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Features Uncategorized

Erewhon: A Wellness Trap

There’s a certain pretentiousness that clings in the air when you walk into the oh-so-luxurious and exclusive Erewhon. Shelves explode with a muted color palette that only millennial and Gen-z graphic designers can achieve, a mix of warm-toned mauves and oranges with art deco influences, and a retro font to go with it. Tiny boxes of neatly packed and well-massaged kale along with pre-cut cups of fruit are begging to be picked up for an on-the-go snack of at least $15. Beside the to-go-bar, what seems like hundreds of kombucha bottles line the fridge in those same muted colors, a dizzying array of choice in a single drink form. Looking closer, each label has some kind of combination of vegan, gluten-free, immunity-boosting, non-GMO, or soy-free, as if the majority of its customers are allergic to at least one food group. This is Erewhon, the rich-people simulation of grocery shopping – but how did Erewhon make its rise to fame, and why are people like us – “the normal, everyday citizens” – so entranced by it? 

If you don’t know already, this celebrity-raved grocery store has gained much attraction over the last couple of years, particularly Los Angeles, where it now boasts six locations in the county area. As stated on their website, “Through our markets, we endeavor to provide exceptional organic products that inspire good decision-making and healthier communities.” And when they mean “exceptional”, they mean exorbitantly overpriced groceries. Yet despite the price tag, Erewhon is every clean-girl’s aesthetic dream, and has culminated in an almost-cult following on social media. 

The Making of Erewhon

Although this chain grocery store took off during the pandemic, its origins humbly began in 1966 as a natural foods store. And, surprise, it was founded in Boston by Michio and Aveline Kushi. The Japanese couple pioneered the macrobiotic diet, with Michio busy fermenting foods right in his basement. Erewhon provided exclusive organic produce and stock from Japan imported by the Kushis, focused mainly on organic and fermented foods. 

Erewhon then made its move to the West Coast, where it first opened in the early 70s. In 1975, the Kushis sold the business. Since then, the Boston location has closed, but the business kept its goal of exclusivity and niche throughout the generations of ownership. 

The celebrity magnet store we know today has blossomed under its current owners, Tony and Josephine Antoci, who oversaw the store’s California takeover since rapid expansion in 2011. Down to its business model, Erewhon strives to stock entirely organic and non-GMO products, even partnering with local businesses, such as biodynamic farms to small-shop vendors in what Tony describes as “craftsmen.” 

But more than just a grocery store, Erewhon is an experience, a community devoted to kombucha, among other things. Even the name itself is an anagram of “nowhere” from Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel of a utopian society. That elusive and otherworldly community only adds to the illusion of a high-class community, one that came together in the face of a pandemic. 

During Covid-19, Erewhon adapted quickly: opening early for senior citizens, offering a dedicated tonic bar that offers immunity-boosting shots, and even giving out chlorophyll water for free. Among other safety measures, Erewhon became a paparazzi hotspot to sneak a snapshot of A-list celebrities on their weekly grocery runs during the pandemic. 

Marketing Wellness 

Although the branding of natural foods has been at its genesis core, Erewhon’s rise into the limelight follows a growing trend, and now an entire industry, of wellness that seeps into every marketing strategy in the lifestyle realm. No longer are buzzwords like “diet” and “bikini-body” used in health marketing, as the rise in body positivity subserves the highly toxic diet culture of the early 2000s. At the same time, has wellness co-opted diet culture, remarketing it into something more sophisticated? 

The wellness industry is now worth $1.5 trillion dollars. It encompasses physical health, fitness, mental health, and even spiritual health. The wellness industry expands the old fitness world, where abs and low-carb diets were all the rage. Wellness is, supposedly, better than that. 

This switch in consumer interest from physical to holistic wellness profoundly changed the way we look at food. Clean-eating is simply the second wave of an adaptable diet culture that continuously markets off of people’s desire to lose weight. But instead of in-your-face calorie restriction, like the famed and failed Atkins diet, food now revolves around the obsession over “clean” labels like gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO – sounds familiar? 

