Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘hunger’ Category

I have to admit, I adore being back in grad school.  Most of the time I don’t see it, don’t feel it, but when I’m in class, I feel like I’m on fire.  Tearing apart literature, analyzing every obscure little bit, my mind goes reeling, making connections to books I read a decade ago, favorite television shows, contemporary political issues, and Greek epics, and on, and on.  It’s like being at a banquet.  Not kidding.  It’s just unfortunate that I have to work so hard outside class.  I want to give myself over to study.

This week in my “Inventing the Novel” course, we covered Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  Embarrassingly enough, I hadn’t read it before, and part of the reason the course itself is so fascinating to me is that its bridging a gap in my literary knowledge; I’m fairly well versed in French literature of the 17th and 18th century, Shakespeare and some Restoration, and of course, some of the great 19th century novels (though not all written in English – some French, and of course, tons Russian).  I think Defoe’s Roxana is the only 18th century English novel I’d read before this course.

Yes, Crusoe made himself a leather/fur umbrella from his kills

Without going into detail, Robinson Crusoe is about an Englishman who is shipwrecked on a desert Island somewhere in the West Indies, and all his trials and tribulations, from the practical elements of survival, to psychological and spiritual transcendence.  It was a fun read, if not more than a bit tedious in the middle with all the God stuff which for me right now is not worth going into.  Delightful are the adventures of salvaging anything and everything off a sinking ship, building a fortress,  and (for me, especially) finding food.

It seems that throughout the 28 years of Crusoe’s tenure on the island, over 90% of his food was meat.  He is described as going on hunting walks every morning.  He must have killed hundreds of water fowl, native sorts of (who knows) chickens and geese, turtles, native goats, and who knows what else.  Eventually he tames a few goats and has his own milk and fresh stash of ready-to-slaughter meat in the back yard.  In the beginning the guy eats a lot of “cakes,” some sort of dried biscuit rations salvaged from the ship – which miraculously last him several years.  He drinks rum (also from the ship) every once in a while.  I think he salvaged a cheese or two, too.  Miraculously (or perhaps not – why blame Providence for everything), he accidentally scatters a tiny bit of chicken feed while emptying a sack, and all of a sudden, he’s got some corn, barley, and even rice.  Over the course of several years, he succeeds in cultivating these crops – but it takes him a while and a lot of perplexed effort to figure out how to make any sort of bread.  What a weirdo.

Cassava

What is shocking to me is how little of the native resources Crusoe uses.  He claims he looked for cassava early on, but didn’t find any, which is utter baloney as it’s ridiculously common, THE staple of the entire region.  There are lots of native fruits and veg, too, some of which are quite obviously fruit and veg – guava, heart of palm, plantains, yucca, tamarind.  This of course is taking into account that Westerners hadn’t visited this island before and brought countless other fruit with them that took to the place quite well with its lush hot wet climate.  And WHERE are the fish?  It’s an island!  The sea is teeming!  Crusoe faces death from starvation while clutching his rifle, when he could be enjoying the seafood at his doorstep.  Apparently the Caribbean is well-known for its lobsters.  The man should literally have been able to walk out the door (or climb over the fort with his ladder), pick a couple guavas and plantains for breakfast and then walk down the beach and check some lobster traps (which he was perfectly able to concoct with the whole carpenter’s workshop he was able to remove from the ship) or he could have picked up some crabs off the beach for his dinner.  I’m sure crabs must scuttle about from time to time.  God!

You gotta wonder about Crusoe’s general health.  He must have had dangerously high cholesterol, constipation, osteoporosis, and perhaps even colon cancer.  And he lived forever!  Ah well.  I’ll give Defoe a break – how hard on him can I be?  How little anyone knew about “the new world” way back when.  At least it was a plausible adventure…not like the lovely film below:

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Firefly's Kaylee enjoying an extremely rare delicacy

Until last year, I fasted on every Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, the most serious holy day of the year. I even read the Torah portion from Leviticus 19 for many, many years in synagogue.  Then last year, I found myself in Avignon, France, surrounded by the French, their art, culture, and of course, wine and cuisine.  I didn’t want to be a seeming “ascetic” while my friends and hosts luxuriated in their amazing market findings.  It could have been perceived as rude (I know that wouldn’t really be the case), or at best weird (more likely).  And I wanted to eat.  And I didn’t feel any deep down moral objection.  Even though I planned on fasting, and I brought a Machzor (a prayer book) with me, it didn’t feel wrong to eat.  No guilt.

