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Impossible Pumpkin Pie (1981)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 7:31am in

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Food, Thanksgiving

Did you have a nice Thanksgiving–whatever version of Thanksgiving you had last week? Mine was very nice. Due to the global nightmare otherwise known as The COVID, Mr. Sauce, Esq. and I opted to stay home and not travel to see our families. So it was an undoubtedly a smaller affair, yet, I still entertainedContinue reading Impossible Pumpkin Pie (1981) →

The Casino That Farms Its Own Food

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 7:00pm in

On the surface, Oklahoma’s Downstream Casino Resort looks like any other: lines of brightly lit slot machines snake past entrances to steakhouses and sports bars, while cocktail waitresses shuttle trays to craps and blackjack tables. A takeaway cafe serves gourmet coffee, and an all-you-can-eat buffet is stacked with prime rib on Saturday nights.  

But beneath this familiar facade is a very different kind of system — one that applies traditional Indigenous food and farming principles to modern hotel operations. The Quapaw tribe, which runs the Downstream Casino Resort, operates seven greenhouses and two sprawling gardens that provide the hotel with 20 varieties of vegetables and herbs. The tribe also has an apiary with 80 beehives, as well as a craft brewery and a coffee roaster that supplies the hotel and casino. The Quapaw is also the only tribe in the United States with its own USDA-certified meat packing and processing plant, where it processes bison and cattle that it raises on open pastures, selling the bulk of it to the casino’s five restaurants. (The rest is provided to the two tribal-run daycares, the Quapaw Farmers Market, the Quapaw Mercantile and a few other tribally-run shops.) 

oklahomaCattle grazing on pastureland behind the Downstream Casino Resort. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

With all these businesses — plus a construction firm — the Quapaw Nation is one of the largest employers in this part of Oklahoma, employing 2,000 tribal and non-tribal workers, while paying above-average wages and offering a full benefits package to all full-time employees. It’s a business model that preserves cultural heritage while providing a profit. 

Lucus Setterfield, director of food and beverage at Downstream, says 50 percent of the food served at the resort’s Red Oak Steakhouse comes from the Quapaw land. Even the mint in the restaurant’s mojitos is grown in the greenhouses.  

“The Quapaw are one of the most innovative tribes in the country when it comes to food sovereignty,” says Maria Givens, the communications director of the Native American Agricultural Fund (NAAF). 

Innovative as it may be, the Quapaw are essentially resurrecting a way of life — living off the land that sustained them before they were driven off of it by American settlers. Colonization — and the policies that created Indian reservations — deprived them of their traditional foodways of foraging, fishing and hunting and disrupted their long-established patterns of intense physical activity. Public health experts believe that these are two of the reasons Indigenous people have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the U.S. According to the CDC, Native American adults are three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than white adults, and 1.6 times more likely to be obese

oklahomaWith seven greenhouses and two gardens, the Quapaw gardeners harvest about 6,000 pounds of food per year. Each morning, the resort’s chefs stop by and place their orders. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

By retrofitting a modern resort with a system of locally sourced, sustainably raised food, the Quapaw are reclaiming their food sovereignty and, at the same time, benefitting every guest who visits their resort, whether those guests know it or not.

Bringing bison back

It all started in 2010 when then tribe chairman John Berrey, a fifth-generation cattle rancher, had a vision to reintroduce bison to this part of Oklahoma. The bison is the state mammal, but it’s also a traditional food for the Quapaw people, who lived in Northeastern Arkansas and then western Missouri before eventually moving to Oklahoma.

That year, the tribe was given eight bison from Yellowstone National Park via the InterTribal Buffalo Council. Now, ten years later, the tribe has a bison herd of close to 200 as well as a herd of 385 Black Angus cattle. (The bison have been breeding, but the tribe has also gotten additional bison from other national parks.) Both are pastured on fields of native grasses and the ones that are headed for slaughter are finished on grains and mushrooms. The tribe processes only five to 15 bison per year and doesn’t slaughter until they’ve sold out of every type of meat: steaks, ground bison, chuck roast and bison jerky. “We use the whole animal,” explains Quapaw Nation grants coordinator Shelby Crum — even the hides, which a Quapaw artist decorates with tribal paintings and sells at the farmers’ market. 

The 25,000-square-foot meatpacking plant, which opened in 2017, was designed to conform to renowned animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin’s blueprint for humane animal handling. The Quapaw built the processing plant adjacent to the feeding facility to avoid the need for transport, which makes animals nervous. It also uses Grandin’s designs for curved chutes with high walls, which minimizes stressors, and the holding pens include extra crowd gates and bright colors. In addition to processing its own animals, the plant processes 50 to 60 head of cattle per week for nearby ranchers from Oklahoma and Missouri. 

oklahomaA worker processes honey from one of the resort’s 80 beehives. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

The meat is broken apart into different cuts, smoked, flavored and packaged right there at the facility, which also has freezers and coolers for storage. Most is sold at a discounted price at tribally-owned retail outlets like the Quapaw Mercantile, the farmers’ market, the Quapaw C-Store and the Downstream Q-Store. “The whole goal is to make it affordable,” Crum says. That said, anyone from any state can order the meat via the Quapaw Cattle Company’s online store

Harvesting vegetables on site

The first greenhouse went up in 2013. Today, with seven greenhouses and two gardens, the Quapaw gardeners harvest about 6,000 pounds of food per year. Each morning, the resort’s chefs stop by and place their orders. 

Setterfield, who has worked at Downstream since it opened in 2008, says the greenhouses have provided cost savings, but the biggest benefit is the freshness. “It’s great for things that might not travel well — micro-greens and herbs. Herbs, especially, are ten times better the day you pick them,” he says. 

Some produce is also sold at the Quapaw Farmers Market, held on the first and third Friday of the month. An additional 10 to 15 vendors from the surrounding community sell their produce, eggs, honey and meat at the market. The Farmers Market also accepts SNAP, which makes it easier for Quapaw members — and non-tribal residents — to access fresh, affordable, locally grown produce. 

“There’s no grocery store in Quapaw,” says Crum. “You can drive six miles away to Miami, [Oklahoma], which has a Walmart, but if you’re sharing a car with your spouse or you have no vehicle, six miles can be a huge barrier.”

oklahoma“We want the focus to be on growing edible foods. Growing foods for your family, for your tribes—medicinal foods and medicinal plants. That’s our goal,” says the tribe’s grants coordinator. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

The Farmers Market also runs a food preservation program, funded by a $50,000 grant from the Native American Agricultural Fund, where for $25, shoppers can rent out equipment like a pressure canning kit, a fermenter, a vacuum sealer, or a dehydrator. In conjunction, the Quapaw tribe runs food preservation workshops on everything from how to can pickles and sweet corn to how to make dehydrated zucchini chips. “It’s just another way we’re encouraging that people make their produce last throughout the year,” says Crum.

