WARNING: I may get sweet, compassionate and sentimental. Anyone looking for the snarky A2GastroBoy needs to turn away….but be sure to come back… I have a few DOOZIES cued up for the post Turducken blog season. Until then let’s pretend I have a heart.
It’s time. Time to start planning for Thanksgiving. This year I’m feeling particularly Thankful. I just returned from a reunion of sorts. There were three generations from three friendly families, the eldest all having meet over 57 years ago as teenage camp counselors. Every two years our ever-growing tribe convenes at a quasi-rustic lodge in Grand Bend, Ontario. For one long weekend we eat, drink, play games and most importantly, enjoy one another’s company. It’s pretty damn perfect. It was also Remembrance Day in Canada.
As I drove home across the Blue Water Bridge, blissed out and full, I became reflective. That lead to the realization that Thanksgiving is a week away. It’s my favorite holiday. First of all, it’s secular (remember, I have a mixed marriage). No religious dogma to take for a walk. Then there’s the food. It’s a license to gorge. But most importantly, it’s the one time a year where I can openly appreciate my life without superficial pretense. I’m a blessed man. Life is pretty damn good.
At some point in my journey towards maturity I came to appreciate that it’s incumbent upon all of us to make the world a better place (I know, grandiose, right?). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not selling the convertible or changing my name to Yusuf Islam. I am however, making a conscious decision to have an impact. In an effort to spread the word and inspire good deeds I thought I’d dedicate this post to constructive acts of kindness. The following is a series of actions we can all do to help make the world a better place. In keeping with my Gastronomic theme, these are, for the most part, food-oriented pursuits.
Support Economic Development
CONTRIBUTE TO A KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN A bit over a year ago one of my good friends mentioned his Kickstarter habit. Every weeks or so he'd log-on to Kickstarter and randomly give away twenty bucks. To him the monetary value was inconsiquential, but the joy he took in "paying it forward" was tremendous. Almost immedaitely afterwards I learned of a campaign for the Tilian Farm Development Center. I immediately signed-up. My contribution, along with the generous giving of many others gave the farm enough money to purchase essential tools.
BOOTY: What my friend hadn't originally explained was that most campaigns include prizes. Just like a Public Radio capaign, each level of giving is rewarded with a material token of appreciation. From Tilian I scored a killer t-shirt. Good Karma AND swag. I was hooked.
In the time since I've helped fund two of Mark's Carts (Lunch Room, Beet Box), Bona Sera, #9 Hambuegers, the soon to open Wafel Shop and a host of other technologically and artisticaly oriented ventures. I’ve helped literally a dozen folks make their dreams a reality. It's addictive. Consider it your own personal stimulus program. If you haven’t already, register with Kickstarter or Indigogo (or both!) and start giving.
JOIN A CSA I’m not going to get on my soap-box for CSAs. I’ll simply say that there are many constructive reasons for joining. I’ll also acknowledge that there are equally as many valid and practical excuses for NOT joining. Get over it. Just do it. There are over 30 fabulous options in the Washtenaw Foodplain ranging from seasonal vegetables (MANY!) to heritage breed meets (Bending Sickle) to fully prepared meals (Harvest Kitchen). Take part in the food chain and join today.
VISIT SELMA Still on the fence about CSAs? How about breakfast? Everyone’s gotta eat, right? If you’re not ready to take the plunge and buy a CSA share at least spend $15 bucks once a month having breakfast at Selma. For those of you living under a rock, Selma is Ann Arbor’s very own “completely volunteer local-foods weekly breakfast party.” All proceeds become a source of funding for building new local-foods infrastructure through loans for hoop houses, affiliations with other community non-profits, and support for the Tilian Farm Development Center. Check it out at www.selmacafe.org.
BUY LOCAL Have you heard the term think globally, act locally? Nowhere is that idea more commercially impactful than in the procurement of food. Whether or not you join a CSA you have the power to support our local community by dedicating yourself to shopping locally. And don't misinterpret my message - I am NOT advocating that we all join the local Co-Op – I have ZERO tolerance for patchouli. Start with one category of provisions. Goto Sparrow or Knights for all of your meat. Still too much work? There are "mass market" options. Instead of Kroger go to Busch's. If you just need a few things make an effort to shop at the Produce Station, Arbor Farms or Plum (bring extra cash if you’re going to Plum). Even going to Meijer supports Michigan more than Kroger. Keep it local People.
PARTICIPATE IN SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY You know what Black Friday is, Right? And Cyber Monday? Well now there’s Small Business Saturday. Kudos to the folks at American Express for cooking up this one. They’re doing their part to promote small businesses by marketing the concept of shopping at small, locally-owned businesses on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
Last year I made it my mission to visit Kerrytown with a pocket full of cash. I went to 16 Hands, Found, Hollander’s and Mud Puddles. I discovered treasures that no big-box chain could ever replicate. Then I strolled through the arch of Heavenly Metals and had an amazing visit with Vicki the shops owner that may or may not have included Bourbon. It was a RIOT! Not only did I support local shops, I came home with bags full of unique, charming holiday gifts. I challenge you to do the same.
- Added note, while I appreciate Amex for instigating Small Busniess Saturday, I also challenge you to use cash. Merchant fees for small businesses are a bitch!
This one gives me pause. I was raised to perform acts of charity in anonymous humility. Candidly, I was raised to do a lot anonymously. But my therapy sessionas aren’t the issue at hand…Having just lived through a predominantly “philosophical” election season it’s appropriate to discuss the ideology of public service. Extremists from the right would argue that our society is burdened by free-loading moochers. Radicals from the left would argue those same "extremists" take pleasure in watching children stave to death. Neither side is correct. We need to find a construcive way to discuss and resolve social challenges.
