1

2

3

4

“A FEAST IS made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything,” says Ecclesiastes 10:19. That’s a surprise, considering the Bible’s other words on coin, but then again its dietary advice isn’t self-consistent either. Food often isn’t. Fruit ripens through rot, and feast invokes famine. For all the lavishness and delicacy of food culture, every meal has the same end. And money is still the answer for everything. Food writing dilates on the edible, of course. An entire segment of the publishing industry is devoted to the various ways we configure calories before they pass through our stomachs: on dishes, at restaurants, in the hands of chef-auteurs. Some of these banquet speeches complement the meal; others, in their glazed-eyed obsession with the aliment in front of them, speak with food in their mouths. Still more rush to man barricades in the 21st century diet wars with claims not just to knowledge but goodness of palate and heart. We thought we would look at the other side of this food issue. In these articles, food doesn’t sit on a plate or tongue for long. We’re more interested in its circulation through geography, markets, and bodies—racialized, classed, and gendered. This volume of The
5

New Inquiry Magazine looks at feast and famine as concepts that coordinate bodies within the social metabolism. The issue begins by arguing with taste, with reviews of fruits and vegetables on their own merits. In Charlotte Shane’s “Wrong Way to Eat,” binging and purging are rehabilitated to an extent, as pathologized versions of excess and ascesis that aren’t questioned when religions (or men) do them. Karla Villavicencio tracks the red stain of food dyes along the timberline of the ghetto, a territory that is neither food desert nor nameless gastrobiome. Peter Frase wheels around to investigate intellectual property’s new place at the table, and Willoughby Cooke fills in what “farm-to-table” elides: the kitchen and the people who work there. Christine Baumgarthuber tells the story of Juliet Corson, a 19th century American home economist, who some thought “did more good than all the anarchists, unionists and socialists’ propaganda combined.” Elliot Ross looks at the evolution of advertising used to sell hunger and U2 to buyers who are already full. And Adam Rothstein interviews food geographer Nicola Twilley on counterfeit ketchup and the infrastructure of refrigeration. Food connects individual bodies to the circuits of production, but that linkage is never clean or even. Eating is messy, storage is messy, distribution is messy, planting is messy, and none of them is especially appetizing if you look too close. Unlike the food writers who always seem to commit the literary version of going to the grocery store hungry, we’re trying to see the movement of calories with fresh eyes. n

6

Fruits and Vegetables
edited by ATOSSA ABRAHAMIAN

Bananas, artichokes, and salsify, reviewed

Anti-Banana by ELISA GABBERT THE “UNIQUE” TASTE, texture, and “design” of bananas leave much to be desired. To speak first to the taste: Bananas are one of the few fruits that is not even appealing to children when converted into candy form— banana-flavored Runts and Laffy Taffy are among the most swapped, nay, reviled kinds of Halloween candy, left along with Tootsie Rolls and Bottle Caps at the bottom of the plastic pumpkin. Cherry-flavored and appleflavored candies, on the other hand, may taste nothing like their namesake fruits but are at least appealing qua junk food. Banana flavor out-bananas bananas and, as such, reminds us of health food when
7

we’re trying to focus on sugar. The texture of bananas rivals microwave oatmeal and lowfat yogurt in sheer lack of appeal, requiring no involvement of the teeth whatsoever. The design flaws of the banana are legion. Unless housed in a hard, banana-shaped casing (an object which is available for purchase but has no other conceivable use), bananas decompose in the process of being transported. When more or less than perfectly ripe, the stem resists snapping, causing the top inch of the banana—the all-important first bite—to be smooshed into a paste. Must I go on? Yes, bananas turn black when placed in the freezer. Let us remember that uniqueness is not in itself a virtue. This “unique” feature of bananas primarily serves to remind us that we are essentially eating garbage. Compared

ATOSSA ABRAHAMIAN

to apples, which can last in the fridge for weeks, the pre-garbage window for bananas is remarkably short, a few days at best, and this is true only if your embarrassing father or an aging aunt perversely prefers rotting bananas. Watching (not to mention smelling) a person eat a banana in a blackened state, one feels Death’s icy fingers graze the back of one’s neck. Bananas may have some interesting structural facets. For example a Trivial Pursuit card once informed me that bananas have five “sides” (yes, they are in some sense pentagons or perhaps even pentagrams). However, the topic of structural concerns brings

us to one of the most disturbing facts about bananas, a fact that is rarely spoken of. This fact is banana strings. Bananas have strings. Strange strings that connect the peel to the fruit and seem to belong to neither. Are you supposed to eat these strings? Are they digestible? No one is saying. And yes: the noun banana is initially pleasing on a superficial level. But notice how it skirts the palindrome question. It is almost a palindrome, but not quite. Much like the fruit is, on occasion, when perfectly yellow with no brown spots but no fibrous green ends, almost a tasty snack—but not quite.

u

Pro-Banana by CATHERINE MENG BANANAS HAVE ENDEARED themselves to us in such creative ways that it is hard to imagine a world worth living in without them. Humor, music, poetry, recycling, and failed recreational drug use all owe quite a good deal to the banana. Linguistically, bananas share many of the same characteristics as Mississippi, in that children and Gwen Stefani like to shout out their spellings. Would Bananarama would be where they are today if their name had been Grapeorama? And would the world be guffawing its head off at Buster Keaton had he slipped on a grapefruit?
8

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

If you stick your finger in the middle of a peeled banana cut cross-wise, it will evenly split into three sections like the Mercedes Benz logo. And if you put it in the freezer, it will turn black. Without bananas we would not have the funny story about that time at summer camp when we tried to smoke banana peels nor the Dead Milkmen song that gave us the idea. Did you know that during the 19th century, as a preventive measure to cut down on the risk of slipping on a banana peel, cities relied on wild pigs to dispose of rotting organic matter? This later led to the first recycling programs in the United States. Just think, without the banana there would be no recycling. Only landfills and wild pigs roaming the streets . . . Sure, bananas aren’t cute like berries, practical like apples and oranges, or great

baked in pies like peaches or cherries, and they get all mushy in fruit salad—but when we stop comparing the banana to other fruit and appreciate it for its own unique taste, texture, and design, we should acknowledge that the banana demands perhaps not our fan-club membership but at least our profound respect. Perhaps bananas were set up for failure when they were labeled as fruits. Some day, an elite research team in Holland will publish their groundbreaking paper that scientifically proves there is a new phylum or kingdom or whatever, and that it comprises bananas, platypus, and Gwar. Bananas!

u

Desperately Seeking Salsify by KARA BLOOMGARDEN-SMOKE IT’S A GOOD idea to be able to correctly pronounce the name of the obscure vegetable you are trying to find. I met my friend at the Farmer’s Market in McCarren Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We went early, so it was all babies in pea coats and dads with facial hair. After an egg sandwich from the egg-sandwich cart, I set to work. I had once seen “smashed potatoes with salsify” listed on the blackboard of a Brooklynthemed restaurant in Williamsburg and was never sure whether it was a real thing. So I decided to find out.
9

ATOSSA ABRAHAMIAN

“Do you have salsify?” I asked at the stand with the better produce and long lines. I cut the line, past the people clutching dandelion greens and rainbow chard. I pronounced it like salsa-fi. The farmers, who seemed like they knew what they were talking about, had never heard of it. My friend told me it was pronounced sal-sif-i. I asked at another booth, pronouncing it her way. “You mean salsa-fi?” the farmer said. He didn’t have any either. While searching for salsify, I ran into Jordan, this guy I know who owns a farm-totable—or, rather, farmers’-market-to-table type place in my neighborhood. He seems quite fond of sorrel. I figured if anyone could tell me about salsify, Jordan was the guy. But Jordan didn’t know. He didn’t really know how it was pronounced or where to find it. Although he gave me the names of some Union Square Farmers who may know. But I never did make it across the river. I pulled out my iPhone and Googled “salsify season” and “salsify recipes.” Some things I learned about salsify: It’s a member of the sunflower family. It’s a root vegetable. You can eat both the root and the leaves, although the root isn’t too pretty. But that’s okay. If you are the kind of person who is cooking salsify, you should not be the kind of person who is overly concerned with appearances. It is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, after the first frost. So theoretically, now is the perfect time to give it a go. But try telling that to the good farmers of the McCarren Park Farmers Market. It takes 150 days to grow. “The most surprising thing about salsify,
10

the first time you eat it, is its flavor,” the Washington Post wrote last January. “Traditionally it is called ‘oyster plant,’ a name as inaccurate as it is unappetizing. The roots taste nothing like oysters, and nothing like parsnips either. They taste like artichoke hearts.” It sounds delicious. I like artichokes a lot. I like oysters; even if salsify doesn’t taste like an oyster I wouldn’t mind being the judge of that. Too bad I still haven’t found it. I’ve since looked in Chinatown and other farmers’ markets, but to no avail. Maybe when I grow up, move to Park Slope, and start picking up my weekly CSA box, I’ll finally satisfy my salsify curiosity. Or I’ll go to a Brooklyn-themed restaurant in another state and look up at the blackboard and there, nestled between the Amish Chicken and Kale Caesar salads, I’ll once again see the elusive root vegetable. This time, I’ll order it. Someday, somewhere, I will go to a restaurant or a farmers’ market or a dinner party and eat something that tastes like an artichoke but isn’t. And then I will know that my quest is complete. I will have experienced salsify.

u

How to Eat an Artichoke by LILLY O’DONNELL ARTICHOKES ARE USUALLY sold in jars, little X-Files alien fetuses floating in oil. But to buy them that way—jarred or canned,

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

already tamed—is to miss out on a carnivorous experience. It’s like buying a slab of venison wrapped in cellophane vs. taking down a deer in the woods. Eating an artichoke is about the thrill of the hunt. Artichokes make you work for your supper, not like spinach or sweet peas or baby carrots, which you can just shove into your mouth raw without a second thought. The artichoke is tough. Its spikes, nestled at the tips of its tightly huddled leaves, would prefer for you to back off. And even after you cook them for 45 minutes (steamed is best), the work isn’t over. You have to skin it, discarding the first couple of layers of protective leaves. Then, you tear the softer leaves off like fingernails, scraping the meat with your teeth.
11

Artichokes do not bleed, but if you dip the leaves in melted butter and let it run down your chin, biting into one is no less primal than eating a juicy, bloody steak. Of course, the leaves are but details— amuse-bouches for the real deal. Once you’ve devoured them, the remains strewn about, covered in teeth marks and droplets of coagulating butter, you reach the delicious innards: the artichoke’s heart. In a feeble, cowering attempt at self-preservation, the artichoke heart is covered with tiny, hair-like spikes that will make you cough and sputter if they get caught in your throat. But this defense mechanism is no match for spoons. Scrape off the fuzz, rinse the heart out, hold it up to the sky, and gorge yourself. n

12

Foodland
NICOLA TWILLEY interviewed by ADAM ROTHSTEIN

Food fraud, flavor wheels, and other issues in the field of Edible Geography

NICOLA TWILLEY IS a researcher, designer, and writer in New York. She is codirector of Columbia University’s Studio-X, co-founder of the Foodprint Project, and still finds the time to write the fascinating blog Edible Geography. In a recent phone interview, she talked about the logic of strategic food reserves, her unusual fascination with “food piracy,” and how the infrastructure of food informs us of global, systemic issues. How would you describe Edible Geography? I had too many diverse interests in food space, culture, naturally built and virtual landscapes, and environmental issues. Rather than having a website where I write about everything that I find interesting, I force myself to go through the lens of food.
13

I initially resisted launching a “food blog”, because of the image of a food blog being just “pictures of cupcakes” or “what I had for lunch”, or “10 exciting new ways to prepare quinoa.” But I think of it as a frame, frequently on an entirely different perspective to a story that I might otherwise miss. It relates to stories of domestication in agriculture, bioarchaeology, culture, technology, and almost anything else. There’s not a lot of stuff you can’t address through the lens of food, so although I call it a constraint, it hardly is at all. There’s that conspicuous-consumption side of it, the foodie side, and then there’s the also the scientific-production side of it, and there’s the distribution, global currents of

ADAM ROTHSTEIN

trade and economy. You been doing some able to cope with the shock. It’s a fascinating work on this, with food stockpiling and stratopic right now. Some countries are dealing tegic reserves. You’ve had stories about when with uncertainty by buying agricultural land things go wrong with stockpiling, the syrup in a land-grab phenomenon. China is buying reserve going missing. How well do you think a vast amount of land in Africa. Rather than reserves work on a daily basis, when we’re build the reserve with the harvest, it is built not hearing about them as having some sort with the land. of emergency? In some ways the land-grab phenomenon There are a multiplicity of types of reis the alternate strategy to the food-reserve serves. Many reserves are all about protecphenomenon. It’s difficult to store food. Retionist trade policy. The maple-syrup reserve frigeration is expensive, and increasingly so. came from Canada’s strategic plan to grow The monitoring and pest control that has the maple-syrup market. It was their clearto go on in storage is incredible. And then headed assessment that if you grow the marthere’s the human challenge. In the developket and then have a bad year, then all your ing world, reserves are intended to provide a hard work in trying to grow the market is cushion if the market fails, to avoid a famine. going down the toilet. So it’s best to build a But if stocks are pilfered and not managed reserve, then grow demand and know that correctly or if there is corruption, then that you can fulfill it. Certain places like the EU strategy fails. are famous for protecting their farmers with The architecture of food storage and presfavorable policies that keep the prices high ervation has not advanced much. There are inenough to guarantee the farmers make a cernovative sensors and shipping, and the packtain rate per measure and result in huge wine aging level has seen improvements. A lot of or butter surpluses. Those kinds of reserves the innovation has been in logistics, and fineare one thing. tuning that so that the supply arrives exactly One of the things that the idea of the stockwhen it’s needed and is exactly calibrated to pile or the reserve introduces is some of the the demand. And that’s amazing technology. difficulties around food planning. Demand But when you throw random weather, piracy, fluctuates, but the supply fluctuates even etc, against that model, maybe it’s too finely more. Some argue in facalibrated and there is vor of a more insuranceno buffer. The technol“If all the trucks policy-type reserve. As ogy of food preservastopped rolling, climate change ramps tion and storage is ripe up and weather events for improvement. I don’t U.S. supermarkets become more severe, know if this is true, I’ve would be out of our just-in-time distrinever been able to verify food in five days.” bution is not going to be this, but it’s said that if
14

FOODLAND

all the trucks stopped rolling, U.S. supermarkets would be out of food in five days. We have this very finely-adjusted just-in-time system, and I see a potential that it will not be resilient enough in the future, with a system subject to extreme weather events. But to fix this would require a truly huge shift in the way that we currently produce and distribute food. One of the things I’m doing now is working with the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) on an exhibition on the landscape of artificial refrigeration. It’s completely fascinating to me how a vast amount of space is kept at a different temperature just to house our food. Our fruits and vegetables each have their own temperature zones—bananas will be at 50°, meat at another temperature. Each of our foods have their own thermal comfort zones. And we dedicate these temples of artificial winter to our food. That geography of refrigeration is something I’m researching for this exhibition and also expanding into a book. You mentioned piracy affecting food. Is food piracy a thing? Or just in the way that global shipping is affected by piracy? I was referring to global shipping, but yeah, it’s a thing. Food crime is fascinating. There was a story just the other day of a New Jersey warehouse where all these counter15

feit bottles of Heinz ketchup exploded. It’s a great story that combines two of my favorite things—exploding food and counterfeit food. We think about counterfeit food as a tiny problem at the moment. At one point, the U.S. had a serious food-fraud problem that led to the 1906 Pure Food Act and the construction of the FDA. What that timeline tells us is about the expanding distance between the producer and the consumer. When consumers become suspicious and trust is no longer ensured by communitylevel person-to-person relationships, the government has to step in with regulation to add the trust back. This copes with the distance put into the food system. China, with all the rapid urbanization it has undergone, is now in need of that government-enforced trust structure, which is why you get these stories about melamine milk and so on. But though we might think

ADAM ROTHSTEIN

about it as a Chinese problem, counterfeit food is still an issue in the U.S. too. There are people with specialties in things like detecting honey fraud. People claim that their industrially produced glucose syrup is actually honey from X, Y, and Z. Every so often in the tech world, you hear that RFID chips are going to be the thing to prevent this, but they’re too expensive right now to implement in terms of basic food commodities. At the high end, you can use them to ensure the authenticity of food. There’s a really good book on the history of food fraud called Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, by Bee Wilson. It looks at the conditions in which food fraud propagates.

first place. There’s such an incredible level of ingenuity. Have you seen the fake eggs video? It’s an overblown story I’m sure—Chinese markets are not filled with carefully crafted fake eggs—but it’s the ingenuity. You have to kind of admire it, in a weird way.

