Behind the Butcher’s Counter – WUNC’s State of Things

Cliff Collins, Cliff's Meat Market, Carrboro, N.C., 2014. From the Vittles film Un Buen Carnicero.

Cliff Collins, Cliff’s Meat Market, Carrboro, N.C., 2014. From the Vittles film Un Buen Carnicero.

WUNC’s State of Things featured Vittles Films Un Buen Carnicero in a live radio segment last week. I’m very grateful to have sat in on the interview with butchers Cliff Collins and Gerardo “Tolo” Martinez, who shared more details about the Cliff’s Meat Market story highlighted in our film. Listen to the complete interview here.

Tolo Martinez, Cliff's Meat Market, Carrboro, N.C., 2014. From the Vittles film Un Buen Carnicero.

Tolo Martinez, Cliff’s Meat Market, Carrboro, N.C., 2014. From the Vittles film Un Buen Carnicero.

#Caravana43: How Mexico’s missing Ayotzinapa students are sparking a movement in the U.S. South.

#NC43 Jose from Andrea Patiño Contreras on Vimeo.

#Caravana43: Profile on Jose Archila, baker and activist in North Carolina
Photo and video by Andrea Patiño Contreras.
Interviews and text by Victoria Bouloubasis.

Jose Archila unfolds 43 chairs and sets them out in a triangle, like a flock of birds ready for flight. With each step, he drops a book onto an empty chair, each one to represent a school chair for each missing student. Books by Howard Zinn, Sandra Cisneros, Malcom X. A biography of Tupac Shakur.

“El panaderooooo!” Jose is bearded, but blushes. You can tell by the way he quickly bites his lip to diffuse shyness before getting back to what he came to do. El panadero, the baker, spent the night pasting 43 prints of black and white faces onto a banner he crafted from recycled flour bags. He hops onto a bench with a roll of heavy-duty blue tape. The protest begins against the backdrop of missing faces plastered onto the wall of the Mexican consulate.

At 3 a.m. Jose adjusts the fine mesh over his beard, slips on a pair of latex gloves. A Pandora station streams from his phone, soothing tropical house beats against the raucous whir of an industrial-sized mixer. Bread dough prepped nearly two hours earlier swells against the plastic of a 20-gallon bucket. Jose eyeballs the measurements and scrapes out enough for a dozen loaves, shaping them as he talks politics, quoting former Uruguayan Pepe Mujica and revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in the same breath. “The uncertainty that lives in Mexico right now,” he says, “is huge. 43 disappeared and no one knows where they are? Es ficticioso.” Whatever the media claims is all fake.

“I’m going to make it back to Chiapas for my 20th high school reunion.” He missed his recent 10-year, saw it all happen in real-time on his Facebook feed. His parents didn’t think it was the best idea for him to come to America. But Jose wanted to build a house. He has been counting pennies and dollars and hours and days for 10 years. He doesn’t have a house in Mexico yet, and he doesn’t have a family here.

Jose breaks mid-day between bread-baking and burger-slinging. In those few hours he sometimes sleeps, but mostly reads. Four newspapers minimum. Then he’ll run. He reserves full days off to participate in half-marathons. Soon he’ll find time to take English classes. “I’ve been here too long,” he says.


Forty-three rural students disappeared from Ayotzinapa, Mexico, on Sept. 26, 2014 after clashing with police.

A series of Instagram videos and essays shares the voices of the parents of the missing Ayotzinapa students, the #Caravana43 visiting from Mexico, and the #NC43 activists like Jose. Fellow documentarian Andrea Patiño Contreras and I chose this medium to match the contemporary form of online activism fueling the movement.

Follow on Instagram: videos and photos by @andreapatino; interviews and text by @thisfeedsme. Full series:

Un Buen Carnicero – INDY Week

Video still from Un Buen Carnicero by Vittles Films.

Video still from Un Buen Carnicero by Vittles Films.

Last year, we at Vittles Films made Un Buen Carnicero, a short bilingual documentary film supported by the Southern Foodways Alliance.

This week, the INDY featured the film in the newspaper’s first bilingual (Spanish/English) story, written by me with Spanish editing support from North Carolina-based journalist Walter Gomez.

Nuestra sociedad, nuestra política y nuestros medios de comunicación demandan que los menos privilegiados presenten su existencia y justifiquen su lucha a través de algún relato. Pero la realidad de [carnicero] Martínez es la lucha por un derecho humano básico: una mejor vida y vivir sin miedo. Esperamos, que al exponer su historia y cotidianidad, más personas (inmigrantes y ciudadanos) expresen sus vivencias.

