OyChicago articles

Whole Hog

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When I became a vegetarian, I started to understand a bit about keeping kosher.


Ghosts of barbeques past...

My sometimes-combative relationship with food started during The Great Squash-Off of 1985. I was eight, my friend Bevin was over for dinner, and we were told we had to try to the squash. This was the first time in my life my dad insisted I eat something I didn’t want.

Bevin smashed her squash into her potatoes and encouraged me to do the same—she was always a bit more diplomatic than I. We were about to miss The Cosby Show and Family Ties and it was, after all, only one bite. But I knew. If I tried it, I would be taking bites of things I didn’t want for the rest of my life. Eggs, sloppy Joes, kitten toes…

My dad held his ground. Bevin was driven home, I missed my TV shows and I sat there looking at the cold lump of squash until bedtime. But I won and was never again asked to take a bite of something I didn’t want.

Since that fateful Thursday in the 80s, I have maintained self-imposed dietary restrictions, mostly involving condiments, foods that are white and foods that are not clearly a liquid or a solid. And recently I made the transition from picky eater to picky vegetarian.

It’s been interesting trying to explain my decision, and it’s gotten me thinking about people who keep kosher. People get that keeping kosher is about religion and tradition, so not many people ask why when someone says they follow a kosher diet. However, I’m someone who was spotted at a fourth of July pig roast just last summer eating directly from the pig’s body—so I understand where they’re coming from when people ask why.


Yes, that's THE whole hog

Despite my not-so-distant past as a bacon-lover—and my hesitation to talk about them at the risk of sounding preachy—I do have strong beliefs: I think that the way most animals being raised for food are treated is terrible. The meat production industry is repulsive. The toll of meat production on the environment scares me. And the older I get, the more trouble I have with the idea of eating something that once was alive.

Unlike people who keep kosher, my beliefs have nothing to do with religion or with tradition. They are personal and political and have more to do with how I’m becoming the person I want to be. But, for the first time, I understand a little more about what it means to keep kosher; not just the logistics, but the feeling you get from choosing to live a certain way, even when it’s difficult, because you believe in something.

A few weeks ago, I went to my first Cubs game of the year. I used to love (and honestly, I still love them, but now from afar) hot dogs and looked forward to my first ballpark dog each season. But this year, sitting in my little green seat with a pretzel that managed to have the consistency of both sawdust and paste, I was envious—at a very base level—of the kosher diet, which allows for all the Vienna beef you want.

But I get it now, I think, the difference between being a picky, stubborn squash-hater and choosing not to eat something I like because of what I believe in. So until Wrigley steps up with a veggie dog, I’ll have to be content with my pretzel.

Documenting the Pretty-Gritty

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Joey Garfield and his muse, the hip hop pigeon

Joey Garfield says he thinks in pictures. And lucky for us, he makes a living sharing those images with the world through his documentary films. “I’m a visual guy. That’s how I express myself best,” he says.

After directing Style Wars Revisited, a documentary on graffiti art, Garfield realized he could make films about stuff he actually liked. Like beatboxing. His feature film,  Breath Control : History of the Human Beatbox, chronicles the history of the art form through the eyes of the masters, including Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie and Rahzel. Garfield also introduces some fresh talent, showing that beatboxing is still thriving on the city streets.

Anyone can make beats. It is a universal language that crosses cultural divides and neighborhood borders. Joey Garfield’s love of beatboxing began in the halls of Evanston Township High School in the ‘80s, when the hip hop wave came crashing across the country. Making beats, break dancing and graffiti art were THE things to do, and anyone could do them—you didn’t need tools, gear or instruments. You just needed yourself and your creativity.

“I love stuff that feels real,” Garfield says. And he transfers that love along with the energy of the artists themselves into the film and onto the audience. Watching the beatboxers in Breath Control literally makes your jaw drop. How can they be creating the sounds of an entire drum set AND a bass line all at the same time using only their voice? There must be a catch.


