Conversations Between Birders

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Christopher Skaife Illustration by João Fazenda

Thanks to Sarah Larson for this:

Bird-Watching with the Ravenmaster

The yeoman warder charged with caring for the ravens of the Tower of London hikes along the Hudson.

When he’s at work, at the Tower of London, Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife typically wears a uniform featuring a royal-blue tabard with scarlet ornamentation, a brass-buckled belt, and a bonnet. (Formalwear involves stockings and a ruff.) Skaife lives at the Tower, too, with his wife, in a house with forty-foot walls and arrow slits for windows. Skaife is the Tower’s Ravenmaster—his new book, “The Ravenmaster,” just came out—and in that role he cares for its most famous current residents, Merlin (a.k.a. Merlina), Erin, Rocky, Jubilee II, Gripp II, Harris, and Poppy, and gives tours to some of the Tower’s three million annual visitors. Recently, while vacationing in Manhattan, Skaife, who is Beefeater-shaped, with a bristly beard, was incognito, dressed in a zippered jacket and cargo shorts. He has tattoos on his calves depicting ravens, as well as, he said, “the skulls of those who were executed on the Tower Green.” On a crisp Friday, Skaife met up with his friend Gabriel Willow, a trim man in a cap, who works with New York City Audubon, to embark on a raven quest.

After a long absence, ravens have returned to the metro area: about six pairs nest in or around New York City. Willow and Skaife visited three potential hot spots—Pelham Bay Park, in the Bronx (mallards, cormorants, egrets; no ravens), far West Twenty-third Street, and Inwood Hill Park, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. At West Twenty-third and the Hudson River, Skaife and Willow peered through binoculars. “I did see a raven this morning up in Central Park—a big flyby,” Willow said. “I heard cawing and calling, and a murder of crows swirled around, chasing a raven.” Continue reading

Who Will Farm In The Future?

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Four-year-old Emma is already helping out at Field and Farm Co., doing things like transplanting onions. SNARE FAMILY / FIELD AND FARM CO.

Thanks to Madelyn Beck:

Handing Off: The Reality Of Land Transfer Between Older, Younger Farmers

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This farm near Springfield, Illinois, has been in the Curry family since 1886, though Kim Curry only moved there in 2008 when her father was dying of cancer. She, her sister and her niece grow and sell pigs, piglets, chickens and cows.
CREDIT MADELYN BECK / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

As life expectancy increases, farmers are staying in the business, but there’s still a need to plan for what happens when they die. At the same time, young farmers who come from non-farming backgrounds are looking for the space to grow their own careers.

A land transfer may seem simple, but challenges abound: How do retiring farmers connect with beginning farmers? When does a farmer confront death? How can smaller farm organizations fit into the ever-growing 1,000-acre farm scene?

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Formerly a biochemist in Michigan, Curry now works in disability claims for the state of Illinois on top of helping run the family farm. She said dinnertime often comes late, about 8 or 8:30 p.m.
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Past the likeness of Western movie icon John Wayne etched in stone, a ways down North John Wayne Road and at the end of a long dirt driveway is Kim Curry’s place. A few of the farm’s seven dogs meander up to the gate to bark at anyone who pulls up, while chickens and occasional escapee piglet scrounge for food around the yard.

The Curry Family Farm is near Springfield, Illinois, but unlike most of that area, it has green, rolling hills, a few creeks and a few ponds. It’s been in the family since 1886.

“It’s just so restful and relaxing out here. We’ll have to show you the pigs,” Curry said. “They’re all eating.”

The 59-year-old lives there with her sister and niece, but the three of them can’t keep up with it all, especially because she has a full-time state job working with disability claims.

So, she is selling about 80 acres, which she said “really has potential with someone with younger, more energy.”

And that’s where it gets tricky for people trying to offload land in Illinois, which doesn’t have an online system like several other states — Iowa, Nebraska and Montana, for example — that specifically links older farmers with newer ones looking for land.

Continue reading

Lost & Found, Apples & Ciders

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The Harrison apple tree that Thomas Vilardi found near Newark in the fall of 2015. “I knew I had seen apples on a tree,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to find a Harrison.” Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Thanks for this article to Rachel Wharton, who is batting 1000 for our taste in food writing:

Finding Lost Apples and Reviving a Beloved Cider

George Washington was among the many fans of Newark cider, a long-missing treat now being recreated by a former ad man on a mission.

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Charles Rosen, left, and Cameron Stark in the new taproom they opened last week at Ironbound Hard Cider in Asbury, N.J. It will serve limited-edition ciders made by Mr. Stark, the head cider maker.CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

ASBURY, N.J. — Ironbound Hard Cider may seem an odd name for the business Charles Rosen has built here on 108 acres in central New Jersey. The farm, where a new taproom offers pastoral views of the still-ripening fruit, doesn’t appear to share much with the Ironbound, an industrial neighborhood 50 miles to the east in Newark.

