It’s December 2022. I want you to picture a Black woman swaddled in a thick blue blanket. One arm is out reaching for her plate towering with homemade hot wings and ranch. There’s a marathon of cooking competitions playing in the background, and about 15 tabs of job applications open on a laptop.
It sounds chaotic but there I was, mango chipotle glory all over my fingers and fresh off the high of finishing a successful contract with a multi-Emmy award winning show. It was time for me to grow into my next role, and I finally feel confident enough to take that next step. I’ve been a production assistant for five years too long, and an extra year would char my late-night tv writer/producer dreams. December was the perfect time to end, because January is known to be one of the few months where all the jobs flood in. But when January hit, the industry might as well have been a cricket orchestra. What the hell is going on? Massive layoffs? Hiring freezes? Are all of these productions really not happening anymore? I was mortified.
January 31st, a friend informed me that an important bargaining period is coming up, and if a proper agreement for livable wages and worker protections are not met, the screenwriting sector of the WGA might go on strike.
A Competitive Tongue
My stomach dropped. It all started to make sense! Shows being canceled back to back sometimes before they finish production or before they even air; pre-WGA folks in support staff roles, myself included, unable to grow for years? For a long time, I gaslit myself into believing that I wasn’t making the right career moves, but it wasn’t just me. The systems AMPTP put in place were holding us back. Executives increased their bonuses while reducing pay for workers, forcing us to repeat positions, and it was also being reflected in the writers’ rooms. The bargaining period is fast approaching and who knows if the AMPTP will be fair? What if they’re not? All I know is that there’s barely any jobs right now, and echoes of a possible indefinite work stoppage sounds terrifying. That means job interviews will be more scarce and competitive. What used to be a sharp cringe paying off rent would transform into penny scraping. My supermarket runs will be a lot less frequent, because for the foreseeable future my weekly income would remain atrocious in comparison to the cost of living.
The maximum amount of unemployment I get per week of $440 is nowhere near enough to survive in New York. After bills, that meant every month, no matter how well I do at budgeting, I would be cutting into my savings. Reasonably “cheap” foods were running at an uncomfortable price, therefore I needed to focus on maximizing what’s there.
To curb my anxiety, I watched a lot of cooking competitions. From gaudy fictitious ones like Food Wars to show-stopping reality like Top Chef, hearing knives chopping and blenders whirling helped me remain calm and focused in the kitchen. For years watching culinary battles honed my tongue, taught me how to cook, and pushed me to understand how different cultures can utilize the same ingredient and impart completely different flavors. I wouldn’t understand it then, but for the next few months cooking competitions would embed itself as my methodology for survival. The screen would be parallel to my experiences in the industry, and to keep myself calm and fed I’d have to be open to this transitionary period.
February’s Fear Manifested
It’s February, and I’m wondering when it’s reasonable to panic about something that hasn’t happened yet. How would a potential strike change the way I eat? I seldom enjoy eating the same thing more than twice in a week, no matter how flavorful, especially because I was raised by Caribbean parents who did not step out of their own cuisine. If it was up to my father, I’d be growing ackee out of my scalp like a Jamaican chia pet. When I started cooking in my late teens, supermarkets became my safe haven, but ever since the work stoppage began, it turned into a place where I had mini bouts with anxiety.
I always desired to create something new, something that would titillate my brain and taste buds. I didn’t want to eat if I didn’t sweat it out first. I thought ease made me less of a “creative,” made me someone who wasn’t willing to expand and learn. I understood that soon I won’t have the luxury of saying “What if I wanted to buy a whole snapper” unless I was sure I could turn it into 2-3 different meals. Any wrong purchase can diminish my savings. I needed to realize that “comfort” is safe, “comfort” keeps me nourished, but I still wanted the challenge of trying.
(From left to right, Chefs: Melissa King, Joy Krump, Gregory Gourdet and George Pagonis, Top Chef Season 12)
I found the experimentation in the familiar while watching Chef Gregory Gourdet, in Season 12 of Top Chef. Chef Gourdet is a “humble-flashy.” His dishes highlighted the flexibility of ingredients in flavor, texture, and presence and would not be shy to show that flexibility in under 45 minutes. The first episode was the sinister “Sudden Death Quick Fire” (Mise En Place Relay Race edition). Chefs were broken into four teams. The slowest chef on the losing team is up for elimination. The red team, which was comprised of chefs George Pagonis, Gregory Gourdet, Joy Crump, and Melissa King had to race against three other teams to break down three lobsters, eight Boston mackerel, 20 oysters, and 21 littleneck clams. Each member assigned themselves to different ingredients based on their confidence to be able to do them quickly. Pagonis, who originally wanted the mackerel, tried to pawn off the clams to Gourdet. Pagonis loses that battle.
