Dixon woke up at 5 this morning and even though he went back to sleep until 6, I stayed up and, somewhat inexplicably, brainstormed about how the food community could help Baltimore fix some of its social problems. (I say "inexplicably" because this is so far from the kind of thing I usually think about that I can't even really figure out how my thought path got there.)
Social problems are, obviously, a major issue and deeply ingrained, spread across multiple institutions, as neatly demonstrated by the institutional shift of each season of The Wire. No one program or idea could possibly fix these generations-old issues, but every little bit helps, right?
If The Wire is to be believed, and I think it is, a core piece of Baltimore's troubles stems from the vicious cycle of drug dealing and lack of visible opportunity available to the young black men in certain Baltimore neighborhoods.
So here's my thought: why hasn't some enterprising and influential chef or restaurant group (Foreman & Wolf: I'm looking at you) follow Jamie Oliver's lead? His restaurant-reality TV-social program experiment, Fifteen, has been a success. The original London restaurant is popular and, by all accounts, great, and three additional Fifteen locations have opened up. More importantly for the communities, the Foundation that owns the restaurants raises a lot of money every year that it uses to invest in the kids who work in the restaurants. The Foundation has just published a report on how the program has impacted the lives of these kids over the past five years. The short answer is: it's been very positive. Experience, a way out, an alternative - the restaurant deals in a very public sort of hope.
I can't think of any reason why this wouldn't work in Baltimore, as long as it had the right champion.