What are you about, Food or Money?

joyce-carolo-oates

Born this day in 1938 the multi award winning novelist and short story writer also pens sharply insightful poetry.  Her stereotype view of men and women below is all the funnier for her surname.

Women Whose Lives are Food, Men Whose Lives are Money; by Joyce Carol Oates

-o0o-
Mid-morning Monday she is staring
peaceful as the rain in that shallow back yard
she wears flannel bedroom slippers
she is sipping coffee
she is thinking—
—gazing at the weedy bumpy yard
at the faces beginning to take shape
in the wavy mud
in the linoleum
where floorboards assert themselves

Women whose lives are food
breaking eggs with care
scraping garbage from the plates
unpacking groceries hand over hand

Wednesday evening: he takes the cans out front
tough plastic with detachable lids
Thursday morning: the garbage truck whining at 7
Friday the shopping mall open till 9
bags of groceries unpacked
hand over certain hand

Men whose lives are money
time-and-a-half Saturdays
the lunchbag folded with care and brought back home
unfolded Monday morning

Women whose lives are food
because they are not punch-carded
because they are unclocked
sighing glad to be alone
staring into the yard, mid-morning
mid-week
by mid-afternoon everything is forgotten

There are long evenings
panel discussions on abortions, fashions, meaningful work
there are love scenes where people mouth passions
sprightly, handsome, silly, manic
in close-ups revealed ageless
the women whose lives are food
the men whose lives are money
fidget as these strangers embrace and weep and mis-
understand and forgive and die and weep and embrace
and the viewers stare and fidget and sigh and
begin yawning around 10:30
never made it past midnight, even on Saturdays,
watching their braven selves perform

Where are the promised revelations?
Why have they been shown so many times?
Long-limbed children a thousand miles to the west
hitch-hiking in spring, burnt bronze in summer
thumbs nagging
eyes pleading
Give us a ride, huh? Give us a ride?

and when they return nothing is changed
the linoleum looks older
the Hawaiian Chicken is new
the girls wash their hair more often
the boys skip over the puddles
in the GM parking lot
no one eyes them with envy

their mothers stoop
the oven doors settle with a thump
the dishes are rinsed and stacked and
by mid-morning the house is quiet
it is raining out back
or not raining
the relief of emptiness rains
simple, terrible, routine
at peace

-o0o-

Digital Etiquette

WiFi manners

A very valid question is posed above.  When it comes to insights I often default to this one:  “When you go home to your mothers house, do you ever walk into the kitchen, open the fridge and have a good look at what is in there?”

It is amazing how this simple insight makes people smile, most recognise the behaviour as something they do.  It would be an incredibly rude thing to do with a friend or colleage, but we all do it when we go home to visit Mom, or as we Dubliners call her “de Ma”.  The fridge is a symbol for a whole raft of emotions around security, contentment, care and love.  A packed fridge is a welcome home, mothers bounty, always there in case of need.  It is a visual symbol of a mothers love for her children.

My own mother is old and putting it kindly one might say she is a little forgetful these days.  Now when I open the fridge it is to ensure that she is being cared for.  That is sad.  It makes the house a cold and clinical place to know we can’t just turn up and root out a lunch from the contents.

Food etiquette is central to how we interact with others.  Toilet etiquette is not far behind.  You don’t arrive into a persons house and just march straight to the bathroom, unless you are in a very bad state.  Excusing yourself to the bathroom entails a complex code of doubletalk, innuendo and social manners.

Sasha Baron Cohen, in the character of Borat, uses our ‘delicacy’ around bathroom issues as a source of comedy, as in this video, about 3.30 in:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PebL4qCGK1w

Bathroom etiquette requires that we mask our purpose,  We talk of bathrooms and toilets, which were originally places for washing.  We should be asking for the W.C. and indeed this is considered to be polite in upper class English circles. The Queen uses a WC. Other, lesser people, refer to the Loo, the Ladies, the Gents, the little girls/boys room, the Facilities, the Washroom, John, Khazi, Dunny and so on.

Now we have the thorny issue of WiFi to worry about.   As a good host are you expected to give up your access code?  As a guest is it polite to ask for it?  Are you going to spend the dinner party gazing into your smart phone?  When is it proper for a host to ask you to leave the phone in a box for the evening?  If your host asks you to put your phone away should you be mortified and apologetic, or is it OK to tell them to go to hell because they are just Luddites?

Table manners for food and toilets are established and are a still a social minefield.  Phone and WiFi manners are still in flux and are constantly evolving.  One thing is very sure, lots of people are using their time in the bathroom to check up on their live feed!  I just hope they wash their hands first.