A lot of stuff you cover on Edible Geography revolves around the more hidden sides of food production and distribution, the things we don’t normally think about. What is important about the visualization of those aspects of food? The blog is called Edible Geography, but I sometimes stray very far from what you might call visual, spatial, or cartographic representations. Still, I always return to mapIt feels like a perverse fascination to be inping because it’s such a valuable tool. A map terested in food piracy, but not as bad as is a spatial diagnostic. As an example, you get some tabloid issues one could be interested public health researchers mapping things like in, I suppose. fast-food outlets against demographics or alIt is kind of funny. I was so excited about cohol advertising against problem drinking. the exploding ketchup bottles. It could kill You can’t prove causation with a map, but people, and it’s terrible, but also incredibly you can make some pretty good hypotheses interesting. The idea of simulating food tells out of the patterns of correlations that you us so much about our food system and about find. You can also look for the best place to our culture in general. When you’re simulatintervene, spatially. It allows you to see deing a food, what are the qualities to get right? sign opportunities. This is how consumers relate to that particuI also like the way that a map will let you lar food and how we understand food: visual to see things that are distributed and disconquality, textural quality, nected as something and so on. What does you can understand as a “The idea of it take to pass as a fake whole. A really fun projsimulating food tells ect here in New York is a food? The way that we simulate things tells us crowd-sourced bodegaus so much about so much about how we mapping project. Boour food system.” evaluate things in the degas are not part of a
16

FOODLAND

chain, and they are not a top-down thing. It’s rare that an owner would own even two bodegas. But mapping them and making them visible changes the way we think about bodegas as a whole. As it happens, the city has started to see that they could create initiatives around having fresh produce, etc., in bodegas and make them a health resource. But you don’t see that opportunity if you think about them as just one bodega. What other visuals do you find useful, other than mapping? I have ongoing interest in the idea of the flavor wheel as a tool giving us a framework for measuring sensory perceptions. Professor Ann Noble at UC Davis came up with the wine flavor wheel. The categories it laid out have become a huge marketing tool for the California wine industry. People argue, compellingly, that it has also actually shaped the kinds of wine that are now produced. Once you name something, you can identify it and recognize it and reproduce it. The value of setting up a framework for that is important, but it also shapes what is produced via that framework. With the Venue project I’m doing with Geoff Manaugh, we visited the Chili Pepper Institute in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They’ve recently developed a flavor wheel to try to tap into that idea of appreciation that came with the wine wheel. Various industries are creating these flavor wheels to give people a way to understand and talk about their various olfactory and flavor experiences, to create a sensory profile of what their eating. There are chocolate wheels and maple-syrup
17

wheels. It’s a way to brand and rate the value of a food by implying that it is a rich, nuanced sensory experience, like wine. Of course, the wheel is not new. The other day I posted about urine flavor wheels, which I was introduced to by a really interesting synthetic biology blog called Oscillator. Creating a sensory profile of urine was one of the primary ways to diagnose disease in medieval and Renaissance times, so a urine flavor wheel was a standard inclusion in a medical textbook. For your refrigeration project, what sort of visualizations are you working with? Definitely maps. But CLUI and I have also been talking about how we can create not just visualizations but the actual temperature variations for these different types of foods at the exhibition. This architecture of food storage is about creating spaces for food, and it’s their physiology and form that are being considered. When you spend a lot of time in refrigerated spaces, you slow down. In a lot of the frozen-food warehouses, workers are not allowed to work alone. You don’t even realize that you are slowing down and eventually you stop moving. We have these buildings that we maintain at extraordinary expense that we, physically, are not optimized for at all. We are not optimized for spaces that slow down decay to preserve “freshness”— whatever that means—in our fruits, vegetables, and meats. On the temporal level, what refrigeration does is so weird. It is an extension that slows everything down. n

18

Workingman’s Bread
by CHRISTINE BAUMGARTHUBER

For 19th century culinary expert Juliet Corson radical economics began at home

AS IT WAS for many who went to school in the early 1990s, my junior-high experience with home economics was brief. In theory, I liked cooking, but the idea of doing it in a dour classroom outfitted with fridges and Formica conjured visions of trembling JellO molds and glaucous mounds of pistachiocream salad, crumbly refrigerated biscuits and mushy pinwheels of deviled ham, all tasting the way the cafeteria smelled. I registered for Beginning Consumer Sciences not out of a great love for things domestic but because I wanted to avoid physical education (the only other available elective) and to get an easy A. But my first assignment, broccoli salad, proved unexpectedly difficult: I glopped on too much Miracle Whip and burned the bacon, mistakes that earned
19

me a C- and a gentle admonition to “follow the recipe.” Thanks to the guidance of a teacher both cheerful and good-natured—as you inevitably must be when supervising a roomful of 13-year olds employing sharp knives and hot ranges—I managed to reverse my course. I soon found myself chopping, roasting, and frying with brio, turning out soggy but delicious pineapple upside-down cakes and loads of peanut brittle more salty than sweet. As I was baking and cooking in that classroom, with its four small avocado-green ovens, little did I think that I was participating in something of cultural importance. But recently, academics and food critics have called for a return of home economics to high school curricula. In a 2011 National Public

CHRISTINE BAUMGARTHUBER

Radio interview, Michigan State University history professor Helen Zoe Veit sang the praises of instruction in the domestic arts. “Just by virtue of making foods at home,” she said, “you’re almost guaranteed to be making them much more healthfully than they would be if you buy them at a fast-food restaurant or in virtually any restaurant where fats and sugars are used in . . . enormous quantities.” In summer, Slate ran an article by Torie Bosch, who claimed that “home ec is more valuable than ever in an age when junk food is everywhere, obesity is rampant, and few parents have time to cook for their children.” What’s more, she argues, a course in home economics could help students to teach their cash-strapped families to stretch their dollar. Frugality and thrift, watchwords of austere times past, would once again see recession-wracked Americans through their present ill fortune. Americans’ present ill fortune has persisted for a number of years now and threatens to grow worse, because most politicians appear to agree that present economic realities have made inevitable a rollback of New Deal programs. In a time of diminished prosperity, the thinking goes, citizens are summoned to tighten their belts further. Talk of austerity has the attractive effect of conflating notions of individual conduct with those of economic justice, and so shows itself utterly befitting a neoliberal age. Yet as history demonstrates, the present morality play involving a people perched perilously on a “fiscal cliff ” has seen several dress rehearsals. The association of clever cookery with
20

economic security had long abided in preRoosevelt America. Early home economists thought a well-cooked roast could quell or eliminate everything from public drunkenness to factory riots. For them food was a way not only to ease the bitter pangs of poverty but also to curtail its more disruptive social repercussions. Juliet Corson, founder of the New York Cooking School, was one such advocate of better living through sensible-meal prep. The good life could be had through good cooking, she believed. Eager to show the working classes how to make the most of available foodstuffs that, thanks to the railroad’s aggressive expansion over the course of the 19th century, had increased in both variety and quantity, she penned one of the most popular cooking guides of the era, Fifteen-Cent Dinners for Workingmen’s Families (1877). Its simple, sensible advice helped thousands weather the period’s financial panics and made Corson one of the century’s most notable social reformers. Many Americans were in desperate need of Corson’s brand of social reform. The economic dislocation caused by rapid industri-

WORKINGMAN’S BREAD

alization and cycles of financial panics mired city authorities. The workers assembled anymillions of families in poverty. The panic of way, and mounted police armed with clubs 1873, precipitated by the failure of the incharged them. vestment banking firm Jay Crooke and Co., arrested the economic momentum that had u been achieved during the preceding decades. The New York Stock Exchange closed for 10 days. Factories shut down. Credit evaporatTHOUGH CORSON KNEW she could ed. Of the country’s 364 railroads, 89 went not right the wrongs of industrial capitalism, bankrupt. The next two years saw 18,000 she did believe that she could teach the poor businesses fail. how to keep hearth and home together as By 1877, more than 20 percent of working they waged their battles. “How well can we people found themselves unemployed, while live,” she asked herself, “if we are moderately another 40 percent settled for part-time poor?” She directed every effort to answering work. Between 1865 and 1900 the number this question. of people employed in low-wage manufacCorson knew little of poverty as a child. turing jobs increased from 1.3 million to The only daughter of a prosperous Roxbury, 4.5 million, and the number of factories (or, Massachusetts, produce wholesaler, she perhaps more accurately, sweatshops) rose moved with her family to New York City, from 140,000 to 512,000. Government aswhere she enjoyed an eclectic education sistance, if it came at all, was irregular and from age 6 onward. Tutored by her mother arbitrary. Shanties popped up in field lots in the classics, Corson spent hours in her like so many mushrooms. uncle’s large library reading Latin and Greek With the appearance of shantytowns history and poetry. With her brothers, she came demonstrations, protests and mass took up rowing, fishing, and shooting. strikes by workers grown tired of 14- or 15Though unorthodox, Corson’s childhood hour shifts, dangerous working conditions, was nothing short of idyllic. and low wages. Riots broke out in larger citIt came to an abrupt ies, the most notorious end some 10 years afof which, the Tompkins Corson believed ter her family’s move to Square riot, took place New York. Her mother in New York City on she could teach died, and her father reJanuary 13, 1874, after the poor how to married. His new wife police canceled at the keep hearth and turned her stepdaughlast minute a scheduled ter out of the house, inmeeting between unhome together sisting that she was old employed workers and
21

CHRISTINE BAUMGARTHUBER

enough to earn her own living. Corson found to hear Corson, whose instructional method work as a librarian at the Working Woman’s was immersive. With basket in hand, she led Library, where she earned four dollars a day her students to Fulton Market for lessons on and a place to sleep—in the library. She selecting fresh meat, fish, and vegetables besupplemented her income by writing pofore adjourning to the cooking school, where, ems and short newspaper articles. She would behind a brightly polished range topped with later credit this time of relative poverty with copper saucepans and boilers, she demoninstilling in her fellow-feeling for people of strated how best to prepare them. So successsmall means. ful were her lessons that they attracted the After the onset of the 1873 depression, notice of upper-class colleagues. They encourCorson offered her services to the Women’s aged her not only to continue penning articles Educational and Industrial Society of New and books but also to open her own school, York, which provided vocational training to which she did in 1876. women at a time when thousands of them Corson’s New York Cooking School, inineeded to support themselves but lacked tially based in her own home, charged tuition the knowledge and means. It sought to on a sliding scale and taught both practical keep these women in work to prevent them and more advanced cooking skills to everyfrom succumbing to “moral degradation,” as one from ladies’ maids to young housewives. one contemporary circular phrased it. The Her specialty, however, remained economischool’s administrators tapped Corson to cal cookery. The 34-page Fifteen-Cent Dinners teach culinary arts. Having had little previous for Workingmen’s Families elaborated its finer experience beyond that of making coffee and points. “The cheapest kinds of food are somegrilling steak, she turned to the best Europetimes the most wholesome and strengthenan cookbooks for guidance. “The thoroughing,” Corson insisted. On three nickels (the ness of the German and the delicacy of the equivalent of $2.78 today) the poorest laborFrench” impressed her, and she synthesized er could eat, if not like a king, then perhaps these two Continental influences into “a philike his boss. “In Europe provinces would losophy of her own.” live upon what is wasted This hybrid philosoin towns here,” Corson phy proved immensely lamented. Fifteen-Cent “In Europe popular, because it inDinners revealed veriprovinces would live table plenty in the midst formed an approach to cooking that appeared upon what is wasted of apparent dearth. almost effortless. Just Simply by eliminating in towns here,” about anyone could whip waste, Corson claimed, Corson lamented up tasty, economical a household could find meals. Women flocked nourishment to spare.
22

WORKINGMAN’S BREAD

Nourishing and palatable, the recipes in Fifteen-Cent Dinners derive from the close study Corson made of working-class diets by haunting the city’s public markets and surreptitiously peering into the baskets of the more shabbily dressed women. The slim volume opens with a list of “Daily Bills of Fare for One Week,” which begins with a breakfast of boiled rice and scalded milk. For dinner, there’s corned beef with cabbage; for supper, peas simmered in stock. Similar meals mark the rest of the week’s menu: stewed tripe, salt pot-au-feu, beans boiled in broth, barley boiled in broth—all filling, all nutritious. Sunday permits a touch of luxury. A working-class family starts the day with a relatively lavish breakfast of fried lentils, co23

coa, and bread. Noontime sees them digging into haslet stew and a slice of suet roly-poly, and the evening they greet with a hearty cheese pudding. Dried herbs, piquant relishes, a lemon tincture made from peels steeped in alcohol—all appear with regularity enough to break up any dietetic monotony. Her Christmas menu features roast turkey, baked potatoes, applesauce and plum pudding. For the rest of the year, Corson recommends that housewives use lentils, macaroni, greens (the first two being ideal “heat foods,” as she terms them), and other then-exotic ingredients she considered regrettably overlooked. “Americans are beginning to realize the wealth of green food abounding in their gardens and fields,”

CHRISTINE BAUMGARTHUBER

she writes, “which they have too long abanarticle on Corson, characterizing her as “the doned to their beasts of burden.” Dandelibenefactor of the working classes, for she on, corn salad, chicory, mint, sorrel, fennel, teaches them how to make two dishes where marshmallows, tarragon, chives, mustard, formally they made but one; and the friend and wild cresses ought to adorn the proleof women, for she has shown them the way tarian table. And always on the stove should to a useful and honorable profession.” Hunsimmer stock—a nourishing Continental dreds wrote to Corson asking her to mail touch. “The hardy and thrifty working classes them copies. “Please send me a book,” one of France, the country where the most rigid man requested, “for people of refinement and economy in regard to food is practiced, never education reduced me almost to starvation. use tea or coffee for breakfast, and seldom use God will reward you tenfold.” “I work in a milk,” she writes in the preface to Fifteen-Cent shop where we are getting 80 cents to a $1.44 Dinners. “Their food and drink is BROTH.” day,” wrote another. “If any person with an Corson’s uniquely cosmopolitan approach intelligent eye would walk through our shops to economical cookery won her audience’s and take notice of our lean, haggard, wornapproval. Critics hailed Fifteen-Cent Dinners out faces and bodies, he would come to the as a panacea. The Chicago Tribune claimed conclusion we need some advice.” that between its covers lay “the secret of Corson wanted to get Fifteen-Cent Dineconomy which gives skill to conceal cheap ners into as many Americans’ hands as posthings,” and another prominent newspaper, sible. She mandated that the booklet be free the Christian Union, assured readers that, if to those whose daily wage was $1.50 or less. faithfully followed, the recipes would “put The Baltimore Daily News gave away 1,000 upon the rich man’s table food more nourcopies, and the Philadelphia Record reproishing and palatable than nine out of ten duced the entire text in its pages. Demand well-to-do people ever taste outside of firstprompted her to expand her cooking school, class restaurants.” Yet Corson’s book failed to and she continued to pen cookbooks that please union leaders, who accused its author promoted the virtues of thrift and good food. of conspiring with capitalists to suppress In demand as much domestically as abroad, wages, reasoning that Corson helped estabif workers learned they lish cookery classes in Corson’s book could subsist quite well public schools across failed to please on 15 cents, they would the U.S. In 1893 she lose interest in agitating was asked to organize union leaders, for much more. the New York Cooking who accused her Nonetheless, an 1879 School Exhibit and was of conspiring with issue of Harper’s Monthawarded a medal there ly contained a flattering for her life’s work. capitalists
24

