Tuesday, January 29, 2008

meat: the personal is still the political

When I started grad school (read: started cooking for myself), I basically became a vegetarian/pescatarian. I think I bought one package of organic/natural chicken breasts from TJ's when I moved in, and then realized that I didn't like cooking meat. I didn't cut fish out entirely, but I'd eat it like, once every two or three weeks (if that). Sometimes I was more strict, particularly as saying "I'm a vegetarian" meant that I had a socially acceptable way of turning down meat products that I simply didn't want to eat. There are things that bother me about claiming or not claiming the label: I don't always feel as "strict" toward my eating habits as the label implies, and I tend, frankly, to feel like an impostor. Example: this past week, I went to dinner with my studio committee, one member of which is a fairly strict vegetarian, and we've discussed the ethical/environmental/religious concerns around eating meat in the past, and I completely admire his decisions. Well, the museum cafe didn't have the salmon salad that I had gotten on previous trips there, so I settled on a vegetarian salad. Naturally, they were out of avocado, and the only other protein-source the menu listed as an add-on was chicken (of course: free range, happy chicken, because we're at a museum cafe in the bay area -- god I'm going to miss CA). So I got the chicken on the side, and felt both good and bad about it. Good, because I *do* keep track of complete proteins (ie, making sure I have some combination of nuts/rice & beans/avocado/soy products/dairy, etc. each day), and on that particular day I was due for something. But still, bad.

Anyway, with my own fraught relationship to meat consumption, I was excited to read this article from the NYT:

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.

Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the country’s rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.

The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a “relentless growth in livestock production.”

Not to get all Malthusian, but this, folks, is *not* sustainable. We've already gone from raising animals on pasture land to f-ing feedlots: what's next? How could meat production get even worse (in terms of animal cruelty, environmental degradation, etc.) in the name of efficiency?

Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.

And we're a notoriously unhealthy country... maybe it's a cause/effect, and not just a correlation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Yes! When will the reduction of meat in one's diet have the same sort of environmentalist cache as driving a Prius?

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Just... yuck.

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources .

Come on, NYT, just say it: the reason the government recommends so much protein has a *ton* to do with the meat lobbyists. The food pyramid was always based on profits, not science. Much like everything else under the current administration...

I'd love to know when this mythology around meat started... when did masculinity and meat-eating become so intertwined that every fast food commercial invokes the link? When did it become acceptable for a *very* well educated 30-something living in SF to ask, in all seriousness, how a vegetarian gets enough protein? For a nation that avoids exercise at all costs, with a population that will drive across parking lots to avoid walking (or go in endless circles: waiting for a parking space right next to the door), how incongruous is it, that we're the ones worrying about getting enough protein?! We've got to fuel all that sitting that we do.

The article attempts to end on a high note, but considering all the subsidies wrapped up in meat production, and the effectiveness of lobbyists, and the downright moral blindness that our national ethos seems to embrace, I'm not feeling terribly optimistic.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

studying the obvious

I want to get paid to prove the obvious, so that I can 1) find a job & 2) debunk Republican talking points. Apparently, despite economic models suggesting that giving money to the poorest among us would most quickly and efficiently boost the economy, there's a lot of resistance to upping food stamps and such. Not that this is particularly tied to the recent talk of recession: when's the last time *you* heard a Republican in favor of keeping social welfare programs well-funded (or even just adjusted to inflation)? I found a write-up at Feministe that's right on point in response to this heinous reasoning from Megan McArdle:

1) The poor don't need more food. Obesity is a problem for the poor in America; except for people who are too screwed up to get food stamps (because they don't have an address), food insufficiency is not.

Wait: so people eating on $3 a day aren't hurting for food? I budget for over *twice* that, and I don't even buy meat (which is probably the most expensive food category: and would be more expensive if the gov. didn't subsidize farms that specialize in dumping lagoons of pig shit into our waterways, and releasing tons of methane (read: cow gas) into the air). Considering that *one* apple is over fifty cents here in the bay area, I'm thinking that it would be impossible to get the allotment of 5 fruits/veggies a day, unless all you ate was bananas, apples, and carrots (which, I expect, would leave you hungry &/or feeling nauseous). And WIC doesn't cover fruits and veggies (except fruit juice and carrots: you figure it out). Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to stay healthy! Feed yourself and your children with $3 per person per day! So with one hand the government giveth, and with its foot, it giveth you a swift kick in the ass.

