Communism In A Bottle

Communist Wine_Rachel SignerThere was a pivotal moment when I realized that wine was more than just a beverage. Being an agricultural product, wine represents a confluence of politics, history, language, and economics; it was this multidimensional nature of wine that pulled me in, along with its ability to knock you out with a particularly ethereal bottle.

On a recent trip to Hungary, I had a moving experience tasting a bottle of wine made during the Communist era. Hungary’s wine industry has moved on since the fall of that regime, but it’s still worthwhile, I think, to revisit the period of State production and consider its legacy.

Read my piece on MUNCHIES.

Chef Amanda Cohen Is Leading The No-Tipping Revolution In NYC

Originally published on Some photos mine, copyright protected.

Chef Amana Cohen EDITED
Chef Amanda Cohen, photo by Rachel Signer

If you’ve ever been a server, chances are you’ve watched your day’s wages disappear when snow or rain starts coming down hard, and all the reservations cancel. If you’ve ever been a line cook, most likely you’ve bitterly wondered why, with your culinary degree and rock-star knife skills, you’re earning the same hourly wage as the 19-year-old hostess who spends her time texting behind the podium.

Last fall, the Economic Policy Institute reported that 40 percent of restaurant workers live in poverty. And on top of providing low wages — maybe $12 per hour for a line cook in any critically-acclaimed restaurant in cities as expensive as L.A., New York, or San Francisco — very few restaurant jobs offer benefits like health insurance. Yet, many people, have chosen to pursue these careers because they love them and have culinary or service talent.

One chef in New York City is taking a stance against the unfair employment structure that pervades restaurants across the country.

Photo by Rachel Signer

Amanda Cohen’s vegetarian restaurant, Dirt Candy, recently re-opened in a new space, with an unusual proposition: no tipping. Instead, diners will pay an “administrative fee” of 20 percent on top of their meal price. Cohen’s workers are paid between $15-$25 per hour, with the exception of managers, who are salaried. Read more

Integration and Social Enterprise: A Talk for NYWSE #PSEItrip

Tomorrow I’m giving a talk to fifteen Princeton students on a tour of social entrepreneurship in New York City, which was organized by the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs group. I’m on a panel about media, tech, and other topics.

To collect my thoughts, I’ll outline my presentation here.

I. INTEGRATION: My person vision is about integrating interests/expertise areas that might seem divergent because of the way we are trained in Academia. For example, you might tell me that my interest in food and yoga belongs in a nutrition career, whereas my writing and  journalism form a separate career path, and my focus on social entrepreneurship is a business thing. But they all intersect, and furthermore, where one is lacking in something, the other offers that. I’ll explain.

These are my main interests:


These are presumably separate worlds, but they don’t have to be. In one week, I go from moderating a panel discussion between grass-fed meat farmers, to writing an article about real estate’s impact on the local food world, to teaching a yoga class, to attending a reading for a new novel at a bookstore (and working on my own manuscript). True, this is not a full-time job with benefits; however I am creating my own full-time career where I am integrating knowledge, social networks, and resources from each of these three main interests.

Whether I’m engaged in something focused on agriculture, journalism, or yoga, I’m always looking at how it can bleed into the other categories. The food world, yoga world, writing world, and social enterprise world can all be too insular and introspective, but if we can take one thing and bring it into the other spaces, new potentials open up.

II. SOCIAL ENTERPRISE JOURNALISM: For over a year, I wrote for a website called Unless you are involved in the social enterprise sector, you probably haven’t heard of it–which is the main issue I had with the site. I found it to be too insular and unable to appeal to wider audiences. And this is not the only case where I’ve seen this. Social enterprise journalism needs to be tied to broader interest stories in order to reach more people who don’t see themselves as social entrepreneurs. In fact, the words “social enterprise” are overused and becoming a catch phrase to symbolize a new kind of non-profit organization that’s just more cool-looking than its older counterparts. We need journalism that looks at social change and innovation from a public interest perspective, giving everyday readers a reason to read these stories about the small start-ups that are popping up everyday with the help of organizations like Echoing Green, as well as more established ones like Acumen Fund.

III. SOCIAL ENTERPRISE COMMUNICATIONS: It’s all about storytelling. Look to companies like IDEO to learn about how to apply storytelling to business-building. The current president of NYWSE, Kari Litzmann, has a web magazine as an integral part of her company, Rubina Design. Consumers want to learn about products and the people behind them, be entertained, and find ways to be engaged beyond giving up their dollars.

IV. THE FUTURE: I would like to see the concept of integration replacing the notion of social enterprise to some extent. How can individuals and organizations break down the barriers between academic disciplines, career goals, and ways of impacting the world?

Are “Millennials” Necessarily White & Middle-Class?

hipster2Hooray, there’s another article out about how Millennials are kinda poor and kinda don’t know what to do about it (besides, of course, making use of the “sharing economy”). I miss the “Hustlin” column in the late Good magazine, which highlighted ways that Millennials are pushing back against the trappings of the recession. At least that journalistic approach left room for Millennials to eventually come out on top–we will have 401Ks, goddammit! We will eventually marry and have kids! We might own a home someday if we ever settle down and get good jobs, which might happen if this Kickstarter campaign takes off . . .

But the more I read about “Millennialism,” the more I think that the media has brainwashed itself with this term. Is it just me, or does the notion of a “Millennial” culture implicitly exclude all but white, middle-class people?

Look at the rhetoric used in this recent Times Magazine story about how Millennials are suffering from permanent downward mobility (which is not news, so I have no idea why this article was even published–it uses old research by Neil Howe from 1991)Quoting Howe’s book directly, the journalist writes: “[Millennials] look at the house their parents live in and say, ‘I could work for 100 years and I couldn’t afford this place.'” That’s true if you grew up in the affluent suburbs. If you hail from a housing project in the Bronx, not so much. Read more

Good News: It’s a Golden Age for Writers


Says Esquire: “This fall alone, the number of big books published by major writers is astounding: Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and about a half dozen others. Not that the list has stopped anyone from complaining. Literary circles have been so full of pity for so long that they can’t accept the optimistic truth: We’re living in a golden age for writers and writing.”


NYC Event, Nov. 15: Abolish Debt!

Want to give $25 to help abolish $500 of someone else’s debt?

On Nov. 15th, at Le Poisson Rouge, come to The People’s Bailout:

a variety show and telethon to benefit the 99% featuring: Janeane Garofalo, Lizz Winstead, Max Silvestri, Hari Kondabolu, David Rees, The Yes Men, John Cameron Mitchell, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, Climbing Poetree, the Invisible Army of Defaulters, members of Healthcare for the 99%, Occupy Faith & many more

Tickets here.

My e-book: “Social Entrepreneurs Speak”

This summer, I decided to experiment with online publishing. I curated a selection of my interviews, essays, and articles on social entrepreneurship and social change that were originally written for, added an introductory essay (with help from a very astute editor), and made the thing into an e-book. Instead of going with the big mean publisher Amazon, I opted for a smaller company called Smashwords. They were a little slow in helping me with some of the problems I encountered with their production tools, but otherwise the process has been fairly straightforward.

Check out and buy the book here. Below is a description of what the book offers to readers. It’s on sale for $3.99–a veritable steal. And if you care to leave a review, I’ll appreciate that. (Or, I could just hire someone to do it…but I won’t.)

Book description: The media seems to be always stuck reporting on what’s wrong in the world–-an endless parade of economic, political, and cultural crises endangering the progress of history. If these problems are bigger than what the U.S. government, or the United Nations, or even the free market can handle, what hope is there of a solution?  Read more