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gusto Boston Collegeâ€™s Food Journal
From The Editor In a world where Chef ’s Table portrays cooking as an art, but Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille tells us “Anyone can cook!” what are we to believe? Must we be artists to create good food, or is this a task we all have the innate ability to conquer? And if so, does it have to be a 20-ingredient, all-day endeavor to be considered a well-prepared meal? Through this issue of Gusto, we explore the role food takes on in different facets of society. We tackle the intersections of food, science, and technology. Most people do not even realize they are participating in a scientific phenomenon when executing a task as simple as putting the cream into their morning cup of coffee. Through this mundane act, we become spectators to what is known as Brownian motion (p.8). And in ”Black and White” (p.26) Sofia Frias questions why American food makes us think of burgers, bread, and all things bland when we are a nation built from immigrant communities. Today’s world is riddled with taking the “hard” part out of cooking, perfectly packaged and portioned ingredients and meals are delivered to our doors. So what is considered cooking anymore? I think the answer is that there is no answer, food will always be unique to its culture, to individuals. So to both Chef ’s Table and Chef Gusteau, I say, let us be all chefs and artists on our own terms. I hope you enjoy this issue and continue to eat and be well. Kate Klein, Managing Editor
gusto team FALL 2019 | ISSUE 3
Editor-in-chief Nico Borbolla Managing Editor Kate Klein Features Editors Carolina de Armas Maria Clara Cobo Essays Editor Valentina Pardo Reviews Editor Lauren Blaser
Copy Editor Claire Madden Head of Design Ziyue Chen Head of Photography Ngan Tran Photography Associate Mason LaFerney Media and Marketing Manager Lily Gribbel Media and Marketing Lucy Bartick
Senior Writers Chloe Pingeon Sofia Frias Lucy Bartick Contributing Writers Emmalie Vanderpoole Olivia Mosholt Chloe McAllaster Yiwei Li Ryan Nam Contributing Creative Grace McFarlane Anna Livaccari Carlos Duran 22
4 Cultivating Crops and Friendship Molly Bankert
22 The Substitute Cookie Sofia Frias
8 Quantum Quinics Nico Borbolla
24 Black and White Sofia Frias
10 Men and Women in Black Lauren Blaser
30 Made Without Love Lucy Bartick
18 The Frankfurter School Nico Borbolla
34 Salivation and Salvation Carolina de Armas
20 The Bad Coffee Movement Valentina Pardo
Cultivating Crops and Friendships Making local food accessible to the city Words and Photos by: Molly Bankert
t is a chilly Thursday afternoon, the sky overcast with clouds and a slight drizzle that threatens rain. It is probably the coldest day of the season yet, but the biting wind seems to have no effect on the Brookline Farmers Market, as crowds of shoppers eagerly wait in line to purchase the heaps of fruits and vegetables in their rolling carts. There is a lull throughout the market, and as I walk past I can catch bits and pieces of conversations—some about the products for purchase, others about their weeks at work and school. The stalls are piled high with produce synonymous with the colors of fall: mountains of red apples, dark green kale, and crates of orange pumpkins line the booths. The Brookline Farmers Market is located in the parking lot behind the Coolidge Corner Theater on Centre Street. You’ll know when you’re getting close: every few steps you’ll spot someone coming from the market, reusable bags filled to the brim with produce, bushels of carrot tops and kale bunches spilling over the top. The farmers market has been operating in Brookline for thirty-six years, providing a myriad of home-grown and artisanal goods for the local community. Most of the farmers who run their stands have also been involved since the early years of the market, like the Nicewicz Family Farm and Clear Flour Bakery. It’s guaranteed that the produce is as fresh as it gets; the market doesn’t open until 1:30 p.m. so
that the vendors have time to pick their crops and transport it into the city from their nearby farms. You can buy anything from hand-crafted jewelry to Mediterranean street food, with some customer favorites including Valicenti Pasta Farm and Trombetta’s Ice Cream. Buying from the Brookline Farmers Market, whether it is vegetables or an ice cream cone, means buying locally sourced goods. There are many upsides to buying local, such as the better quality, a wider range of produce, and the shorter travel distances of food. A major issue with the produce at conventional grocery stores is that they often travel far distances from where they are grown, with foods travelling on average 1,500 miles before they reach your plate. These foods are often grown on industrial farms, which often have detrimental effects on the environment. There is also a higher nutritional value in produce at farmers markets. The closer you eat a food to its harvest, the more nutrients are still within that food. So, compared to fruits and vegetables that were picked days or weeks ago in grocery stores, the food at farmers markets—sometimes picked the day of—is exponentially fresher and healthier. Additionally, shopping at farmers markets allows for a conscious decision of how we choose to source our food, shifting away from blindly buying whatever is sitting on aisle shelves.
Although much of the produce is offered at comparable prices to local grocery stores, many of the artisanal goods are vastly more expensive, with eggs costing around seven dollars per dozen and bread ten dollars per loaf. The quality of the goods is superb, but it is not a viable option for those with a lower income. This makes it very difficult to purchase everything you need in terms of groceries, which necessitates a stop at another store. Although the option is there to purchase everything that may be on your grocery list, it isn’t practical for most to spend twice the cost of eggs at the farmers market than what it would cost at the grocery store. Another issue is the amount of time that the market is open, as the Brookline Farmers Market only operates one day a week for five hours in the afternoon. This further narrows the field of people able to make it to the market, especially those working during the week, who are often unable. These restrictions call into question the accessibility of the market to all members of the community and have led to their categorization as something only for the elite. They have been described as trendy and boutique, selling their products at exorbitant and unrealistic prices. There’s even the notion that once the food at farmers markets are labeled as “local,” the vendors are able to charge more for their products simply because of the growth of the local food movement. The image of farmers markets has been built up over time, appearing as though only the upper class has the money and time to get down to the local market. Fortunately, the Brookline Farmers
Market has taken steps to combat this perception and become more accessible to more members of the community. Six years ago, stands began accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards
so that those on government assistance had the ability to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. This program provides even more incentives to shoppers, as they get a dollar back for every dollar they spend at Brookline Farmers Market on fruits and vegetables. This assists people facing food insecurity, including college students, families, and the elderly, in gaining access to local foods. It seems as though this initiative is succeeding; many vendors at the market now have specific procedures for shoppers buying food with their SNAP and EBT cards. This encourages farmers markets to become a space where all are welcome to come and attain nutritious, quality products.
Besides greater access to markets, the biggest benefit of shopping at a farmers market is the connection that you are able to build with the people growing your food. Allan Nicewicz, one of four brothers who run the Nicewicz Family Farm in Bolton, MA, says that selling his produce at the Brookline Farmers Market has connected him and his farm immensely to the Boston community. Sporting a baseball cap, flannel, and thick work jacket, Allan’s warm and welcoming face greets customers who come up to the booth. The Nicewicz family has been selling their peaches, apples, and squash at the market for about 25 years, and has built up a loyal customer base. “People
come back, you know. You have a good product and they like you.” Another reason so many people come back to the Nicewicz stand are the friendly faces of Allan and Cheth, the farm’s only other employee. “People are really
pleased to have fresh produce and to know where it comes from.” Clearly, buying locally creates a greater transparency between the producer and the consumer, a relationship that seemingly becomes more and more remote with larger corporations. This gives the buyer more agency in what they choose to consume. It creates a direct connection between farmer and buyer, fostering a mutual respect for what one does for the other. Being able to put a face to the food that you are buying makes the experience of buying and consuming food much more personal. Talking to the farmers about what is in season, how they recommend cooking that produce, and learning about how their produce is grown are all questions that would be difficult to answer just at a grocery store. Nicewicz says, “When people go to the grocery stores, they’re looking at stuff and have nobody to ask questions to. So when they get to the farmers market they finally have somebody that they can ask questions.” Whether it’s the best way to roast a delicata squash, or the type of apple has the perfect crispness, the farmers know best when it comes to their own crops. The farmers at the market are an invaluable resource that shed light on the ways in which our foods are grown, and the ways in which they can be prepared. Cultivating a relationship with the people that grow your food is something that will yield long term benefits: greater knowledge about what you consume and how it is produced, earned loyalty, and even a friendship. Buying local means investing in a community, the environment, and straight up good food. It is the perfect place where business meets personal. Rather than heading straight for Trader Joe’s to get groceries, you could go down the street to the farmers market and support local businesses. When you go to a farmers market, you are not just spending your money on groceries - it goes far beyond that. Buying local means investing in something bigger than yourself.
