Earlier this year when I was teaching in Princeton and writing a new book, I decided to abstain from alcohol for the six weeks of Lent. It was hard, especially in a restaurant at night when I longed for a glass or two of red wine.
As I stuck it out, I began to plan the pleasure I would have after midnight mass on Saturday, April 11, when my pledge would come to an end. For six weeks I had treasured a special bottle of red wine to be drunk slowly and savored that night. But as mass went on at St. Boniface's Oratory in Brooklyn, with all the lighting of candles and singing of hymns, I began to be tempted by thoughts of Guinness.
Instead of praying and concentrating on the glories of the resurrection, I began to imagine a pub with a large window and the moment of watching the miracle of the black liquid and the tilted glass, and of standing there and watching the Guinness settle and then, almost as though this were a secular sacrament, the glass being slowly filled to the brim with the creamy clerical collar. For six weeks I had been good, and now, when the religious ceremony had ended and we were told to go in peace, I set off with my companions to Pete's Waterfront Alehouse and I proved to myself, if not to the wider world, that the notion that Guinness doesn't travel, or can only be drunk with pure satisfaction in Ireland, is a myth.
Recently in Food and Drink Category
There's fair trade coffee and then there's fair trade coffee.
In our house we do not use "Fair Trade Certified" coffee beans. "Fair Trade Certified" is a relatively new group of programs and they have their flaws. The most significant one being the cost to certify. Farmers have to pay inspectors to certify their farms, and the same goes for organic certification. So the farmer sees even less of his already small profits.
Instead we prefer to buy from small roasteries whose buyers investigate the farms themselves as part of the purchasing process. There is no extra cost for this, and the roasteries or buyers also get a chance to see in what way they might build up the communities in which the farms are located.
Here in Champaign, our own local Columbia Street Roastery is doing just that. So not only are we buying fair trade, but we are also supporting local business. It's a win-win. There are many other roasteries with practices like this; it just takes a little poking to find out what the companies values are.
October was Fair Trade month. All month I meant to put something up here about my thoughts on fair trade. Better late then never!
For some time I have been making a concerted effort to only purchase items that are sweat-shop/abuse free. The idea started with a simple question from our eldest, at the time 3 years old, "Who made my shoes?" The shoes came from Target and were made in China. My response was, "People working in a factory in China." The conversation continued with requests from him to visit China and see the factory where the shoes were made. Then we moved on, but in my mind I could not stop thinking about the "who" and the conditions under which that person worked.
In thinking about this person who suffered unknown injustices to make a pair of cheap shoes for my son, I felt complicit in their abuse. The obvious next step was to avoid this in the future. The question was and is, "How?"
So far, it has not been possible for me. Despite high ideals, I have all kinds of loop-holes and exceptions. Abuse of persons in the third world is frightenly common in our ordinary life. In our house two simple, yet significant, steps reduce participation in that abuse. First, we buy second hand as much as possible. The item's origin might have been a sweatshop, but our money is not supporting systemic abuse. Second we buy fair trade coffee and cocoa/chocolate. Coffee and cocoa are widely sold at prices that cannot support even remotely just practices. A few extra dollars for these luxuries prevents our money from driving a farmer deeper into debt or supporting the routine kidnapping of boys for labor.
These steps are not going to change the world, but they can bring about solidarity. We cannot avoid every level of abuse in our society. It is barely possible to avoid the abuses we are aware of let alone the ones of which we never even hear. Yet giving up and saying there is nothing that can be done is not an option for a person of conscience. Something must be done; something that says "I will not participate in the suffering of my brothers and sisters." These things are our small way of saying that. Hopefully, we will grow toward greater solidarity as we relearn how to shop.
Dorothy Day explained this much better than I ever could. I will try to locate her words on the subject and share them here, but until then I have a few more things to say on this subject, which I will save for another day.
Me: "Lord Byron famously proclaimed that lobster salad, served with champagne, was the only thing a woman should be seen eating."
She: I hate lobster
Me: You're not a big fan of champagne either.
She: And I don't really like Byron.
The review is actually pretty interesting.
The most gripping moments in Barbe-Nicole's saga occur in 1814 as Russian troops, retreating from battlefield defeat at the hands of Napoleon's armies, threatened to overrun Reims, where the family's then-flailing business was based. Ordering workmen to seal the entrance to her cellars, the widow hoped to prevent the soldiers from raiding her wines, especially those made in 1811, the year of a legendary grape harvest. The cellars were not looted, as it turned out; the soldiers mostly bought the wine, spreading the word of its nectar-like qualities when they returned east. "Today they drink," she said. "Tomorrow they will pay!"
In these tight times, I recommend eating beans. They are nutritious and cheap, and can be delicious. They do have some side effects, but when you are with your family (which you have to be because you cannot afford to go out,) that is not so bad.
The trick to great beans is to start with dry beans. After attempting to cook dry beans many times, I had given up. They always came out tough! Then I read an article in Cook's Illustrated which gave me the secret ingredient -- salt. If you add a generous amount of salt to your soaking liquid, the bean skins will melt in your mouth. The other trick is to keep out acids (tomatoes) until the end.