Beverage service

Like most casinos, Downstream offers guests and staff unlimited free coffee — an expensive perk. “We were spending half a million dollars on coffee per year!” says Crum. Berrey, always interested in cutting out the middleman, saw another opportunity. Instead of ordering the coffee from non-native producers, why not roast it on site? 

In 2016, Josemiguel Gomez helped found the coffee roasting program, called O-Gah-Pah. As you might guess from his name, Gomez is not a member of the Quapaw tribe. He’s from Puerto Rico, where he owned three coffee shops of his own. “We fulfill all the needs of the casino, plus all the Quapaw schools, the EMT, the fire station and the gas stations,” says Gomez. The roasting facility also provides all the coffee for Saracen, the tribe’s new casino in Arkansas. Select coffee shops in Oregon, Kansas City and Florida source O-Gah-Pah beans, too. “We are very proud of our product,” Gomez says. “It’s very well represented.” 

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The Quapaw brewery came out of Setterfield’s chance encounter with a “beautiful tank” at a gaming show in Las Vegas. At the time, he was in the process of expanding Legends, the casino’s sports bar.  Today, Legends has four tanks, which brewer Mike Williams rotates five beers through: a Honey Brown Balmer, a Flat Rock Red, a pilsner, a kolsch and an IPA. The honey brown, the most popular, is unusual in that the flavor changes throughout the year, because the bees the resort keeps are attracted to different blossoming flowers in each season.

“At one point, there was a question of, ‘Should we only use the spring honey?’” recalls Setterfield. “But then we thought it would be kind of cool to not be consistent — to use the product we have available.” Discerning drinkers of the Honey Brown Balmer will notice it is sometimes more amber, slightly sweeter, or extra floral depending on the time of year. 

Banking on seeds

Last year, the NAAF also awarded the Quapaw tribe $50,000 to develop a seed bank. The seed-saving program, which launches this month, is a big deal. Not only are Quapaw farmers creating a library for seeds from all the different herbs and produce they grow, they will also be starting a nationwide seed distribution program. “What we’re hoping to do is to get donations from other tribes and seed banks so that we can support this nationwide,” says Crum. Eventually, the idea is for other Indigenous farmers to save their seeds and send them back to the Quapaw tribe. 

“We want the focus to be on growing edible foods. Growing foods for your family, for your tribes — medicinal foods and medicinal plants. That’s our goal,” says Crum.  

The tribe has done two food sovereignty surveys of its members — one in 2018 and one in 2019, at the end of the first farmers market season. In the first survey, they asked if the members had high blood pressure or diabetes and how many servings of fruits and vegetables they ate. The second survey asked if they ate more fruits and vegetables because of the farmers market, and the answer was a resounding yes. “And they thought it made tribally-produced meat more affordable,” says Crum. 

Though it’s too soon to tell if the expanded access to fresh produce and herbs — not to mention food preservation techniques — has helped tribal members reduce high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, Crum, who is getting her masters in public health at Oklahoma University, says she will ask those questions in a few years. “That’s more like a five-year question,” Crum says, “once they’ve had enough time to make a change.” 

The post The Casino That Farms Its Own Food appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Reimagining Regional Relationships

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 4:27pm in

Detachment

Melbourne’s second lockdown and the enforced separation of the city’s residents from those of regional Victoria and the rest of the world has proven a sobering time in which to reflect upon a complex relationship. Across Melbourne, lockdown has delivered a collective jolt to the senses, a striking realisation of how deeply integral mobility is, in its myriad forms, to our taken-for-granted sense of the rhythm and texture and stimulations of day-to-day life. 

For many of us our new physical immobility has been accompanied and enabled by a proliferation of digital connections. Whether for work, family or recreation, we have turned to digital technologies to keep us linked to ‘the world’, downloading and uploading content, communicating in groups small and large, observing and participating in events. While offering thin lines of connection, being ensconced in a Zoom box within an urban box within a quiet city hour after hour can be deeply disorienting. Like watching a film in the dark on a plane, only to pull the headphones off and hear nothing but a wall of white noise and see nothing but motionless shadowy figures around you, to live in lockdown Melbourne is to feel untethered from reality. Instead of the spatial mobility and digital disconnection experienced on a flight, it is spatial immobility and an overabundance of digital connection that now leave us with a sense of floating in space, disembedded from the Earth.

In both cases this sense of physical detachment is a dangerous mirage. It is a denial of the destructive physical processes underlying plane travel and digital systems, and it shores up the foundational phantasy of hypermodern capitalism: the figure of the human being as autonomous and disembodied, and the world as the mere ‘plastic modelling clay’ of capitalism, as Frédéric Neyrat puts it.1 More than the mere separation of humans from nature, today this vision imagines humans as ‘residing off-planet, outside the Earth, without any kind of vital relation with the ecosphere, detached and separated as far away as possible from the Earth object to be reformatted’.2 Lewis Mumford diagnosed the emergence of this imaginary in the 1960s:

Our age is passing from the primeval state of man [sic] marked by his invention of tools and weapons and for the purpose of achieving mastery over the forces of nature, to a radically different condition, in which he will have not only conquered nature, but detached himself as far as possible from the organic habitat.3  

Mumford was writing in the midst of the ‘space race’ that quite literally sought to sustain humans ‘off-planet’. It was a period of intensive research and development that delivered not only the airborne capsules needed for space travel but much of the computing, satellites and ICT that now enable our global digital connectivity and help sustain the belief that we can transcend geographical and natural constraints.

Mobile food

Many of us know that such a belief is ridiculous, notwithstanding the new force it has been given by the Silicon Valley space race accelerating in 2020. When offline, living in lockdown Melbourne has been a jolting reminder of how grounded and emplaced we are. Local parks have never been more popular, and many people seem to have directed their new spare time towards gardening, adding to what feels like a particularly spectacular spring, with blossoms and new growth in all directions. Home cooking has also had a resurgence, directing attention to what we eat and our households’ and bodies’ reliance on constant inflows of food. For some this has included sourcing food from new backyard ventures, whether vegetables, or eggs from some of the many chickens that have recently populated the suburbs. Some were lucky enough to have farmers markets still operating within their allowed 5-kilometre travel radius and were able to have their turn processing around stands of produce, walking the periphery of peri-urban Melbourne in miniature.  

