I was very proud to send out an announcement last week to close friends, activist associates, and new acquaintances. It regarded the debut of Peace Meal Supper Club, an intimate evening of fine food and progressive discussion, focused on strengthening ourselves as agents for positive change. It’s a private event, held in the home I share with my partner, The Stapler. She serves as hostess while I keep the pans hopping on the stove.
The event is simple in concept, like salon-meets-dinner-party. I design a menu centered upon a theme. The diners, while enjoying the meal, freely explore the theme through their dinner conversation.
Peace Meal Supper Club is the physical manifestation of an idea—that food and harmony and social justice and animal rights and environmental responsibility and all other good things can coexist around a single dinner table. It’s the idea that we can all be nourished sufficiently and satisfactorily at the same time, with no harm being done to anyone living. It’s a big idea, so it’s going to take a lot of good food. And a lot of progressive discussion.
These two focal points will manifest in their most natural ways.
The food will be exploratory, fusion-inspired, organic, always vegan. Through the dinner’s four courses, I will highlight ethnic commonalities in the use of techniques and spices, hopefully illustrating our global communion.
The discussion, provided by the diners with only subtle suggestion from me via the menu, will be, like all good discussions, free form, widely ranging, self-governing and civil. But the theme will be clearly on the table, with each course reminding the diners that there is a purpose to our being here.
That leaves only the outcome–which will also be free form and widely ranging. Everyone will respond in their own way, but they will be better informed and perhaps more focused after having come to Supper Club.
The theme for the first one is Liberation—a fitting theme for the month of July, in which so many nations celebrate their liberation from other powers. Sometimes we can understand an idea better through contrast. While it would be easy to say USA vs. China, for example, that is indeed too simplistic. It is much more informative to look at those living amidst liberty yet having their own denied. For example, men incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp; Leonard Peltier—and indeed all indigenous Americans; Mexican nationals working in American agricultural fields; and animals held against their will, used for human food.
While preparing for the debut of Peace Meal Supper Club, I’ve revisited old notes and memories. Scribbles of culinary ideas take shape easily, and with a certain plating flair the result will suffice to break the conversational ice. What’s hard is trying to encapsulate all the intellectual ideas. Showing visual contrast on a plate is easy with color and space; on the palate, I can play with bitter or sweet flavors. But how does one show ideological disparity in a main course?
While I try to figure that out artistically, I will sow seeds with words. Let the diners’ discussion bloom into the fruit of change.
With that in mind, here’s the menu for Peace Meal Supper Club #1: Liberation.
Vegetables Stir-Fried with Afghan Spices ~ Red Chile Aioli ~ Naan
In honor of the 149 hostages presently held in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, and the 630 that preceded them
Wild Rice Pilaf ~ Smoked Butternut Skewer ~ Maple Currant Glaze
With respect to Leonard Peltier, US political prisoner since 1977, and to his people, without liberty since 1877
Mushroom Picadillo Tamales ~ Mole Amarillo ~ Roasted Fingerlings
For the 5 million Mexican and American farmworkers excluded from US labor protections
Vanilla Crème Brulee ~ Cherry Chutney ~ Cardamom Cookie
In memory of the billions of animals used annually by the US industrial agricultural system
(On the reverse side of the menu I will offer diners an opportunity to go deeper into the theme via relevant books, websites, and films. The backside of the Liberation menu, therefore, contains the following.)
Seven hundred and seventy nine humans have been incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp since 2002, most of whom were captured under a US-sponsored bounty system. International treaties, Geneva Conventions, UN statutes, US laws, and human rights principles have been openly flouted in order to continue “politically expedient” detention of men without filing formal charges against them. Rampant denial of rights continues under the present administration, though closure of the camp had been promised. Course 1 highlights the Afghan crossroads of cuisine, culture, and capture.
- Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org) and Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org) have extensive libraries of reports on Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.
- Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo, 2009 documentary by UK journalist Andy Worthington: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/outside-the-law-stories-from-guantanamo/
- This Wikipedia article provides access to many government, NGO, and journal reports: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guantanamo_Bay_detention_camp
Leonard Peltier, in prison since 1977 for the alleged murder of two FBI agents, represents the indigenous nations who have been systematically eradicated since the arrival of European settlers. His 1970s advocacy of Lakota sovereignty came in the wake of the “Century of Dishonor,” a period marked by repeated treaty violations on the part of the US. His mixed Lakota and Ojibwe heritage is represented in Course 2.
- In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, by Peter Matthiessen, Viking Penguin, 1983
- Incident at Oglala, 1992 documentary produced and narrated by Robert Redford
- Article at Popular Resistance, regarding indigenous sovereignty and human rights, http://bit.ly/1n6RRYg
Perhaps the biggest invisible problem in the US today is the plight of farmworkers. Whether citizens or foreign nationals, they are exempt from key components of US labor law: Child labor in agricultural settings is permitted by the Fair Labor Standards Act; agricultural workers are exposed to unregulated pesticides in the name of research; agricultural workers are exempt from disability and workers’ compensation in many states; overtime hours are not paid. As for ‘legal’ guest workers, former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel declared the guest worker program to be the closest thing he’d ever seen to slavery. For those who are here ‘illegally,’ the problems only deepen. The overwhelming majority of US farmworkers are of Mexican heritage, and Course 3 is in their honor.
- Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, by John Bowe, Random House, 2007
- Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization focused on farmworker rights: http://www.farmworkerjustice.org/
- My article, A Diet of Farmworker Wellness, provides a good overview, with additional reading: http://chefkevinarcher.com/WordPress/diet-farmworker-wellness/
Well over 9 billion animals are killed by the US agricultural system annually. They represent only a fraction of those still living in the system, deemed exempt from even the most basic cruelty regulations. Held against their will and hidden from common view, they are exploited for the sake of temporary appetite. Course 4 is offered in tribute to these animals. When they are released, we will be liberated from inhumanity.
- The USDA’s annual livestock and poultry statistics: http://bit.ly/1jv3WWp
- Mercy for Animals: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/
- The Ghosts in Our Machine, documentary: http://www.theghostsinourmachine.com/
- Food Empowerment Project: http://www.foodispower.org/