Food is reduced to its nutritional value and gain, with little emphasis on the community food brings, or even acknowledging complex and often joyful experiences with food as human beings. Juice detoxes are to clear the mind, fermented foods alleviates gut issues linked with anxiety, organic and non-processed food helps with depression – these are the practices of marketing wellness, and it’s working. In the words of Naomi Wolf from her book The Beauty Myth, “health makes good propaganda.” 

The Wellness Trap

Erewhon is simply the pinnacle of this wellness trap. On top of following clean-eating trends, Erewhon takes it a step further by selling astronomical prices to an exclusive clientele, making wellness a brand of wealth. Other stores like WholeFoods and Trader Joe’s sell the appearance of wellness just as strategically with a broader audience. 

As much as wellness has reversed the more severe damages of diet culture, with its emphasis over holistic health rather than physical appearance, wellness remains a marketing strategy to sell to us: the consumers. Yet still, in a world where food remains restrained with restrictive labels disguised as health, we are still miles away from approaching food with sheer joy without the whispers of punishment.

Ask yourself these questions: Am I guided by health regulations that aren’t related to my own physical needs? Is my relationship with food transactional? Do I think eating a certain dish makes or breaks my wellbeing? Am I listening to myself or the industry? 

Taking a deeper look at Erewhon’s massive following provides a lens to understand the inner workings of the consumerist mind toward wellness. After all, health is priceless, or rather you can’t put a price tag on health – so why not pay for a $17 blue smoothie  in exchange for glowing skin?

Cover photo courtesy of Erewhon

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Quick Bites Uncategorized

Summer Greek Salad

Summer means Salad. Cold, hot, spicy, filling, and light. You name it; I will be making that type of salad this summer. The possibilities are endless and, as I have grown up, my love for salad has grown with me. 

I once used to despise lettuce, and if I was forced to try three bites as a child, I would refuse to use any type of dressing or toppings. Now, salads are what I look forward to eating and creating while in the kitchen. For me, salad does not just mean lettuce, some toppings, and a dressing. A salad can have a grain base, be hot, and even have no lettuce at all. 

One salad that holds a special place in my heart is my greek salad. It is simple, vibrant, fresh, and bursting with flavor. Despite its name, this salad contains no lettuce, just perfectly cut vegetables, a light vinaigrette, crunchy chickpeas, and of course, heaps of fresh feta. 

Ingredients

2 bell peppers, diced

1 large cucumber, diced

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

¼ cup red onion, diced 

½ cup feta cheese 

Roasted chickpeas 

1 cup chickpeas

2 tbsp olive oil

½ teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon paprika 

¼ teaspoon pepper

Dressing 

½ cup olive oil 

3 tablespoons vinegar

½ juice of a lemon 

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley 

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Drain the chickpeas, and coat them in olive oil and spices in a medium bowl. Transfer to a baking sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until completely crunchy. While the chickpeas are baking in a large bowl, combine the peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Then, pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss them together. Top with feta and the roasted chickpeas and enjoy. In order to keep leftover chickpeas crunchy, store salad leftovers separately.

Cover photo courtesy of Fork in the Kitchen

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Uncategorized

I Eat My Favorite Soup Once a Year

Passover only happens eight days out of the year, but for a carb-loving, bread enthusiast like me, it can be quite disheartening not to eat leavened bread for the entire week-long Jewish holiday. However, there is one dish that I always look forward to eating when Passover comes around.

Every year, I look forward to seder dinners at my grandparents’ house in New York. Passover is the one time each year where my whole extended family gathers together. We read aloud the 1930s version of the Haggadah—the Jewish text that tells the story of Passover—that was passed down to my grandparents. The book is outdated and written in old English, but it’s a tradition, so reading it’s a necessity. We sit at the dining room table and take turns reading a paragraph. We practice the customs of the seder and collectively sigh when the last blessing is read, which cues the start to dinner.

When the books are cleared, the first course of dinner is served. Without delay, bowls of matzo ball soup are ladled into fine china, and just as quickly as they are passed out, the soup is gobbled down by the guests at the table.

