Wednesday, 23 January 2013

FCC: Second Semester Kickoff, Local Food Culture and Bystander Intervention

And I loosely paraphrase: "When it comes to moments like these, I sit and try and figure out how to connect pizza with equality and how that can be packaged and presented by one of those cat memes." Amidst sharing and discussing a story that's resonated with me ever since I read this article in early January, Grant Stancliff and our three invited guests to the second semester kickoff of Denison's Food and Culture Colloquium imparted notes of humour alongside a wealth of experience from off-campus, repackaging a publicly intimate example of hate speech and bystander intervention for our Denison crowd. In the end, and I emphasize here before I continue, the reality we all must face is that what happened to Joel and Ethan could happen (and has recently happened) to anyone else throughout the entire spectrum of identity.

Earlier this month, I wrote this post explaining the inspiration for my first visit to Mikey's Late Night Slice. I briefly mentioned meeting Grant (Communications Manager of Equality Ohio) and Krista Benson (doctoral student and OSU instructor in the department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies). What I didn't mention was that after overhearing (and subsequently joining in on) their conversation regarding bystander intervention, I asked them to join this somewhat hazy idea of a panel I wanted to put together for our colloquium. All I knew at the time was that Mikey (CEO of Late Night Slice) agreed to join us and I was crossing my fingers that Joel Diaz (Chief Development Officer of AIDS Resource Center Ohio) would be able to find my message among the many I was sure he was receiving throughout and outside of the country. And still, it took me a while to focus and (I borrow the imagery presented above when I say this) connect what happened at LNS to our colloquium.

In the end, I took the route of situating this experience within the context of discussing local food culture (chiefly the Short North) and what lessons we can learn from such a public incident. We began with Joel who shared his take on the Short North and its food scene, and within that context shared with us his experience at LNS the Saturday night before the new year. In addition, he provided a context to help us understand at a distance Ethan's perspective. (N.B. I won't go into too much detail here as we'll eventually be able to link here the video of today's module.)

Whereas Joel and Ethan were a bit surprised with what happened in the brief exchange with the unknown "Mr. Homophobe," Mikey explained that he was not at all surprised of employee Levi's reaction. In fact, it took a while to realise that between Joel's Facebook post and article that "the story of the two guys holding hands at the pizza place" was going viral. (Ergo my concern I wouldn't be able to reach either of them.)

According to studies within the scope of bystander intervention, Krista suggested that given the larger number of bystanders what happened at LNS (in terms of bystanders intervening in this situation) shouldn't have happened. And yet, it did; and it is for this reason among others that this story is a source of inspiration. In most, if not all cases, the tendency would be to assume someone else will take care of a bias related incident of any kind; as such, it's not "my" place to say anything and the responsibility gets pushed elsewhere. Whether it be in a public, group setting or a more private one-on-one scenario, it takes a great deal of courage to stand up and intervene (through direct action, distraction or delegation). In either case, and whatever the method, each instance begs the question of whether or not you would stand up in defence of someone else.

Rounding off our panel, Grant talked about the work of Equality Ohio and the number of measures that need to be addressed to bring Ohio from behind the curve when it comes to equal rights. Certainly cities and communities such as that which can be found in Columbus are further along than most; the hard work comes into the process of making equality a reality for all.

[As a first aside, I'd like to mention here that among the questions posed during our Q&A was an expected question of LNS's Slut Sauce, which I still recommend you try if you haven't already and which we all are in agreement is delicious.]

[Also, if you're interested in your own official "No Slut Sauce for You, Mr. Homophobe" t-shirt, you can still order the design from Traxler Tees. If you live in the Columbus area, you do have the option to pick it up in person as I did yesterday.]

[Finally, I'd like to especially thank here Robin B and the Queer Studies Faculty, Outlook and staff colleagues that I saw in the audience, as well as our regular and new-to-the-Colloquium attendees, for your support and presence at this session, and from whom I continue to draw inspiration.]

