One of the objects featured in the Shoebox Lunch book is a chicken feather. It’s been a few months since we received our feathers, and we’d like take a moment to thank the chickens and the humans who sent them our way. The feathers were donated by Chicago residents Laura Foley and Carla McGarrah, as well as The Prairie Crossing Learning Farm in Grayslake, Illinois. Laura and Carla both keep chickens at their homes, while Prairie Crossing is a working organic farm that does hands-on education promoting conservation and healthy ecosystems. They have all kinds of classes and workshops and tours for the public; it’s definitely worth a field trip to learn more about this fantastic project.
Our contact at Prairie Crossing, Erin Cummisford, tells us that their feathers came from multiple breeds: Black Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons. She was kind enough to send a photo of the chickens, which you see above. Some of them were adopted to new homes last fall, others were butchered for food.
GARLIC & GREENS would not be possible without the support of the people and animals who have contributed to this project. Next time you are out, listen closely for the sounds of birds, insects, and other creatures who make their home in our gardens and farms, and thank them for their service! To get a chicken feather for yourself, order a copy of the book by contacting us at soulfoodstories -at- gmail -dot- com.
This is a close-up from the envelope made for each feather featured in the live version of “Shoebox Lunch”.
On Sunday 9 June at 8:30 PM, GARLIC & GREENS is proud to present a live version of Shoebox Lunch at Chicago’s own Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival. This interactive listening event will take you on a train journey completely in the dark. One by one, you will meet characters telling personal stories about families and food heritage. These memories will be shared with you through sound, touch, taste, and smell.
Attendance is limited to 15 participants, so if you can’t make it, never fear! Please join us later this summer for the official Shoebox Lunch book launch party: Wednesday 17 July, 2013 6-8 PM 625 N. Kingsbury St. Chicago, IL 60654
RSVP to Archeworks: archeworks.org/event_rsvp.cfm
65$+ Kickstarter contributers may pick up their copies at this event, otherwise they will be shipped by mail. Contact us at soulfoodstories-at-gmail.com if you would like to have your very own copy of the Shoebox Lunch book-in-a-box. Quantities are limited. Your purchase will allow us to share the project for free with people who are low or no vision.
“I’m going back to the way I grew up and finding out, darn it, I was very healthy. Even though people will tell you today that soul food cooking and African American cooking is very bad for you. It clogs the arteries. And, I’m like: No, you balance that out. You don’t have to have fried chicken. You don’t have to have fried fish. You bake your fish. You bake your chicken. Maybe I can’t have greens every day, but I can have salad… You just balance it out.” Dorothy Horton-Jackson
This quote is from one of the interviews featured in the forthcoming “Shoebox Lunch” audio book-in-a-box. I want to highlight Ms. Dorothy’s words today as I reminisce about some GARLIC & GREENS activities from the past few months.
Last year, I was approached by Sarah Ross and Ryan Griffis to create an artist multiple for their collaborative project, Regional Relationships. Regional Relationships is a subscription based art/culture project that commissions artists, writers, scholars and/or activists to create projects that materialize work across spaces or between places. The project website will tell you that RR is interested in work “that investigates the natural, industrial and cultural landscapes of a region.”
Sarah and Ryan were interested in featuring something related to the GARLIC & GREENS initiative for the third edition of Regional Relationships. I had been a fan of Sarah and Ryan’s work from afar, so I was quite honored to be asked and I couldn’t say no! The project took some time to materialize. My goal was to highlight a story from the many interview clips that would not make it to the final edit of the audio book. As any editor will tell you, there are many wonderful moments that have to be left on the proverbial cutting room floor. I decided to focus on a conversation with my friend Joy Smith, who shares her description of a noodle dish called yock or yak-a-mein.
I went to college in a small town with no fast food chains. Students managed industrial kitchen co-ops where they subjected their peers to strange cooking experiments. There I learned how to make burnt yogurt and large batches of wet rice. But from time to time, we indulged in the convenient foods well loved by our peers at other schools: microwavable, rehydratable, and unhealthy.
I probably ate less ramen than most people in college. But I ate a lot of a cousin noodle dish called yock. I don’t remember the first time Joy prepared yock for us to share. I remember it was something made with spaghetti, ketchup, and soy sauce. There must have been something else in it, but I’m not sure what. I remember it was delicious. It was our version of ramen, but tastier.