There’s something about matzo ball soup. It’s a simple and minimal dish. A large, softball-sized matzo ball is served with a hefty ladling of chicken soup. Matzo balls have a bready, sponge-like texture and are served in a chicken broth. The balls are made up of a mix of eggs and matzo meal—ground up matzo bread—which allows the bready soup dumpling to soak up the flavor of the chicken broth. The broth is no different than regular chicken noodle soup, but it isn’t served with all of the fixings at my grandma’s. No celery, no onion, no carrots, not even pieces of chicken. Just broth and matzo balls. The chicken flavor is so potent that it tastes just like the liquid form of a chicken. The soup is served hot and warms the soul.

Matzo ball soup is hands down my favorite soup of all time. Aside from the grandiose flavor, the dish brings back memories and a wave of nostalgia. Each spoonful transports me back to when I was younger at these Passover seders. Because I was the youngest child present at the table, I had to read a passage every year called ‘The Four Questions’ in Hebrew. While it was nerve-wracking every time, as a reward for reading, I was one of the first to be served a bowl of matzo ball soup when the time came. While this might have been pure coincidence—or due to the fact that I sat next to my grandfather at the head of the table—I rationalized my good work with the prize of matzo ball soup. 

I have made my own matzo ball soup based on my grandma’s recipe numerous times, and while the renditions taste great each time, they simply are not the same. I’ve mastered the art of making matzo balls, perfecting both the size and texture, but my chicken broth has never compared to my grandma’s. Without the potent flavor of poultry in my broth, my matzo balls are less flavorful, too. Alas, this does not discourage me from making the wonderful dish at all. Rather, it encourages me to keep trying. 


While I can make matzo ball soup all I want, my all-time favorite soup is the one at my grandparents’ house that I can only get once a year. Plus, my grandma’s matzo ball soup gives me a reason to look forward to Passover every year.

Cover photo courtesy of Melanie Cooks

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Uncategorized

Selective, Not Picky

What do grilled chicken, rice, filet mignon, cucumbers, and goat cheese have in common? Well, nothing really, other than the fact that these were the five staple foods in my diet up until age fourteen. For most of my childhood, I was referred to as a “selective” eater, not a “picky” eater (and I would become very angry in response to that title). The title of “picky eater” didn’t really apply to me, at least with its usual connotations. My diet did not consist of typical children’s foods, such as hot dogs, pizza, chocolate milk (and I actually hated all three). Rather it consisted of a selective set of foods, some of which were very mature for my young palate. I thrived on this cuisine for years with no problems, with the occasional supplementation of other basic foods (think pasta, chicken nuggets, various forms of potato, etc…). Though I was met with much debate from my parents and my pediatrician, I felt I was doing just fine.

Once I entered high school and noticed my peers had far more expansive diets than mine, I started to become self-conscious about my limited palate. High school came with new experiences—traveling, going out to dinner with friends, the options were endless—however, my “selective” diet was not as endless. Unlike the comfortable granite countertops of my own kitchen, my diet could not always be accommodated when I was out and about. Italian restaurants were easy, I could always get plain pasta (though my still-ongoing fear of tomato sauce is continually met with much dismay). American restaurants were rather uncomplicated too: a burger (just bun, meat, and cheddar cheese, of course) or chicken fingers were always available (though my fear of the other common tomato product, ketchup, was, and still is, met with much chagrin). Japanese, Mexican, Indian, or any other non-Western cuisine was entirely off limits, though. No spices, no sauces, and most importantly, no vegetables. 

These challenges went on for the first few months of high school until eventually I was motivated to put in the work to open my eyes to new and exciting culinary adventures. But, I had no idea where to start. Anything green or well-seasoned evoked an immense fear only a fellow “selective” eater could understand. It was a catch-22, I wanted to try new things, but I was scared I wouldn’t like them. But, I wouldn’t know for sure if I didn’t like them unless I tried them. Maybe I was a “picky” eater after all…

Finally, I sought help from a dietitian who helped me devise a plan to open the flood gates to all sorts of new cuisine. One piece of advice that she provided is the one that I believe had the most profound impact on my willingness to expand my horizons: she told me to cook for myself. Immediately after our first appointment, I went straight to Whole Foods and bought an expansive assortment of vegetables, proteins, seasonings, and sauces. I looked up recipes and got cooking. In just that one day, I learned I loved cauliflower, broccoli, dark meat chicken, and teriyaki sauce. A few cooking sessions later, I adopted spinach, carrots, and all sorts of herbs. Though some more complex acquired tastes, like hummus, brussels sprouts, and salmon took years to grow into, I now consider myself a relatively adventurous eater. All it took for me was to take matters into my own hands; the constant nagging from everyone around me could not get me past the mental roadblock that I had created—it had to come from within.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Ministry of Curry

