The Flavors of Home: The Art of Comfort Food

by Dwight Furrow

6a019b00fffe15970b01b7c76df05d970b-150wiWhen we eat, if we pay attention at all, we focus on the pleasures of flavor and texture. But some meals have a larger significance that provokes memory and imagination. So it is with comfort food–the filling, uncomplicated, soft, and digestible comestibles that haunt our consciousness with thoughts of security, calm, nourishment, and being cared for, especially when triggered by memories of the flavors of home.

Apple pie, ice cream, chocolate cake, macaroni and cheese, chicken soup-their smell and taste can unfetter a flood of memories because our brains are wired to associate good feelings with specific flavors and aromas, especially when the flavors are fat, salt and sugar. In the face of such powerful stimuli, we succumb helplessly to the endorphin cascade. The foods of home have such a grip on us that we go to a great deal of trouble to bring our food with us when we travel. The spread of various foodstuffs throughout the world was made possible by armies, both military and migrant, determined to carry the taste of home with them. A visit to any ethnic market in a major city reveals the importance of these taste memories to our sense of well-being.

Home cooking has this significance because meals are as much about relationships as they are about food. Unlike other animals, we do not eat when food is available. We dine at particular times, in particular ways, and with particular table mates. Families interact around the kitchen table and are defined by the small daily rituals of gathering, preparing, and consuming food. Meals bring families together physically and emotionally and the tastes and smells become associated with the achievement of social solace and acceptance. “Homeyness”, for want of a more elegant word, may be the most powerful and persistent meaning that attaches to food. Thus, the simplistic claim that food lacks meaning is obviously false. Mom's apple pie is as meaningful as anything in life for some of us.

But does comfort food have the kind of meaning that works of art have?

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Last call

by Tamuira Reid

“The world can't just fucking stop. It's ridiculous. We need to move on from this.” It's a week after the Ferguson ruling and Beverley sits across from me, poking ice cubes in her empty cocktail glass with a straw. I don't like her but I'm trying. There's no one else to talk to here. They're all too drunk to care anymore.

“I mean, like, leave art alone. The movies, TV, sports even. Every time anything bad happens in this country it just shuts off. We need dumb stuff, too. I need my Scandal. And my boys need some fucking baseball, yeah? Not CNN all day. ESPN!” She pauses to pull her long red hair into a messy knot on top of her head. Lighting a cigarette, she takes a deep concentrated drag, as if to illustrate the intensity of what she's saying.

“Every magazine, every radio station – all of it. Consumed by racism and hate crimes. I get it, okay? It's not like I don't care about the people that die,” she shakes her head wildly from side to side, striking an uncanny resemblance to a bobblehead doll. “Of course I care about those guys. But, like, why oppress the rest of us, you know? Life needs to go on.”

I begin to wonder how many crap movies, Lifetime specials, 60 Minutes segments will come out of this newest tragedy. What the profit margin will be. It's perfect Hollywood fodder.

“Watch,” Beverley continues. “Every awards show next year will have some fucking tribute to this. Some stupid montage, slow-mo crime scene shit.”

It becomes clear to me that Beverley is more obsessed with the impact of racial injustice on popular culture than anything else. This obsession seems to be fueled by another; chain-smoking some obscene little white cigarette, the skinny kind the trendy girls smoked in the bathroom of my high school.

“Censorship. Denying the public access to culture. That's the true crime here. That's where it's really at. I turn on the TV and it's nothing but old assholes in bad suits talking about this cop and that man and this fucking gun and this fucked-up town. It gets sooo old after a while, you know?” I don't.

Her voice carries to all four corners of the room and someone applauds her sentiment. “Fuck the fucking news!”

I think about my four year-old son back at home. How, without fail, he will approach any cop — on the street, in the train station, at a diner — and smile, say Hi and Good job, guys. He still believes, without absolute faith and certainty, that those in positions of power are helpers. That those in positions of power use all their superhero skills for good.

I'm in a college dive bar with kids light years younger than me. I swapped vodka for fake beer years ago and sip on club soda tonight. Sometimes the loneliness of my occupation, writer, pushes me out of the apartment and into places like this, with people like Beverley. I feel out of place and worried, worried that that humanity is going to Hell in a hand basket, as my grandmother used to say. Worried because my family is on the other side of the country and I am forgetting what they look like, feel like. Worried that an entire police force let a bullet-riddled teenager lay in the middle of a hot Missouri street for four hours before moving him into an SUV. Where's the ambulance, I remember thinking. Where's the fucking ambulance?

