Meals as Message

A barbecued vegetable platter, top, with kale rib and carrot “brisket.” Beluga lentils, black rice and chimichurri broth, left, and a side of crisped smoked beef from Stemple Creek Ranch. Credit Preston Gannaway for The New York Times

Although not quite an example of “Model Mad“, this culinary entrepreneurial activism sends a message to both consumers and food industry colleagues alike.

San Francisco Chefs Serve Up a Message About Climate Change

Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint opened the Perennial in San Francisco last year with a clear mission in mind: Run an environmentally friendly restaurant with a minimal carbon footprint, and inspire other restaurateurs to do the same.

As [the current administration] has questioned the existence of climate change, Ms. Leibowitz and Mr. Myint have emerged as activists, at the forefront of a growing movement of chefs who not only recognize and measure the impact of their industry on the planet, but also look for new ways to undo the damage.

Mr. Myint and Ms. Leibowitz, who are married, have been immersed for the last few years in the research that directs every decision at the restaurant, like choosing the kitchen’s energy-efficient equipment and its raw ingredients, many of which are grown in ways that can regenerate the soil. Continue reading

Feathers’ Fine Flourish

170925_r30593

Charles-Donatien paints and lacquers goose feathers in his studio. Photograph by Pari Dukovic for The New Yorker

The Style issue of the New Yorker is the least interesting of the year, from the perspective of these pages; and yet on occasion even in this one they deliver something we can mull over:

The Eternal, Seductive Beauty of Feathers

We’ve been dressing up as birds since the Stone Age. Eric Charles-Donatien has brought the craft of featherwork into the twenty-first century.

Not surprisingly Burkhard Bilger is the journalist who pulls this off. Our Bird Of The Day (365 times for seven years running) feature exposes us to feathers of such variety that we could not resist giving Mr. Bilger the benefit of the doubt on this one:

170925_r30592There is such a thing as too much beauty. So the stuffed bird on the counter seemed to be saying. It was a Himalayan monal, Lophophorus impejanus, Liberace of land fowl. Its head was emerald, its neck amber and gold, its back a phosphorescent violet that flared to a sunburst at the tail. A pouf of feathers jutted from its head like a tiny bouquet. Named for Lady Mary Impey, the wife of the Chief Justice of Bengal in the late seventeen-hundreds, it had a stout, ungainly body swaddled in bright plumes as if for an audience with the maharaja. It was a turkey that wanted to be a hummingbird. Continue reading

Cultural Conservation In A North American Indigenous Community

09culturecamp6-master675

Yurok dance feather regalia in cedar boxes, at Dave Severns’s camp on the Yurok Indian reservation. Credit Talia Herman for The New York Times

As important as cultural conservation is to us it gets half as much attention in these pages as nature conservation (a matter of life and death), so we are more than happy to share stories like this one (thanks to Patricia Leigh Brown) when they land on our desk:

09culturecamp5-blog427

Dance feather regalia dry in the sand, made by Dave Severns, whose culture camp teaches young men a nearly forgotten art form. Credit Talia Herman for The New York Times

KLAMATH, Calif. — The gathering known simply as “Uncle Dave’s camp” begins at daybreak on the pebbled banks of the Klamath River, the age-old spruce and redwoods on the bluffs shrouded in mist.

Here on the Yurok Indian Reservation near the Oregon border, so remote that certain areas have yet to receive electricity, young male campers sit on cedar logs while keeping tabs on a river rock heated in a fire. The rock, hand-hollowed and chiseled with basketry patterns, contains a molten glue made from the dried air bladders of sturgeons. The syrupy concoction is a crucial ingredient for making feathered headdresses, hide quivers, obsidian-blade sticks and other forms of ceremonial dance ornaments, or regalia, that are at once works of art and living conduits to the spirit world. Continue reading

The Origin Of Feasting

170918_r30523

A life of hunting and gathering had advantages over one of farming and settlement. Illustration by Golden Cosmos

John Lanchester’s article, pondering technology versus science, gives fire its due in the course of reviewing a new book about how hunting and gathering gave way to progress. At the same time, Lanchester raises reasonable doubts about the gains:

book-scott-grain…We don’t give the technology of fire enough credit, Scott suggests, because we don’t give our ancestors much credit for their ingenuity over the long period—ninety-five per cent of human history—during which most of our species were hunter-gatherers. “Why human fire as landscape architecture doesn’t register as it ought to in our historical accounts is perhaps that its effects were spread over hundreds of millennia and were accomplished by ‘precivilized’ peoples also known as ‘savages,’ ” Scott writes. Continue reading