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Uncategorized

A Triumphant Taco Tuesday

“Nine dollars? For one taco?! That is just insane!!” I remarked, perusing menus of the seemingly endless options in South Beach’s eclectic restaurant scene. Planning the culinary adventures for my friends and our spring break trip to Miami felt like an impossible feat. In true foodie fashion, we had a long list of criteria: aesthetically pleasing decor, Instagrammable food (phone eats first, of course), good ambiance, and reasonable price. As five college-aged girls with budgets far lower than the lavish cuisine our palettes craved, keeping dining expenses down was not an easy task––until we discovered the wonders of Taco Tuesday.

“Only three dollars per taco? What a steal!” I announced, telling all the details of the latest special I found. “Wait! This place’s tacos are only two dollars! They also haveunlimited chips and guac!”

I continued to fall down the rabbit hole of every Taco Tuesday special along Miami’s South Beach, each looking better and better.How were we supposed to choose? Whether it was the allure of the “holiday” itself or just the fact that our near obsession provided premium content for (what we considered) hilarious jokes, I’m not sure. We became fully invested in making this Taco Tuesday the most idyllic ever; morning to night, we planned the most elaborate meals, activities, and themed outfits. In the days leading up to the event, everything we did or said related somehow to Taco Tuesday. 

Tuesday, March 8th, 8 am. I opened my eyes, sat up, and shrieked: “It’s Taco Tuesday!!!!,” in my loudest, most exclamatory tone. While I am sure my friends were not exactly hoping for an 8 am wake-up call, we had a long day ahead of us, and I knew that was the only way to get them riled up for the day. We made our daily trip to the lobby Starbucks to caffeinate ourselves to an optimal level. The day was spent at three different restaurants eating tacos, of course, for every meal. My personal favorite was the Birria Taco made with braised beef and melted cheese in a handmade corn tortilla. Birria tacos are unique, as they are served alongside a deliciously spicy broth to dip in. Each bite dripped with immense flavor. A close second was a delightfully crisp Baja fish taco with fresh pineapple salsa, the perfect taste of Miami. Though fish is not usually part of my diet, this fish was so fresh I knew I had to try it. Whether it was a sit-down restaurant where each taco was creatively plated or the dingiest shack at the end of an alleyway, every taco we found was delectable perfection (and much more economical than any of our other meals). 

While the food was so delicious it was quite literally life-altering, the experiences filled with laughter were what really tied the day together. Taco Tuesday lived way beyond our expectations, with food providing an outlet for my newfound college friends and I to create everlasting memories. We were brought closer together than before––a true success. Even as we return to “real life,” we try to honor Taco Tuesday as much as we can, seeking out Boston’s best Mexican cuisine (though, admittedly, it’s hard to top Miami).

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Grandma Knows Best

Underneath the bag of bagels nestled in the small rectangle of countertop between the refrigerator and the stove, lies a rectangular Tupperware container of Grandma’s brownies. Organized in perfectly imperfect columns and rows lined with wax paper, the delectable treats await eager hands grabbing away at every last crumb. A staple at every family gathering, these brownies have been a constant among many everchanging factors in my life. Dunked in milk, beside a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream, or just straight out of the container, the chocolatey confections bring joy to all who indulge.

Although the recipe is derived from the back of the neon orange cardboard box of unsweetened “Baker’s Chocolate” used in the dessert, it has been adapted by my grandmother to fit the needs of our family. My grandfather suffered from Type 1 Diabetes, and due to his condition, he had many dietary restrictions that my grandmother adopted in her cooking. Low salt, low sugar cooking was the norm, and those alterations similarly applied to her brownies. Though my grandfather passed away in 2006, the brownie recipe has stayed the same. They are dry in an oddly pleasing way and just a tad bit sweet. While to some this may be off-putting, to me, each crumble holds a story and a memory in it. 