Prepping These Hands
Fear fills my stomach, because mornings are starting to look like a countdown. I need to secure a staff position on a show that will help build my savings until the strike starts, or watch my savings slowly deplete.
Round one, Melissa King breaks down the lobsters swiftly and finishes the team in second; followed by Crump who fumbles a bit on oysters but finishes the team in third.
An interview I just had last week just got back to me, great!
An offer might be on the way–
It’s Gourdet’s turn.
He hits the mackerel, and things start to get a little spicy.
I open my laptop.
Pagonis is watching Gourdet from behind, struggling to filet the mackerels.
Gourdet fumbles while Pagonis’ hands slither up his face!
Email reads: “Nothing at the moment but we’re looking out for you.”
Regret swells in Pagonis’ tear glands, while his eyebrows do a little dancey dance to hide the panic.
Next email reads: “not enough money in the budget.”
We are going through it.
By the time Gourdet finishes the mackerel, the red team is in last.
Pagonis is left to shuck the clams hopefully quicker than anyone else to keep his team safe.
Pagonis loses that battle too.
(George Pagonis covering his face, Top Chef Season 12)
Every day that draws closer to the strike, it takes more energy to sustain myself. Every few weeks, a television show gets canceled; every two weeks I am aware that my savings are depleting. Pagonis has the slowest time shucking those clams, and he faces sudden death; but not before he picks his opponent to do a head-to-head battle. If he loses, he gets eliminated. Pagonis picks Chef Gregory Gourdet.
I stare at a can of coconut milk in my fridge, mustering up the courage to eat. A smirk wells up on Gourdet’s face, and I’ve seen that face from gamers right before they play Tekken, it was going to be a wild battle.
It’s Pagonis vs Gourdet. The challenge is to create a dish in 20 minutes using any of the ingredients from the mise en place race. Coconut is a resilient fruit, transformative wherever you place it. In a dessert it can be a vegan custard tart, or the flavor booster to a savory pot of rice and peas.
I crack open the can of coconut milk from my fridge.
When I decided I wanted to work in television, I pushed myself to understand what kind of pot I was being thrown into.
Pagonis begins his prep for a pan seared mackerel paired with a citrus fennel kalamata salad & warmed clams. Meanwhile–
I scrape the thick cream from the top and make coconut mustard biscuits.
I studied comedy, read books, co-produced content for on-screen segments, but no matter what I did, it felt like I couldn’t avoid downfall. No matter how much I prepared, it felt like the world needed me to fail.
As Pagonis preps the salad, Gourdet is just a few feet away, deciding “why make one, when we can make three?” Gregory Gourdet is using lobster, mackerel, and oysters to make a seafood trio in twenty minutes, and I am mortified.
I swirl the coconut milk into a fresh pot of gochujang beans.
Moments ago I had my hands in my face, while cringing on my couch. Studying, persevering, and preparing a safe place to land.
I stare at the television feeling defeated, but look at Gourdet, he just got here and he’s gonna do three things in twenty minutes. A smirk rising from his lips once he was dared. He understood the flexibility of ingredients and how something can become many, almost to a biblical precision. I know that when a labor movement is looming, the most affected population are the voices marginalized by the industry.
I stream the final bits of oil and fatty coconut chunks into a mango mint smoothie.
When I am overwhelmed, I stop to breathe, and remember Gourdet’s seafood trio. He produced: Oysters with Yuzu & Ginger Mignonette, Mirin Marinated Mackerel, and Lobster with a Coconut & Tomato sauce; and Pagonis loses this battle too. My jaw cascades to the bottom of my neck. Gregory Gourdet knocks out his teammate creating three mini dishes in 20 minutes.
I stretch myself in the coming months across many dishes, allowing the comfort of the familiar to guest-star in everything I cook; but the growing silence of the television industry would be the loudest sizzle in my kitchen.
