Hello again, dear readers, and welcome back to Lunch Rush, the official newsletter of Lunch Group 🌻 Between the recent UN Climate Report, intense tropical storms barreling through the Caribbean and up the east coast, and fires ravaging the northwest (not to mention, all sides of the Mediterranean), the effects of climate change have felt inescapably real and palpable these past few weeks, and it’s no secret that factory farming and meat production are major contributors to global warming. One of our main objectives at Lunch Rush is to zoom out and consider the bigger picture when we think about food and drink, approaching ingredients as not simply means to an end, but part of interconnected systems that inform and affect our lives well after the plates have been cleared. Broadly: what does it mean from an environmental standpoint to eat a particular ingredient? Whose hands have played a part in its cultivation, its processing, and its sale? What does “sustainable” actually look like in practice? What happens to that which is grown but not eaten? What does it mean to truly shop local, and for whom is that realistically an option? What is the true cost of a meal? This month we’re getting our hands dirty – literally – and highlighting a few projects loosely related to agriculture, from root to rot.
In this issue, we have a mixed media piece from Narsiso Martinez inspired by and incorporating materials from his experience as an agricultural worker after he migrated from Mexico to Eastern Washington in his twenties. We’ve got a conversation between Luz Cruz of Cuir Kitchen Brigade and Ceci Pineda, executive director of BK ROT, a grassroots composting operation working to empower local Black and brown youth in city greenspaces. We’ve got a recipe from Wen-Jay Ying of Local Roots, the NYC-based CSA, which recently launched a market and cafe space in Carroll Gardens. And as always, we’re throwing a fresh crop of recs your way from folks across the farming and food sovereignty spaces!
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Cara Cara (2021) by Narsiso Martinez, ink, charcoal, gouache, collage and matte gel on found produce box, 43 x 35 inches
Narsiso Martinez’s paintings and mixed media installations include individual portraits and multi-figure compositions of farm laborers set against the agricultural landscapes and brand designs of grocery store produce boxes. Drawn from his own experience as a farm worker, Martinez’s work focuses on the people performing the labors necessary to fill produce sections and restaurant kitchens around the country. Martinez’s portraits of farm workers are executed on discarded produce boxes collected from grocery stores. In a style informed by inter-war Social Realism and European Realism, Martinez’s work makes visible the difficult labor and onerous working conditions of the American farm worker.
Narsiso Martinez (b. 1977, Oaxaca, Mexico) migrated to the United States when he was 20 years old. He attended Evans Community Adult School and completed high school in 2006 at the age of 29. To finance his education, Martinez worked seasonally in the apple orchards of Eastern Washington for nine years. He earned an Associate of Arts degree in 2009 from Los Angeles City College. In the fall of 2012 Narsiso earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from California State University Long Beach. In the spring of 2018 he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting from California State University Long Beach, and was awarded the prestigious Dedalus Foundation MFA Fellowship in Painting and Sculpture. His work has been exhibited both locally and internationally. Narsiso’s work is in the permanent collections of the LBMA, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Crocker Art Museum, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum at the University of Oregon, the Santa Barbara Museum, and others. Martinez lives and works in Long Beach, CA.
Something to Chew On
Ceci Pineda & Luz Cruz on Composting & Community – Microbial or Otherwise
Ceci Pineda (they/them) is the executive director of BK ROT. As New York’s first community-supported, bike-powered, fossil-fuel-free food waste hauling and composting service, BK ROT offers a localized, regenerative green economy rooted in the principles of environmental justice. Staffed primarily by young people of color from Brooklyn who disproportionately face the consequences of environmental destruction and whose voices are often excluded from the dominant policy strategies for urban sustainability, BK ROT uplifts the people and places responsible for managing waste and to support the next generation of climate justice leaders.
Luz Cruz is a queer, Afro-Latinx, transgender writer and a food justice organizer at Cuir Kitchen Brigade. Their work focuses on sustainability and climate change through a racial and gender justice lens. Their writing has previously appeared in Autostraddle, Serious Eats, Civil Eats, and Eater.
Luz Cruz: When did you first discover your love for compost?
Ceci Pineda: I started volunteering with the Hattie Carthan community garden around 2012 or 2013 and one of the first things I started helping out with was the compost and I remember a lot of joy. It smelled very pleasant for me. I didn’t get involved with BK ROT until the fall of 2016, but I think you know I come from doing some organizing work. I was working at these non profits that felt like sometimes more bureaucratic than like real work (or at least what I was doing). When I was volunteering, working with compost was so tangible, seeing that transformation. I would sift (you know we used to do manual sifting at BK ROT) and I remember I would just feel euphoria after leaving. The more that I learned about compost the more I started to fall in love with it.