The Largest Underground Bicycle Parking Garage In The World

02Bikes6-master675

A special section in Utrecht’s new underground bike parking garage is for bigger bikes, which usually have children’s seats attached. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

If You Build It, the Dutch Will Pedal

02Bikes2-master675

As fast as Utrecht can build underground bike parking garages, most spots are taken. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

The city recently surpassed Amsterdam in a widely respected ranking of bike-friendly cities and is now second only to Copenhagen, which is more than twice its size. Continue reading

A Puddle Of Bizbaz

170904_r30446

Photograph by Simone Lueck for The New Yorker

Although our most consistent feature suggests obsession (yesterday completing the 72nd month and 2,217 dailies in a row of bird photos, we know how it looks), we are anything but obsessed. That word implies trouble. We are looking for anti-trouble. We mostly post stories and images that imply reduction of trouble–through more information, and better quality of information, and useful case studies in trouble management.

This has led us to post 8,500 times (including this one) covering dozens of themes over the years. Usually several per day. Recently, in addition to our daily bird photo we are trying to post just once per day on something that highlights a remarkable example or explanation of any of those themes. Taste of place is on our minds now, more than anything else. So it is time for another restaurant review. Thanks to the reliably concise Nicolas Niarchos for this opening line:

In the nineteen-nineties, the late, great writer Denis Johnson once followed a group of Somalis across the border from Ethiopia and into the heart of their turbulent country. One of the images that endures from the piece he wrote afterward is of Somali food—“chunks of goat and spaghetti”—and of his narrator being taught “how to eat pasta the Somali way, without utensils, taking a shock of it in his right hand, turning it this way and that and gathering the long strands up into his palm, and then shoving it into his face.” Continue reading

Taste The Place: Navajo Greenthread

tea1_vert-b01a1f88eb6ec914884123022d3526d05ef1a121-s400-c85

Greenthread (Thelesperma) is a wild plant that thrives in the mid-summer heat of the American Southwest. This bunch is freshly cut, and waiting for rinsing and drying to make Navajo tea. Courtesy of Deborah Tsosie

Give yourself a few minutes for this story about the link between seasonal produce and cultural patrimony:

In the dusty red earth of eastern Arizona’s portion of the Navajo Nation, the main road stretches out beneath the massive white-cloud sky and rubs against barren, chalky mesas; sometimes it skirts the deep, dry crack of a canyon stubbled with sagebrush. Small fields of corn occasionally sprout up beside the road, the short stalks still far from ripe.

But away from the road, tucked beside lakebeds or the foot of a hillside, a mid-summer visitor will find bright yellow flowers beginning to open. They are the crowning blooms of a thin plant that can grow up to two feet tall and which thrives in the heat of this arid region. Called greenthread (Thelesperma), it is used to make Navajo “tea.”

garland2_custom-1d9e1c90351b0643bdc75c5165546a671754eec4-s1300-c85

A garland of greenthread. The dried bundles are brewed with sugar or honey. Courtesy of Ada Cowan

Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Berkley

FoerOn September 25, 2017 the Berkley Center for New Media is presenting “World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech” that has our attention:

Franklin Foer reveals the existential threat posed by big tech and offers a toolkit to fight their pervasive influence. Elegantly tracing the intellectual history of computer science—from Descartes and the enlightenment to Alan Turing to Stuart Brand and the hippie origins of today’s Silicon Valley—Foer exposes the dark underpinnings of our most idealistic dreams for technology. The corporate ambitions of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, he argues, are trampling longstanding liberal values, especially intellectual property and privacy. This is a nascent stage in the total automation and homogenization of social, political, and intellectual life. By reclaiming our private authority over how we intellectually engage with the world, we have the power to stem the tide. At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become. In this talk, Foer explains not just the looming existential crisis but the imperative of resistance.

movefastThat got our attention at the same time as this book did, thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert’s review in this week’s New Yorker:

…Taplin, who until recently directed the Annenberg Innovation Lab, at the University of Southern California, started out as a tour manager. He worked with Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, and the Band, and also with George Harrison, on the Concert for Bangladesh. In “Move Fast and Break Things,” Taplin draws extensively on this experience to illustrate the damage, both deliberate and collateral, that Big Tech is wreaking. Consider the case of Levon Helm. He was the drummer for the Band, and, though he never got rich off his music, well into middle age he was supported by royalties. 