WORKINGMAN’S BREAD

Unwed and impoverished at the time of her death in 1897, Corson won wide acclaim for her ascetic devotion to the culinary cause. Throughout her career she remained a staunch advocate for improving the lives of the poor. “I hope to live to see the time when workingmen can earn enough to supply all their wants,” she once said. “Until then my duty is to show them how to make the best of what they have. And I hold that in doing so I am proving myself a better friend to them than those who try to make them still more discontented with the lot that is already almost too hard to bear.” For many turn-of-the century American workers, safe and equitable working conditions would continue to prove elusive. Some of Corson’s successors insisted that courses in practical cooking did more good than all the anarchists, unionists and socialists’ propaganda combined. Nourishing, economical meals would ameliorate the nation’s social problems and keep civil peace. Armed with ladle and stew pot, the humble American cook had the power to influence the nation’s political direction. “I verily believe if the rigid instructions for food and feeding were implanted in the minds of our girls during their early school days,” wrote home economist Sarah Tyson Rorer after the 1893 crash, “the labor element would not be such discontented individuals.” Many agreed with this sentiment. By the 19th century’s end, settlement houses, YWCAs, girls’ clubs, city missions, and cookery schools dotted the landscape. And though they failed to quell the na25

tion’s burgeoning labor unrest (and pity the worker who would sell his labor rights for a mess of roly-poly pudding!), they made clear a fact that still rings true: The kitchen anchors the country’s economic, social, and political life, and the cook, as its figurehead, exercises far more influence over its course than is commonly thought. And the cook should not be too reticent in exerting that influence. In their ideal form, home-economics courses encourage a radical re-skilling, fostering familiarity with food in its natural state (as opposed to the likely more familiar state of being wrapped in plastic or Mylar) and a respect for the kitchen wisdom that determines our health and contentment. The return of these courses to American schools should be sparked then not by that old spirit of “making do” but by a desire to mount resistance to those forces that would reduce the whole repertoire of recognizably human activities to so many one-click purchases or so much frictionless “sharing.” Corson devoted her life to dispelling the ignorance that often accompanies privation. Cooks today must defend against a more insidious enemy: a modern food industry that profits from that ignorance and blights with degenerative diseases—Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol—spawned by its goods. The sooner we warn children against this goblin market and teach them culinary self-sufficiency, the sooner we can wrest our health and happiness back from the food conglomerates, the factory farms, the lobbyists and the adulterators. n

26

Sowing Scarcity
by PETER FRASE

In capitalism’s inverted world, scarcity grows on trees while resources are blithely wasted

UNEXPECTED SCARCITY LONG characterized agricultural societies—drought, pestilence, fire, and other natural calamities could bring about famine at any moment. But today’s farmers, who have learned to overcome many of these challenges, now face the prospect of a legal, rather than natural disaster. In a case that will soon appear before the Supreme Court, a 74-year-old farmer named Vernon Bowman was ordered to pay $84,000 in damages for infringing on the patents of agribusiness giant Monsanto. His crime was to plant a seed—a patented “Roundup Ready” seed, whose license agreement prohibits using it to produce new ones. Fears about genetically modified crops often
27

revolve around nebulous health concerns, but the Bowman case suggests a different problem: capitalist agriculture puts science to work in the service of increasing profits rather than improving farming. Farmers of old had to worry about parasites infesting their fields. The solution was to douse the plants in chemicals, but this often killed the crops along with the parasites. Roundup Ready soybeans are the technological fix to a technological problem; their DNA is modified to make them resistant to the Roundup pesticide. As of 2012, they accounted for 93 percent of all soy crops in the United States. But as Vernon Bowman discovered, these futuristic seeds carry a sort

PETER FRASE

of legal parasite, one bearing alien property diminished. By the same token, if a farmer claims that threaten to destroy the indepencan harvest and replant seeds from his crop, dent farm entirely. rather than buying new seeds each year, so It turns out that Bowman was trying to much the worse for Monsanto’s stock prices. obey the terms of Monsanto’s license agreeAll of this should make us reconsider the ment and dutifully threw away the seeds now-popular notion of “austerity,” the idea from his crop of Roundup Ready soy rather that scarce resources require state spendthan save them for next season. But he also ing rollbacks. Where we see scarcity, much bought off-brand seeds from a grain elevaof it appears to be imposed by choice. In tor that had been “contaminated” with Monparticular, the increasing weight of intellecsanto’s designer version. When he replanted tual property law heralds a world where the the seeds from the supposedly off-brand prime objective of business is to make things plants, he left himself open to legal action. scarce enough that people will still need to The appeals court that ruled against him was buy them. untroubled by the implications of enforcing Life for many individuals remains austere the patent when virtually all available stocks indeed, due to high unemployment, idle facof soybean seeds contained the Roundup tories, and stagnant or declining wages. Yet Ready genes: “While farmers, like Bowman, the proclamations of a new era of scarcity do may have the right to use commodity seeds not correspond to any obvious change in the as feed, or for any other conceivable use, they material possibilities of our advanced induscannot ‘replicate’ Monsanto’s patented techtrial civilization. The factories were not been nology by planting it in the ground to create destroyed in the financial crisis, and our technewly infringing genetic material, seeds, and nology has not disappeared. American gross plants”. What Monsanto owns is not a thing domestic product per capita, after its precipibut a self-replicating pattern, which opens up tous decline during the Great Recession, is the possibility that Monsanto will soon conwell on its way back to its 2008 peak. trol all soybean seeds everywhere. And each day brings news of new techThe contours of the Monsanto seed lawnological developments that promise to suit are really not so make us richer still, of different from the cases which high-tech seeds that have been brought are only one example. Capitalist against mp3 download3-D printers that will let agriculture puts ers. If one person can us download and print science to work buy a CD and then copy out a new pair of shoes. it for all their friends, the Artificial intelligences in the service of sales prospects of record that can comb through increasing profits companies are greatly medical databases and
28

SOWING SCARCITY

diagnose our obscure ailments. Synthetic to enforce artificial scarcity in agriculture; meats that will make factory farming obsothe Obama administration weighed in on lete. And while we may not get flying cars the Bowman case in favor of Monsanto. The anytime soon, we will get vehicles that piUnited States government regards intelleclot themselves. Despite problems of energy tual property such as seed patents as a key to and resource scarcity that confront some of national economic competitiveness, and the these technologies, many of them are more Office of Management and Budget claims efficient than older forms of production. And that 30 percent of all U.S. jobs are “directly developments in cheap clean energy and reor indirectly attributable to the IP-intensive cycling continue, despite political obstacles industries.” to their adoption. But these parties appear much less trouEven if scarcity becomes a diminishing elebled by the other kind of scarcity that afflicts ment of the human condition, it remains an agriculture. For while the seeds may come essential condition for capitalism, both for from a lab, the soybeans still ultimately come its functioning and its cultural legitimacy. No from the earth. Agriculture is running up one wants to buy something that can be gotagainst ecological limits. In its efforts to creten for free, which is why markets in nameate artificial scarcity, agribusiness threatens brand air have failed to take off, and why to return us to a scarcity of natural resources great efforts in marketing are necessary to through climate catastrophe. persuade people that bottled water is qualiWhile it may not be apparent at the dintatively different from the stuff that comes ner table, modern commercial crops are, like out of their taps. People generally accept plastic and gasoline, a petroleum product. the moral principle that they can’t just walk Energy-related costs make up over 50 perinto the grocery store and take everything, cent of operating expenses for many crops. on the grounds that this would be unfair to The primary energy source is oil. The biggest those who didn’t get any. When scarce goods driver of these costs is not the direct use of need to be rationed, the price mechanism is fuel for machinery or irrigation, but rather the most efficient way to do so, if not always fertilizer, whose production is extremely the most just. But things energy-intensive. Overchange when scarcity is all, the food sector alone Scarcity remains an transparently an impoaccounts for 30 percent essential condition sition of the state rather of the world’s energy than a fact of nature, as consumption. Add it all for capitalism, both in the case of Bowman up and you need a lot for its functioning and his seeds. of Texas tea: a factoryand its cultural Both business and raised cow uses up 284 government are eager gallons of oil over its legitimacy
29

PETER FRASE

lifetime. One way or another, oil supplies are taneously eliminating hunger and malstrictly limited; even if we could find infinite nutrition. But achieving this vision would reserves somewhere, continuing to burn mean major changes to established ways of them at our present pace would render the doing business. Earth an uninhabitable hothouse. Agribusiness makes money by not payThen there is water; 70 percent of worlding the full cost of the ecological damage wide water usage is for agriculture. A hamit wreaks—the “externalities” in economic burger uses 635 gallons, almost as much as jargon. Deforestation produces more grazthe 700 gallons in your cotton T-shirt. It’s a ing land in the short run, more climate myth that you need to drink eight glasses of change in the long run. Pulling more fish water a day, but the food you consume uses from the sea leaves stocks permanently deabout 800 gallons. Water shortages are alpleted. More than 10 percent of the food ready a serious problem in many parts of the produced is wasted, much of it in the proworld, including China and the southwestduction and retailing stages before food ern United States. reaches the consumer. Reining in this beClimate change, too, may render certain havior imposes costs that entrenched inagricultural crops scarce or even extinct. As terests are reluctant to pay. The problem is the climates in which various plants and aniexacerbated by the collective-action probmals evolved begin to change radically, their lem posed by a global problem that calls for viability will be threatened. The United Nacross-national solutions. tions Committee on World Food Security The most successful reforms to date strike predicts large declines in yields for staple at the class relations that govern agriculture crops including corn, wheat, and soy. in many poor countries, where large landAmong the pessimistic ranks of deep owners employ landless peasants at very low ecologists and peak oilers, you’ll find doom wages. A report on “Land Reform and Sussayers predicting inevitable starvation and tainable Development” from the Political die-offs as we exhaust our natural resources. Economy Research Institute at the UniversiBut natural scarcity might be overcome— ty of Massachusetts Amherst describes how we just aren’t really tryBrazil’s Landless Working. The United Nations ers Movement (MST) Depsite the doom Food and Agriculture improved the ecologiorganization describes cal impact of farming sayers fears, natural the possibility of imby securing land rights scarcity could be proving agriculture’s for peasants. They find overcome. We just environmental sustainthat formerly landless ability by “doing more peasants have moved in aren’t really trying with less,” while simulthe direction of more
30

SOWING SCARCITY

sustainable practice, because “once they win secure land rights, the settlers have a powerful incentive to invest in ecological restoration.” Moreover, they explain that small farms are more productive per unit area because self-directed farm labor surpasses capitalistdirected wage labor. This is late capitalism’s inverted world, where business and government treat nature as infinite but strictly ration culture. Thus does capitalism, billed in every economics textbook as the supreme mechanism for allocating scarce resources, degenerate into a machine that introduces scarcity where it need not exist and blithely squanders the things that are in short supply. Capitalism is itself a kind of social technology, one capable of organizing and managing a massive and complex division of labor without concentrating power over the system at any one point. But it is a technology that is much better suited to some tasks than others. When maximizing the output of commodities with the least input of human labor is posed as society’s main problem, capitalism’s defenders can point to it as an historically unsurpassed technology for this purpose. If, however, the main problem is to maintain the ability of the Earth to support an advanced civilization, and to ensure that the bounty of that civilization is shared out equitably, then the situation looks quite different. Since the system responds only to price signals, internalizing the externalities of ecological degradation entails an unceasing campaign of enclosures and commodification, in which every aspect of the natural world must
31

be parceled up into pieces of private property, from carbon credits to fishing rights. And this same reliance on prices ensures that legitimacy of a person’s desires will always be equated with the money at their disposal, and the machine will reproduce a world that caters to the whims of rich countries and rich people. This is ever more of a problem when wage work is still the normal way of making a living, and yet less and less labor is actually required in production. There are, of course, patches for the bugs that have been uncovered in our wondrous machine. Putting a price on carbon emissions could curb the source of global warming, and perhaps we will even develop ways of removing carbon from the air. The scarcity of wage labor and the shortfall in demand could be countered by escalating redistribution, perhaps with a universal basic income. In the short run, such things are no doubt preferable to environmental catastrophe and widespread human misery. But perhaps it’s worth asking why we’re continuing to apply duct tape and bailing wire to a device that is long past the point of historical obsolescence. If Vernon Bowman loses his case before the Court, we will continue toward a future in which all farmers are bound by the phantasmic scarcity of the patent system, paying neofeudal tribute to agribusiness for the right to sow seeds. Meanwhile, we will continue to suck oil and water out of the ground, and pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But an inverted world can only stand on its head for so long. n

32

Wrong Ways to Eat
by CHARLOTTE SHANE

Despite the history of socially sanctioned feasts and fasts, contemporary culture is quick to pathologize women who choose these practices. Why must women have “a good reason”? Isn’t that demand reason enough?

FOR AS LONG as I can remember, I’ve been the type of person who would rather eat five cookies or none at all. I’d rather give a desert away than share it, would rather devour than savor. My hormones fluctuate on a reliable monthly cycle, delivering a week of ravenous hunger against a week of complete ambivalence toward food. During the times when I’m eating-crazed, I love food and feel intensely happy because of my love of it. During the times when I’m eating-apathetic, I feel like food has no impact on my life, my interests, or my desires. These are not states I summon. They are states that occur and subside of their own accord. On all scales, be it day to day or month to month, I notice that my intervals of scant eating are abutted by intervals of heavy eat33

ing. This is the rhythm I fall into naturally, and it’s comfortable. For me, it’s right. My weight is stable and within the range clinically allotted for a woman of my height. I’m in impeccable health; I rarely get sick. The only problem with listening to my body is that my body wants to consume in a way that has been deemed unruly, unhealthy. I appear out of control when I eat to satisfy my larger appetite, mentally ill when I eat as little as my minor appetite prefers. For many American women, healthy eating is negative space, an imperative discerned in the cracks between strictures on how not to consume. There are a great many more wrong ways to eat than there are right. This is reflected in the numerous modern diagnoses for an array of unacceptable patterns:

CHARLOTTE SHANE

eating disorders, eating disturbances, “dysthat healthy eating is eating that supports functional” and “disordered” eating. Most of health—albeit with plenty of vague invocathese we know by name: anorexia, bulimia, tions of “right quantities of food” and bebinge eating, food addiction. Slowly, veganing sure to consume from “all food groups.” ism and vegetarianism are slipping into this Healthy eating is the shadow of disordered category; they can be used as shorthand to eating and nothing more. It is discussed not indicate what the DSM-V calls “avoidant/ as a personally divined way of life but as a restrictive food intake disorder.” Combinstructured, learned method of correction. ing impressions from anecdotal experiences, It’s very hard to find information on healthy Lifetime movie characters, and sensational eating that doesn’t immediately conflate it news stories yields corresponding images to with weight loss. And it’s is no surprise, then, these diagnoses readily enough: Here is the that instructions for healthy eating regularly girl who hides jars of vomit in her closet; the employ the same language used to describe fat woman who cries as she eats her third signs of illness in some women. For instance, pizza alone; the teenager who weighs herself healthy eating should entail goal setting, three times a day, rationing out celery sticks food replacement, and portion control—befor all three meals. haviors that, according to the National Heart Yet what images come to mind for healthy Blood and Lung Institute, are dangerous for a eating? A woman laughing with salad? Two teenage girl if she’s not overweight. slim, tanned, white people at an organic resPresumably, the health being supported taurant’s picnic table? A plate bright with by healthy eating is mental, emotional, and a quadrant of greens, a quadrant of white physical, which only complicates matters meat, a small nugget of bread next to a modsince the three rarely respond to any choice est helping of beans? Quick experiment: unanimously. I may be soothed by a plate of What does a “healthy eating” image search nachos while distressed at the calories, intelyield? Overwhelmingly, it returns pictures of lectually aware that it’s not “nutritious,” yet food (produce is popular) or graphics readphysically delighted with the gustatory expeing simply healthy rience. Or I may be meneating. A “disordered tally and emotionally at eating” search turns up peace with my nachos What images a plethora of emotive but end up with digescome to mind for women and provocative tive unrest. I may even be bodies, some very slim, emotionally, physically, healthy eating? A some fat, many faceless. and mentally ambivalent woman laughing Definitions of healthy about the nachos, and with salad? eating mostly boil the meal itself could still down to the tautology be deemed too large, too
34