A few weeks after I moved into college, my grandmother took a road trip to visit my cousin and I as we were both starting our respective freshman years. When my grandma pulled up to my dorm and I greeted her at her car, the very first thing I was presented with was a rectangular Tupperware container of her famous fudgy brownies. I ate one almost immediately and placed the rest in the freezer to eat another day. Little did I know those brownies would carry me through all of the hardships of the first semester of college. Each time I missed home, was stressed about schoolwork or was simply just hungry, I grabbed myself a brownie. 

I never would have thought one of the most basic desserts would hold so much meaning and influence in my life until its frequent presence became a rarity. Although I am still able to see my family on occasion, the brownie-filled gatherings are far less frequent, but each time I reach for a brownie in my tiny little freezer, I am comforted by the warmth of the history and memories exploding from each and every crumb.

Cover Photo courtesy of Countryside Cravings

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Poem

You seem like the type of person to like breakfast

Few words have hit me the same way as these

Brunch shift, a coworker put me at ease:

“You seem like you’d enjoy breakfast,” he said

Was it just me… were my eyes growing wet?

The meal of all meals, the best of the three

And here he thought this one represents me?

Hand on my heart, I move to speak,

“It’s breakfast cuisine that makes me go weak…”

Oh breakfast, sweet breakfast, start to each day

My heart is yours; here it is, if I may

Options abound, there’s an entree for all

Elderly folks and infants who crawl

Oatmeal with honey, cinnamon, and cream

Scones scathing hot that come bursting with steam

Pancakes, waffles, toast of French roots

Drizzles of syrup give all these a boost

On-the-go breakfasts are small and contained

Still, muffins and pastries? None have complained! 

Donuts deserve a saga of their own… 

And bagels––sweet breads trigger satisfied moans 

Eggs are magnificent, pleasing to crowds

Circles of sunshine on tiny white clouds

All by themselves they deserve celebration

Though multiple forms lead to menu frustration

Scrambled or boiled? Fried, poached, or steamed?

Indecisive eaters might as well scream

If solo they ride, eggs act well alone

Yet Benedicts also place eggs in their zone

Eggs garnish a toast (or serve as a dip)

With a carton on hand, you’re well-equipped

Fancy, late brunches are now all the rage

I swear society’s just in a stage

Breakfast and lunch, a nice pair, for a bit

But former will triumph; lunch will submit

The truth is that breakfast’s a cut above

Its long list of foods fits guests like a glove

While eating early, you dream up big plans

The whole day laid out before you, it spans

Then an idea strikes, eyes all a glimmer

“Of this I’m sure—I’ll make breakfast for dinner!”

Cover Photo courtesy of CotterCrunch

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Uncategorized

Meatless Mondays

Benefits of Meatless Monday

Meatless Monday is more than just a catchy slogan and an excuse to make a quick pasta for dinner.  Cutting meat from your diet can have a positive impact on the environment—and it may be much easier than you think.  While the slow-smoked ribs that you dream about each night may taste really good, it’s worth considering the relationship between your meals and how the food on your plate is produced.  The average vegetarian meal can save up to 133 gallons of water; at a rate of three meals, once a week, that number adds up to 20,748 gallons of water saved per year.  One day of plant-forward eating also can reduce your carbon footprint by eight pounds. 

Incorporating Meatless Mondays Into Your Life

Whether you’re making dinner at home or eating out with your friends and family, dishes without meat are more cost efficient than a steak, burger, or salmon meal.  Instead of making an elaborate meal, you can choose a vegetarian option that can cut your time in the kitchen in half.  When you’re out at a restaurant, more likely than not, there are several dishes on the menu that are vegetarian and cheaper.  With an increasing number of customers that are vegetarian, vegan, or just prefer to not eat meat that they didn’t make, more restaurants are incorporating a whole section of options that you can choose from.  Eating meatless meals don’t have to occur on Mondays or even for a full day, but it has been proven to be a financial and environmental addition to your everyday life.