Yet they do have common roots, thanks to four very old apple varieties now growing on Mr. Rosen’s land.

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Mr. Vilardi and Fran McManus at the old apple tree he found three years ago. An apple expert connected him to Ms. McManus, who had written an article about Newark cider in 2010. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Mr. Rosen, the former chief executive of a Manhattan advertising agency that promoted Svedka vodka and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, wants to reintroduce Newark cider, an 18th- and 19th-century alcoholic drink once famously compared to Champagne.

Newark cider was both a point of pride and big business for the region — requested by name, reportedly lauded by George Washington and produced by dozens of Newark-area cideries with acres of orchards. The secret wasn’t a recipe, but the blending of a quartet of superior apples born in the region: Campfield, Poveshon, Granniwinkle and Harrison, the most celebrated of the four.

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The 1- and 2-year-old apple trees in Ironbound Hard Cider’s nursery include the Harrisons shown here and Poveshons, a New Jersey-born variety thought to be extinct until 2015. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

As a result of urbanization and then Prohibition, when many of the nation’s remaining cider orchards were destroyed, Newark cider hasn’t been made for at least a century. But after years of planning and planting — not to mention the accidental discovery of two lost apple trees and the investment of what Mr. Rosen called “100 percent of all the money I ever had in my entire life” — Ironbound Hard Cider is on the precipice of bringing it back. Continue reading

Carbon Insurance As Heritage Insurance

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A carbon-offset project, the first of its kind in the United States, has become the Yurok’s main source of discretionary income, helping the tribe buy back thousands of acres of land. Photograph by Joel Redman

Carbon trading has featured, or at least been mentioned, only rarely on this platform, now that I stop to check. That seems impossible. But the scheme with so much promise has simply not taken off. Indigenous heritage, on the other hand, has featured in dozens of stories here since we started in 2011. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for bringing this story to my attention, helped by two captivating photos and the fact that it highlights the approach of the Yurok Tribe (a community I had not heard of before):

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“I think we did a good thing by saving the trees, but I’m not happy with it,” Jene McCovey, a tribal elder, said. “It’s not viable. It allows polluters to pollute.” Photograph by Joel Redman

How Carbon Trading Became a Way of Life for California’s Yurok Tribe

When Marty Lamebear is not fighting fires, he is starting them. In the past few years, as a member of the Yurok Tribe Forestry Program’s fire department, he has been helping revive the controversial practice of prescribed burns to protect and restore the coastal redwood forests of northern California. Lamebear is also a hunter, fisherman, and dancer. In his free time, he makes tribal regalia for ceremonial dances from parts of elk, deer, minks, and porcupines, which he shoots or finds already dead, and from frozen eagles that he orders from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A prescribed burn, what Lamebear calls a culture burn, creates prairies within the forest, which attract those animals. “At first, we couldn’t really tell its effects,” he said. “But, after about six years now, we can honestly start seeing the landscape open up, animals come around.” They also serve another purpose, he said. “It’s insurance for our carbon.” Continue reading

Billion Oysters And Counting

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Our school programming puts students at the center of the movement to restore oysters to New York City waters. Explore our Billion Oyster Classroom program, currently in 70+ New York City schools, and high school at the Harbor School.

Every week or so since we started this platform in 2011 we have had too many opportunities to highlight water-based ecological challenges and they seem to outnumber solutions. But it has been our goal to balance the highlighting, neither hiding our head in the sand nor claiming false equivalence between bad news and good.

Given all the challenges facing our oceans and waterways we are always heartened to hear of another initiative that involves collaboration between enterprise, youth and civic organizations. Click the image above or the one to the right to see what the Billion Oyster Project is doing in this regard.   Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for bringing this initiative to our attention:

Oysters On The Half Shell Are Actually Saving New York’s Eroding Harbor

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The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor. Billion Oyster Project has collected more than 1 million pounds of oyster shells so far. Courtesy of Agata Poniatowski

Across New York City, more than 70 restaurants are tossing their oyster shells not into the trash or composting pile, but into the city’s eroded harbor. It’s all part of Billion Oyster Project’s restaurant shell-collection program.

The journey from trash to treasure begins after an oyster half shell is turned upside down and left on an icy tray. Once discarded, it joins hundreds of thousands of other half shells collected in blue bins and picked up (free of charge) from restaurants five days a week by Billion Oyster Project’s partner, The Lobster Place, a seafood supplier. The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor, just yards away from both Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. There, rolling shell hills sparkle in the sun while “curing” out in the elements for one year, a process that rids them of contaminants.

