Tag Archive: food


Someone in my apartment complex drives a car with a bumper sticker that says “I ❤ Handmade!” (Obviously the ❤ in this case represents an actual heart symbol, for which there is no key on my keyboard.) The heart in question is almost completely faded from its original (presumably) bright red, and is now just barely visible. The edges of the sticker seem to have become brittle and started to chip away. Now I have no way of knowing exactly how long this sticker has been on this car, but the car itself appears to be a late 2000’s model – perhaps 2008 or 2009 – so I’m going to assume it’s been on there for about five years, tops.

My car is covered in bumper stickers. Every year, when the weather finally decides to stay warm for a while, I go through the process of scraping off old stickers that look like shit and replacing them with new ones. Over the years I’ve had some that didn’t even make it a year (Moroccan flag sticker from stickergiant.com I’m looking at you!) and I’ve had some that have lasted almost as long as my car (Who’s awesome? You are, OBX sticker from 2005 that still looks brand new!) But I can’t help but feel a sense of irony when I see the car with the faded “Handmade” sticker.

As my regular readers (both of you) know, I live in Asheville, NC. In addition to being the “cesspool of sin,” it is also the unofficial Hippie Capital Of The East. Everyone here is all about things that seem to preserve the hippie ideal – local businesses instead of chains, local food instead of stuff trucked in from three states over, organic and sustainable, handmade products instead of something from a factory, etc. While I have nothing against these ideals, I feel like sometimes we sacrifice quality for the sake of pleasing our guilty conscience.

The first obvious example would be the bumper sticker. What better way to tout your love of handmade products than with a sticker that will fade and deteriorate faster than the other ones on your car? This sticker doesn’t speak for the entirety of handmade crafts and goods – there are plenty of quality things produced every day that are head and shoulders above anything made by a machine. As an artist, my first default is to handmade paper over that which is produced on a machine mould. But in the cases where a handmade product is not superior to a machine-made one, should we continue to buy the handmade one just on principle? Chances are most people in Asheville would answer “yes.” That is the mentality that I’m protesting with this blog.

How about another example? My former roommate Sofia insisted on buying an organic and biodegradable dish detergent made with a fair amount of post-consumer content. It would barely even lather, and when the winter temperatures would dip, it froze inside the bottle and would not come out. I’m all about the principles of organic, biodegradable, and recycled. But if the product in question is clearly inferior, why should I use it? It doesn’t accomplish its most basic purpose. It completely fails at its raison d’être. I would much rather buy a dish detergent that wasn’t organic, yet produced a good lather, cut through grease, and didn’t freeze every time the overnight low fell to the mid 30’s.

In addition to supporting people and companies that make inferior products, we also form a very damaging paradigm for contemporary consumer culture. If you produce it, and appeal to the right emotions, people WILL buy it, regardless of quality. There’s a sucker born every minute. Go to your local grocery store and compare the price of standard onions versus organic ones. The organic onions routinely cost as much as double, yet every major food website that I’ve seen says that with a vegetable with a non-porous exterior like an onion, no pesticides enter the inner layers and organic farming techniques are completely pointless. But if you grow an organic onion, someone will buy it. If you make organic dish detergent, someone will buy it, even if it fails in every way. If you produce a handmade good that falls apart, it won’t matter, because people with guilty consciences feel like they’ve done their civic duty by choosing it over a competing product.

And now, let’s turn this personal and address the reasons that inspired me to write this in the first place. This morning, after an unfair “probationary period” in which my hours were cut in half without prior warning for mostly invented and irrelevant performance issues, I was fired from my job. I was working for a small local business. A business run by one person, with a small staff, that has become a local institution. Asheville is king of the “buy local” scene, with people here regularly cursing those who choose to shop at chain establishments and chastising them about how they feel chains are destroying the economy and forcing the mom-and-pop businesses to close. For the most part, I agree with these sentiments. But just because a business is local, does that automatically make it the kind of place you should patronize? Hardly.

