Thursday, July 30, 2009

Food should be true to itself

As you know, I have changed the way I eat, so I really eat fruits, vegetables, meats, and some dairy.
Eating like that really gives me options and I get to taste food that I have never been able to before.

But I will tell someone now that I want an apple. They always give me this type of answer:

"I love apples also! Have you ever tried it with Fat Free Cool Whip, a dash of cinnamon, a touch of maple syrup and three packets of Splenda. It tastes like an apple pie!!!"

This is where I have to be different now. I do not want something that tastes like something else. I do not want to fool myself anymore. If I wanted an apple pie I would make one.

A really good one! I do not want to dress up food anymore.

--Tony Posnanski, The Anti Jared

Today is the ninth day of Av, a month of the Jewish calendar. It has all sorts of historical significances, because this is the date traditionally remembered as the day on which both Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and its sequel were destroyed. There are a whole host of traditions and laws which govern behavior during the twenty-one days leading to this date, and many Jews have a custom to refrain from eating meat during the last nine of these days. Under normal circumstances this temporary vegetarianism wouldn’t affect me much—I’m more likely on a day-to-day basis to eat grilled cheese sandwiches or breakfast cereals than I am to eat meat. But I’ve been working in a Jewish camp for part of this summer and they, I suppose, consider it inappropriate to repeat meals. This has led to some inspired choices by the kitchen staff along with some real head-scratchers (English muffins, scrambled eggs, tater tots, and broccoli—just about the weirdest combination of foods you can imagine).

But I want to focus on one lunch. This lunch consisted of fake sloppy joe meat, fake schwarma meat, and a selection of rolls and wraps. The fake meat wasn’t at all offensive; it was even pretty good, although the sloppy joes basically tasted like tomato sauce. But the decision to serve fake meat just called further attention to the fact that we weren’t eating the real thing. Even though the food tasted fine, the meal failed because the food tried to be something it wasn’t.

I can’t help but think of all the sugared candies and beverages we consume which masquerade as fruit. It sometimes feels as if we’re much more likely to wash down our cherry candies with orange soda than we are to, you know, eat cherries and oranges. Let’s go back to eating food that is real.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Postmodern, Contemporary Food

I don't have tons of blogging time available, but I do want to reward your reading commitment by passing along three recent links I really enjoyed. Here they are, with the briefest of introductions:
  • A wonderful and sad excerpt from Frank Bruni's soon-to-be-published memoir. Bruni, the The New York Times food critic, delves into a childhood of overeating and bulimia. I'm fascinated by autobiography--and, really, any instance of conscious remembering--and this piece is particularly rich because the childhood remembrances are so obviously related to Bruni's career. Bruni's a fantastic writer, writing about his passion and his relationship to his passion. Really strong stuff.
  • Wired magazine's compendium of etiquette for the contemporary age. A lot of this has to do with basic rules of social networking civility, but I was most impressed by the recommended healthy media consumption pyramid.
  • The Los Angeles Times' Jacket Copy blog's list of 61 essential Postmodern works of literature. I've read 9 from this list. It also includes a helpful key of defining postmodern characteristics, including "author is a character," "disrupts/plays with form," "comments on its own bookishness," and "blurs reality and fiction." I have some nits to pick with the list (I think Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 needs to be included in any list of this type), but I appreciate the effort that went into compiling what may turn into the reading list for the next several years of my life.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This Is Why We're Fat

One of the real pleasures of reading The New Yorker over the past two months has been a string of excellent articles written by Elizabeth Kolbert, including the story of James Hansen (abstract only, except for subscribers), a NASA scientist so concerned with climate change that he attends protests and rallies, and an appraisal of the fact that we're living through--and possibly causing--a mass extinction (also, abstract only, except for subscribers) the likes of which the Earth has not seen in the past 65 million years.

Her latest effort, "XXXL," is a focused review of seven books published in the past six years that all attempt to explain why humans, including but not limited to Americans, are gaining weight. You should read the article to learn what these books and Kolbert theorize, but here are some scary highlights:
  • American "[m]en are now on average seventeen pounds heavier that they were in the late seventies, and for women that figure is even higher: nineteen pounds."
  • "Today, soft drinks account for about seven per cent of all the calories ingested in the United States (!), making them 'the number one food consumed in the American diet.' If, instead of sweetened beverages, the average American drank water, [health economist Eric] Finkelstein calculates, he or she would weigh fifteen pounds less."
  • We eat just about whatever food is in front of us, without, it would seem, taking into account how hungry we are: "In another experiment, [director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, Brian] Wansink invited participants to cook dinner for themselves with ingredients that he provided. One group got big boxes of pasta and big boxes of sauces, a second smaller boxes and smaller bottles. The first group prepared twenty-three per cent more, and downed it all."
  • "According to the federally supported National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the bagels that Americans eat have in the past twenty years swelled from a hundred and forty to three hundred and fifty calories each. If, as Wansink argues, people are relying on external cues to determine their consumption, then the new, bigger bagel is sneaking in an additional two hundred and ten calories. For someone who is in the habit of eating a bagel a day, these extra calories translate into a weight gain of more than a pound a month."

[Update: Though Kolbert addresses a similar movement in her article, I found it interesting that The New York Times yesterday published a piece titled "Tossing Out the Diet and Embracing the Fat."]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tour de Midwest

As I see it, it probably really is a good thing for the soul to be a tourist, even if it's only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let's-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way--hostile to my fantasy of being a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.
--David Foster Wallace
Well OK, that's one way to think about being a tourist. And it is, I believe, an interesting way to begin a post that is largely focused on my experiences driving nearly half-way across the country to watch baseball games. Because I agree both with DFW in both theory and practice about tourism and the effect that being a tourist has on me. And yet, I didn't feel any of this humbling angst on my baseball trip.

I think this may be true for at least two reasons:

1) This baseball trip was not undertaken under any pretense of broadening horizons. Just about the only places we went were baseball stadia and a beer ad masquerading as a beer factory. (There seems to be a lack of consensus on this, but some media experts estimate that the average American is exposed to as many as 5,000 ads per day; this figure always seems way too high to me, except for those days when I visit a stadium which hosts a Major League Baseball team.) So yes, we went to visit places that are already--and, in a way, need to be--spoiled. Case in point: the thing in Cleveland which excited me most was this Nike ad.

So my expectations were set appropriately.

2) Maybe more than being excited about going to Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, etc., I was excited about getting away from the day-to-day of New York/Jersey. I remember not much about the actual games we saw (I remember Joel Zumaya throwing smoke, the Royals late-inning defensive replacement at shortstop booting a play, the Mexecutioner, Albert Pujols being pitched around, and a nice double play in Chicago, and that might be about it). But it was great to be unable to check the ~dozen of job boards I check every day. (Upon checking these websites after a week away, I learned that I had missed maybe one relevant job.) The general idea of going away and keeping a full schedule (complete with a rarely referenced itinerary!) and basically skipping sleep for two out of five nights and not sitting around waiting for someone from HR to call me, felt great. I recommend it.

A few leftovers.
  • We drove 1913 miles over the course of a bit more than four days. This means we averaged 19 miles per hour. For more than four days. Including the times we were sleeping.
  • I slept in a different city seven consecutive nights.
  • I think because I felt nervous about being disconnected from the internet, I binge-tweeted from my cell phone. If you want to read those tweets, you should follow me on twitter here.
  • We took many pictures. You can view the ones I decided were worth saving here.
  • We saw this:

[Update: My friend The Midnight Toker reminded me of this cool graphically enhanced video thing of DFW reading the excerpt quoted above:


Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 3rd Through 9th of July

July 3rd is today. July 9 is the day I shall return from watching baseball games in four midwestern cities. I won't be blogging again until at least that date. It's sad, I know.

In the meantime, you can celebrate this extended holiday weekend by watching this video of Mike McCready of Pearl Jam play the national anthem before a Seattle Mariners game.

And for the record, I told the man who seeks to unite troubled souls about this video and he did not already know about it. If knowing first about this video was the only measure of a Pearl Jam fan's devotion, then a delicate apartment hierarchy just became upset.