No blood money in our food please

We believe that linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to our communities and the planet is a key element of the world we want to help build.

City Harvest collects excess food from all segments of the food industry, including restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms. This food is then delivered free of charge to community food programs throughout New York City using a fleet of trucks and bikes. City Harvest also addresses hunger’s underlying causes by supporting affordable access to nutritious food in low-income communities, education for prevention of diet-related diseases, and channeling a greater amount of local farm food into high-need areas. This is important work and deserves the high level of visibility and support it receives from major chefs, celebrities, and city officials.

The problem is, that one of the big names that is now associated with City Harvest is directly responsible for undermining food sustainable food systems, creating poverty, and destabilizing communities from Palestine to Namibia to Brooklyn. Lev Leviev is a villain out of a Disney movie- it is that black and white. He makes money through exploitation and destruction. And now he is claiming to be a big supporter of City Harvest.

As we continuously articulate, The Big Ceci is committed to the goodness of food on multiples levels- the systems of agriculture, labor, health, and community-building that are involved in the making, serving, and enjoying of food.  We all want there to be more equality in who gets to grow and eat what…right?

Well…Leviev is a billionaire who is directly involved in increasing food insecurity and poverty of Palestinian families by developing Israeli settlements on expropriated Palestinian farmland.

uprooted olive trees

Palestinian olive trees uprooted to make way for Israeli settlement construction, sponsored by Leviev’s company.

And Leviev’s diamond companies are also involved in brutal human rights abuses, unethical business practices and impoverishing communities in Angola and Namibia and possibly now Zimbabwe as well. He has also in the past been involved in shady business in Brooklyn connected to new construction gone terribly wrong.

Unfortunately, City Harvest is now linked to Leviev’s abysmal human rights record through a number of media reports over a two year period, saying that Leviev is hosting fundraisers and donating money to City Harvest. Leviev Diamonds publicly stated its plans to support City Harvest with a portion of its November sales and there has been some buzz about hosting diamond-adorned benefits as well.

Local activists from Adalah-NY have been tracking Leviev’s actions since they first heard his plans to open a jewelry/diamond store in New York in 2007, holding pickets outside his store starting from its opening night. Since then, public pressure (yes, including letter writing campaigns!) and the careful research has compelled a wide variety of groups to officially sever ties with Leviev including UNICEF, Oxfam America, and CARE. In the case of Oxfam America, Leviev was promoting himself as an Oxfam supporter without their knowledge, and they were grateful to be tipped off by true supporters, quick to publicly state that they were disturbed to discover that they had unknowingly been a part of the “deliberate strategy of Leviev Diamonds to connect itself with unwitting charities.” Could it be that Leviev is trying to re-bolster his reputation as a philanthropist by associating with City Harvest now?

SO….it’s painfully clear that City Harvest needs to immediately disconnect itself from Leviev and his settlement funding and diamond dealing so that our food systems here are not relying on the exploitation and oppression of people in Africa and the Middle East, and so that destructive forces like Leviev can’t whitewash their dirty business by claiming to be philanthropists. Two letters have already been sent to City Harvest by Adalah-NY, Grassroots International, Brooklyn For Peace, Jews Say No!, and Park Slope Food Coop Members for BDS. But it seems like City Harvest needs to hear that others are concerned as well.

Can you write personal letters? Can you get the restaurant owners/chefs/food writers you know to use their good names to help make sure that good food in New York City isn’t linked with companies that cause major harm to other communities?

Often we feel impossibly bound up in a cruel and destructive system…so concrete opportunities like this to resist it are precious and important.  City Harvest does not need Lev Leviev’s support. This is a simple and direct way for all of us who care about food justice and ending poverty to act in a manner consistent with our values, and to ask our local organizations to be consistent with comprehensive food justice values too. Sometimes it is impossible or difficult to avoid supporting corporations profiting off of the earth’s resources while destroying communities but this is not one of those times! City Harvest and the rest of NYC can indeed avoid Lev Leviev and his blood drenched money, and doing so will make our efforts that much stronger and righteous.

Demonstrators marching in Jayyous

demonstration in the Palestinian village of Jayyous

Palestinians are involved in daily struggle to resist the continuing colonization of their land, but the obstacles they face are that much bigger when the colonization is bankrolled and supported by companies abroad…so it’s on us to push back on these companies (like Leviev) in New York whenever we can!

You can read more about Leviev, diamonds, and settlement building here, and sign a letter to be sent to City Harvest through the Adalah-NY website.