The store that I worked at was notorious for several problems. As long as I was there, we had a revolving door of employees. People would either get fired, or quit on their own because they could no longer tolerate the owner and her attitude. She was also notorious for putting people in the position where they feel their only option is to quit. I saw that happen with two coworkers, both of whom were at one point in time valuable assets to the company who simply grew tired of the bullshit and stopped putting their all into their performance. When their performance dipped in the owner’s eyes, even if it was due to very legitimate reasons, (one of the aforementioned coworkers quit anti-depression medications cold turkey and can’t really be blamed for withdrawing when she refused his request for some time off because we were “too short-staffed”) she would amp up the criticisms and do everything in her power (especially tweaking the schedule) to make the work environment as unfriendly as possible.

In addition to personnel problems like these, we were notorious for the owner’s complete incompetence when it comes to ordering products and stocking the shelves. We routinely run out of things an art supply store should NEVER run out of, (black and white paint, pens, gesso, handmade specialty papers, artist-quality spray paint, etc.) and rather than order in advance and create any sort of back-stock, she would always let things run out completely, causing us to go a week without these items. There are several lines of products that for one reason or another she has chosen not to restock, letting the displays continue to empty until she can’t stand the sight of them and pulls them off the shelves. All the while, we would get shipments of kitschy craft supplies, (paper garlands, cheap-o enamel hobby paints, tie dye kits) specialty items that should logically only be done as special orders, (projectors, light tables, expensive top-of-the-line brushes) and displays of new lines that she thinks would be “neat to have” (a full line of Pentel technical pens) that would proceed to sell down and then never get restocked. If we were out of the item a customer wanted (or if it was something we didn’t regularly carry) we would offer to do a special order. While some customers took their sense of self-entitlement to the extreme (we have limited space and money, we can’t realistically carry every brand, which might include your favorite) most had valid complaints against this process. We should NEVER have to do a special order for a black Micron pen or a tube of white oil paint, yet all too often that’s exactly what happened.

Granted, I am not a businessman. I’ve never run a company, I’ve never been in charge of inventory for a company, and I don’t have a business degree like some people, who shall remain nameless. But unlike my former boss, I was in the store every day. I interacted with customers. I heard their complaints. I knew the things they asked for. When a store owner takes such a hands-off approach to running their business, it would only make sense to cede some control of the inventory process to the employees who actually run the store in your absence. It would make sense to refocus your business model and give more emphasis to your strengths, leaving your weaknesses to be picked up by other businesses that do a better job of things. It would make sense to do everything in your power to use what limited financial resources you have to stock the products that sell the most and are the most in demand. It makes no sense to complain about money and get aggravated with customers who just expect you to have certain staple items on hand, while simultaneously trying to compete with chain craft stores and toy stores and stationery stores that can do that much better than you can. At that point, you’re no longer providing a quality service to the local community. You’re doing what you think you should do, and forcing them to find ways to work around that. That’s the kind of mentality that forces businesses to close their doors for good.

So to make a very long story short, the “buy local” mentality suffers from the same sort of problems that plague handmade bumper stickers and organic dish detergent. There are plenty of local businesses that provide quality merchandise at great prices, quality customer service, treat their employees well, and are well-respected within the community. But there are also local businesses that don’t provide quality merchandise, can’t compete on prices, treat their customers like shit, and fuck over their employees. Maybe you’re too idealistic to see the forest for the trees. If so, then by all means continue to lecture me about how Wal-Mart is anti-union and sells sweatshop goods and you’d support ANY local business before you would a chain. But it’s this lack of peripheral vision that allows these businesses to continue to exist and continue with their ridiculous practices and policies. And let’s not forget, while it’s true that chain establishments have led to many a local business having to close, every chain began life as a local business. Before they were the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart was some guy in Arkansas who just wanted to sell stuff at a lower price. If we’re going to preach about how the free market will always prevail, then we need to back that up with our actions. Don’t shop somewhere just because it’s local. Shop their because they provide quality merchandise, excellent customer services, and treat their employees fairly. If the free market principles we always hear about are true, then the market will decide who lives and who dies. Businesses that succeed in all of those areas will prosper, and perhaps eventually grow and expand and become the gigantic chains of tomorrow. Businesses that fail in those areas will see their customer base dwindle until eventually they have no choice but to throw in the towel.