It wasn’t until I moved to Japan after graduation that I was reacquainted with ramen as an actual food, not one that comes in freeze-dried bricks, but one with whole restaurants built around slurping.
But I never ate yock before or after that time. Was this dish just a product of Joy’s culinary imagination? If it was so popular in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where I grew up, how come I had never heard of it before? These are some of the questions that inspired the Yok Yock project.
Language is constantly evolving. Humans try to contain it with dictionaries.
It’s the same with food. People have cookbooks to claim the definitions of food. But go down to the coastal areas of Virginia and Louisiana, you’ll find everyone’s version of yock is THE version yock.
It may not be evident at first glance, but a lot of research went into this 20-page booklet that was hand-rendered by comics artist Neil Brideau, who collaborated on the project. We decided to mix fact and fiction, quoting from actual newspaper stories that featured yock, and mixing in fantasy, cryptozoological elements, and specific references that only some people might pick up on. One of these was a shout-out to Braddock, PA and the famous ketchup company located in nearby Pittsburgh. The final project, Yock Yok, came packaged with a CD of my conversation with Joy, and a dishtowel showing the coastal areas of southeastern U.S. where yock is commonly found. It’s distributed by Regional Relationships, so you can contact them to sign-up for a subscription.
Like a lot of popular comfort foods, there isn’t just one definitive way to make yock. The basic thing you need to know is that yock is a hybrid noodle dish with a broth made from ketchup and other ingredients such as soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne, onion, and egg.
There’s even a Facebook page for fans of yock who hail from my hometown.
Most versions of yock are super salty and greasy. Its key ingredient is ketchup, which some people might categorize as a super-processed “edible foodlike substance“. But you can make a healthy bowl of yock at home by taking control of the process and making a few changes here and there. The basic premise of the dish can be hacked to be delicious and nutritious, and this is evidenced by Joy’s vegan version of yock which is tweaked to incorporate fresh vegetables.
Celebrating the healthy origins of popular food traditions is one of the catalysts for the GARLIC & GREENS initiative, and I look forward to discovering other projects that do the same.
How about you? Are you hacking the cafeteria food at your college dorm? Making your own ketchup from home-grown tomatoes? We’d love to hear from you. And if you make your own version of yock, send us some photos and let us know how it turned out!
One of the assertions often made about Chicago is that it’s the nation’s most segregated city. I admit I’ve been guilty of invoking this cliché in the past. For that reason I’m intrigued by this set of interactive maps tracing the lack of integration even after the The Fair Housing Act of 1968: http://projects.propublica.org/graphics/city-maps
Between 1910 and 1960, the Great Migration saw 6 million African Americans move from the rural South to the industrial North. Through public policy and private action, the black migrants were largely segregated into neighborhoods that were almost exclusively black. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 required the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to take “affirmative” steps to end housing discrimination and promote integration. But 45 years of the federal housing discrimination ban has failed to break up that segregation.
In early November, Garlic & Greens participated in the MDW Fair as part of an exhibit of Propeller Fund grantees. People could listen and interact with a short excerpt from the audio book-in-a-box. Many thanks to volunteers Allie, Annie, Jamie, Liz, and Vanessa for help tabling during the show!
The track above was mixed live on vinyl by Anthony Stepter for GARLIC & GREENS. It was sent in the mail as a reward for supporters who donated to the project’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign $35 and above. Below is Anthony’s essay, which accompanied the package. In this post you will also find images from Anthony’s exploration of the Margaret Danner Papers. All images courtesy of The University of Chicago Library, Department of Special Collections. Thanks also to Issue Press in Grand Rapids, MI for the CD case printing.
Langston Hughes sat down to speak with his fellow poet, Margaret Danner. They came together to talk to each other, share their poems, and record their interaction for posterity. Black Forum, a short-lived subsidiary of Motown Records, collected audio recordings of important figures in Black cultural life in America and produced eight releases between 1970-73. The discussion between Danner and Hughes was one of those releases, but it is also part of a much larger tradition.
