Dorothy Guy remembers when Braddock, Pennsylvania, was a thriving steel town humming with streetcars and commerce where her father, a foundry worker, and mother raised a happy family.
Every other Thursday - “steel mill payday” - her family went grocery shopping at the A&P or Kroger. For the occasional post-church treat, she recalls trips to Isaly’s for a skyscraper cone or a chipped ham BBQ sandwich.
“Braddock was really alive back then,” said Guy, 63, a lifelong resident who’s raising seven grandchildren there.
That was before the steel industry’s decline in the 1970s. Since then, the 20,000-person population of Braddock’s heyday has dried up to around 2,300, and this former metropolis on the Monongahela River east of Pittsburgh has fallen into urban decay. Save for a handful of markets, convenience stores and a cafe, there are no grocery stores or restaurants within the city limits of Braddock, Guy says.
But Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is hoping to change that with the help of Kevin Sousa, a Pittsburgh-area chef known for starting businesses in neighborhoods that have seen better days. And, they’re looking to Kickstarter to fund their big idea.
A visitor to the United Service Organizations building on the Bagram Airfield base in Afghanistan could easily mistake the place for a civilian home.
Brown leather couches beckon tired soldiers to sit back, relax and kick up their dusty boots. A wrap-around kitchen bar tempts hungry servicemen and women with lollipops, candy bars, chips and trail mix. Sports memorabilia and framed artwork cover the walls, and kitchen cabinets, stuffed to the brim with DVDs, add to the relaxed vibe.
But despite all the comfy trappings, soldiers serving abroad can still fall victim to homesickness. That’s where meals come in.
For most people, a barbecue emergency would entail running out of buns or over-charring the chicken wings. For the men and women of Operation BBQ Relief, that means it's time to drive into a disaster zone, fire up their smokers and serve hot meals to people on worst day of their lives.
There is something about barbecue that brings out the best in humankind. It's an inherently generous undertaking. No one makes just enough for a couple of plates; the time and effort just wouldn't be worth it. A giant hunk of meat - a shoulder, brisket, slab or ribs or even a whole, delicious beast - is cause for celebration and camaraderie.
It also presents a built-in invitation in the form of a smoky, meaty scent that acts as a homing beacon to your backyard. If you 'cue it up, they will come.
But after tornadoes laid waste to the town of Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this week, many residents were left without a backyard to call their own - let alone a smoker, tongs or even a plate from which to eat. That's when Operation BBQ Relief rolled in.
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Allison Robicelli is the co-owner (with her husband Matt) of Robicelli's, an award-winning cupcake business in New York City, and author of the upcoming "Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes." Follow her on Twitter @robicellis.
My husband and I lost our first business in the fall of 2009. There were a billion contributing factors: a collapsing economy, a rent hike, a horrific family tragedy and a crumbling marriage that needed to be saved. Talking about it four years later seems like a trivial footnote in our story - some sort of inciting plot device that occurred offstage, scarcely remembered by the time the curtains closed. They hustled, they persevered, they became Q-list food celebrities and they all lived happily ever after.
No matter how far into the story we get, like a broken bone that never quite heals, I can still feel those initial moments of fallout as if they were yesterday: the fear of truly having lost it all; the jarring realization that in an instant, everything we had built may be gone forever and we might not not be strong enough to rebuild. I recall looking at my children and wondering how we let this happen, if we could have prevented it and how we can protect them when we couldn’t even protect ourselves.
It was worse than terror; it was a life without hope. A life I thought of ending more than once.
While we survived, I have been unable to purge the memory of what I felt in those months. The feeling rose again and turned into empathy in the days after Superstorm Sandy, and again this week watching a tornado destroy Moore, Oklahoma.
This is the thirteenth installment of "Eat This List" - a regularly recurring list of things chefs, farmers, writers and other food experts think you ought to know about.
Everybody eats. We may all come from different places, belief systems, political affiliations and football divisions, but at least once a day, every last one of us puts food into our bodies to fuel us for the road ahead.
We also all suffer loss, both on a global scale and in the gut. At times like these, eating might seem like the least important, most impossible task on the planet, but it can feed so much more than the stomach.
A shared meal, a dropped-off plate of cookies or a raised glass can add a much-needed note of normalcy in an overwhelming time. As groups like Operation BBQ Relief and Team Rubicon speed toward Moore, Oklahoma to feed and assist tornado victims, here are eight stories of times when food helped people find a little bit of respite in a world turned upside town.
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Jason Bond is the chef at Bondir in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter @jwadebond.
The day started with the Boston Marathon and a state holiday. It ended in tragedy and left residents, like me, with so many unanswered questions.
Why would someone attack an event that was about celebration, one where many of the thousands of participants were raising money for over two thousand charities? Why would they use such a ferocious method as bombs packed with ball bearings and nails?
In the span of 15 seconds, three people lost their lives. Hundreds of others, from the injured and their families to those who witnessed the blast firsthand, were cruelly ripped from the lives they'd always known and forced into a darker view of the world. The residents of Boston were shocked, sickened and even pissed off.
Most of us felt helpless, but wanted to be of use. The city and its people quickly mobilized to help each other. Boston is tight and takes care of its own.
We realized that we each help by doing what we do; medics medicate, journalists report, the police protect. As a restaurateur I did what I do, which is care for people and provide sustenance and healing.
Beth Howard pulled up to Newtown in her 24-foot-long camper, loaded with 240 apple pies.
She dished out pie to kids from Sandy Hook Elementary School, grieving parents and anyone who asked.
She describes herself as an attaché for grief, with her greatest gift being pie “made from love.” Most people simply call her "the pie lady."
“Pie is meant to be shared,” she said. “It’s meant to be given away.”
When the floodwaters began to lap at his hip, Rahmell Ortiz's stubbornness finally buckled. He ran for his life, unsure of where he was going, or what had become of the other 6350 residents of Brooklyn's Red Hook Houses. Ortiz knew only that the Superstorm Sandy was showing no signs of mercy, and that his friend Horace Jackson, who had been banging at his door, wasn't taking no for an answer.
11 days, and a terrifying chest-high wade later, the two men stood in line for a free twice-daily meal dished out by volunteer-manned tables and trucks stationed outside the Calvary Baptist Church of Red Hook. It was by both men's accounts, the highlight of the day for local residents, many of whom still were living without power, heat or any idea when either might return, due to extensive saltwater damage in the basements of the 33 buildings that make up Brooklyn's largest public housing development.
Stacy Cowley is CNNMoney's tech editor. She's in a complicated relationship with her CSA and explores the odd vegetables that show up in her haul in CSI: CSA. Previously, she fended off a stampeding herd of zucchini.
The vegetables I've been writing about this season - the invasive purslane weed, inscrutable kohlrabi and endless bushes of leafy greens - all came from Added Value, an urban farm located on the edge of Brooklyn's Red Hook waterfront neighborhood.
By Monday night, the farm was buried under almost three feet of water. Sandy's storm surge sent a flood of river water, mud and industrial sludge cascading through Red Hook, drowning hundreds of homes and local businesses. The farm lost its fall crops, some of its physical structures, and an estimated $10,000 to $40,000 in equipment.