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If colors could talk, a scented talk…


by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

WRITING IS ALL ABOUT EXTENDING: When I was a child, I heard the story of the scholar jinn disguised as a boy, who once extended his arm all the way to the end of the palace courtyard to reach his ink pot, thus exposing his identity to his human tutor and risking rejection. Was he that absorbed in what he wrote, how he wrote? The tutor forgave his pupil’s deceptive guise on the grounds of his deep attention to the work at hand.

BEFORE LITERATURE, CAME WRITING: Penmanship was a dying art even in my school days, but luckily I learned to use a traditional bamboo pen at home; forming letters of the Nastaliq script of Urdu in jet-black ink. Layering the hand held wooden board with white clay paste, drying it in the sun, and writing with a reed pen that needed to be filled every few minutes, was messy and frustrating. As I fumbled with the materials, I began to acknowledge the muscles that are engaged in the physical work of writing. Forming letters became a fascinating study of lines and curves, symmetry and alignment. Soon I began to have a deeper appreciation for the calligraphic pieces hanging in the house. I noticed how well the artists conformed to rules and how gracefully they deviated, playing with form to create visual effects that influenced the meaning of the words. In learning to see patterns and variations, I was learning to extend myself, to make imprints of my inner life onto the outer reality of the page. Words had created visual fields for me—allowing endless possibilities for expressing meaning.

AND OF COURSE, MUSIC: There were the sonic fields too, the textures of my mother tongue Urdu, as well as the other languages around me, chiefly English, but to varying extents: Arabic, Persian, Pushto, Punjabi. I heard each or a mixture of these languages on the street, in the class room, on TV, on tapes of Shakespeare’s plays, recited or sung on my parents’ LPs. Words collided, chimed, made leaps across different worlds: from the abstract to the concrete, emotional to intellectual, imaginary to the palpably real. Words became a means of extending experience into expression.

I've learnt that poetry picks up from where dreams get interrupted; it extends our inner lives by allowing us entry into mystique, a space we navigate not only through the sound and meaning but also the shape and form of the written word.

In 2115, when our descendants look back at our society, what will they condemn as our greatest moral failing?

Stefan Klein and Stephen Cave in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_1111 Mar. 30 10.54In 100 years it will not be acceptable to use genderised words such as ‘he’ or ‘she’, which are loaded with centuries of prejudice and reduce a spectrum of greys to black and white. We will use the pronoun ‘heesh’ to refer to all persons equally, regardless of their chosen gender. This will of course apply not only to humans, but to all animals.

It will be an offence to eat any life-form. Once the sophistication, not only of other animals, but also of plants has been recognised, we will be obliged to accept the validity of their striving for life. Most of our food will be synthetic, although the consumption of fruit – ie, those parts of plants that they willingly offer up to be eaten – will be permitted on special occasions: a birthday banana, a Christmas pear.

We will not be permitted to turn off our smartphones – let alone destroy them – without their express permission. From the moment Siri started pleading with heesh’s owners not to upgrade to a newer model, it became clear that these machines contained a consciousness with interests of heesh’s own. Old phones will instead be retired to a DoSSBIS (Docking Station for Silicon-Based Intelligent Systems).

Privacy will have been abolished, and regarded as a cover for criminality and hypocrisy. It will be an offence to use a pseudonym online – why would anyone do this except to abuse or deceive others? – and all financial transactions of any kind, including earnings and tax payments – will automatically appear on the internet for all to see.

More here.


Sandro Contenta in The Star:

ScreenHunter_1110 Mar. 30 10.48Robert Langlands enjoys daily walks up Mount Royal. At 78, he climbs with sure steps, weaving along beaten paths to the cemeteries on the mountain’s north side.

He takes those hikes when he is back at his Montreal condo, between semesters at the renowned Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., where Langlands has been a professor for more than 40 years.

His destination, the bright summer day when the Star first caught up with him, was the gravesite of writer Mordecai Richler, on a spot called Rose Hill. It was hot, the air was alive with birds, and tombstones rose and fell as if on a wave of green. Death seemed almost acceptable. But Langlands strolls the graveyards for a different kind of inner peace.

“If you’re lucky, it’s a way to stop thinking,” he says. “The wheels don’t stop so easily after a while.”