I’ve now worked for two local businesses, and I’ve seen a lot of what goes on in the background that customers can’t see. At the end of the day, by blindly supporting a local establishment regardless of their business practices, you’re ultimately just buying frozen dish detergent or a sticker that will fade and peel. Don’t be fooled by misguided ideology. Support companies that make the best products. Support businesses that treat their customers and employees the best. As consumers, we hold the power. We can change practices with our purchases (or lack thereof.) Investigate and inform yourself, and then choose wisely. If the superior product happens to be handmade or organic, that’s all the better. If the superior business happens to be a local mom-and-pop shop, great. But if not, don’t fool yourself and settle for inferior quality. That only unnecessarily prolongs things and no one really wins.

 

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Once again I’ve gone longer than I should without an update. Not a lot has really been going on, so maybe that’s why.

On Friday we had a little staff party for the art supply store. One of our employees is moving away, and our boss decided to throw her a going away party. We went to this place called Zambra’s, a tapas place. “Tapas,” evidently, is Spanish for “really tiny portions.” The food was pretty good, but not exactly filling. Our boss paid, which was a nice gesture, but it probably means I won’t be getting paid for the newsletter for a while. Oh well, free food.

Saturday I woke up sick to my stomach, and pretty much stayed that way all day. On Sunday my roommate left to visit family for a week, so I have the place to myself. Last night I hung out with my neighbor Ty and his friend Cass, a pretty cool chick with an amazing voice. The two of them sung a lot of old bluegrass and folk songs, most of which I didn’t know, and I added various things like percussion, slide guitar, harmonica, and backing vocals for the songs I knew. I’m going to get Cass to sing on some of my stuff, whenever we both get enough free time.

I started a new painting, somewhat high-concept. It’s coming along slowly. It has a few layers and I’m using some unusual techniques, so I’ve been taking pictures each step of the way. I’ll post them when it’s finished.

Which brings us to today. Today has been one of those days. I woke up with a headache and my sinuses were killing me. I’ve been sniffling and sneezing all day. I went to do my laundry, but there were no empty washers or dryers. I went to the library to return some DVD’s and it was packed too. I came home and got on the computer for a while, only to find an email from Charter telling me that my rates are going up because my contract has ended. I called them, and evidently they don’t do contracts anymore, they don’t have any special promotional rates anymore, everyone is just at the same rate and there’s nothing they’re willing to do about it. So I’m going to call some local internet providers and get some quotes, because I can’t afford a huge jump in my monthly bill. After that I decided to try the laundromat again, and there wasn’t even an empty parking space. I have no idea why everyone randomly decided to do their laundry on the same day. I ended up going to the laundromat down the street, which is a bit more expensive, but oh well. I thought I had to get my wash done at a decent time because Nici and James were coming over, but then they ended up cancelling on me. I decided to go to Urban Burrito after I did my wash, and I forgot that kids eat free on Tuesday. It seems like the entire town was out and about today, and it was pretty annoying. I came home and watched a movie, then fell asleep. I completely forgot today was my nephew Blake’s birthday and I didn’t realize it until it was too late and he was probably already asleep, so no phone call from Uncle Chris. I’ll try calling tomorrow. Then I spent entirely too much time browsing OKCupid and realizing that I’ll probably be alone forever. Fun times!

I think I’ll end my day by taking some allergy meds, reading a chapter for my online class, and otherwise dicking around on the internet until I get tired enough to go to sleep. Yep, this is the excitement known as my life.

 

Today’s original agenda was to hit up a few stores and get some groceries, then come home for a relaxing evening of not a whole heck of a lot. Murphy had other ideas.

Evidently if you drive through a foot of standing water your alternator belt can come off. I’m driving down Broadway (which was flooded so badly it made the news) when all of a sudden my wipers start going slower. Thinking nothing of it, I switch them up to the highest speed. I go to turn and all of a sudden I have no power steering and it takes all of my strength to turn. I pull into a parking lot and glance down at my battery gauge, which is now at less than half power. Of course it’s still pouring rain, so I call my mechanic and have him come tow me. The belt was just hanging off, so not enough power was going to the alternator or the power steering. It didn’t take too long to put the belt back on there, and he only charged me for the towing, which I’ll get reimbursed for anyway. But the whole thing was a major pain in the ass. I got completely soaked, and my day got pushed about an hour and a half behind schedule.