WRONG WAYS TO EAT

salty, too fatty to be healthy. None of those configurations is socially sanctioned; each is a sign that the eater in question has conducted himself or herself wrongly and failed to eat healthily. Each could be construed as cause for medical intervention and social censure—or at least social censure in the guise of an intrusive concern. For the contemporary social narrative around eating, influenced as it is by medical trends and media messaging, who does the eating matters more than what is eaten. If you consume the same foods every day, regardless of how nutritious they’re deemed, you are a candidate for a disordered-eating diagnosis. If you have a strong fear of gaining weight, no matter how perfectly balanced your diet, you are also a possible sufferer. Occasionally, lip service is paid to “listening” to one’s own body when deciding what to eat, but this leaves space for only the most minor fluctuations in appetite. It would not be medically acceptable, for instance, if your body one day decides you should eat 6,000 calories and the next day nothing at all. Clinically functional eating is tightly prescribed, no matter how much propaganda is spread about healthy eating being a natural, ideal lifestyle that would suit everybody, if only everybody would adopt it. For women in particular, the approved methods of consuming food are generally framed by authority figures—nutritionists, women’s-magazine editors, celebrities sharing their tips, “success stories” whose weight loss is worthy of social celebration— as privileges. You can order any entrée at a
35

restaurant as long as you halve your portion. You are “allowed” small treats throughout the day, like raw almonds. Pleasure is minimized, and whatever pleasure is “allowed” is apparently supposed to derive in large part from the triumph of having successfully engineered a healthy eating experience. Small, polite doses of enjoyment are permitted on some special occasions. (One health news site suggests that after researching frozenyogurt purveyors in your area to make sure they’re truly low sugar, you can “order a small serving at the café and enjoy it there.” Delightful!) The assumption in most food consumption advice directed toward women is that they are in the process of trying to lose weight or, at the very least, maintain it, hence the popular “guilt-free” title for so many recipes in women’s magazines. Any woman who pays attention to her food consumption is assumed to be interested first and foremost in body modification.

u

IF THE URGE to eat heartily of delicious foods is a dysfunctional pleasure, it’s a persistent one, not something learned only by unusually unhappy children hiding in a pantry while parents argue. Overeating spans continents and cultures, and it has a long history, often bound up with cultural rituals. These rituals have been understood by the practicing peoples not as “binging” but as “feasting.” Today, “feasting” and “binging” are some-

CHARLOTTE SHANE

times used interchangeably, but feasting more dan because of the feasting that follows their usually implies a communal mission of overfasts. But fasting is also undertaken without eating for celebration, while binging is underthe subsequent overconsumption. Mormons taken on a personal level for inscrutable, reare encouraged to fast on the first Sunday of proachable reasons. each month. Present-day Hindus may fast Across cultures, food—and an abunregularly, and the duration spans from a day dance of it—is a fixture of marking social to a week or even a month. ( Jains even have a progress, both small-scale (wedding) and concept, Santhara, which is distinct from suilarge (harvests). Feasting stands distinct cide and describes the holy choice to starve from purging, though the two often go tooneself to death. It is still practiced, though gether. This is a matter of practicality: If there are reports of police intervention.) one truly wants to indulge in a marathon Websites advocating “detox” diets and comeating session, it may become necessary to panies marketing “cleanses” often approvingclear the contents of the stomach so more ly cite the ancient history of purging as proof can be added. Many times, ritual meals are that periodically starving or emptying one’s approached with the understanding that body is a healthy thing to do. Similarly, periparticipants will eat past the point of physiods of abstention from eating are sometimes cal comfort. “We shall eat until we vomit” is framed as letting the digestive system “rest.” a phrase attributed to the islanders of MeThe near universality and the routine frelenesia, who announce it before feasts. quency of these practices of binging and The reasons behind socially sanctioned purging suggest that they are common ways binge-eating vary, though they almost always for humans to engage with food. They are not relate to celebration, while socially sancthe unpredictably sporadic self-indulgences tioned vomiting regularly enjoys the legitiand self-denials, the diseases that Western mizing patina of “purification.” The ancient culture has recently made of them. In fact, in Greeks, Romans, and Arabs all left behind 2011, a study conducted by doctors in Utah evidence of regular overindulging and subfound that Mormons who routinely particisequent elimination. pated in fast on Sundays The ancient Egyptians were 58 percent less likesubscribed to monthly ly to be at risk of coroFeasting implies a three-day purges for nary disease, results that communal mission; “health” reasons. Puncconfirmed two earlier tuating fasts with feasts studies. The suggested binging suggests an is ritualized in many, that inscrutable personal conclusion was food “abif not most, religions: staining from on pathology Muslims often gain a regular basis leads to weight during Ramametabolic changes that
36

WRONG WAYS TO EAT

are good for the heart” and further, that these changes could not be attributed to simply having an “overall healthy lifestyle.” In 2012, scientists practically prescribed a lifestyle of regular fasting when they suggested that everyone’s brain health would be improved by severely limiting caloric intake for two days a week and eating freely on the other five. But the same results were not to be expected if someone trimmed their calorie consumption evenly across all seven days, as with stringent dieting plans. Regardless, most doctors roundly reject fasts and “detoxes” as dangerous and unproven, making exceptions only if they are “religiously motivated.” The eschewing of certain foods and food groups—a.k.a. keeping kosher or eating halal—is also one of the qualifying factors in disorder eating, as is periodic fasting. But religious motivation is a “get out of treatment” free card, further indicating that such behaviors are “wrong” by contemporary Western standards when they are (a) self-directed and (b) motivated by vanity or personal emotional goals—such as exercising self-control—instead of a “larger” social purpose. The patterns of restriction and/or overeating are not pathologized in and of themselves so much as are certain strictly personal motivations for developing them. This attitude replicates itself with regard to exercise, that other prominent method of body modification. Someone training for an Ironman triathlon may exert themselves for three hours every day and escape medical censure. But someone exercising three hours a day to maintain her appearance for vanity’s
37

sake is sick. Again, overtly social participation rescues a behavior from the realm of illness. That the Ironman participant may be as vain or as emotionally distressed as a freely directed exerciser becomes irrelevant, because the Ironman race, like a Thanksgiving feast, takes place in the presence of many others pursuing the same extreme pleasure. It has finite, communally agreed-upon bounds. Thanksgiving lasts for only one day; an Ironman has three precisely measured components. Conformity bestows the label of healthy. For such intense indulgence to exist outside of socially defined contexts—to be left in the hands of

CHARLOTTE SHANE

an individual, particularly a woman—is for it be rendered wild and threatening.

knew seemed to prefer women to be thin. Yet most of the people I knew, thanks to media scaremongering, also loudly clucked about the tragedy of eating disorders. I’d been givu en a clear objective while being told the most expedient methods for it were wrong. So I felt slightly exhilarated, even powerful, about WE ALL LIVE with the dissonance of a culapproaching the conventional feminine ideal ture that showcases reality TV chefs who wax while laying bare authority figures’ useless poetic about the “love” they put into their concern in the process. If the adults around food, yet prescribes therapy for fat people me wanted the world to be safe for teenage who are told they misdirect their emotions girls, they wouldn’t have fed a dominant culinto what they eat. All of us are susceptible to ture so unapologetically hostile to those girls. the constant, conflicting messaging around I remember saying as much, if not so confood: that it tastes delicious, makes us hapcisely, to another 16-year-old friend at a py, brings us closer to the people we love, party after we’d both puked, incensed with and yet is almost solely responsible for most righteous anger at the injustice of it all. She health and weight problems. In such an envireplied that she was simply terrified of beronment, it seems nearly impossible to develcoming fat and that the possibility haunted op a pure, “authentic” connection with one’s her daily. She would go on to become the own consumption urges and instincts. What only girl I’ve known who was hospitalized would my eating look like if I lived alone in for her anorexia. Years later, I’d learn that the woods? What would yours? I imagine medieval Catholicism condoned female starmine would be much as it is now: periods of vation as holy, while the Inquisition later acscant eating punctuated by periods of heavicused self-starving women of witchcraft. Iner eating. My ingestive homeostasis would be quisitors even weighed women as a method calibrated to a time frame of several weeks or to determine their guilt. So begins the poem a month, not a single day “Anorexic,” by Eavan or week as many dieting Boland: “My body is a If the adults around and eating plans require. witch. / I am burning it.” When I was a teenOf course, the imme wanted a world ager first learning how to possibility of a woman safe for teenage make myself vomit, I recsatisfying the social degirls,they wouldn’t ognized it as transgresmands of her body is not sive. The media wanted a new theme. Because I have fed such a women to be thin, and have a teenage history of hostile culture most of the people I eating disorders, I can’t
38

WRONG WAYS TO EAT

be trusted to helm my own eating now as an adult. My family decided that my veganism, which I’ve maintained for 12 years, is a cover for continued anorexia. When in Istanbul, after I suggested to my mother that we visit two restaurants in a row, she later pulled aside my boyfriend to ask if I were bulimic. Every year, without fail, my doctor asks me if I’ve purged recently. Regardless of my bloodtest results, my weight, or my response, she recommends I see a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. If a day goes by when I’m simply not that hungry, it’s a sign of a relapse and those around me must rally to tempt me with food. If I’m hungrier than usual, not only is it unbecoming in the usual ways that it’s unbecoming for a woman to eat lustily—I leave crumbs on my face, I drop food on my shirt, I determinedly scrape the last of the pie crust away from the plate with the edge of my fork—but it’s overlaid with the suspicion that I’ll be conscientiously and fiercely counteracting that slip later through excessive exercise or vomiting. I do still make myself throw up sometimes, when I’ve eaten so much that I feel physically uncomfortable. I would estimate that it happens 10 to 12 times a year, and while I’m not advocating that anyone else adopt this response, I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by it. In the moment, I’ll be disappointed that I overate to the extent that I did, but I won’t lose sleep about it. I don’t return to the table and eat more, or make massive efforts to consume differently the next day. While it’s true that stomach acid doesn’t do any favors to tooth enamel or the tissues of the esopha39

gus, it’s also true that occasional vomiting, whether from the morning-after pill, too much alcohol, or self-induction, is not going to cause serious problems. I consider it as appropriate a reaction as drinking a mimosa in the morning after a night of partying or an athlete’s submitting to a painful ice bath during the height of training. Though there have been many times I’ve let society influence how I handle and relate to my body, this will not be one of them. I want to live in my own form with pride and joy, wellness and comfort, and peace and, yes, control. There is room for my rare vomiting in that. It is not the final problem to solve; it is not the black mark keeping me from being “healthy.” The point is not that eating disorders aren’t real. Many people suffer from a seriously damaged relationship to food, and it threatens their happiness, their long-term health, and sometimes their lives. And many of these people are men, whose trouble often goes unnoticed because we are so much more fixated on policing female food intake. It is only right that people in need receive recognition and help. But minutely plotting and achieving a perfect caloric balance every day reminds me more of the darkest period of my anorexia than it does a calm and sustainable lifelong approach to food. To have moderation in all things except immoderation echoes the close-fistedness of my most manic restrictions. I don’t see the health in it. Healthy eating will never be usefully defined as the inverse of disordered eating. It has a life—it is a life—of its own. n

40

Line Cooked
by WILLOUGHBY COOKE

Sustainable food makes no sense when restaurants don’t pay better than sustenance wages

PORTLAND, OREGON, IS at the forefront of what has been called the farm-to-table movement. According to the movement’s ideals, the farmers, purveyors, and chefs form a community, participating in a symbiotic relationship as they support the sustainability of organic farming, celebrate the abundance of the region, and uphold the value of eating good, nourishing food. In theory, the food scene in Portland is an approachable one. A few restaurants do molecular gastronomy, but most have dishes on their menus that are familiar and recognizable. The city excels at putting a Pacific Northwest slant on the existing food trends: Americana, peasant Italian, regional French,
41

Spanish tapas. The line between patron and chef is blurred: everyone who eats in this town also cooks in this town. There are many grassroots food projects, and people are excited about being involved, as much by trying a recently opened neighborhood restaurant as by starting a new ice cream cart. The fact that Portland is in the heart of the agricultural region of the Willamette Valley means that there is less of a divide between what is grown and what gets eaten. People feel they’re a part of a network. At your neighborhood farmer’s market, when buying food from your favorite farm stand, you’re likely to run into a local chef. It’s a close-knit community. Because Portlanders feel informed about

WILLOUGHBY COOKE

the business of food, and because they are aware of the ethics of eating, they demand that their restaurants follow certain principles. That Portlandia sketch in which a server provides two anxious diners with a complete biography of “Colin,” the chicken they’re about to eat, is closer to the truth than one might imagine. Yet we who care so much about whether our chickens are free-range and our cattle are happy don’t think about the state of the kitchen where the chicken is cooked or who exactly sous-vides those grass-fed steaks. I have worked as a cook in the restaurant industry for the past decade, and it has become clear to me over the years that the vision of a sustainable food system ignores working conditions. In other words, it ignores me– the grunt, the cog, the line cook making your dinner.
u

WHEN I MOVED to Portland, I got involved in the food movement. I had aspirations to open my own little restaurant someday. I also wanted to run an organic farm where I could hold workshops in butchery, cheesemaking, culinary fundamentals, or wild mushroom foraging. To many people, this list of classes would fall under the heading of the trendy “urban homesteading” movement. But for me, these practices are elements of a way of life I’ve always participated in. I grew up in the Coast Range of rural Oregon. My family raised
42

chickens for eggs and meat and also butchered lambs to eat. My mother cultivated a large organic garden that I spent a lot of time in. In the fall we foraged for chanterelles, and in the spring in the woods behind our house we picked nettle shoots and miner’s lettuce. My close connection to the land and the food it provided defined my cooking ethos and set in motion my cooking career. My culinary career started at the age of 14, when I began staging at a restaurant in a small town near where I grew up. Stage is a French term that means trainee or apprentice; staging or trailing means working without pay in a restaurant to learn new techniques—an internship, essentially. Trailing or staging is what cooks will do when interested in working at a new place, and it is their performance during the stage that is usually the deciding factor that determines whether they are hired or not. Over the past 11 years I’ve worked as a prep cook, fry cook, pantry cook, grill cook, pastry chef, and baker. The least I’ve made was $7.50 per hour; the most was $13.50. To be a line cook and eventually a chef, you must submit to the hell that is the professional kitchen: long hours, low pay, no breaks, no respect. As you advance up the line, the work gets harder and the responsibility increases, while the pay does not. An entry-level line cook job starts at as low as $8 an hour and tops out at around $15. By contrast, the national median wage in 2011 was $10.61, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to make more in the restaurant world, you have to advance

LINE COOKED

up to a management position such as sous chef or chef de cuisine. Even then, the pay is going to be about $16 to $18 an hour and is not likely to top $23. I never advanced to the top of the pay scale, mostly because the added hours and stress those jobs demanded never seemed quite worth the pay. The last sous chef I worked under was consumed by work; his eyes leered in a constant state of caffeinated fatigue. It’s to the advantage of the restaurant to treat the kitchen in a mechanistic fashion, to get out of its cooks the most output with the least input. Trying to extract the most return from its workers, the restaurant looks after its own best interests, not those of its employees. The first position that I held at a more upscale restaurant was as a prep cook. For the first six months, I seemed to mangle everything. If I wasn’t burning the parsnips I was breaking the aioli or making a mess of the soufflé. After a while, I became faster and more proficient, but I was still getting ridden hard by my sous chef. One day at the end of a long shift that I thought I had done well on, he took me out back. My level of production was unacceptable, he said. I needed to “fucking step it up” or I wouldn’t have a job anymore. That stung. I was caught off guard, and so emotionally invested that I choked up. “I got most of the prep list taken care of today,” he told me. “What did you do? Soup, house dressing, ravioli? You need to get your shit together.” This, when I had been pushing myself to the limit to get faster while maintaining the quality of the product—anyone can
43

be fast, but speed must be accompanied by care. I was losing sleep over it; there was always a lump of anxiety under my sternum. After the tongue-lashing I started showing up to my shifts early and writing the prep list myself before I clocked in. (The prep list is everything on the menu that needs to be made before dinner service begins.) I would get as many things possible going on the stove top, in the oven, and on the grill, and then start in on things requiring the Kitchenaide and the Robocoop, like dressings or hummus. Many different things would finish cooking at once; often they had to be dealt with immediately or they would be ruined. All day it was a juggling act. I was in a constant state of stress. At another restaurant, when I was still pretty green, I mixed two sauces up and in doing so ruined one of the evening specials for the night. “Pull it together kid,” the chef yelled. “If you were in another kitchen you’d get reamed in the fucking asshole for that mistake!” More recently, in a different kitchen with a different boss (but the same asshole), I was bending over my station, breaking it down for the night, when the sous chef leaned in and started rifling through my line. I told him to fuck off because he was making a mess of my station. He went ballistic, shouting as he beat me over the head and shoulders with a handful of celery. “You don’t tell me to fuck off you fucking retard!” Showing weakness in the kitchen is unacceptable. Instead, we bro down, in interactions permeated with sexual innuendo, homophobic jokes, and in general a complete lack of appropriate, respectful, professional

WILLOUGHBY COOKE

conversation. I know how to bro down, but it grows tiresome. The debased language is not limited to line cook interaction; even people in positions of management lack the ability to properly communicate. In part this may be because most managers and sous chefs were previously just line cooks who got promoted because they were good at cooking and wanted to get paid more. They aren’t equipped with the skills they need to be able to manage well.