Alex from Target

Alexfromtarget

I said it before in my blog post called “Public Taste”, people are strange and the internet is a funny place.  This picture of a kid packing bags was posted, supposedly on Tumblr.  It was forwarded by a guy on Twitter @auscalum and just went crazy viral.

In a 12 hour period from last Sunday the meme went ballistic.  By Sunday evening Alex realised that he was famous.  @auscalum has come under attack from people who hate what he posted, and won plaudits from those who love the meme.  Teenage girls seem particularly into Alex from Target.

He was invited onto the Ellen DeGeneres show.

A marketing company (I refuse to reward them by giving their name) claimed they invented the meme.  When challenged they changed the story to say they had promoted the meme amongst teen fan girls.  They claimed to have done this to show their ability to sell this service.  They can’t seem to back up this claim with hard stats.  It all looks like jumping on the bandwagon.

Various advertisers are using the meme to promote themselves for Christmas. Target has operated in a remarkably subtle way, having the sense to let the meme do the work without them running the risk of making a mistake by engaging in a trend they don’t understand.  Other companies are trying to promote hot young guys who work for them “me too, me too”.  You can buy an Alex from Target outfit, there will probably be an action figure if this continues.

For many it is a joke, for others a marketing opportunity, some seek fame through association (you can even accuse me of that!) and the haters use it as an excuse to be rude and nasty to complete strangers.  Welcome to the weird and wonderful Internet!

Alex from Target needs to move very fast to harness the opportunity.  He can be anything in the next four weeks, rockstar, author, vlog superstar, pointless celebrity.  Being an internet meme is like finding a seam of gold in your back garden when you are planting flowers.  You don’t just cover it over and forget it is there.  Astoundingly his approach on the Ellen show?  “Just let me pack bags and finish school!”  Carpe Diem Alex from Target, grasp that opportunity! Hire an agent.  You will never see another opportunity like this one.  You won’t be called to the dinner table twice.

And @auscalum, you need to do the same!

Fame is a fickle food; by Emily Dickinson

Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the Farmer’s Corn –
Men eat of it and die.


			

Biscuits and Milk

Turkish Tanks

My brain is taking a duvet day.  It is a time for me to sit down and eat some biscuits and drink some milk.  It’s just that nobody is giving me biscuits and milk.  When I say I need biscuits and milk they look at me funny.  They don’t know what I am talking about.

Walt Whitman used biscuits and milk the way Jesus used bread and wine.  Simple grounding staples of our society.  Foods that bring the ego and the id closer together and nourish me, who I am, myself.

In Freudian psychology the dream state is envisaged as a time when the id floats free and projects away from the physical world.  In this projected state it can interact, through dreams, with the pre-conscious layer of the mind, the buffer zone between the sealed unconscious and the waking conscious state.

Think of ISIS as the unconscious state, we really have no idea what is going on there in ISIS.  What do those guys want?  It is a dark and scary place.

So, the Turkish Border, with the Patton tanks lined up on the hill, that is the Conscious state,  hard, grounded, real, factual.

The Kurds in Kobani are like the Id, floating freely in the pre-conscious, wishing they could wake up to the sound of Turkish Tanks firing shells at ISIS.  In Kobani the Kurds want security, safety, surety (good alliteration kiddo).  They want biscuits and milk.  Breakfast food.  Simple, uncomplicated, bland, plain breakfast food.  They want to get their heads together.

Now do you understand?  I don’t actually want you to put a plate of biscuits and a glass of milk in front of me!  I am not hungry for food.  I just need to get it together in my mind.  So when someone asks for Biscuits and Milk, give them a bit of space.

Song of Myself; by Walt Whitman
Stanza 46
I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never will be measured.

I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.

If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me,
For after we start we never lie by again.

This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look’d at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my spirit When we become the enfolders of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of every thing in them, shall we be fill’d and satisfied then?
And my spirit said No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond.

You are also asking me questions and I hear you,
I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.

Sit a while dear son,
Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.

Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

Food Island

Clonmacnoise_castle_and_cattle

Ireland is a food island.  We have this fantastic mild climate, with a long spring and autumn and an incredible growing season.  Cattle and sheep thrive on fresh grass, and we have a very short wintering period.  This makes Ireland ideal for production of Beef, Dairy and Lamb.  The byproducts of the dairy industry supply inputs for pig and fowl rearing.