Quantum Quinics Do you ever really choose how you want it? Words by: Nico Borbolla Photos by: Mason LaFerney and Ngan Tran
hen I turned seventeen my grandfather, Jorge Borbolla, invited me to meet him in the Spanish province of Asturias to visit the small town of La Borbolla, wherefrom his grandfather emigrated to Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century. We stopped in Pendueles, the neighboring town where my great-great-grandfather, Don Telesforo Borbolla Cortina, was born. After seeing the house where he was raised, we got a coffee at a nearby albergue. When we sat down, rain pattering outside, he asked me, “If you want to cool your coffee down as fast as possible, do you pour the milk in right away, or wait ten minutes until it gets colder, and then add the milk?” “No clue,” I said, “I take it black.” He smirked. If you’ve ever spent a blissfully lazy morning in your bedroom, and you have the good fortune of receiving strong rays of sunlight through a window, you’ve seen this phenomenon before. Little dust particles, illuminated by a ray of sunlight, dance around randomly, sauntering in any which direction. It might seem completely ordinary, but stop to consider how strange that actually is. They should be going in one direction, and one direction only: down. But they don’t; they shoot off without rhyme or reason, left, right, forward, backward. You can smack your mattress, release more, and watch them dance, but they all do the same—which is to say the invariably unique— thing. It’s your own miniature Sunday morning chaos. The Verve Coffee I frequented this summer during little walks I’d give myself during my internship serves their coffee in glass mason jars. The upshot: you get to see the closest thing we have to magic. You get to see the milk sink, then rise. Then it emerges, beginning to lazily mix with and lighten the color of the coffee, one small ribbon at a time. Until you homogenize it by means of shaking or stirring, you have in your hand a portable potable Pollack painting. If you’re not in a hurry, you can sit and pour slowly and watch the coffee go through its own metamorphosis, one strand of milk at a time. In 1927, a bunch of scientists attended the Solvay conference in Brussels. It’s the most impressive teamup of individuals with wildly different views on how the universe works, all coming together to try and come to a consensus. In attendance you had Erwin Schrödinger (of cat fame), Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Marie Curie, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and many, many others. But the tension was between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. To boil it down obscenely—and thus welcome the ire of any and all physicists currently reading—imagine a cue ball hitting a rack of billiards on a pool table. Each ball represents any arbitrary atom, and together they make up the universe. Einstein believed that you could theoretically calculate the trajectory of each ball and the collisions they were going to take, and eventually have an idea of where it would end up. Seeing as all we are is a collection of atoms, were you to do this on an immense scale, you could predict the future. Bohr, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. He believed that atoms, unlike billiards, have only the probability to go places, and that, due to a number of quantum concepts I won’t get into, there was no feasible way to calculate where things were going to end up. All there is is possibility.
When you add cold milk to hot coffee you may be privy to witness Brownian motion. As it ribbons and homogenizes, you see colder particles interacting with the hotter particles of the coffee, the same way that the dust from your bed interacts with the air around it. It goes randomly and wildly, and due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, you can never really know where it will go. The principle, which states that you cannot simultaneously know the position and velocity of a particle, asserts a constant randomness in Brownian motion. Even if you had every particle mapped out and knew in theory what it should do and where it should go, you could never be sure. All you know is that eventually, due to diffusion, they will combine to create a beautiful brown hue. Every second that cold milk dances with the hot coffee, you’re creating a painting you will never see again. Though science prides itself on being grounded in reality, once you reach the really really big or the really, really small, you might as well be talking philosophy—which is why so many quantum and astrophysicists do talk philosophy. When concepts get so far removed from our human scope, they’re essentially metaphysics. This is why Bohr eventually realized that only by accepting both theories as both correct and incorrect do we inch closer to the truth. Consider the following quote from Jean-Paul Sartre: “Freedom is what we do with what is done to us.” Though he so frustratingly plays both sides of the “determinism versus free will” debate, he ultimately lands on something undeniable. It’s not about having absolute control, or believing that notion to be laughable; it’s always a bit of both. In other words, when you pour milk into coffee, you have absolutely no control over what happens next. But you can choose to take it black. The answer to my grandfather’s question is to add the milk after the coffee has already cooled, though the difference in results is honestly negligible. In short, it’s because as the air around the coffee brings it closer to equilibrium, the cold milk doesn’t have to work as much to cool down the coffee as it would were the coffee scalding. It has more room to bring the coffee to an equilibrium. It’s really just a tricky thought exercise for those of us who don’t study thermodynamics, as those who do would know that a number of quite important factors come into play. The temperature of the atmosphere, just how cold the milk is and the shape and surface area of the container all affect the rate of cooling. But so rarely can you answer any question binarily. On the way to Pendueles, my grandfather kept talking about a certain Condessa that used to live in the biggest house in the town. He said she had moved to Madrid in the time since, but that they have run into each other in random encounters over the last fifty years. As we walked towards the house of the Condessa, I was expecting us to get scuttled off of the property. But, by pure chance, she was there. They recognized each other, talked, and I saw the Borbolla coat of arms alongside the Condessa’s. When I asked my grandfather if he’d known she would be there, he said, “She was only in town for the weekend, now she’s going back to Madrid. No one could have predicted it.”
Every second that cold milk dances with the hot coffee, you’re creating a painting you’ll never see again.
Men & Women in Black Words by: Lauren Blaser Photos by: Ngan Tran and Mason LaFerney
y eyes were tearing up – again. I bit my lip hard and kept my head down, eyes boring into the polished wooden grain of the table. I tried to turn my thoughts toward what was expected of me: silverware order. Salad fork, dinner fork–pause here to orient the cloth napkin on its plate–then knife, and finally spoon. Sniffling, I turned and headed back toward the bussing station, the eye of the dining room and my home base for every shift. I had to hold it together. If I didn’t purge the tiny counter space of its clutter –an ever-growing mountain of soiled china– then numerous problems would arise. Servers would be stuck standing, arms full of used plates, until I could open up room for them. Tables, abandoned postmeal, would be left in their crumb-coated and sloppy state. Bartenders would realize, with a roll of their eyes, that our rack of wine glasses was empty and they would have to voyage to the back of the house themselves. An almost supernatural form of intuition is developed by the staff in a restaurant. From the newest dishwasher to the head chef himself, every individual has to search for an opening, a gap to plug in and let themselves get swept into the rush. Take the task of running food–carrying entrées to hungry tables. Members of this team, called the “expo line,” walk directly into crowds of people,
faces drawn back in focus, arms thrust straight into the air, balancing an array of plates perfectly. I learned to carry bus pans through the narrowest of openings; leaning into walls, hovering, always moving just a beat behind what was normal in order to prevent a collision which would only result in catastrophe. For every dining institution, there is a family—a small village—working to ensure that everything moves as smoothly as possible. This goes for the quaintest of family-owned eateries to the most hospitable of university dining halls. It is of the utmost importance that each member stands behind the establishment and caters to its every need. At surface level, this means following basic procedures and protocol, but with time more personalized touches reveal themselves. These are the tools which employees swear by, the tried-and-true additions to keep clientele coming back. Unfortunately, those on the receiving end often remain oblivious. The entirety of food service resembles a man-behind-the-curtain dynamic. Customers neither want nor try to concern themselves with the immense complexity lying just behind the double doors which separate them from their plates. The basic, high-level awareness possessed by most, covers the fact that chefs prepare meals. Indeed, from the grilled chicken sliced for a metal bin on a salad bar, to the rare filet set delicately
atop a scoop of risotto, food must be cooked. Yet this step, in its finality, rests at the tip of an enormous iceberg of responsibility. Beforehand, someone must prepare the ingredients. This requires analyzing a recipe, acquiring the necessary components, and possessing the proper tools. Dishwashers ensure the cleanliness and accessibility of all dishes, from the plates and cutlery adorning tables, to the state-of-the-art knives, pots, and pans found in the heart of the kitchen. In a restaurant setting, bussers intuit the needs of servers before they can even be expressed. Servers, from their reign at the front of the house, represent the human face of the dining experience. Dining halls are a fascinating breed of the food industry in that they take this atmosphere and amplify it. This is a tremendous feat, and a necessary one in order to meet the needs of an entire staff and student body. Boston College Dining epitomizes this endeavor. In addition to four cafés and four dining halls, the school has its own kitchen dedicated to events, titled Heights Catering. At Boston College, Corcoran Commons alone witnesses 7,000 transactions per day. Campus-wide, there are 20,000 daily. And they don’t miss a beat. The features of a conventional restaurant are all present: accessible customer service, varied and evolving options, and a solid retention rate. Students stream through the doors, ravenous at all hours of the day, and staff ensure that they never leave dissatisfied. “I think people maybe don’t realize… dining as a whole, how much goes into it. How much of an operation it is from top-tobottom, whether it’s like [sic] a breakfast shift at six a.m., the first person that gets here, to the late night shift that ends at two a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It’s a whole team effort...” Derek Schepici, Boston College cook, reflects. “It’s pretty cool how it all works together, in like [sic] a cohesive unit in that way.” Thirty-three nations and sixteen languages are represented by the BC Dining faculty. “It’s funny because we’re all from different cultures, different backgrounds; some American, some Latino, some African, but we all get along because we’re all connected. [It] could be because of the food!”