It’s March and in lieu of a cake, I make myself a birthday lasagna. It’s a hypnotic yearly ritual that takes up my entire evening. I make the béchamel, and the turkey and mushroom ragu from scratch, and then pair it with an herby ricotta mixture. I pay close attention to the sauces while I reflect on the past year. It was hard to convince myself to make it this year as I felt like there’s no immediate end in sight to the industry wide crickets, and lasagna is a costly feat. But now, more than any other year, it felt important to pack that lasagna to the brim. Every time I added to the ragu a new flavorful layer of fear developed. When will this potential strike start? Will it actually happen? Will my savings outlast this? Were all these years of fighting to get into the industry about to be snubbed by network executive greed?
I’ve been here for a few years now, and there is no “true path” to growing into a writer in television. When you’re Black in media, you’re told you’ll be rewarded if you remain persistent. Persistence: praise meant for those who withstand opposition; getting up after failing and being headstrong in the face of adversity. Persistence is a burden masked as glory. It’s what makes us believe in marginalized people, but they do nothing because they’re strong. Because we’ve seen this story and seen them persevere.
I slowly swirled the spoon in the sauce, my eyes glaring at the middle of the pot. I tossed in a couple of clove buds and allspice berries into the ragu while reflecting on Shokugeki No Soma’s Megumi Tadakoro. Day two, of the Tōtsuki Culinary Academy five day training camp, a few dozen first-year students attended a class lead by “Legume Magician,” Kojiro Shinomiya. Shinomiya advised the students to create a nine-vegetable terrine from his famous restaurant by strictly following a provided recipe. All ingredients have to be in peak condition in order for the dish to meet his standards, but Chef Kojiro cultivated an environment built to make some students fail. Limited ingredients were set on the tables; some better quality than others. This forced students to make panicked decisions that would nestle the nail in their coffins.
Overcoming A Multi-Layered Enemy
Layer one: Ragu, lasagna sheet, ragu, béchamel. I’ve started to order my groceries online because the trek to the register in person has been excruciating. I couldn’t stomach holding back tears in the middle of the dairy section, so I resorted to doing this in the comfort of my apartment I can no longer afford. Online, I know how much would be charged to my card; but in person, my arch nemesis is the slow walk on the way to the register. Forced to make my way through the aisles and decide what is and what is not worth the sacrifice.
(Megumi Tadokoro and oxidized cauliflower, Shokugeki No Soma, S1, Ep 10)
“It would be sensible to consider everyone around you an enemy,” Kojiro smirks. At the flick of his hand, Chef Kojiro initiates the swarm. Dozens of students flock to the ingredients trying to get the perfect pick. Pushing, shoving, vegetables flying! While curled on my couch, I stuff tomatoes, basil, and coconut milk into my digital cart. Megumi gets elbowed in the face and plunges to the floor. She’s struggling on the ground while I’m struggling with the cheese aisle. Megumi manages to push through her classmates and pick some quality ingredients, the squash, zucchini, asparagus and wait–8.99?! For Mozzarella?! Gah damn. Unfortunately for Megumi, all the cauliflowers left have oxidized into a creamish yellow. The cauliflower needed to be a bright white, and all of her classmates took it all. Megumi improvises. She knows of a natural bleaching agent! She boils the cauliflower in wine vinegar. The acidity enhances the cauliflower’s sweetness while brightening the color, and it even complements the dish! But Chef Kojiro looks Megumi in the eyes and fails her. She just crafted her way through an environment meant to make students like her tremble, and favor those who are able to claw for the best resources. Her product was amazing, and yet…and yet.
A Persistent March Forward
Layer two: Lasagna sheet, herby ricotta, ragu, béchamel. My Instacart order arrives, and I question my worth while trying to create a means for celebration. Lasagna encourages me to slow down and sit with my discomfort. Meanwhile back at the academy, Megumi hasn’t given up yet. She’s going all in, in a food war against the Legume Magician. Megumi and her friend Soma Yukihira preps to fight for their spot at Tōtsuki. Soma, flies through the mise en place, anticipating her every move. I watch their movements from my kitchen while medium sized bubbles in my ragu slowly expand and burst. Between bits of mushroom and turkey, I watch the allspice and clove pocket in the thick sauce. I leave them, understanding that allspice, like grief, needs time to simmer for the beneficial flavors to poke through.