For many Melburnians though, lockdown has led to an unprecedented reliance on their local supermarket. Today a ‘local’ supermarket is something of an oxymoron, referring merely to a nearby branch of one of a small number of interlinked global corporations, most likely Coles or Woolworths, which together account for approximately 70 per cent of Australian supermarket sales. Once a genuinely local shop in Melbourne, Coles is now part of Coles Group, selling not just groceries and liquor but petrol and financial products, and is owned primarily by UK-based bank HSBC, Australia’s largest company Wesfarmers (which trades in chemicals, fertilisers, coal mining, and industrial and safety products as well as retail), and US-based JP Morgan, the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels. Woolworths similarly began as a local shop in Sydney but is now part of the Woolworths group that also owns most of Australia’s liquor and hotel businesses, including the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which operates more than 12,000 poker machines. Like Coles, Woolworths is majority-owned by HSBC and JP Morgan. Woolworths has enjoyed record sales during lockdown. Yet in the midst of the turmoil of the pandemic, the company was forced to compensate staff for $90 million in underpaid wages. It also quietly announced the redundancies of 1350 warehouse workers, who will be replaced with robots. 

Here, in the knotted bowels of the corporate world, we see once again the phantasy of disconnection. In such spaces, food appears on balance sheets as one commodity among others, its intimate relationship with particular ecosystems and human bodies peeled off and hidden from view. We, meanwhile, enter our local store and encounter a pricing system that magnetically draws us to products—two-dollar two-litre containers of milk, for example—with complete detachment from how such pricing comes about and its devastating consequences for dairy farmers. Just like the minerals and coal that are physically imbricated throughout food chains, food is now thoroughly financialised. 

Involved in this financialisation are what Jennifer Clapp calls two types of ‘distancing’. The first is the increasing number of actors involved in ‘adding value to’ (that is, extracting profit from) food chains, making many of them so long as to be virtually untraceable and unplaceable.4 As Jane Dixon notes, major supermarkets disembed local food economies through their global supply sourcing.5 Second, financialisation operates by separating food into material and nutritional components, abstracting them as commodities and reconfiguring them into ‘bundles of resources’ to be traded on derivatives markets.The result is that, as Marc Edelman writes, ‘the lion’s share of the vast wealth that rural zones produce…has accrued to shareholders in corporations and financial institutions headquartered in a handful of distant, economically dynamic urban centers’.6 

Wheat is a case in point. One of Australia’s major export crops, wheat exists in the world not only as a plant, a seed or even a material such as flour, but as ‘futures’ and other fictions traded on the Chicago Stock Exchange by financial actors with little interest in or concern about its value as food. As Lesley Head and colleagues describe in their analysis of Australian wheat in the global food system, besides existing as a genetic code, pharmaceutical filler and land use, wheat features as an information flow. ‘We could track flows of virtual wheat as currency traded through different markets. It flowed across computer screens in various symbolic ways—on graphs, in recipes, in mixtures of stock feed’.7 Wheat’s spaces thus stretch far beyond the rural ‘wheat belts’ of northwestern Victoria or southern Western Australia, and even beyond the trade routes, warehouses, feed lots and factories that feed off it, to encompass complex webs of digital abstractions and financial value, including information feeds flowing through computers and smart devices in home offices across Melbourne. The result is that while wheat has many points of connection in the world—indeed one of the most extensive fingerprints of any commodity—its real connections, its roots and soil and the intricate human dance involved in cultivating it, are hidden from view as it is blended into the plastic modelling clay of capitalism. 

For us kneading sourdough in lockdown Melbourne in an increasingly half-hearted effort to remain grounded and sane, it is worth appreciating the hypermobile, fragmented and capitalised world that our flour is part of. At the same time, bread is a quintessential staple—an age-old icon of reliable sustenance. As Justin Clemens wrote in Arena no. 3 in relation to the pandemic, even as funding has been turned off for everything the Coalition does not like: ‘it’s still the case that bread and circuses must never stop—especially not now in the end times, when so many people are forcibly locked down or otherwise holed up’. His point was about the Herculean effort devoted to ensuring that the circus of the AFL football season continued at all costs. But it turns out that we cannot take the more mundane matter of bread for granted. This was underlined during the early days of the pandemic, when people were stocking up on goods like well-trained preppers and Melbourne ran out of bread flour. On this and numerous other items, the logistics models that underpin supermarkets’ just-in-time supply chains failed to anticipate consumers’ emotional responses to the pandemic and the resultant surge in demand, despite their continuous flows of information from expensive NASA satellite-enabled smart technologies. These breaks in supply chains quickly led to confronting scenes of empty supermarket shelves, strengthening people’s suspicion that we could not trust existing systems to keep us fed and well. ‘Next we’ll be queuing for cabbages!’ we feared.

That bread flour in particular was missing from the shelves arguably said more about the pace of flour mills than the availability of wheat. As a highly preservable product, wheat is an exemplary foodstuff in the modern food system, highly amenable to the sort of purification, dehydration and long-term preservation that contemporary food technologies now regularly perform. Spin-offs from NASA’s ‘space food systems’, these technologies are used by corporations around the world not to provision shuttle crews but to process, preserve, package and deliver ingestible substances for non-astronauts. This includes the increasing use of controlled-environment technologies such as Airocide to purify air and stabilise temperatures in order to slow deterioration and eliminate pests and pathogens, including viruses. The resultant physical stability of the substances—what Bruno Latour might term ‘immutable mobiles’—immunises them against their surrounds, enables standardisation and deliberate decomposition, and provides a blank surface on which any financial value can be projected. It also implicates a wide range of other actors as food circulates through the global food system in capsules, encased in oil-based plastic as well as containers and hulls, all of which makes its arrival at any destination an achievement of the fossil-fuel and steel industries as much as the food industry. COVID-19 is amplifying this focus on prophylactic security, scaling the enclosures from food parcels to buildings, cities and nations.

The immutability of foodstuffs such as flour contrasts with the highly mutable and ‘recalcitrant’ character of wheat and the myriad other living things we grow to consume. Plant growth is a delicate undertaking. How seeds or seedlings react to the particular patterning of temperature, UV, atmospheric chemistry, rain, soil qualities and organisms in their immediate environment is difficult to completely control. They quite literally have a life of their own. Satellite-enabled environmental sensing and automated technologies do their best to create lab-like conditions, but there is always an element of chance. The resultant uncertainty calls for probabilistic thinkingand turns farming into an increasingly digitised form, crafted from flows of information and advice as much as seeds and soil. Farmers spend more and more time in offices glued to screens not dissimilar to those captivating the attention of the many urban actors integral to modern agricultural information ecologies trying to choreograph their production activities to the syncopated rhythms of international currencies, commodity markets, futures markets, energy and water prices, interest rates, brokers’ bets and seasonal forecasts. 