Marlene Ramos, second cook for BC Dining, paints a picture of the diversity present in the kitchen. Students forge new friendships over Screamin’ Eagle subs and artisan fish tacos while, simultaneously, an atmosphere of intimacy is established among staff. What is the source of community on both sides? Food. Ethnicity isn’t the only factor of variation among BC Dining staff. A wide age range is
also present: from local high school students to seventy-year-olds, all are welcomed aboard. The university is deeply appreciative of their service, and for good reason. Maintaining a nourished and satisfied campus is essential to the overall spirit and productivity of a college environment. This body of employees, then, is equally as valued as the university’s instructors. “[Dining staff] have the same benefits as your favorite professor,” Derrick Cripps, General Manager of Corcoran Commons, explains. Professional recognition doesn’t seem to be lacking, both on a corporate and national level. In January 2019, Food Management magazine named Boston College “College
Innovator of the Year.” On a day-to-day basis, unfortunately, the comparable recognition from students is arguably inadequate. This is largely due to the fact that the recipients of BC Dining’s efforts remain largely unaware of the careful thought behind it. A steaming plate of food is a gift, and a privilege inaccessible to much of the world. This is the reason why parents are so often credited with the phrase, “What do you say?” after preparing dinner for their children. “Thank you” tends to be a forgotten response. As a busser, I often walked through our restaurant’s wooden doors, shuffled my all-black Adidas Originals on the entryway rug, and immediately cued up my mental countdown as to when I could walk back out. I was overwhelmed and intimidated by the pressure to competently address the needs of my coworkers. Though I ranked at the bottom of the pyramid, I held a foundational role which could easily send others tumbling down, should I make a misstep. Curiously, by the end of the summer, I found that the employees who I was sure I’d been irritating the most proved to be the root of any and all appreciation I received. This occurred through positive feedback–their approval provided a scale for how far I’d come. The most trying moments for bussers happened at climactic points throughout the shift. All at once, four tables would rise to leave, and that meant that they theoretically needed to be cleared and reset at the same time. It would be during moments of intense stress such as this, when I was elbow-deep in glassware and dirty linens, that a food runner by the name of Jeff would walk by me and offer, easily, “You’re doing great, Lauren.” In these instances, he unknowingly lifted me from a spiral of despair. The people who make a difference in any work setting are the ones who can remove themselves from their own diligent list of tasks to inquire about those of their peers. “We lean on each other. It doesn’t matter what is your duty… to have that five minutes that you ask, ‘Oh, how are you? How’s your day? How are things going on [sic]?’ Most of the time they can just read it on your face,” Ramos
describes a similar relationship between her and her coworkers. “That’s what I tell my coworkers: ‘We have to get along, because I spend more time with you guys than I spend with my family!’... They
“There’s cooks, and there’s utility, and there’s floor workers that do stock and stuff but if one person can help someone over there, it’s all just to get to the final goal. That’s the idea. It’s not like, you know, ‘I only cook the food,’ ‘I only wash the dishes,’... it’s a team effort… Like a well-oiled machine.” - Derek Schepici kinda become your family. That’s what you guys don’t see, behind the scenes!” Schepici affirms Ramos’ words, and adds to the description of dining dynamics. “There’s cooks, and there’s utility, and there’s floor workers that do stock and stuff but if one person can help someone over there, it’s all just to get to the final goal. That’s the idea. It’s not like, you know, ‘I only cook the food,’ ‘I only wash the dishes,’...It’s a team effort…Like a well-oiled machine.” As heartwarming a picture as this paints, there is a disconnect in the fact that students are so oblivious to the forces underlying a system designed for them. In the same way, restaurant customers remain far removed from the chain of people who make it possible for their food to be plated. This has little effect on the staff. Adorned in black–BC Dining uses colored accents–they continue to move artfully around their designated spaces. Contained in their own world, they take care not to disturb customers as they go about their dutiful dance of tasks. The world in which kitchen staff exists is a self-sustaining bubble, yet, there is no reason why customers should not transcend that bubble
themselves. By educating oneself on the system of food service, appreciation is evoked. Even more importantly, this gratitude could help put workers at ease who, despite their camaraderie, are working in an undeniably intense setting. Consumers have an irreplaceable role in the cycle of food service, and to make their gratitude known would be a noble use of that role, a source of affirmation toward all those figures who work tirelessly to ensure their pleasure. At Boston College, compliments are not completely absent. Ramos recalls fondly the praise BC Dining has received from seniors on their way to the real world, and from students with allergies who appreciate the extra strides taken to prepare their meals. Schepici, who opens the Loft at Addie’s five days a week, was moved when students with certain dietary restrictions appreciated his culinary inventions. “There’s a plant-based group that has come out and told me before that they really appreciate me doing more of the vegan stuff,” he says, adding, “It’s good to connect with people in that way.”
Points of connection are easily found when one reflects on the experience of being served. Every time you make a selection, whether it’s a side dish on Lower campus or a brunch special on Newbury Street, you are subconsciously enlisting the efforts of every moving part at your disposal. It is in our everyday interactions with staff that we cultivate a resounding, continual expression of gratitude. “When I go to a restaurant, I look at the nametag and so I’ll see who’s serving… It’s nice when you get a connection with your servers. For some reason everything seems to be nicer and more calm,” Ramos explains her strategy when she’s dining out. “Any action has a reaction, right? If you go to a restaurant and you sit down and your server come[s] and you say, ‘Yeah, I’m not sure, no I don’t know what I want’...your experience will be different according to how you get in and get out of there. Because most of the time they’re [sic] like, ‘Oh, the restaurant was bad, the service was bad, this was bad, and this was bad,’ but how was your reaction when you first came in?”