Later, I found out I also had tendonitis, and a pinched nerve in my forearm. These ailments all stemmed from repetitive overwork. In 2008 I filed a worker’s compensation claim and spent the next year and a half on disability, slowly recovering. The owners of the place where I hurt myself had always been very encouraging and supportive of my growth as a cook. The kitchen culture was somewhat unconventional, even slightly democratic. And the whole restaurant staff was close-knit, like a u family. But when I made the worker’s comp claim, the owners took it personally. They KITCHEN WORK HAS broken me down. thought I was trying to take advantage of the A physical therapist once told me I moved system and refused take responsibility for like I was 70. My knees hurt from standing. their part in my injury. I ended up having to My lower back hurts for the same reason. seek the help of a lawyer to get everything There is a ropiness in my neck and shoulders taken care of. This process took over a year. that culminates under my left shoulder blade As I did research about being an injured in a bundle of pain. From standing so much worker in Oregon, I realized that the restauI have developed thick varicose veins on my rant had acted in an unfortunate but predictleft leg that snake around the inside of my able way. They were simply trying to protect knee and down my calf like a river; they end their bottom line. A worker’s comp claim, in a floodplain of bruising below my ankle, my boss argued, might make their insurance where there is a perennial scab. After being rates go up. on my feet for 12 hours my legs and veins Everything always comes back to money. become extra swollen and begin to ache. I’m Working full-time for only $10 or $12 an only 26. When I was 22, hour puts the line cook I left work to go to the in a frustrating and awkShowing weakness emergency room. I had ward socioeconomic an acutely swollen bump position. I hardly make in the kitchen is on my wrist, which proenough to scrape by, but unacceptable. So duced a dull, aching just enough that I don’t we bro down with pain that knifed up my qualify for full foodforearm. The nurse told stamp benefits or other homophobic jokes me I had a ganglion cyst. Department of Hu44

LINE COOKED

man Services programs such as the Oregon Health Plan. Most independently owned restaurants don’t provide health insurance, and on $12 an hour there is no way I can afford to pay for it myself.

u

THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS of working in the kitchen are very much a result of poor structure. When it comes to designing the schedules and systems that govern the kitchen, there is a lack of care and foresight by owners, chefs and managers. This is because the restaurant is entrenched in an antiquated model of working employees into the ground. The fancier places are often worse: the big-name chefs know they can walk all over their cooks because everyone there is hungry to build that perfect résumé. Many successful restaurants run on this model. Progressing up the line is couched as a culling method to separate the weak from the strong. Kitchen culture mandates that line cooks work themselves to the breaking point. Working through pain and sickness is the norm. Chefs and line cooks alike accept this as the status quo. In this respect, line cooks participate in their own abuse. Yet the conditions of low pay and a poor working environment breed resentment, apathy, and high turnover—not to mention a penchant for drinking, drugs, smoking, and coffee. At the same place where I was beaten with a handful of celery, I was expected to show up
45

early enough to have my station completely set up before service started at 4 p.m. There was a lot of elaborate prep for my line so this sometimes took me almost two and a half hours, but according to the rules I wasn’t allowed to clock in until 3:00. If I wanted to be ready on time, I had to work for an hour and a half for free. This sort of thing is common practice in many places, and most employers tend to get upset if hours extend into overtime because they don’t want to pay the added wage. When I’m on overtime, my pay is much closer to being what I think I’m worth, but even overtime falls short. Once, during a six-month review, I brought up the fact that my $12 an hour wage made me feel undervalued. They knew I was a skilled individual, I explained—the rave reviews the restaurant had recently received, from local and national food critics, had mentioned dishes from my station. But when I asked for a substantial raise that would reflect what I was actually worth, I was laughed at for even conceiving of such a notion. I was being “uppity”; I was acting entitled. To be clear: at the time I was making $12 an hour and asking for $14, when I actually believed skilled line cooks should be making $18 to $20. I was given a 25 cent raise.

u

LABOR COSTS DIRECTLY affect the cost of food. When chefs price out a dish—when

WILLOUGHBY COOKE

they decide how much to charge for it— they are accounting for the cost of the ingredients and the cost of the labor. The price of a plate of food in a fine dining restaurant— no matter how high or low it seems to the customer—depends on the people making it getting paid very little. At the same time, we have a glamorized and romanticized perception of professional cooking, perpetuated by flashy cooking shows and gushy restaurant reviews. Chefs are put on a pedestal, and being the head chef somewhere or owning your own successful restaurant is the unrealistic prize that is dangled over the head of the line cook. This pipe dream serves as the line cook’s rationalization for the hell he is subject to as he attempts to ascend toward the pinnacle of his career. Kitchen culture asks that you work yourself to the bone while tolerating low pay and physical and mental abuse, all for the promise of moving up. Most cooks accept this paradigm. How have we been duped into working so hard for so little return? We can blame the mythology of the work ethic: You have to pay your dues to get to the top. But the top is a place where most cooks will never arrive. To give some perspective, my brother made more money collecting unemployment as an intern architect after he was laid off than I did working full time in a restaurant. I make this comparison because we are both skilled professionals in our respective fields, but because he has a degree and uses his mind as opposed to his body to make a living, our society values him more, and he
46

makes more money. I make what I would call a subsistence wage, not a living wage. On a subsistence wage I just get by; on a living wage I could earn enough to get by and also have something left over to pay for health care, to save, and to indulge in something like eating out at a place like the one I work at. If people working in the kitchen are actually to earn a living wage, fine dining restaurants will have to charge twice as much they already do. In other words, if I am to be paid enough for me to feel valued as an employee, the cost of dinner is going to have to go way up, to the point where it is inaccessible for the average person—for me—to eat there. When you’re in the industry you get around the hurdle of high prices by knowing people: your friends at other restaurants “hook you up” or “style you out” when you visit. But there’s no guarantee of being hooked up. I don’t know everyone at every restaurant, and I’m only in luck if Joey happens to be working the night I happen to go out. In the end, affordability and fair pay in the restaurant are mutually exclusive. The only solution to this contradiction that I can imagine is an operation where the money goes directly to the worker: for example, an owner-run food cart, or a fine dining establishment structured as a worker-owned co-op. Right now I am working a consulting job for the owner of a bar and restaurant, as the business rebrands and reorganizes their kitchen and menu. The owner understands the complexities of designing a functional work environment. He wants to implement a schedule that won’t put anyone in the posi-

LINE COOKED

tion of feeling obligated to work more than an eight-hour shift. He wants to have clearly defined guidelines for how prep and product ordering is done, so that what daytime prep cooks do is what evening line cooks need. This restaurant is open seven days a week and can be quite busy at times, so it is imperative that things run seamlessly. It is refreshing to work with someone who understands the importance of designing a comprehensive system that avoids burning out the back of the house. But the trouble is that most of the problems remain. The place is a highbrow sports bar: it has quality beer and wine selections and sophisticated cocktails. The food is a step above normal bar fare as well, with a thoughtful, produce-focused, locally sourced menu. But because it’s not a fancy restaurant, the price point can’t be very high. The owner is willing to pay people a little better than other places might, but not that much better. The consulting chef is ingrained
47

with the usual macho-ness, and believes in the classic work ethic–admirable in the short term but unsustainable in the long run. Of course the poor working conditions that exist in the kitchen are not unique to restaurants: Our lower-income labor force is mistreated and marginalized throughout the service industry, agriculture, and retail. Everywhere the cost of living continues to go up while wages stagnate. It goes without saying that we should support a “sustainable” food system, but this sustainability needs to be carried all the way through, from how we treat the land and the those working it to how we treat the people cooking dinner. Food culture has reminded us of the sacredness of food and the social importance of gathering together over meals. These ideals are the reason I became a cook, and I have been chasing them my whole career. But it’s become obvious the restaurant is not the place to find them. n

48

All the Hungry Children
by ELLIOT ROSS

To sell sympathy for starvation, Live Aid and its successors have started using the latest in branding innovation

IN 2004, THE British press reported that the album cover Damien Hirst had designed for Band Aid 20’s re-recording of the 1984 single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” had been rejected by the organizers, for fear it would frighten small children. “The record, that’s the important part,” explained Midge Ure. “The cover doesn’t really matter. Throw the cover away. Buying it is the important thing.” Hirst had depicted an emaciated black child perched on the Grim Reaper’s knee, while on the other side of the album a white child cradled in Santa’s lap clutched wads of bank notes. There was a sense that this particular juxtaposition could be considered distasteful, but the reason that got around was that the kids would be scared. An alternative cover arrived, in which an emaciated
49

black-and-white black child walks naked through the snow into a full-color fairy-tale landscape, menaced on either side by a herd of outsized cartoon reindeer and a large family of hungry looking polar bears. Hirst’s excessively disturbing double image had been replaced by what was plainly a playful riff on Vulture Stalking a Child, the world-famous photograph of a Sudanese girl taken in 1993 by South African photographer Kevin Carter, who committed suicide months after the image was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The child on the new album cover was copy-pasted from Live Aid’s 1985 promotional material, where it had been placed beneath the Africa-shaped guitar. On the concert program the child was positioned beside the words “Global Juke Box.” Much like Bono’s

ELLIOT ROSS

line, “Tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you,” the image had somehow survived the intervening 19 years and journeyed for a thousand miles across the Ethiopia-Sudan border and due west into Darfur. Just as it had in 1985, the child on the 2004 cover faces away from the camera. What we see is a frame wasted to the proportions of a semi-silhouette, slim shoulder-blades jutting, fleshless legs knocking at the knees. We don’t know whether or not this is one of the two black-and-white black children that appear huddled near Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat in the foreground of the rosycheeked Edwardian nursery idyll Sir Peter Blake designed for the original cover of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984, but the question is nonetheless worth asking. In her 1963 book On Revolution Hannah Arendt argued that compassion “by its very nature cannot be touched off by the sufferings of a whole class or a people, or, least of all, mankind as a whole . . . Because compassion abolishes the distance, the worldly space between men where politics matters, the whole realm of human affairs, are located, it remains, politically speaking, irrelevant and without consequence.” Arendt wrote compassion as a fantasy of intimacy, a response to clear delineations of personality. It was an imaginative remapping of the world in shrunken dimensions, with politics, distance, and perhaps difference too, wrung out. The previous year she had seen Adolf Eichmann defend himself as a dutiful Kantian, only to be found guilty of crimes against humanity and sen50

tenced, by the state of Israel, to death. She had coined the much-quoted expression “banality of evil” to describe the practice of nonthinking, the failure of those such as Eichmann to reflect on their crimes as they performed them. Of the many T-shirt wearing supergroups that dominated popular late 20th century expressions of global conscience in the West, the loudest were those organized around the problem of famine. (Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid and Steven Van Zandt’s Artists Against Apartheid, both founded in 1985, were the major exceptions.) Wildly grandiose projects, such as “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (very white, very male, very shouty), Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s retort “We Are the World,” and the Canadian anthem “Tears

ALL THE HUNGRY CHILDREN

Are Not Enough,” were attempts to rewrite compassion as a totalizing form of contentfree politics, confident avowals of EuroAmerican messianism made just a few years before Francis Fukuyama would pronounce the end of History. “We’re saving our own lives,” sung Bob Dylan. “It’s true we’ll make a better day / Just you and me.” “We can bridge the distance, / Only we can make the difference,” replied Bryan Adams. The widest possible constituencies were appealed to—“the world,” “Africa,” “the children,” “them,” “us,” “the other ones,” “people dying,” “God’s great big family,” and so on. The music videos did not show images of people suffering in East African famines, but rather musicians and their lustrous, screen-filling hairstyles crowded together in studios in Notting Hill and on Beverly Boulevard. Stevie Wonder dueted with Bruce Springsteen. These were objects of fascination, not sympathy.

Still, Arendt’s “worldly space between men where politics matters” took a battering. “We,” it was claimed, were “the world,” a world obliged to “come together as one.” In the British version, the world was small enough that you could feasibly throw your arms around it (“at Christmas time.”) Appropriate to a nation forever astounded by its own rather temperate meteorological conditions, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” offered a Pan-African weather forecast of the most severe pessimism:
There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow  Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

The Band Aid slogan “Feed the World” was accompanied by an illustration of a twodimensional globe placed like a dinner plate between a knife and fork. This didn’t make sense. It confused giving with consuming, and implied that you should in fact eat the world, and particularly the T-bone steak continent of Africa. But who was to quibble over such details? If these songs were an invitation to compassion, the surprise was that this invitation was made in the most abstract of idioms. If we were to reflect on suffering and inequality, we preferred to look at our rock stars while doing it. Everyone already knew what famine sufferers looked like, and nobody contested the gravity of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, and so the appeal could provoke a compassionate response while
51

ELLIOT ROSS

the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is okay. Which is all very well, provided an ad follows the underlying logic of advertising: lying to people to make us want something we don’t really need. But with humanitarian advertising something strange happens. It would appear that when humanitarian groups solicit money from consumers of mass media an altogether different transaction is being proposed, namely one in which an advertiser tells the truth and compels people to hand over suru plus cash so that the real and urgent needs of others can be met. At least, that’s something like how it should go. DISASTER PORN HAS been for many Trouble is, the old consumer mentality years the dominant style of humanitarian apdies very hard, and the two modes of adverpeals for popular responses to famine. What tising are all jumbled up. There aren’t two kind of images can possibly fill in for the aldifferent kinds of advertising space, one for together enthralling scene of nonwhite bodcommercial ads and another for humanitaries wracked with overwhelming pain, imian appeals: A billboard is a billboard. ages which, however consistently raced and This is one reason self-evidently antiplaced, claim to express nothing but pure humanitarian companies like BP, Exxonneed? The ad campaign launched by Action Mobil, Shell, Chevron and others have lately Against Hunger’s late last year, marked a siggone to such conspicuous lengths to try to nificant shift in this regard. convince everybody that they’re actually As good students of much more like groups Donald Draper, we all such as Greenpeace, or What kind of images Médecins Sans Fronknow that advertising is based on one thing: tières, or the Disasters can possibly fill in happiness. AccordEmergency Committee, for the altogether ing to Don this entails than they are like the sort enthralling scene at least three things: of oil-spilling, icecapsmelling the interior of melting, Iraq-invasionof nonwhite bodies a new car, freedom from lobbying, Saro-Wiwawracked with pain? fear, and a billboard on murdering transnational
52

remaining wonderfully impersonal. Except that, in the British case, back crept the icon of the starved black-and-white black infant, back from Biafra, and from the TV reports of the BBC’s Michael Buerk, and into abrupt conjunction with the sounds and symbols of Western pop. On album covers and concert posters, in other words at the point of sale, the image of the blackand-white black child still could not be dispensed with in 2004.

