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Photos: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)
Visitors to the Sidewalk Festival enjoy a µTopian Dinner with Hinterlands performers outside the Mobile Homestead.

Kristina and I were discussing the other day all the different kinds of yoga that are popping up. Suzanne’s friend Liz tried goat yoga. Kristina had heard of knitting yoga and laughter yoga.

Similarly, it seems like I’m constantly hearing about new ways of extending the boundaries of theater. In this story from Hyperallergic, sharing food with audiences in person and through Skype is the focus.

As Sarah Rose Sharp writes, artists are practiced “in finding ways to forge interpersonal connections through gesture, metaphor, and performance — or sometimes just by inviting people to dinner.

“ ‘Food is so interesting, because it evokes memory, and it’s a multi-sensory experience,’ said Liza Beilby, in an interview with Hyperallergic during preparations for one in a series of µTopian Dinners, staged by Detroit-based experimental theater ensemble The Hinterlands and co-produced with Poetic Societies, a performance lab fostering cross-cultural and poetic connections. …

“Since 2017, the group has been staging permutations of the µTopian Dinners as a subset of a larger work, The Enemy of My Enemy, a hybrid, digital-live performance project that simultaneously links performers and audiences in the US and so-called ‘enemy’ nations of China, Russia, and Iran. …

“The Hinterlands views the µTopian Dinner projects as a kind of a laboratory to investigate the cultural values that are reinforced through eating, meals, and cooking. [In August], µTopian Dinners took literally to the streets, as the ensemble presented a four-part performance and rotating series of events, during the homegrown and wildly popular Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts. …

“[The group] — as well as their foreign counterparts tuning in from Moscow, Bejing, and Tehran — operated out of the modular traveling unit from Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, which is permanently housed at the [Museum of Contemporary Art], making one of the rare forays into the farther-flung Detroit neighborhoods for which it was expressly designed. …

“Artist and designer Yi Zhou, who runs a studio out of Beijing called Body Memory, met The Hinterlands during her 2016 residency at Popps Packing, and the ensemble has visited her twice over the last two years, touring with their previous show, The Radicalization Process, and other performances.

“ ‘In between the first year that we went and the second year that we went, she and a bunch of friends who are designers and architects started this group called TGIS,’ said Beilby. ‘It’s a Sunday brunch in this little courtyard at the studio of one of the members, and they invite people to come and have brunch, and then there’s a lecture, or talk, or conversation, which are themed.’ During the Sidewalk performance, Hinterlands Skyped into the beginning of the brunch taking place in Bejing. …

“ ‘It’s like translation, in a way. You’re trying to contextualize something for the people where you are, that’s meaningful, and then express something about the people here to another group. … It’s an interesting way to try to bridge two spaces or times or peoples, through sensory experiences that aren’t just talking.’ …

“One could call it a new medium, enabled by the tools of our increasingly interconnected world, or one might consider it the mission of any meal undertaken by people who begin as strangers, and perhaps leave with a better understanding of each other.”

More here.

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead traveling unit at the Sidewalk Festival for the Performing Arts in Detroit.

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urban-foraging

Photo: Pop-Up City
Urban foragers don’t like to see the food in parks go to waste.

Do you pick berries along the side of the road? I am drawn to blackberries. Suzanne loves mulberries. When we graze opportunistically like that, I guess we are foragers.

I have written before about both gleaning (usually picking up edible food after the farmer has finished harvesting) and foraging (usually in urban or suburban areas). This story suggests the practice is gaining adherents, in part because city dwellers feel too divorced from nature.

Jenny Cunningham writes at the Guardian, “According to Langdon Cook, there’s one golden rule of foraging: if you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. Cook is a leading figure in America’s growing urban foraging movement – in fact he’s written the book on it. As we make our way along a trail through one of his favourite hunting grounds, Seattle’s Seward Park, he mentions some of the poisonous plants out there, such as hemlock. The famous feller of Socrates looks a lot like carrot tops or flat leaf parsley to the uninitiated.

“There’s still plenty of good eating in the city’s parks and green spaces – researchers once identified 450 edible plants in Seattle. Cook enthusiastically points out some ripe thimbleberry. ‘It has a shelf life of about a nanosecond, so you’ll never see it in a farmers market,’ he says. The soft berry slumps off the plant and into the mouth like it’s already been made into a sweet, tannic jam. So yummy, so organic … and so illegal.

“Despite the popularity of foraging in Seattle and cities far beyond the Pacific north-west, municipal parks are generally off limits to foragers in the US. For city authorities, the risk of destruction to plants and wildlife is too great: what if everyone decided they wanted a piece of the park for lunch? Then there’s the potential for overzealous amateurs to make themselves very unwell. …

“While foraging is an ancient art that has taken place in US cities for as long as they’ve existed, the practice has exploded in popularity in recent years.

“There are some who forage because they struggle to afford food, but that is a small percentage, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Mostly, it seems that urban dwellers – starved of light and spending much of their time in virtual environments – crave a stronger connection to nature. Worried parents want their children to have some life experiences unmediated by glowing screens.