When given time to develop, allspice is strong, persistent. But a couple of buds left simmering for too long, can overwhelm an entire dish with an earthy-sweet astringency. One of my earliest memories working in television was when a higher up asked a room of interns “what did they aspire to be?” And 90% of the room, including me, said they wanted to be television writers. “Not all of you could be writers.”
I watch Megumi present layers of greens, creams, and reds paired with a ponzu gelee and an herb sauce; a seven-vegetable terrine with 14 flavor varieties sparkling in front of the judges! They squeal with delight, encapsulated by the soothing boldness of each flavor. The judges raise their coins to place them in one of two bowls on opposing sides of a table, securing their votes. Clink! Imagine me, one of two Black people in a room. Clink! And five years later see your white peers move on to be producers and writers. Clink! Over six years in the industry, but here I am, still, a production assistant, the lowest staff member in a production. In spite of Megumi’s perseverance, the battle ends with three votes against her; securing a unanimous victory for the Legume Magician. On the days I’m forced to persist, a bitter aftertaste nestles on my tongue.
(Megumi Tadokoro’s Rainbow Terrine, Shokugeki No Soma Season 1, Ep 12)
Layer three: Lasagna sheet, ragu, béchamel, ragu. I remove the cloves, but let the allspice remain in the ragu. It developed a deep warm flavor but still needed the allspice’s earthy sweetness to accompany the honey. When you’re a lower-level member on support staff that simmers in place for too long, intrusive thoughts pucker your lips. “Is it because I’m untalented?” “Is there anything that I did to deserve this?” “When are you allowed to stand up for yourself?”
Topping: Lasagna sheet, ragu, herby ricotta, béchamel: Black women working in television have no choice between laxness and persistence. Persistence is a survival tactic, and television admires a marginalized come up story, in front and behind the camera. A reality show where they see Black folks try their best to overcome the odds, desperately wanting to be accepted in an industry that doesn’t care to cultivate you. What a dilemma, AMPTP, to be always needed, but never wanted.
It’s April, and I’m beginning to miss the things that come with health insurance. Curry is not a replacement for therapy; and it’s evidenced by the intrusive thoughts—”you should have left and taken another job 10 months ago. You could have done something to protect—” that simmer on the back burner during my daily tasks. One evening, I plopped next to my partner on the couch with a container filled to the brim with take-out Malaysian chicken curry. The deli container crackled and out streamed thick morsels of chicken and potato coated in sweet n’ savory amber colored sauce. My partner’s spoon disappears into the curry, as I balance—“You might not have been working now, but at least you would’ve been working until—” blaming myself in between hits of lemongrass on my tongue. Tear droplets fell in my bowl. I kept thinking about how hard I searched for solutions, applying and applying.
There is no way to determine how long an “indefinite work stoppage” remains indefinite, especially when it didn’t start yet. Working in television, as a Black woman, feels like I have to always be on my toes or be disposed. In between bites of curry—“Is this how the AMPTP weeds us out? Was I meant to get pushed out of television?”— I was flashed to the moments leading up to Chef Lana Lagomarsini on Netflix’s Pressure Cooker. Chef Lagomarsini was one of the front runners of the competition. Her peers consistently wanted to team up with her because they believed in her results and palate. One of her dishes landed her in the top three, she was the leader of a team trial that brought the group to victory, and she was never on the bottom. Her resume thus far, might as well be plated in gold.
Understanding this, Lagomarsini believed that her, and chefs Sergei, Caroline, and Jeana would be a super team of top competitors that would solidify their win in the “four seasons challenge.” She would quickly learn that the best team isn’t always made up of what looks best “statistically” but rather how people support one another.