ALL THE HUNGRY CHILDREN

bastards that we might otherwise have quite innocently supposed them to be. In any case, the suspicion has long lurked that gawking at pictures of starving children in Africa might have somehow crossed over into the Don Draper realm of advertising, and become a source of happiness for the kindly Western reader. In fundraising campaigns from the Biafran war onward, it became clear that the most effective way of raising money for starving (almost always African) populations was also the way that luxuriated in the vulnerability of the hungry, that enjoyed not only Western power to save but Western power per se. Those who have come to the

conclusion that weaving images of some of the world’s most vulnerable people into our ever brasher, crasser mediascape is not okay will have welcomed the recent move away from such shock tactics. But what is the face of hunger advertising that has at last decided not to show a face? As you might expect, there’s nobody in Action Against Hunger’s 2011 ads. Nobody black, nobody brown, nobody at all. Instead there’s a tiny pepperoni pizza in a yawning pizza-box, and a string of seven (light brown) paper dolls, one of which is very thin. No jutting ribs or flies around the eyes, this is hunger imagined in a slimmed-down

53

ELLIOT ROSS

version of the universal symbol for the men’s Paul Light, a politics professor at NYU, who bathroom, and “universal” is indeed the wanted the ad “redesigned to focus on good buzzword the ad company returned to when food, not what many givers would see as a explaining the ad. very unhealthy option.” Light was concerned There’s no arid Horn of Africa background, that people may mistakenly suppose that Acno crumbling shacks or parched soil. We’re tion Against Hunger is a lobbying group for dealing with what Action Against Hunger more and bigger pizzas. describe as “abstract imagery,” and these The second weird thing is that the whole days that can only mean a plain white backappeal is sponsored by Ultimat Vodka (sloground and some tasteful drop-shadows. gan: “Live Ultimately”), whose logo appears How did the food crisis in the Sahel end up in the bottom corner of each ad and which being represented by Western humanitarian professes to be “tired” of hunger. And it’s organizations through the visual idiom of at this point, as we think about millions of the MacBook Pro? It’s the aesthetics of abacutely malnourished children, and then of a sence, which Band Aid had flirted with, an pizza the size of cookie, and then of a luxury aesthetics enabled, surely, by the knowledge Polish vodka made from both grains and pothat representations of the starving have for tatoes, that we might feel compelled to wona long time been so utterly colloquialised as der, like a character in a J.G. Ballard novel, to make their repetition dull, superfluous, a “What sort of scenario is the mind quietly kind of visual tautology. The “copy” on the stitching together?” ads is shorn of racial and national identifiers, There has been a shift since 1985. Then, and the emergency is conceived of as a norm the target was a mass TV audience and graspable in steady annual figures, the buBono’s job was to construct a collective reaucratic vocabulary par excellence: “3.5 milethical subject for prime time and then calion children die each year from acute malnujole it to respond in some way to famine in trition. Take action. Save a child.” faraway places. Since then, that audience There are at least two weird things about has been dispersed across multiple platthe ads. The first is the pizza: a miniscule forms and media, and a series of neolibaperitif drowning in a eral governments have sea of cardboard packoverseen a reallocation What is the face of aging, the kind of meaof wealth, which means gre repast we’ll all have that nowadays the buyhunger advertising to make do with when ing power of most philthat has at last Herman Cain is sworn anthropic consumers decided not to in come 2016. The war has diminished signifion peckishness. The cantly. If the image of show a face? pizza was attacked by the starving black child
54

ALL THE HUNGRY CHILDREN

has been deemed obsolete, then so has the Western “we” that claimed so much power for itself in the late 1980s. Why bother singing to the proles today? Better to flatter with clean lines and smart-sounding data those high-end consumers who, for a long time, have been only too pleased to submerge intellectual or moral thinking beneath a managerial practice that welcomes the humanitarian appeal as one more opportunity to congratulate itself on having moved beyond the political. Bono has been an exact bellwether for these changes. Plainly still desiring nothing

more than to throw another huge concert, he rightly suspects that nobody could bear to watch such a thing, and so has contented himself with running a private company, the impossibly pretentious “(PRODUCT) RED,” which siphons off a meagre trickle of the profits generated by major corporations such as Gap, Apple, American Express, and Starbucks into the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. As always, Bono brings his own particular poetics of stupidity to his task. It was “Thank God it’s them instead of you,” in 1985. And now? “I’m Inspi(red).” n

55

56

Seeing Red
by KARLA CORNEJO VILLAVICENCIO

Despite the bleak imaginary landscape of food deserts, urban nutritional politics is all about color

DECEMBER SOLSTICE ANNOUNCES the beginning of the ghetto’s wintertime Rorschach foot game. Is the dark red slush on the pavement frost and blood, or spilled food coloring? If latter, sidestep. If the former, sidestep coolly. The key is to look bored by whatever the red is, and if someone guesses wrong, to look bored. The red slug trail starts at the very top of Myrtle Avenue in Queens and ends in Brooklyn. If you keep following the crimson-red drops down Myrtle and onto Knickerbocker Avenue, you’ll enter an urban foodscape that is, by the Obama administration’s definition, not a food desert. No, this is not a food desert. The streets are lined with McDonald’s, Wendy’s, White Cas57

tles, and Taco Bells separated by some stores that pawn gold and others that will dip just about everything into day-old oil, that wet brass-gold. There is a bodega on just about every corner. It is mere walking distance to a large supermarket adorned with carnival flags waving above old men in bright polyester parkas rolling vanilla-flavored cigars in the parking lot. This is not a food desert. It is not “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.” Myrtle Avenue is a food biome the White House has left unnamed. Popular discourse has left the food desert suspended as an incomplete metaphor, with-

KARLA VILLAVICENCIO

out context. Unlike actual biomes, which fall along a geographic spectrum of wet to dry or barren to fertile, the food desert stands alone. When we think about biomes, we think in terms of inverses (hot is the opposite of cold; wet is the opposite of dry), and that’s where it gets strange. What is the opposite of a food desert? A food oasis? A food forest? A food lake? We can think of Myrtle Avenue as a nutritional timberline. There, the forest has dried up and the desert begins—with it, the heavy, hopeless permanence that thickens the air “just past that moment when the desert has become the only reality,” as Joan Didion once described the Sonoran Desert. Of course, our tour through the biomes doesn’t mean a whole lot until you understand neoliberal magical realism, and the way it presses itself onto bodies. Think about Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Agriculture pushing the FDA to label ketchup and relish as vegetables in order to justify cutting funds for school lunches. Or think about our Congress’s recent passing of an agricultural appropriations bill that would make it easier to count tomato paste (in pizzas, basically) in school lunches as a vegetable. Gabriel García Márquez describes his imaginary land of Macondo as a place “so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” Enter a supermarket in a working-class neighborhood and you’ll encounter the same. Cool Whip™, Kool-Aid™, Tang™, and ten-for-a-buck neon drinks do not look like anything else because they aren’t quite real. They’re a product of modernity’s magic—what is Splenda if not
58

some kind of weird zero-cal devil alchemy? Anthropologist Sidney Mintz has proposed that “what we like, what we eat, how we eat it, and how we feel about it are phenomenologically interrelated matters; together, they speak eloquently to the question of how we perceive ourselves in relation to others.” The issues at the core of delicate food debates aren’t just about calories and nutrients and tax dollars. The way the American diet is discussed conceals an ugly underbelly of cultural practices that we desperately try to cover up with coded rhetoric. The focus on landscape—this bogeyman “food desert”—is a diversionary tactic. The political, and uncomfortable crux of the popular food debate is color. Note the code here: during this year’s Republican presidential primaries, Newt Gingrich denounced President Barack Obama as “the most successful food- stamp president in American history,” a racially charged declaration against a black man whose single white mother was on food stamps during parts of his childhood. Other Republican contenders including Mitt Romney painted welfare and food stamps in terms that depicted people of color as fat and lazy freeloaders, despite the fact that 70 percent of food-stamp benefits go to white people. Or here: In 2000, Stanford University ran a weight-loss program for Mexican-American families that categorized foods as good or bad using the traffic light colors. Mexican bread was red (no go), so one family moved on to cereal and skim milk for breakfast. They were dismayed that some foods they thought were healthy were in fact “red” foods: vege-

SEEING RED

table oil, flavored yogurt, peanut butter. One So how does it feel to hear Kraft announce, Mrs. Rodriguez praised the program: “My as it did last year, that it would triple its advertischildren, I don’t have to be saying, ‘Don’t eat ing budget for the Latino market? Its first focus more ice cream.’ They don’t want to eat more was Kraft Singles, and it worked out wonderice cream. They don’t want red lights.’’ fully. Focus groups found that Latinos bought Red is bad. Red is stop, and these bad cheaper products on the whole but were willMexican-American mothers need to learn ing to spend more money on the same product how to mother. But red is also Red 40, a dye to if they were told it was made using real milk, which American bodies have been acclimating something the cheaper brands didn’t offer. for decades. Although diets rich in artificial Now, the focus is Kool-Aid. In 2011, nearly food colorings and hyperactivity in children all Kool-Aid’s advertising budget went into prone to attention deficit disorders have long the Latino market. Univision and Telemunbeen linked, only when The Lancet published do airwaves were inundated with commera 2007 study suggesting the dyes had a sigcials designed by advertising firm Ogilvy & nificant behavioral impact in healthy children Mather that knew to portray images of warm did the FDA begin to listen. In 2011, the FDA family gatherings that Latina mothers would proposed mandatory labeling of foods conrespond to because they would be “really wortaining artificial colorants. They also proposed ried about how fast-paced the American way comparing food-coloring-related risks to peaof life is today,” a Kool-Aid senior brand mannut allergies, as though they had nothing to do ager told the New York Times. Kool-Aid also with “any inherent neurotoxic properties” of sponsored a summertime family TV movie the dyes. Just don’t eat peanuts, right? series on Telemundo. Not everyone has that choice. The history of So, shouldn’t we just avoid the goddamn food dyes reveals an undeniably aggressive gepeanuts? We’ve arrived at the new timberline, nealogy of color and violence. In 1856, British where liberal narratives of agency and body acscientist William Perkin made the first known ceptance and choice get it wrong. Even good food dye, “aniline purple,” using coal tar, an things, like the fat positivity movement, when ingredient that’d eventually be substituted for bled pale of color, can become a repackaged petroleum because coal alternative of the same tar is a tad carcinogenic. old thing, like Kraft’s inIn 1950, the FDA banned visible Kool-Aid, its new The history of Orange 1 after too many “unsweetened” no-color food dyes reveals kids got sick eating candy flavor. The performance an aggressive that Halloween. In 1976, of a good, neoliberal they banned Red 2 again subjectivity means congenealogy of color because of the pesky carsuming and consuming and violence cinogenic thing. while remaining happy
59

KARLA VILLAVICENCIO

and thin, and the weight-loss industrial complex has expertly cashed in on this fantastical imperative. In 2011, the weight-loss industry in the U.S. made $61  billion. It’s one of the brilliant conundrums of modern capitalism.

u

THE PROBLEM WITH the Obama administration’s discursive handling of mounting rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart attacks among Americans is that they’ve addressed structural problems like the corporate exploitation of America’s most vulnerable citizens by blaming landscapes like food deserts and fat bodies. For example, the White House announced Wal-Mart’s commitment to Michelle Obama’s antichildhood obesity campaign with promises to open as many as 300 stores in food deserts by 2016. But the food crisis in our country has at its heart complicated matters concerning gender, race, class, and education. Dropping a Wal-Mart selling dozens of heads of lettuce in a poor neighborhood will not solve those problems. It will exacerbate them. The most important predictor of obesity remains income level. Fast-food companies are dropping obscene amounts on advertising in low-income communities of color, and are targeting children. African-American kids see at least 50 percent more fast-food ads than do white children their age. A full 25 percent of all Spanish-language fast-food advertising in the U.S. is from McDonalds,
60

and the average Latino will see about 290 McDonalds ads a year. In 2006, 9 percent of Upper East Side residents were obese, compared with 21 percent and 30 percent in East and Central Harlem and North and Central Brooklyn, two of the poorest stretches of New York City. Only 5 percent of Upper East Side residents had diabetes, compared to 10 percent and 15 percent in Harlem and Brooklyn. In these neighborhoods, between 1985 and 2000, the cost of fruits and vegetables increased by 40 percent while the price of junk food and soft drinks decreased by 15 percent and 25 percent respectively. We remain at the timberline where liberal narratives of agency and body acceptance and choice sometimes get it wrong. The fatacceptance movement has found a home on the Internet, where they use personal anecdotes, facts and figures, and rebloggable images to debunk myths equating thinness with good health and fat with laziness. They have been mostly right to point out that hatred toward fat bodies is coded as concern for the “cost” to the health care system, while smokers, heavy drinkers, drug users, and people with fast metabolisms and bad habits mostly get off the hook. This is because in today’s America, thin, white, and male is still the default positionality and to be fat, black, brown, and/or woman is to need more imagination from our compatriots to believe we are human. Fat-acceptance activists have put up a good fight, but their online biomes would benefit from a more intersectional approach to the spaces fat occupy—acknowledging that poor black and

SEEING RED

brown bodies have very different experiences of fatness than their white counterparts do, and the nuance is often lost in Tumblr posts of decontextualized, beautiful fat bodies. Sometimes fat on a body is normal, and simplistic BMI readings, lady magazines, and everyone else should just go eat cake. But often, it’s not. If some communities have had to see their members’ bodies change over centuries by the poisons forced upon them, defining “pride” and “love” as the only appropriate counterhegemonic affective reactions is oppressive. Literary scholar Elaine Scarry has written that “the ceaseless, self-announcing signal of the body in pain, at once so empty and undifferentiated and so full of blaring adversity, contains not only the feeling my body hurts but the feeling my body hurts me.” “My body hurts me”—the “me” in this statement is different from the “me” implied in “my body.” These four small words reveal a bifurcated knowledge of bodily pain that makes it all the more important to see that neither fat
61

nor bones without context be granted rhetorical personhood. Defining fat pride as a subversive affect is a privileged act placing some affective experiences above others and some experiences above structural realities. For some, “fat” is a carnal inscription on the organ-andbone mixed media marvel we call the human body, and like all bodily inscriptions, it does not inherently possess a value, good or bad. This is why variations in corpulence have been regarded so differently across cultures and time periods. Other corporal inscriptions we know to be beautiful depending on context: the crescent-shaped birthmark on your girlfriend’s stomach, the lightning-shaped scar on Harry’s forehead. Others are sad: the calluses on my father’s hands, the makeup caked over the bruise on my neighbor’s cheek. Sometimes inscriptions are given to us by chromosomes or a tattoo artist’s needle, but sometimes they are forced upon our bodies by hegemonic forces. That inscription is more like branding; that inscription burns. n