Bouillabaisse: a signature dish in Provence

So this year, back in Israel, I’ve decided I want to eat again.  Not being abroad, though, this is a much bigger decision.  One that has to be justified.  Proved.  You’ve got to have a prepared, “I’m an atheist,” or, “I believe in the spirit of it all, but I’m not religious and don’t feel it necessary to deprive myself,” etc, etc, etc.  Many people, secular people, do fast…but they also don’t go to synagogue and they sit around in their AC and watch TV and movies all day.  Not too difficult.  Which is what fasting is more or less intended to be.  Not that fasting is torture.  I’ve been told many interpretations over the years on why we fast.  The most common is that we deprive the body of all luxury so it can focus on the task at hand, namely, repenting before god, apologizing for any and all sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly.

Opening heaven's gates

Another interesting explanation is that on this day we should act as though we are dead — not dead, dead, but that we are weakening ourselves, humbling ourselves before god, wearing white robes and no leather, humble clothes, like Jewish funeral shrouds — and in the States at my temple, at least, we ran a food drive.  People were encouraged to donate at least the equivalent of what they would have eaten in that day they fasted.  All of this so that we can ensure we’ll be written up in the book of life for another year — asking god to keep death away for another year.

I’m fine with food drives.  I champion food drives.  I’m fine with introspection, of analyzing my own behavior.  Improving myself.  And certainly, most certainly, apologizing to PEOPLE in my life for having offended or mistreated them.  But I don’t have a relationship with god.  I just don’t.  I also believe that good behavior comes from within, and if people do good deeds to look favorably in the eyes of god, they’re missing the intention of it all.  Guilt.  Shame.  Incentive.  I believe in goodness for its own sake because it is simply the right thing to do.

Women at the Western Wall

I am proud of being Jewish, but I don’t believe that I have to pray in a specified way because that’s the way it is.  I believe I am a good Jew, in my behavior, in the way I live my life.  I believe in holiness.  I think I have been a good emissary of my people (I have been the first Jew many people have ever met, and goodness knows I have saved our reputation on more than one occasion).  I just don’t attribute that to god.  Fasting can be an important method of introspection, whether religiously or more meditatively.  I think that I am skipping the fast this year because I have decided I do not need to fast when I am told.  That I MUST fast as a symbol of being Jewish.  That’s an Americanism.  Going to shul because that is the way to maintain community.

Not so in Israel where secular holidays are religious holidays, where eating matzah on Passover is a national tradition, like Americans eating turkey on Thanksgiving.  Many olim, immigrants to Israel, often observe that it’s easier to be a Jew here…and hence…they become more lazy than they ever were back home.  Everything’s in Hebrew, the biblical language.  Biblical references are thrown about like Shakespearian references would be in Western literature.  Everyone understands the holidays.  They structure our year.  Kids have a bible study class every year from the age of 6 until graduation, whether secular or religious.  But because of that, you don’t have to try so hard.  I’ve certainly succumbed to that.

Defeat: Arch of Titus with Menorah carried to Rome

On the other hand, living in Israel has freed me in many ways.  Before, I felt a duty to express my Judaism when living abroad.  I’m still a Jew, and I never hide this fact when traveling abroad.  It is an important part of what made me, me.  But my real deep-down beliefs have surfaced much more easily here.  Relaxing the Jewish fervor, not being in a minority group anymore, I am finally comfortable with expressing my dissatisfaction with certain aspects of Judaism.  I don’t have to put on a face, trying to “accept” interpretations to make my following of certain rituals logical to me.  I had been interested in different meditation techniques for years, but I believe that I avoided any sort of exploration because I thought it would be seen as disloyal.  So many Jews marry outside the faith, we’re disappearing, we’re forgetting — what responsibilities on our shoulders!  Keepers of the faith.  Keepers of our special nation.

No more.  For me, I am beginning to understand that it more important to be a good person than a good Jew.  These things are not contradictory, but at this point, I am finding that the Jewish definition is limiting.