My final bussing shift ended at ten o’clock, but I busied myself for an extra 45 minutes, unable to part from the kitchen for the foreseeable future. I was moving back to Boston in just over a week. “It’s like a family,” I’d sighed to my shiftmate, a fellow student himself. “That’s why I can’t leave.” “It really is,” He had nodded solemnly, shifting in the highchair he’d been sitting on to relieve his achy feet. Despite the literal blood, sweat, and tears shed that summer, I had fun. People like my shiftmate had made it fun. That was what it came down to in the end–the people. A large group of them, preparing food so others could consume it with great gusto, and hopefully return for more. Eating is a basic need, yet the processes surrounding it speak to the core of human nature itself. The relationship between diners and staff is inherently symbiotic. At Boston College, green and teal are the new black, but every other element remains the same. To ethically take up our role as consumers is to offer an expression as simple as life itself–to make known our deep enjoyment of food. When asked about a moment of pride on the job, Ramos giggles but then grows serious. “Everyday is a moment of pride for me. When I see the kids getting out of here with a smile on their face and happy to [have] what they’re eating…There are a lot of things that we do that go unknown, but it’s just the fact to see that the students are happy, because we’re all here because of the students. Just to see that you guys are happy—that will make us happy.”
The Frankfurter School A critical theory of your lunch Words by: Nico Borbolla
e had finally scaled the three hundred and fifty steps needed to see the view from atop the Abbey at Mont SaintMichel when my friend Jeremy pulled out his phone. The view was beautiful: the English Channel to one side, the Norman countryside to the other, all around us a monastery symbolizing a bygone French religious fervor. He opened the camera app, put it in front of his face, and slowly rotated 180 degrees. “Panorama?” I asked. “Video. 60 frames per second makes you feel like you’re really there.” His reasoning: most movies are shot in 24 frames per second, a tradition that began out of pragmatic reasons, but the human eye is capable of more. If you’ve ever seen a television that plays at 30 or even 60 frames per second, you’ll have noticed how it immediately seems off. Uncanny. Unnatural. But the human eye perceives motion at roughly 150 frames per second, so what gives? Why does it seem unnatural if it is well within our ability to perceive? Dolce Messagio and other still life paintings by Luciano Ventrone exhibit this same sort of discomforting hyperrealism. Upon first glance they might look like photos of baskets of fruit, but the more you stare, the stranger it gets. The watermelon looks too good, every molecule the sweetest bite you’ll ever take. The grapes are so perfectly textured; the bunch seems ripped from the vines of Dionysus himself. Shit, even the basket looks delicious. Then you realize it’s not a photograph at all. Ventrone’s process is to model and style his subject (a basket of fruit, a bowl of cherries, whatever), and then place it under megawatts of light that surround it from all sides. Then, going off of this hyper-luminescent image, he paints. The result is a piece of art that simultaneously inspires awe and alienation. It’s the platonic ideal of a basket of fruit. It simply doesn’t exist that way in our perceivable world. Even if we were able to achieve it, we wouldn’t want it. All we have and all we will ever have are shadows of it, imperfect attempts at perfection. No Bon Appétit nor Saveur, nor even Gusto Journal could hope to reach that level. As Susan Sontag states, “Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth.” But how come, despite the inherent shortcomings of food photography, do we still cling to it as a culture? The Benedictine monk who accidentally laid eyes upon the statue of Venus became so punch-drunk horny he prayed for forgiveness for years to come. Meanwhile, I was in the Musée d’Orsay last week and as I walked by Manet’s Olympia I hear a kid in basketball shorts go, “I guess her tits are nice.”
Nothing is sacred, my friends. Representations of food used to have similar cultural weight as depictions of religious figures. The cavemen shared images of food just as much as your average VSCO girl, but for a different reason. Instead of flexing their lattes, pastries, and brunches, they painted their means of survival as a cult relic. As Walter Benjamin wrote in 1936: “The elk portrayed by the man of the Stone Age on the walls of his cave was an instrument of magic. He did expose it to his fellow men, but in the main it was meant for the spirits.” Representations of certain beings used to carry with them the heaviest psychosocial weight imaginable. The elk symbolized survival, and the representation of it did reminded the tribe of the importance of the hunt. It was no laughing matter. It was something to pray to, something that reminded you how fragile your life is. You don’t have to go back to the stone or dark ages to find representations of food that carried weight. Still life paintings for the Dutch and Spanish in the 16th century usually carried a memento mori, and served that purpose of reminding you that the food you eat comes at a cost of another life, or to remind you that someday you too will perish. That, or they were reminders not to commit that treacherous sin of gluttony. Now we’re just surrounded by filth. We inundate ourselves in temptations for that which ruins our bodies. We’re surrounded by simulacra of food that will invariably fail to live up to our expectations. We’re surrounded by relentless hunger and disappointment, thirst and defeat. The moment we started being able to take pictures of our food on our phones, we doomed ourselves to live in a world where the real is subservient to the image, and not the other way around. The cavemen created the image of the elk in order to eat; now we only eat in order to produce the image. The only refuge I can find from this dilemma refers back to that which makes food so good in the first place: us. Anthony Bourdain realized long ago that we don’t watch Parts Unknown because we want him to describe how good what he’s eating is. We watch it because of the everlasting beauty of the human face. That which we’ve lost in our soulless representations of food, namely the value of food, as ritual and humanity “retires into an ultimate retrenchment: the human countenance,” as Benjamin puts it. I mean honestly, what good is A5 Wagyu beef when you’re eating it alone? I’m not saying don’t take pictures of food. Do it! I firmly believe that food can be art, and good art should be enjoyed and remembered. But just remember to tilt the camera upwards, and remember the people around you. We give life to food, not the other way around.
Luciano Ventrone, Dolce Messagio, 2009, Oil and Mixed Media on Linen
The Bad Coffee Movement How American culture degrades non-American coffee Words by: Valentina Pardo Photos by: Molly Bankert
or me, good coffee is black. It’s bitter. It’s earthy. It leaves a trail of nostalgia and warmth as its rusty aroma enters my nose and runs through my veins. It’s the coffee that tells a story, staining the tongue with a map of its journey. Every time I hold a freshly brewed cup, I become aware of the smoothness of my hands; on the other side of the world, a pair of callused, rough hands granted me the gift of that coffee in the first place. It’s that exotic coffee that is so superb in quality that it can be drunk from a cardboard cup and have its dignity be preserved. This is the type of coffee thwat I grew up drinking, back in Colombia. When I moved to the U.S., I was surprised to learn that American coffee is all about presentation, style, and “trendiness.” The members of this younger generation have become more attracted to, or even dependent on, the sweetness of mocha lattes and Dunkaccinos. A plain cup of coffee is considered boring, too bitter. As a result, it has gained the reputation of being “bad.” Furthermore, the rise of “hip” coffee shops has stripped good coffee from its simplicity, as competition always generates innovation and creativity. Coffee shops have made their products less and less about the coffee in itself, and more about making the drink visually appealing or Instagram-worthy. These businesses are smart; they are experts in giving the people what they want, and what people want is for their thousands of followers to stop scrolling to look at their “no filter” (yeah right) matcha latte photo and choke with jealousy, wanting more than anything in the world to be drinking that green overly priced froth. So what do these businesses do? They invest in more exotic flavors (like turmeric, rosemary, and pistachio), hire more baristas to make fancy drinks with almond milk so they can charge you an extra five dollars for customers’ ability to show a “work of art” to their friends. A new rule has seemingly been established for good coffee: if you didn’t wait at least thirty minutes in line, and spent an entire meal’s worth of money, you don’t have high-quality coffee. The thing about these American “coffee bars” is that as consumers, it is easy for us to forget that those comforting and friendly places are a business. And their business model? It’s to make the customer believe that good coffee is about technique, craftsmanship, and flare, all of which only their baristas can provide. So, as coffee no longer seems to be about simplicity, people have accepted the idea that the only place where they can find decent coffee is in these over-priced Mumford and Sons-inspired shops. But this is not the case. I want to bring the simple, plain “bad coffee” back. I want you to understand that you, yes you, can make coffee at home, and yes, it can be even better than the coffee you would normally buy at Starbucks. I make my own coffee every single day, and I can assure you, it is of better quality and flavor than anything I would find in Fuel or Peet’s Coffee. You know why? Because I can taste the coffee when I drink it; I use the ingredient in its entirety and appreciate it because of this. Unfortunately, in American society, coffee is still taken for granted. Drinking coffee has become more about the ritual in itself, a crucial part of life in the labor market. This is why coffee shops are decorated with posters like “Change the World”, “Start With
america e e f f o c
Coffee” and “I have OCD: Obsessive Coffee Disorder”. They bring in velvet furniture with soft pillows, layout the latest Edible Boston, and play “Soft Pop Hits” on Spotify. They know that what customers are really looking for is a comforting place where they can escape the rush of the stock market, they don’t care if the coffee was planted, harvested, processed, dried, graded, sorted, and exported from Ethiopia or Colombia, nor if the quality in what they are drinking is stellar or mediocre. They probably won’t notice if they are drinking dirty water as long as they are dramatically gazing out the shop window with a colorful cup in one hand and a random book in the other, or complaining with coworkers about infuriating bosses. Coffee shops play a fast-food industry game, piling on layers and layers of whipped cream, chocolate, pumpkin spice syrup, and peppermint— turning what should be a simple cup of coffee into an unrecognizable pile of overindulgence, laden with sugar. And as a result, not only do customers become addicted to the “good vibes” that coffee shops provide, but they inevitably become dependent on the sugar as well. I was once told that no two cups of coffee are ever the same; even if the grounds come from the same region, each harvest is unique. Each grain tastes different because it tells an individual story--how much rain it received on the day before harvest, the temperature of the winds and sunlight it endured, the acidity of the soil. Latin American and Middle Eastern coffee culture revolve around the appreciation of the story of each flavor. We recognize and celebrate the bitterness and brutal labor put into each bean. We do not sugarcoat the realities of this industry or hide behind decorated coffee cups. In America, on the other hand, consumer culture has completely destroyed every trace of grain individuality and with it, awareness of the labor that goes into coffee production. As grotesque amounts of sugar are piled on, the reality of the American exploitation of Latin American and Middle Eastern coffee farmers for profit is concealed, and as a result, the entire essence of the ingredient is degraded. Coffee should be seen as a symbol of perseverance, hard work, and even the imbalance of power between developed and developing countries. It should not be used as an excuse to ignore the world we live in.