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Oysters at Zadie’s Oyster Room, one of the New York City restaurants participating in Billion Oyster Project’s shell-collection program.
Courtesy of Morgan Ione Yeager

The shells then get a final cleaning and are moved to Billion Oyster Project’s hatchery at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island that offers technical and vocational training in the marine sciences. In an aquaculture classroom’s hatchery, student-grown oysters produce larvae in an artificially induced springtime environment. In one to two weeks, each larvae grows a “foot” — a little limb covered in a kind of natural glue — and then is moved to a tank full of the “cured” restaurant shells, which serve as anchors for all of those sticky feet. This phase is critical: If larvae can’t find a place to attach, they die. One reclaimed shell can house 10 to 20 new live oysters, depending on shell size. Continue reading

Time As An Ingredient

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Climate change has reared its big ugly head enough that I no longer count on seasonal consistency, but for now nine days in a row it has felt familiar, the greenest month of the green season in Costa Rica. And today, as of dawn, it looks like more of the same. “Some things never change” would be a real head in the sand cliché when thinking of seasons, but at least this October, so far, mornings have been sunny and by early afternoon the clouds roll in and the afternoons remind me of our 2010 to 2017 Kerala life, until dinner time. The photo above was from our second monsoon season there. Just up the hill from where I am writing at this moment, in Tarrazu–the Costa Rica equivalent of Munnar’s tea region–you might see something comparable, like this:

DCIM/100MEDIA/DJI_0482.JPG A few years ago Seth and James worked to restore a coffee plantation across the valley from the home where Seth grew up. The coffee they restored had been removed two decades earlier, a moment in time when coffee prices had crashed, even for the premium arabica that grows in Costa Rica. As it happens the same is true of the property where I am writing from, which had been a coffee plantation for most of the last century. In 2019 a restoration project will bring coffee back to this land, with tree shade for both the coffee and for the sake of restored bird habitat, and I look forward to sharing that progress here. And it is with this in mind that time, as an ingredient, is a theme for today. Work that Seth and James did demonstrated, with the passage of time, the fruitfulness of restoration and conservation. Now a replica project is ready to roll.

Time as an ingredient during green season is also a theme. Reading and cooking pass the time pleasantly during such afternoons, at least when the weekend schedule permits. Time for reading was on my mind a couple days ago, and the author featured in this podcast gets me thinking about time as an ingredient in the cooking I have been doing recently–almost all vegetarian and with the conscious effort to cook as minimally as possible to retain nutrients and flavor. As a bonus, this episode of a podcast we have been listening and linking to for two years shares the story behind espresso, so worth a listen:

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One Week to Whiskey

A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days.

9781468316384.jpgWhy does fish cook so fast? What’s the “wasabi window”? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whiskey in six days? This episode, we’re looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does and how we’ve tried—and sometimes succeeded—to manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whiskey time machine tucked away in a low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, a food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one’s well worth your time! Continue reading

A Place And A Time For Learning To Read, And To Appreciate Books As Things

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Just this moment, as I started today’s post, I learned I had missed a 50th birthday party. We tend to like round numbers, even if they do not mean much–why should the 50th be any more important than the 49th or 23rd? For whatever reason, a centenary or half-centenary, or bicentennial all seem to have a bigger ring. So, happy birthday to this book (last year) that I searched for after reading Susan Orlean’s essay on her personal history with libraries and books:

…My family was big on the library. We were very much a reading family, but we were more a borrow-a-book-from-the-library family than a bookshelves-full-of-books family. My parents valued books, but they had grown up in the Depression, aware of the quicksilver nature of money, and they had learned the hard way that you shouldn’t buy what you could borrow. Because of that frugality, or perhaps despite it, they also believed that you should read a book for the experience of reading it. You shouldn’t read it in order to have an object that had to be housed and looked after forever, a memento of the purpose for which it was obtained. The reading of the book was a journey. There was no need for souvenirs…

I have just recently finished unpacking from storage a lifetime’s worth of books–actually multiple lifetimes because in addition to my own family of four’s lifetimes there are also books from our parents’ and grandparents’ personal collections. And the essay got me thinking about whether I had a personal favorite book, and if so whether I have a “souvenir” of it.

I had taken a moment after emptying a box to leaf through this book that qualifies as a contender. I remember where I was when I purchased it, and where I first read it. But the essay I just read got me thinking about the importance of libraries to my own history with reading, so I focused my thought on the question what was my first favorite book. And the book above was that book, without question, in part because it was what got me to return to the library for more books. Not much more to say on that, but if you are a bibliophile or a libraryphile, if you consider librarians heroes, or any such thing, the essay may be for you.

Banana Blossoms, A Novel Approach To Vegan Fish & Chips

There are a variety of bananas trees outside my window at different stages of growth from baby to blossoming to bunches hanging low with the weight of near-readiness.