LC: Yeah I have laid under a sifter and had people sift compost on top of my body before. I have the same deep love, the smell of it.
CP: Yeah I remember, at first, I was like this is me with the earth medicine or something, but then I read an article later about the serotonin released in our bodies when we work with the earth or because of the microorganisms there. I was like this is definitely it, compost must be so rich in these organisms that you're able to feel literal joy from like your hands working with it for an extended period.
LC: I’ve been reading a lot about fungi and it’s wild. I have a new found love for fungi but I wonder if our bodies absorb any of those microbes.
CP: Yeah I definitely wonder that too, I feel like there is a lot of research talking about this mirroring in our own bodies and the earth’s microbial communities. Maybe it hasn’t really been done yet but I feel like there are therapies or different healing properties that come from working with compost or like you’re saying – laying underneath the sifter. Like if I was to go swimming in a pile of cured compost, I would love to try that sometime.
LC: I want to help facilitate that dream for you, though it's probably not that hard since BK ROT has piles and piles of compost.
CP: I’ve also thought about compost steams and I feel like there’s something there.
LC: How did BK ROT Start?
CP: So, Sandy Nurse founded BK ROT in 2013 and for a time she was just doing delivery service on her bike (Editor’s note: Sandy is currently running for city council in district 37). She had this moment where she thought instead of delivering food, we should be dealing with issues of food waste. Her mind took it one step forward, like, actually the people who should be getting paid for this job are local youth and so that was the genesis of that thought. Sandy pitched it around to different gardens and connected with Renee Peperone and they worked together. They first launched off a few hundred dollars from a Gofundme to get a trailer. They had a bike lying around and hired the first youth worker, Victor, who was in highschool at the time. and he started collecting food scraps. They had a partnership with another community garden in Bushwick at that time where they started composting out of using a three bin system but they soon outgrew that space and transitioned to Know Waste Lands, which was like a vacant lot partly owned by NYC. Once they had that space, they put it in service of BK ROT’s composting operations and created this wildlife garden for community members and our eco community too.
LC: And BK ROT has since outgrown that spot too right?
CP: Yeah we are now partnering with multiple gardens as well as integrating technology, because the demand for processing organic waste is so great in NYC. We are trying to maximize our capacity of how much organic waste we divert from the landfill. Youth workers either process it themselves at the gardens that we work with or Big Reuse takes the food waste that we collect at our public drop offs and processes it at their larger site – they process I think a million tons a year.
LC: Wow that’s a lot of compost.
CP: Yeah I think they process 100 of these 64 gallon toters a week. We collect nine at our food scraps drop offs, but you know that's like over 2000 pounds of food waste that we are collecting just through drop off.
LC: Last year the city stopped collecting compost for some time, did you see an uptick in the amount of compost you were collecting?
CP: We definitely had a huge increase in people composting with us. Pre-pandemic, in 2019 the average amount that we would collect at drop offs a week was over 500 pounds. When the pandemic started and we were in the epicenter in NYC, we took a little break to reconfigure, but since we relaunched drop offs, I think in June or so of 2020, we were collecting over 1000 lbs a week, so we more than doubled again this year we are already over 2000 pounds a week. For our residential service where youth riders collect food scraps from people's homes right at their door by bike, we went from 75 customers with some people on our waiting list to close out the year with over 200. Now we have like 330 households who subscribe to our pick up service.
LC: How many youth workers do you employ and what do you feel is the importance of youth doing this work?
CP: We’ve had some recent growth, so we currently have eleven in total – we have seven young workers for hauling,compost management and drop off processing operations, as well asfour who participate in our youth leaders program. I think it’s really powerful in many ways. Biking and composting is accessible work and I think that is something that is really special for BK ROT. We provide the supportive structures for youth to take on their roles and responsibilities and grow in terms of autonomy and leadership. They suggest ideas and we implement them as an organization. It’s a space that allows them to grow because their ideas are valued here and people are listening. We employ predominantly Black and brown youth who are from Brooklyn and encourage them to become leaders in green spaces.