” ‘We are drawn to do what our grandparents did,’ says Cook. ‘It’s that “do it yourself” mentality we see in the renaissance of fermenting, pickling, brewing. Foraging fires up all our synapses.’

“Fired up synapses have collided with strict city codes across the US. … But there is fresh hope for foodies as some cities attempt to embrace their foraging communities. After doing away with its ‘molesting vegetation’ rule last autumn, Minneapolis now allows people to pick certain wild nuts, fruits and berries in most city parks. Cities from Boston to Austin encourage the public to harvest in existing park orchards.”

Read more at the Guardian, here. Do you forage?

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Photo: Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times.
Ali Shehadeh, a plant conservationist from Syria who fled the war in his country, at work in Terbol, Lebanon.

The harm that wars do seems endless. Every aspect of life is affected. And yet, against all odds, good people rise up to save or try to reconstruct what might be lost. In this post, everyday heroes protect a seed bank from the war in Syria.

Somini Sengupta has the story at the New York Times. “Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat.

“He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

“Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.

“But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather, and war.

“The center, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. …

“By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya.

“Trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were stolen and killed for food. … And the center’s most vital project — a seed bank containing 155,000 varieties of the region’s main crops, a sort of agricultural archive of the Fertile Crescent — faced extinction.

“But researchers there had a backup copy. Beginning in 2008, long before the war, the center had begun to send seed samples — ‘accessions’ as they are called — to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ‘doomsday vault,’ burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle. It was standard procedure, in case anything happened.

“War happened. In 2015, as Aleppo disintegrated, center scientists borrowed some of the seeds they had stored in Svalbard and began building anew. This time, they spread out, setting up one seed bank in Morocco and another just across Syria’s border with Lebanon in this vast valley of cypress and grapes known as the Bekaa. …

“Mr. Shehadeh … is obsessed with the wild relatives of the seeds that most farmers plant today. He eschews genetically modified seeds. He wants instead to tap the riches of those wild ancestors, which are often hardy and better adapted to harsh climates. ‘They’re the good stock,’ he said.

“He hunts for the genetic traits that he says will be most useful in the future: resistance to pests or blistering winds, or the ability to endure in intensely hot summers. He tries to select for those traits and breeds them into the next generation of seeds — in the very soil and air where they have always been grown.”

The experts believe that the seeds from plants that thrive in this arid part of the world will be needed for feeding the planet as it warms.

Read the whole article here.

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Restaurants are having trouble finding trained workers, and many low-income people have trouble getting themselves qualified for a job.

Enter the Culinary Arts Training Program at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center in Dorchester, Mass.

Sacha Pfeiffer writes at the Boston Globe, “A recent business survey found that the state’s dining sector is facing its worst labor shortage in more than three decades. That survey, by the Federal Reserve, called the staffing situation a ‘crisis,’ and Boston-area restaurants of all types report that hiring at every level, from dishwashers to chefs, is a major challenge.

“But those industry woes pose an opportunity for graduates of free culinary training programs offered by the Salvation Army, Pine Street Inn, Lazarus House Ministries, Community Servings, UTEC, Roca, and other local nonprofits, which have become a small but valuable source of employees for the region’s food service industry. …

“At [November’s] culinary graduation at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Corps Community Center in Dorchester, for example, several prospective employers attended the event to canvass for possible hires. …

“Aimed at low-income students, the programs generally offer basic training in cooking techniques, knife skills, food terminology, menu planning, nutrition, and kitchen safety standards. Many also teach ‘soft skills,’ such as resume writing and effective interviewing, and job-readiness, like the importance of punctuality. …

“Most also provide job placement assistance at not only restaurants, but school cafeterias, hospital kitchens, nursing homes, sporting venues, corporate cafes, and large food supply companies such as Aramark and Sodexo.

“ ‘There are more jobs than we have students for,’ said Paul O’Connell, the former chef/co-owner of Chez Henri in Cambridge who is now culinary director at the New England Center for Arts & Technology, which offers a 16-week culinary training course. … And even low-level jobs in the food sector can lead to lasting careers.

“ ‘The beauty of our industry is if people have a really good attitude and want to learn, they can go from the dish room to the boardroom and everywhere in between,’ said Robert Luz, chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which collaborates with many nonprofit programs.

“ ‘I’ve seen an incredible number of people grow their career from line cook to assistant kitchen manager to kitchen manager to chef and beyond,’ Luz added, ‘so it’s the road to middle income for a lot of people.” More here.

Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
A graduate of the Culinary Arts Training Program at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center shows off his certificate.

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Art: Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)
“The Gleaners, “1857

When farmers are done harvesting their crops, or when homeowners grow fruit trees for decoration but don’t eat the fruit, an opportunity arises for gleaners. Some gleaners may scavenge for food for their own tables, but nowadays it’s become more of an activity to feed people who need extra help. I blogged about the concept in 2011, here, and 2014, here.

A recent article by Henry Schwan in WickedLocal provides an update.