Cooking in the Downpour
Inspired by that delicious curry (I unfortunately oversalted with my tears), I decided to make my own version for dinner. Trinidadian style curry chicken I grew up eating is different from the Malaysian chicken curry I had a few days prior which means I was moving ignorantly; but—“Surely the strike will last, what? Two weeks?” — At the moment, I didn’t care. I knew I needed to cook while I still had the emotional energy to do so. I took out my marinated chopped up chicken legs from the fridge, let it rest, and added it to a pot coated with shimmering oil. As the chicken lightly fries, I watch the skin seize and release its juices. As I’m hypnotized by the oil slowly taking on a deep mustard hue at the bottom of my dutch oven, I daydream about scapegoatism in the television industry. I remember the push for diversity during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Media companies across the country scrambled for Black candidates, and jumpstarted diversity programs to avoid a PR hellstorm. Suddenly, now we were “what makes television special.” We’re always the last ones hired, last ones supported, but the first ones evicted. According to CNBC there’s been an exodus of senior level Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leaders in media. Honestly— ”How many months of rent do I have left?” It’s interesting to see who is given grace and who is perceived as a threat. I smell the lingering curry powder in the oil releasing a fragrance in my apartment. I move the chicken from the pot to a separate plate and with my mortar and pestle, I grind together coriander, lemongrass stalks, garlic, ginger, and more ingredients into a homogenous paste. As I add the curry paste into the pot, Lagomarsini’s betrayal plays behind me. I watched her take up the grunt work of one of her teammate’s dishes and her own, while her teammates collaborated on the dessert and their own dishes. But when the team lost by a landslide, a scapegoat had to be named.
When the Floodgates Opened
I knew Chef Lagomarsini would be eliminated before the vote was called because it felt familiar. Before this, during elimination rounds, folks gave grace to a white competitor, Chef Brian, who placed on the bottom on individual and team exercises. Chef Brian, who promised safety to folks but was never in a place to offer that benefit, almost got away with it three times. Lana’s elimination felt familiar. The AMPTP, and many large companies love to showcase their hit series created by diverse talent. “It’s not your fault how would you have known?” The people gatekeeping now had their heavens wide open; but as news about a potential strike started to loom, whose content was erased first? Legendary, Ziwe, The Gordita Chronicles. Who caught the sharp end of the “money is tight” lecture? Chef Lagomarsini fought to remain in the Pressure Cooker. She attempted to negotiate with Jeana, pushing to eliminate Sergei who did the least amount of work by doing a raw fish dish. But “based on the challenge” they scapegoated the blame on her, the opposing team shocked.
(Chef Lagomarsini’s Branzino, left; Chef Mike’s Summer Corn Agnolotti, right; Pressure Cooker, Netflix)
They could love what we create but think they can discard us whenever they feel in the same breath. “It’s not your fault how would you have known?” How many times do I have to repeat roles? “It’s not your fault how would you have known?” Why are people getting residual checks for three dollars? Aren’t these executives on yachts? Ain’t pilot season around the corner? How long will this last? Everything I worked for feels like it’s disintegrating due to executive greed. Imagine that? Gaslit. They loved what we could bring and burned it when they had the opportunity. I stared at the backsplash tiles above my stove—shaken, my eyes burning me. I look up — the ceiling of my apartment is being hugged by clouds. Smoke detector, blaring! I quickly turn off the stove and dash towards the windows, swing them open while swishing my dish towel over the alarm to wane off the smoke.
I walked back and stood before the burner. Remaining bits of smoke rose before me to reveal remnants at the bottom of my Dutch oven. The curry paste now charred, but glistening like leather, showcasing its extravagant black. The WGA strike authorization vote comes in at 97.3%.
A wave of relief and rage floods me at the same time.
May 1st 2023,11:38 PM EST, the WGA calls a screenwriting industry strike. I’ve reached the stage of grief where nothing makes sense, and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing changes the fact that David Zaslav, Executive of Warner Bros Discovery, made over $498 million over the last five years. Meanwhile, I’m here trying to craft a meal out of strategically eaten leftover Chinese takeout. I’m just a little over a month away from losing unemployment benefits, while a small group of executives making millions upon millions of dollars decides that screenwriters, support staff like me, and everyone who works to make them rich does not deserve sustainability.
(WGA on Strike Picket Sign:” Side Quest Wages for Main Quest Work”)
The AMPTP forcing the WGA into a strike is a direct attack on our work; a direct attack on our livelihood, stability, how we eat and survive. I’ve been fighting to be comfortable eating without feeling like I’m depriving my future self out of a meal. On the picket line, I’ve found the kindness from restaurants rejuvenating me while basting myself in sweat, holding a sign to the sun. Nearby eateries handed out delicious drinks and small bites; industry leaders and supporters donated stacks of pizza and burritos. In the crust of agony, and yelling, I found sustainability in the symbiotic anger of strangers.
One of the beverages that resonated with me that was donated to the picket line came from a restaurant called ABCV. Nearby the Warner Bros. Discovery offices, hundreds of protestors walked along the block while someone stood with a platter of paper cups in front of the restaurant, filled halfway with a canary tinted beverage crowned with a froth. The taste of turmeric and cardamom coated my lips. “Golden milk?” I assumed and smirked to myself.