Among the uncertainties they have to deal with are those increasingly generated by the certainty of climate change. Rains no longer arrive on schedule or deliver as expected over winter. They often come in a rush over summer in destructive downpours, feeding weeds and groundwater more than crops, or cruelly catching the latter late in the season, on the cusp of harvest, when they have absorbed every investment and effort but are sitting vulnerable in the paddock, yet to offer a return. Temperatures are shifting and sparking across the calendar, rushing plants to bud and flower too early, throwing them under clear skies into the fridge of sudden winter frost, then thrusting them into the oven of a heatwave, often so quickly and locally that such events do not register in the information flows of urban media. Then there are the pests, whether considered by a farmer to be every organism other than the commodified species or a short list of specific tricksters that need to be carefully negotiated. 

Climate change is warping ecological relations as species respond individually and move across the landscape where they can, creating new problem ecologies and undermining the ‘ecological services’ our farming systems rely on, such as those of pest predation and pollination. In the northwestern Victorian wheat belt, the prevalent pest, the bird-cherry oat aphid, is likely to be negatively affected by climate change, migrating southward and disappearing off the coast of Victoria. Yet this depends in part on how stressed its host crop plants are by new climatic and other pressures. These include the yellow dwarf virus that the aphid carries, which is likely to quickly increase in higher temperatures as plants host the aphid earlier in the season and allow it to spread further.8 At the same time, climate change is beginning to affect the aphids’ predators, including migratory birds, whose numbers will likely fall as rainfall declines, depending on how soil moisture and vegetation respond to less rain.9 On farms, the result may be an increased turn to chemical pesticides, which are also sensitive to temperature, rain and wind and may prove unreliable allies in a changing climate.

As it turns out, pesticides are also sensitive to another virus—COVID-19. Among the pandemic’s innumerable impacts on the world has been the disruption of glyphosate production in China. Glyphosate is the key active ingredient of Roundup—the ‘miracle’ chemical that corporate behemoth Bayer is now being sued for by cancer-afflicted farmers—and its sudden inaccessibility ‘crippled’ farmers in Australia in the early days of the pandemic as they prepared to seize the autumnal climatic window when grain seeds are positioned to take root in their sanitised pockets of soil. Adding to the disruption were similar problems in flows of synthetic fertiliser from China. Among these fertilisers were not only those reliant on phosphate and potassium mines in Russia, Brazil, India and Canada but also those based on atmospheric nitrogen—an emissions-intensive chemical transformation devised by the father of chemical warfare, Fritz Haber. What the Germans call ‘brot aus luft’—making ‘bread from air’—the invention of nitrogenous fertiliser is a ‘miracle’ long hailed as proof of humans’ ability to overcome nature’s limits with technology.10 By disrupting the apparent ability to make bread from air—that is, by disrupting the long chains of intensive physical processes underpinning wheat production—COVID-19 exposed the global industrial complex into which Australian agriculture not only feeds commodified goods but also feeds off, in an attempt to control the lively mutability of production. 

Pushing against centrifugal forces

But this is not simply a story of COVID disruption. These are some of the ways in which agricultural production is embroiled in techno-capitalism’s globalised processes, processes that in turn connect rural communities to those of us stuck in the metropole. With the burgeoning of industrial-scale agriculture, many rural areas have become sites of extraction—‘sacrifice zones’, in the words of anthropologist Marc Edelman—where profit-making growth is the main game and wealth is generated and exported elsewhere in a model originating from early colonial days. Today Canadian superannuation funds are the single largest investor in Australian agriculture, though they still do not rival the United Kingdom, China or the United States in terms of foreign ownership of Australian farmland and water.

Technologised, neoliberal transformations in agriculture don’t just result in the mass exportation of food and economic wealth; they also lead to significant reductions in the number of people employed in agricultural work. While the populations of larger rural towns continue to grow steadily, the shifting nature of employment in these areas is telling: for example, in Mildura—regional centre of one of Victoria’s prime food bowls—between 2001 and 2016 there was a 50-per-cent reduction in the number of people directly employed in agricultural work and a simultaneous 84-per-cent increase in the number employed in ‘human services’. In a recent public talk,11 Mildura businessman and community leader Ross Lake painted a devastating picture of the disassociation, distress and fragmentation associated with the intergenerational stripping away of local controls over water, land and productive labour. While people live in rural places, they are increasingly likely to work in ways that result in their being as disconnected from the land and from each other as those who reside in metropolitan cities. 

Paradoxically, it is this same technologically enabled disconnection that fuels the latest COVID-driven imaginary of a mass exodus from the capital-city ‘bunker’ for a better ‘work–life balance’ in regional Australia. Work-from-home employees are now ‘liberated’ from the need to attend physical workplaces and thus look to ‘capitalise’ on cheaper real estate as well as an imagined simpler life in the country, a life free of the deadening weekday hours of commuter gridlock. What they may encounter in their rural retreat, however, are not just the wonders of internet connection. At least for those escaping Melbourne, there may be a familiar sense of being encased in white noise, not simply because of their underdeveloped local relationships but because Australia’s news and policy are so city-centric, leaving many outside the enclosures of capital cities feeling as left out as those in lockdown Melbourne. Also familiar will be the food on offer, given that an increasing proportion is supplied by the long arms of Coles and Woolworths. Known for ingesting its competition, Woolworths is now trying to purchase rural food supplier PFD, which would not only homogenise consumer choices but cut off a market for the small rural producers PFD currently supports, producers that try to resist the prevailing treatment of food as a mere widget of the capitalist economy. 

Such distanced, distinctively cultured ways of relating to rural places have a long tail. In 1946, Australian children’s author, farmer and environmentalist Elyne Mitchell made a rousing and impassioned plea for a national reimagination. In her book Soil and Civilization,12 Mitchell presciently tracks the disconnection of people from the earth via the growth of urban populations, industrialised agriculture, standardised education, the expansion of technologised communications and governance, and growing dependence on foreign trade for food. At the heart of her argument is the idea that soil fertility and health is foundational and symbiotically connected to the creativity and health of a people—a binding spiritual connection that Australia destroyed at colonisation. In its place we have built an industrial society hell-bent on exploiting the land, giving rise to erosion, desertification, dust bowls and people who are alienated and emptied out. 

