A new twist on locative gastronomy

fieldtripFor the last year, I’ve been working with the International Institute of Buffalo,whose mission is twofold: to provide critical services to refugees and immigrants and promote global understanding and connections in Western New York, on creating a map of restaurants in the city.  At first, we were creating a map of restaurants started by those emigres/immigrants with connections to The Institute.   But then, the list of international food providers and restaurants serving foods from many different cultures grew to be even more inclusive. 

The Chef of Lucy's Ethiopian, at Taste of Diversity on Grant St.
The Chef of Lucy’s Ethiopian, at Taste of Diversity on Grant St.

To get on the map, the main criteria was that the entity either be owned by a newly minted Buffalonian. This list includes a Burmese restaurant with the most amazing fresh raw vegetable spring rolls (located within the West Side Bazaar), Pho- Vietnamese that is gluten free and fantastic and Lucy’s, an Ethiopian restaurant whose chef looks like Marcus Samuelson, but with a better smile. Grandfathered into inclusion were places that represented previous generations of the newly arrived –  Schiller’s German Restaurant, McCarthy’s Irish Pub, Dnipro, the Ukrainian Cultural Club and The Broadway Market – a stalled, old world model market which has helps preserve many cultures through its ability to provide ethnic foods and crafts. The end result – The Map For Adventurous Eaters.

The Map for Adventurous Eaters is not just about food. It furthers the mission of The Institute, serving to integrate the newest Buffalonians into the community – making it a more vibrant and inclusive place to live, for everyone. The group Revolutionary Optimists,  has a documentary which shows how children in one of Kolkata’s slums are using Map Your World to eradicate polio in their community, and the importance of belonging to a community – both physically and on paper and a larger whole. (Here’s a  Link to the video from Revolutionary Optimists, warning it is allergy inducing, expect your eyes to water.)

Buffalo, known, fairly or not, for its snow and segregation, is working slowly to integrate back into its map the parts of the city that previously all but had ‘there be dragons’ written across them.  One way to connect the city is to acknowledge the cultures these places bring, and weave these into the vibrancy of the whole city.  Just a few years ago, Grant Street in Buffalo was once chock full of bars a few steps below dives, dollar stores, old factories, empty houses, empty lots and houses you wished were empty.  Now, if you squint and tilt your head a little, it resembles the cultural salad of Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue in the late 1990s and early 2000s (pre Barneys Urban Outfitters and J Crew (and can we talk about the first world problem of losing your gourmet food store to a J Crew boutique? ). Much of this is due to the diligence of people who came to Buffalo in the 21st century, looking for some remnant of the American Dream.

As John Edward Huth points out (writer’s note – occasionally on Sunday, I pick out articles to read like a pick out bottles of wine – by the picture; this article’s picture is really amazing):

Sadly, we often atomize knowledge into pieces that don’t have a home in a larger conceptual. When this happens, we surrender meaning to guardians of knowledge and it  loses its personal value. Losing Our Way in the World, NYTimes, 21 July 2013

To Huth, technology and this surrendering of empirical knowledge gained from indigenous navigators, who used the “information hidden in winds, waves, stars and even birds to find their way” has lead to a disassociation of the self with our surroundings.  When we write people off a map, we lose our not just ourselves but our community.

Google is addressing the need to get all neighborhoods on maps, with it’s Slum Mapping – Map Your World Community (yeah, about that name) and the kits they provide to help record an accurate world map.

Each Map for Adventurous Eaters purchased assists the IIB in its work helping the newest Buffalonians become a vital part of our community. To purchase a map, please contact Erin St John Kelly (the brains behind the map) at development@iibuff.org or 716.883.1900, ext. 303.


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