The Substitute Cookie Experimenting in search of the best gluten-free, dairy free chocolate chip cookie Words and Photos by: Sofia Frias
love to bake. Plain and simple. Whenever I have a spare minute, I am in the kitchen amidst a cloud of flour and sugar, KitchenAid mixer in hand. Cookies, pies, cakes, croissants, biscuits-if you can name it, I will gladly bake it. When I was told that I had to remove gluten and dairy from my diet, the world around me crumbled like my dadâ€™s favorite pecan sandies. Flour and butter are the building blocks of almost every baked good. Without the two, a cookie would be a mess of egg and sugar. A cake would be a custard. A croissant would be anything but. If I was to continue cooking and baking, I would have to whisk myself over the hurdle of eliminating these fundamental ingredients. I took to the internet. And I was deeply disappointed. In searching for gluten-free, dairy-free recipe inspiration, I found that most of these recipes were healthy. Hats off to the strong souls eating cleaner by removing wheat and milk from their diets, but if I wanted a guilt-free paleo quinoa cookie sweetened with stevia, I would have asked for it. What I longed for was a simple, buttery chocolate chip cookie packed with refined sugar and guilt. Enter the substitute cookie experiment. In my opinion, the Holy Grail of cookies is Nestleâ€™s Toll House Chocolate Chip. With a crispy exterior and a perfectly chewy center, eating one fresh out of the oven is probably the closest I have ever been to heaven on Earth. To create the gluten-free, dairy-free copycat cookie, I experimented with sixteen batches using four types of flour (coconut, almond, gluten-free allpurpose, and standard all-purpose) and four types of fat/butter (vegan butter substitute, Crisco vegetable shortening, unsalted butter, and coconut oil). The use of standard all-purpose flour and unsalted butter served to isolate each variable. Each batch was, as expected, different. The dough made with almond flour was looser than the others. With the coconut flour, the result was a dry and crumbly dough, especially after it resting in the fridge. Almost every batch of dough made with
coconut oil was soft and, unsurprisingly, oily. To keep everything as experimentally sound as possible, each batch was baked for about ten minutes. The batches with almond flour spread considerably while baking, while the coconut flour cookies stubbornly held their spherical shape. This is because almond flour does not fully absorb the moisture of the fat and egg, while coconut flour is too absorbent, acting as a sponge for the other ingredients. The batches made with gluten-free flour baked beautifully, producing cookies that were pleasing to the eye. Now for the best part: tasting. The gluten-free, dairy-free cookie that was closest in taste and texture to standard Toll House cookie was the combination of Crisco and gluten-free all-purpose flour (batch seven). It was slightly crunchy on the edges but soft in the middle, and it held together well without crumbling when taking a bite. The overall flavor was more neutral than it was buttery, but it stood strong next to the original Toll House. Trailing closely behind was the combination of the gluten-free flour and coconut oil (batch fifteen). The texture and flavor of this cookie was slightly off; the oil created a consistent crunchiness and distinct coconut flavor, distancing it from the control. Although very different from the standard butter and flour cookie, my personal favorite was the combination of almond flour and coconut oil (batch fourteen). The nuttiness of the almond complimented the sweet coconut, but even so, the two ingredients produced a pleasantly salty cookie. The worst cookies were without a doubt those made with coconut flour (batches one, five, nine, and thirteen). No matter the butter substitute, each coconut batch was disastrously dry, a glass of almond milk required to chase the dense sandiness of each bite. So there you have it. For my friends who are allergic, sensitive, intolerant, or simply avoiding gluten and dairy, eat good cookies. Purists, go for batch seven or fifteen. Adventurous bakers looking for something new, test batch fourteen. And whatever you do, do not use coconut flour.
