Winter 2020

No more undercover food critics

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

It’s 2006 and Jeff Ruby, food critic for Chicago magazine, is being interviewed by the History Channel. In attempts to keep an undercover profile, like most food critics do, Ruby shaves his beard for the first time in 10 years and dyes his natural red hair jet black. To make himself even more unrecognizable, he decides to wear a baseball cap and glasses. Over a decade later, Ruby says the History Channel still airs his segment periodically, usually late at night. Despite his elaborate efforts, he almost always gets a text from a friend suspecting it’s him.

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Creating a TRiiBE of her own

By Grace Asiegbu
Medill Reports

On the ninth floor of the historic Nichols Tower on the West Side of Chicago sits a shared workspace with creaky floors and the smell of old books. Tiffany Walden, 31, walked out of a corner office with a bright smile. Tiffany relayed all the meetings and work she hadn’t completed, but seemed to be relaxed and unfazed.

The TRiiBE is an outlet created by Walden and Morgan Johnson, who is also an Northwestern alumna. Launched in 2017, the site focuses primarily on stories and events that happen in predominantly black neighborhoods in Chicago. The authors of many pieces on the site are either Walden, Johnson, freelancers who are also black. The TRiiBE exists exclusively online and it has sections dedicated to the people (non-journalists who write op-eds), the culture (pieces written by journalists) and the works (art and prose written by creatives). There are also sections for people to peruse upcoming events in the city and (the scene) and retail merchandise (the store). It is updated on a weekly basis with content.

“The writing bug hit me when I was young. Maybe like 8 or 9. I always had a gift for writing and a passion for it. I just didn’t know how to be a writer,” Walden said.

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Journalist Teryn Payne speaks to challenges Black women face in the industry

By Grace Asiegbu
Medill Reports

Teryn Payne, director of strategic communications and logistics for Chance the Rapper and former deputy editor and project manager of the Chicagoist, walked into Dollop Coffee Company in relaxed, casual joggers and a sweatshirt under her black puffer coat. Payne, 25, sits somewhere between communications newbie and magazine veteran. While the Chicagoist website says it “will be launching later” and tells readers to enjoy the archives, she confirmed there is no set date yet. She discussed how to look for jobs and follow your dreams.

How did you get to where you’re at right now?

My first job was at Ebony. It’s crazy the way I got it. Kathy Chaney [now at the Sun-Times], was the NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) president at the time, and she worked at Ebony. When I was on my job search, she had just gotten hired as a managing editor. I knew her a little bit because she visited my undergraduate NABJ chapter. I wanted to move to New York, and they had an office in New York. She put me in contact with the digital managing editor in New York. I had informational interviews. An informational interview is when you email an editor or hiring manager or HR person, and you tell them like, “Hey, I’m interested in applying. Can we just talk?” So, in that case, a job may not necessarily be open, but you can still establish that relationship with that person. In the magazine world, the turnover is so high. Somebody can say there’s nothing open this week and next week, the position will be open. The managing editor in the New York office wanted me to meet his boss, the editor-in-chief at the Chicago office. Of course, I took it seriously and met with her. I was so nervous because … she’s the editor-in-chief! She turned out to be one of the nicest — she’s like my mentor to this day. We just gelled in that moment.

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Beef mecca Buenos Aires shifts toward more vegetable options

By Dan Moberger and Colin Boyle
Medill Reports

Meat, especially beef, is deeply embedded in Argentina’s culture. Argentines consume more beef per capita than residents of any other country.

Family gatherings revolve around “asados,” which most Americans would call a barbecue. Sporting events, protests and everyday lunch breaks give locals a chance to try a variety of meats, often grilled at makeshift stands.

The country’s top eatery is a steakhouse called Don Julio Parilla. It’s ranked No. 34 by William Reed’s list of the world’s best restaurants. Traditional Argentine dishes include a schnitzel-like breaded meat cutlet, heavy cuts of steak, meat-stuffed empanadas and a chorizo sandwich fondly known as “choripan.”

Vegan and vegetarian diets have been growing in popularity across the world, but Argentina has been relatively intolerant of them, until now. Meat consumption in Argentina was at an all-time low in 2019. Vegans and vegetarians still face ridicule from meat-loving traditionalists, but they have an increasing array of options. Buenos Aires, the capital city, now has over 60 vegan or vegetarian restaurants.

The dip in meat consumption is explained by a variety of reasons. The rising popularity of vegetable-heavy or -only diets, more visible animal rights activism and the nation’s struggling economy all likely contributed. In this video, we go to the source and ask Porteños — as the people of Buenos Aires are called — about the cultural shift.

Photo at top: A plate of steak at Don Julio Parrilla in Buenos Aires is served up on a Tuesday afternoon at the world-famous steakhouse. (Colin Boyle/MEDILL)

Make room at the table: How a local restaurateur is helping to transform the culture of professional kitchens

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

On “Restaurant Row,” also known as Randolph Street, diners spend their savings on an unforgettable gastronomic experience. Just two blocks away, on the quieter Madison Street, lies a stationery store owned by a mother and daughter, a small used bookstore that smells of dusty paper and glue, and a restaurant, MAD Social, that celebrated its fourth anniversary in February.

There, a sprightly hostess brings guests to their tables and, just like clockwork, a server appears and offers water. During meals, busboys “manicure” rustic brown tables and replace used plates with fresh ones. Food runners, servers and bartenders work separately toward a common goal: to provide a memorable meal and exceptional service. Amid the organized chaos, a woman stands dressed in black from head to toe with her black hair tightly pulled back. She strides across the dining room as she brings guests to a table. Then, she scurries into the kitchen and reappears with a perfectly mounted Brussels sprouts salad and a sizzling burger with oozing cheddar cheese melting down the sides. Later, she’s clearing tables. She does all this while checking in with guests, making sure their steaks are prepared medium rare and their pasta is cooked al dente. Meet 35-year-old Gina Stefani, owner and manager of the new American gastropub, MAD Social.

