It’s 2:00 in the morning and as is all too often the case lately – I am unable to sleep. There is no shortage of stress nowadays, but for me, unlike the stress that I felt as a chef in my prime – the stress is not related to business volume, staffing, unpredictable vendors, and budgetary pressure. Today’s stress is far more significant – it is stress over the state of our industry as a whole, our democracy, and the wellbeing of the world where we live.
As much as this blog is focused on what is right in front of cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs every day, it is impossible to do so in a vacuum. The old management adage that you should “leave your problems at home when you come to work”, is ridiculous – I don’t know anyone who can do that, especially when the consequences of those problems are so grave.
I keep flipping back to on-line news services to follow the Russian invasion of Ukraine – a proud country of kind people with a deep-seated wonderful culture who have done nothing to provoke the wrath of a superpower except to choose to be free and democratic. We (all of us) cannot ignore their plight, and we must not forget history. This playbook was used before and its outcome impacts all of us at some level. Just like the virus that we continue to battle, this aggressive attack on freedom will spread if left unchecked. We simply cannot just turn back to our jobs of creating delicious food for those who can afford it while all of this is going on. We simply cannot put the challenges that the world faces aside while we do our work.
Everything and everyone are connected – it is the nature of a system. One person’s suffering will eventually impact even the most fortunate. Ukraine’s stability and free future will impact every other country and every other person from Europe to Asia, and the Middle East to the Americas. There is no separation – when one suffers, we all suffer.
Whether it is collectively doing our part to bring the pandemic to closure; finding ways to help feed, clothe, and find shelter for those in need; establish a fair and honest system of education that opens the door to equal opportunity; working to push aside hate; rising up to protect truth; protecting the democratic process; or crushing those pockets of evil in the world – we must pay attention and do something. It is not possible to ignore all that is going on and simply shrug our shoulders and say: “it is, what it is”.
As cooks we do provide a release for people, a way to breathe in the air of calm that a great meal can provide; create an environment for friends, family, and even foes to break bread and raise a glass in solidarity and comfort the soul. But is it enough? What else can we do to address the bigger picture?
Before we are cooks, we are people of the earth, friends and neighbors, citizens and ambassadors, caring people who hopefully want others to simply be free. I am reminded of the song (now ancient unless you are over the age of 50) by the group the Rascals:
PEOPLE GOT TO BE FREE
“All the world over, so easy to see
People everywhere just wanna be free
Listen, please listen, that’s the way it should be
There’s peace in the valley, people got to be free”
As simple as that – this is what people want and need. Free to be themselves, free to practice their religion, free to find a well-balanced education, free to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their families, and free to move about without the threat of power hungry, hateful leaders. Whatever your profession – you cannot ignore this reality. It is what you want, what Ukrainians want, what every person on the face of the earth wants. Isn’t it ironic that this is exactly what the American Constitution was written to support? We must pay attention and do what we can, even if it’s a small gesture. To ignore our role in this system is to disrespect the life that we have been given.
The health of our restaurant industry depends on the health of all parts of the system. Yes, Ukraine’s fight for freedom impacts the restaurant where you work. Yes, bringing the pandemic to a close through a unified effort impacts the restaurant where you work. Yes, the ability of all people to relish the basics of life, to survive, impacts your restaurant. And yes, the environmental health of our planet certainly impacts the restaurant where you work.
Here are some thoughts for cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs:
 Support World Central Kitchen – Chef Jose Andres’ organization that unifies cooks and chefs around the world wherever people are struggling to find food because of a disaster. His organization is already in Ukraine and surrounding countries that are accepting refugees from this oppressive situation. You may not be able to physically find a way to cook with him when disaster strikes, but you can give – even the smallest amount to help support these efforts. Whether it’s $10 or $100 – it all helps. https://wck.org/
 Talk about world issues with your peers and do so from a position of knowing the facts. Read a newspaper, listen to the experts, learn to trust a source that believes in telling the story even more than offering their opinion. Take the time to learn and digest the challenges that others in the system face.
 Support your local food pantries. Maybe even volunteer once a month to help cook a meal for those who are unable to provide for themselves. Care about those who are food insecure and those who are homeless. A hot meal goes a long way to showing you care and helping to take away someone’s stress.
 Put aside personal opinions about pandemic protocols and do what’s right for the whole population. We are in this together and the only way that we move past the pandemic is to unify in our effort. This is not a political issue – it is a global health issue.
 Learn about a more sustainable approach towards how you conduct your life and your business. Do what you can: recycle, reuse, reduce waste, buy local, find ways to connect with more sustainable energy sources, save water, and be an ambassador for good practices.
 Take the time to put aside your prejudice (we all likely have some), listen to others and learn. In many cities you can find signs on front lawns that proclaim: “Hate has no home here”. Be that person, be that business.
These are very challenging times, but we can all make a difference. Together we can change the world one plate of food at a time, one act of kindness at a time, one concerted effort to align with the system that everyone is part of and then we can look at ourselves in the mirror and sleep at night.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Let’s all make an effort to be better and do our part.
Harvest America Ventures, LLC