Mitchell’s critique draws attention to the contingencies of energy flows—environmental, biological, electrical and spiritual—that should be symbiotically fused; a set of interlinked creative forces that we have fragmented and enabled to drain away. These ideas find passionate and practical force in the work of a new generation of farmers, activists and environmental writers, including American Wendell Berry, who writes of the need for human communities to exert ‘a kind of centripetal force, holding local soil and local memory in place’. Berry’s appeal to ‘the work of local culture’ is a plea to refuse the impoverished and toxic returns that flow to the country as a result of power being located in commercial centres, ‘which have drawn irresistibly into themselves both the products of the countryside and the people and talents of the country communities’. Berry echoes Mitchell’s warning that this is no simple opposition of city and country but rather an interpenetration of processes and orientations such that ‘country people more and more live like city people, and so connive in their own ruin’. 13 

Local cultures

Whether we approach these dilemmas through the ecological prism of soil or the social-philosophical idea of the common good, as Jane Goodall does in The Politics of the Common Good: Dispossession in Australia, the message is the same: without the cultivation of attention to and care for the specific conditions of the places in which we live and work we are destined to live a rootless life, regardless of where we live. Rootlessness in this sense is not a matter of mobility so much as attitude, understanding, commitment. It is an attitude that infuses too many of the policies that shape rural places, penned as they are by city-based or at least urbanised authors reliant on but intellectually disconnected from the realities of rural life.

To begin to explore what the ‘work of local culture’ might look like in any place in the present is not to overlook existing local cultures—especially Indigenous cultures, which have been battered by these processes the longest—nor is it to altogether dismiss globalisation. It is to spark a debate about the first principles and values we have lost sight of, or sold off, and that need to be brought back to the centre of shared concern. Australian society has been described as suffering selective amnesia as well as ‘settler innocence’.14 The former applies to those countless instances of governments wilfully bulldozing or selling off places of community value and heritage for the sake of corporate interest, in a bewildering kind of second-wave, self-colonising violence. 

To disentangle, make sense of and push back against these hollowing-out processes is also to ask what kinds of relationships need to be prioritised to foster flourishing regions. A first lead might be taken from those Aboriginal activists, fire ecologists and custodians of country working against the forces of prolonged drought, the confounding and sometimes competing layers of commercial governance of water and land, and the myriad effects of accelerating climate change. These activists have been moved to decentre the politics of Aboriginal land ownership in favour of a more urgent need to cultivate a new, collectively shared love and responsibility for country. In so doing, they do not diminish the specific forms of Indigenous association and relatedness; rather, they call for shared rejection of capital-organised attitudes to land, water, places, species, environments.15  

Berry identifies loss of memory as a crucial element of the erosion of local culture. ‘When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know each other. How can they know each other if they have forgotten or have never learned each other’s stories?’16 In settler-colonial nations like Australia, memory and storytelling are highly contested ground, integrally connected with the workings of power and legitimacy. The prospect of an enriched coexistence turns upon the possibility of a differently figured exchange of stories, memories and traditions. On this we must look first to Aboriginal communities, but also to the post–Second World War generations of migrants who brought with them distinctive traditions of working and honouring the land, drawing upon them as anchors and inspiration as they made new homes, families, businesses and communities, in cities and rural towns. 

For decades rural producers have relied on itinerant backpackers and fly-in, fly-out Pacific workers for seasonal work, including the harvesting and packing of fruit and vegetables. Pacific labourers bring with them specialist skills that Australian farmers value, including bodily familiarity, confidence and pleasure in working with the produce of the earth derived from their own customary practices of land cultivation. For these labourers, among our closest regional neighbours, seasonal stints in Australia offer rare opportunities to accumulate savings that, once remitted home, can be life transforming. But the closure of state and international borders has triggered a shortfall of as many as 26,000 workers needed to harvest Australian crops in coming months if the produce is not to be left to rot. Industry lobbyists are calling for exceptional travel permits to enable the continuing movement of Pacific labour migrants between their home countries and Australia. Domestically, the Morrison government is promising relocation payments to welfare recipients willing to move to areas where seasonal labour is needed. 

If earlier attempts to lure unemployed city residents to the bush have failed, why should this campaign be any different? Young city folk don’t readily see country-based work as an option. Nor do many young rural folk, who frequently grow up with the implicit message that personal ‘success’ involves getting an education and job in the city.17 Their consequent out migration strengthens the gravitational pull of the city on society and weighs against anyone without even family ties heading off to the country for work. 

Farmers too express anxieties about the government’s proposed quick-fix labour programs and make clear that they won’t tolerate workers who don’t approach their crops with care. At the same time, poorly regulated work conditions can be onerous and exploitative. The hotter temperatures emerging out of the intersection of industrial capitalism with the atmosphere are making physical work in the agricultural sector especially difficult and demanding. In October a North Queensland farmer was fined following the death of a Belgian backpacker who collapsed as a result of heat stress while picking pumpkins. The agricultural industry has long been characterised by a largely dismissive attitude towards occupational health and safety, and bodily vulnerability to heat is often pooh-poohed as a sign of ‘non-Australian’ weakness, even as most of us increasingly exist in air-conditioned enclaves.18 

Temporarily moving large numbers of labourers into Australia’s agricultural production zones during a pandemic is a complex exercise, and only one more factor that leaves open the question of how to approach the deeper webs of dependencies and denials that characterise urban–rural relationships and the broader global patterns  the pandemic has helped to reveal. Mitchell again: 

Can we see a living relationship between the city worker and the mountains from which comes the water for living bodies and for electric power? There must be such breadth of vision, the understanding of fusion between all living things, and between life and the inanimate environment, if we wish to save this world-wide civilization by halting the forces of disintegration and re-creating it as a living unity.19 

As partly documented by Charles Massy in Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth,20 thousands of small farmers and producers are already disentangling themselves from the disempowering relations that have captured agriculture and re-instating modes of production more re-productive and more re-generative of life, land and habitable futures for all of us. Neyrat advocates for such an ‘ecology of separation’, an approach that seeks to forge relationships that deny ‘Earth denial’ in order to ‘announce or propose another vision of the world…another configuration of existence’—one that reconnects to place and people.21 

Rebuilding regional life by prioritising its location, local cultures and crucial importance to urban existence would compel us to look with fresh eyes at the relationships that shape and constrain agricultural production, relationships between the residents of cities and the bush, relationships between white and black Australians and our Pacific neighbours. A post-COVID, post-neoliberal ordering of these relationships needs a new shared imagination to take us somewhere very different from where we find ourselves today, staring at digital wheat futures and unwrapping space-food in lockdown Melbourne.