This is not a mainstay theme in these pages, but we have felt compelled from time to time to pass along an informative read on a topic that seems likely to continue growing in importance.

If You Happen To Be In New York City

04bamboo1-web-jumbo

“Dance,” a sculpture made in 2000 by Honda Shoryu, in “Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Credit Jake Naughton for The New York Times

Bamboo is an important part of the ecosystem in just about every place where we have worked over the last two decades; thanks to Roberta Smith for this:

Third Wave Coffee In Central America

xxguatemala1-master768

San Francisco? Soho? Try Guatemala City, inside El Injerto, a coffee shop. Guatemala is home to an expanding coffee scene. Credit Daniele Volpe for The New York Times

Thanks to Elisabeth Malkin for her visit to Guatemala on behalf of the coffee lovers who read the New York Times:

The Hot New Thing in Guatemala, Land of Coffee? It’s Coffee

GUATEMALA CITY — In the narrative spun around specialty coffee, there are two kinds of places: those where people cultivate the beans and those where people consume the end result. Continue reading

Early Classic Period Puzzles

Early Classic Period Polychrome Vessels

Almost from its inception there have been archaeological studies of the Maya sites at Chan Chich by nature of the lodge’s stated purpose to protect the area from further lootering. Professor Thomas Guderjan lead some of the early field seasons (1988 and 1990) studying the Maya Settlements in Northern Belize. At that time, the two Dos-Arroyos Polychrome Vessels illustrated above were some of the only artifacts found on site, but the subsequent seasons, spanning close to 20 years at this point, have yielded extensive data and additional artifacts.

These two vessels remain on display in the restaurant area at Chan Chich Lodge. Although both had been repaired by Guderjan’s team, the one on the left had broken over the years. Just before this season’s team fully dispersed, I took the opportunity to request some puzzle practice.  Continue reading

The Technological Wow Factor of Archaeology

Crist’s post about this fascinating National Geographic article last week touched on its excellent graphics but barely began to scratch the surface of the amazing technology that would certainly have left the readers of the early issues of the magazine speechless.

In addition to the world-class photography, the interactive 3-D graphic of the frieze above uses SketchFab technology to allow viewers to not only zoom in and out, but to turn the object around in all directions, as if handling it in person. Do take the time to play with it! Continue reading

Snake Kings And Other Discoveries

01-calakmul-maya-pyramid.adapt.1900.1.jpg

CALAKMUL In the seventh century A.D. the Snake rulers presided over this capital city—in what today is southern Mexico—and its largest structure, a pyramid 180 feet tall. From Calakmul they managed an intricate web of alliances. CONSEJO NACIONAL PARA LA CULTURA Y LAS ARTES (CONACULTA), INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE ANTROPOLOGÍA E HISTORIA (INAH), MEXICO

Discoveries in the lands once populated by the Maya continue apace. As Chan Chich Lodge completes three decades of archeological exploration, the wonders of three millennia are uncovered. The stories that capture my interest the most, related to the Maya, are about the man-nature relationship.

SnakeKingMap.jpg

JEROME COOKSON, NG STAFF
SOURCE: DAVID FREIDEL, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS

Erik Vance published this story last year, and when I read it then I remember thinking that it was the best article I had ever read in National Geographic. Partly, the graphics are better, if that is possible, than the typically excellent quality the magazine is known for. Also, the topic is more topical for me now. Chan Chich Lodge is situated exactly where the o in Holmul is on the map to the left. The lodge’s Maya foundations are situated at the periphery of where the snake kings once ruled.

And we now have an ethnobotanical initiative linking Maya foodways to our surrounding nature conservation. That initiative is linked to the lodge’s food program, with some high expectations related to our abundant forests. But mainly, with regard to this article, the writing illuminating the topic is excellent:

…Two warring city-states were locked in perennial conflict, grappling for supremacy. For a brief period one of those city-states prevailed and became the closest thing to an empire in Maya history. It was ruled by the Snake kings of the Kaanul dynasty, which until just a few decades ago no one even knew existed. Thanks to sites around this city-state, including Holmul, archaeologists are now piecing together the story of the Snake kings…