Our society, our politics and our media demand that the underprivileged prove their existence and justify their struggle through an inspirational narrative. But [butcher] Martinez’s reality is about a basic human right to better one’s life and to live safely, without fear. We hope putting his ordinary life into focus will remind people that he simply cannot.

Click here for the full story, including a link to the film.

Mother Guadalupe – Duke Latino/a Studies ARROB@

photo 1

Guadalupe poses in traditional Guatemalan dress in front of her vegetable garden in North Carolina. iPhone photo by Victoria Bouloubasis


Guadalupe is an amazing mother and home cook who works the overnight shift at a poultry processing plant here in North Carolina. I’m sharing her story and other migrant worker stories on Latino/a Studies @ Duke’s ARROB@ blog this month. I’m very lucky to share this space with amazing artists and scholars, whose work I’ve learned a lot from. Click here to read. (Or read on this page after the jump below.)

A bit about the photo: On my second time visiting Guadalupe and her family (with my friend, photographer Pete Eversoll), Guadalupe showed me how to make the delicious Guatemalan peanut mole she made for us the last time we visited. She also tried to convince me to wear one of her traditional Guatemalan dresses, though I am considerably larger than her. She changed her clothes to show me the handmade fabrics so delicately woven together in her home village. And she requested that Pete, a professional photographer, take a portrait of her and her two sons in front of the garden. The photo you see is one I snapped candidly on my phone. It was a beautiful Sunday in July.

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Mention in RENDER: Feminist Food and Culture Quarterly


Photo from the USDA archives.

I am so happy to learn that a new publication, RENDER: Feminist Food and Culture Quarterly, has hit the stands. This one looks promising, folks. Inimitable food writer, folklorist and pie genius Emily Hilliard wrote a kick-ass piece on the newly and aptly dubbed “carnivorous gaze” of our patriarchal food media. Her essay, “All The Women Go Home Appreciating Where Our Food Comes From”: A Response to Modern Farmer’s “Chicken-Slaughtering Pinup Girls”, speaks poignantly to the alignment of women and meat as object. I’m flattered to have my Modern Farmer piece on women butchers cited in the article as an example of responsible journalism and representation. Thank you, Emily!

Triangle Chefs Cook What They Love – INDY EATS

Hey, neighbors! Be sure to pick up a copy of INDY EATS, INDY Week’s annual Guide to Dining in the Triangle. The slim magazine guide includes a comprehensive list of where to eat, fun feature stories and recipes from Triangle-area chefs.

I contributed four stories to the issue, all with recipes!

  • Chef Xiaoming Xu flexed her muscle and pyrotechnics in the Dim Sum House kitchen in Morrisville, offering a crash course in Szechuan cooking that left me both intimidated and inspired.
  • A shopping trip to Compare Foods with the owners of Durham’s La Vaquita taqueria, brothers Fidel and Antonio Rodriguez, revealed easy secrets to making Yucatan cochinita pibil at home. And I let them know I would never eat no pinche cow eyeballs.
  • My friend Eddie Bannout of Durham’s Baba Ghannouj Lebanese Restaurant helped me navigate the aisles of Taiba Market to recreate one of his favorite family recipes, a warming stew of chicken and succulent molokhia greens. And if you’re Eddie, a cigarette on the porch for dessert.
  • And Farmer’s Daughter April McGreger invited me into her home in Orange County, where she showed me how easy it is to pickle Jerusalem artichoke (that one boring root vegetable we never quite know how to handle). We also geeked out over the history of fermentation and the modern-day influence of Sandor Katz.

Pick up a copy at bookstores, restaurants and cafes throughout the Triangle or read it online.

The Interview: Sandra Gutierrez – The Local Palate

Interview with cookbook author Sandra Guitierrez in The Local Palate (August/Sept). Photo by Eric Waters.

Interview with cookbook author Sandra Guitierrez in The Local Palate (August/Sept). Photo by Eric Waters.

It was a pleasure interviewing chef, cooking instructor and cookbook author Sandra Gutierrez for the August/September issue of The Local Palate. We spoke about Sandra’s latest cookbook, Latin American Street Food (UNC Press) and the detailed history of Latin America, through conquests and resurgence, that shaped 21 distinct cuisines. Check out the issue on stands now, featuring beautiful photos by my friend Eric Waters.

Twelve-year-old tobacco farmers: the hidden battle against US child labor – The Guardian

Youth farmworkers are legally allowed to pick tobacco at age 12. Photo by Yesenia Cuello, a youth farmworker in North Carolina.