Notes

1. Frédéric Neyrat, The Unconstructable Earth: An Ecology of Separation, translated by Drew Burk, New York: Fordham University Press, 2019, p. 19.

2. Neyrat, p. 5.

3. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966, p. 3.

4. Jennifer Clapp, ‘Financialization, Distance and Global Food Politics’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 41(5), 2014, p. 798.

5. Jane Dixon, ‘Supermarkets as New Food Authorities’, in David Burch and Geoffrey Lawrence (eds), Supermarkets and Agri-food Supply Chains: Transformations in the Production and Consumption of Foods, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007, pp. 29–50.

6. Marc Edelman, ‘Hollowed Out Heartland, USA: How Capital Sacrificed Communities and Paved the Way for Authoritarian Populism’, Journal of Rural Studies, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2019.10.045.

7. Lesley Head, Jennifer Atchison and Alison Gates, Ingrained: A Human Bio-geography of Wheat, London: Ashgate Publishing, 2012, p. 131.

8. Sarina Macfayden, Garrick McDonald and Matthew Hill, ‘From Species Distributions to Climate Change Adaptation: Knowledge Gaps in Managing Invertebrate Pests in Broad-acre Grain Crops’, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 253, 2018, pp 208–19; Hazel Parry, Sarina Macfadyen and Darren Kriticos, ‘The Geographical Distribution of Yellow Dwarf Viruses and Their Aphid Vectors in Australian Grasslands and Wheat’, Australasian Plant Pathology, 41, 2012, pp 375–87; Narelle Nancarrow, Fiona Constable, Kyla Finlay, Angela Freeman, Brendan Rodoni, Piotr Trebicki, Simone Vassiliadis, Alan Yen and Jo Luck, ‘The Effect of Elevated Temperature on Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus-PAV in Wheat’, Virus Research 186, 2014, pp 97–103; Piotr Trebicki, Narelle Nancarrow, Ellen Cole, Nilsa Bosque-Pérez, Fiona Constable, Angela Freeman, Brendan Rodoni, Alan Yen, Jo Luck and Glenn Fitzgerald, ‘Virus Disease in Wheat Predicted to Increase with a Changing Climate’, Global Change Biology, 21, 2015, pp 3511–19.

9. Ary Hoffmann, Andrew Weeks, Michael Nash, G. Peter Mangano and Paul Umina, ‘The Changing Status of Invertebrate Pests and the Future of Pest Management in the Australian Grains Industry’, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 48, 2008, pp 1481–93.

10. Matt Huber, ‘Reinvigorating Class in Political Ecology: Nitrogen Capital and the Means of Degradation’, Geoforum 85, 2017, pp 345–52; https://www.bbc.com/news/business-38305504.

11. Ross Lake, ‘Food, Water, and Community’, public presentation at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, December 2019; recording available at: https://ipcs.org.au/recording/food-water-and-community/

12. Elyne Mitchell, Soil and Civilization, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1946.

13. Wendell Berry, ‘The Work of Local Culture’, available at: https://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/wendell-berry-the-wor...

14. John Hinkson, ‘The ‘Innocence’ of the Settler Imagination’, in Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson (eds), Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia, Melbourne: Arena Publications, pp 287–94.

15. Yin Paradies, ‘Unsettling Truths: Modernity, (de-)coloniality and Indigenous Futures’, Postcolonial Studies, 23(4), available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13688790.2020.1809069

16. Berry.

17. David Farrugia, ‘The Mobility Imperative for Rural Youth: The Structural, Symbolic and Non-Representational Dimensions Rural Youth Mobilities’, Journal of Youth Studies, 19, 2016, pp. 836–51.

18. Lauren Rickards and Elspeth Oppermann, ‘Battling the Tropics to Settle a Nation: Negotiating Multiple Energies, Frontiers and Feedback Loops in Australia’, Energy Research & Social Science 41, 2018, pp 97–108.

19. Mitchell, p. 46.

20. Charles Massy, Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2017.

21. Neyrat, p. 183.

Breaking the Chain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/11/2020 - 9:33pm in

Tags 

Food

A crucial link in the food chain has been forgotten by the government, exposing us to a potential disaster after the Brexit transition.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 18th November 2020

A few days ago, I carried out a small experiment. I sent almost identical requests to two government departments. I asked the business department whether the UK holds strategic oil reserves. Yes: the UK keeps stocks equivalent to 90 days of net imports. I asked the environment department whether the UK holds strategic food reserves. No: they aren’t necessary, because “the UK has a highly resilient food supply chain”. The government treats oil as a strategic asset but food as a matter for the market.

So what happens if our “highly resilient food supply chain” breaks after Brexit transition, on 1 January? It won’t, the government promised. “Our risk assessments show there will not be an overall shortage of food in the UK,” whether or not there’s a deal. But when I pressed it to show me these risk assessments, the plural turned out to be misleading. There’s just one assessment: a “reasonable worst-case scenario” for the UK’s borders.

This is grim enough. It suggests that the flow of freight through the ports could be reduced by between 20% and 40%, while trucks travelling in either direction could be delayed by up to two days: a big problem for fresh food. This month, the National Audit Office reviewed the government’s border arrangements, and found them to be late, untested, “inherently complex”, “high-risk” and “very challenging”. The government’s brinkmanship, intended to wrongfoot the EU, has instead wrongfooted our own hauliers and traders, who have been unable to prepare with confidence.

So far, so bad. But the UK’s border is only one link in the food supply chain, and it may not be the weakest. If the ports are congested and the flow of goods reduced, we will need stocks to bridge the gap. Food traders will have to build reserves, now and in December, to cover the likely shortfall in January. This means warehouse capacity. One minor hitch: there isn’t any.

Because of the shift to online sales caused by the pandemic, and the need to store protective equipment, much of the spare capacity was mopped up before the second lockdown. Now, because nonessential shops are closed, plenty of stock is stuck in warehouses. Any remaining space has been swallowed by Christmas: tinsel, toys and turkeys. Goods for the domestic market will have to compete for warehouse space with goods for export, as traders expect snarl-ups in both directions.

A survey by the UK Warehousing Association found that there is less than 3% spare capacity nationwide. Most of this consists of small corners, useless for major wholesalers. The association believes “the situation will quickly become critical”.