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Lucky Peach: A Delicious Approach to Food Writing

I am obsessed with Lucky Peach.  It is the quarterly journal of food and writing put together by McSweeney’s in collaboration with David Chang, Peter Meehan, Chris Ying and their posse (often including Anthony Bourdain and Daniel Patterson, amongst others) . Lucky Peach

Each issue focuses on a single theme, and explores that theme from often unexpected angles through essays, art, photography, stories, and recipes.
(For example, one might have expected the “Sweet Spot” issue to be about desserts, but it went a more philosophical route and included pieces about the search for the perfect apricot, the achievement of the ephemeral, split second moment of perfection in a dish, meal, or season, and explorations of the career peaks of athletes and chefs). There were also, of course, some genius approaches to dessert offered by Momofuku’s pastry chef Christina Tosi that you pretty much have to be a professional to undertake.

But why devote Big Ceci space to this publication given that it is not exactly an explicitly food justice or transformative community endeavor?

Well…first of all, I find the publication utterly satisfying in every way so I want to share it with my people. Also, I believe in embracing organic and unofficial subversiveness, creativity, critical analysis, respect, and passion found within spaces not (yet) formally aligned with social movements.
The thing is, the dudely bravado emanating from some of the writing and art of Lucky Peach can be easily digested because the overall approach is deliciously queered and hybridized- multiple forms of media, culinary-cultural reflections, thoughtful political and philosophical commentary, recipes integrated into skillful storytelling, a deep and genuine appreciation for food and those who make it, conversations, collaborations, and humor- providing the complexity and holistic context that I crave when reading and eating, and when reading about eating. (I also find the crass shock-and-awe approach to be chilling out as the publication develops and matures. Something that David Chang even articulates in in his message at the beginning of the most recent issue). Also, like all people who truly care about truly good food, the Lucky Peach crew is extremely knowledgeable about the problematic and the inspiring aspects of food production, agriculture, and food service and they share what they know in really digestable ways….

Exposé on the sushi industry in America. Oy.

Exposé on the sushi industry in America. Oy.

Something that really is my bag is collaborative creation and recognition of collective efforts and this Lucky Peach does very well. I commend them for truly coming across as a team. Unlike other publications (or restaurants) with celebrities in the mix, Lucky Peach seems to be a fun and cooperative creative enterprise and through reading it, we get a sense of their crew and the ways they work together, building off each other, inspiring, and challenging each other. It is easy to relate to- it reminds me of my folks and the ways in which we are constructing a shared language, value-system, aesthetic, and vision around food, culture, community, and love.

And although I said above that Lucky Peach is not a “food justice” publication, the articles and their authors always have on-point race and class analysis and articulate these politics in such an unpretentious and dignified way.  Having an “American food” issue is tricky. And they pulled it off really successfully. The key is that they are clever and self-critical and with a positive attitude acknowledge who they are and what they are not.  And, as they always do, they examine many angles. The issue offers a critical analysis of the language of “invasive species” referring to plants and animals and it’s dangerous connections to the lens through which immigrants are represented.  An Ojibwe foodie and writer presents the role of food in the colonization of his tribe while offering a poetic and moving description of traditional wild rice harvesting. Another piece educates the reader about the Khmer Rouge through an unexpected entry point (for those of us who are less familiar with the immigration and labor patterns of Cambodians in the U.S.)- the predominance of Cambodians in the donut shop industry in California.

This literature is using food the way it should be and actually is for many communities- an entry point into a culture, a celebration of special place/time/people, a connection to history, a process of learning, a form of self-expression, an inheritance across generations, a vessel for culture, a way to tell stories….There is also whimsy found in such elements of the issue as the choose your own taco adventure woven between the articles- brilliantly offering a rare nonlinear reading experience.  And don’t even get me started on the poignant critical analysis of food and race representations in cinema articulated by Elvis Mitchell in his piece in this issue and in his conversation with Anthony Bourdaine (who, btw, whether you like his crass politically incorrect straight guy shtick or not, is angry about all the right things and sticks it to elitist dickheads like a pro. See his righteous reading of many problematic food writers, chefs, and restaurants in general in Medium Raw. I’m hyped he’s on our side).

Basically, reading Lucky Peach I learn a lot and am unbelievably entertained. Where else can you find a mainstream fancy food project headed by famous chefs and food writers that has such perspective and actually takes on issues of race, culture, identity, class and combines it all with whimsy, science, film, poetry, and cartoons?

The Miso Cast of Characters. The perfect way to learn about different kinds of miso. Lucky Peach Issue #2

Their fifth issue is The Chinatown Issue. I just started reading it and have already laughed out loud, learned how to make fresh rice wine, and been enlightened by the exploration of the function of Chinatown in the white American imagination…check.it.out.