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The do’s and dont’s of moving: How to save your stuff and your sanity when relocating

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

Whether your move is around the corner or across the country, relocating can be difficult and many unforeseen hiccups can arise. Here are some tips and tricks to help prepare you for the undertaking and lighten your load.

Packing advice

    1. For all of your belongings, Expert Movers, a professional moving service company, suggests you label each box with a number. Then, create a spreadsheet that indicates the corresponding contents of the box.
    2. Cover breakable items, such as dishes in bubble wrap. Make sure items don’t touch by using packing peanuts or paper as a divider.
    3. Use special boxes for other breakable items, such as picture frames or television screens. Wrap items in bubble wrap and place in cartons specifically made for large frames and television screens. This will prevent them from moving around and potentially cracking.
    4. Make sure lids are tightly sealed on food containers. To prevent leaks, place each item in a plastic bag before putting them in a box.
    5. Put liquid items, such as cooking oils and wine, in wine boxes. Visit your local liquor store and ask for extra wine boxes. It’s an easy way to prevent breakage without wrapping items individually. 
    6. Disperse heavy  items, such as files or textbooks,  across several boxes. Place these items at the bottom of the box and put lighter items, like office supplies, on top. Then no one box will be too heavy to move.
    7. Buy wardrobe boxes for clothes and shoes. Clothes can be easily hung and shoes can be easily stored in shoeboxes at the bottom of the box.
    8. Pack valuable items, such as expensive shoes and purses,  in plastic containers that allow for locked closure. This will prevent potential for theft.

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We, Not Me: An introduction to democratic socialism

By Joshua Skinner
Medill Reports

Socialism might simultaneously be the most feared and loved ideology in the world. The mere mention of the word conjures up visions of utopia and the most horrific crimes of the 20th century.

When Americans hear the word “socialism,” it’s just as likely to convey images of famine and genocide as it is democracy and cooperation.

That’s beginning to change. An upstart political party, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), is attempting to bring it’s brand of socialism to the United States, pitting itself as an alternative to both Democrats and Republicans.

A haven for American youth, the DSA has grown to over 60,000 members nationwide. But that number doesn’t reflect their political influence.

More importantly, nearly every account of the DSA isn’t through the eyes of its members, but from an outside perspective.

In We, not Me: An Introduction to Democratic Socialism, Medill Newsmakers breaks this trend, speaking with Chicago DSA members about their local and national vision, policies, and the best path forward for America.

Photo: Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to nearly 10,000 supporters at Grant Park in Chicago. (Joshua Skinner/MEDILL)

Ernest in our time: The Hemingway Birthplace Museum and the woman aiding its growth

By Hannah Farrow
Medill Reports

Carla Mayer walks up to the three-story 1890 Victorian home nestled on a quiet, tree-lined street in Oak Park and climbs the six front wooden steps and opens the left French door. Inside the foyer, she greets the intern working the desk and the elderly volunteer waiting for his tour group. She hangs up her coat with the others on the wall, walks into the living room and closes the door.

The 53-year-old mother of two started working at The Hemingway Birthplace Museum as the volunteer coordinator in May 2019 and, as her boss Keith Strom says, is a “godsend.” With a background in history and 20 years at Tyndale House Publishers, Mayer has implemented the first tour in Spanish, increased volunteer recruitment by 20% and uncovered new facts about Hemingway’s family. But beyond the growth, Mayer feels like she finally found her tribe among the volunteers, the place where she belongs. “These are people that love books and they love history,” Mayer says.

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Blackness in Puerto Rico

By Grace Asiegbu
Medill Reports

Driving down the winding roads of Piñones, cars are greeted with green leaves and bold flowers. Between barrios, roads are marked with bright, lively signs informing drivers of their current location. Soon the view shifts from natural vegetation to sights and smells of restaurants lining the strip.

People are buzzing in and out of the markets, visiting friends or buying groceries. Our vans turn into a lot, and we walk into a space lined all over with chestnut wood. The colonial Puerto Rican flag hangs next to the red, green and yellow flag of Loíza. The gaze of a vejigante mask follows us around the room, and a portrait of Puerto Rican laureate Arturo Schomberg frozen in perpetuity is framed on the wall.

Maricruz Clemente Rivera greets us with a wide smile as we walk into her space, a space that’s colorful and breezy. We are there to learn the art of bomba.

Bomba is a traditional Puerto Rican style of music and dance that stretches back centuries. It’s rumored bomba was created in 1501, but the first documentation of the dance was in 1787. Like many things in Latin American countries, it emerged as a means of survival for enslaved Africans during the transatlantic slave trade. Bomba originated in Loíza, the Capital of Tradition in Puerto Rico. Bomba is a percussive style of dance largely marked by the dancer and drummer having a conversation through the steps. It is a challenge between the drummer and the dancer, in which the drummer has to follow the dancer’s steps and anticipate their next step.

Clemente teaches bomba as a means of reconnecting to Puerto Ricans’ African heritage.

Maricruz Clemente gives historical context and racial analysis of bomba music and dance before the lesson begins. (Alison Saldanha/MEDILL)

“People don’t want to talk about slavery. We started with the music because it’s not as…scary,” Clemente said.

For Clemente, bomba is a symbol of African Puerto Rican history and it’s a way to celebrate a heritage some do not acknowledge. Loíza has Puerto Rico’s largest population of Black people, a number that sat around 6% in the 2010 Census. Yet according to Clemente, too many Loízans deny their Blackness.
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