Not The One
By MAX FOX

French philosophy’s latest Oedipal struggle

Mehdi Belhaj Kacem Après Badiou Grasset, 423 pages

To call Après Badiou an Oedipal undertaking is about as controversial a statement as to say that the book, by the young French philosopher Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, is 423 pages long, written in French, and published in March of last year. The father in question is the Badiou of the title, “one of the most powerful voices in French philosophy” (as Badiou’s English publisher calls him), a set-theoretician, ontologist, and one of the last major exponents of the post-‘68 generation. In the early 2000s, on the merits of Belhaj Kacem’s early autodidactic work, Alain Badiou brought the younger man into his circle of confidants and admirers and helped him find publishers for his own works of philosophy. After about a decade of such treatment, Belhaj Kacem (or MBK, as I’ll call him), betrayed his mentor in a very public way. Après Badiou opens with a letter from MBK to himself, written in the formal vous. In it, he expresses gratitude to those who helped him along his “Nietzschean recovery,” alerting readers that what follows will be a “sort of Ecce Homo for our time.” The allusion, not wholly fanciful, is to Nietzsche’s break with Wagner, about whom Badiou has written favorably. MBK then turns outward to address his ex-co-

62

MAX FOX

religionists, counseling them to reject, on the basis of Badiou’s swollen ego, the philosopher’s domination of their minds. Partisan readers itching for tu quoque might relax and let themselves follow this man’s impressively fluent harangue, which succeeds in being accurate if not always true, and useful if not always good. The book was put out by Éditions Grasset, a publishing house associated with Bernard Henri-Lévi, who wrote a lengthy jacket blurb. BHL, as he is known natively, is a grotesque: a soixante-huitard who when faced with defeat recanted his revolutionary pretensions but never declined the invitations to talk shows, and so invented a new philosophy (he called it New Philosophy) to justify his new position. One of Badiou’s more appealing moves has been to flay toadies of the Restoration like BHL as only another ex-Maoist student leader can. And now here was his protégé calling him a misogynist, a failed novelist, and a baboon from the protégé’s new perch chez BHL. Badiou released a curt response in L’Express, a French newsweekly:
Regarding the book titled Après Badiou An ex-disciple cared to publish a work where he “explains” in a particularly vulgar, anecdotic and ignorant fashion, the reasons for his rupture with me. It is correct that I was at one time interested in the work of Mehdi Belhaj Kacem. I wrote a preface for one of his books, I invited him to my seminar, I was his editor at Fayard . . . One could have thought that all of that would create fidelity. It was the case for me, but not for him. Clearly, he thought that being my friend didn’t bring him enough, 63

or quickly enough, and that being my enemy would bring him more; it would suffice to sell his renegacy to those, numerous and powerful, who have long been against me. Once again, all can see for themselves that the mix of treason, megalomania and laziness never brings more than a meager broth. I have no other commentary to make on this banal story of mental corruption. Moreover, I don’t usually comment on the many books devoted to me.’

You could tell he didn’t even care. To see a philosopher of Badiou’s stature engaged in such sniping is a shock, given the operatic architectonics of much of his work, but it is also to see him as MBK saw him: petty, self-aggrandizing and paranoid (not unjustly) about betrayal. This is one of the troubling things about MBK’s book: Belhaj Kacem charges Badiou with a number of misbehaviors and seems to be telling the truth. And yet it’s also true, as Badiou counters, that he tells it in an anecdotic and even vulgar fashion. But we must remember that Belhaj Kacem’s philosophy is in fact an avowed antiphilosophy. Perhaps because of its correspondence with his own rhetorico-emotional register, he is further empowered to accuse Badiou’s philosophy, too, of being petty, self-aggrandizing and paranoid. Reading Après Badiou, you begin to believe him. Dismissing a philosopher’s entire system on the basis of his personal conduct is generally a foolish way to go, simply because very few philosophers weren’t world-historical dicks. And MBK’s complaints ring true enough for anyone who’s had the terrible pleasure of a

NOT THE ONE

relationship with a well-respected professor — which is to say, emotional grounds are not enough for dismissing Badiou’s entire oeuvre. But on what grounds do we excuse a man’s poor conduct, and, further, treat it as if it had nothing to do with his philosophy? Belhaj Kacem is sensitive to the pass commonly given influential men, and smart enough not to simply write a score-settling succès de scandale. The stakes are not small: For MBK, the project is no less than to free a generation from a set of pernicious ideas, summed up in a single man.

u

Badiou’s most robust philosophical work stems from his contention that mathematics expresses ontology, or more precisely that set theory is the description of pure being qua being. He is concerned with an ontology that can account for the fact that things and situations change. For him, an Event is the name of a true change, and Truth is the un-assured work of a human subject who maintains fidelity to that Event. The particulars of his ontology, laid out in his opus Being and Event, rest on the fundamental axiom that “the One is not.” That is, there is no set of all sets, no unity of being. Pure being qua being has holes; any instance of beings being is also an instance of a void. These theories were received in the English-speaking world with pomp and frisson, enjoying the approval of an academy employing French theory as replacement Marxish
64

critique. Fans thrilled to Badiou’s resounding defense of universalism against textual relativism, his fidelity to Maoism, and his striking equation of mathematics to ontology. Who cared that the work was neither particularly historical nor particularly materialist? A new, better French master had arrived on the scene. Not according to Belhaj Kacem, who seizes on Badiou’s political thought as both irresponsible and insignificant, indicting it as the symptom of the mathematically purified philosophy Badiou advances. By calling Badiou’s philosophy of the void itself void, Belhaj Kacem attempts to do the thing Badiou only describes: to found an event. The cornerstone of MBK’s attack lies in his criticism of Badiou’s lay “metaphysical Catholicism” or Pauline Platonism, which allows the subject to be redeemed by the Event of Truth. The Event cannot be summoned or prefigured, only awaited. Against this, he claims a metaphysical Lutheranism:
The historical genius of Luther was to re-seize the Jewish origin of monotheism, brandishing against Rome the fact that original sin and it alone unifies the human species as Subject.

MBK’s project is to secularize this story of Evil as the origin of any reference to a single humanity. For him, Badiou’s universalism — Catholic is, after all, the Greek word for “universal” — is both too religious and too particular to really deal with the fact that no matter how much he has philosophically vindicated the concepts of resurrection and immortality,

MAX FOX

they remain irrelevant to the “crushing majority of humanity” whose mortal lives need uplift before they die. The Arab Spring gives the polemic a heavy subtext. Belhaj Kacem is Tunisian-French, and writes about family members who would have been tortured had he spoken, even from the safety of France, against the now-fallen dictator Ben Ali. Badiou took his time to positively assess the ongoing upheaval which spread outward from Tunisia, declining to name the popular overthrow of Western client dictators as one of his Events. For MBK, who (absurdly) finds cryptogrammic significance in Alain Badiou’s initials reflecting Ben Ali’s, this appears as final evidence of the political uselessness of Badiou’s thought. Post-Spring, MBK is no longer afraid to speak about the tyranny this A.B. has held him under. The fall of one dictator gives the unhappy son the courage to topple the other. In his efforts to do this, MBK holds Badiou guilty of a variety of sins: Of having innovated “precisely zero” new philosophical concepts, of improperly applying Lacan’s analysis directly to the political sphere, of covertly deploying a “secular Catholicism” in the guise of a revived Platonic idealism, of being not a petit but a grand bourgeois and of universalizing his own bourgeois prejudices, of spreading a rancid version of ‘68 politics, condescending to tell Mehdi not to bother with the “left anarcho-situationists” while it is he who embarrasses himself visiting working-class and immigrant households to tell them how to practice politics, and of failing—along with all of philosophy up until Belhaj Kacem—to give
65

a philosophical account of evil. Now, this last, at least, is not strictly true. Badiou’s short book Ethics is subtitled An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, and contains a more elaborated definition of Evil than of Good. In his more recent Logics of Worlds, Badiou produces mathemes to describe two additional subjective figures of Evil. To my mind, his relation of Truth to Evil, despite the majuscule, is a subtle and forceful way out of vacuous, circular moralisms, and a reaffirmation along the way of the power of thought itself. But Belhaj Kacem claims repeatedly to be “the only one of [his] generation to have actually read Badiou,” so perhaps I’ve gotten it totally wrong.

u

For MBK, evil is something very much like original sin. Humans departed from the realm of pure animal being by aping nature, thereby doubling it and opening it to mastery and appropriation beyond simple necessity. This was the dual discovery through mimesis of both Science and excess, an event he names the Archetransgression. Put simply, science — the mimicry of natural laws — is how humans singularized ourselves as distinct from other animals, embarking on a trajectory towards the “technological planetary unification of the species.” In so doing, we left a mode of being “like water in water” for a historical world of “strictly gratuitous suffering,” i.e. Evil. To apprehend this singular state philosoph-

NOT THE ONE

ically, MBK says, means to be astonished at Evil’s continued presence. Politics is nothing other than the attempt to accommodate the excess which this mimesis produces: excess luxury and leisure on the side of the appropriators, excess misery and death on the side of the appropriated. And art, primarily in the form of tragic drama, reminds the polis of its ongoing failure to accommodate it. Since de Sade and Goya, art has contented itself with delectating in this dark consequence of the mimetic urge, substituting astonishment at the accommodation of Evil for astonishment at Evil itself. But philosophy, whose role is not to astonish others so much as to be itself astonished, has left the thought of Evil to religion and art, and for too long taken the Good as its guiding sign. No longer, if Belhaj Kacem gets his wish. Après Badiou is divided into three sections: The System of Evil, The Badiou Case, and The Political Symptom. The first is subtitled Plea for the Birth of a Philosophical Twenty-First Century. This century would be past Badiou, natch. It would be nihilist, in the sense that MBK has elaborated in his previous volume, The Spirit of Nihilism. And it would involve a polar switch from the hegemony of what MBK calls the eudaemonists, the philosophers who take it upon themselves to laud the Good. These philosophers, of whom Badiou is of course the highest exponent, are also all professors. Since Kant, MBK says, the philosopher has always been affiliated with the university, which has meant that the guardianship of the crucial human activity of prompting “astonishment at that which no one had thought to be astonished before” is in the hands of the
66

least astonished kind of people around, the “professionals of profession.” The antiphilosopher or antischolastic, on the other hand, in whose lineage MBK places himself, is always at a remove from the academy. He names Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Benjamin, Blanchot, Bataille, Lacan and Marx as his forbearers here, though Spinoza and any woman at all might have been good to include, too. The antiphilosopher’s role is as a “thinker of the singularity irreducible to the “philosophical” turnstiles of the abstract Universal,” withers Belhaj Kacem. These singularities left out by the philosophical Universal have, in MBK’s telling, been eagerly taken up by religion and then politics. If philosophers are so smart, he asks, then why does no one believe them? Why does religion still dominate in this self-proclaimed secular age? Relying a bit impishly on Lacan, one of Badiou’s own intellectual fathers, MBK draws strained lines between Badiou’s egoism and the universalism of his system. In the chapter titled The Badiou Case, we watch as a talented, frustrated man lets go of a decade’s indignities and almost stays clean himself. Badiou only ever turned to philosophy, MBK will have us know, because he failed so miserably as a novelist and playwright; his decades-long political engagement was always a joke, so he had to justify it retroactively with his concept of fidelity; he is misogynist and laughably puritanical in love and sounds like De Gaulle when he tries to speak with the working class; etc. But the strength of the “indomitable demon” at the heart of Badiou’s enterprise is evidence of the power of its truth. Since he’s still invested in

MAX FOX

Badiou’s “really universal” concepts, he must help them escape the disreputable personage who produced them. Thus his public trashing of this père, and thus the urgency of theorizing Evil. Then there is the supposed stranglehold on a generation’s mind that MBK wishes to loose. Here, the question of Après Badiou’s Frenchness poses itself. MBK’s derision of Badiou and his garret on the Rue d’Ulm, his “televisual celebrity” and his swarms of Badiousards reads as less than urgent because they’re specific to the French cultural landscape. It becomes easy to dismiss the polemic as emerging from the particulars of the two philosophers’ relationship, a Parisian tiff: hysterical, maybe, but irrelevant in English. After all, how true is it to say that today’s young thinkers excessively, exclusively turn to Badiou for ideological guidance? I’d say not very true at all, at least from my seat in New York. Perhaps they do more so in London — ? — certainly less so back home in California. Regardless, Badiou is an influential philosopher beyond France, and MBK is not the only one to consecrate a book-length critique to him (François Laruelle’s Anti-Badiou will be released in English next year). But Belhaj Kacem wants to do something more. He gestures more broadly towards a sort of generational dialectic, rendering that Hegel quotation as a trochee: “As for the individual, every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts.” Alexander Galloway begins his essay on MBK’s previous work, The Spirit of Nihilism, with the observation that “the children of the ‘68ers are now of age. And they are writing.”
67

What do children who are of age need to do to no longer be children, and what might they write about? The generational agon is an old one. Galloway predicts great things for MBK, if he can get a translator to curb some of his excesses. I’d agree, if only to avoid the distraction the controversy over some of his self-indulgent digressions may cause. But even those of us who don’t want to waste time condemning his parricidal urges still get to ask, well, is the father dead? He isn’t. At the end of the book, once you bracket the extensive ad hominem attacks, the self-aggrandizing on the author’s part, the personal correspondence revealed and the somewhat shaky attempts at casting a nihilist origin myth, what’s left is little more than a grand, brave gesture. And yet a gesture isn’t nothing. As another of MBK’s intellectual fathers, Giorgio Agamben, explains, gestures can be supremely important acts, resolving the false distinction between means and ends. “The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such,” he says in his Means without End. That is, a pure gesture shows that a certain way of doing something is possible, even while what exactly that something might be can’t yet be named. At a time of revolutionary ferment, when each day may be the founding of a future holiday, Après Badiou responds to the wider question, “How is what to be done?” Mehdi Belhaj Kacem has written a fine piece of #nodads polemic. Someone may still succeed with the book that totally demolishes Badiou and all of the troublesome things he represents, but this is not the one. n

Natural’s Not in It
By ATOSSA ABRAHAMIAN

Why libertarians love the caveman ethos of the Paleo diet

Marlene Zuk Paleofantasy W.W. Norton & Co., 304 pages

EVERY DIETARY PREFERENCE has its corresponding political stereotype. Vegans are to Ralph Nader as meat-andpotatoes types are to Dubya. Artisanal pickle-loving hipsters gravitate toward the Obamas, and anti-soda activists have a friend in Mike Bloomberg, at least for now. Omnivores, though seemingly agnostic, are split into two camps: those who will truly eat anything, and those who will eat anything as long as it contains organic ingredients their grandmother could pronounce. Then there are those who are concerned not with their grandmother, but their great-great-grandmother’s ancestral state of nature. Where does the Paleo diet fit in the politico-foodie spectrum? Proponents of the Paleo, or Caveman, diet believe that to achieve optimal health, we ought to subsist on foods that were available to our Pleistocene-era forebears. The Paleo philosophy rests on the notion that humans adapted to vastly different circumstances from the ones they live under today—that before the relatively recent shift into modern society, we lived for millennia as hunter-gatherers without the current, very high, levels of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. For Paleos, the primal lifestyle is our true
68

