There have been a lot of firsts in this past month. I say that with surprise because honestly, in all my 20-year-old brightness I have this startling tendency towards dramatics and cynicism. No idea where that comes from. Pshh.
I got my first real life paid job and it’s been a motherfucking rollercoaster.
One acquired mind you, not because your mother’s best friend who’s known you her entire life wanted to hire you and feed you chilled gazpacho and mentor you through life (I love you so much, thank you). Not one that pays you to drink wine and laugh about art and occasionally paint the walls because hey, it’s a liberal arts college and we want to encourage you and you are oh-so-precious, my precious. Not one that is technically just a way for your father to justify financing your across the world trip to your then-boyfriend’s distant southern African homeland because really, how can you say no to a lovesick privileged teenager with a great big pouty face and too much life experience? Nope.
On day two of solo lady life in Brooklyn, a little daunted by my dwindling bank balance and a little terrified because you know, New Yawk- I walked into the fanciest restaurant in my neighborhood- one that I later found out caters almost entirely to Hasidic Jews and involves a strict long sleeves only dress code in the heat of NY summer, and WHAM! BAM! SHAZAM! I GOT A JOB!
Shock and disbelief aside, this waitressing thing has been hit and miss- I know that as a relatively low skilled college student, who happens to be an art major no less, anything better than a minimum wage job is probably a great job. And whilst this is true and I have rarely been so grateful for the otherwise absurd and wacked out tipping culture of America- I struggle with it. I love feeding people, and meeting new people, and I have my worldly-person-of society-who-is-approachable-and-wants-to-make-you-smile act down to every last detail (except when there are beautiful blonde women involved- there are few things that terrify me more than beautiful, skinny, and long limbed blonde women), I struggle with the fact that we’re charging hundreds of dollars for local-organic-save-the-world-beautifully-plated-jamie-oliver-approved-real-food meals that really cost just a few dollars more than my weekly smoothie habit. Don’t get me wrong, I understand- this is capitalism, you’re paying for the atmosphere, you’re paying for all the labor that goes into it, for the luxury of having food served to your table and never having to worry about the dishes, you’re paying because this is the world of hospitality and who wouldn’t want to be able to afford $39 + tax + service charge + tip for smiling waitress, to eat grilled halibut in a fairy lit corner of a busy Brooklyn curb whilst listening to “world jazz” and sipping at a mediocre wine whose price tag makes your taste buds so much more forgiving?
I grew up with nice food in nice restaurants- there are many nice things that come with coming from a nice family who likes to frequent nice restaurants- it’s all just so very nice, you know? And so, because I’ve spent my life on the receiving end of all this niceness, somewhere along the line I decided that I wanted to have my own nice restaurant. My own little haven of nice restaurant niceness to serve nice food to nice people. And then every now and then, after a particularly lengthy Wikipedia binge of David Chang or April Bloomfield or Ottolenghi or just plain old Jamie Oliver biography stalking, and thinking- “Hey! Maybe I could do that too!” I decide that I’d like a whole spectrum of niceness! Some grungy taco bar niceness (bonus points because Mumbai doesn’t yet have one), some hippie community café niceness (Mumbai has a couple but I’ll just be better), some fancy health food grocery store niceness (more bonus points because all that Mumbai has as yet are places that sell wheatgrass juice, baked chaklis and imported soy milk) and finally, some upstart ethnic/world food establishment niceness that will be international and interesting and still rooted in local flavors and earthiness and the parade of niceness will just be overwhelming.
But is that really what I want? Even if these places were institutions and landmarks for food and community, like Chez Panisse or Momofuku or Ottolenghi, places that I have utmost respect and admiration for, and am forever inspired by. Places that have servers who are not just there for the odd hours and the hefty tips, but for their whole-hearted belief in the food and its power, and everything that it stands for. Places that use their high prices to influence good in other ways- like the Edible Schoolyards or Jamie Oliver’s work with school lunches or start incredible food magazines like Lucky Peach. Places that are committed to ensuring the best for their farmers and producers and hoards of people who benefit from the existence of a fancy restaurant with delicious, sustainable food, whether or not they will ever be able to afford eating there.
I’m not sure.
I read about an Italian organization called Ugly Fruit the other day- which is basically buying ‘ugly’ produce from farmers across Italy, i.e. all the produce that the farmers are unable to sell to supermarkets because of aesthetic standards, and unable to consume themselves, and selling them to low income communities who would otherwise never have access to that caliber of organic produce. It is not proposing a new economic model- it is very much existing in the cracks of capitalism, and providing a capitalist solution to a capitalist problem- but somehow, to me, it seems like more honest work. Does that make sense?
To be fair, I’d usually be the first one to quip that there is hardly more honest work than chopping up onions, or slowly sweating an aromatic sofrito, or feeding a table of loved ones. But finally seeing and working in the back of a restaurant kitchen, even if it’s just this particular restaurant kitchen, has me wondering- how many of the kitchen staff in that restaurant full of organic produce and vibrant salads are able to feed their families at home anything remotely similar? I know that the line cook works 100 hours a week to make ends meet and that one of the other waitresses hasn’t taken a day off in a month because she sends money back to her family in Bulgaria. That’s not food the way I’d hope for it to be served that feels like food the way that it is most profitable to serve.
So yes, here are my standardly scrambled going-nowhere thoughts and my first real blog post in a long time. More to come.
LOVE AND HUGS ACROSS EVERY OCEAN AND LARGE MASS OF LAND.