Sunday, February 20, 2011

Slowly Returning

Life slowly returns to normal.

I've been watching a lot of stuff from Netflix - on demand and DVDs - as I've been wading through my  emotional detritus these last two months. I cam across a very interesting British detective series I recommend to anyone. It's called Life on Mars and has two very short (by US standards) seasons of eight episodes each. The basic premise is a contemporary police detective, Sam Tyler, is involved in a car accident. He wakes up in 1973, still a police detective in the same city. Much psychopathy ensues. The first season deals with a specific problem from Sam's past (which is the series' present) while the second season tries to provide a satisfactory explanation of what the hell is happening. It is a brilliant bit of story telling.

 I don't have much to say about the events in northern Africa and the Persian Gulf as I think the denizens of those locales have a much better grasp on their life and objectives than I ever could. The best commentary on the effect of the various revolts on US interests in the region (including analysis of what those interests are and why) I have come across is Pat Lang & invited friends on Sic Semper Tyrannis. Something to offend everyone. I think the comparisons between the revolts in these nations with the uproar in Madison are specious and silly, trivializing both by collapsing ginormous historical, cultural, economic and other differences. People doing so sound like Obots from 2008 trying to hook his political campaign to the civil rights movement.

Finally, I'm amused by this article in The Atlantic Monthly calling the "foodie" culture what it is - elitist gluttony tied up with a moralistic bow. The key paragraphs are these:

The moral logic in Pollan’s hugely successful book now informs all food writing: the refined palate rejects the taste of factory-farmed meat, of the corn-syrupy junk food that sickens the poor, of frozen fruits and vegetables transported wastefully across oceans—from which it follows that to serve one’s palate is to do right by small farmers, factory-abused cows, Earth itself. This affectation of piety does not keep foodies from vaunting their penchant for obscenely priced meals, for gorging themselves, even for dining on endangered animals—but only rarely is public attention drawn to the contradiction. This has much to do with the fact that the nation’s media tend to leave the national food discourse to the foodies in their ranks. To people like Pollan himself. And Severson, his very like-minded colleague at The New York Times. Is any other subculture reported on so exclusively by its own members? Or with a frequency and an extensiveness that bear so little relation to its size? (The “slow food” movement that we keep hearing about has fewer than 20,000 members nationwide.)

The same bias is apparent in writing that purports to be academic or at least serious. The book Gluttony (2003), one of a series on the seven deadly sins, was naturally assigned to a foodie writer, namely Francine Prose, who writes for the gourmet magazine Saveur. Not surprisingly, she regards gluttony primarily as a problem of overeating to the point of obesity; it is “the only sin … whose effects are visible, written on the body.” In fact the Catholic Church’s criticism has always been directed against an inordinate preoccupation with food—against foodie-ism, in other words—which we encounter as often among thin people as among fat ones. A disinterested writer would likely have done the subject more justice. Unfortunately, even the new sociological study Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape is the product of two self-proclaimed members of the tribe, Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann, who pull their punches accordingly; the introduction is titled “Entering the Delicious World of Foodies.” In short, the 21st-century gourmet need fear little public contradiction when striking sanctimonious poses.

The same goes for restaurant owners like Alice Waters. A celebrated slow-food advocate and the founder of an exclusive eatery in Berkeley, she is one of the chefs profiled in Spoon Fed. “Her streamlined philosophy,” Severson tells us, is “that the most political act we can commit is to eat delicious food that is produced in a way that is sustainable, that doesn’t exploit workers and is eaten slowly and with reverence.” A vegetarian diet, in other words? Please. The reference is to Chez Panisse’s standard fare—Severson cites “grilled rack and loin of Magruder Ranch veal” as a typical offering—which is environmentally sustainable only because so few people can afford it. Whatever one may think of Anthony Bourdain’s moral sense, his BS detector seems to be working fine. In Medium Raw he congratulates Waters on having “made lust, greed, hunger, self-gratification and fetishism look good.” Not to everyone, perhaps, but okay. 

Yeah, this is close to my view on the whole in-crowd foodie fetish. Myers spends more time on the moral contradictions, whereas I would have been putting greater emphasis on the enforcement of class difference, but we come down with the same final perspective, "...the foodie fringe enjoys enough media access to make daily claims for its sophistication and virtue, for the suitability of its lifestyle as a model for the world. We should not let it get away with those claims."

Back to my brooding,



The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

Yes, Life on Mars is superb, simply superb. You probably have read forward already but to find out how time can go back and forth, one needs to watch the Ashes to Ashes series, --the continuation of Life on Mars. However, it is not as pleasing for me, mostly because the 80s just are not as groovy as the early 70s.

If you love the actor who plays Sam Tyler, (John Simm), in which I most certainly do, you can watch him in another excellent, actually outstanding mini-series called, State of Play (2003). Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck (State of Play, 2009) are junior high drama students compared to the performance John Simm and David Morrissey deliver.

P.S. I am now eating a red bell pepper at least three times a week. LOL! However, I am so not a foodie.

Bob Harrison said...

I still have "Life On Mars" spinning happily away on my DVR-- great show-- the Brit original and its spin-off "Ashes To Ashes" are also quite good. I did the Whole Foods thing once-- I've eaten better. I'll stick to the local garden and junk food but then I am a lower class bitter-clinger. Glad to see you're coming back.

Anglachel said...

Bob & The Fabulous,

It's good to be sticking my toe back in the waters. I've also been devouring Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. I know it's sacrilege to say so, but I am mostly indifferent to the art work. The stories are good, though.

I'm debating about watching Ashes to Ashes because Life on Mars was so pitch perfect. It ended with a completed story that left me satisfied, yet wanting more. I'll see if I can get State of Play. John Simm is a fantastic actor.

Red bell peppers are very good for you, especially when purchased somewhere besides Whole Foods. I've been keeping a food database since October, tracking what I buy, where I buy it and what it costs. The cheapest I paid for red bells was .89/lb just today at the local small grocer and the most expensive was $2.62/lb at Trader Joe's in December.

Local vegetables and cheap junk food. Works for me. I'm going to roast some vegetables for dinner tonight. I've got a couple of potatoes, a big turnip, a parsnip and a few carrots. Team that up with pinto beans and a ladle of homemade chili and we're talking good eats.

I'll be writing more about food, economics and technology this year, I hope.


Koshem Bos said...

I went through the slow going back to normal about ten years ago; it is indeed slow, but the slowness mixes the bitter with the sweet memories. Wisdom is not part of the walk.

Food didn't escape our widening class system nor did it escape the move to the lowest common denominator. I cook a lot; I love cooking. Cooking is about knowing the ingredients, the tools and different cuisines. It's interesting because it's menial and creative. Everything else is paraphernalia.

British TV left for another time. said...

There was a book briefly on the shelves in the Cultural Studies section - somewhere between Pollan and the Jonathan Safran Foer book - that purported to point out the naked emperor of some of the more righteous moralizing when it came to food choices...I'll try to remember the title.

It sort of came and went.

Buying an expensive pepper is such an easy way for some people to save the world, I'm guessing that reading "maybe, not so much" over 300 pages wasn't so enticing.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to say I have lost both of my parents, and the emotional journey is neither straight nor quick. My thoughts are with you as you make your way. It is good to see you posting, even if a little bit. Take care.