Seeing all of the gentrification in Bushwick and the lack of composting options and the lack of youth leadership in a lot of the greenspaces that were being revitalized, Sandy was like “oh you can own this and lead in these roles.” It's really cool because even in our partner gardens’ youth are running drop offs, making the compost sales, managing the compost, troubleshooting things, fixing bikes...it's amazing to see them move in and really move up in these roles.
I also think that a lot of the systems that we have inherited haven’t been created by Black and brown folks, let alone youth, so I think it is really essential to have young people shape the ways we want to live in this world. Composting can transform the way we deal with waste in an accessible way using tools like a pitchfork and a shovel and really taking ownership of a system.
LC: Youth workers, I love them. I love all of the work that they do... They are just like keepers of immense knowledge.
CP: They imbue so much care and intensity in things and they also always keep it real. It’s just so incredibly refreshing.
LC: What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from compost?
CP: I feel like I learn lessons from compost everytime I work with compost.
LC: What’s the lesson for today?
CP: Compost teaches us the power of transformation and also how transformation requires a lot of different kinds of work, especially collective work. In composting, it's not like you put something there and then you leave it and then it transforms. It requires attention and processing and churning in order to see that transformation come to fruition. So it makes me think of a mirrored comparison to when we grow food. I think about it in life when we put forward these intentions – there are ways that you have to give them attention in order to really see something evolve or for that transformation to happen.
In New York we are so cut off from our resources, we are so disconnected from waste. I think about how people throw their trash all over the streets sometimes because you don’t see it as a part of you. You don't see yourself as being connected to it, nor to the environment. In a lot of spaces, people say they compost and really they mean they just drop off their food waste. They don’t understand why we ask them to donate if they aren’t going to help out in the composting process. There is so much labor that is made invisible, so for me it felt really important to name who our composters are. Acknowledging that, yes, the youth workers are the ones that are stewarding this process, who are doing the labor. – the youth are the ones who are composting with the fungi and the bacteria. Really naming the whole community that is involved in that process, that’s a beautiful thing that BK ROT does especially well. One of my favorite things about composting is that it connects the animal plant and fungi kingdom together, we are all a part of that system.
Yea Yea Ying’s Tea Eggs
Wen-Jay Ying is the owner and founder of Local Roots NYC. She was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by Mayor Bloomberg for neighborhood development through her work at Local Roots, which she started at the age of 26. She is an alumni of The Good Work Institute, speaks at the International Culinary Center Farm to Table Program, and is a contributing editor to Pot Luck Journal. Frequently quoted in the NY Times and Huffington Post for her expertise on sustainability and agriculture, Wen-Jay has a weekly radio show called Food Stripped Naked where she converses with chefs, farmers, and others involved in the food system. You can explore more of her entrepreneurial journey on the show Hustle where she’s featured as a leading entrepreneur in NYC.
“In Chinese culture, hard boiled eggs symbolize rebirth or a new start and are often served to guests during an important event or time. Tea eggs were some of my favorite dishes cooked by my mom and I always hunt them down when I visit my brother in Shanghai.”
6 eggs (note: try to use 2-3 week-old eggs to make peeling easier)
2 cups (400 grams) water
1/3 cup (135 grams) soy sauce
12 pieces star anise
8 pieces cloves
2 tablespoons (10 grams) black tea leaves
2 tablespoons orange juice
Hard boil the eggs: bring water to a boil in a medium pot. When the water reaches a rolling boil, reduce to a simmer and carefully lower in eggs with a slotted spoon. Cook for 8 minutes. While the eggs boil, prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and cold water. After 8 minutes, remove the eggs from the boiling water and submerge in ice bath.
Clean out the pot used to boil the eggs and dry. Prepare a broth by stirring together 2 cups of water, soy sauce, star anise, tea leaves, and orange juice. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes then turn off the heat. Carefully pour the broth into a medium-sized bowl and allow to cool completely.
While the broth cools, take eggs out of the ice bath and lightly crack eggshells all over with the back of a spoon. Use your fingers to press on the eggs to deepen the cracks. Don’t remove eggshells. Place the eggs in a quart container.
When the broth is completely cool, pour the cold broth over eggs. Steep in the fridge for 12 hours.
To serve, peel the eggs (note: the fresher the eggs, the harder it might be to peel, so be careful not to peel off your egg whites). They should look beautifully marbled. Tea eggs will keep in the fridge for 4 days.
A dedicated section to boost suggestions from friends & collaborators.