I realize that, although we have had some initiatives related to bananas, and I get motivated to learn more every time someone on our team has proposed such an initiative (regardless of its possible zaniness), I have not personally learned enough about bananas to know: how did these trees get here? What species are they? How long is the life cycle of the tree from sprout to fruit maturity? Thanks to Ceylan Yeginsu for this idea on what to do with the blossoms:

In London’s Vegan Fish-and-Chip Shop, Banana Blossoms Play Cod

merlin_144816903_a4ed189f-7baa-417a-b130-f0a167787069-jumboLONDON — A newly opened restaurant in an East London neighborhood is aiming to make waves by serving what looks like the perfect presentation of fish and chips, that quintessential British dish: a piece of glistening plump batter, chunky chips, mushy peas and a slice of lemon.

But one major ingredient is missing.

“There’s no fish in our ‘fish,’ ” says Daniel Sutton, a fishmonger and restaurateur who opened what he says is London’s first stand-alone “vegan fish” and chips restaurant, Sutton and Sons, in Hackney this week.

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Diners enjoying lunch on Thursday at the shop, where vegans could not seem to get enough of the fake fish. Credit Olivia Harris for The New York Times

For lovers of succulent fried cod, that concept may be hard to grasp.

“What do you mean there is no fish?” Christopher Haddon asked the restaurant’s manager with a puzzled expression on Thursday. He seemed confused and left the restaurant, or chippie, shaking his head.

Vegans, however, could not get enough of the fake fish.

“It’s amazing, delicious. Mmmmm,” said Dan Margetts, 53, as he took a bite. “It’s the same look and texture but less oily, cleaner — and no ammonia.” Continue reading

Grandparents’ Approach To Avoiding Food Waste

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‘Whatever’s in the fridge’: a traditional cottage pie. Photograph: neiljlangan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This time of year, harvests finishing in many places, abundance is about to give way to the longer lean season. Maybe that is the perfect time to start thinking about stretching the ingredients at hand:

How to avoid food waste: top chefs on their grandparents’ favourite dishes – and what they taught them

Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson, Raymond Blanc and many others describe the frugal simplicity – and delicious flavours – that inspire their cooking today

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Summer pudding with ‘beautiful glossy purple juice’. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

It is all too easy to romanticise the past, particularly with food. In Britain, rationing created a postwar generation that was very well-nourished, but also utterly bored by the meals it ate … or endured. Similarly, for all the criticism levelled at processed foods (“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,” as the writer Michael Pollan famously advised), food has never been cheaper, nor easier to access and prepare. In 1957, as a proportion of their weekly income, UK households spent roughly double what they now spend on food – 33% of their money. There is a kind of liberation in the Pot Noodle.

Yet among many chefs and campaigning food writers, the sense persists that on a number of issues – particularly food waste, but also obesity, nutrition, cost, pleasure even – there is much to admire in how our grandparents ate. In an era of limited choice and tight budgets, they made a virtue of the necessity to cook with whatever fresh ingredients were available. “My grandparents didn’t cook ‘sustainably’, but they did cook every day, one of life’s best skills, and they didn’t throw leftovers away. To that extent, they were thrifty,” says Tom Hunt, the self-styled eco-chef and Guardian columnist.

To examine that idea, we asked a number of top chefs to choose a meal that encapsulates how their grandparents cooked and to explain how, in its frugal simplicity, it still influences them. Call it going back to the future. Continue reading

A Big Purpose In Utah

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Utah used to be home to the largest national monument in the continental United States. Now the owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill are fighting to restore it. Photograph by Jim Mangan for The New Yorker

We wrote once prior, a couple months ago, on this book but we see reason to post a bit more on it here. Here is a New Yorker profile-length detailed description of the story briefly mentioned in the prior post. Thanks to Kathryn Schulz for keeping our eyes on the prize that these two chefs have decided to fight for:

Why Two Chefs in Small-Town Utah Are Battling President Trump

The owners of an improbably successful restaurant at the gate of a vast wilderness are fighting to keep it unspoiled.

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Blake Spalding with two of her seven goats. Photograph by Jim Mangan for The New Yorker

In south-central Utah, where the topography is spectacular, desolate, and extreme, the pessimistic tradition in place-names runs strong. Head south from Poverty Flat and you’ll end up in Death Hollow. Head east from Dead Mare Wash and you’ll end up on Deadman Ridge, looking out toward Last Chance Creek and down into Carcass Canyon. During the Great Depression, when the whole state turned into a kind of Poverty Flat, the Civilian Conservation Corps sent a group of men to the region to carve a byway out of a virtually impassable landscape of cliffs and chasms. The men nicknamed the project Poison Road: so steep that a single drop would kill them. Midway up, the ridge they were following gaped open and plunged fifteen hundred feet to the canyon floor. They laid a span across it, and called it Hell’s Backbone Bridge.