I rush to make it to a few stores and then Amazing Savings, but evidently they lost power and closed. I decided to try the one downtown, but they don’t have a whole lot in the line of actual meal foods, so I end up adding another store to my trip and going to Ingles. By this time I don’t feel like cooking, and I’m pretty dehydrated and feeling rather sick. I come home and guzzle some water, take an aspirin, and set out to get some food. Nici calls me just as I’m turning into Bojangles and asks if I wanted to eat with them. We ended up going to Woody’s, then I came home and listened to some music and chatted with my roommate for a while.

I’m exhausted. I didn’t get much of anything accomplished. I don’t really feel well at all. And my next door neighbor is playing annoyingly loud hip hop. Oh joy.

 

So, another two day’s worth of my family visiting to get caught up on…..

On Monday we drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Spruce Pine and panned for minerals and then went to Linville Caverns. My parents didn’t like the winding and narrow roads, and I had been kinda sick to my stomach so I didn’t like it much either, but oh well. I’m pretty positive the shocks are messed up on my parents’ van, even though they deny it. At least from where I was sitting, you feel every bump. I’ve never been one to get carsick, but I was pretty miserable most of the way there and back.

The gem mine was basically a tourist trap, full of plaques about the original gold rush in North Carolina and how Spruce Pine is the gem capital of the United States and yada yada yada. There was a giant cartoon sign of a mountain man, complete with gold tooth and ugly hat, smiling and telling you that you too can find precious and semi-precious gems and minerals. Basically, you pay a shit ton of money for a big bucket full of rocks, then place that bucket in a stream of water and shake and rinse until you find something. While certainly not the most authentic form of panning, the kids enjoyed it, and we did manage to get a few really nice looking gemstones.

After the mine we went to Linville Caverns, which wasn’t really as interesting as I remember from my childhood. The tour itself was pretty rushed, not really giving you much time at all to soak up what you were seeing. I think we probably spent more time waiting in line than we did inside the actual cavern. I would much rather a self-guided tour where you can move at your own pace, but seeing as how this is a pretty fragile habitat, I understand why that’s not the case.

When we finished our tour of the caverns they decided on Chick-Fil-A and we let the kids play in the play area. My brother and I went to FYE and browsed CD’s and then we all headed back to the hotel for another night in the pool. After a while our new friends from the previous night came in and joined us. I got in a lot more quality flirt time with Ms. Rainbow Toenails, and after we got out of the pool we exchanged numbers. In addition to living several hours away, she also has a boyfriend, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping her from texting me at all hours. I had been awake for maybe twenty minutes this morning before I got a text from her. They were checking out this morning, so I met up with her to say goodbye. We kept texting on and off throughout the day, and it appears her relationship with her boyfriend is quite serious. Our little fling was fun while it lasted, but I’m totally cool with just being friends. She’s really sweet and has a good sense of humor, definitely the type of person I’d want to get to know better. So yeah.

Today the plan was to go to Dry Falls, a 70+ foot waterfall that you can walk behind. I showed my parents where it was on the map and gave them a drive-time estimate, but that didn’t stop my dad from bitching about it being a much longer drive than he realized and wishing we had decided to go somewhere else. As it turns out, that might have been the best idea, because evidently the falls are closed to the public while they do some renovations. We ended up just going to nearby Highlands and walking around in the quaint little downtown area.

When we started checking out restaurants we couldn’t agree on anything. They wanted to go to a burger place, and since I don’t eat beef, at a typical mom-and-pop burger joint my only other option is a salad, which isn’t really something I’m thrilled about. I suggested pizza, but my mom didn’t like that idea because we had pizza two nights ago. I’ve never met anyone else who would complain about eating pizza too frequently, but okay. I found a place that looked pretty good, but my dad said it was too expensive. At this point in time I decided to say the hell with it and I ate there while they went off in search of cheaper pastures. They wound up finding a Subway, which of course made everyone happy. I will never understand why you would go on vacation to a strange new place and eat the same fucking fast food you can get back home. Also, if you’re not willing to pay more than a few bucks a person for meals, you really should ask yourself if you are even in the financial position to be going on vacation in the first place. But I digress. My food was rather good – Greek chicken pizza and a mimosa. I’ll take that over Subway any day.