We also have a great climate for growing barley.  Ireland sits at the western end of the “beer belt” which stretches to Slovakia and includes the UK, north eastern France, the Benelux, Germany, southern Poland and the Czech republic.  In this belt you can grow good malting barley and make great beer, and whiskey.  Go south of the beer belt and the climate lends itself to grapes, so you get wine and brandy.  Go north of the beer belt and you are into grain alcohol country, where they produce various versions of Aquavit or Vodka in Scandinavia Poland, Russia and the Baltic Republics.

Given Ireland’s unique position on the Atlantic we SHOULD have the least polluted food production system in Western Europe.  At a political level this should be a number 1 priority.  It has not been!  We have seen scandal after scandal as standards have been allowed to slip.  We have adopted industrial food production short cuts from the USA, Britain and Central Europe.  This has to stop.  Irish food should be the purest food in the world.  We should concentrate on value add, not on mass production.  We should be the envy of food producers everywhere.  The badge of Ireland on food should be synonymous with purity, nature, traditional production, humane farming practices, free range, fed on grass watered by Atlantic rainfall.

Irish beef should command prices higher than Kobe beef.  We are nuclear free and we don’t house our cattle for most of the year and feed it on “unnatural” feed mix.

Irish lamb should be trademarked and should command a far higher cachet than New Zealand lamb which has circled the globe and accrued an enormous carbon debt.

Irish dairy should be seen for what it is – a pure conversion of unsullied Atlantic rains, through grass fed herds, into pristine milk, cream, butter and cheese.

Any farmer, producer or food manufacturer who threatens the image of the food island of Ireland should be dunked head first in a slurry pit.  It should be a form of public entertainment, designed to underline the importance of our reputation.

Inexpensive Progress; by John Betjeman

Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

Destroy the ancient inn-signs
But strew the roads with tin signs
‘Keep Left,’ ‘M4,’ ‘Keep Out!’
Command, instruction, warning,
Repetitive adorning
The rockeried roundabout;

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small ‘amenity,’
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

Leave no old village standing
Which could provide a landing
For aeroplanes to roar,
But spare such cheap defacements
As huts with shattered casements
Unlived-in since the war.

Let no provincial High Street
Which might be your or my street
Look as it used to do,
But let the chain stores place here
Their miles of black glass facia
And traffic thunder through.

And if there is some scenery,
Some unpretentious greenery,
Surviving anywhere,
It does not need protecting
For soon we’ll be erecting
A Power Station there.

When all our roads are lighted
By concrete monsters sited
Like gallows overhead,
Bathed in the yellow vomit
Each monster belches from it,
We’ll know that we are dead.

Food Ritual 2: Inclusion and Exclusion

WEDDING

Food is a means of including and excluding people.  The most inclusive groups of people tend to have the most liberal tastes in food.  Everyone is welcome at the table, and you are welcome to serve any food you like.

Jewish Rabbis in middle age Europe fought a constant battle to hold the faithful in their religion.  Young people who fraternised with Christians were at risk of marrying out.  So the Rabbis reinforced observance of the kosher laws to keep their congregations intact.  If you cannot eat with people, you do not keep company with them.

The Spanish inquisition saw this also.  When ex-Jews converted to Catholicism the church in Spain monitored their food consumption.   If they did not roast a leg of pork from time to time they risked being accused of back-sliding.

So you can be included, or excluded from a “tribe” by the food you eat.  Kosher, Halal, Vegetarian, Vegan, Fruitarian, Pescatarian, South-Beach, Atkins, Weightwatchers.

In societies with “untouchable” castes, there are strict rules guiding who sits at what table.  In societies where food is eaten with the right hand, as in many Arabic countries, if a thief has his right hand removed, it is a far more dreadful punishment than the loss of the limb.  He is now excluded from dining with other people.  He must eat alone.  He is banished from the table.

An invitation to the table is an inclusion in society.  In the middle ages in Europe you could tell the status of a person by where they sat in the Lords hall, what foods they were permitted to eat, what cloth they were permitted to wear, in which colours, right down to what type of bird they could hunt with.

It was considered a great sin and shame to breach the laws of hospitality.  A guest under your roof must be fed.  The poor regularly appeared at the homes of the wealthy to beg alms from a feast, relying on the shame factor of the host if they were sent away hungry.

Stories abounded of mean minded hosts or their stewards, who would refuse to feed the poor, or charge them a fee for the table leftovers.

In one story from Middle Age Ireland a man starved himself to death on the doorstep of his enemy, to condemn his enemy to a lifetime of shame for permitting a guest to die on his threshold.

It is very important, to have a place in society, to eat with others.  In modern western society a lot of old people end up living on their own.  Volunteers give their time and effort to deliver Meals on Wheels to these people.  But it would be better to deliver the person to the meal, than the meal to the person.

