Lunch and Culture

Lunch Art: The "Basic Necessities" Exhibit

I teach classes at a boxing gym and I’m always searching for something new—and hard—to add to a 90-minute workout. That’s how I first heard Coss Marte’s amazing and inspirational story. You owe it to yourself to hear him tell it himself in this TEDxTalk, or better still, read his book. In the meantime, I can give you this 30-second version: 

CM was a really, really successful drug dealer. When he went to prison, his doctors said that his health was so poor that if he didn’t change his lifestyle he’d probably die of a heart attack. He was only twenty-four.

So he changed. He changed himself, and he’s been changing people inside and outside of the prison system since then with ConBody: a prison-based full-body workout. Whether the space you have is a gym, a hotel room, a tiny apartment, or a prison cell, CM shows you that a better body is possible if you choose to “do the time.”*

Photo credit: ConBody Kickstarter | I did this workout live in a ConBody studio. It will kick your @$$.

Photo credit: ConBody Kickstarter | I did this workout live in a ConBody studio. It will kick your @$$.

CM chose how he spent his time at Rikers, and he made the choices he could about food, too. And that’s part of the story Michelle Repiso tells in her exhibit “Basic Necessities” opening next week at The Clemente (NYC Lower East Side). In prison, “better food” choices may be pretty limited, but sometimes you can still choose making a burrito with your cellmate instead of silently eating whatever’s served in the mess hall that day.

Opening reception: September 8th 7pm-10pm | Speaking engagement with the artists Sept. 21 8pm & Sept. 22 11am | | The Clemente presents “basic necessities,” an audio/visual exhibition by Michelle Repiso that documents three individuals and their mechanisms for sustaining their humanity while incarcerated. “basic necessities” demonstrates man's need for communication and connection within our environment no matter how harsh. The show features works by Shane Ennover, Juan Howard and Coss Marte.

Once you cook your own food, you put that hard work and love into it, so that it’s different, you know? It’s totally different than going out to eat at a fast food restaurant or having your mom cook something amazing at home, you know. And that’s how we felt.
— Coss Marte, from Michelle Repiso's "Prison Burrito"

MR shows through this collection “the mechanisms [three men] employ to sustain their humanity while incarcerated.” Whenever and however we can choose to be ourselves, this is a powerful reminder of how much it matters that we do choose.

*CM also changes lives by employing formerly incarcerated people. Much, much more to say on this topic in future posts.

Floyd's: More than Sandwiches


On Friday I saw the dress rehearsal for Floyd’s, a new play by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage. (I wasn’t going to miss a play about underdogs and sandwiches.)

Floyd’s is a roadside diner and the story is told entirely in the kitchen. All the people working there have been incarcerated, and they need this job. While serving up the run-of-the-mill sandwiches ordered by customers, these cooks dream of—and make—something bigger and better for themselves both sandwich-wise and life-wise. They wrestle with choices.

Life is hard at Floyd’s. And maybe those aren’t the kinds of battles you’re facing today, but as Nottage so eloquently said in a recent interview, we’re all trying to “negotiate our freedom and fully inhabit our bodies.” I don’t know what it’s like to be in prison and want a fresh start, but I know how my version of wanting more out of life feels. There’s a kind of freedom I want, too. And to that end, we all have big and small choices, and taking them seriously without always taking ourselves too seriously is something we all share.

Making a sandwich can be an exercise in mindfulness—particularly if you create it with intention, have a keen awareness of the elements, and find joy in infusing it with a sense of self.
— Lynn Nottage, playwright

One of the cooks says he thinks the sandwich is the most democratic of foods, one that’s available to all of us. I think that Box Lunch Lifestyle makes lunch a powerful 30 minutes of better food and time that the world can’t take away from you no matter your circumstances.

If you’re in the Twin Cities, you can see the world premiere of Floyd’s at The Guthrie Theater. If you’re in NYC, keep your eyes open. It’ll get there.


Lunch Art: The "What's For Lunch?" Exhibit

Melissa’s lunch, age 38, Social Worker, Nonprofit Management

Melissa’s lunch, age 38, Social Worker, Nonprofit Management

“I just read this great article on an art exhibit that’s all about lunch. You’ll love it.” My friend Elaine wasn’t kidding. When the pages of the Edible Jersey article arrived in my mailbox, I knew I had to talk with artist Lora Durr about her show this past spring at Trenton’s Artworks gallery.