The hint of sweetness from golden milk makes me reminisce about my grandmother’s porridge. Early each morning she would plunge her spoon into a pool of semi-thick oats, seasoned with cardamom, star anise and more, sweetened with half a teaspoon of condensed milk. She ate porridge religiously first thing in the morning for years, never letting my mom forget to grind nuts fine enough to sprinkle on top. With the golden milk at the front of my mind, I returned home from the picket line. I plopped on my couch and watched Iron Chef Quest for an Iron Legend, Battle Milk, and crooned over Chef Curtis Duffy and Chef Dominique Crenn’s plates.
Milk is an ingredient drenched in sentimentalism. It’s the base of classics like ice cream, custards, and decadent drinks; and it’s often the first place we get our nutrients, due to its association with motherhood. When I saw Chef Duffy’s first course, I swooned over the playfulness; a cow milk custard with scallops and pickled mushrooms castled in a smokey glass chamber.
After seeing his dish, I challenged myself to utilize coconut milk as a base ingredient throughout the month. On Mother’s Day, while simmering coconut milk and chicken stock, I called my grandmother. Her voice grizzled through the other line trying to make up enough energy to tell me, “keep the faith” as she usually does. She doesn’t know about the strike. My instinct is to assure her I’m okay; but I realize that like Chef Duffy’s dish, I’m trapping smoke in a container. I tell people not to worry about me, because people always affirm that they don’t worry about me. At what point do I unlearn toxic self-dependency due to people’s perception of my strength? While adding grits to the simmering coconut milk-stock, I tell my grandmother “I’m trying” and she pauses for a moment. A sharp tingle courses through my body. She continues “Thank you for giving me insulin for all those years. Don’t think I don’t remember.” “Of course, you’re welcome,” I replied.
Words, much like pickled ingredients, have this interesting ability where it brightens and refreshes the palate. It’s the acute silence between your nerve endings and your brain when it registers that these are your grandmother’s final words. Sometimes these ingredients are meant to reset and awaken, but when acid reacts with milk, the composition breaks. I watched the pickled mushrooms in Chef Duffy’s dish lean against the scallop and charred scallions. They sat atop a silky white custard next to little peaks of reddish-orange pudding. The sous-chef adds tiny crests of custard and pudding on the underside of the lid and adds smoke into the glass vessel.
(Chef Duffy’s Cow Milk Custard, Iron Chef Quest for an Iron Legend)
I reflect on that dish as its own tiny ecosystem and a reflection of grief. In this body, I house my frustration surrounding my industry, a diminishing bank account, and now loss of a loved one. They all mingle together in a jar, where Chef Duffy takes the opposite end of a lid and seals the vessel closed with the back of a heated saucepan.
May, We Mourn
For months, I’ve been focusing on getting prepped for the strike. Though it has begun, my body wants to postpone my sadness to be there for my mother. But I can’t. Between drafts of the obituary and family calls, fear crowds my stomach. The strike started two weeks ago, and my unemployment will run out next month. Friends and coworkers sent money, and I was able to fly, comfort my parents, and help with funeral arrangements. My mother is like me where her ability to do many things at once seemingly masks the grief; but even so when I stepped in my parents’ home, my grandmother’s death drew back the lid, releasing wisps of smoke into the air. I haven’t eaten. My mother hasn’t eaten. Two people are at a table overworking themselves to dispel sadness. I huffed, rose from my chair, and walked towards the kitchen.
I fumbled through the pantry as Iron Chef roared in the background. I emerge with my arms stuffed to my neck with cans of coconut cream, coconut milk, and a huge bottle of honey. I glimpse at the tv and watch Chef Dominique Crenn walk over to a large pot while holding a mountain of bonito flakes. My mom is at the table trying to talk up a minister for the funeral while I’m coming to terms with how delicate faith is. Before this, my mother told me as an act of confidence and clarity, that I should pray and fast over the strike. I couldn’t stomach it. I see faith as Chef Crenn dumping her bonito mountain into a pot and turning away, knowing they will dissolve into the milky broth without her interruption. It’s when she pours the custard into bowls, stuff it in the fridge, then proclaims it as chawanmushi upon its emergence. My mother tells me to make an act of faith as she talks to a second minister; but does not understand that plunging a knife into a pineapple miles away from home without knowing where the next check will come from is the largest expression of faith I have exhibited in years. In the background, the clock keeps ticking down for Iron Chef Crenn, and mom is on a call with her third minister. I accept I know nothing except that despair does not disappear overnight and that my mom and I love virgin Pina coladas.