Yuri Lane and Joey Garfield fight for their right ... to the mic

At a recent screening, local human beatboxer Yuri Lane was on hand to prove that these guys don’t have pockets full of tiny drums. He demonstrated how beatboxing can fill an auditorium and wowed the crowd with his unique blend of harmonica and beatbox. The energy was contagious and while everyone was cheering, a three-year-old in the audience got inspired and started trilling her lips together.

I was inspired too, but not to start making beats. As an artist, I was curious what advice Garfield had for others trying to make a career out of what they love to do. His response was quick: Know business; know what you’re good at and do that. Following his own advice has paid off. He has been recognized with several awards—most recently Fuel TV’s Emerging Filmmaker award—for doing what he does best and knowing what he loves to do.

Garfield is now documenting his love of other art forms onto film. One of the original Barnstormers , he is currently working on a documentary about how a group of urban artists ended up painting old tobacco farms in rural North Carolina. He also brought performance artist Bill Shannon’s unique dance with crutches to the screen in the music video for RJD2's "Work It Out."


In his own way, Garfield is continuing the Jewish tradition of storytelling. He credits his Jewishness with giving him an outside view on life and says that perspective has helped him see situations objectively and in constructive and creative ways—a skill central to the work of a director.

Today he needs a little more gear to document stories on film than he needed in the old days breakdancing and making beats. But he is still working with universal themes of art, music and passion for life. His interests and directing style fall somewhere between the pretty and the gritty of life. “If it’s pretty-gritty or gritty-pretty, I can do that,” he says.

Check out Garfield’s site for current clips and future projects.

8 Questions for Cindy Levine, seller of happy food, people person, cookbook reader

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Oy!'s own Sarah Follmer gets the best assignment ever!

Cindy Levine once was a social worker involved in job placement programs and recruiting—she never expected to use those skills to land herself a new job. Growing up on the east coast, Cindy always dreamed of having a shop. And when she saw old-fashioned bakeries popping up in other cities, but not in Chicago, she knew it was time to trade in her social worker’s hat for a baker’s apron. Six years later, Sweet Mandy B’s—named for her children, Mandy and Brian—is a city-wide favorite, and popular with the celebrity set. Barbra Streisand gave Sweet Mandy B’s cupcakes a shout-out in front of a packed Allstate Arena during a recent tour.

So whether Funny Girl is your favorite movie, you’re a closeted country music fan, or just have a sweet tooth, Cindy Levine is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually wanted to be a psychologist, and I have a master’s in social work. Definitely something in social work or counseling.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
The environment. I’m happy selling happy food that makes people walk out with smiles on their faces. I particularly love the kids and their reactions. They just light up. I also love the people I work with. I have wonderful employees and feel fortunate to spend time with them.

3. What are you reading?
I’m always reading cookbooks; that’s my bedtime reading, in a sense. I’m reading the  Girls of Riyadh  right now. A friend recommended it, and I’m enjoying it. But I’m definitely always reading cookbooks. I love to read about food.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago?
My favorite place… oh boy. I’m partial to little neighborhood Italian places. I’ve been into Riccardo Trattoria recently.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
A way not to gain weight!

6. Would you rather have the ability to fly or the ability to be invisible?
Invisible. I’m very curious.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
I get a little embarrassed about some of my country music. Being a city girl, a lot of times people don’t understand my interest in it. They turn it off here at the bakery real quick.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I’ve recently started lighting candles for Shabbat and having challah. I’ve enjoyed reintroducing myself to that.

2.0 In the 312

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The next generation of the web is being developed right here in Chicago.    


They used Planypus and all ended up here together

After the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, it became clear that the companies that survived had something in common: websites that were more interactive, collaborative and dynamic than the ones that had collapsed. This survival of the fittest was dubbed Web 2.0. Since then, the term has come to represent everything from social networking sites and wikis to blogs and YouTube. Meet two local Jews, part of the 2.0 explosion, who are finding better ways to work the web.

More like Wevite
When Stan Mazo graduated from college, he realized he no longer lived within five blocks of his entire social network, and his repertoire of frequented bars and restaurants had increased exponentially. His friends were experiencing the same thing, so they put together a tool to simplify the long e-mail chains and back-and-forth text messaging that preceded every outing.  