Tomorrow, I am co-hosting a sci-fi marathon.  All 14 episodes of Firefly followed by the sequel film, Serenity.  Like the world of Star Trek, in many ways this brilliantly imagined series examines the human condition and celebrates compassion in the midst of a difficult, violent, and unjust world.  I’ll be making pizza from scratch.  I’m content with my decisions.

Read Full Post »

USS Voyager's Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her daily replicated cup 'o' joe

There are a bunch of news stories and interesting new-science factoids I’ve learned from friends recently all related to food.  Fascinating stuff.  Again, as it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, I feel more than a bit blocked – pressure to make this an awesome, stellar, better-than-ever, award-winning kinda entry.  It will be what it is.  This is interesting stuff.  Process as you will. (LOTS of cool videos below, too).

A real end to world hunger? Maybe?  Think again…

Child eating Plumpy'nut

Last week the New York Times published an article by Andrew Rice about Plumpy’nut, a new peanut-based food product that has already saved the lives of many severely malnourished children in Africa, Haiti, Asia, and who knows where else.  It’s basically a peanut butter packed with lots of other nutrients that can very quickly bring people back from the brink of death.  This is not a small feat, and I am certain of the fact that this is a great invention.  The issues as I can see it are these: the patent, the cost, the actual (long term) effectiveness.

  1. Patent: can one company brand and profit off of this kind of product and its recipe? Pumpy’nut is a trademark owned by Nutriset, a French company.  The inventor, French pediatrician Andre Briend apparently never meant to create a brand and profit off of this product.  AND there are two other companies trying to do similar work.  In my eyes, can such an important product be “owned”?  Can you patent peanut butter?
  2. Cost: it’s not cheap.  A two-month supply of Plumpy’nut for one child costs $60.  That’s a dollar a day — pretty steep in the food world, especially for such a simply product.  AND the main customer of Plumpy’nut (90%)  is UNICEF.  Sucks.  Essentially our tax dollars going to a private company.  We need to feed the world.  But it’s jacked up miracle peanut butter, folks.  It echoes the situation with AIDS medicine going to poor countries — they need it desperately, but do companies want to let go of their product at prices much closer to cost? Nope.  But people are dying…how do put a price on life?  Tricky.  But should it be?
  3. The long term: the company has marketed Plumpy’nut as a cure for hunger.  But is it?  The problem is that the vast majority of “hunger” in the world is not acute malnutrition, the kind we see on the news and celebrity TV appeals – results of famines, war, major ecological disaster.  Most people afflicted by hunger suffer chronically.  They are not on the very edge of death’s doorstep.  They suffer daily, whether a condition of their poverty, agriculture failure, lack of certain essential nutrients in the food they do have, etc.

Here is an excellent Huffington Post article written by Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Read it!

Replicator: Star Trek‘s solution to world Hunger

Ever heard of 3D printing?  I have for a while, but it was difficult for me to picture.  Well, I found some videos, and I’ll post one below for your viewing pleasure.  Basically, there are printers that make objects – and they work just like real paper printers.  It’s fascinating.

Ever heard of a food replicator?  This is a technology that is used in the invented scifi world of Star Trek.  Much like a 3D printer but working on super-futuristic advanced-science principles, this machine can create objects (including food) from any type of other matter by recombining its subatomic particles.  If it has the recipe on file, that is, whether it be for a cup of Earl Gray tea, the Klingon favorite Gagh, a ray gun, a dry martini, or a clarinet.  Scientists over at MIT (in a project called Cornucopia) have been trying to create a real life food replicator.  So far, it doesn’t work on such an advanced level (this futuristic contraption is really just as complex, if not much more complex than the Star Trek transporter).  As far as I can tell, MIT’s Digital Fabricator works by arranging an array of raw ingredients that are designed to print out 3D food to the sub millimeter level.  But no steak dinners here.  They’re working on chocolates and pastries – things that can be assembled, not whipped up out of thin air by recombining protons.  Goodness, I would kill to eat a real hot steak – faux beef that is exactly like real beef – without the killing…can you imagine that???

MIT's Digital Fabricator

Still, it’s interesting (and in my opinion, important) that this kind of technology is being seriously thought about.  It’s another example of contemporary science being influenced by scifi, our imagining of our better future where hunger is unimaginable.  Take a look at a clip of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, including a demonstration of a replicator:

Here is a video on 3D printing.  Pretty cool stuff.  I like that everything is reusable.  Much like a real replicator.

Read Full Post »