Today, the entire route built by those men is known as Hell’s Backbone Road. Still largely unpaved, still treacherous in bad weather, it connects the town of Escalante to the tiny hamlet of Boulder, long reputed to be one of the most remote settlements in the continental United States. As late as 1940, the mail there was delivered via an eight-hour trek by mule team; the first lights did not flicker on until Christmas Eve, 1947. Until the nineteen-seventies, locals had to spend up to forty-eight hours in transit to obtain any number of essential goods and services: a new pair of socks, medical care, anything beyond an eighth-grade education. Continue reading

Green Food, Tech Model Solutions

Derek Thomson and his Crazy Genius crew over at the Atlantic’s podcast division have hit on a winning formula, at least for me. They take a big issue question we hear about and think about frequently, like the question of what to do about meat consumption–as in what to do about the extremely obvious problem of meat consumption levels–and they apply some creative pod knowhow. One of the best motivators for going meatless, or at least eating less meat, that I have come upon in ages.

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Will We Ever Stop Eating Animal Meat?

Americans eat more meat now than ever. That’s a problem for the planet’s future. Animal farming takes up 30 percent of the earth’s landmass (the equivalent of Asia), and livestock causes one-sixth of global greenhouse gas emissions. We need more than moral arguments against meat. We need a technological revolution in better, cleaner food.

If you do not have half an our for the podcast, take five minutes to read the summary here:

There are two big truths about eating meat from animals.

First, animal flesh imposes a high moral and ecological price for a tender medallion of food. Factory farming incurs the torturous treatment of millions of chickens, cows, and pigs each year. This constitutes a rolling moral catastrophe. What’s more, one-sixth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are directly attributable to raising livestock, and the figure is rising as more countries enter the global middle class. For most Americans, cutting meat out of their diets would reduce global warming more than giving up driving. Continue reading

The Most Important Infrastructure

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People read in the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library MARK LENNIHAN / AP

This podcast featuring Eric Klinenberg resonated with many of our readers, and this article he wrote for the Atlantic may be the next best step in advance of reading his book:

Worry Less About Crumbling Roads, More About Crumbling Libraries

America’s social infrastructure is falling apart, and it’s hurting democracy.

Every four years, the American Society for Civil Engineers issues grades for the nation’s infrastructure. In the most recent evaluation, released in 2017, America’s overall infrastructure score was a D+, the same as in 2013. Although seven systems, including hazardous waste and levees, received modestly better grades than in the previous assessment, transit and solid waste, among others, did worse. Aviation (D), roads (D), drinking water (D), and energy (D+), retained their miserably low scores. Continue reading

Libraries As Palaces For The People

9781524761165We have had more stories in seven years about libraries, and librarians and books than most other topics, so we are pleased to pass along this reference to a book about libraries (among other essential elements of social infrastructure). In 20 minutes on this podcast the ideas in this book are discussed by the author:

Eric Klinenbergprofessor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University and the author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown, 2018), argues that the future of democracy lies in shared spaces, like libraries and parks.

The Visual Shero of Afrofuturism

A still-life of accessories from various films that Carter has worked on: the headpiece of Queen Ramonda, in “Black Panther”; cufflinks for Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Selma”; and the dancing shoes worn by Shorty, a character in “Malcolm X,” who was played by Spike Lee. Photographs by Awol Erizku

In film and theatre, costume design is often as important as a setting and script to craft the sense of both character and story. It’s debatable whether non-fiction or fiction is more challenging, but Ruth E. Carter’s work carries the story for either one, with an attention to detail that brings the viewer back into history or forward into new worlds.

Be sure to click through the article for more of Awol Erizku’s dynamic photos, as well as watch the video below for more images and Carter’s own explanation of her work.

RUTH E. CARTER’S THREADS OF HISTORY

Throughout her career, the costume designer for “Black Panther” has created visions of black identity, past and future.

Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is a rare thing: a big-budget superhero movie that is unabashedly serious about great clothes. The film’s costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, evoked the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda by melding sci-fi with global fashion history, drawing influence from sources including the color symbolism of the Maasai people, samurai armor, and the jewelry of Ndebele women. She realized her vision with the help of an international team of researchers, buyers, tailors, beaders, and engineers, and by exploring the possibilities of 3-D-printing technology. For her efforts, she has been lauded as one of the essential visual storytellers of Afrofuturism. Continue reading

Celebrating Labor Day, Usual Style

The chef Alvin Cailan made his name on eggs—in sandwich form, at a food truck called Eggslut, in L.A. At the Usual, he has graduated to chicken, battered and fried so that its crust is as craggy as a mountain range. It’s served with blueberry muffins and house-made ranch, plus a garlicky hot sauce on request. Photograph by Christaan Felber for The New Yorker

The photo above is an immediate trigger for me, in that today is Labor Day in the USA. It is a holiday I recall with fondness from my youth. It signified the end of summer, which was never in itself to be celebrated, but it also signified the beginning of school. And for me school was the center of life, so the closing of summer meant back to all good things. This year, as summer closes, not so much. But the photo above allows me a moment of solace.