Dinner Guest: Me   by Langston Hughes

I know I am
The Negro Problem
Being wined and dined,
Answering the usual questions
That come to white mind
Which seeks demurely
To Probe in polite way
The why and wherewithal
Of darkness U.S.A.–
Wondering how things got this way
In current democratic night,
Murmuring gently
Over fraises du bois,
“I’m so ashamed of being white.”

The lobster is delicious,
The wine divine,
And center of attention
At the damask table, mine.
To be a Problem on
Park Avenue at eight
Is not so bad.
Solutions to the Problem,
Of course, wait.

Food Ritual

Spit roast

Social carnivores have strict hierarchical rules for access to food, to reduce fighting and limit injury caused by fights for access to meat.  The Pride leader eats “The Lions Share”.  Hunting dogs, wolves and Hyenas all maintain an ordered approach to who eats and when.

Jane Goodall in her studies on chimps observed how the eating of meat from a hunt was different in nature from the “normal” grazing behaviour of the animals.  Chimps have a highly ordered tribal society.  This organisation is most important during the hunting process, where male chimps must co-operate if the hunt is to succeed.  When a hunt is successful the meat is portioned out by the alpha male and it is used to cement loyalties, reward service and exclude those who may challenge the status quo.

In primitive human hunter-gatherer society we can see a similar dynamic at play.  Gathered foods are unremarkable staples.  A large kill, on the other hand, is a cause for celebration and feasting.  Tribal leaders or the leader of the hunting party apportion out the prime cuts according to a complex mix of societal needs.  They decide who gets the desirable cuts of offal, and how the meat is apportioned.

Fast forward to modern society and we still celebrate our feasts with a big “kill”.  It may be a Turkey or a Goose for Thanksgiving or Christmas, in the South Pacific it is more likely a suckling pig, in Muslim countries a sheep or a goat.  Nothing quite sets up a festival like the sight of large animals roasting over an open fire on a spit.  It speaks of plenty, it says there will be something for everyone.

We have different rituals around feast meals than we have around our daily fare.  And what is most interesting is that a ritual surrounding a food makes it taste better.

For a food marketing company, the secret to the success of a product may be to design a ritual for its consumption.

In one experiment, Kathleen Vohs from the University of Minnesota and colleagues explored how ritual affected people’s experience of eating a chocolate bar. Half of the people in the study were instructed to relax for a moment and then eat the chocolate bar as they normally would. The other half were given a simple ritual to perform, which involved breaking the chocolate bar in half while it was still inside its wrapper, and then unwrapping each half and eating it in turn.

Something about carefully following these instructions before eating the chocolate bar had a dramatic effect. People who had focused on the ritual said they enjoyed eating the chocolate more, rating the experience 15% higher than the control group. They also spent longer eating the chocolate, savouring the flavour for 50% longer than the control group. Perhaps most persuasively, they also said they would pay almost twice as much for such a chocolate.

This experiment shows that a small act can significantly increase the value we get from a simple food experience. Vohs and colleagues went on to test the next obvious question – how exactly do rituals work this magic? Repeating the experiment, they asked participants to describe and rate the act of eating the chocolate bar. Was it fun? Boring? Interesting? This seemed to be a critical variable – those participants who were made to perform the ritual rated the experience as more fun, less boring and more interesting. Detailed analysis showed that this was the reason they enjoyed the chocolate more, and were more willing to pay extra.

So, rituals appear to make people pay attention to what they are doing, allowing them to concentrate their minds on the positives of a simple pleasure. But could there be more to rituals?

In his book, The Symbolic Species, Terrance Deacon claims that ritual played a part in human evolution at the transition point where we began to acquire the building blocks of language.  The point when we rose above chimps to become humans.

Deacon’s argument is that the very first “symbols” we used to communicate, the things that became the roots of human language, were extended and complex sequences of group behaviours, rituals. These symbols began as family groups shared the spoils of hunting. Early humans needed a way to tell each other who had what responsibilities and which privileges; who was part of the family, and who could share the food. Rituals were the answer to the conundrum of connecting human groups and checking they had a shared understanding of how the group worked.

So, according to this theory, our love of rituals evolved with our need to share food. Primitive humans who performed rituals had less in-fighting and more offspring. We programmed ourselves to enjoy food ritual.  As a result, foods with rituals are more enjoyable.

Feast;  by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I drank at every vine.

The last was like the first.

I came upon no wine

So wonderful as thirst.
I gnawed at every root.

I ate of every plant.

I came upon no fruit

So wonderful as want.
Feed the grape and bean

To the vintner and monger:

I will lie down lean

With my thirst and my hunger.