Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some Thoughts about Food Culture

{My monthly article for the "Go Green" section in The Denver News - formerly the Downtown Denver News}

Recently, I met up with a couple from Italy passing through Denver and other big name cities for a PR tour of America. They run a resort and cooking school where they come from and are not incidentally interested in how we eat. I imagine they will want to give feedback to their customers and friends once they get back home. I saw their website and their quaint operation on the Adriatic Sea looks charming and inviting. I sure do hope they have a good time and it leads me to wonder what they will think of us once they’ve gone.
Since I lived in Italy for many years, I can vouch that the way we eat in America is very different from the food culture there. In the States, we relish in the faster pace and love the fast food nation we have become. We don’t like to go to the trouble of spending too much time in the kitchen. To Italians though, the kitchen is sacrosanct. There is no need for a “structural overhaul” of the food system that is often talked about in our daily news. There is no “rampant child obesity” caused by inactivity and processed food that is eaten everywhere in the US.
One of the reasons they don’t have these problems is that Italy still has small farmers and butchers, bakers, sheep herders, vegetable growers, small dairies and cheese mongers, to mention just a few enterprises. Fresh food grown sustainably is the norm, not something that needs a ‘movement’ to attract attention to it. Every day you can see small markets offering fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as independent grocery stores that do a booming business selling deli meats, locally sourced food and wine, fresh pastries and breads. Restaurants know their farmers and who butchers their pork cutlets. Living ‘the good life’ by sourcing real food, from real people, instead of factories is everyday life, ingrained in their culture. Anyone that has been to Italy has experienced what I am talking about.

So, why am I talking about Italians in my ‘green’ column? Well, making their acquaintance made me think about how I would show off our own local food culture. Sitting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains our visitors will surely experience Denver as unforgettable. They will no doubt delight in our spectacular views and sunny winter skies. They will see the museums, Botanic Gardens and the Micro breweries, even Coors Field and Buffalo Bill’s Grave. After that, unless they spend their entire visit skiing our majestic mountains, where should they engage in that favorite Italian and American pastime, mangiare?

Past the Starbucks, the Outback’s, the Malls, the All-you-can-eat places, the fast food mecca’s and Mexican dives, how will they experience our local food? Sure, there are loads of restaurants everywhere but the food served is not necessarily a showcase of Colorado products. Fewer in number but important to the local and organic scene are the venerable farm-to-table restaurants in and around the city that have been in the forefront of the Colorado food movement. I feel the European travelers will want to experience some of that.
Italians are known for their reverence of the earth and the fruit that comes from it, especially the wine. So I really would like our guests to feel that as Coloradans we too are proud stewards of the land. I’d like them to see that we have the food to prove it. I want them know that we support our local, smaller scale agri-oriented enterprises. There is, I told them, a fresh food revolution that is struggling to emerge right beneath our noses on the Front Range. It would be nice to see a strategy of supportive infrastructure geared towards those who are interested in hand craft traditions, like artisanal bread baking, common just a few generations ago. But I didn’t mention that. They probably won’t notice what is lacking and just go with the good stuff available.
I’m not too worried. We show up pretty good, what with the sheer physical beauty of where we live; the snow capped mountains, the pristine lakes, the hiking and biking and especially, the friendly people - those are the stars of Colorado. I’m just hoping the Italians find our local food culture something to write home about in addition.
Silvana Vukadin-Hoitt, is a creative entrepreneur and currently lives in Denver. She writes a monthly column for The Denver News and advocates for sustainable living.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Miss Jolie's Film

 I saw 'In The Land of Blood and Honey' twice this week. The first night I was the only one in the theater. This  made me happy and sad at the same time.  Happy because I thought, 'well, if I cry too much no one will notice my running eyeliner' and sad because I wondered why no one was paying attention to this film that I was so looking forward to.

 In my work with refugees from ex Yugoslavia in the '90's I heard a lot of personal horror stories. Still deeply imbedded in me even after all these years, all came up watching the film. I can only imagine what it was like for the smattering of Bosnian souls that I recognized in the theater on the second night I went. We were 15 people maybe, not more. One man, he came with his mother. I remember him from long ago, we pretended not to recognize each other. Past histories can be too personal at times like this. His story centered on corpses floating down the famous Drina River in his hometown of Visegrad. Paramilitaries targeted Muslims, shot them and dumped them in the river. The river ran red with blood from so many riddled bodies getting dumped into it and at one point, the debris barrier at the water treatment center became clogged up for all the corpses thrown into the Drina. Those were the first few weeks in the Spring of 1992. In the movie, there is indeed a corpse face down in a river and I winced, wondering how much more real that image must be to the survivor sitting behind me in the dark theater, remembering.

It was a good film. Nowhere in the film did I see the cult of Jolie. It's as if she was the medium for the actors and the actual survivors of the war. It is what I expected of her, the maligning of her intentions in the beginning by certain groups in Bosnia notwithstanding. Reading between the lines of  the publicity machine and her role as Ambassador to the UNHCR there was no doubt in my mind that she would not betray Bosnia, the women or herself by creating a contrived and irrelevant film. The hand that wrote the script allowed for critical cultural nuances where someone with a bigger ego would have gone for sensationalism.

It is a good film. Very good.

All night I could not evade the pale eyes of the lead actor that reminded me of yet another Bosnian I know, who as soldier on a rare night's furlough from the front secretly visited his family home for a few hours. They had to disguise his identity from his little son, lest the child reveal that the father had been there and in this, endanger the whole family.  He sat there with his son on his knee, pretending to be a guest with a rifle, just passing through. I thought Goran Kostic, the lead actor, was well cast and totally plausible as a sensitive if not very complex man, living under the shadow of a bear like psychopath saddled with the all too typical Serbian martyr complex. As for Zana Marjanovic, his female counter part, who might just have the world's most beautiful smile, I declare with no irony that we should bow in gratitude to this natural wonder.

A few seconds here and there, when the acting or the lighting or the scenery seemed a teensy bit amateur, I felt it lent to the authenticity of the film. It struck me that the non glamorization of the lovers or for that matter any of the actors in the film really made watching it so much more an integral experience.

Not wanting to be a total push over I do have a couple of pet peeves to mention, although hopefully they will be forgotten as soon as I mention them.  The constant snow in almost every scene drove me a bit batty  mainly because it moved like fake snow and that was unnerving. And as petty as it seems, in my opinion the huge tattoo on the forearm of the guitar player in the opening scene seemed way too modern for a guy in some village band in early '90's Bosnia.  Lastly, I was distraught that Rade Serbedzija, usually such a striking and angular looking person, was made to look like Ernest Borgnine's younger brother. The round softness fostered on him to resemble Ratko Mladic was almost unbearable.  The saving grace as far as he is concerned was a superb 5 second scene where the look on his face as he breaks a wine glass on the table in faux triumph mode is as heartbreaking in it's authenticity as any scene in the film.

I am full, to the brim. I would recommend it to anyone. So, where are all the fans? Why was the theater empty?

Alas, rape doesn't sell when it is not fetishisized.

Walking out of the theater my friend, a movie buff said,  "It just shows once again that men can fuck women anyway they want because....well... because they can".

The movie executes well, shocks in all the right places, moves with grace and even gives answers to questions we want answers to - but I still have a sinking feeling that no one really cares. No one wants to know about men raping women. No one wants to see that the western world stood by knowing about the rape and torture camps as they were happening an hour's flight from Rome and Vienna. We had 'no dog in the fight'.
No one except people like Angelina Jolie. Brava.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.