Veselka, Ukraine, and the Joys of Solidarity Eats
Easy and helpful ways to plug in.
Happy Saturday and welcome back to The Crunchwrap!
In this issue, we’re talking pierogis, Denzel, and daylight savings. It’s March 19—the birthdays of some of the worst possible entrants for a game of FMK possible: Harvey Weinstein, Adolf Eichmann, and Neil LaBute. At any rate, um, HAPPY SPRING!
I’m gonna ramble a bit here, but I’ve been wringing my hands lately because few things are more irritating than empty gestures of solidarity in the time of social media. I’ve complained here about this before, even as I’ve proven to be an offender/that guy.
In the summer of 2020, I went to BLM rallies, raised money for bail funds, and participated in the dissemination of whatever timely articles, tweets, and takedowns that the moment seemed to require. Sure, my long-term understanding of a lot of critical aspects about racism in the U.S. has shifted, but when this Netflix-themed call-to-action appears from time to time, I cringe because I’m the exact person it’s indicting:
Finding ways to plug into what’s happening—whether it’s Ukraine or Yemen or Texas or Xinjiang—is a challenge in a time when meaningful acts get supplanted by hollow, digital ones. Much has been thoughtfully said about the bias that makes Ukraine a bigger story than others, but at a point, it’s counterproductive to critique people for caring about something.
On Tuesday, I met a friend visiting from California out at Veselka, a Ukrainian cafe in the East Village. Opened in 1954 by Ukrainian refugees fleeing the U.S.S.R., Veselka became one of those iconic wee-hours East Village mainstays that caters to carb-lovers, night owls, emo be-turtlenecked NYU kids, and people seeking a measure of culinary divergence from drunk pizza. As the memes say, IYKYK.
I feel silly Chandsplaining Veselka to a subscriber list that’s 60 percent based in New York, but I’ll also argue that affection for Veselka increasingly has elements of being generational. I was part of the last wave of recent college grads/young arrivals who moved to New York City in the years when Manhattan was still the first stopping point for many kids with enough family support to grind it out at low-paying jobs and live on the southern part of the island. I’m painting with an enormously broad brush here, but once rents in the city surged and Brooklyn/Queens/North Jersey/etc. became an even bigger first-stop destination for the newly lettered dingdongs of America to go, places like Veselka faded as a locus of self-styled Real New York myth-making.
Veselka still has its magic and in recent weeks, people have been lining up around the block to eat there as a de facto way to show support for Ukraine. The restaurant is decked out with Ukrainian flags, posters of support, and piles of supplies slated for donation to nonprofits supporting Ukraine. It’s also empowering customers to donate to relief efforts by selling borscht and other items.
Did I save the world? No, I’m just one of several million idiots with a newsletter, access to Ukrainian food, and the admittedly limited capacity to donate. But, in a way that seemed real, going to a place where much of the staff and ownership is Ukrainian felt important, while posting about it and its fundraising efforts also seemed productive.
These kinds of steps can have a payoff, in a personal way and in the public consciousness and beyond. On Thursday, CBS This Morning, America’s most popular morning show for the 25-54 demo, ran a segment on Veselka, its renascent popularity, and its relief efforts. Sure, it included the sentence “Veselka is serving up traditional Ukrainian food…with a side of hope,” but there’s not much you can do about that.
At the very least, it’s a reminder to others that this crisis is still ongoing, there are ways to feel connected to it without needing to know a ton about it and there are easy ways to help, and that the solidarity matters deeply to some out there. And then, if you’re feeling inclined, maybe you check out a group like HIAS, which is lobbying the Biden administration to speed up family reunification and refugee resettlement policies to give the 5 million displaced Ukrainians (internally and externally) more help and a place to go.
This is a 23-minute-long interview with Denzel Washington on the generally lovable Showtime talk show Desus & Mero. It’s funny as hell and full of surprising details you wouldn’t get on Fresh Air. I’m actively searching my mind for a more life-affirming 23-minute portion of the year 2022 and coming up blank. Five stars, highly recommend:
Snack of the Week: Stuffed Cabbage (Holubsti) + Beet and Horseradish Salad + Black Coffee
Nu, what else?
I can’t make it sound compelling, BUT this interview with Stalin expert Stephen Kotkin about Russia, Putin, and the nature of despotism is one of the best things I’ve read about the Ukraine crisis.
Of all the scammer-themed content out there in circulation right now, I suggest checking out “The Dropout” on Hulu about Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos grift. It’s really well-written and fun.
Basically all of Indiana and Michigan will have their share of 10 AM sunrises if the new Senate bill that would make daylight saving time permanent. Check out a neato(!) map here.
That’s it for this week. Thanks as always for reading!