To prepare my family's favorite black beans, simply boil 1 cup of cleaned beans in 6 cups of salted water (or broth) for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let them sit for about and hour. Return to medium heat, add a diced onion and cook for about 45 minutes. Add 2 cans of diced tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes. These beans, served over a simple rice pilaf, make a fabulous comfort food and a very cheap meal.
What I read during my lunch:
This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you've inherited -- designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so -- are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food -- organic, local, pasture-based, humane -- are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform. Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that "this is a conservative cause if ever there was one."
I have a post kicking around in my head on Michael Pollan as one of the most prominent and effective opponents of materialism. Someday I'll find the time to write it.
Having elsewhere published a thoughtful review of Archbishop Chaput's book that was mostly positive, Zmirak returns with sharper criticism. The title of his piece -- "Surrender Not Unto Caesar--Resisting Catholic Liberalism" gives you a hint of what he's getting at, but Zmirak is not throwing bombs here:
In America, by our Constitution as it has been authoritatively interpreted, the State is now relentlessly secular. In practice, it is rigorously relativistic. Altering either of these settled facts in American life would be unthinkably hard. Therefore, any Christian engaged in public life must seek to shrink the sphere of the State, and reduce its functions to their bare, libertarian minimum--in order to leave some room for the practice of Christian life. The bishops' predecessors realized this, when they tapped the meager resources of impoverished immigrants to build an entire, nationwide system of alternative Catholic schools. Instead of trying vainly to Romanize the (then vigorously if vaguely Protestant) schools, they built their own. A very American response to such a problem--and also a deeply Catholic one. Homeschoolers today follow in the footsteps of Abp. "Dagger" John Hughes.
The Church is officially committed to localism, rather than centralism. Catholic teaching on subsidiarity asserts that no problem should be taken up by the State which can be resolved by private action, and that no local matter should be referred to central authorities unless local institutions are hopelessly inadequate--as they are, for instance, to guard the border against foreign invasion, or prosecute interstate crimes. Empower the federal government to control (as it now does, with bishops' approval) education, social services, health care and retirement benefits, and you guarantee that each of these vital areas of life will be directed according to non-Christian or anti-Christian principles
After tracing the dissolution of America's once formidable "institutional culture" -- a collapse which had long been stirring, became visible with JFK's embodiment of Catholics' conformity to mainstream American culture and finally exploded with the backlash against Humanae Vitae -- Zmirak notes that the Church's loss of institutional authority has led American Catholics "to depend for what voice she has on the charisma of isolated individuals, such as Mother Angelica, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Fr. George Rutler" -- admittedly a formidable line-up, but no substitute for being formed in the faith by a family, parish, indeed an entire sub-culture steeped in Catholicism.
Here is where he gets back to Chaput and here is where the article breaks down a bit (hence the "goodish" tag). He makes some useful comments on the temptation of Catholic liberalism to short-sell justice in favor of mercy, but nowhere does he connect this "sentimental liberalism" with Archbishop Chaput except saying that this is a "problem" with chaput's book.
I feel compelled to issue a double disclaimer -- I hold no brief for John McCain and feel incapable of voting for either him or Barack Obama in good conscience and I also really, really like American Conservative.
That said, come on, now:
As we explore explanations for some of Senator McCain's actions, it is important to bear in mind that any professional who would render a definitive diagnosis on an individual he has not interviewed or tested is prostituting his credentials
That said, I believe it is highly likely that John McCain suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
With the tanking economy effectively handing Barry O the presidency, is this really necessary?
Apparently the growing trend is for parents to allow their children to live as the opposite sex, even giving them drugs that block the onset of puberty:
It took the gay-rights movement 30 years to shift from the Stonewall riots to gay marriage; now its transgender wing, long considered the most subversive, is striving for suburban normalcy too. The change is fuel‑ed mostly by a community of parents who, like many parents of this generation, are open to letting even preschool children define their own needs. Faced with skeptical neighbors and school officials, parents at the conference discussed how to use the kind of quasi-therapeutic language that, these days, inspires deference: tell the school the child has a "medical condition" or a "hormonal imbalance" that can be treated later, suggested a conference speaker, Kim Pearson; using terms like gender-identity disorder or birth defect would be going too far, she advised. The point was to take the situation out of the realm of deep pathology or mental illness, while at the same time separating it from voluntary behavior, and to put it into the idiom of garden-variety "challenge." As one father told me, "Between all the kids with language problems and learning disabilities and peanut allergies, the school doesn't know who to worry about first."
A recent medical innovation holds out the promise that this might be the first generation of transsexuals who can live inconspicuously. About three years ago, physicians in the U.S. started treating transgender children with puberty blockers, drugs originally intended to halt precocious puberty. The blockers put teens in a state of suspended development. They prevent boys from growing facial and body hair and an Adam's apple, or developing a deep voice or any of the other physical characteristics that a male-to-female transsexual would later spend tens of thousands of dollars to reverse. They allow girls to grow taller, and prevent them from getting breasts or a period.
