British Brewery Campaigning To Save Traditional Pubs

pubs
I’ve talked before here on Gadling about how British pubs are in danger. In 2011, an average of 14 per week shut down, and the trend is continuing. This is due to a number of factors, including the economic downturn, competition from cheap supermarket alcohol and ever-increasing taxes.

Now Wychwood Brewery has started an online petition to “Stop the Beer Duty Escalator.” Taxes on beer go up annually at 2 percent above the rate of inflation. The petition says this adds “considerably more pressure on the British pub, the cornerstone of many of our communities” and asks for this practice to stop.

“Going to the pub is a core British tradition and so is enjoying great beer,” the petition states. In a company statement, Wychwood Brewery said, “Imagine a world without pubs. Imagine communities with no heart. Imagine thousands of livelihoods affected.”

While this sounds like exaggeration, anyone who has lived in the UK for any length of time knows that it isn’t. Pubs really are a cornerstone to the national culture. The majority of people are regular pub goers, either for a quick pint of real ale or to watch a game or to enjoy a Sunday roast. They’re also a great way for tourists to experience the country and meet locals. The withering of that culture is reducing quality of life. I spend every Easter and summer in Oxford and every year I see prices go up and pubs close. It’s depressing.

Wychwood is aiming for 100,000 signatures, which will force the petition to be heard in the House of Commons. So far they have 27,517. If you’re a resident of the UK, I say sign this petition. You’ll be fighting for one of the nation’s cultural institutions and helping independent businesses.

[Photo courtesy Andrès Moreno]

Austin food trucks and DIY food culture

“My friend and I are thinking about starting a food truck back home in Columbus”, said my hometown friend, Joey, between bites of fish and chips from Bits & Druthers food truck on East 6th Street in Austin. I had taken him to this particular food truck cluster, dubbed East Side Drive In, selfishly. Ever since first trying the TLT (vegan BLT) from The Vegan Yacht, a food truck neighbor of Bits & Druthers, I’m always searching for an excuse to take friends to the East 6th Street cluster; just east of I-35. But excuses aren’t difficult to find. This particular food truck nesting spot houses not only The Vegan Yacht and Bits & Druthers, but a few others, too. There’s The Local Yolk, which specializes in eggs, especially egg sandwiches. There’s Pueblo Viejo, which just happens to have some of my favorite tacos in town. Pig Vicious is there too satiating all pig-related cravings. Mati dishes up Greek favorites and Love Balls serves Japanese street food. The roster seems to always be changing over at East Side Drive In, though, which is why it’s one of my favorite spots to frequent, especially with folks from out of town.

%Gallery-136561%The Austin food truck scene is something that immediately grabbed my attention and appealed to me when I moved to Austin just over a year ago. I mean, there is even a Trailer Food Festival each year in Austin called Gypsy Picnic. There’s certainly a DIY food culture here in Austin and it expands beyond food trucks.

Take, for example, Joel Haro, the founder of Love Puppies Brownies in Austin. Haro says his brownie company was “accidental”. He “accidentally” got into New York’s CIA and after returning to Texas and opening and closing a catering company, calls kept coming in for his chocolaty morsels… so he “accidentally” started Love Puppies Brownies. But I’m not sure all of this was accidental. His talent, of course, plays a huge role in his success. With flavors that employ dark chocolate chips and pecans, peanut butter, mocha, and even ground peppers, Haro knows what he’s doing. Another factor, I’d guess, is the notoriously supportive community in Austin for indie food. How else could a one man brownie show gain and sustain popularity so quickly?

When I spoke with Haro about the Austin community, he agreed that support for DIY food is widespread in the city. He cites Go Local, Keep Austin Weird, and Go Texan campaigns as breeding grounds for local business support. Austinites are open and adventurous which is reflected in their culinary tastes”, says Haro. He hopes to eventually see his decadent treats sold nationwide and with Austin as a launching pad, that very well may happen sooner than later.

Haley Callaway is another Austin-bred non-food truck but indie food success. She’s a busy college student who manages to head up HayleyCakes and Cookies–a bakery she runs out of her own kitchen by herself. I’ve never seen hand-decorated desserts compare to hers in their artfulness, especially her sugar cookies. With passion, talent, and, I’m guessing, a lot of caffeine, she has managed to launch her company while working between classes, studying business. The Austin community has warmly embraced her and when I spoke to Hayley about her increasing success, she noted that she had only slept 45 minutes the night before. It takes hard work, indeed, but it also takes a community that’s interested in straight-out-of-the-kitchen-at-home or straight-out-of-the-food-truck food. And Austin is that community.

So then the question now arises… what is it about Austin? Why are indie bakers and restauranteurs here doing so well? Maybe it’s a combination of the nice weather and affordable living. Maybe it’s an interest in new business that has been effectively fostered in this city more so than others. Perhaps we can study Austin and learn a thing or two about supporting the self-motivated and, in turn, broadening our culinary options everywhere.

Tour Austin, Texas

Africa’s new middle class benefits travel

Africa, EthiopiaAfrica’s middle class is growing.

The African Development Bank says one in three Africans are now middle class. While the bank’s definition isn’t comparable to the Western definition–the African middle class makes $2-$20 a day–the lifestyle is similar. Middle-class Africans tend to be professionals or small business owners and instead of worrying about basics such as food and shelter, their main concerns are getting better health care and getting their kids into university.

The bank says the countries with the biggest middle class are Botswana, Gabon, and Tunisia, while Liberia, Mozambique, and Rwanda have the smallest. The BBC has an interesting photo gallery profiling members of this rapidly growing class.

So how does this affect travel? With an growing middle class you get more domestic tourism, good news for non-Africans traveling in Africa. More regional airlines are cropping up, and comfortable buses provide an appealing alternative to the bone-shaking rattletraps familiar to travelers in Africa.

It also makes consumer goods easier to find. This generally means cheap Chinese exports of even worse quality than what we’re accustomed to in the West, but in bigger cities quality goods are readily available. There’s also an increasing number of nice restaurants and cafes geared towards locals. Internet access is also improving.

During my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar I benefited from Ethiopia’s middle class. Mobile phone coverage is available everywhere except remote villages and the wilderness, and although the Internet is slow, there are Internet cafes in every town. Improved education meant there many people who could speak English and who could help me learn some Amharic and Harari. Often I could take a more comfortable “luxury” bus rather than be stuffed in a local bus with an entire village of passengers. Self-styled budget travelers may turn their nose up at spending an extra two dollars to be comfortable, but the middle class buses are quicker and you’re more likely to meet someone you can talk to.

In fact, I made some good friends on the luxury bus to Harar. A group of Ethiopian pharmacy students showed me the town and gave me insights into their lives. University education is free in Ethiopia if you pass a rigorous entrance exam. The government even pays for your room and board, and you pay them back by working a government job for some time after you get out. The students I met will be setting off to villages to provide basic health care.

Nearly all these students, and in fact nearly all middle-class Africans I’ve met, yearn to go to the West. One even called her country “a prison”. While heading to the West may be a good career move, it hurts the continent. As one African pointed out in the BBC photo gallery, the money it takes to get to Europe can start up a nice business in Africa.