(Iron Chef Crenn’s Cow Milk Chawanmushi, Iron Chef Quest for an Iron Legend on Netflix)
I rose from my seat to get the Pina colada ingredients marinating in the freezer. When I opened the pouch, I unleashed hints of cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The semi-thick slices of pineapple swished in the spice infused coconut cream and poured it all in a blender. Between blitzes, I watched Iron Chef Crenn delight her bowl with dried sweet potato stems surrounding the chawanmushi to resemble a nest. I take a deep breath and open the blender hatch. Like my grandmother’s morning porridge, the scent of the spices swam in the air. I pour the drink into two large glasses to eat with our leftovers. Mother hangs up from the fourth minister, we look at each other and begin working on her mother’s obituary.
June and Everything Else Thereafter
Grief doesn’t postpone its antics for you to finish your current tribulation. My grandmother’s death felt like laminating layers in biscuits. You keep the bowl and all of the ingredients cold. Experiencing the effects of the AMPTP on support staff, like ageism, racism, and creating blockades for growth, affected me for years. Time is limited. Why do I need to use so much of it struggling? Incorporate the butter into the flour until it feels like sand by massaging the contents into the tips of your fingers. The day we buried my grandmother I kept remembering her and my mother’s insistence on “faith.” Cheddar, mix, buttermilk, mix— watching the AMPTP’s cruel intimidation tactics never made my faith waver, but it sure as hell made me angrier. By making it clear that they’re looking to “…allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses…” you’re testing the vigor of people desperate to survive and save their industry. We’re aware we are being taken advantage of.
Union members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, along with crew and support staff were already struggling before the strike. Some WGA members had to go on EBT, utilize their final bits of savings to get to their job on set, only for the show to get canceled, worked hard on a script to only receive five bucks in residuals, the list goes on. Shape, flip, flatten— I don’t remember eating the morning of my grandmother’s funeral. I just remember being angry that I was broke, sad, and couldn’t do anything to solve either of those problems. My tears of losing a loved one, and the anger of fighting to sustain myself merged into one another. Roll out, shape, fold, rotate—slowly my body laminates into flakey layers of disgust. Fold—I watched them close the casket one last time—press, rotate—lower her into the earth—rollout, fold, press—cover the pit with soil, and think this is how the AMPTP expects to bury us. Expect us to see the deadening of our craft to AI as inevitable as death. They cut us out in the middle of our work, and erase the evidence of our creations and want us to be dried out so that we can return to the bargaining table accepting scraps. Cut, shape, brush with cream, bake and wait.
Two weeks after the funeral, on Juneteenth, I lost my unemployment benefits and was overwhelmed with anger and solidarity. Labor movements like the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes are important because future generations need to understand the importance of union solidarity. Our labor issues ripple into our personal lives off-set. For the last few months, I’ve been trying to take leftovers and curate whatever magic I could muster. There are days I’m emotionally exhausted and don’t have the emotional energy to get up and eat. One week you’re busy, wondering when the next check will come, the other you’re contemplating how to stretch ingredients to limit visits to the supermarket. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA will win because they’ve remained firm even as they struggled during golden periods of media. Union members and pre-WGA/SAG-AFTRA support staff like me understand that this fight is for the future of our craft. We’ve been underpaid, undervalued, and unable to grow.
(Biscuits w/ Turkey Sausage & Mushroom Gravy)
But my favorite part about biscuits is when they come out of the oven: when you break it open and steam rises out of the buttery blankets. So, we’ll protect the picket line as long as it is necessary with a soft-warm biscuit in one hand and a quippy picket sign in the other, because the future of our industry depends on it. Every worker deserves a livable wage, a comfortable life, and should not have to live with the stress of wondering where the next meal will come from. Remove from the oven, serve, and enjoy.
(Upon the completion of this essay the WGA has been on strike for 109 days. SAG-AFTRA began their strike on July 14th and has been on strike for 37 days.)
Cover image via Ranker