot pole bc it’s more profitable to pub stuffing listicles,” wrote Racist Sandwich a few weeks ago on Twitter.

I thought about that comment a lot, pondering the importance and weight of food media in addressing cultural history as well as today’s realities. Food is an excellent lens for looking at important topics like gender, race and culture, and in that sense, the food hype over Thanksgiving seems like a massively missed opportunity to highlight the true story and its modern day implications. Avoiding the conversation about the true roots of Thanksgiving means perpetuating the injustice.

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Written by Anna Brones

November 22, 2017 at 13:25