I remember in 2019 asking servers what their New Year's Resolution was for the December issue and none of the people I spoke to had one. Perhaps resolutions have gone the way of wearing pants—a nice tradition, but not necessary for Zoom meetings with your manager.
This year I didn't bother (to ask the question, I am wearing pants). This isn't the time when we're thinking about learning a foreign language or taking a trip to Paris (if they'd even have us).
I still like the ritual of believing a new year will offer a clean slate and a new opportunity to do better if you announce it at midnight on the last day of the year.
I am not good at keeping in touch with people—Air Force brat training—so this year I resolved to reconnect with people I admire and who I think have meaningful things to say.
First up is Tabitha Montgomery who is one of the most capable, humble people I've met through this job. I would want her to be the one assigning lifeboats if I was a passenger on the Titanic.
I should have checked in with her months ago. As the executive director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, Montgomery has had a lot more on her plate than hosting the popular art festival (which was virtual in 2020) and culinary event to benefit the neighborhood—which was at the epicenter of the George Floyd killing that devastated not only a community, but a world. "It’s been all the things," she said about the fallout. "Trauma and optimism, efforts taken to recover, the people side of things, the property side of things. Homelessness and encampments. Safety conversations, what it could be, won’t be." But what has given her hope is that the community members are looking to have a healthy community and to heal.
She's seen "a lot of mutual aid and scrappy business owners." For instance, Reverie Cafe + Bar stepped up with a pay-what-you-can service and the businesses that were "sunsetted" weren't seen as failures, but rather acknowledged for what they had given to the community up to that point in time.
Neighborhood and city leaders are still grappling with what to do with the intersection to honor George Floyd and those eight minutes and 46 seconds that have become a beacon to racial inequity.
Montgomery's association is cooperating with others in the area to create an online journal called REACH that will be addressing the community's recovery, its health and racial equity. It should launch this month through its own website: REACHtwincities.org.
With all the talk about how restaurants should take this moment in time to reassess how they do business, I was curious to get Mecca Bos's take on the industry as both an outspoken cook and writer and someone who doesn't shy away from controversy.
She sees this as a time of reckoning. "This industry hasn’t been stable for a very long time, if ever," she said. "Restaurants don’t have safety nets and people who work there don’t have safety nets, and this is what happens."
And although she once loved the industry, "I broke up with restaurants," she said. The pandemic has made it all too painful. And her concern is that the industry will go back to the way it was. "It’s always been an industry that beats people up," she explained.
The problem, she said, is that restaurants are top heavy, with the owners and managers making a living wage while the workers don't. Being a chef was never intended to be glamorous, she said, until the '90s when culinary schools persuaded foodservice workers that they needed to get a formal education and student loans to secure a job at $10 an hour. That was also the timing of celebrity chefs, where culinary students saw themselves being the next Anthony Bourdain.
"It's built on fantasy," she said. "Food preparation is laborious, and don’t think it was ever meant to be glamorous." Which is why you never see the dishwasher on the cover of Bon Appétit.
What she wants to see happen is a more collaborative workplace where the workers have a say in how the operation runs. That's why we saw the beginning of unionization of the breweries and distilleries earlier last year, she pointed out. "Food is politics. I can’t sit and write about taste and beauty," when people are hungry and "there's stealing land from people of color." And she's a great writer.
Here's to 2021. We have a lot of work to do. Time to roll up our sleeves for more than a vaccine.