And apparently (we're coming back now to the original assertion about obvious studies), folks receiving government aid aren't ignorant of what's good for themselves and their families: they just need programs to support those decisions. Some genius concocted a study that involved giving women on WIC one of the following: $10 for the farmers' market, or $10 for non-food items. Guess who fared better!?!? Watch the NYT pretend that these results are somehow a surprise:

After six months, women who shopped at the farmers’ markets were eating about three additional servings of fruits and vegetables a day, compared to the control group. Supermarket shoppers consumed 1.5 extra servings.

Well, knock me over with a feather!

It’s not clear why mothers visiting a farmers’ market wound up buying more vegetables than grocery store shoppers

Really? Has anyone at the NYT ever like, seen the produce at Safeway? The stuff shipped and waxed within an inch of its life? Or then gone to a farmers' market, where all is sunshine, heirloom tomatoes, and ten different varieties of peaches and nectarines (with samples)? Huh. Yeah, I guess it's "not clear."

but some women told the researchers that the produce sold at markets seemed to be fresher and of higher quality than supermarket offerings. Many shoppers also said they enjoyed the pleasant community experience and the chance to interact directly with growers, the authors noted.

Hey, let me save you the trouble next time: you give me money for research, and I'll (oracle-like) tell you what any rational human would do.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wordsworth: on mountains

I finally read the entire Prelude (1805).

This passage *almost* makes up for the 200 pages of self-indulgence that is Wordsworth writing the blank verse epic of his own life:

"while the Flock
Fled upwards from the terror of his Bark
Through rocks and seams of turf with liquid gold
Irradiate, that deep farewell light by which
The setting sun proclaims the love he bears
To mountain regions."

Studying for Orals

Favorite exchange about my orals reading list:

A: So why do you have The Golden Bowl on your list?

B: Well, I just read it last year, and I liked it --

A: Let's say I were to actually ask you that --

B: Ah! (gives Real Answer)

If only every question could be pitched first at the level of conversation, then at the level of the exam...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

For Merrie

Lolcats ‘n’ Funny Pictures - I Can Has Cheezburger?

Wintering in Madison

Tomorrow I have to head back to California, but I'm hoping it will be easier as this is the *last semester* of being long distance. Despite the weather (bitter cold, to mild and rainy, to snowy -- the last being actually rather enjoyable, especially when you're walking around the capitol building), it's been a good place. Andrew & I did a lot of baking, cooking, working, walking around the park & State St, watching tv & movies (most recently, a documentary on Helvetica & tonight, Citizen Kane followed by How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (quite the combination)), and just spending time together. We did make a couple of ventures out with friends, but I rather liked all the alone time after the constant socializing at MLA. And before going back to Stanford, where I imagine I'll be doing a lot of: sitting and reading, fretting over orals, and spending far too much time composing what should be short and simple emails to advisers.

This has also been the visit in which we discovered the Hilldale Mall. Which has a Sundance theater (where we watched Juno and No Country for Old Men -- both of which I *loved,* but especially N.C.f.O.M.), a Macy's (where I bought my first new coat after 4-5 years of the same camel colored Gap gear, which Merrie now has an exact replica of, making for some rather awkward moments when we find ourselves getting dressed in the *same things* when at home together), and an Anthropologie (where I found a wool cardigan I *needed*, but was still a bit spendy despite being 50% off). I'm thinking of trying to apply to Anthropologie after I move here: I feel as though nearly everything they sell I'd want to design and create if I knew how to do so.

Today, as it was my last full day here, we needed to find something to do. Luckily we have some happy, future-oriented, couple-dom things to do: start apartment hunting, & figure out the location and date of our wedding. My dream apartment would be: on a quiet side street in the Willy St. area, the top floor of a Victorian style house (of course) with a turret and wood floors, interesting details, lots of sun, and under $950 a month. I'm not sure yet on the dream wedding. I can see either: at an orchard in Oregon, or a combination of Heaven's Gate & the UW Union here in Madison. Or if we were to get married earlier, possibly using this old church that's now a restaurant. Too many decisions.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Gorging on the DVR

Things I have watched:

-Most of the BBC Bleak House


-Every new Law & Order

-"A Daily Show" with Jon Stewart going it alone without his writers (and elucidating the situation)

-Keeping the Faith

-New Hampshire results: I'm glad Hillary got it. I don't agree with everything that Steinem said in the NYT today, but after reading it, I did want to see Hillary continue in the running.

-Lots of Project Runway.

-Basically all of the most recent Next Food Network Star.