The recordings that make up this mix are meant to gesture toward a long tradition of spoken and sung narratives that have challenged and defined histories of Black folks in America. This tradition reaches back beyond the Middle Passage, carries on through what Hughes calls “the dark days of slavery,” becomes even more evident as a form of cultural expression during the Great Migration, and continues today.
This mix was made using bits of audio found exclusively on vinyl records. The examples in this mix represent particular instances of this tradition that someone, at some point, deemed important enough to render in a tangible physical form. Like the Black Forum albums, Fereshteh Toosi has collected stories about food and the Great Migration from a number of people. She is now in the process of developing physical objects that help bring these stories new life in a concrete form. This act of making something as ephemeral as a personal memory, or the story behind a poem, into a physical object is a way of simultaneously reminding us of the past and building something new.
When Fereshteh asked me to make this mix, I spent two days listening to records that I owned and taking notes. A friend recently played me an audio clip of Sam Cooke responding to an interviewer’s question “What is Soul?” Cooke responds with several seconds of wordless humming and singing. I wanted to make a mix that responded to the question with a similar mix of ambiguity and specific reference. Poems, plays, and conversations have been intermingled with songs that have a strong narrative quality. Gil Scott-Heron opens Cane with a reference to Jean Toomer’s 1923 novel about life in the American South. No song in this mix more aptly embodies the spirit I am after. Scott-Heron speaks to his audience. He tells us how Toomer’s characters inspired him to write the song. Here the lineage becomes clear. A tradition is exposed and preserved in song and on vinyl. No stage in the story is more important than the other. The spirituals sung in the rural south were essential for Toomer to write his book and Toomer’s book was essential for Scott-Heron to sing his song.
Langston Hughes is arguably the most widely-read Black poet in history and in the 1970s Motown was still one of the most successful corporations in the music industry, yet the album Hughes recorded with Margaret Danner remains obscure. Their words, however, are not lost. Just like spoken stories that became songs, so as not to be forgotten, I hope that by bringing together these voices, they will form a chorus, able to sing louder and longer than they could on their own.
Garlic and Greens Soul Mix Track Listing
Broken Strings – from Simply Heaven, a musical written by Langston Hughes
Flying Saucer – from Simply Heaven, a musical written by Langston Hughes
Sunday Prayer – Mahalia Jackson
Church on Sunday – Flip Wilson
Hold On – Howard Roberts Chorale
Langston Hughes – from Langston Hughes and Margaret Danner: Writers of the Revolution
Cloud 9 – Donnie
Cane – Gil Scott-Heron
A Toast To Harlem – from Simple written by Langston Hughes and read by Ossie Davis
Long Walk to DC – The Staples Singers
Margaret Danner – from Langston Hughes and Margaret Danner: Writers of the Revolution
Thin Line Between Love and Hate – The Persuaders
O-o-h Child – The Five Stairsteps
Why Can’t We Live Together – Timmy Thomas
Feet Live Their Own Life – from Simple written by Langston Hughes and read by Ossie Davis
I Know You Got Soul – Bobby Byrd
We Got More Soul – Dyke and the Blazers
We Got Latin Soul – Mongo Santamaria
Stop by for free cheesecake and chat with folks who are interested in the intersection of art and environmental issues at the Global Alliance of Artists’ reception this Thursday, Sept 20th at the Chicago Cultural Center. G&G will present a slide show pecha-kucha style (20 slides, 7 min) and you can vote for your favorite projects to win. The event starts at 6:30; register for free here: http://www.aex.globalallianceartists.org/calendar
Also thrilled to announce a spin-off project of GARLIC & GREENS for a super cool art subscription project called Regional Relationships. It’s the story of a noodle dish called yock, or yak-a-mein. Have you heard of it? The dish is most often found in coastal areas in the southeastern parts of the U.S. This collaboration with comics artist Neil Brideau consists of a CD, tea towel, and comic book. It’s shipping out very soon! To sign up and learn more about the project, go to the RR website: http://www.regionalrelationships.org/toosi/
That’s all for now, but please stay tuned for more updates!
The audio boxed set is ready to ship; each one is $35. All purchases will allow us to share the project for free with people who are low or no vision. Quantities are limited! Contact us to request your copy at soulfoodstories-at-gmail.com