Local food journalism from 5000 miles away
A peek at how it's practiced on the opposite side of the globe
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Even by Romanian standards, Iaşi doesn’t qualify as Southern. The nation’s second largest city, celebrated for its longstanding support of art, culture, and higher education, is sited near the northern end of the Moldovan border.
But Iaşi is today making an appearance in The Food Section because it’s covered by Alex Enășescu, another journalist who received a Substack Local grant to support his publication’s launch.
When Substack first announced the names of its grant recipients, the company didn’t have any plans for us to meet one another, since a core principle of the Substack platform is its users function as independent publishers.1 But now we have a semi-active Slack channel and sporadic Zoom meetings because it felt silly not to swap intel with a bunch of folks trying to figure out how to best serve their communities.
In other words, even though we live all over the world, we’re all in the business (and boy, is Substacking a business) of sharing and contextualizing information. That’s what I try to do with The Food Section, and it’s what my new friend Alex does with Iaşul Nostru, or Our Iaşi.
Alex sometimes writes about tasting menus and restaurant openings, as well as the weather, construction projects, and Teacher of the Year honorees, because he’s an upstanding local reporter. But I wanted to share his most recent chef writeup, which concerns a topic on everyone’s minds right now.
“On Thursday morning, I found Marian in the kitchen, slicing chicken legs,” Alex wrote in his last newsletter. “Although he is perhaps the most appreciated chef in Iaşi, Marian Zancianu treats the meals he prepares for refugees with the same attention as refined dishes from Zori.”
As Alex reports, “a really popular chef from Bucharest” recruited Zancianu to join World Central Kitchen’s effort to prepare meals for millions of Ukrainians fleeing Russian bombs. Zancianu is still serving baby octopus salad and wine-sauced duck by night, but spends every morning in an Orthodox church canteen, readying hundreds of single-portioned hot dinners.2
“You would say that this should not be the case in 2022, just as we should not see cars crushed by Russian tanks, bombed parks and a president chased by assassins,” Alex wrote when the war started. “But here it happens, not far from Iaşi.”
That’s local journalism for you. And like so much quality local journalism, it’s relevant far beyond Romania.
If you’re not paying for The Food Section, here’s what you didn’t get to read this week:
A look into what it will take for Alabama to fix the mistakes on a historical marker honoring civil rights hero and cook Georgia Gilmore.
An explanation of why there are now more Venezuelan food trucks traveling South Carolina’s streets.
When pressed to explain my relationship with Substack—beyond the yearlong cash influx—I usually tell Gmail users to think of it in terms of their relationship with Google.
Adi Hădean, the popular Bucharest chef, has discouraged Romanians from showing up at World Central Kitchen sites to volunteer: “It is difficult to work in the kitchen with people who are not cooks because everyone has to know what to do, so as not to endanger the food or the people who make it.” He instead endorsed cash donations, which those at a distance from the conflict zone can contribute through World Central Kitchen’s website.