Youth farmworkers are legally allowed to pick tobacco at age 12. Photo by Yesenia Cuello, a youth farmworker in North Carolina.

Nearly every hot, humid North Carolina summer morning, 15-year-old Eddie Ramirez wakes up at 4am, slips on a thick, long sleeve T-shirt and boards a school bus with his mother in Snow Hill, North Carolina. The bus is cramped – not with students, but with up to 40 migrant farm workers on the way to work in a tobacco field.

Ramirez began this work – hand-picking tobacco for shifts up to 12 hours in his school holidays and sometimes during term – when he was just 12 years old.

He is among 141 youth farm workers featured in a report released Wednesday by international human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW), documenting child labor in tobacco fields in the southern United States. Eighty children come from North Carolina, with the rest from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

The 138-page report, Tobacco’s Hidden Children, reveals the dangers and harmful conditions of tobacco work. It emphasizes the US lagging behind Brazil and India, the top two tobacco producers in the world, who have banned children from working in their fields.

Read the full article in The Guardian here.

Mole and a movie: Vida Propia – INDY Week

Nora Mendez goofs off to calm her nerves before dinner service outside of Full Frame Theater on March 22.  Photo by Victoria Bouloubasis with Instagram.

Nora Mendez goofs off to calm her nerves before dinner service outside of Full Frame Theater on March 22. Photo by Victoria Bouloubasis with Instagram.

Nora Mendez protects the secrets in her pot of bubbling chicken mole like one would guard a weapon. “Es mi machete,” she says. It is my machete.

“Campesinos in Veracruz used to say that if someone takes your machete, they might as well take everything from you: your wife, your family. It’s all you have and you have to guard it.”

Last night, Mendez, a cook at Dos Perros restaurant, blended her kitchen secrets into traditional moles for a community dinner outside the Full Frame Theater in Durham as part of the FARE Project .

The FARE Project combines documentaries with community food events. Mendez’s life behind the stove and beyond is featured in the documentary Vida Propia. Mendez and Duke student filmmaker Sarah Garrahan have been working on the project for two years. They met in August 2012 while both were working in the Dos Perros kitchen.

Mendez, 44, isn’t very guarded, neither on- nor off-screen. She is playful and gregarious with a goofy, sarcastic wit. The film draws you into an immediate camaraderie, highlighting life’s very raw elements—children’s celebrations, cooking with family, cooking at work, half-day road trips for a two-day vacation—to reveal a tiny slice of her reality.

“It’s good for a cook like me to have this, to show the hands preparing the customer’s food,” Mendez says. “It is giving us recognition in society, where we all coexist.”

“I am interested in highlighting the seemingly mundane moments in life that have the potential to speak to larger social issues,” Garrahan says. “I hope that audiences will find commonalities in Nora’s story. There are family dinners, birthdays, school and work. But I also hope that audiences will reflect critically on the treatment of immigrants in the United States.”

Read my preview for the INDY Week here.

Jose and Sons – Ethnosh

Photo by Stacey Sprenz.

Photo by Stacey Sprenz.

I wrote this article to preview Raleigh’s second NoshUp at Jose and Sons. The events are presented by Ethnosh, a partnership between Face to Face Greensboro, Triad Local First, and Bluezoom Advertising that highlights immigrant-owned restaurants in the area through guides and events.

Jose and Sons
By Victoria Bouloubasis

Charlie Ibarra sits in his family’s newest restaurant, Jose and Sons, to tell the story of how he arrived at this very bar stool, turning his father’s dream into his own.

Jose Ibarra, Charlie’s father, is the inspiration behind the Ibarras’ newest venture. He is the one who, while on his vacation in Mexico, kept up with the Yelp reviews during the opening months, phoning his son to read the comments verbatim. Before Jose and Sons, there was Jibarra, an upscale Mexican eatery in that same spot. Before that, El Rodeo, a Triangle Tex-Mex staple started by Jose more than 20 years ago.

When Charlie was about 5 years old, he remembers squishing into the backseat of a car with his parents, siblings and uncle for a three-day adventure. With Jose at the wheel, the family fixated on the flat road away from La Mirada, California, Charlie’s birthplace, and toward a new life on the East Coast.

After two decades of laboring in a car parts factory, Jose gave up working for someone else for his dream of becoming an entrepreneur. He emptied his 401k and piled his family into the car, which eventually led to the first El Rodeo location on Hillsborough St. More than twenty years later, there’s a steady business with various El Rodeo locations, and gradual transitions to extended family (who transformed them into La Rancherita). You can find him still working at all of those restaurants.

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