NATURAL’S NOT IN IT

state of nature—our blueprint, as one advocate puts it—and we must mimic it as best we can. In practical terms, living like a caveman typically means shunning all sugar, save a dab of (raw) honey or an occasional piece of fruit, and banishing grains and beans in favor of vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry. White potatoes aren’t recommended, but yams are fine and dietary fats, including the maligned saturated kind, are upheld as the holy grail of nutrition. Milk is high on the Paleo blacklist, but butter is encouraged. Nuts are acceptable but don’t even think about peanuts—they’re actually legumes. Bacon occupies a sacred space on the Paleo platter. Though mostly food-related, Paleo principles are sometimes extended to childbirth and parenting, exercise and fitness, and mental and emotional health. Some Paleo acolytes forgo shampoo; others complain about the “unnaturalness” of antibiotics, hormonal birth control, or monogamy. Judging from Paleo forums online, homeschooling is fairly popular, as are hairy men, eating with one’s hands, and exercise that mimics the primal life: running barefoot (or with fancy fivefingered shoes), lifting heavy rocks, avoiding “chronic cardio” (also known as distance running), and practicing sprints, despite the absence of prehistoric leopards. Grok, a 30-year-old hunter-gatherer, is upheld by marksdailyapple.com, a leading Paleo site, as a Paleo role model. A caveman composite, Grok is “simultaneously his own person/personality (incidentally male) and an inclusive, nongendered representative of all
69

our beloved primal ancestors.” He’s “a likable fellow” who has a “strong, resourceful wife and two healthy children.” By modern standards, Grok “would be the pinnacle of physiological vigor ... a tall, strapping man: lean, ripped, agile, even big-brained (by modern comparison)” with “low/no systemic inflammation, low insulin and blood glucose readings, healthy (i.e. ideally functional) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.” Grok is healthy because he has relatively low stress levels and subsists on what nature designed him to eat: “Wild seeds, grasses, and indigenous nut varieties,” seasonal vegetables, roots, berries, meats and fish, small animals, and big game. Chasing animals made him a “solid, nimble sprinter,” foraging gave him “impressive physical endurance,” and lifting beasts made him “tough and burly.”

u

GIVEN THE SEMI-MYTHICAL position of imaginary Groks in the Paleo world, it’s easy to accuse the modern cavemen of inconsistencies. How prehistoric is it to be living in condos, ordering grass-finished steaks from FreshDirect, enjoying heat and hot water, and sharing recipes online? The irony is not lost on Paleo advocates, and to be fair, if they shed their clothes and took to the woods they’d only be mocked more for it. Charges of hypocrisy, however amusing, are facile. Paleo is an improvement on a diet of processed, sugary junk. It’s not the first

ATOSSA ABRAHAMIAN

diet to banish starches, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, by any other name, the Paleo diet would be just that—a diet. But more substantial problems lurk in the reasoning behind Paleo principles. By assuming that all that was once natural is now good, militant Paleo leans on biological determinism to back up its theories. While it may not advocate for a complete reversion to cave-dwelling, it accepts that we evolved in a certain way to do certain things and not others, and that advances in technology, civilization, and culture can do little to change that. This logic, however seductive, is incomplete. You can’t get an “ought” from a “was.” There’s evidence that the “was” is vastly oversimplified too. Marlene Zuk, a biologist at U.C. Riverside, appraises the Paleo lifestyle in the upcoming Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live. Zuk notes that even if the good old days were, in fact, good, there was no singular primal lifestyle or even period for us to mimic. And while it’s true that humans existed for thousands of years before forming societies around agriculture, that doesn’t mean we’ve been wholly unable to adapt to the so-called ravages of modern life. Rather, the time that has passed since the shift toward agriculture—about 9,000 years, though estimates can vary—has provided our bodies with ample time to adapt to diets that include grains and dairy. “What we are able to eat and thrive on depends on our more than 30 million years of history as primates,” writes Zuk, “not on a single arbitrarily more recent moment in time.”
70

A key example of this kind of adaptation can be found in our ability to consume dairy. A great many people in the world cannot digest milk, but there are nonetheless some lactose “persistent” individuals who can. Their ability to do so, writes Zuk, is a result of lactose persistence being passed along through natural selection. “People able to drink milk without gastrointestinal disturbance passed on their genes at a higher rate than did the lactose-intolerant, and the gene for lactose persistence spread quickly in Europe,” Zuk writes, citing research that suggests this took place over just 7,000 years—“the blink of an evolutionary eye.” What this shows is that humans can adapt over the course of a few thousand years to better absorb whatever nutrition is readily available to them—on a farm, for instance, or in a herding society. Human adaptability doesn’t end there, though. When the genes aren’t passed on, other bodily functions step in: One example is the gut bacteria found in some Somalis that aided in their digestion of dairy, even though they lacked the gene normally associated with lactose persistence. And when all else fails, civilization comes in and ferments the milk to create yogurt or cheese—more easily digestible forms of dairy that a greater number of people can consume. We even thought of Lactaid, lactose persistence in pill form. Illustrations like these help Zuk undermine the Paleo assumption that we are not made for these times. “Consumption of dairy exquisitely illustrates the ongoing nature of evolution, in humans as in other liv-

NATURAL’S NOT IN IT

ing things,” she writes. “Our ancestors had different diets, and almost certainly different gut flora, than we have. We continue to evolve with our internal menagerie of microorganisms just as we did with our cattle, and they with us.” That isn’t to say we’ve adapted perfectly, but according to Zuk, the idea of being perfectly adapted to any environment is a myth unto itself: “Paleofantasies call to mind a time when everything about us—body, mind, and behavior—was in sync with the environment . . . but no such time existed. We and every other living thing have always lurched along in evolutionary time, with the inevitable trade-offs that are a hallmark of life.”

u

THERE ARE EVEN more troubling implications of the Paleo preoccupation with what’s “natural.” Incomplete or flawed interpretations of our biology have long since been used to marginalize women, racial groups, even entire civilizations, and nutrition may well become the next variant in this pattern of discrimination. If rice isn’t natural, does that make entire continents with highly developed cultures unnatural? Doesn’t agriculture, however flawed it may be in certain societies, support billions of people? Let’s not forget that for centuries women were considered ineligible to participate in most professions, sports, and diversions on the basis of their supposed female “nature.” Are
71

modern bread-eaters somehow less human than those who carry out “primal” urges by sprinting, lifting, and eating meat? These propositions are probably not the point of an apparently well-meaning lifestyle program. Many adopters of the Paleo diet do so for no reason other than weight loss, or vanity, or ailments caused by certain foods; others are simply curious about how so-called ancestral nutrition will make them feel, or how certain types of foods affect their bodies. If their giddy testimonials are to be believed, the Paleo diet can cure everything from diabetes to anxiety attacks, which is wonderful. Still, the social and political implications of Paleo reasoning ought to be more closely examined, especially as the lifestyle gains adherents. Paleo’s main proponents aren’t particularly partisan. Mark Sisson, who keeps the Paleo blog MarksDailyApple.com, says on his page that “people’s health and personal enjoyment of life matter more to me than politics and the hot air from the latest pundits.” But libertarians have embraced the caveman set as kindred spirits, and it would appear that the caveman lifestyle and anti-state, laissez-faire tendencies often come hand in hand. Paleolibertarian logic maintains that the U.S. government is to blame for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and dozens of other ills by telling us to eat the state-subsidized fruits of Big Agriculture’s labor. It says the USDA’s nutrition guidelines were created with the food lobby, not the human body, in mind. These are by no means implausible or even particularly radical claims. Some socialists

ATOSSA ABRAHAMIAN

and environmentalists have come to the same conclusions, at least nutritionally speaking. Still, this admittedly healthy distrust of government—not to mention the adoption of a diet that is the complete antithesis of the USDA’s recommendations—is inherently libertarian. Gary Taubes, a science writer best known for his antisugar crusades, is widely cited in Paleo circles. When Reason magazine asked him why so many libertarians are drawn towards Paleo, Taubes responded that perhaps they simply “like the idea that government agencies and federal agencies can be just dead wrong.” Some true believers take the “natural” argument even further by asserting that the centralized state, and all its freedomthwarting attributes, are a consequence of a grain-based agricultural society. The low-fi libertarian website LewRockwell.com features page upon page of articles about the Paleo lifestyle written in a rugged, conspiratorial tone. “It came to me like a revelation on my morning commute: Bread is a tool of the state,” writes one commentator. “The ‘staff of life,’ the very symbol of food itself, has become to me a symbol of the domestication of humankind. It has also suggested one more way I can work to strengthen the individual and weaken the state.” Another article, written by a young man named Toban Wiebe who advocates for “Paleo-Libertarian integration,” bore the rallying cry, “No grains, no government.” “Paleo and libertarianism share a common bond in individualism,” writes Wiebe. “Both value personal responsibility and oppose
72

government paternalism, wanting nothing from the government except to be left alone. Both recognize that nothing good can come from using the political means to further their cause.” Wiebe goes on to argue for the importance of “Misean longevity” (Ludwig von Mises lived to be 92) for the libertarian cause and to mourn the grain-fed demise of his idols. “It saddens paleo-libertarians that Murray Rothbard was struck down by a disease of civilization at the young age of 68,” he continues. “It is important that libertarians do their best to avoid such a fate—the libertarian cause is too important.” In October, the site’s founder Lew Rockwell himself observed the growing popularity of Paleo among younger libertarians on the campaign trail. “When I spoke at the two Ron Paul events in Tampa, a young man kind enough to pick me up at the airport told me a fascinating story. The vast majority of young Ron volunteers in offices he visited all over the country were Paleo. If a kid ordered pizza—which was always the primary or perhaps only campaign food—he was practically booed,” reads his blog. The libertarian-Paleo link makes a lot of sense. As Wiebe points out, changing one’s diet is in almost every case an act of personal responsibility. Although some evidence suggests that nonfood factors like BPA and other chemicals contribute to the “diseases of civilization,” it’s easy to frame many fatrelated ailments as a failure of the will. An individual’s failure to act rationally, argue Paleo-libertarians, is exacerbated by the gov-

NATURAL’S NOT IN IT

ernment’s tendency to thwart free enterprise in the health and agricultural sectors and limit the boundaries of our knowledge when it comes to diet and nutrition. The Paleo-libertarian alliance saw these arguments play out in a legal context last May when the Board of Dietetics/Nutrition of North Carolina told an advice blogger and life coach with diabetes that he could not dispense pro-Paleo diet advice online without the proper certifications, even though bloggers with diet advice are a dime a dozen on the Internet. The blogger, Steve Cooksey, alleged that this was a violation of free speech. His case was thrown out in August; libertarians and Paleos alike were very upset.

u

WITH ALL ITS contested conclusions and shaky methodologies, nutrition is a controversial science. It’s also a convenient outlet for those who believe in self-reliance to shun the government’s prescriptions, blame the less healthy for their predicament, and offer unsolicited advice on bootstrapping oneself into a smaller dress size. What could be better, from a libertarian perspective, than to alter one’s lifestyle from an government-sanctioned model to one guided by enlightened, evolutionary, natural principles that match the primal, anarchic state of man? Primal human impulses are a convenient and, on the surface, logical way to explain
73

our most mysterious attributes. (Why do we like crunchy things? Is it because we used to snack on insects? Are Cheetos a surrogate for crickets?) And it’s no surprise that the rise of Paleo coincides with the popularization of evolutionary psychology, and other organic or all-natural lifestyles. The world today is as baffling as ever, and a quick look at recent headlines—cannibal cops, urban chicken warfare, CIA love triangles—strongly suggests that we’re closer to our caveman ancestors, at least intellectually, than we’d like to admit. Is it worth exploring our how our ancestors lived to inform further research about what best suits us? Certainly. But much like our environmental adaptability, our knowledge of our distant ancestors is constantly changing—perhaps at a more rapid pace than ever. Consider the research into gender roles in caveman societies: Rather than having what we today would consider stereotypically stone-age divisions of labor, Paleolithic humans actually seemed to live in a relatively equal society. The men did not, as a matter of course, go out to hunt game, and women did not stay home foraging and lactating. “Saying you want to maintain your wife and children on [big-game hunting] is the ancestral equivalent of claiming that you will be able to fulfill your familial responsibility on the proceeds of playing lead guitar in a band,” writes Zuk, adding that when meat did come in, it was often shared among nonkin—an early form of distributive justice. According to one anthropologist that Zuk

ATOSSA ABRAHAMIAN

cites, there’s evidence that across all cultures, women did everything that men did, with the exception of metalwork. “The paleofantasy of the cavewoman staying home with the kids while the caveman went out for meat,” Zuk concludes, “would have ended up with no one getting enough to eat.” The jury is still out on what exactly Paleo-era humans even ate. The variety of foods seems to be broadening. Lots of Paleo eaters see tubers as kosher, and a subset of Paleos called lacto-paleos even accept dairy as a compatible source of nutrition. There are some Paleo-curious bloggers, such as Melissa McEwen, who take into account the many varieties of foods that our ancestors could have consumed and also acknowledge that humans have adapted since. “I refuse to take any dietary advice from people who clearly do not enjoy life,” writes McEwen on her blog. McEwen makes an important point: What use is civilization, at least in its current form, if it doesn’t provide us with beauty and pleasure in the form of culture, art, music, litera74

ture, and, yes, food the way we’ve created it? To deny ourselves the chance to experience what’s available to us in the fullest way— especially if we’re privileged enough to do so—is its own form of inadaptability. It may not have evolutionary consequences, but in the moment, depriving oneself of small pleasures can make that moment, not to mention passing along our genes, seem like it just isn’t worth it. Many of the basic Paleo principles, as Zuk observes, are intuitive. She approves of “a simpler life with more exercise, fewer processed foods, and closer contact with our children” on commonsense grounds. But we shouldn’t try to live that way just because our ancestors did. Evolution, Zuk points out, is continuous, not goal oriented. Agriculture did not thwart a predetermined path towards enlightenment, and chances are, bread or rice aren’t stopping us from evolving either. For better or worse, there’s no undoing what’s been done, only coping as best we can with what we have. n

75

WILLIE OSTERWEIL

We have talked about how to be comfortable as the end approaches. We have touched on the best way to deal with our feelings as the sands of time trickle down. What we haven’t brought up yet is giving back. We are now ready for some serious “do unto others” time, as well as a bit of Earth maintenance. There is no reason this planet can’t go down looking sharp and the people spinning around on it can’t have a smile on their sorry pusses as they decamp to nowhere. I’m not advocating going green-crazy. While green is the signifier of hope, it also denotes envy. I find it helps to keep in mind that green is not the boss of me; sometimes it’s just a color between blue and yellow. A little environmental action never killed anyone, although the environment will kill everyone if left unattended. So I advise going green, but greenlite. Think teal. Why not start with meat, and here I quote the U.N.: “The livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land.” I won’t tell you what that word means because it will only make you sad, and that just makes the hole in the ozone even larger. So what can we do? Well, the younger the animal when it shuffles off its mortal coil, the less grazing is necessary. It’s simple. Do the math. Also, doing the math will distract you from the sadness built into your good deed. The bottom line is eat veal, the green meat. If you still feel guilty—if even a patina of petite triste still lingers—then consider the great environmentalist Nigella Lawson. She does her part in saving mankind, and she does it with a smile on her face by eating aborted pig fetuses. Deep-fried, of course. (She’s only human, after all.) 

76

77

We have to stay upbeat. If you find yourself starting to fret that America has turned its back on science, just focus on the fact that in this past election, Charles Darwin got 4,000 write–in votes in a congressional race in Georgia. Baby steps. One day soon we might acknowledge evolution, possibly some other day we accept photosynthesis. With this kind of forward thinking, there’ll be no stopping us—except, of course, the fact that everything will just stop. If we have learned anything from Zap Comix, I hope it’s the awareness that we have to “keep on trucking.” FYI, for those who have an actual “apocalypse escape plan” (I don’t advise one, but I don’t judge), get yourself a plan B today. In France, it was announced that there would be no refuge from the apocalypse in the southwestern town of Bugarach and that it would limit access to the so-called upside-down mountain. Apparently, there is a group of lightly-tethered-to-reality deep thinkers who believe that aliens live in this mountain, and when the end comes, these same aliens will come out of said mountain and help those gathered around to escape to an undisclosed destination. I wish those people could get there — in fact, I wish they were there right now — but the French government won’t allow this to happen. How safe is anyone’s exit strategy? The only exit we can really count on is the ultimate egress that we will all share. So relax, stop stressing, and be yourself. The Army recruiters put it so well: “Be all that you can be.” But perhaps the Isley Brothers said it better: “It’s your thing, do what you wanna do. I can’t tell you who to sock it to.” Be careful out there, but mix in a bit of recklessness. You’ll thank me. n

78

79

80

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful