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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Culture beyond dairy

  I'm not a huge fan of nursing from cows: I really don't want to look, smell, or be shaped like a growing calf. Or get any weird cow ailments, for that matter, or drug residues - the sort of thing we worry about if we are nursing our own kids, but not if we are being nursed by other animals.

Probiotics - all of those beneficial bacilli - often only appear in stores as refrigerated pills or in dairy yogurt. I love "rejuvelac" (, which is a fermented, dairy-free mix of probiotics and other neat stuff, but it is hard to find.

This is part of why I love the incredible soy yogurts made by WholeSoy & Co. (, an SF local company. I like the taste better than that of dairy-based yogurt, I don't have to worry about calf-like tendencies, and it's locally made with organic soy!

It tastes significantly better than Silk's soy yogurt to me, and I love Silk's other products.

I don't usually endorse specific brands of things, since most of what I eat is cooked from scratch rather than pre-prepared and packaged, but this is good stuff. And vegan. And addictively tasty.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Things you find 'down cellar'

  My mother, who grew up in Connecticut, is THRILLED to have found an old cookbook full of New England regional recipes and lore. She got it for twenty-five cents, and can't put it down.

It has recipes for homemade pickles, for chili sauces my grandmother made in my mother's childhood, for squirrel soup, for muskrat dishes (courtesy of Native American locals), for scrod (which I used to eat in the roadside fish shacks that existed during my childhood visits, always breaded and deep fried, always with tartar sauce), and for eels. Eels were a big New England staple, and the book even includes a poem about eels and the bounty they offer the river-filled regions.

Yes, the book has recipes for fried eel. Yes, you've just gotten over the nightmares you had when I described the preparation of fried eels in Unlike Mom Used To Make, Part VI: My Mom!!, my food interview with my mother about what she ate in the past compared to what she eats now. Sorry for bringing it up again. But I find it fascinating: the northeast has no fame for eel cuisine. When anyone mentions eating eel, I think of unagi sushi from Japan. (I've heard children whine and demand this dish from their parents. Yes, I live in San Francisco.)

My mother has pledged to sit down with me and talk about the dishes the book reminds her of. It should be fun. The whole idea of regional specialties is exciting to me, so I'm looking forward to it.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wal-Mart and books: natural enemies

  I have never purchased anything at Wal-Mart, and have yet another reason not to: they ban/censor books. Which is to say they refuse to carry certain books that don't make it past their screens for certain ideas and imagery. If you go to PostSecret ( right now, you'll see a little note in the text, just above the image showing that the latest PostSecret Book made its debut at number 1 on the NYTimes ( Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous hardcover bestseller list(!). The note:
The new book is available from bookstores everywhere* and online.

Thanks for making our secrets #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.

* Wal-Mart stores continue to ban/reject all PostSecret books.
It is GREAT that the new PostSecet book is doing so well! It's an enjoyable project. It is selling well! How could a chain store ban it?

In theory, all stores are private businesses which can carry whatever they like, and people are free to shop wherever they like. In practice, the predatory business model of certain big-box chain stores is to drive all competition in smaller 'markets' out of business, and then engage in oppressive monopoly practices. Small communities can find their access to birth control, books, magazines, "fair trade" products, movies, and music CDs dictated by the policies of the only retail venue they have access to, which has its own agenda.

Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town ( discusses the scope of this one chain's ability to censor, using a series of conservative screens:
While Wal-Mart is the world's largest CD retailer, and in some regions the only place in town to purchase music[,] entertainment products represent only a fraction of their business. However, it is a different story for recording artists. Because Wal-Mart reaps about 10 percent of the total domestic music CD sales, most musicians and record companies will agree to create a "sanitized" version specifically for the megastores.
They don't use my favorite example, which is an Eels song about how difficult it is to live without a loved one, using a profane word for emphasis. W-M banned the album until the Eels re-recorded the song and changed the title for a sanitized version, though they did it sarcastically: E yells "MONSTERTRUCKER" over the offending word whenever it appears. I learned about this through someone who had purchased the CD at the offending big box chain store in his small-town area without knowing that there was another version of the album available, because no disclosure is required.


I want to say that at least W-M is not vandalizing the songs themselves, but the upside to that would be that it would be more obvious. A friend who attended a religious school in Utah reported that the school had movie night, during which the school would show mainstream movies which they had censored themselves - and often not well, so the students at least knew that they weren't getting the film as its creators intended it (in violation of the license that comes with the films, but that's another matter). The kids who had relatives out of the area would later see the whole film elsewhere if it interested them; the locals didn't have many options.


Can you imagine a censored version of Reservoir Dogs without the violence? Or The Terminator without the one scene that explains where Sarah Connor's son comes from? The English Patient without the adultery? It would make more sense not to watch those films at all, rather than to sanitize them, which is the aspect of censorship that confuses me. I think of films, and albums, and sculptures as complete works: if the content is objectionable, it makes far more sense not to watch it at all than to demand the right to see it 'cleaned up' for your restrictions.

It would make even more sense to make your own original films that follow your subculture's values. But that would require creativity.

I suspect I fail to see that mainstream mass-cultural products have a desirable credibility that even fringe groups want access to, and sanitizing and censoring those products is one way to claim an association with the mainstream, even if that association is fractured at best.


This isn't new: art history is full of incidents in which art was suppressed, especially any accurate depictions of the human figure - a figure we all have, more or less, last I checked.

Michelangelo's sculpture David was considered scandalous, and a strategically placed fig-leaf was installed on reproductions of the work in the presence of important ladies, who weren't supposed to understand male anatomy. That was stupid, too. Funny in retrospect, but stupid.

It is also a bit ironic, if Wikipedia's note that the statue came to represent the struggle for civil liberties is accurate.


Just so you know: during a zombie plague outbreak, I'd be okay with looting a Wal-Mart. That is a very special circumstance, possibly the only one in which I would set foot in one. Just so you know.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:00 AM

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fresh turmeric root

  I love living in San Francisco. I love it, I love it, I love it.

Also amusing: watching the stock guy in the grocery store staring at me in disbelief as I delicately put rolls of bean curd sheet into a bag with tongs. I've never struck awe into anyone by buying a soybean product before. Who knew that my nostalgia for my freshman year best friends' grandparents' soup would inspire me to buy a product that would so surprise a stranger.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:08 PM

Monday, September 14, 2009

New film from Joerg Steineck

  Filmmaker Joerg Steineck has a new film out! It's a documentary about a Swedish rock band. See the rockin' preview here: Truckfighters (


Watching this preview and hearing the band speak make me think about creative mental disorientation that can occur when you try to operate in the ordinary, working world. Massive Attack, who have a new album coming out after nearly a decade, remarked on this recently in Massive Attack: 'Phantom funk? Who said that?' | Music | The Guardian (, 9/10/09). After explaining that MA has NOT been procrastinating, but have recorded more than three albums' worth of material that they have rejected, the article continues:
After touring an album, you have this strange void that follows it, where you feel slightly displaced, like you've just finished with the circus and you've got to find a new job.
I can't easily imagine transitioning from the circus to an office job, but that's the point: it's not a natural transition.

In Truckfighters, there is a similar sentiment expressed by the band: they emerge from immersing themselves in music, and find that everyone else is living in a different mental world, a Matrix-like coma of ordinariness.

I'm sure this has happened to you in other contexts. You've returned from vacation, and have trouble accepting your daily working life. You return from the wilderness, and can't comprehend how you live in such a noisy, crowded city. You finish a good book, and you feel changed, but everything else was frozen in time while you were reading, and failed to change with you. Creativity can be as immersive as a vacation or a great book, and it can be hard to transition back. It's fun to read about that happening to others.

Watch the trailer!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

23,000 labor hours, 4 cranes, and a lot of fire

  cloudy day photo of metal sculpture from Crude Awakening, West OaklandOne of the fun features of my bike ride through West Oakland is a pair of two massive, metal sculptures that were once shown at Burning Man (, the spectacular desert festival held annually in Nevada. (See cloudy day phone photo at left.) These sorts of giant sculptures, plus intricate temples and all manner of other fabulous, gorgeous, interesting installations that appear around the Bay Area during the summer months, represent the large-scale creativity that had made Burning Man conceptually amazing to me.

I can be impressed by really big art, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

I love the temples built by David Best (especially The Temple of Honor and the Temple of Joy (see also this Temple of Joy interior view) all at, The Waffle (seen here as a gigapan panorama at, the Man (of course), and Black Rock City itself.

Yes, Black Rock City. The logistics of setting up the 7th or 10th largest city in Nevada, a city of 50,000 or so people on a temporary basis, are quite stunning. And to do so in a way that looks this cool in a satellite image is a major feat. Here, I'm adding a link to a NASA satellite image of Black Rock City which links to a larger version at Wikipedia. NASA image of Black Rock City from Wikipedia Commons (I [heart] Wikipedia.)

Strangely, my fascination with these large projects may be the reason I have NOT been to Burning Man. It seems like the most fun way to participate would be to work on a BIG project that is already planned out, and I don't have friends who work on this sort of thing (or, if they do, they've been keeping their work secret). I've received lots of abstract encouragement to attend, but no invitations to wild sketching & stitching sessions to build massive, self-supporting tensile structures to shelter a camp of crazed, costumed, tensile structure designers and vegan chefs who dance non-stop to downtempo electronica and provide first aid and vegan cookies to random passersby (<-- my fantasy first BM experience). This {excuse} has allowed me to avoid the near-impossible struggle to actually get a week off before Labor Day to participate, though the struggle would be worth it.

Speaking of projects completely beyond my abilities, I want to share a link to Headless Point: Crude Awakening 2007 (, the massive project that the West Oakland metal men belong to. 180 people invested 23,000 labor hours to make this project go. 5,000 pounds of explosives, 400 gallons of jet fuel, 300 gallons of gasoline, 1600 gallons of propane, and 64 tons of steel (61 of that salvaged) were used in this project and its flaming finale. WATCH THE VIDEO. Yes, it took four cranes to raise the model oil derrick. Yes, I got a bad case of crane envy just watching.

This page provides interesting environmental comparisons about the impact of the fuel and materials they used against what you consume in your daily life. (When was the last time you thought about how much fuel the plane used to carry you to your vacation destination? Or the amount of fuel used to ship the items in your house from where they were made to the store where you got them? There are questions people will ask about art that they will never ask about the things they choose to do every day.)

It's satisfying to see the story behind these sculptures, and to know where they were made (in another building I bike past), and how they were hauled out to the desert, lifted into place with cranes operated by professional operators, rigged with explosives by pyrotechnicians, and viewed by thousands of people.

Collaboration produces some incredible results!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:55 PM

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Art versus Authority

  I had thought my note about comment about a playwright being on a wartime death list was a quirky one-off, but the topic about artists threatening authority, foreign or domestic, just came up again. SFMOMA | OPEN SPACE - Blog Archive - A Dangerous Spectre Lurks Amongst Us: Paul Clipson presents Subversive Documentaries discusses dangerously political films:
Buñuel brings the full corrosive force of his Surrealist vision into documentary terrain, subtly lampooning the conventions of a genre then only in its nascency. Financed by anarchists, this work’s potential contribution to Spain’s on-going turmoil was recognized, and was very much not appreciated. Banned for two years by the Republican government, it earned Buñuel a warrant by the right-wing Nationalists (fortunately never served) for him to be immediately escorted to Generalissimo Franco were he to be captured.
Again, this is vaguely flattering to film. And yes, contrary to what you think anarchists are or were, they can get together to finance an art film. They should probably do that more often! Maybe you'd know they aren't actually all Caucasian suburban boys in black jeans. (Though I suspect the idea that you believe that is what anarchists are amuses them.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Celebrity to die for

  Can you imagine being an artist included on a death list maintained by a country your country was at war with? Especially if you were a playwright? It would make writing plays feel so... important. Like you were a valuable cultural treasure, even if this was the weirdest way of having your status revealed.

I was tickled by this item from Noël Coward - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Had the Nazis invaded Britain, Coward was scheduled to be arrested and killed, as he was in The Black Book along with other figures such as Virginia Woolf, Paul Robeson, Bertrand Russell and H. G. Wells. When this came to light after the war, Coward wrote: 'If anyone had told me at that time I was high up on the Nazi blacklist, I should have laughed ... I remember [writer] Rebecca West, who was one of the many who shared the honour with me, sent me a telegram which read: 'My dear – the people we should have been seen dead with'.
(This must have made covering the Nuremberg Trials even more interesting for Ms. West.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:55 AM

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feed the Artists - Be the Artists

  In an era where Americans cut every creative program possible during all but the flushest economic times, the British are considering an increase in funding for the arts.

Wild About Harry by D.D. Guttenplan (, subscription required - and you really should subscribe) discusses how the many positive impacts of the American Works Progress Administration during one of the United State's major economic depressions is inspiring plans for new programs to support Britain's cultural industries.

The British have fabulous cultural industries they intend to preserve through the current economic crises, and the article touches briefly on innovative ideas that sprung from a lecture on the merits of the WPA. But what I liked best about the article, aside from a progressive characterization of the WPA's cultural achievements, was this very democratic statement:
It was the WPA that taught a generation of Americans that culture is not something that you go out and buy, or passively consume, but something that is made by and belongs to people like themselves.
The WPA produced some great art and architecture during some very difficult times. We now think of those buildings, those murals, those photos, as quintessential American treasures. Imagine what we could make now, if we cared to invest in it.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:07 PM

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Classics of Zombie Literature

  Yes, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith is all I had hoped for. It is literature. It is gory. It is romantic. It involves ninjas. And it provides social commentary about the place of women in society in new ways. I quote:
My sisters and I cannot spend any substantial time searching for [my sister's boyfriend/captor], as we are each commanded by His Majesty to defend Hertfordshire from all enemies until such time as we are dead, rendered lame, or married.
Yes, as you might expect, it is unseemly for ladies to slay legions of the undead, and even more unseemly to do so WELL. No matter how one's country might need one's help during periods of shambling, brain-eating unpleasantness, a respectable lady, especially a married one, must retire from her violent, gory, life-saving service. (Oh, the stupidity of patriarchy.)

I love this book. I recommend it. If you're near me, I might even be willing to loan it to you.

I'm not saying I want the undead versions of all enjoyable works of literature... although, come to think of it, Wuthering Heights would be even more joyously overwrought if... If... NO. Wait. Stop right there! Don't! Well... Hmmmmm.....

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:28 PM

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Americans want cheap, fat-free, deep-fried cigarettes they can feel good about

  It is awkward find yourself eating with a group of people who are complaining about their health and weight while eating things they really shouldn't be eating.

It impedes conversation to drink cocktails with people who seek sympathy for their completely preventable medical conditions.

It is also very difficult to formulate encouraging comments to leave on the websites of fundraising pages for charities which raise money for new organs for drug abusing rock stars, but we can leave that topic for another time.

How do these things happen? I blame culture.

I think it often works like this:
If I was raised as a Polish Catholic (like my mother was), I believe that I’m in the one true religion, and that my national Polish foods are the best foods to eat – because otherwise, why would my mother have made them for me, and why would my family eat them? Questioning the health benefits of that diet raises questions of fundamental identity issues, which are inviolable. It is impossible that my mother would feed me unhealthy foods (she is a good person!), it is impossible that Poles aren’t making the best sausages on earth (we are a great people!), and while most of my relatives died young, I have a few that lived to be 100, which proves that it is a good diet! (If it was really that bad, they ALL would have died young!) Nutritional information from (non-Polish) scientists conflicts with what I (want to) believe, and must be discarded.

You, and all studies that say things I like are bad for me, are dissing my culture.

All that research showing the epidemics of heart disease and cancer among people who eat like me is irrelevant. I will choose to believe that "everyone" gets these diseases, that they cannot be prevented. In a pinch, I will believe that cultures that have better health statistics than mine have some (inscrutable?) genetic advantage, and that their much leaner traditional diets have no impact at all.

Studies that say that things I like are GOOD for me, however, are a completely different story, and I will clip those and carry them around with me to show you while we are drinking (some other cultural heritage's) beer.

Pass the ketchup.
This clearly isn’t true for everyone, but it explains some of the blank looks the person who is eating a deep fried traditional food while complaining about heartburn and clogged arteries gives you – facts about health simply don’t fit into this line of thinking, and so must be discarded quickly.

People who actually process this information may be more open, to a point, but you are asking them to criticize the deep-fried part of their heritage, and that may be the only part of their heritage they are really attached to.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, March 29, 2009

At some point, the ideal came to stand for something superficial and shallow

  The fabulous photo-eye newsletter currently features an article with some retro-cool photographic illustrations - Kodak Coloramas! - and a lot of thoughtful prose. Rethinking the American Dream | (April 2009) performs a review going back to the 1930s book where the "American Dream" phrase was coined, and makes some interesting observations about the way 'the dream' has changed. Economically challenging times can inspire some interesting thoughts about our very materialistic culture, and the article does some interesting comparisons with thoughts from the previous major depression to now.

It is interesting to see how a country can have its ideals change from such topics as freedom from class boundaries, self-reliance, independence and opportunity to merely the freedom to own lots of stuff.
More soberly and less bombastically, Roosevelt, in his 1941 State of the Union address, prepared America for war by articulating the “four essential human freedoms” that the U.S. would be fighting for: “freedom of speech and expression”; “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way”; “freedom from want”; and “freedom from fear.” Like Luce, Roosevelt was upholding the American way as a model for other nations to follow—he suffixed each of these freedoms with the phrase “everywhere in the world”—but he presented the four freedoms not as the lofty principles of a benevolent super race but as the homespun, bedrock values of a good, hardworking, unextravagant people.
I'm certain we have always had Americans who have not been invested in these values, who have always thought of their own comforts first and foremost, but I believe now it is much more acceptable - perhaps even normal - to think only of oneself, and to do so quite publicly. It is not only the business pages that drool over business opportunities in China - not to spread freedoms, but in hopes of getting rich in the absence of each freedom on this list (and, not coincidentally, in the absence of consumer- and worker-favorable regulation). Spreading 'our way of life' is currently about material goods and the worship thereof far more than it is about any other value we may hold dear (or claim to hold dear).

Aside from prescient quotations from days gone by about Americans losing the concepts of the common good and modest successes, there is a discussion about rational, sustainable limits on doing better than your parents. How much better? If they were successful here, how much is enough for you to 'top' them by?

All this AND Coloramas!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:17 PM

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Non-credible Supporters of Prop 8 within my Mother's Circle of Acquaintances

  I've already mentioned that my mother has been irritated by the range of fanatics of various conservative sorts who come to her door and demand support for their ballot proposition to revoke marriage privileges for gays and lesbians. My mother is now spending some time in disbelief at the people in her area and social circles who vehemently wish to deny marriage rights to others. For example:

-the group of divorcees living together down her street has a lawn sign and wants to restrict marriage to heteros.

-the woman who had an affair with her second-husband-to-be while each of them were still married to their first spouses has a lawn sign and wants to restrict marriage to heteros.

-the Catholic man down the street, whose did not marry the mother of his first child, and therefore was free to marry the mother of his subsequent children in his church (which discourages divorce) has a lawn sign and supports revoking gay marriage rights.

What do these people have in common, aside from totally blowing their own credibility on the subject? Is it just a fervent belief that their right to spectacularly mess up marriage is limited to their own kind?



posted by Arlene (Beth)10:17 PM

Friday, October 03, 2008

"Free Kimono Dress Up Service"

  This is advertised in one of the ryokans that S is reviewing listings for.

The punch line: "female only."


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:33 PM

Maternal pride

  My mother was raised as a Latin Mass Catholic, and has historically appeared to be uptight about a wide range of sexual topics. (In the past, she's said some things that I perceived as homophobic, but then again, she's said a few things that might pass as 'heterophobic' also.) She told me two things that are really pride-inspiring this week.

The first: anti-marriage activists came to her door. Well, they're actually just anti-marriage for SOME people. But they came around, all frothed up, and my mother made the mistake of answering. They went on an anti-gay rant. To which my mother replied, "God must love gays, because he made so many of them." They did not like this, and left in a huff.

Mom: 1
Small minded freaks: 0.

The second: she watched the debates, and thinks Biden is lame for believing that marriage should be limited to hetero couples, just as the small minded freaks do.

Mom: 1
Biden: *yawn*

'Such a pleasant surprise.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:30 PM

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Americans Abroad: iRant

  This from my pal Peter, during the Olympics, quoted with permission:
I've been meaning to gripe about one thing. NPR played an interview (twice, actually) with some dude at the Beijing Olympics who complained about the food services at the stadium venue. He said that there was no cooked food to be had and that he simply couldn't get a hot dog anywhere. He had to starve when at the stadium.

I really wanted to call in or email into NPR and give another point of view, but apathy overtook my iRage and now I'm griping to you guys.

Who the f*ck in the entire world wants to eat a f*cking hot dog at a stadium??! Americans. Nobody else serves f*cking hot dogs in f*cking stadiums. He can come back here and buy $6.50 hot dogs at a baseball game to his heart's content. Not everybody enjoys or wants this. The correspondent reported that a local was astonished that he could get a whole meal at American stadium sport events, as if this was fantastically good. I actually think that the local was humoring him because Old Guard Chinese folk want freshly prepared food and balk at processed or pre-packaged food. That's why people shop daily in Chinatown, not weekly or monthly.