This story, I claim, is relevant and timely just as much as it seems to be ahead of its time, and one of few positively reported ones (as Grant noted). At it's heart, it's a story of community identity and an example of the tension that arises when one's personal beliefs and attitudes contend with and run contrary to the majority. It's also a lesson and a moment in time that we should continue to hold onto and grow from, rather than allow it to pass without allowing it to first affect us in some way. I hope that those who have read this story, those who are learning about this story for the first time here, and especially those who attended today's session, can find the courage within themselves to stand up for what is right, to foster a communal environment where all are treated equally.

In this spirit and with continued gratitude to Grant, Joel, Krista and Mikey, I'll end here where I began the colloquium. Last semester, we explored a wide array of intersections with food, through 12 modules and 5 in the kitchen practicums and covering very generally an introduction to food studies, food identity and the liberal arts using our food lens. In the coming months, we’ll continue this exploration through the next 12 modules and upcoming practicums, looking in particular at food culture and community, regional contexts of food identity, self-reflection and understanding and contemporary food issues. Of the many things I'm looking forward to this semester, my continued work with food on and throughout Denison's campus, as well as in and around Columbus, is at the top of that list. I'm happy to have you along with me in this journey.

Suggested readings for this session: 
“The Incredible Story of What Happened When Two Gay Men Were Harassed While Waiting for Pizza” (Joel Diaz, 2013)
“Waiter Refuses to Serve Family Who Insulted Special Needs Child” (Web Staff, Fox 31 - Denver, 2013)

For more information regarding the 2012-2013 Food and Culture Colloquium at Denison University, click here. Colloquium modules and practicums are open to all Denison faculty, staff and students, as well as area community members in and outside of Granville.

Update (7 February 2013): Three other recaps have since been written and may be found here:

The Denisonian (2 February 2013)
TheDEN (30 January 2013)
"Diversity @Denison" (28 January 2013)


  1. It's great that Mikey's is getting attention for having an employee stand up for two gay customers being harassed, but I'm interested in how, in the context of social justice and food, there's no mention of the misogynist language and imagery that abound at every Mikey's location ("slut sauce" bottles with a picture of a woman's butt on it, napkin dispensers that say "wipe yourself off before your husband comes home")?

    The only time "slut sauce" is mentioned in this article is to recommend it. In the past, this stuff has been justified with a "boys will be boys" kind of eye roll, but now that Mikey's is becoming nationally known as a pro-LGBT pizza shop, it's time to have that conversation. Too often, gay men are let off the hook for using misogynist language under the false claim that gay men can't be sexist. Now we have LGBT allies walking around in t-shirts with misogynist language on it, but no one seems to care.

    1. Thanks so much for you comment, Anonymous! Actually, when I first visited Mikey's I asked him about "Slut Sauce" and their overall menu concept (e.g., the religious references). As noted above, it was expectedly brought up during our Q&A; as soon as the video of this session's posted, you can hear Mikey's explanation, as I don't want to officially speak for him/the company. However, I will share that my understanding is that they're beginning to recognise (and are actually in conversation about the fact) that, as they continue to get much more notoriety they're going to need to rethink and rename such items as the sauce. Indeed, you're right that it's time to have the conversation.

      Please know that I'm glad that you do care and have brought it up here. I sincerely hope that the story of what happen to Joel and Ethan continues to be told, along with the spectrum of social justice and food issues as you wrote above.

    2. Mark, I really appreciate your thoughtful response. Since this incident, I've brought this up several times to friends rushing to buy "No Slut Sauce for You" t-shirts, and the responses have been anywhere from a dismissive, "but anyone can be a slut!" to a more general sense that any critique of Mikey's diminishes the actions of their employee.

      I look forward to seeing what action Mikey's takes in regard to their use of misogynist language, and hope that it comes from a place of genuine respect for women, and not just refining their public image.