35 composite of 2 and 3.adapt.1190.1.jpg

Masks from the tombs at Calakmul were meant to ease the passage of the Snake elite into the next world. Royal visages made of green jade, more valuable than gold to the ancient Maya, evoked the annual agricultural cycle and regeneration. CONACULTA, INAH, MEXICO (BOTH) PHOTOGRAPHED AT (LEFT TO RIGHT): NATIONAL PALACE, MEXICO CITY; MUSEO DE SITIO DE COMALCALCO, MEXICO

Archaeology in Miniature

After spending a few days participating in the 2017 CCAP dig I went to visit the lab where the artifacts are cleaned, sorted and tagged. While Phil and I were doing the most basic work, Tomás and Mnemo were carefully cleaning out a burial pot that had been found in the chamber next to our new unit.

Using dental implements and small wooden sculpture tools, they were essentially repeating the process that we’d begun in our unit a few days earlier – carefully excavating the packed earth layer by layer – albeit in miniature. Continue reading

Recipe For Reconciliation

00CANADAUNIVERSITY-06-master675

Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, a Mistawasis Nehiyawak elder, works closely with the university to advise on indigenous matters. Credit Cole Burston for The New York Times

The New World, as the Americas are often called, was new to the Europeans–aka explorers, pilgrims, pioneers, settlers, colonialists, conquistadors–but of course was the long time homeland to a diverse mix of indigenous people from the very north of the hemisphere all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

170427klukwan_nadworny0252_slide-169e39b0465578c5ad3fac34dc804d2779806ab6-s1300-c85.jpg

The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading

Some Science On Ramon

RamSci1Ramón and Maya Ruins: An Ecological, not an Economic, Relation

 J. D. H. Lambert and J. T. Arnason
Science

New Series, Vol. 216, No. 4543 (Apr. 16, 1982), pp. 298-299

RamSci2Observations on Maya Subsistence and the Ecology of a Tropical Tree

Charles M. Peters
American Antiquity
Vol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 610-615
We have a sizable team, including our staff members of Maya heritage as well as those who know the forest ecology as part of their work, plus two summer interns, a chef, and a design director among others–all looking into this tree and its fruit. These journal articles, less dry than some academia and fresher than their age would suggest were brought to my attention by Nicoletta Maestri who I thank for the article below. For my team mates and me this is food for thought on our path to determining how this tree, introduced millennia ago by Mayans, plays into the future of Chan Chich Lodge:

Brosimum Alicastrum, The Ancient Maya Breadnut Tree

Did the Maya Build Forests of Breadnut Trees?

The breadnut tree (Brosimum alicastrum) is an important species of tree that grows in the wet and dry tropical forests of Mexico and Central America, as well as in the Caribbean Islands. Also known as the ramón tree, asli or Cha Kook in the Mayan language, the breadnut tree usually grows in regions that are between 300 and 2,000 meters (1,000-6,500 feet) above sea level. The fruits have a small, elongated shape, similar to apricots, although they are not particularly sweet. Continue reading

A Food Writer & The Shock Of The New

13-apple.w512.h600.2x.jpg

Food has recently returned to the center of our attention, and in the outback of Belize we have had some lovely surprises. An unexpected essay, from one of the food world’s most prominent writers, gives another view altogether from the USA:

The New Foodieism

To care about food now is to care about the future of this country.

By Mark Bittman

Like many of us, I spent the winter muddling through a mental miasma, pondering the meaning of life and democracy. I did, of course, think about “food” — how it’s produced, marketed, discussed, consumed, and so on — during my self-imposed hiatus from near-constant writing, which began more than 18 months ago. Continue reading

Italian Curiosities In Lovely Cabinets

18LIBRARIESA-jumbo-v2.jpg

The Biblioteca Angelica in Rome holds the first volume of Cicero’s “De Oratore” that was printed in Italy, in 1465, and a precious early edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

Graduation Day in Sylvester Village

IMG_0767

Earlier this week I did something that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated would be part of my Chan Chich experience: I attended a primary school graduation.

Sylvester Village is a community where employees of Chan Chich and Gallon Jug Farm live with their families. The Casey Community School is where many of the village’s children go for their first years of education. As one might imagine, the school is not very big. In fact, this year the school only had one kindergartner. Growing up in suburban America, this was very different from my early education which had about 24 kids in a first grade class with multiple classes per grade. However, perhaps the biggest difference from my experience was the school’s emphasis on community.

Continue reading