We are starting the summer with a new menu. This is exciting to me because I worked on it myself – for the first time in several years – and because it reflects where I think we should be going. The restaurant realm is changing and we need to try to keep up with the times.
Over the past year I have had a crisis of spirit about what our business (with so many others) is experiencing. For years, since the seventies, I have felt that what we need to do is steer away from corporate food and towards more personal ways of eating. In my own life, I have found the most culinary enjoyment by walking into a garden with a bowl, picking some things, taking them to the kitchen and simply preparing them.
This is not to say that I would never eat a burger – I love burgers – or that I never watch a cooking show on TV – I love TV. But more and more I see that many restaurants are using the same words: “sustainable,” “organic,” “local,” etc. I have lost confidence that those words mean anything. And I hear workers in our industry complaining about “hipsters” (characters from Portlandia) and the effect they have had on our industry: “What was my chicken’s name?”
All of these things were floating around internally when I started to work on our new menu. It has been hard for me to keep my head in anything lately because the election season has created such anxiety for me. So many people around me are SO SURE that they know what is going on and who is right and how things should go. It’s disconcerting.
The above paragraphs were written a few days ago – before Orlando. Now, honestly, I don’t quite know what to say. My struggles with getting the spice mix perfectly balanced in the Iraqi Chicken or the broth to be more flavorful in the Pho seem trivial. Surely, if I could just walk out of the café door and into the world with good intent in my heart, and if others did the same, we could fix whatever is wrong.
Back when Barb and I were binge watching Breaking Bad, I wondered about the characters we were seeing on the screen – what made them do what they did? I’ve heard the question asked: “when did Walter White break bad?” Some believe it was when Walter let Jesse’s girlfriend aspirate and suffocate as a side effect of heroin use. That makes sense. Just the act of manufacturing and selling meth isn’t bad exactly – it’s just illegal. Watching someone die whom you could save, no matter how economically expedient, is bad.
Is there a larger issue in the above example? Who exactly is Walter White when he makes that decision? If you recall, the story started when he discovered that he had cancer and wanted to make and sell meth in order to stockpile funds to support his family in the event he could no longer work. As we all know, the story changed and he moved on to become a criminal, drug dealer and killer. Nevertheless, he remained a sympathetic character. How was this done? Possibly it was because his character changed over time from a civilian to a warrior. And, for whatever reason, in the case of soldiers, ordinary morality ceases to apply. All of the arguments about this have been eloquently elucidated by religious scholar Karen Armstrong. Her insights include attributing PTSD (and the inability of soldiers to reintegrate into civilian society) to difficulty in reversing that same corruption of morality. (How can someone who has been made to believe that an “enemy” embodies treachery and must be exterminated lose the memory of those convictions, and, more importantly, of the actions which such beliefs might have brought about in combat?)
Significantly, Ms. Armstrong believes that nationalism is a far more likely cause of war than religion, that violence is a necessary part of nation building and that and that any governing body is “obliged to maintain at its heart an institution committed to treachery and violence,” because “violence and coercion . . . lay at the heart of social existence” [her words]. What this means is that societies use police and armies for control and dominance.
Now that is a sticky wicket…. Last week Barb and I were lucky enough to attend an event in Minneapolis whereat Madeleine Albright spoke to a small group of mostly women. One of the many interesting observations she made was that patriotism is fairly benign and useful but nationalism is dangerous. Therein is the peril we face today from Russia and China.
So what are we as Americans – wanting to make good choices and be good global citizens – to make of all this? And how did these things play out in Orlando? What was the shooter thinking as he bought his guns and planned his kills? Again, Karen Armstrong: “Every fundamentalist movement that I’ve studied, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation.”
One of the television news analysts yesterday said that the shooter’s mind had three threads in it: hatred of GLBT, radical Islam and psychopathology. Those three generated his actions. Because I grew up in Texas, I’ve been exposed to bigotry and fundamentalism and easily recognize it. But hate crimes are typically private and involve only a few people. A mass shooting is a different thing. Nevertheless, I can imagine how a child of Afghani immigrants living in Florida could fear cultural annihilation.
Where do we go from here? Co-incidentally, a few days before Orlando, I took some signs I picked up at the Minnesota Council of Churches which say “Blessed Ramadan.” As I am sure everyone now knows, Ramadan is a sacred time for Muslims – the ninth month – when fasting is observed from sunup to sundown. It is the month commemorating the revelation of the Qur’an wherein the gates of Heaven are open and the gates of hell are closed. Devils are chained up.
I have to tell you that I am struggling somewhat with all this. Clearly, the devils are not all chained up. But the only choice available to peace loving people is to stay the course. The Orlando shooter was not acting out of any personal relationship with Allah – he hardly knew Allah. He was acting out of his own mental illness – his own daemons. So I am going to leave those signs in my yard and at our business and hope for the best in people.