He writes, “Ruth Lyddy bent over and used a sharp farm tool to take a whack out of a thick stalk of kale at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord. Lyddy had the look of a full-time farmer, but she’s a volunteer gleaner, which is someone rescuing crops before they are plowed over and destroyed.

“She joined other volunteers Nov. 17 at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord, and their leader was Dylan Frazier, who works for Boston Area Gleaners, Inc. (BAG). …

“The nonprofit formed in 2004, and is in the midst of its ’10 Tons in 10 Days’ campaign. As the name says, the goal is to gather 10 tons of food in 10 days, which is distributed to local food pantries.

“Frazier said many farms only harvest what they can sell, so BAG swoops in, takes the excess and hands it over to Food For Free in Cambridge, which distributes it to local food banks and pantries. …

“The volunteers also harvested purple-top turnips, red beets, leaks, daikon radish and Savoy cabbage, and all of it was piled into a truck, paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. …

“Volunteer John Pilch summed up why people give their time to BAG as he carried a box full of kale that he just cut. ‘It’s very grounding for me. I love to give back, because I’ve been so blessed in my life,’ Pilch said.”

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One of the things I like about twitter is being exposed to stories I probably wouldn’t read about in the New York Times. This one is from a UK website called Foodism and highlights an effort to build businesses from food leftovers that might otherwise be wasted.

“It’s 4pm at Borough Market and the gaggle of children are elated, having spent the day growing, buying and selling market produce. Now trading time is over, and it’s time for their little stall to close, there’s only one question left.

” ‘What will you do with your leftover produce?’ asks development manager David Matchett, who runs the market’s Young Marketeers project for local schools. ‘We can make it into leftovers for tomorrow,’ pipes up one kid. ‘Or we can give it to people!’ ‘We give our food to my old auntie,’ shouts another.

” ‘I’ve been running this project five years,’ Matchett tells [Foodism reporter Clare Finney], ‘and not once in that time has a child ever suggested throwing the food away.’ ”

Other uses are found, Finney writes, giving a new heat source at home as an example.

“The heat source is used coffee grounds, recycled by the innovative clean technology company Bio-bean into pellets for biomass boilers, biodiesel and briquettes for wood burners. …

“With its sharp branding, smart technology and simple but potentially revolutionary innovation, Bio-bean is irresistibly representative of the new generation of companies applying principles of modern business, as well as slick design, to an issue that can often appear stale and tasteless: wasted food. …

” ‘These are viable businesses,’ Kate Howell, director of development and communications at Borough Market, says of Bio-bean, and of those other companies turning food waste or surplus into consumables. Indeed, many of the biggest names in the world today actually started here with the market, which has provided a seedbed for sustainable businesses like Rubies in the Rubble, which makes a range of chutneys and sauces from supermarket rejects, Chegworth Valley of apple juice fame, and the street food stall selling meat from previously unwanted billy kids, Gourmet Goat.’ …

“A few months ago, [the grocery chain] Sainsbury’s launched a trial of banana breads made from bananas too bruised to sell in store, to enormous accolades. ‘Originally we estimated they would sell 1,000 loaves,’ says Paul Crew, director of sustainability at Sainsbury’s, with palpable excitement. ‘Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we’ve already sold 3,000, saving just as many bananas.’ ”

Hey, that’s what we all do with bruised bananas! Now you and I can claim to be trendy as well as thrifty.

Read the Foodism article here.

Photo: Foodism
Bio-bean turns used coffee grounds into pellets for biomass boilers, biodiesel and briquettes for wood burners.

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Photo: The Economist

Reversing desertification in Africa has to be one of the biggest challenges ever attempted. But if we believe that the longest journey starts with a single step, then the continent’s long journey is off to a good start.

According to the Economist, “Building a wall of trees across the width of Africa is a tall order. Solving the twin problems of land degradation and desertification poses a greater challenge still. But more than 60 years after it was first proposed, just such a project is underway at the edge of the Sahara. …

“In 1952 Richard St Barbe Baker, a British environmental scientist, proposed planting a swathe of trees across the southern reaches of the Sahara. The trees would block the wind and sand that move southward from the desert and improve the quality of the soil by binding sediment together and adding nutrients to the mix.

“Although Mr Baker was unable to convince others of his plan during his lifetime, the idea has since taken root. In 2005, Olusegun Obasanjo, then president of Nigeria, revisited Mr Baker’s proposition, seeing in it an answer to some of the social, economic and environmental problems afflicting the Sahel-Sahara region.

“An estimated 83% of rural sub-Saharan Africans are dependent on the region’s land for their livelihoods, but 40% of it is degraded—worn away by soil erosion, human activity and scorching temperatures—leaving much of it unfit for use.

“In 2007, Mr Obasanjo gained the support of the African Union. The Great Green Wall Initiative was launched the same year. Today some 21 African countries are involved in the project, which has grown in scope. Trees have been planted, but building a wall of them is no longer the priority.

“Instead, the wall of trees has become a vehicle for a wider goal: countries in the region working together to tackle climate change, food security and economic growth. Recent projects include abating soil erosion and improving water management in Nigeria, agri-business development in Senegal and forestry management in Mali.”

More at the Economist.

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