This is an American disease. We expect the rest of the world to be just like us, with flush toilets and showers over tubs. We typically aren't educated enough to at least try to perceive another point of view. We don't have bidets here so would Europeans believe that all Americans walk around with dirty butts, then, eh? :P

On the bidet question: probably, but I try not to think about that.

Aside: did this make you think of the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors ( hot dog skit? It should have. What about the Monty Python Watney's Red Barrel skit? Oh, come on!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

With political generalizations come cultural discussions about food.

  While I write about politics here far less than I have in the past, I still read about politics, which infuses (or infects, depending on your view) so many aspects of life. Why rednecks may rule the world, by Joe Bageant (, 9/6/08) is an article about some of the cultural conflicts in the U.S. which inform our presidential election politics. I believe I've mentioned the strong, anti-intellectual current that runs through so much of the commentary: here is an article that mentions that, while embracing a specific, regionally-based identity. Which, of course, has its own culturally-informed food.
We fry things nobody ever considered friable - things like cupcakes, banana sandwiches and batter dipped artificial cheese…even pickles.
If you combine this idea with the concept that Rigoberta Menchu described in her book - that you can't relate to people who won't eat the same foods that you do - you can see how we can wind up divided.

The question isn't whether or not you'd vote for someone who eats fried pickles, the question is... seriously? Fried pickles? [sound of my stomach churning]

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:42 PM

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

  Food-related conversations on the Emery-Go-Round. Unable to bike to work from the BART train stations, I have been taking the clean (inside), free Emery-Go-Round shuttle to bridge the two and a half mile gap between the train and the office. Morning and evening, it is a strange, sensory experience: all of the shuttles have those small, tree-shaped air fresheners scenting them strongly (some shuttles have four or so of those little trees hanging from the dashboard!), and each shuttle is usually tuned to the local "lite rock" easy-listening station. The strange 'lite' songs have a way of sticking in my head throughout the day, and become the official soundtrack of my time in E-ville.

"Feels So Good" by Chuck Mangione is probably _the_ song I associate with Emeryville now. Though there are other songs, which I like far less, which appear to be in heavy rotation.


The shuttle is pretty quiet, in that most of the riders chat with the friendly drivers, but not with each other unless they are already acquainted. There are exceptions, and two of those recent exceptions related to food.

One was a conversation in which a young woman was talking about how concerned she is about her parents, who are at least 70 pounds overweight and who eat nothing but meat, white bread, and butter, and do not want tips about healthy eating from their adult daughter. She was conversing with a slightly older woman who had once been 80 pounds overweight, and who lost it all through better choices and portion control: she asked the younger woman to tell of her successes to the wayward parents, to let them know that it IS possible to change as an adult. It was nice to see the woman who had succeeded spreading her enthusiasm for change.

Yesterday, there was an entertaining discussion about the history of meat markets and barbecue joints in Oakland between one of the drivers and a passenger. It was especially entertaining because our driver was so enthused about pork chops, and after speaking on the topic at length, his passenger revealed that she won't have anything to do with pork; there was also extensive discussion about whether or not canned greens (collard, radish, and mixed, all including garlic and ham) could really be taken seriously by the passenger, who insists on fresh, home-cooked greens.

The funny/sad part to me was that our driver revealed that (canned) greens (containing salt and ham) are the only vegetables he eats, and that he finds the vegetarianism of a colleague's child to be implausible, and perhaps dangerous.

Can you imagine a vegetarian diet based entirely on canned greens? I can't. He couldn't. But that's not what vegetarianism is about.

Both conversations to me were about culture's heavy influence on our diets. Why did the first woman's parents insist on an all meat-and-white-bread diet? Why did the bus driver think that canned greens (with ham) are the only veggies out there? Why did one of my ex-roommates always put sour cream on his chili? Why does my mother put butter on white rice? Why do Eastern Europeans eat rye bread instead of wheat or white?

I showed a friend of mine the gorgeous "japonica" rice I'm eating, which is purple, brown, and black. He expressed disinterest right away, explaining that Chinese culture insists that white rice is the rice, and that his tastes are based on what he was taught - he was convinced that other rices must have an unpleasant texture.

This probably isn't news to you, but this is part of the point of my interviews with friends about what they eat: I'm trying to figure out why some people stick to what they had at home, or what was normal in their area, and others don't.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:03 AM

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