The whole article is pretty shocking and disturbing. I don't mean to be insensitive, and I'm sure parents who have to deal with this have it rough, but letting your 6 year old decide their own sex is too much.
That's all folks!
For between £200 and £2,000, people can buy a cow that stands no taller than a large German shepherd dog, gives 16 pints of milk a day that can be drunk unpasteurised, keeps the grass "mown" and will be a family pet for years before ending up in the freezer.
Policy Review has a surprisingly positive review of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, available at fine bookstores everywhere.
As for hangover remedies, they are legion. There are certain unifying themes, however. When you ask people, worldwide, how to deal with a hangover, their first answer is usually the hair of the dog. The old faithful in this category is the Bloody Mary, but books on curing hangovers—I have read three, and that does not exhaust the list—describe more elaborate potions, often said to have been invented in places like Cap d’Antibes by bartenders with names like Jean-Marc. An English manual, Andrew Irving’s “How to Cure a Hangover” (2004), devotes almost a hundred pages to hair-of-the-dog recipes, including the Suffering Bastard (gin, brandy, lime juice, bitters, and ginger ale); the Corpse Reviver (Pernod, champagne, and lemon juice); and the Thomas Abercrombie (two Alka-Seltzers dropped into a double shot of tequila). Kingsley Amis suggests taking Underberg bitters, a highly alcoholic digestive: “The resulting mild convulsions and cries of shock are well worth witnessing. But thereafter a comforting glow supervenes.” Many people, however, simply drink some more of what they had the night before. My Ukrainian informant described his morning-after protocol for a vodka hangover as follows: “two shots of vodka, then a cigarette, then another shot of vodka.” A Japanese source suggested wearing a sake-soaked surgical mask.
Application of the hair of the dog may sound like nothing more than a way of getting yourself drunk enough so that you don’t notice you have a hangover, but, according to Wayne Jones, of the Swedish National Laboratory of Forensic Medicine, the biochemistry is probably more complicated than that. Jones’s theory is that the liver, in processing alcohol, first addresses itself to ethanol, which is the alcohol proper, and then moves on to methanol, a secondary ingredient of many wines and spirits. Because methanol breaks down into formic acid, which is highly toxic, it is during this second stage that the hangover is most crushing. If at that point you pour in more alcohol, the body will switch back to ethanol processing. This will not eliminate the hangover—the methanol (indeed, more of it now) is still waiting for you round the bend—but it delays the worst symptoms. It may also mitigate them somewhat. On the other hand, you are drunk again, which may create difficulty about going to work.
This interview with doctor and author Daphne Miller from Gourmet is worth your time.
DM: Absolutely. There is hot, but it’s very combined with sweet. Hot is not actually an instinctual taste that we seek out, like sweet, salty, and fatty; hot is a learned healing taste. So [the food industry has] harnessed the idea that hot is somehow good, but matched it with loads of high fructose corn syrup so that it becomes palatable.
But fermented is probably one of the greatest losses, I’m figuring out. I swear, if we could get everybody in this country to eat one serving a day of a really good-quality yogurt that was relatively unsweetened, and truly made through a fermentation process, I think that in itself would be a major step forward in terms of public health. That, or some other fermented food. But most people have nothing that’s truly fermented in their diet. Even the pickles and sauerkraut and things that you can buy in some supermarkets across America aren’t made through a true fermentation process anymore. So they lack all the health benefits. But recently the medical literature has been showing that genetic information is actually put into our gut through eating fermented foods. It’s becoming really obvious that this plays a key role in everything from food allergies to possible cancer prevention...
CH: And so it’s really telling to look at cultures where Western diseases just don’t exist.
DM: Right. And the proof positive is that we’re exporting this disease now. So effectively. Okinawa was just amazing: You have this culture that is so remarkable for longevity and low rates of cancer, and within one generation, our food corporations have achieved near-magical results in terms of transforming Okinawans into a group of obese diabetics with metabolic syndrome. You have these grandmothers who are 100 watching their great-grandchildren waddle around and suffer from obesity.
Miller's new book, which explores the health benefits of traditional diets from around the world, is going on my "library list."
-Kingsley Amis quoted here by Alexander Waugh
Lawrence Fisheries has a webpage.
Late night, fish chips
If you recognize that reference I command you to leave a comment.
Colin Bower makes a heroic sacrifice to investigate the relationship of thruth, metaphor and language by swigging a Malbec.
And that's before he uncorks.
[Before I begin, I'd like to ask that if my sister-in-law Regina is reading this, go on ahead an skip to the next post.]
So West Virginia is banning high-proof grain alcohol.
My thoughts go bck to the late 90's, when my roommate/drinking buddy and I would stumble home after a long night of excessive alcohol abuse and trade shots of Gem Clear (190 proof) just to finish ourselves off.
Or to even earlier times than that, when my floormates and I spiked Fruitopias with Gem clear and took them to our Japanese Language and Culture class.
Not my fondest nor proudest memories, these, but still I find myself getting sentimental at the news...
Traditional European winemakers try to survive the market takeover by American wine-labs.
Link found at (and clever title stolen from) Arts and Letters Daily.