-Cashmere Mafia. And then tonight, we saw an ad for a show on NBC, also about successful, young, sexy business women. And the title? Lipstick Jungle. The Onion should probably hire whoever at NBC came up with that title.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Holiday Wrap-up

The Oregon Christmas extravaganza:

Mer & I greeted Andrew at the airport, and arrived home in time for buffalo roast. The next day I took off from alpaca work, instead being lazy (until I felt guilty for being lazy and, to compensate, helped make pizza for lunch). Since we had the house to ourselves, us kids watched Superbad in the afternoon: hilarious. A sugar cookie baking and decorating session took up most of the evening. In the days before Christmas, we went into town for Crazy Pepper and Christmas shopping, took walks in the snow, explored the woods & logging road (complete with snowball fights), ate cinnamon rolls & holiday cookies galore, and caught up on Degrassi episodes. And in the midst of all this, Mum & Andrew & I played a number of Scrabble matches. The Saturday before, Andrew & I joined up with Mer, Mer's friends, & Lindsey for a bar-hopping night, going from Full Sail, to the British themed pub, to Jack's (where our clothes picked up the worst cigarette smoke). The 23rd was calmer, as we visited with Dad, hung out with my grandmother's side of the family, and hid away inside from the rain. Christmas Eve involved holiday movies, a long walk with Andrew to the corner store via the irrigation canal, prepping sandwiches, and celebrating with Tim's side of the family. Then we kids opened a gift each (Mum's secretive knitting & sewing projects! & a joke played on Andrew), and sat into the evening drinking ridiculous tropical drinks thought up by Andrew and eating leftovers.

Christmas morning was slow going -- Mer didn't wake up till we were all *quite* ready to start with gifts. Always fun! I'm still enjoying chocolates, my new pajama bottoms, my clean teeth, new body lotion, and softest socks ever. Andrew got his bathrobe which refuses to fit into suitcases. After gorging on gifts, we kids headed into town early to meet up with Dad (to hang out and exchange gifts), and then to reunite with Mum & Tim & Grammy at the Hood River Inn. The buffet was amazing -- too many things to sample -- and the desserts almost did me in: I had about ten different bits of dessert, all involving chocolate. Eating three courses over a span of two hours is also a convenient way of spending time with family. My favorite part of the evening came after we had all gotten home, and we kids & Mum felt the need to exercise off our ridiculously huge dinner. We ended up taking a walk in the snow down Miller Road, and then trying out Tim's vintage sled & toboggan. We didn't always end up going very fast (ok, half the time Mer and I were "rowing" ourselves down the hill with our hands), but it was a beautiful snowy night, and we were laughing. The sled was hands down the winner for sledding on an icy road covered in fluffy snow.

The 26th was sad, as the day after Christmas always is, and because it was time to pack up and head out.

MLA in Chicago:

Andrew & I took a red eye into Chicago, grabbed under two hours of sleep in the hotel, and then the madness of MLA began. We held down the Stanford Hospitality Suite with Jill, and I think it was a success overall. We hosted breakfasts and lunches in the suite, listened & chatted with our interviewing graduate students, welcomed professors who stopped by and offered advice to our candidates, took our people out for dinner (Italian food and then sushi), and then celebrated at the end with a small pizza party in the suite. Jill & I managed to attend one panel per day -- I especially enjoyed the one on George Eliot and Victorian ideas of "Englishness" (not so much the one on Victorian attitudes toward the body). On the final day, after breakfast with Jill, Andrew & I explored downtown a bit, had Thai food for lunch, and then caught an earlier bus to Madison. My feet were simply too tired to troop around a museum for an hour after lunch... must go back sometime soon!

The New Year in Madison:

Strange to be back, as I haven't visited since last spring break (and then, only for one week). Sometimes I get flashbacks to when I was here for the summer I was studying for quals...

New Year's Eve: Andrew & I slept in and then went food shopping at TJ's: very successful trip! We baked an awesome dinner for our quiet night in: olive & rosemary bread, salmon in a lemon & white wine sauce, spinach and zucchini. Also: the herb olive oil at TJ's really *is* worth the $5. For dessert, chocolate lava cake.

New Year Day was quiet -- we took a *frigid* walk in the 7 degree coldness that is Madison in January, baked a loaf of chocolate babka, and watched the last of "The Next Food Network Star", which Andrew had DVRed.

Today we took another walk, as Andrew had to meet with his adviser at school. This time I was prepared, adding another pair of socks and another layer of shirts and scarves. I hung out with Vanity Fair in the Union for a while (I love that they have a gas fire there, very cozy). Andrew & I searched in the stores on State St. for a new coat for me... and then searched the West side mall this evening... and now we have resorted again to the internets. Sometimes I wish I could sew.