Column 1: vegan butter substitute Column 2: Crisco Column 3: unsalted butter Column 4: coconut oil
Row 1: coconut flour Row 2: almond flour Row 3: gluten-free all-purpose flour Row 4: all-purpose flour
Words by: Sofia Frias
Photos by: Mason LaFerney and Ngan Tran
Boring food on the forks of Americaâ€™s diverse population
stand in line at McDonalds among people from opposite sides of the globe. The two girls in front of me argue which of their Italian nonnas makes the best meatball. The middle-aged man behind me talks on the phone, promising his family members a visit to Tokyo. The young boy a few steps away tugs on his mother’s shirt, speaking to her in Spanish. In the small space, people of diverse international cultures cross paths, but the food that we order is what we call “American.” Hamburgers. French fries. Chicken nuggets. In our country built by immigrants, being “American” can mean almost everything. I am American, but I am also Italian, Spanish, Irish, and Slovak. Even so, when we think of American food, our taste buds immediately recall the flat blandness of our homogenous cuisine. The great American sandwich is a criminally unseasoned slab of beef in between two pieces of soft white bread, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you may even add a slice of “pasteurized prepared cheese product.” When we walk down the aisles of our American grocery stores, we are surrounded by skyscrapers of wheat, corn, and potato-based snacks. On standard American dinner plates, we have some form of beef or chicken, one of the many American potato products, and, if we are lucky, a vegetable. If American culture is so rich with diverse international influences, why is our food so boring? Why has such a gap formed between the diversity of what we eat and the diversity of who we are? Let’s start by dusting off our American history textbooks. Immigration was at its height in the early 1900s, with approximately fifteen percent of the American population being foreign-born in 1910. The influx of international people slowed dramatically when the Immigration Act of 1924 placed limits on who was allowed to enter the country based on nationality. When people stopped entering the country, they stopped bringing their diverse culture, and more specifically, their food. With the crushing pressure to assimilate during this era of mass migration, immigrants often adopted American customs and ways of life. The ingredients that built the foundation of international cuisine were nowhere to be found in American supermarkets. Early A&P chains didn’t sell Spanish chorizo, but they did sell hotdogs. Instead of a salty sausage flavored with garlic and spicy pimentón, people purchased tubes of nitrate-packed mystery meat. Out of fear of standing out, immigrants settled for the uninteresting fare available in American groceries. If we jump a few years forward, we hit the Great Depression. In a time of economic distress, getting food on the table was a major concern. Americans turned to food in boxes and cans, looking for longlasting sustenance that wouldn’t break the bank. In NPR segment “Creamed, Canned And Frozen: How The Great Depression Revamped U.S. Diets,” authors and culinary historians Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe take a look at how the Depression damaged American cuisine. Eleonor Roosevelt famously endorsed a casserole of spaghetti and carrots. The recipe instructs home cooks to boil their pasta for an astounding twenty-five minutes (for reference, box pasta is al dente in nine minutes or less). The hopelessly mushy pasta is thrown into a casserole dish along with some boiled carrots. All of this is covered in a white sauce of butter, flour, salt, and milk. Let’s take a step back and look at this: we have soft pasta, soft carrots, and a thick, probably grainy sauce that we can only imagine to taste like absolutely nothing. Interestingly enough, the immigrant community was quite resourceful with their Depression-era meals. Coe explains that Italian women would pick bitter dandelion greens and sauté them in oil, adding them to their repertoire of meals including inventive, yet inexpensive pasta dishes. Because their food was thought of as foreign, it was never integrated into mainstream American cooking. When people were cooking on a tight budget, the main goal was to fill their stomachs. They couldn’t spare the money to buy fresh produce, meat, and herbs, so they made do with what was available and, most importantly, non-perishable. Foods that were highly seasoned were considered to be dangerous, says Ziegelman, because they inflated the appetite. These people could not afford to have a preference for
flavorful food because it tasted too good. When we enjoy what we’re eating, we want to eat more, and this was simply not a luxury that Depression-era families could bear. Let’s adjust our lens back to modern America. We are met with a set of generally picky children. While American children wrinkle their noses at anything that doesn’t resemble Kraft mac and cheese, five-year-olds in Bangladesh eat vegetable curry. Toddlers in Cambodia eat stews of fermented fish, chili leaves, pumpkin, and papaya. Nine-year-olds in Vietnam eat fried eel. American parents have a unique tendency to accommodate their children’s undeveloped taste preferences. Rather than encouraging their children to try something spicy or bitter, parents comfort their little ones with foods that are generally sweet, soft, and bland. This leads young Americans to be unadventurous when it comes to what they eat. If parents never force their kids to branch out, this pickiness may survive into adulthood. American restaurants allow adults to remain in a comfort zone of the relatively boring cuisine. On just about every reasonably priced American restaurant and bar menu, we find a few different burgers, fries, buffalo wings, a confused pasta dish, steak and potatoes, some type of chicken, and two or three salads for the people who are fooling themselves. This food is familiar to American adults. They have a pretty good idea of what it will taste like before they even put the fork to their mouth. They know that the hamburger with lettuce, tomato, bacon, and cheddar probably won’t disappoint them. The eightounce sirloin with mashed potatoes probably won’t make them wince in disgust. Cautious diners will seek restaurants with similar menus as they travel across the country to entirely different cities. These establishments thrive on Americans’ desire to live in their culinary comfort zone. We shouldn’t blame American restaurants for catering to unadventurous palettes; they are simply giving people what they want. The fact that they can’t seem to find a way out of their boring menus is an unfortunate issue. While processed food remains a major part of American eating, movements advocating healthier choices have recently gained speed. Americans cling to trends like vegetarianism, veganism, juice cleanses, the ketogenic diet, the paleo diet, the gluten-free diet, and the dairy-free diet. Many of these strict regimens aim to keep food as raw as possible, which means little to no cooking. The goal here is to preserve the food’s full nutritional value (some of which can be lost when heated), but it is in the cooking process that we are able to build layers of flavor, transforming ingredients into meals. Granted, raw food can be prepared beautifully, but it requires some love. That means salt, spices, herbs, and oil; it is with these ingredients that many of our health-conscious friends use a light hand. Oil adds unwanted fat. Salt adds unwanted sodium. Herbs and spices add...flavor. Neither pose any significant harm to our health, and some (turmeric, cilantro, and cinnamon, for example) may even be beneficial. So what gives? Why are we afraid to make our healthy food taste good? At the root of this issue may be the same idea that was present during the Great Depression: if our food tastes good, we’ll want to eat more of it. The idea that food is fuel rather than a source of enjoyment places greater importance on nutrients than flavor. In the early 1930s, food was a means of survival in a time when families were struggling to get by. Impoverished families didn’t choose to think about food this way—they were forced to. Today Americans fear food. Those following strict diets, eating food purely as fuel, may not see a point in taking the time to cook and properly season. Leaving their food bland and raw may even encourage them to eat less of it. If our dinner tastes like it was foraged from the brush in our backyard, chances are we won’t be going back for seconds. Unadventurous adults and kids reluctant to take risks may not even care that their food is boring, as long as it does the job of filling them up. Because of the way we are thinking about food, we’re wasting opportunities for great meals on what we consider to be “American.” It’s sad that as a country of immigrants, we have failed to standardize diverse food culture. By way of our history as well as our present behaviors, we remain stubborn to step out of the Happy Meal box.
First developed by the Romans to bring out the flavors and pungent compounds of foods. Whether it is on macaroni and cheese or beef, ground mustard, like Colonel Mustard with a knife, cuts through flavors and creates new ones. It is a MUST-ard for all kitchens. See what I did there?
This thinly-leaved herb is originally from the Mediterranean region. More unique even than its appearance is its flavor, earthy with an undertone of mint. Rosemary can be used to highlight other flavors or to bring life on its own to otherwise bland dishes. Try incorporating the herb in sauces, butters…even sorbet!
Once a source of ancient Greek and Roman aromatherapy, today this herb exemplifies what it means to be multipurpose in the kitchen. Thyme is often incorporated into plates served in cold weather. Comfort foods –and drinks– all benefit from the fresh twist it brings. Examples include spiced punches, pot pies, and roasted meats with vegetables.
Mediterranean herb that is used for marinating meat, mixed into bread dough to add flavor, and most commonly used to flavor pizza and pasta sauces. Fun fact: oregano has medicinal properties that help treat respiratory disorders, skin conditions, and inflammation.
Most people associate curry powder with India, but this is a major misunderstanding. The flavoring is actually a blend of multiple spices, first concocted in Great Britain as an attempt to mimic the flavors of authentic Indian cuisine. Often used to prepare meats, some additional, innovative applications include squash-based soups and salad dressings.
The brilliant yellow of this spice is certainly eye-catching, yet aesthetic appeal is but one of its qualities. Turmeric has noteworthy health benefits, as it contains curcumin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. For this reason, people have taken to adding the spice wherever possible– from salmon rubs to smooth, golden lattes.
Just a Pinch: A spice spectrum
Words by: Kate Klein Photos by: Mason LaFerney and Ngan Tran
The red powder. It is what keeps your chicken from looking bland, to being gourmet. Some say it is the botox of spices. The Hungarians are famous for it, but the spice originates all the way to Mexico. However, spanish paprika is less intense than the Hungarian variety.
Made from various combinations of ripened chile, including cayenne, ancho, and bell peppers. The flakes are sprinkled on top of pizza and pasta, and are stirred into many Italian tomato sauces. Fun fact: crushed red pepper is actually good for the heart; it is known to reduce blood cholesterol.
Used for its fresh flavor to season dishes, for presentation purposes and to make sauces like pesto, basil leaves are a must in every kitchen. Fun fact: the leaves are known to have healing abilities, richness in antioxidants, and antibacterial properties.
Used as a dried spice or a fresh herb. It has a mild, bitter taste that goes really well with soups, stews, and tomato sauces, and its green vibrant color makes it great for presentation. Fun fact: it is rich in antioxidants, it supports bone health, it’s great for your eyes, and contains cancer-fighting nutrients.