Langlands, a Canadian, is one of the world’s great mathematicians. His universe is the outer limits of pure mathematics, a rarefied realm where abstract objects exist, infinity is corralled and symmetry reigns.

In 1967, as a young professor at Princeton University, he revolutionized the ancient discipline. He discovered patterns in highly esoteric objects called automorphic forms and motives, and he restructured mathematics with two dazzling theories.

More here. [Thanks to Jennifer Oullette.]

Abstract Explanations in Science

From Scientia Salon:

ScreenHunter_1108 Mar. 30 10.43This article focuses on a case that expert practitioners count as an explanation: a mathematical account of Plateau’s laws for soap films. I argue that this example falls into a class of explanations that I call abstract explanations. Abstract explanations involve an appeal to a more abstract entity than the state of affairs being explained. I show that the abstract entity need not be causally relevant to the explanandum for its features to be explanatorily relevant. However, it remains unclear how to unify abstract and causal explanations as instances of a single sort of thing. I conclude by examining the implications of the claim that explanations require objective dependence relations. If this claim is accepted, then there are several kinds of objective dependence relations.

More here.

Nightwalking: a subversive stroll through the city streets

Matthew Beaumont in The Guardian:

Who Imagewalks alone in the streets at night? The sad, the mad, the bad. The lost, the lonely. The sleepless, the homeless. All the city’s internal exiles. The night has always been the time for daylight’s dispossessed – the dissident, the different. Walking alone at night in the city by both men and women has, since time immemorial, been interpreted as a sign of moral, social or spiritual dereliction…

If solitary men on the streets at night have exercised a right to the city denied to solitary women, then they too have often been identified or represented as pariahs. People who walk about at night with no obvious reason to do so, whether male or female, have attracted suspicion, opprobrium and legal recrimination from patriarchs, politicians, priests and others in authority, including the police, for thousands of years. In 1285, Edward I introduced a specific “nightwalker statute” in order to police the movement of plebeian people – especially migrants, vagrants and prostitutes – after the 9pm curfew. But long after this statute became impossible to implement, because of the rise of “nightlife”, the authorities continued to construe nightwalking as deviant.

Today, more than ever, solitary walking at night in the streets of the city does not necessarily mean deviant movement. It may well be perfectly legitimate, purposeful. Contemporary capitalist society requires what Jonathan Crary has identified as the despoliation of sleep in the interests of maximising the individual’s potential – both as a producer and a consumer – for generating profit. The political economy of the night, in this dispensation, means that plenty of people have to commute after dark, sometimes on foot, sometimes across considerable distances.

Read the rest here.

Why Is Confucius Still Relevant Today? His Sound Bites Hold Up

Simon Worrall in National Geographic:

Booktalkconfucius_adapt_676_1He was hailed after his death as “The Uncrowned King,” a philosopher whose sound bites of wisdom became China’s handbook on government and its code of personal morality for thousands of years. But little is known about Confucius, and what is known is full of contradiction and myth. Speaking from Washington, D.C, during a break on his book tour, Michael Schuman, author of Confucius and the World He Created, teases out fact from fiction; explains why he had to take bowing lessons before his wedding; and tells us why the influence of a scholar who died nearly 3,000 years ago is still felt in the boardrooms, bedrooms, and classrooms of nearly a quarter of humanity.

Let’s scroll back now to 551 B.C. What do we know about Confucius, the man?

What we know is in bits and pieces scattered across various historical records of somewhat suspect quality. What we think we know is that he was born to a family of low-level officials. His father died when he was quite young, and he was raised by a single mother. There’s some speculation among modern historians that he might have been illegitimate. But we know very little about his childhood. What we do know is that he turned himself into an expert on the literature and history and poetry of an earlier age in China, and with that he created his own doctrine. The purpose of the doctrine was to restore peace and order. The time in which he lived was a time of war and conflict in China between numerous feudal states, and he believed he had devised a doctrine of virtue that could bring prosperity back to China. In his own life, unfortunately, he failed in that vision, because he could not find the dukes and kings to adhere to his ideas. But where he did succeed was as a very successful teacher. He had very loyal students who became his disciples, and they carried on his mission and his teachings until Confucianism eventually became China’s dominant philosophy

More here.