Amie and I recently passed through Los Angeles en route to a wedding, and came across this “questionably named”restaurant (not the one pictured above, but the one referred to in the first paragraph below). I do not think of myself as a prude, but when I see a name like that I immediately become uninterested. The shock of the new is not the problem. Coarsening of language and culture is the problem. Enough. A good rule of thumb might be something like this question: would you be happy telling your young child(ren) the name of this place where we are going to eat?

But then again I am occasionally surprised by how, after judging a book by its cover, I can reconsider and think otherwise. In this case the cover of the book (i.e. the name of the restaurant) is still one I would rather have been different, but the contents of the book have my full attention. Thanks to Hannah Goldfield for providing this case in point:

Standout Fried Chicken Amid Familiar Fare at the Usual

At Alvin Cailan’s first sit-down restaurant, in the Nolitan Hotel, the Eggslut creator graduates to the full bird.

For the chef Alvin Cailan, the egg came first. The egg sandwich, to be specific, a messy, photogenic one on a brioche bun, first served in 2011, from a food truck, questionably named Eggslut, in Los Angeles. Eggslut became a pop-up in New York (since popped down) and then a mini-chain, with several outposts in the L.A. area and one in Las Vegas. Cailan built his name on the egg. Now, at the Usual, his first proper sit-down venture, recently opened in the Nolitan Hotel, he has graduated to the chicken. Continue reading

The Taste of a Place

We may have used this post title before, but it’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the Azores, the Menu Includes Coffee, Tea and Tradition

There’s wine and cheese too, in these remote islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s where to get a taste of the past — and present.

Living on a remote island at the mercy of nature demands resiliency, and the Azores do qualify as remote: nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, their protectorate. The Azores are known for volcanic craters, natural hot springs, 600-foot waterfalls, mountains, cerulean lagoons and dense forests.

But it has not always been idyllic on the islands. Throughout their history, Azoreans have had to overcome disease, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes that have decimated their food supply and threatened their economy and survival.

But they are masters of reinvention and ingenuity: They have learned how to cultivate tea and coffee, plants that are not native to the islands but flourish in the temperate climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. They have also preserved and perfected centuries-old traditions in cheesemaking and wine production to ensure sustainability and safeguard their culture. They proudly share their agrarian heritage with travelers seeking an authentic Azorean experience.

Coffee

I had to walk briskly to keep up with 66-year-old Manuel Nunes. He climbs the hillsides of his coffee farm with the sure-footedness of a ram, easily negotiating the rocky terrain. His muscular fingers are adept at plucking the beans swiftly from their stems. He will dry them in the sun and roast them on his stovetop in a cast iron pan, to sell as beans and to serve as coffee at Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes, a village of 70 people on São Jorge Island.

Mr. Nunes’ tiny farm is the largest plantation in Europe, with 700 plants yielding approximately 1,600 pounds of coffee annually — tiny when compared to major coffee-growing countries. The low altitude coupled with high humidity makes this microclimate ideal for growing arabica coffee. There are no insects on the island that destroy the beans so no chemicals are required. The result is a strong cup of Joe without acidity. Mr. Nunes does nearly all the work himself, including the long harvest from May to September.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion. It’s where I belong. I feel well here,” he said (his daughter, Dina Nunes, did the translating)…

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Color Conservation

The hues in the Forbes Collection include the esoteric, the expensive, and the toxic. Photograph by Jason Fulford for The New Yorker

Color is such a constant in our lives that it seems odd to consider any need for it’s conservation. How it exists in nature, how we humans perceive it, and how we’ve use the technology of the time to preserve it, has been relevant for tens of thousands of years. The Forbes Collection archives in the Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum highlights the work of it’s founder, Edward Waldo Forbes, for whom “pigment hunting and gathering was not just a matter of creating an archive of lost or languishing color. It was about the union of art and science.”