Silky Sullivan (he/his, arts administrator by day and 1/2 of @sistasnackin): While we are thankfully coming to the end of the pandemic as we know it (sort of), the holistic remedies that I’ve picked up during this time will remain a staple in my regimen. As a Native Washingtonian who continues to reside in what once was “Chocolate City” I find immense pride in centralizing the support of local Black and POC co-ops (Glut Food Co-op), farms (Abundant Life, DC Urban Greens), and herbalists (Ivy Tea Co., Blue Nile Botanicals) for my holistic and dietary needs. I find immense power in fostering cultural scholarship amongst these businesses as they are often those on the front lines providing resources, education and support to those who need it most; my patronage and dollars are truly put to use in ways that reverberate within the community. I’ve also fostered a deep reverence for community-centric organizations rooted in sustainability and wellness in totality; Swap, DC Mutual Aid Apothecary and Collective Health Initiative recently collaborated for a community event offering health care, clothing swaps, bodywork workshops, and herbal consultations.
Maeve Dillon (Fundraising professional, Farmer at Indian Line Farm + caretaker of plants in and around The Berkshires): There's a lot of change happening in The Berkshires and Hudson Valley area. Kite's Nest is doing the work to address gentrification and the affordable housing shortage in Hudson, NY through "the liberatory education of youth." Farming over the past 10+ years has changed the way I eat meat and poultry. I buy from local folks as often as I can: Hidden Mountain Farm, North Plain Farm, and Jacuterie to name a few. Can't eat enough Bad Habit ice cream. Roasted banana with coffee caramel is the move. And when folks ask me who to donate to, I always start off with Soul Fire Farm. The work they do is truly impactful. As a mug lover, my favorite ceramic artists right now are Mud Witch, Amelia Wrede Davis, and Harry Levenstein. My partner and I do not drink alcohol. Casamara Club is a N/A amaro soda that satisfies my need for a fancy drink. I will end with this: I am late to the Animal Crossing: New Horizons world. Bruce is my #1 villager. We have the same birthday, May 26th. Geminis for life.
Victoria Yan (she/her, comms and content manager at Brooklyn Grange, impact lead at 1:1 Foods): Summers have been marked by my favorite fruits; litchi and longan. My family would drive down to Manhattan’s Chinatown and stop by the vendors on Canal and Mulberry for the plumpest bunches. At home, we would manically peel the hardy skins to access this prized (and expensive!) treat. This summer was no different. I’ve been thinking a lot about how lucky I was to grow up in close proximity to robust Asian communities. Among other things, it has allowed me to eat these fruits in the summer, to have nuomi ou in the fall and to warm myself with dong gua tang in the winter. Cooking was one way my parents wielded their power in this country. As an adult, making these dishes has also allowed me to feel ownership of my identity. I’m so grateful to live in a time where Asian American growers like Christina Chan of Choy Division and Kristyn Leach of Namu Farms are growing our vegetables, preserving our seeds, and breeding cultivars. Not only is it a celebration of our histories, but a fierce recognition and ownership of our futures in America — that’s food sovereignty to me.
Kirby Barth (she/her, founder of Slow Food Youth Network Chicago and graduate from University of Gastronomic Sciences): Slow Food's mission is to provide food that is good, clean, and fair for all. That is what good food means to me. I just finished Alice Waters' We Are What We Eat: A Slow Food Manifesto where she promotes rebelling against the fast food mindset that has infiltrated our lives on nearly every level. The Slow Food organization means a lot to me - it’s introduced me to incredible voices and helped shape my knowledge and stance on our global food system. Slow Food often comes under criticism for being an elitist organization. Eating slow, growing your own food, and buying organic are privileged acts. I truly believe the world would be a better place if we cared more about what we eat, but making that a reality for all is an idea I wrestle with often. I’m proud to hear about innovators like Ron Finley, who took urban gardening into his own hands to feed an underserved neighborhood in LA, and the stories of Natasha Bowens' travels in The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming, about farmers and activists across the country who work to preserve heritage foods and historic small food economies. Farming and food sovereignty are inextricably linked, as growing your own food gives you the power to choose what you eat. Urban farming is becoming increasingly common, but so are challenges for urban farmers to gain water access, land, and support. Research what farming or community gardens might exist in your city and find out how you can help provide good, clean and fair food for all.
That’s all for this month, folks! Follow us on Instagram for a little something to tide you over til our next issue. Until then, we’ll be stuffing our faces with tomato mayo sandwiches (IYKYK), but if you’ve got a project you think we should know about or just wanna chat, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.