I don’t really care to start a political debate. You can read Mark Maynard for that. "Having said that," I believe in public assistance. I absolutely, passionately and intellectually believe that good social policy IS ALSO good fiscal policy. At the same time I believe that our government agencies are inefficient and that more of the “public assistance” should be funded and managed by the “private” sector.
In my house charitable giving is a mandate. I set aside a specific percentage of my annual income for what I’ve affectionalty dubbed S.M.Arts….Social programs, Medical research and public Arts. Regardless of your political affiliation, PLEASE do your part and contribute to S.M.Arts. There are tens, if not hundreds of fantastic causes right here in Washtenaw County. Here’s a few simple ways you can have an impact right here in Washtenaw County.
GIVE FOOD 'Food Insecurity' is an awkward term for a serious issue. Donate to a food drive. Need a suggestion…On December 5th through the 9th Ann Arbor 107.1 will be conducting their annual Rockin for the Hungry Food Drive. “Volunteers and radio personalities from annarbor's 107one will be "freezin' for a reason" at [Food Gatherer’s] largest annual outdoor food and fund drive. Broadcast live from Kroger on South Maple Road, you can participate by dropping off food or cash donations, purchasing food to donate, or by making a donation at the register of any Washtenaw County Kroger store location.”
GIVE TIME We’re all busy. Good for you. I don't want to hear about it. Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, “How do you get something done? Ask a busy person.” There’s also the reminder, “Be the change to wish to see.” And finally, in a nod to Nike, "JUST DO IT."
GIVE MONEY Perhaps you don’t keep canned food in the house. Or maybe finding time in your busy schedule seems impractical. You can still help. Everyone accepts cash. There are fabulous agencies in Washtenaw doing great work and NOT A ONE is flush with cash. I’ve mentioned Food Gatherer’s. The easiest way to provide a financial donation is by sending a check. I would also encourage you to attend Grill’n their annual fun Raiser. It’s a wonderful way to get out and break bread with your neighbors while at the same time providing desperately needed financial assistance.
BOUNS ROUND - Newman's Own Does all that talk of charity still sound like work? Well here’s a totally low-impact way to do good….Have you seen Paul Newman’s face on spaghetti jars? How about Salad Dressing, Salsa, Wine, Frozen Pizza or popcorn? Before celebrity faces flooded the grocery isles actor Paul Newman created this line of products with the sole purpose of giving back. Over the last 30 years his foundation has given over $330 MILLION to charities. Even if “locavoire” sounds like a hipster affliction, why would you EVER buy Ragu when you can buy similar, if not superior products from Newman?
Be Kind and Give Thanks
Finally, let’s take a minute to appreciate our fellow man. You rock. There is nothing more rewarding than an unexpected, hand-written thank you note (the key word is unexpected! Shallow thanks written in haste as a gesture of social protocol are nothing more than junk mail). In keeping with the Gastronomic theme, here are two very effective ways of making the world a better place through gestures of thanks.
TIPPING A few years ago one of my mentor’s made a New Years Resolution to “over tip.” In many cases he doubled the standard tip. Valets got ten bucks. Hotel House keeping staffer got $5 per night (that’s right, you should tip the house keeping staff!). He was amazed at the response. This inconsequential change to his tipping amount instantly made him the ambassador of Quan. It was inspired. I was jealous. Luckily, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let’s all over tip. And speaking of tips…
Lately I’ve started splitting entrées with my wife. It occurred to me that it reduces our check total, thereby reducing the traditional formula for calculating tips. I started an OCD meditation on the issue of tipping waiters. Why do we tip based on a percent? Why not a flat fee for service? Follow me…
If I go to the Roadhouse and spend $40 per person, and I subscribe to the 20% rule, the waiter get’s $8 per person. If I decide to eat light and drink less and the check comes to $20 per person and the tip is reduced to $4 per person. Did I spend less time at the table? Did the waiter work less? Hell no. Will the extra $4 per person create a hardship on my finances? Again, HELL no.
As of today I am starting a campaign to change the social norm for tipping. Waiters should get a minimum flat fee; casual dining service is $5 per head. Finer dining is $10. Remember, this is a minimum. If you go hog-wild and spend more than $50 per person keep the meter running. Round-up in increments of $10. From here on out, anyone who uses a decimal point to calculate the tip is an uncouth tight-ass.
HAVE A DINNER PARTY You don’t need a reason to break bread with your fellow man. There’s no act more generous than feeding someone. Make this a homework assignment. In the next month invite four people to dinner. You’ll be amazed at the result.
Special Shout-Out to to Mrs. GastroBoy: I’ll finish this post with a proud story. I wish I could take credit but the credit is all hers. As you know, we eat out a LOT. Probably more than we should. But who cares. Anywho… there’s one restaurant that we frequent most. Over time we’ve come well acquainted with the staff. And with a subset of these folks we've crossed the line from “customer” to friends.
Here’s the rub. While we’re out and enjoying ourselves, our friends are working. Every time we get into a meaningful conversation another table requires their attention. It’s an occupational hazard.
Inspiration strikes…It just so happens that said restaurant is closed one day a week. Mrs. GastroBoy decided to use the down day to host a dinner party for the restaurant’s staff. Finally, we could share one another’s company without stopping to water the mouth-breathers at table nine. One sunny night this past July we hosted a gaggle of folks form said restaurant. It was a RIOT. We ate. We drank, AND drank. We laughed our asses off. We had a perfect evening. It was one of my favorite meals of the season.
Let that be an inspiration to us all. Who will you invite to dinner? Ciao!