I remember telling one of my political science professors that I was interested in food service. In creating the space for political discussions to happen. In those same college years I worked at both Faison’s and the Ten Angel in Nashville, Tennessee. Later during a period just after grad school, when I was living in Atlanta and waiting to go on Peace Corps service to Cameroon and while working at both CARE and the Carter Center, I pulled a few shifts at Seeger’s in Buckhead. This place was famed for its star-potential after the long-time chef of the Ritz-Carlton had struck out on his own. I didn’t last long, but enjoyed a few rounds as back waiter, and once made the mistake of trying to use Chef Seeger’s private bathroom.
During grad school in Camden, I worked at a social service organization called M.A.N.N.A. in Philadelphia that served meals to people living with HIV. Back in Nashville while working for the law firm, Doramus & Trauger, I got to know and hang out with Marcia Jarvis, the co-owner of the Mad Platter in Germantown, where a culinary scene was budding close to the downtown. She switched back and forth between running political campaigns and the restaurant with her husband. She knew exactly what I’d meant by ‘food service’ when talking to my political science professor, Dr. Bledsoe.
While still living in NYC, unemployed and planning my move to São Paulo, I signed up for a training initiative of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) called the COLORS Hospitality Opportunities for Workers (CHOW) Institute. ROC came about after 9/11 when the owner of Windows on the World was not going to re-hire the surviving service staff in his other restaurants. Mostly immigrants, they organized against him to jumpstart a nationwide movement at the intersection of the immigration debate and labor standards with the food industry as staging ground. I did my front-of-house training at the COLORS restaurant on the Bowery, and my back-of-house training at One if by Land, Two if by Sea in the West Village. Soon thereafter, I moved to São Paulo to focus on making Lanchonete.org my art project:
Lanchonete.org is an artist-led, cultural platform focused on how people live and work in, navigate and share the contemporary city with the Center of São Paulo as our outlook. It gets its name from the ubiquitous lunch counters — convivial, fluorescent-lit, open-walled, laborious, points of commerce — that populate almost every street corner. Lanchonete.org is about the issues that big cities face, the different forms of ‘urban power’, and the Right to the City, but not insomuch as to define these constructs…rather to stretch the platform as far as is necessary to consider diverse viewpoints. Lanchonete.org takes its cue from French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s Le Droit à la ville (1968), or one that “demand[s] a transformed and renewed access to urban life.”
Through Lanchonete.org I’ve gotten to work with a variety of food workers and thinkers. I would miss some names if I tried to list them all here. Before we had the lanchonete on Rua Paim, we worked for almost five years with Occupation São João and its cultural center. A couple years back with the help of the Goethe Institute, Jakub Szczesny, Casa das Caldeiras and Cidades Sem Fome, we staged a garden-making class (see photo) at the Occupation that resulted in a garden on site, 35 trained ‘gardeners’, and a guide for DiY garden-making with Aurora Editions / Publication Studio São Paulo. Over the years we’ve worked with GastroMotiva and this year at the lanchonete on Paim, a former trainee of GastroMotiva named Abdoulaye led a regular Monday open lunch from an apartment in one of the three buildings of Conjunto Santos Dumont.
I’ve often heard the reference to Gordon Matta-Clark’s FOOD and more recently Conflict Kitchen. Lanchonete.org is within this field. I gave an interview to the founder of Residency Unlimited once right when the project was kicking off. A year or so later, I got the opportunity to interview the artist duo behind Fast and French in the same format. One of the nicest curatorial acts I’ve ever had dealt me was by Tobi Meier who had written about the Equipe3 project in his SP Bienal catalogue under ‘Extradisciplinary spaces and dedisciplinizing moments (in and out of the 30th Bienal de São Paulo), 2013’:
“Um dos primeiros encontros entre os integrantes originais da Equipe 3 — Francisco Iñarra, Genilson Soares and Lydia Oku- mura — aconteceu no contexto de uma proposta coletiva, a performance ‘Lanchonarte’, centrada na ideia de ‘arte como alimento para consumo’ e oferecida ao Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro em 1970. A proposta foi recusa- da, mas acabou voltando ampliada no Salão de Arte Contem- porânea de Santo André em 1971, com o título de ‘Restaurarte’.”
He helped organize a meeting between me and the two surviving members of Equipe3 at Jacqueline Martins Gallery, Lydia and Genilson. Since that meeting they have attended a few of our events, and once cooked together with Pepe Dayaw of Nowhere Kitchen at the Phosphorus project space in central São Paulo for a Lanchonete.org event.