Today, the day after the Climate March in New York City, I am going to Flushing, in Queens, a to learn about Chinese food. The two things are not unconnected. Chinese cooking has lessons for those of us looking for ways to eat more sustainably. Chinese culinary traditions arose in a land of scarcity and maximizing nutrition and flavor while using the least amount of fuel has long been a distinctive characteristic of Chinese cooking.
And both the Climate March and Chinese food traditions are ways to build community. Both promote a sense of warm connection between people. Marching together is a way to build a sense of solidarity that will, we hope, be helpful in days ahead. Eating together, the conviviality of the table, makes us feel closer, bridges differences, even heals wounds. I read the other day that the Chinese custom of making dumplings at the New Year is a way to bring even feuding family members together. In the West, in biblical tradition, we break bread together, to make peace. I have no peacemaking to do today, but I am looking forward to building warm connections with experts in different aspects of Chinese food.
First, there’s lunch with Jackie Newman, the venerable editor of Flavor & Fortune, a magazine that she has edited and published single-handedly for nearly twenty years. I always look forward to catching up with her, and I look forward to introducing her to some of my Chinese friends. To someone Chinese, the idea of going to a Chinese restaurant with one or two or three other people is just plain weird, and I find myself adopting the custom of adding more people to the group right up till the last minute. There’s a lovely spontaneity about Chinese dining that fits the cuisine, and it’s something we Americans could learn from because it so promotes conviviality.
Then I expect to see some of the food sights of Flushing, with two different guides. One is a lawyer who does food tours and blogging as a sideline. And joining the group at some point is a food writer who knows both Chinese and French cuisines, and is helping me to understand the potential in our food publishing as I look at what makes Chinese cuisines unique and important.
Later in the week I’ll be visiting the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, to talk to Willa Zhen, their Chinese food specialist. The photo here shows an aisle in a Chinese supermarket, with its overwhelming array of sauces and pastes. Getting to know these products and their ingredients is one of the challenges ahead, and I am thankful to have so many expert guides.