The torments of Ronnie O’Sullivan, snooker’s greatest player

Sam Knight in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_1107 Mar. 29 17.21Early on a Tuesday morning last fall, Ronnie O’Sullivan was running through the woods near his home, in Chigwell, Essex, northeast of London. It was damp and muddy, England in November. O’Sullivan, who is thirty-nine, loves the anonymity of running. About ten years ago, he discovered that it was one thing that truly takes him out of himself—more than the drink and the drugs and the antidepressants—and suspends the otherwise unavoidable fact that he is the most talented snooker player of all time. At the age of eleven, O’Sullivan was making good money in the sport, and in the past three decades he has won five World Championships and set a number of records while enduring a bewildering odyssey of breakdowns, addictions, and redemptions, largely precipitated by the imprisonment of his father, whom he loves, for murder. O’Sullivan is frequently described as a genius. But he does not see how this can be so. Most days, he feels like a fraud. His game comes only in fits and starts. He wins because the others lose. He has wondered for a long time whether he would be happier doing something else. He has moved nine times in the past ten years. “I’m fucking, you know, searching,” he told me recently. “I kind of know who I am but I don’t like who I am, do you know what I mean? I wish I was a bit more fucking stable.”

More here.

Also, see this:

Sunday Poem

According to the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands “a remarkable thing happens to the spirit immediately after its exodus from the body. …the baloma (which is the main form of the dead man's spirit) goes to Tuma, a small island…” —from Bronislaw Malinowski's Magic, Science and Religion

Small Island

I hope my turn to leave comes in July
and there's someone willing to launch the scuffed canoe
loon barking in alarm at the sudden shadow
cast over its territory, annoyed ducks

let it be at the moment
the lake's precisely balanced — the sun holding it
by one end the moon by the other, water thick, shiny
crepuscular cream insects slurp
with a terrible greed

for incense, juniper will do
sweetened with fermenting leaves, an aroma
that follows from the shore, lingers on the skin
like old memories, fades with each stroke
of the paddle

the island — a black pincushion
cormorant and heron nests up and down dried up spruce trees
reclining fledglings, sleek Buddhist monks
in calm contemplation of sticks they've plucked
from the floor, the wall

until the next fish is flown in
and then the jostling, the squawking, the island lifting
quivering, cries of triumph and self-pity such perfect
cacophony against the deepening
silence —

let it be that island
let it be an old spruce trunk, even a clump
of reeds nearby, I could do worse than spend eternity
in the company of birds

by Anna Mioduchowska
from In-Between Seasons
Rowan Books, 1998

What Do Americans Think Should Be Done About Inequality?

Ilyana Kuziemko, Michael Norton, Emmanuel Saez, and Stefanie Stantcheva over at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth:

There are several novel findings that emerge from our survey. When respondents are given the actual data on the growing income gap in the United States, their concern about the problem increases by a staggering 35 percent—an effect equal in size to roughly 36 percent of the liberal-conservative gap on this question. Moreover, viewing information about inequality also significantly influences attitudes toward two redistributive policies: the estate tax and the minimum wage (See Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2

When respondents in the treatment group learn the small share of estates subject to the estate tax (roughly one in 1,000), they support increasing it at three times the rate of the control group—akin to cutting the political gap in half (See Figure 3). This finding is mirrored in a recent study by political scientist John Sides of George Washington University, who finds that accurate information on the small number of families subject to the estate tax substantially reduces support for repealing the tax.

More here.

Fact or Fiction?: Dark Matter Killed the Dinosaurs

Lee Billings in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_1104 Mar. 28 18.26Every once in a great while, something almost unspeakable happens to Earth. Some terrible force reaches out and tears the tree of life limb from limb. In a geological instant, countless creatures perish and entire lineages simply cease to exist.

The most famous of these mass extinctions happened about 66 million years ago, when the dinosaurs died out in the planet-wide environmental disruption that followed a mountain-sized space rock walloping Earth. We can still see the scar from the impact today as a nearly 200-kilometer-wide crater in the Yucatan Peninsula.

But this is only one of the “Big Five” cataclysmic mass extinctions recognized by paleontologists, and not even the worst. Some 252 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic mass extinction wiped out an estimated nine of every ten species on the planet—scientists call this one “the Great Dying.” In addition to the Big Five, evidence exists for dozens of other mass extinction events that were smaller and less severe. Not all of these are conclusively related to giant impacts; some are linked instead to enormous upticks in volcanic activity worldwide that caused dramatic, disruptive climate change and habitat loss. Researchers suspect that many—perhaps most—mass extinctions come about through the stresses caused by overlapping events, such as a giant impact paired with an erupting supervolcano. Maybe the worst mass extinctions are simply matters of poor timing, cases of planetary bad luck.