Letting Alternatives Shine

From the Beyond Burger to Tofurky, there are plenty of substitutes on the market that have been made to look and taste like your carnivorous favorites.  While these alternatives are more eco-friendly options, they can be quite expensive, especially for full-time students. Meatless Monday is a great opportunity to focus on more traditional vegetarian and vegan staples in their purest forms.  Appreciating the flavors and textures of beans, tofu, tempeh, and seitan in dishes (and not trying to trick yourself into thinking your air-fried tofu is a chicken nugget) gives these ingredients their deserved opportunity to shine.  Get creative with your spices and herbs, and really take the time to layer flavors as you would with a dish centering meat.  As an added bonus, these alternatives are much kinder to your wallet than than most meat products.  

Where to Start

If you’re unsure of where to start, look to our Mucho Gusto recipes for some inspiration! Combine Meatless Mondays and Pizza Fridays with these amazing pizza recipes, most of which are meatless. For the colder months, there are some delectable recipes for soups and pasta. Some highlights include a recipe for Veggie Bolognese and another for Sweet Potato Chili.While these are a good starting point, try to step out of your comfort zone and sample some new dishes with meat alternatives or try a new restaurant that features vegetarian and vegan options. A fully vegan restaurant that paved the way for popularity in the meat alternatives business is byChloe., recently rebranded as Beatnic. Take time to explore and slowly incorporate some of these amazing vegetarian dishes into your everyday life. 


Meatless Monday is inclusive; you can do as much or as little as you want.  This may mean going entirely plant-based and eating a vegan diet once a week.  It could mean that you cut out beef, pork, and poultry and instead opt for fish.  There is no right or wrong way to limit your meat consumption, so experiment with a few different options to find what best works for you.  Regardless of how meatless your Monday really is, making a small effort yields serious benefits.

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The Collaterals of Avo-Toast Popularity

Some people think of Friday as the happiest day of the week, but for me, it was always Saturday. Every Saturday without exception my family and I would go to a café to eat breakfast. I remember the ecstasy of reading an entire menu that contained typical breakfast foods:  eggs, pancakes, waffles, French toasts, chocolate milk… you name it! As I grew older and I changed, the menu of the café started to change as well. What before was comfort-food paradise was now full of acai bowls and turmeric-ginger drinks. Saturday breakfast became the perfect excuse to post the delicious and aesthetic $9 avocado toast. With over 16K posts, #avocadotoasts became the embodiment of “health” and “popularity.” Influencers, Britney Spears, and the person next to you at the café were compelling  you to order one. The increase in popularity increased the demand dramatically. In January alone nearly 320 million pounds of avocados were imported to the US, setting a new import record  (Rabobank). The 33% annual increase in demand has been so powerful that it converted avocados into something more than an Instagram post: a political weapon. 

When we sit at the table, we rarely think about the origin of the products we eat. The same occurs with avocado toast. There is a tendency to oversimplify agricultural product origin by thinking that most agricultural products are farmed in America. Truth is, only 10% of avocados are grown in the United States. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Mexico was the principal source of American-consumed avocados. This became germane when president Donald Trump tried to impose a 20% tariff on Mexican imports in order to pay for his famous “wall”. His new policy was the incarnation of his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.” On the surface, what appeared to be a nationalist move would have impacted the millions of avocado toast consumers in the U.S. The $9 avocado toast would have been an $11 dollar toast. 

The increase in demand does not only impact American politics. In Mexico, avocados are known as “green gold” for growers. Avocados are the opportunity for agricultural communities to thrive; a thriving that has also sparked the interest of the cartels. The states of Michoacán and Jalisco are the leading avocado producers in Mexico. They are also breeding states for criminal groups like Nueva Generacion and the New Michoacán Family. Thirsty for more power and money, the cartels have seen the opportunity to earn money from the exports without having to grow the avocados themselves. Cartel extorsion comes in different flavors, from stealing trucks with imports, to kidnapping, raping, and killing the families of the farmers. In exchange for protection farmers have to pay a quota that amounts to up to $2,500 U.S. dollars per hectare. The government action to protect its own people has been minimal, therefore offering the opportunity of self-defense groups to arise. The farming communities’ children now carry guns instead of avocados.  