While the government has spent £1.4bn this year on border arrangements that would usually be made by the private sector, it has done nothing to ensure there is sufficient storage space, or that food is prioritised. Such issues, it believes, are best left to business.

But its confidence in the food industry is not shared by the industry itself. In October, the chair of Tesco warned of fresh food shortages for “a few weeks, possibly a few months” after 1 January. The UK imports 62% of its fresh food, much of it from Europe. We rely on European trade for most of our onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and salad, and for a critical portion of many other vegetables and fruits. In the dead of winter, with trucks stuck at the border, possible tariffs, a weaker pound and no warehouse space, the price of fresh produce could go through the roof. If you can find it at all.

Last year, before the transition deadline was extended, the government did conduct wider risk assessments. When they were leaked, we discovered that it foresaw “potential consumer panic and food shortages”. This year, though the situation is greatly complicated by the pandemic, it seems to have decided that it’s best not to ask.

Is the problem confined to fresh food? With neither strategic food reserves nor a strategic risk assessment of warehouse capacity, I’m beginning to wonder. Without testing every link in the chain, the government has no grounds for dismissing the threat of an overall shortage. While it now seems almost certain that we will face a dearth of fresh fruit and vegetables, could there also be deficits of some kinds of frozen, tinned and dried food?

Already, thanks to a combination of austerity and the coronavirus, plenty of people in the UK struggle to afford a good diet. According to the UN, a healthy diet costs five times as much as one that is merely adequate in terms of calories. The number of people using foodbanks this year has risen by nearly a half. Any interruption of supply will hit those in poverty first, and worst.

When the government was challenged on this issue in parliament last year, it claimed it was “not responsible for the supply of food and drink to the population in an emergency”. That is up to “the industry”. In other words, little has changed since the Irish famine of the 1840s and the Indian famines of the 1870s. It’s the same reckless, uncaring attitude that has helped kill 50,000 people in the pandemic.

Because we are leaving the single market and the customs union, the disruption is likely to be brutal, whether or not a deal is struck. If Brexit causes further economic rupture, the shops are half-empty and even the foodbanks can’t find enough supplies, there is a real prospect of chronic hunger. But search as you may, you will find no one in government who gives a damn.

www.monbiot.com

Beware December 31st

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 7:19am in

The food industry now thinks that Brexit will actually be government’s ‘worst-case scenario’ on January 1st and the Grocer has added this little table to give some idea of shortages: It rather confirms Tesco’s suggestion that there will be two or three months of fresh food disruption – indeed the same article quotes one industry... Read more

New poster campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 7:16am in

Which is, I suspect, organised by Led by Donkeys – the posters seem to suggest their blackly humorous and hard hitting style, which is, as more and more of us realise, no more than the truth: What they don’t mention is that all this self-inflicted hardship is actually in the middle of a pandemic…... Read more

The Tulkoff Flaming Hot Bloody Mary

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 1:01am in

Tags 

Food, Cocktails

So, ya remember when I made the Chesapeake Crab Imperial and busted out the Chesapeake Restaurant menu from 1984? Well here’s the menu: Here’s the back page featuring their beer, wine, and cocktail offerings. One of the drinks caught my attention. Can you guess which one? If you said the Bloody Mary, DING DING DING!Continue reading The Tulkoff Flaming Hot Bloody Mary →

The City That Guarantees the Right to Eat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/11/2020 - 7:00pm in

Welcome to The Fixer, three great stories found on the internet this week.

Who’s hungry?

In the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, the city of Belo Horizonte, population 2.5 million, has done something remarkable: It has virtually eliminated hunger. And it hasn’t cost a fortune to do it.

In 1993, the city created a law that guarantees the right to food and requires municipal agencies to “provide access to food as a measure of social justice.” How do they do it? By connecting food producers directly to consumers; holding prices at 25 to 50 percent below market rate for 25 basic food items; providing free food through schools, daycare centers and nursing homes; and operating food banks that distribute excess food that would otherwise be thrown away.

This system only consumes two percent of the city’s budget — money well spent, as it left Belo Horizonte well positioned when Covid-19 struck. Even as unemployment and economic hardship has spread, the city’s hunger rate remains at near zero. Yes! Magazine has a nice photo spread of the system in action, showing a city mobilized around keeping every citizen fed.

Read more at Yes! Magazine

The village green

For those hoping that we can “bounce forward” from challenging times, the tiny town of Greensburg, Kansas is about as encouraging as evidence gets. Completely devastated by a tornado in 2007, the deep-red suburb — which overwhelmingly voted for President Trump in 2016 — seized the opportunity to build back better by going green. 

After the tornado, it rebuilt its schools, library, city hall, medical center and other municipal buildings as high-efficiency structures that save $200,000 per year. Greenburg’s toilets are low-flow, its landscaping drought-resistant and its streetlights LED. Most amazingly, what energy the town still uses now comes entirely from wind power, making it one of the few places in the U.S. that runs on 100 percent renewables.

greensburgGreensburg, Kansas after the 2007 tornado. Credit: Jenni / Flickr

Greenburg is living proof of what might be possible as cities and towns rebuild for resilience after floods, hurricanes — even Covid-19. Around the world, pandemic-related stimulus funds are being leveraged to create greener economies, as research shows that investments in green energy deliver twice as many jobs as spending on fossil fuels. “I totally believe that we’re a living laboratory here with a plethora of architectural design and sustainable environmental practices to share,” the former mayor told the Washington Post.

Read more at the Washington Post

Meet me at the mall

If the Mall of America just outside Minneapolis has one thing in abundance, it’s space. It’s nearly twice as big as the second-biggest mall in the U.S., with over 500 stores and 40 million visitors per year. Now, it’s dedicating some of that square footage to free retail space for small businesses affected by Covid-19 and civil unrest.

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Altogether, 17 businesses are getting a space in the mall rent-free for a six-month period, long enough to carry them through the holiday shopping season. All 17 businesses are minority-owned, and 10 are owned by women. The move could benefit the businesses involved long after they’ve moved back into their old spaces, as the new customer bases they found at the mall follow them. “The ethnic minority entrepreneurs who dream big can benefit from this expanded market exposure,” said one retail expert. “To build a successful crossover to a mainstream market, they need to appeal to an audience sizable enough to ensure profitability.” 

In the meantime, the arrangement is paying dividends. “I would always say we’re going to have a storefront at the Mall of America, even last year when I just started my company,” one of the business owners told Next City, adding that he’s on track to do $10,000 in sales this month — quadruple his typical number.