Treasures from the Color Archive

The historic pigments in the Forbes Collection include the esoteric, the expensive, and the toxic

How blue can it get? How deep can it be? Some years ago, at the Guggenheim Bilbao, I thought I’d hit on the ultimate blue, displayed on the gallery floor. Yves Klein, who died at thirty-four, was obsessed with purging color of any external associations. Gestural abstraction, he felt, was clotted with sentimental extraneousness. But, in search of chromatic purity, Klein realized that even the purest pigments’ intensity dulled when combined with a binder such as oil, egg, or acrylic. In 1960, he commissioned a synthetic binder that would resist the absorption of light waves, delivering maximum reflectiveness. Until that day in Bilbao, I’d thought Klein a bit of a monomaniacal bore, but Klein International Blue, as he named the pigment—rolled out flat or pimpled, with saturated sponges embedded in the paint surface—turned my eyeballs inside out, rods and cones jiving with joy. This is it, I thought. It can’t get any bluer.

Until YInMn came along: the fortuitous product of an experiment in the materials chemistry lab at Oregon State University in 2009. Intending to discover something useful for the electronics industry, Mas Subramanian and his team heated together oxides of manganese, yttrium, and indium at two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. What emerged was a new inorganic pigment, one that absorbed red and green light waves, leaving as reflected light the bluest blue to date. Subramanian sent a sample to the Forbes Collection in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, at Harvard University, where it sits with twenty-five hundred other specimens that document the history of our craving for color.

Among the other blues on the Forbes’s shelves is Egyptian Blue, a modern approximation of the first synthetic pigment, engineered five millennia ago, probably from the rare mineral cuprorivaite, a soft mid-blue used for the decoration of royal tomb sculpture and the wall paintings of temples. Later, blues strong enough to render sea and sky were made from weathered copper-carbonate azurite—crystalline bright but sometimes darkening in an oil binder. In 1271, Marco Polo saw lapis lazuli quarried from a mountain at Badakhshan, in what is now Afghanistan. Laboriously prepared by removing impure specks of glinting iron pyrite, it became ultramarine—as expensive, ounce for ounce, as gold, and so precious that it was initially reserved for depictions of the costume of the Virgin. In addition to these, the Forbes Collection has a poor man’s blue—smalt made from crushed cobalt containing potassium glass, which weakens, eventually, to a thin greeny-brown gray.

The Forbes Collection owes its existence to a belief in the interdependence of art and science, but it is also an exhaustive archive of cultural passion. A display features Vantablack, which absorbs 99.96 per cent of light, and has to be grown on surfaces as a crop of microscopic nanorods. In 2016, the sculptor Anish Kapoor saw the pigment’s potential for collapsing light, turning any surface into what appears to be a fathomless black hole, and he acquired the exclusive rights to it. An outcry from artists, who objected to the copyright, prompted the Massachusetts manufacturer NanoLab to release Singularity Black, created as part of the company’s ongoing research with nasa, to the public, and the artist Stuart Semple to make the World’s Pinkest Pink available to any online buyer willing to declare himself “not Anish Kapoor.” But Kapoor obtained a sample of the pink pigment, and used it to coat his middle digit, which he photographed and posted online for Semple.

Narayan Khandekar, the head of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, takes pleasure in such skirmishes, secure in the knowledge that he presides over something weightier: a priceless resource for understanding how works of art are made, and how they should be preserved. The Department of Conservation and Technical Research was founded, in 1928, by Edward Waldo Forbes, the director of Harvard’s Fogg Museum from 1909 to 1944. Today, the Forbes’s vast library of color and its technical laboratories are housed in the museum’s steel-and-filtered-glass rebuild, designed by Renzo Piano. Rows of pigments in tubes, jars, and bowls are visible through the doors of floor-to-ceiling cabinets. Khandekar had the winning idea of displaying them as if unspooled from a color wheel: reds at one end, blues at the other. There are the products of nineteenth-century chemical innovation—viridian green, cadmium orange, and the chrome yellow with which van Gogh was infatuated but which, over time, has begun to darken his sunflowers. But at the heart of the Forbes Collection are the natural pigments that were the staples of painters’ inventories before chemically synthesized paints replaced the impossibly esoteric, the dangerously toxic, the prohibitively expensive, and the perilously fugitive. Continue reading

Plastics Conservation Science

Dr. Odile Madden, of the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, holding a piece of degrading plastic for use in trying out new methods of preservation. Credit Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times

The irony of the need to conserve aging national treasures or works of art configured from plastics and other petroleum-based materials in the time of the “Pacific Vortex” and other plastic-created environmental disasters is difficult to miss. It never would have occurred to any of us that a field called “Plastics Conservation Science” has any need to exist.

And yet, it does…

These Cultural Treasures Are Made of Plastic. Now They’re Falling Apart.

Museum conservators are racing to figure out how to preserve modern artworks and historical objects that are disintegrating.

The custodians of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit at the National Air and Space Museum saw it coming. A marvel of human engineering, the suit is made of 21 layers of various plastics: nylon, neoprene, Mylar, Dacron, Kapton and Teflon.