Don’t take a drug test after consuming. Store bought poppy seeds contain between 0.5 to ten micrograms of morphine per gram. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. 29
Made Without Love The death of cooking
Words by: Lucy Bartick Photos by: Mason LaFerney and Ngan Tran
hop, slice, dice, peel. Mix, toss, grind, fold. Fry, sear, grill, broil. When was the last time you cooked? And no, it doesn’t count if you used a microwave. For a lot of us, it might have been a while since we last prepared a meal, and even longer since we enjoyed making it. In an age where people are always on the go, cooking is becoming a smaller and smaller part of our lives, even if celebrity chefs, cooking shows, and recipe videos are becoming more popular. We claim we do not have enough time to make meals from scratch, or it is the end of the week and we’re tired, or we forgot to go grocery shopping, and the fridge is empty. Whatever the excuse, we usually turn to going out or ordering delivery. Mobile food ordering is becoming more popular, and Business Insider Intelligence estimates that it will be a $38 billion dollar industry by 2020. But cooking at home can be cheaper, as well as relaxing and a way to express yourself and your creativity while connecting to those around you. Why don’t we enjoy cooking anymore? This question has more than one answer. We don’t have time, we work more, it’s expensive, it’s easier to order food. With apps like UberEats, Grubhub, and Postmates at our fingertips, we don’t need to ever make our own food or even go to a grocery store—especially with grocery delivery services popping up everywhere. With a few taps, we can have warm-ish food at our door in under an hour. We can sit and watch TV or scroll through social media while someone else does the work. But it this really a better way to eat? Looking at the facts, it doesn’t seem to be. For starters, Forbes claims that ordering food can be up to five times more expensive than making it yourself, and anyone who ever looked at a restaurant menu can tell you that. A one-pound box of pasta usually costs less than two dollars, and a jar of sauce costs less than five and will last for multiple meals, while spaghetti and meatballs from Fiorella’s Express will set you back $12—and that’s before delivery fees and tip. Eating out like this every day will begin to empty your wallet, and the plastic containers takeout usually comes in can be wasteful. So why not cook at home? Probably the most important factor in the decision to cook is a lack of time. You can get more done in an hour while waiting for food than while making it—and in an increasingly busy world where we rush between responsibilities, every minute counts. It is hard to find the time to throw the meal together, never mind the time to go to the supermarket, wash produce, and chop and prepare the ingredients. And after eating, you have to wash the dishes, clean up the kitchen, and store the leftovers. What originally began as a one-hour activity ends up lasting two, maybe three. Although it may feel faster to order food, cooking may save you time in the long run, because you can heat up leftovers from previous meals, or maybe you get so good at one dish it barely takes any time at all to whip it up. And cooking doesn’t have to mean preparing an elaborate, four-course feast for twelve people, and it doesn’t even mean using fancy ingredients. Pasta with a side salad, rotisserie chicken with roasted vegetables, or tacos with fresh toppings are all great, simple meals that can be hard to mess up. You don’t even have to follow a recipe. Meal kits like Blue Apron and HelloFresh promise to alleviate the annoyances of cooking like going to the grocery store and finding recipes. They send boxes of ingredients to your door in pre-portioned packets, and all you have to do is throw it together according to the supplied recipe. They can be expensive, but there’s no last-minute trip to the store to get that ingredient you forget nor buying a bag of bean sprouts five times the size you need. But most importantly, there is no need for creativity. Everything is there, and all you need to do is assemble. Your food is literally in a box. But creativity is one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of cooking. You can make the dish exactly to your taste, with whichever spices, vegetables, or meats you like. Creativity doesn’t have to mean inventing a new fusion between two cultures or making a Michelin Star-worthy soup with the random vegetables you grabbed at the supermarket; it can be as simple as adding your favorite spice or swapping out an ingredient you don’t like. One of my favorite foods is balila, which is made of chickpeas and comes from my mom’s home country of Lebanon. But the recipe we use to make balila is light on the cumin, so we add more until it is exactly how we like it, with the aroma wafting up from the pot and making stomachs growl. As you get more comfortable in the kitchen, you can start playing around—yes, you have permission to play with your food—and testing new combinations or methods in your meals. The kitchen can and should be a place for self-expression; identity, personality, and heritage are tied to the food we eat and how we make it, so use time spent cooking as a way to reaffirm who you are and remember where you came from. 31
Making a meal for ourselves or another person is a way to be present with ourselves and loved ones and to create connections. Chopping vegetables and sauteing food on the stove requires attention and focus to avoid cutting yourself or burning your dinner. It can be an almost meditative state where all that you think of is your hands and your food. Worries dissolve like salt in a pot of boiling water. Especially for busy students, this time can be relaxing and help relieve stress. It is also a reminder that it is important to take time for yourself in an increasingly efficient world where downtime is sometimes equated with laziness. It is self care to take a break and make something for yourself. Cooking can reinforce that you are worthy of spending time on yourself, and that it’s not selfish. And it doesn’t hurt that it is an important part of being independent and becoming a responsible adult. Cooking can also be a way to connect with another person and show them who you are. Preparing a meal can remind you of your childhood—biting into your favorite melt-in-your-mouth steak, hearing the sizzle of stir-fry in a wok, watching the bubble of soup on the stove, inhaling the aroma of spices that fill every corner of the house, or, like I did, smothering everything in hummus. Even if you don’t make a meal from your past, it can still show who you are to the person you are with. The way you dice carrots or marinate fish is unique to you, whether or not it seems like it. And the phrase “made with love” is prevalent for a reason. Just as cooking for yourself is self-care, cooking for someone else is a way to show them that you care about them, and are making an effort to be with them. Food is one of the easiest ways to share culture and identity, and eating food can be fun and exciting. Sharing those moments with friends and family can forge stronger bonds and great memories. So the next time you find yourself near a grocery store, take a moment to buy a bag of rice or some spices, or fresh vegetables. Find a recipe and learn how to cook what you bought, maybe visit a farmers market and ask the vendors about their recommended recipes. Make a simple, home-cooked meal. Who knows—maybe you’ll find a new cuisine or favorite dish. Or maybe, just maybe, you will find yourself getting lost in the chopping, slicing, mixing, frying, and grilling of the recipe and realize that this cooking thing isn’t so bad after all. What I’ve found to be one of the biggest motivators to order out is not knowing how to cook or not liking it. Many of us never had to help much in the kitchen growing up, so we may not have learned how to make our favorite dishes, or it may not be appealing to even be in a kitchen. And washing dishes after cooking? No thanks. But sometimes it takes just one dish to open your world to how fun—or, at the very least, rewarding—cooking can
be, whether it’s a simple side salad or your favorite meal you ate all the time as a kid. Personally, I love to bake, but cooking was never my thing. Yet the few times I have made dinner at home, my family’s compliments and my own satisfaction were fulfilling. And it didn’t hurt that the food was good. If you’re just learning how to cook, start with something small. Pasta and a side salad, or chicken—rotisserie works perfectly fine—with roasted vegetables, or tacos with fresh ingredients are all great, simple meals that can be hard to mess up. And try to make it fun. Of course cooking will be boring if you stand and watch the food cook in silence. Turn on some music, watch TV, or chat with friends or family. A lot of meals don’t require constant attention, so take the time to relax. But back to delivery. Not only is it expensive and eliminates the opportunity to relax and create something, it is also wasteful. Takeout containers are usually plastic or lined with a non-recyclable film. The containers need to be washed before they can be recycled, if they are recyclable at all. The restaurants often supply plastic utensils, too.
