30 June 2009

In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

Finished off reading an amazing "eater's manifesto" by Michael Pollan called In Defense of Food. It's a short and engrossing read on the problems with the American diet and how we can choose to reverse them. Pollan has an excellent way of subverting the obtuse language of food as we know it in the Western context. And much of it, Pollan argues, cannot even be called "food" - he cuttingly deems much of it "edible foodlike substance," ha! His writing is sincere and his tips for changing one's own diet to be healthier and more conscious are easy to incorporate. By not pushing vegetarianism or veganism but leaving the choice of diet open, Pollan hopes to change the death path of the quote-unquote average American.

Sidenote, re: deathpath - "In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16 percent of national income." This is outrageous.

In Defense of Food is a work that all people must read, because though we all eat, we are too often misguided or wrongly mystified, largely by a movement championed by the food industries (hand-in-hand with scientists) known as Nutritionism: studying nutrients in isolation to extract their supposed benefits, then injecting these into our food products.
  • Wonder Bread with the whole grain removed and manipulated in the lab with any number of additives to make it white and soft.
  • Milk with the fat removed, then - since the health benefits of the milk have been cancelled by doing so - adding in vitamins that are really only fat-soluble anyway. Low-fat or skim milk isn't real milk: you're drinking milk rendered less nutrient-dense and then patched up with additives so it resembles milk.
  • And so on, and so on. Won't spoil the book.
Seriously though, best guide to eating I've read yet. And I thought I already had an idea of what's essential to nutrition... it's liberating to forge a path to more deliberate eating. It'll debunk those myths that are perpetuated all around us in order to sell more food-like substances in our groceries. Go pick it up as soon as you can: In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan.
Then take a good look at what you have on your plate. Is it food?

22 June 2009

"Tales of music and the brain"

Schopenhauer is quoted in the introduction to Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, "The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain... Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves."

21 June 2009

Going through old notebooks

Considering I'm something of a pack-rat, I started to scrapbook recently in order to keep all my ticket stubs, scraps of paper, photos, etc. all together for some future nostalgia-ridden viewing. Here's a scribbled note I came upon from 2005- or 2006ish: "I can't even express how beautiful it was flying into Atlanta as the sun set, through big fluffy clouds like wisps of pulled cotton candy." The handwriting's shaky, as if the thoughts were pinned to paper amidst a scene more viscerally confrontational than careful ink and set line-widths. And that's it, you know - the scrambling attempt to turn those feelings into sticky preserves, knowing all the while that the pulp'll liquefy, spill away. Words can come close, and they'll capture the pulse behind it, but mostly they will sound less real, more idealized.
I don't remember that sunset now (I barely remember flying to ATL): I can guess at the sensations from the words I saved through this minute description.

16 June 2009

Consider the Lobster and other essays, David Foster Wallace

Looking for entertaining reading that is also seriously thought-provoking and keen?
The essays in David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, which cover a variety of topics (the porn industry, the English language's clash between Descriptivists and Prescriptivists, sports memoirs, etc), are substantial enough to get into the real grit of things and raise some downright profound questions, and short enough that one doesn't have to commit to a much more lengthy text [read: Infinite Jest. No, seriously, read it this summer].

Quick run-through of faves from Consider the Lobster.
My #1 is absolutely "Authority and American Usage," which can be found online, but is certainly better consumed in traditional format on the page - and consider that fact modernist irony, please. Plus, the footnotes look better rapidly scaling down in font size. If you're a linguistics geek or have just completed a course reviewing the histories of the English language (as I have most recently done), you will devour it. And even if you think you've heard everything there is to be said about the English language's development, you will benefit from DFW's wit and candor in treating the subject. Trust me... but, disclaimer: please be a geek about language.

"How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart" is the one about sports memoirs. Really it's more about what we seek from such supremacy in sports skill - the kind of grace that is also sought by Updike's Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, for example. Choice tidbit: "Maybe what keeps us buying [these sports memoirs] in the face of constant disappointment is some deep compulsion both to experience genius in the concrete and to universalize genius in the abstract." We want answers, and we want insight into how to be great. Or what that might feel like, at the very least.

"The View from Mrs. Thompson's" is an article on DFW's experience of September 11th 2001 in Bloomington, Illinois. I found this line about residents of midwest towns such as Bloomington to be notable:
"...And they watch massive, staggering amounts of TV. I don't just mean the kids, either. Something that's obvious but important to keep in mind re Bloomington and the Horror is that reality - any felt sense of a larger world - is mainly televisual." Just painfully well-put.

Other great, much longer essays are "Up, Simba" in which Wallace travelled with McCain's 2000 campaign for Rolling Stone Magazine, and "Host" which profiles talk radio host John Ziegler. It's tough choosing favorites from this collection because I couldn't help but read the book straight through, even though originally I had asked myself, "Really? Am I going to want to read the article about a lobster festival?" Yeah, I guess I did.

First thoughts upon waking.

The knowledge that comes to you in a dream - from whence does that information spring? Could it be a filter of the world that is unconscious while awake, then becomes consciously foregrounded while asleep? How is it that I seem to learn things from my dreams? I'm not talking "oh I learn that I'm anxious about X or Y event." Rather, say, a fact about an artist, details about a historical figure, or some piece of information that a friend has kept from you. And it's not a regular occurrence but I could believe that this happens more often to some others. Probably we catch a whole lot more in passing than we can account for.

15 June 2009

Iranian election photojournalism

Passing on a link to photos from the tumultuous scene following last Friday's Iranian presidential election. Really remarkable photography that gives a glimpse into the charged atmosphere there.

07 June 2009

Dean & Britta, June 5th at the Black Cat

I've grown so accustomed to a fast internet connection that it seems tough to get by when you're just sitting around waiting for a page to load. Trying to pay bills online, but even the Bank of America website is taking its sweet time loading... and watching music videos doesn't seem worth it right now. Either way, it's a nice relaxing day - my day off!

Friday night I went with two of my best concert buddies to see Dean & Britta at the Black Cat. You might also know Dean Wareham from Galaxie 500 or Luna, the influential indie rock bands he formed in the 80s and 90s. Or you might not. Anyway, my friends Chris and Pete got me into Galaxie 500 pretty recently, so I'm a recent fan. But Chris has been following Dean Wareham for something close to 20 years and on Friday, he finally got to meet him! We also met Britta, who is gorgeous. Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips are married and play together as Dean & Britta. Seems a bit poppier than the older stuff, but they're a great live act. The Black Cat was pretty packed that night with a mix of longtime devotees and new listeners.

Watch a video of Galaxie 500's "Tugboat." Also check out the music video for Dean & Britta's "You Turn My Head Around" and others.