The rubbery neoprene layer would pose the biggest problem. Although invisible, buried deep between the other layers, the suit’s caretakers knew the neoprene would harden and become brittle with age, eventually making the suit stiff as a board. In January 2006, the Armstrong suit, a national treasure, was taken off display and stored to slow the degradation.

Of an estimated 8,300 million metric tons of plastic produced to date, roughly 60 percent is floating in the oceans or stuffed in landfills. Most of us want that plastic to disappear. But in museums, where objects are meant to last forever, plastics are failing the test of time.

“It breaks your heart,” said Malcolm Collum, chief conservator at the museum. The Armstrong suit’s deterioration was arrested in time. But in other spacesuits that are pieces of astronautical history, the neoprene became so brittle that it shattered into little pieces inside the layers, their rattling a brutal reminder of material failure.

Art is not spared either, as Georgina Rayner, a conservation scientist at Harvard Art Museums, showed at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Boston this month.

Claes Oldenburg’s “False Food Selection,” a wooden box containing plastic models of foods like eggs and bacon, a banana and an oatmeal cookie, now appears to be rotting. The egg whites are yellowing, while the banana has completely deflated.

In museums, the problem is becoming more apparent, Dr. Rayner said in an interview: “Plastics are reaching the end of their lifetimes kind of now.”

Of all materials, plastics are proving to be one of the most challenging for conservators. “I find plastics very frustrating,” said Mr. Collum. Because of the material’s unpredictability and the huge variation in forms of deterioration, he said, “it’s just a completely different world.”

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Immigrants Get The Job Done, And Then Some

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Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and chief executive of Chobani, arrived in the United States 24 years ago with $3,000 to his name. He now runs a company with annual sales of $1.5 billion.CreditCole Wilson for The New York Times

A few contributors on this platform are children of immigrants. Some are immigrants. And we love Greek yogurt. And we love a good shepherd to riches story. So, why not celebrate one of our own, so to speak?

Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani Talks Greek Yogurt and the American Dream

A Turkish immigrant of Kurdish descent, Mr. Ulukaya brought Greek yogurt to the mainstream. Along the way, he began hiring refugees, a move that drew threats from fringe websites and far-right commentators.

Hamdi Ulukaya arrived in the United States in 1994 with $3,000 in his pocket. He was an immigrant from Turkey, hoping to learn English and find his way in a new country.

Today, Mr. Ulukaya is a billionaire. Chobani, the Greek yogurt maker he founded in 2007, has annual sales of about $1.5 billion, and Mr. Ulukaya owns most of the privately held company. Continue reading

Sending Aloha Poke A Message

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Aloha Poke Co.’s corporate strong-arming has struck many observers as the most blatant kind of cultural appropriation—an effort not to celebrate another tradition but to own it. Photograph by Katie Rothstein

A few of our team members were just in the last week or so talking about poke, after a visit to a shop on Venice Beach, in California, that has some of the best-reputed poke on the mainland. Little did we know, something big was happening in the poke world, having to do with bullying tactics and cultural appropriation, a topic we have long been sensitive about considering the work we do. So, after reading this news, we pass this along and encourage all our friends and colleagues to consider where their poke dollars go:

The Chicago Poke Chain That Tried to Stop Hawaiian Businesses from Using the Word “Aloha”

On July 28th, a Hawaiian activist named Kalamaokaaina Niheu appeared in a Facebook Live video to discuss a “disturbing message” that she had received in her in-box that morning. It was about Aloha Poke Co., a restaurant chain based in Chicago that specializes in fast-casual versions of poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish made of chunks of seasoned raw fish. Niheu, who represents Hawaii in the Pacific Caucus at the United Nations and lives in Honolulu, had been hearing from Hawaiian business owners who had received cease-and-desist letters from the Chicago company, claiming that it had trademarked the phrases “Aloha” and “Aloha Poke,” and that any food business using those words in its name was infringing on its federal trademark.

To Niheu and other kanaka maoli—native Hawaiians—Aloha Poke Co.’s claim was ludicrous: How could a business, let alone a non-Hawaiian one, claim a right to something as fundamental to Hawaiian culture as the word “aloha”? The term, which can mean “hello” and “goodbye,” also signifies a spiritual connection between the Hawaiian people and the world around them, Niheu explained. Now it was being used as “a legal, blunt hammer for profit, so that Aloha Poke Co. can compete in a market that was never theirs to begin with,” she said. Several shops had already been forced to rebrand their poke businesses, and front the cost of doing so—redesigning their logos, tossing infringing merchandise and menus, and changing their social-media handles. One restaurant owner in Anchorage, Alaska, changed her business name from Aloha Poke Stop to Lei’s Poke Stop after receiving a cease-and-desist letter. “We just weren’t prepared to do that,” she told Eater. “We were already struggling as a small family business.” Continue reading