And the gas used to get the plastic-covered food to your house doesn’t help the environmental impact either. Using public transportation to get to the grocery store or even driving there once a week is better than ordering food multiple times per week. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s more sustainable, especially if the food is locally sourced. Food delivery isn’t the only way we are taking shortcuts in cooking. Meal kits are becoming popular because the food arrives at your doorstep in pre-portioned packets, ready to be chopped and cooked. There’s no need to calculate ingredients at the grocery store to avoid buying a bag of bean sprouts five times larger than the amount you need for the recipe—everything is there and ready. But, similar to food delivery, it is not sustainable. Just about all the food comes packaged in plastic. The companies claim most of the packaging can be recycled, but avoiding the use of that much plastic is always better than using it and recycling it. And yes, food at the grocery store comes in plastic, but it’s often in bigger portions and can be used for multiple meals, and foods that are locally sourced have a smaller carbon footprint than imported items. Many cities have banned single-use plastic bags, so stores have paper bags; some supermarkets even give discounts for people who bring reusable bags for their groceries. But sustainability is only one reason why meal kits discourage real cooking—with pre-portioned ingredients and a recipe to follow, there is no space for innovation. Sure, you would probably be following a recipe even if you’re not using a meal kit, but at least you could change the recipe to fit your preferences. Don’t like peppers? Leave them out. Really love tomatoes? Add more. Maybe the dish needs more spice, or it turned out dry. Maybe you prefer chicken over steak. You can make it however you want if you’re cooking on your own. You can express yourself through cooking. Meal kits literally put your food in a box, and no one deserves to eat out of cardboard. But the future of cooking is not all bad. Celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Chrissy Teigen, and Antoni Porowski have made cooking cool and interesting again. When they release cookbooks, people buy them because the recipes aren’t boring or repetitive, and they give people the chance to eat like celebrities. Following famous people who cook makes people more excited about cooking for themselves. If you can have the same meal you saw John Legend eating on Instagram, why wouldn’t you? Cooking shows also encourage kitchen enthusiasm, and they remain popular. Shows like Chopped and The Great British Baking Show make cooking seem exciting and introduce viewers to cuisines and dishes they may never hear of otherwise. The timed competitions and fun challenges excite viewers and make mouths water at the delicious—at least we hope, for the competitor’s sake—food onscreen. But the meals don’t have to be intricate or intimidating. Recipe videos make cooking more accessible. Bright graphics and upbeat music, not to mention picture-perfect shots of cheese pulls and gooey chocolate, entice viewers to try the recipes themselves. Between celebrities, cooking shows, and recipe videos, cooking should seem more appealing than the banal and unfulfilling activity it is made out to be. So the next time you have a moment, research some recipes you want to try. Make list, go to the grocery store, and cook it yourself. Who knows—maybe you’ll find a new cuisine or favorite meal. Or maybe, just maybe, you will find yourself getting lost in the chopping, slicing, mixing, frying, and grilling of the recipe and realize that this cooking thing isn’t so bad after all.
What’s wrong with comfort? Words by: Carolina de Armas
t seemed as if they were praying. The Celtics jersey-wearing dad, the mom with the blonde bob-cut, and the overweight toddler were all silent with their heads facing downwards. But when they finally looked up, instead of saying an “amen,” the dad burped and rubbed his belly, the mother scolded him, and the toddler laughed. They devoured their burgers as fast as they slung their gray trays, filled with crinkle cut fries and Shack Stacks, on the wooden table. The line coming out of the small Shake Shack continued all the way down to the Newbury Street sidewalk. The smell of freshly grilled meat escaped out the glass doors and had every hungry soul doing double-takes. One of the last guys in the line shuffled side to side impatiently. He had his hands on his hips when he exclaimed, “It’s just a burger, not the Pope!” He didn’t understand the hold up. “You’ve never tried the Shack Stack, have you?” asked an elderly lady in response. She had wide blue glasses and stood in front of him. He then glared at her, stayed silent, and stopped shuffling after that. The Shack Stack: a juicy patty, topped with fried portobello mushrooms, filled with melted cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato, and the secret Shack Sauce, all hugged by a seedless bun. It was the one burger that four different groups of customers ordered that midafternoon on Newbury Street. The first group of those hungry, double-taking souls—a pair of young twin boys and their mother—entered the burger joint bickering. One of the boys had flushed cheeks and a furrowed brow, while the other one smiled back at him smugly. The mother held onto each of the boys’ wrists and pleadingly asked the dad with the Celtics jersey if he and his family were “just about to leave.” The boys only stopped squabbling to glare at the fat toddler, who was licking the crumbs off the gray tray. His blonde, bob-cut mom rolled her eyes, apologized for her child’s hygiene, cleared the table, and finally left. After that, the twin boys slid into the wooden benches opposite from each other, which made their squealing only louder. They kept at it, fighting over who broke Tommy’s Beyblade until the Shake Shack pager went off. Suddenly, their dramatic hand gestures and kicking under the table stopped. They both looked at the pager and then up at their mother. Immediately, she pushed back her chair, sprinted over to the counter, and finally came back with three vanilla shakes and crinkle-cut fries. Like the Celtics shirt dad, the blonde bob-cut
mom, and their toddler, the twin boys finally became silent and faced downwards. Their hands were too busy to gesture dramatically; their mouths were too busy to bicker; their minds were at peace and thus Tommy’s broken Beyblade was long forgotten. The twin boys were absolutely silent except for their chewing and slurping. Their mother, on the other hand, pushed her head back, closed her eyes, and mouthed “thank you” before taking a generous bite of her Shack Stack. Only after one of the twin boys wiped the remaining vanilla shake off his lips and the other chewed on the last, saltiest and longest curly fry, did their mother clear the table to allow a group of five other boys to squeeze in and take their spot. The boys all wore gold medals over a white and green uniform reading “JP Soccer.” Except for one boy, a tall brunette with sweaty hair stuck to his forehead, with red spots and mud on his white jersey and medal. The tall brunette was bleeding through his nose and the twin boys, who had just stood up to leave, grimaced at the sight. The twin boys scrunched up their noses at the tall brunette and did not take their eyes off him until they walked out, led by their mother’s hands. When the glass door closed shut behind the mother and her twins, the tall brunette said, “Well, that was extremely awkward,” and his teammates all broke into raucous laughter. After being huddled up at their wooden table for a few minutes, the Shake Shack pager finally went off, and suddenly the JP Soccer team dispersed and raced down to the counter to get their orders of five Shack Stacks. The JP Soccer team, like the families before them, also faced downwards and ate in silence. Even the tall, sweaty, brunette boy stuck a napkin up his left nostril to control the bleeding and devour his Shack Stack, curly fries, Coca-Cola, and chocolate shake in peace.
Finally, in came a group of four girls with shopping bags. One of them had mascara all over her cheeks, unable to talk as she kept gasping for air while hysterically crying. One of her friends rubbed her back, the other wiped her tears, and the fourth one ran to the counter and got four apple cider beers along with four Shack Stack burgers. Suddenly, the girl, who hadn’t been able to talk for five minutes straight, was making a “toast to friendship” and ate in peaceful and comfortable silence. American comfort food, such as Shake Shack burgers, engender comfortable silence. Yes, burgers are not exotic. But what’s so wrong about a comfort zone? Who wants to feel vulnerable, anxious, and stressed while eating? Or in other words, who wants to keep bickering, bleeding, or crying? Not Shake Shack customers. While South Church is right around the corner, Newbury’s Shake Shack is the real holy sanctuary. Each time the Shake Shack pager turns on, every past sin, worry, and trouble is forgotten and forgiven.The Shake Shack customers therefore resemble church goers. They walk into the restaurant, as one does at Sunday mass, with solemn, unsatisfied faces. However, when the service is over, the customers and the church goers come out feeling fulfilled and a little bit better about themselves. Afterall, it is a ritual: standing up, going to the counter, receiving the holy sacrament of burgers, and finally, consuming it in comforting silence. But unlike the plain, single, and colorless host, Shake Shack serves their blessings on greasy and chewy stacks.
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Another fall, another issue of Gusto! Heading in a more journalistic direction, this issue sees us diving into the hierarchies and teamwork...
Published on Dec 20, 2019
Another fall, another issue of Gusto! Heading in a more journalistic direction, this issue sees us diving into the hierarchies and teamwork...