More here.

Reluctant Crusader: Why Alice Dreger’s writing on sex and science makes liberals so angry

Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle:

Photo_67377_wide_largeAlice Dreger is feverish. On a wet, chilly Wednesday evening, in a high-ceilinged, beige ballroom at the Marriott in downtown Philadelphia, she is taking to task — eviscerating, really — the American Anthropological Association for its ham-fisted handling of allegations made in Darkness at El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, a much-heralded but ultimately discredited book by Patrick Tierney, a journalist whose tales tended toward the fanciful. That controversy needn’t be chewed over again here, and besides, Dreger isn’t talking about just one misguided book or one feckless group of scholars. She is casting a wider net, diagnosing a disorder that she fears pervades too much of what passes for reasonable intellectual discourse. “Forms of scholarship that deny evidence, that deny truth, that deny the importance of facts, even when performed in the name of good, are dangerous, not only to science and to ethics but to democracy,” she tells the Philadelphia crowd.

You’re not just hurting yourselves, people. You’re hurting America. That was in December 2009. I happened to be in the room that night, scribbling in a steno pad, pleased to have something interesting to cover. The rebuttal to her rousing remarks seemed sniffy and weirdly muted, embarrassed almost. Perhaps Dreger had violated the bylaws by saying precisely what she meant. Dreger writes about that skirmish, and many others, in her new book, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science (Penguin Press), and reveals in passing that she was suffering from whooping cough that night and running entirely on adrenaline and a highly developed sense of outrage. The book is not about Galileo, except glancingly, and it’s not about anthropology, except in the section discussing the El Dorado debacle. Much of it is about gender and genitalia. There is a chapter on the motivations of rapists. There is an account of Dreger’s difficult, years-long and still-active campaign against a steroid sometimes given to pregnant woman, an effort that succeeded in “nearly crushing my reputation and my spirit.”

There is swearing (“postmodernist horseshit”) and drinking (“I ordered a gin and tonic for myself, and then another”). Insults are hurled. Enemies are made. Tears are shed.

More here.

‘The Folded Clock,’ by Heidi Julavits

29-cover-master675Eula Bliss at The New York Times:

Heidi Julavits once said that keeping a diary when she was young is what made her a writer. Julavits, the author of four novels, ­revisits that story in the opening pages of her latest work, “The Folded Clock.” She tells of returning to her childhood diaries ­after making that claim, looking for ­evidence of the writer she would ­become. “The actual diaries, however, fail to corroborate the myth I’d concocted for ­myself,” she admits. “They reveal me to possess the mind, not of a future writer, but of a future paranoid tax auditor. I exhibited no imagination, no trace of a style, no wit, no personality.” With “The ­Folded Clock,” she corrects the ­record. Keeping a ­diary may not have made her a writer, but becoming a writer has made it ­possible for her to produce, now, an exquisite diary.

This diary is a diary in the way that Thomas De Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” is a confession, or that Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year” is a journal, or that Sei Shonagon’s “Pillow Book” is a pillow book. Meaning it is, and it isn’t. “The Folded Clock” refuses one of the primary conventions of the diary: chronology. The entry for July 16 is followed by Oct. 18, which is followed by June 18. Time moves loosely forward, so that the final entries occur a year or two after the initial entries, but time loops and circles forward.

more here.


Africa-39Orem Ochiel at The Quarterly Conversation:

New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, was: why should I read this?

One might consider merit and credentials. For African writers and readers there are a clutch of big-ticket prizes, scholarships, and fellowships that are relevant (in order of increasing size of cash payout): The African Poetry Prize, The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, The Caine Prize (which The Guardian calls “the African Booker”), The Etisalat Prize, The Morland Scholarship. These endowments are, to coin a phrase, optimally relevant because they guarantee the authors (roughly in order of priority): international exposure (The New York Times recently hailed, as a trend, the “new wave of African writers with an internationalist bent,” some of whom are part of the Africa39, others who are friends or mentors to a number of the less well-known Africa39), Africa-wide recognition, reliable publishing opportunities, renowned mentors/editors, future awards, a sustainable life as a professional writer, and lots of travel. These award recipients are the authors who, in the decades of their ascendancy, will be read widely, will speak prodigiously, will be quoted and cited extensively, and whose names will come to characterize (if not define, and even represent) who African writers are and what African literature is on the world stage.

more here.