With tomorrow (well I guess today, it’s after midnight) being the Fourth of July, I figured a lot of places would be closed, and I made it a point to break away and do my typical routine of laundry and grocery shopping. I grabbed some Chinese food for dinner and then headed downtown to meet back up with my family. My brother wanted to go on this ghost hunting tour but no one else was interested, so my mom made reservations for him and me. It was somewhere between interesting-yet-lame and Plain Ol’ Lame. It was full of the typical pseudo-science bullshit you’d find on a reality show, but this guide made it a point to stress that he was very concerned with the history of the area as well. Which kinda sucks for everyone in attendance, because he said quite a few things that were very historically inaccurate. He also made many outrageous claims, like saying that digital photography was much better than traditional film cameras because digital allows you to detect more “activity.” It also allows for a greater chance of image distortion, especially in low light situations and in areas full of dust and/or humidity. But as he stressed to us several times, he’s a professional photographer (for a music magazine) so he obviously knows this. The long and short of it is, you won’t see any “orbs” using a film camera, because “orbs” are just a bullshit explanation for what digital cameras pick up under the aforementioned conditions. But yeah, I’ll save the anti-ghot-hunting rant for another day and just say that this was an hour and a half of my life that I’ll never have back.

So that’s pretty much it. My parents are leaving in the morning – evidently my sister and her fiance invited them and his parents to a cookout but neglected to tell either set of parents until a day ago. They’ll most likely check out of their hotel and head over here to get my dad’s staple gun back, see if they want any of the food my old roommate left behind, and say goodbye. Then after that I really don’t know what I’m doing. This is the first 4th I haven’t made any plans, and after a few days of them stressing me out I might just take a “me day” and hang out around the house working on some art. I don’t have the money to stock up on fireworks like I usually do, and I don’t feel like driving to South Carolina to get the good stuff. Nici texted me earlier and asked me what I was doing, but when I said I had no plans she never replied, so who knows. Maybe we’ll all head downtown and watch the firework display, or maybe I’ll just do nothing all day. Both sound like pretty good options at this point. But for now I’m just going to check a few more things and get some sleep…

 

Life Lesson #6487

Anyone who knows me surely knows that I like spicy food. I don’t mean that in a “I got Fire sauce at Taco Bell because I’m a badass” sort of way. I really like spicy food. When I go to Thai restaurants and they ask me how spicy I want my curry on a scale of one to five, I typically say “seven.” When I go to Mexican restaurants and they bring out chips and salsa I ask them to bring the “real” salsa as well. I eat Indian food about once a week. I always opt for the hottest buffalo wings. If a dish has the name of a pepper in it I order it. My own cooking takes spicy to another level. Not content to make something that causes your nose to run, I have actually cooked food so spicy it gave me a nosebleed.

The hottest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life was a pepper when I was in Morocco. My host family tried to warn me it was spicy, but I was wearing my American goggles and assumed that I could handle it. My experience has been that the rest of the world has a very different idea of what constitutes spicy. That theory was completely backed up by tonight’s dinner.

The other day I went to a little Mexican grocery store and grabbed some rice, beans, tortillas, and a little bottle of green salsa. Tonight I made enchiladas using the above ingredients. I decided to leave the salsa for last, since I didn’t know how spicy the combination of my bean and rice mixture and sharp cheddar would be. I took a bite and it tasted rather weak, so I proceeded to dump generous amounts of green salsa on top. What followed next was nothing short of ridiculous. I’m pretty sure the neighbors could hear me screaming through the walls.

So the moral of this story is, if you want something really spicy, shop at import grocery stores. If not, then by all means continue to dab little drops of Texas Pete on your food and whine about how hot it is.