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I Think About John Besh in My Sleep (and I Don’t Know What To Do About It)

Something I appreciate about writing is how, at least for me, it’s an internal conversation that allows me to clarify my thoughts.  Without it, I’m content to think I think x without challenge.  Without writing, I don’t have to dig in too deep.

But with writing…

I think something.  And then I write it.  And then I read it.  And, usually, when I read it, I don’t think I got my feelings down on paper TOTALLY right.  It’s close.  I’m not purposely lying.  But, it’s not as nuanced as it needs to be.
Here’s the example I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because it’s something I’ve been writing about daily: Why did I leave to go hike the Appalachian Trail?
 
At first, I thought it was simple.  I got dumped.  I realized I was hinging a lot of my happiness on that relationship and, when it was gone, there wasn’t much else in my life I was excited about.  That’s certainly a part of the truth.  It wasn’t a lie.  But as I thought about it more, and wrote about it more, and read about it and then re-thought about it, I realized it wasn’t the whole truth.
So what was the whole truth?  Good question, but I won’t answer that now because it should be its own blog entry, but that’s not what this one is about.  It should also be a large part of a book.  Stay tuned.
That’s something I love about writing.  But something I love about blogging is, when it’s done the way I like it best, it’s a way to extend the conversation from withing myself to others.  Not because I think others will benefit from hearing what I have to say, but because hearing what other people have to say also helps clarify my thoughts.
I’m not sure everyone agrees on that in regards to writing.  Sometimes writing feels so formal.  When someone releases a book, we might lend them too much authority.  Sure, hopefully they’re an expert on their topic at that point, but that doesn’t mean they’re THE expert.  They’re still human, they still have emotions, and so they’re still biased.

But a blog post, when compared to a book, feels a less formal way to submit something to the world and, I hope, lends itself an ongoing discussion.  “Here’s what I think right now, but I’m willing and excited to move, so please push back.”

All that to say — this post has nothing to do with me pretending I know answers.  It has everything to do with me asking questions.

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As it turns out, any buffoons can start a podcast!

I’m co-hosting a podcast with two of my buddies, Alex and Adam, and in the first episode, which is our attempt at putting together a list of the Top 5 pizza spots in New Orleans, we brought up Domenica, which led to a very brief discussion on John Besh.  For those that aren’t from New Orleans, Besh owns (owned?) several amazing restaurants in New Orleans, and — this Fall — was outed as a sexual predator.  Much of what we know of the incidents are documented here, though this has still left me — and many people I know in New Orleans — with the question, “Is it okay for me to eat at one of Besh’s restaurants?”

One of my regrets in episode #1 is I wish we would have taken more time to talk about this.  But we decided we should keep things moving along.

One bit that I’d love clarification on is, to what degree is he still involved with the restaurant group?  I know he’s no longer involved in their day-to-day, and I know he’s no longer the CEO (or whatever title he previously held), but I believe he is still a shareholder.  Is that correct?

And, if that’s the case, which I believe it is, then every time I support one of his group’s restaurants, he is profiting from that.  And it’s not like his restaurants are tangentially related to his crimes.  He used his power over his employees to turn them into his victims of sexual assault.  And he became wealthy and famous while doing it.  Should I continue to fuel his fortune?
So maybe I should no longer frequent those restaurants.  Domenica, August, Borgne, and so many others.
But they’re so fucking delicious.  They’re some of the best restaurants in the city.
In his nonfiction book, Eating Animals — part history of his family, part history of our relationship with food, and part moral dilemma — Jonathan Safran Foer indirectly, but poignantly, addresses the point through an excerpt of a story his grandmother tells him about her life as a Jew in Europe during World War II.

“Then it all changed. During the war it was hell on earth, and I had nothing. I left my family, you know. I was always running, day and night, because the Germans were always right behind me. If you stopped, you died. There was never enough food. I became sicker and sicker from not eating, and I’m not just talking about being skin and bones. I had sores all over my body. It became difficult to move. I wasn’t too good to eat from a garbage can. I ate the parts others wouldn’t eat. If you helped yourself, you could survive. I took whatever I could find. I ate things I wouldn’t tell you about.

“The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”

“He saved your life.”

“I didn’t eat it.”

“You didn’t eat it?”

“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?”

“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”

“Of course.”

“But not even to save your life?”

“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.

I think it’s unequivocally terrible what Besh did.  I bought pizza at his restaurant last week.

I think the way we treat animals bred for our dinner plates is horrid.  I eat meat daily.

I worry aloud about the spiraling state of our environment.  What do I do to back up my words?

It wouldn’t be that hard to stop eating at John Besh restaurants.  But then you hear the rebuttal, “Well, that would punish the employees who work there.  Boycotting could result in their hours being cut or their jobs being lost.”
Yup, also a good point.
So what do we do?  I’d love to hear your thoughts — comment away here or on my Facebook page.
And, if you’re interested, give our podcast a listen here.  Episodes are relatively short, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

9 thoughts on “I Think About John Besh in My Sleep (and I Don’t Know What To Do About It)”

  1. Matt—such a valuable and thoughtful question! My boyfriend and I debated the same thing as we strolled into Pizza Dominica two nights ago to pick up our take-out.

    I ask the same questions of myself and find it convenient (ethical or not) to cherry-pick. I recycle, reduse waste, and avoid shopping at fast-fashion clothing stores where I can. I donate to causes that support people who are harmed or underserved by or government. But I avert my eyes or mouth “sorry” at red lights when people in need come by my window with signs. And I scroll past heartbreaking videos of Syrian children on social media.

    I struggle with the above actions because they strike me as inconsistency in my character. But your post is making me second-guess that assumption. Maybe the pang of guilt or the questioning is our way of morally grappling with the fact that we can’t do it all, not even close. Maybe it’s our consciences trying to remind us to make sacrifices in instances when we know we can make a difference.

    I’m writing in circles. I feel a lot of anger toward Besh. I don’t know how as an individual to punish him without hurting those who work at his restaurants. All I know is that I feel guilty each time I spend money at one of his restaurants, and that guilt keeps me from being a regular. Maybe that’s enough?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leigh! I’m sorry it took so long to write back. I think I was hoping I could come up with something smarter to your thoughtful response.

      I hear you that we can’t do it all (not even close, as you pointed out), and that we need to pick where we can make a difference. And, I think if I take the time to isolate and think about what I care about, I can probably come up with something that’s better than doing nothing. (And maybe that’s the most important part — not letting the desire to get it all right at once stop us from making incremental change).

      If I want to help the folks with signs at traffic stops, maybe I make a five or six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each day and keep them in my backpack. I can hand them out when I get asked for help.

      If I want to be more critical with how I spend my money at former (?) Besh establishments, maybe I first just take the time to dig in and find out to what degree he’s still benefiting.

      If I want my eating habits to better align with my feelings on the treatment of animals, maybe I can start by limiting the number of meals with meat I eat each week.

      I don’t know — just brainstorming! I’d love to grab a beer sometime if you’re in town and you have some time now that school’s out for summer!

      Talk to you soon,
      Matt

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  2. You would have appreciated my daughter’s bat mitzvah this morning as today’s Torah portion was about the virtues of keeping Kosher. My daughter could not understand why people still do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Shane! Sorry it took me so long to reply. Gosh, I’m trying to remember what my Torah portion was, back in the day.

      Want to get together for a Mets game next week? Our time as an above .500 time might be waning!

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      1. I went to Ireland alone.
        Well, Ireland was the goal. To get to Ireland I had to conquer the obstacles in my heart and mind along the way. Amazing journey of freedom. 😀

        Like

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