Read more at Next City

The post The City That Guarantees the Right to Eat appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

A sort of sweet revenge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/11/2020 - 7:37am in

Tags 

Food, Society

There is a pretty devastating criticism from Joanna Blythman in the Grocer here on how obesity is driven by carbohydrates but encouragingly: The low-carb diet market is expected to grow by 6.4% by 2027.  I do hope it does…The food trade can no longer say that they don’t know about carbohydrate dangers and indeed Dr... Read more

Hard-Knocks Restaurant Workers Are Embracing Mental Wellness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/11/2020 - 3:01am in

When employees clock into work at Mulvaneys B&L, a popular farm-to-table restaurant in Sacramento, California, they’re encouraged to slip one of four color-coded cards into a cardboard box. The cards have faces on them: one is happy, one is angry, one is neutral and one is stressed (in restaurant parlance, that’s “in the weeds.”)

“It’s like the pain signs at hospitals,” explains co-owner Patrick Mulvaney. Though the cards are anonymous, they give employees a chance to assess their own moods and share them with the manager or the peer helper on duty. During the staff’s pre-service meeting, the manager can share how many angry or stressed employees there are that day and ask if anyone needs additional support, empathy, or patience.

The box, which was co-owner (and Patrick’s wife) Bobbin Mulvaney’s idea, is just one measure put in place by I Got Your Back, a year-old peer-to-peer counseling program that the Mulvaneys helped start in response to several suicides in the Sacramento restaurant community in early 2018. In May of that year, Noah Zonca, the beloved, larger-than-life longtime chef of Sacramento’s the Kitchen, where Mulvaney also worked, died by suicide. He was one of 12 Sacramento restaurant workers to die by suicide that year. A month later, the issue of restaurant industry suicides was thrust into the spotlight when celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain hanged himself in a hotel in Alsace, France.  

Frankie Lopez, a manager at Mulvaneys B&L, and bartender Dan Mitchell. Photo courtesy Patrick Mulvaney

Even before Zonca’s death, the Mulvaneys had been having conversations with Sacramento chefs and restaurant owners, health care professionals, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, state senators and even Governor Gavin Newsom about how to tackle mental health issues in the hospitality industry. But the losses of Zonca and Bourdain added a sense of urgency. The final iteration of I Got Your Back came out of a design workshop at the Innovation Learning Network conference in October 2018. With the financial support of the James Beard Foundation and all four major area health systems — Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and the UC Davis Medical Center — a pilot was launched in September 2019.

Restaurant workers are especially prone to mental health and substance abuse issues. As journalist Kat Kinsman, founder of the blog Chefs with Issues, has written, “People who deal with mental health and addiction issues are drawn to this work because it has always been a haven for people who exist on the fringes; restaurant jobs have brutal hours and often pay very little and don’t offer health care; there is easy access to alcohol and illicit substances; and workers have traditionally been rewarded for their masochism — shut up and cook.” 

Kevin Ritchie, executive chef at Mulvaneys B&L, wearing an I Got Your Back pin. Photo courtesy Patrick Mulvaney

Indeed, research shows that the hospitality industry is especially vulnerable: a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that service workers in tipped environments are more likely to develop depression, sleep problems and stress than those in salaried industries. And mental health experts say that the Covid-19 pandemic — and its subsequent closures and layoffs — have only exacerbated anxiety, depression and substance use. 

This makes peer-to-peer mental health support programs like I Got Your Back more crucial than ever. The concept is simple. Restaurant workers are more likely to confide in their peers than they are in their boss or manager. “They’re not going to talk to me as the chef,” says Mulvaney. “But they’ll talk to Kevin, Jana, or Lisa.” Members of the staff are asked if they’d like to be peer helpers, called Purple Hands. After an eight-hour Mental Health First Aid training (some of which are conducted in Spanish), these staff members wear a Purple Hand pin during service so that everyone knows they are the point person for anyone experiencing a mental health challenge. Each restaurant aims to have one Purple Hand on staff for each shift.

Anonymous face cards let employees assess their own moods and share them with the manager or the peer helper on duty. Photo courtesy Patrick Mulvaney

Twelve Sacramento restaurants participated in the pilot, which ran from September to November 2019. The results were promising. Nearly 70 percent of restaurant workers said that they would be somewhat or very likely to discuss their mood or mental health concern with a Purple Hand co-worker. And 22 percent of respondents reported that they had talked to a Purple Hand at their restaurant about their mood or other mental health concerns.

Jana Rogers, a server and sommelier at Mulvaneys B&L, has worked in the restaurant industry for 29 years, 12 of them at Mulvaneys. “The people I work with are family to me,” she says. “I love the people I work with.” So training to be a Purple Hand peer mentor was a no-brainer. Part of her role, she says, is to help build a culture where “it’s okay to not be okay.” In that respect, she says, the program has succeeded. Co-workers often check in with her mid-shift and tell her they’re struggling with something. “They’ll say, ‘Before you leave tonight, can we chat? I’ll be brief.’ And even if it’s one in the morning, we’ll chat,” Rogers says. “And we’ll at least get something started, so the person doesn’t feel alone and isolated.” 

restaurantJana Rogers (center), a server and sommelier at Mulvaneys B&L, wearing a Purple Hands pin. Photo courtesy Patrick Mulvaney

If necessary, she also connects her co-workers with mental health professionals or other resources. At Mulvaneys, when employees clock out at the end of the night, they each get a slip of paper that says, “I Got Your Back — we’re there for you!” with all the Purple Hand peer counselors’ names and phone numbers on it. That way, if they are anxious or depressed later — or during a day they’re off — they’ll have easy access to their co-workers’ contact information.

Rogers thinks the program has already helped change the culture at her restaurant — just by normalizing mental health issues. “As the conversation is becoming more prevalent, it’s shifting the reaction we have to the words ‘mental health,’” she says. “It is removing part of the stigma.” 

Patrick Mulvaney is frequently invited to speak about the program. He’s spoken at the California Restaurant Association conference, Slow Food Nation in Denver and the James Beard Foundation’s Chef Action Summit. And he’s talked to restaurateurs in at least ten other states who plan to implement the initiative. He’s even gotten calls from the State of California, NYC Thrive (the city’s mental health care initiative) and Active Minds, all of which are interested in adapting the program to other industries.

Chefs are good at making stuff happen, notes Mulvaney, but not too good at asking for the money to make it happen. But they should get over this, he says. “Especially on this issue, people continue to be generous, so don’t be afraid to ask for money, advice, or guidance,” he says. “Especially money.” 

The post Hard-Knocks Restaurant Workers Are Embracing Mental Wellness appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

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