Farming communities in Mexico tend to be populated by indigenous people. Faced with external hardships like poverty and lack of education, the indigenous communities in Mexico are confronted with yet another issue. While in some instances self-defense groups are able to eliminate the threat of the cartels, other groups are outgunned by the cartels. A 2017 study by Global Financial Integrity estimated that a cartel income is between $426 billion to $652 billion U.S. dollars a year which exceeds Walmart’s revenue in 2017. The arsenal of cartel weapons and technology is hardly able to be paralleled by the farming communities, leaving them more vulnerable than ever. Additionally, self-defense groups run the risk of becoming integrated with other better established criminal groups. 

The growth in avocado popularity is in no way to be blamed for the U.S. or Mexico’s political problems. In fact, indigenous and farming communities could potentially benefit incredibly from the demand growth. However, the world is a more complex entity than we conceptualize. We sit every Saturday to eat avocado toasts and post them on Instagram without really understanding the sweat and blood that the avocado represents. More than feeling guilty, it inspires a certain sense of humility and thankfulness for having the opportunity to eat such a nutritious dish without having to pay the violent consequences of harvesting them.  

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Food Courts, and Why We Need More of Them

Imagine hearing the clanging of woks and the sizzle of meats while the aroma of garlic and sweet chillies cling to the sticky, humid air. This is what I call chaotic heaven. Under a gigantic canopy sits huge families, grandparents included, around circular tables covered in dishes like chicken satay, chilli crab, char kway teow noodles, and fishball soup. Or you can simply find old-timers strolling around for good company. 

Hawker centres, or food courts, are the heart and soul of Singapore. Growing up in Singapore, nothing beats the cheap eats and seriously faint-worthy food in hawker centres. Each and every stall, peppered all over the country, represents a piece of the community of different races and generations. Hawker centres are a heritage symbol of the multiculturalism of Singapore. But beyond that, it’s a place to gather. When I came to America for college, that aspect of a food community just didn’t exist. 

Hawker stalls in Singapore originated from street vendors in the mid-1800s when early settlers set up these stalls with minimal cost and skill. These settlers came from all walks of life—they were Chinese, Malay, Indian, and more. Over time, each cultural dish melded into the unique Singaporean local cuisine we know today. By 1968, the government moved street hawker stalls into licensed centres with proper amenities and sanitation. There are now over 110 hawker centres all over Singapore, some tucked away in apartment buildings as a social gathering place for the neighborhood. These stall owners, or hawkers, can be family-run businesses across generations. The vitality of hawker centres is crucial to Singapore’s cultural heritage. 

What if we had hawker centres in America? What would that look like?

In Boston, the closest comparison to a hawker centre would be Time Out Market. The concept is the same—community tables, outdoor seating, and individual stalls with different cuisines to mix and match your orders. However, the prices are very different. You can get a Michelin star meal for as low as $5 at hawker centres! 

But beyond just prices, Time Out Market doesn’t emulate the soul of hawker centres. And it boils down to America’s lack of generational connection to food and community sharing in a culture steeped in individualism. 

I remember taking my cousins from Australia to a hawker centre. We feasted on dishes like fried carrot cake (my favorite—white radish pastry fried in sweet black sauce with an egg omelette), laksa (rice noodles in a rich and spicy coconut broth), chicken rice (a Singapore classic), and more. You couldn’t see the yellow plastic table beneath all the food. This is how we introduce Singapore when visitors come. The sharing aspect is key. And beyond small tapas in a wildly Americanized Spanish restaurant, I don’t see that level of sharing here. Appetizers, entrees, and side dishes? Just eat anything that’s in front of you! That’s the mindset. Nothing is yours and nothing is mine. 

What’s worse, non-American/European dishes lose their authenticity in America. I’m not talking about the small cultural restaurants owned and run by people of color. It’s the places like Time Out Market, marketing off the idea of diverse food selection, that dilute the foods itself to make it more palatable to a white customer base. Places like PF Changs also rub me the wrong way. It’s this blatant ignorance for authenticity that would make the idea of a hawker centre fail in America. 

At the same time, is that what we need? Can the concept of traditional cuisines in a community gathering space normalize cultural sharing in a country that’s so afraid to do so? Time Out Market needs a new marketing team.