She understands lunch. (In fact, I think we must be sisters separated at birth.)

LD had taught art to middle school kids whose lives are a lot different than hers. When she asked herself what might express her student’s opportunities, or choices, or challenges, she wondered, “How about whatever ends up on the table that’s called ‘lunch’?” As she painted, she was right that what they were eating revealed something that the posed, perfect-looking objects in other kinds of art didn’t.

Free School Lunch in Hamilton, NJ

Free School Lunch in Hamilton, NJ

LD expanded this project, inviting any willing lunch-eater to submit a photo, and this brought images of everything from meals eaten at desks to soup kitchens to car dashboards. She transformed these honest photos into a remarkable collection of (12x16”—placemat-sized!) paintings featuring take-out food, cafeteria lunches, and what I think are Twizzlers waiting to be eaten by a PhD student.

To me, the way we eat says so much about WHO we are, WHAT we value, HOW we live. WHERE we eat our lunch also says a great deal about the life that each person lives.
— Lora Marie Durr
Rob, 42, Paving and Concrete Contractor

Rob, 42, Paving and Concrete Contractor

It’s not just shining a spotlight on the significance of lunch itself that makes LD a Box Lunch Lifestyle Champion. She’s seen for herself what can happen when you choose to act in a way that makes you the person you want to be. While LD had been pretty attentive to navigating her relationship with food, about six years ago she realized that the effort and success of being a great teacher meant she’d drifted from being a practicing artist. So, she started painted again. Every day. Taking seriously what she wanted for herself brought us this gift of her amazing art, and, just as importantly, brought her the end-of-the-day satisfaction that comes from knowing she was building the kind of life she wants and deserves.

(She and I are DEFINITELY sisters.)

Do you wonder what LD would see in YOUR lunch? There’s only one way to find out.

Lunch in the World: Japan's "Lunch ON!"

Thank you to  Missy Fredrick  for the  article  that turned me on to Lunch ON!

Thank you to Missy Fredrick for the article that turned me on to Lunch ON!

Imagine this:

Your job is physically demanding and psychologically stressful. Your boss appreciates your work so much that he makes your lunch from scratch a couple times each week. And not just for you, but for everyone on the project. And not just any food, but “better” lunch food than your typical quick-grab option: a “jumble” of vegetables, noodles and fresh seafood. Together, everyone sits a long table, takes a deep breath, and talks about something other than the workday’s demands…or the next deadline…or the latest social media rant.

Well, it happens. See for yourself.

“Lunch ON!” is a seriously charming public TV show about workday lunches in Japan. (Not kidding. I couldn’t believe it either.) In one episode, a company president cooks for his team, new hires are welcomed with impressive lunch events, and special 50th birthday bentos are made by daughters for dads.

Lunch matters for these Japanese workers, and maybe in a much bigger way for all of us.

Also in this episode, a group of coworkers takes turns sharing homemade lunch food, but they bicker because their different food backgrounds: Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese. Each prefers their noodles cooked differently. I didn’t know this, but now I do.

What you could learn from a coworker about his homemade lunch of Japanese food? Or Somali food? Or Russian food? Or Iowan food? (It’s different.)

The possibility of fresh conversations about cultural diversity? Nurtured by lunch? I love it.

Lunch Off Off Broadway: "Lunch Bunch"

Rats! I can’t believe I missed this!

This well-reviewed NYC play is about an office of public defenders who want to “do good, feel good, and eat well.” They decide to take turns making lunches for one another in an attempt to “nourish themselves and maybe one another,” ultimately realizing that what’s important is self-awareness and our day-to-day interactions with people, and what we avoid when we focus on making lemon tahini noodles with broccolini instead.

I didn’t get to see the play, but I found this reviewer’s totally-Box-Lunch-Lifestyle reflection quietly powerful:

Watching the play, I remembered what I’d eaten earlier that day—a lukewarm egg and cheese sandwich, which I’d split with my 2-year-old, plus whatever blueberries the kid discarded—and how this was probably evidence that I am not living my best life.

Or maybe I am. Because what mattered is that we’d shared it and enjoyed sharing it and fed the bread to the birds after. Food for thought.