At first, the online tool used between the group of friends was just that. But as time went on, Mazo and the others began coming home from their day jobs and committing their evenings to tweaking the site. “It became my passion,” Mazo says. “When you love something, you want to evangelize to others.” In 2005, Mazo, Yan Pritzker, Alex Chizhik, Alex Antonov and Anton Mostovoy named the tool Planypus and committed themselves to bringing to the public to what had begun as their own private social planner.

While it might draw an immediate comparison to Evite, Planypus is better thought of as a wiki for your social life. Collaboration is its main feature, as details such as time and location can be voted on and a separate “planspace” is designated for discussion about issues such as where to meet, who can bring wine to the dinner party or who will be on what flight for an upcoming ski trip.

In order to keep track of all the variables, Planypus has a convenient notification system in which you can receive an e-mail or text message when any new plan, comment, announcement or final decision is made. If you’d rather keep your inbox free of constant notifications, settings can be changed so that you only receive them for same-day plans.

Planypus, which was named when one of the founders returned from a trip to Australia and was asked in a start-up meeting whether he had seen a platypus, is also refreshingly free of ads. Mazo and company prefer bringing in revenue through partnering with event-centric websites, which allow them to turn their event listings into interactive destinations.

Planypus becomes embedded into the host site to allow (the host) to build a community around their events and make their event listings more useful and relevant to their users,” Mazo says. Once the embedding occurs, the host site is provided with a statistical analysis of user planning activity, and they can use the information to make their editorial content better fit how people use their site.

Mazo, who recently used Planypus to organize a seder with nearly 30 of his friends, added, “Planypus is sort of a marketplace of events, and it removes the barrier from suggesting an event or voicing your opinion.”

Staying simple
Jason Fried graduated from college in the mid-‘90s with a degree in finance, but he always had an inkling that his career wouldn’t follow a typical path. “I didn’t want to go work in a bank,” he says. “I always wanted to start my own business, and the web was really starting to hit then. No one was an expert in web design at that point, so I picked it up and went with it.”

Fried took a job in San Diego but “realized pretty quickly [he] wasn’t built to work for other people.” After less than a year, he picked up and moved back to Chicago, his hometown and the city where he had the biggest support network to stand by him in his newest undertaking – starting his own web design company.


This guy made a successful venture even more successful

He co-founded 37signals, named for the 37 radio telescope signals that are potential messages from extraterrestrial intelligence, in 1999. Initially, the company did web design for external clients. As business boomed, Fried and his co-workers decided they needed a better way to manage their client projects.

We looked around the market to see what kind of products were out there, and nothing was ideal at all,” he says. “They were slow and confusing and had too many features, so we decided to build our own.” After receiving positive feedback when clients saw the web-based project management tool, Fried decided the product might be useful to a wider population. He dubbed the tool Basecamp and put it on the market in early 2004.

Within a year, Basecamp was generating more revenue than the web design side of the company, so Fried adapted. Since the release of Basecamp, 37signals has released three main web-based applications: Backpack, a personal information manager and intranet for small businesses; Campfire, a real-time, business-oriented chat service; and Highrise, a contact manager.

In distinguishing 37signals’ products from the competition, Fried, a Wicker Park resident, echoes his company’s focus on simplicity. “The fundamental difference with our products is that they do less than others,” he says. “Most programs go overboard, but we focus on the basics and make sure our products are clear, easy to use and enjoyable.” The formula is one that has proven popular, as 37signals’ revenue has doubled every year since 2004 and Basecamp alone has more than 2 million account holders.

In addition to operating their own successful web applications, one of 37signals’ programmers created the framework that is widely credited as providing the spark for the Web 2.0 revolution. Ruby on Rails, created by David Heinemeier Hansson to build Basecamp, is the web application framework that allows for rapid development of collaborative sites. And while Fried called Web 2.0 a “marketing term,” he went on to say that Basecamp “was the first web-based application in the world that held up as an example that Web 2.0 could actually be successful and generate revenue.”

It’s hard to predict what will be next in the rapidly advancing world of the web, but it’s a fairly safe bet that Mazo and Fried will be two of the people leading the 3.0 revolution.

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