Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On the "we" (you) should cook more set

Emily Matchar and I are totally on the same wavelength. She writes:

The food movement, with its insistence on how fun and fulfilling and morally correct cooking is, seems to have trouble imagining why women might not have wanted to spend all their time in front of the stove. Since scratch cooking today is largely a hobby or a personal choice of the middle class, many of us wish we could spend more time in the kitchen. But it’s important to remember that this was not always the case. 
It’s easy to forget, in the face of today’s foodie culture, that cooking is not fun when it’s mandatory.
For my earlier musings on the topic, see of course the tag. Part of me is like, aaah, other people think the same! Another part of me is quite glad - how does everyone not notice this?

I do feel compelled to reiterate that this is very much like "monogamish." Food-movement leaders insist that they're speaking in gender-neutral terms. And, on the face of it, they are. Just like Dan Savage promotes gender-neutral negotiated non-monogamy. And, one needs to acknowledge this. But speaking in gender-neutral terms is not enough. And it gets exhausting trying to explain why that's not enough. But what Matchar and I are trying to do - reminding why it was that women didn't want to stay in the kitchen, or (and this is all WWPD, I believe) why women weren't content to look the other way in response to male cheating - is probably the way to go.


Hanna Rosin examines the possibility that the still-living Boston bomber is getting sympathy from some women because of "the fact that Dzhokhar is cute." "Fact" is the word she uses. But she leans more strongly towards the possibility that certain women feel "maternal" towards the 19-year-old (is it paternal when men notice the looks of a 19-year-old woman?), or that still other women are crazies who are turned on by murderers. (To be distinguished from: who are able to say objectively that some murderers are more physically attractive than others, and to analyze how this impacts their coverage, without swooning over people who've committed heinous crimes, let alone swooning over them because they've done so.)

The missing-white-girl phenomenon - the way news stories change when those involved are white (blonde doesn't hurt), female, and photogenic - is well-known. And it carries over to stories where the alleged criminal, and not the victim, fits the description. Amanda Knox - mentioned in the Slate comments - is generally agreed-upon to be good-looking, this fact generally thought to be relevant to how her story is reported.

In the world of real people, many non-white and "ethnic"-looking men have plenty of admirers, of all races and of both sexes. But we-as-a-society are not (yet) used to discussing beauty as something found in a) men and b) the not-entirely-white-looking. This Dzhokhar, whatever he looks like, doesn't look like a Victoria's Secret Angel. Our thoughts don't immediately turn to how this latest menace might be receiving a different treatment in popular opinion than he would if he looked like he'd been hatching conspiracy theories and living off Twinkies in his parents' basement for the last 40 years.

And that's what this is about. It's not about devastatingly handsome - as in, Harry Styles, the rare 19-year-old dude whose appeal to grown women is legendary - but within-normal-limits. To me, from the photos we've seen, Dzhokhar looks utterly normal, like some kind of amalgam of guys I knew in high school or college. (Also a lot like Aaron Swartz - perhaps among the women Rosin spoke with, there's some subconscious conflation of a murderer with someone who is, for many, a tragic hero.) And young plus within normal limits is, in this context, attractive enough for that to potentially impact the coverage.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Tights for boys

-Inspired by the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, the Guardian has provided a list of places to find "ethically, locally, lovingly made clothes for babies and children," because what is a factory collapse if not an excuse to luxury-shop, and why wouldn't we assume ethical (or greenwashed) clothing producers genuinely love your child. It's an amalgam of causes - anti-materialism (one also learns, in a disclaimer, that it's also OK to buy less), gender-progressivism (one must now dress one's children in gender-neutral clothing? what happened to the good old days, when one could simply love and accept children who wish to crossdress?), and heaps upon heaps of old-fashioned (but thinly-disguised) let's-go-buy-expensive-stuff-and-distinguish-ourselves-from-the-commoners.

Pardon the cynicism, but for whatever reason, this gets to me. The factory collapse story just keeps getting worse, but shopping for organic cotton "tights for boys," while probably not contributing to the problem, most likely isn't fixing it either. What probably needs to happen - and I believe commenter Britta and I have both already addressed this - is, things need to change in how clothing is produced-relatively-cheaply abroad, things that will somewhat-but-not-drastically increase the price of that clothing.

-On the topic of kids these days and materialism, another Guardian piece takes on the new phenomenon of fancy-schmancy children's parties. "As a child, when I used to go to birthday parties – which wasn't often – I might take a card. I would then get sandwiches, crisps and lemonade and play a few party games." Times have changed. Or... have they? This topic was deemed timely for a 1964 U.S. television audience. How I know this...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On running six thousand meters

There was a 6k race in the woods near where I live yesterday. And guess who came in 34th of 50 people! Which is slightly misleading - there aren't separate lists for men and women. Or for the 5'2"-and-under and everyone else. Clearly, if enough categories were created, a career as a professional runner would be in store.

The advantage to paying to run the same loop I could for free whenever is, I suppose, that it forced me to keep jogging beforehand. "Training," I suppose, but that seems an exaggeration. These were slow jogs - procrastination, really. The race itself I figured I might do more slowly. Part of this was, I had no idea how long of a jog I was normally going on. A pedometer app kept giving wildly divergent results, and this is off the grid, as it were, so Google gives no answers. (A mile? Five?) Maybe the race would the same distance I normally go, maybe much more or less. And if it turned out to be much longer, and I was going it without podcasts, it could take weeks. Of course, without a miniature poodle (who accompanies me on the shorter-time-wise jogs), maybe I'd go faster?

In the end, the race was about the distance I normally go, but what can I say? I know this is the opposite of what running purists suggest, I know that being one with beautiful nature (and in spring in these parts, it's quite beautiful) is supposed to be enough. But I seriously think the Savage Lovecast theme song began playing in my head during the race. Where were the ladies of DoubleX? Where was Leonard Lopate interviewing a foodie? And Friday Night Comedy with the BBC? My own thoughts, then? Thoughts, of course, tending towards what to have for lunch. That's where the mind can go at a certain point in a run.

Which brings me to the other advantage to an organized run: at the end there were apple-cider doughnuts from a nearby farm. And bagels, but my nuanced understanding of regional cuisines was such that I knew which to go for. And a clever move on this farm's part, because anything eaten just after a race, one held too early in the morning for runners to have had much breakfast beforehand, is going to be the best thing eaten ever, so now I'm much more inclined to purchase said doughnuts in the future.

What I hadn't counted on was that once you're in a race, no matter how little you care about the results, the mere fact of people running next to you speeds you up. Ultimately, intellectually, I'm more than content with athletic mediocrity, and run for whichever health and head-clearing benefits. (Vanity? A toss-up - I end up more fit, I suppose, but probably a bit heavier, and what's muscle weighing more than fat and what's the fact that running leaves me famished, well, who knows.) If I was ever going to shine as a runner, this would have happened in high school, but I was smack dab in the middle of the pack among the nerd-school girls' track teams. I wasn't too worried about it. But yesterday, I spent the race hovering near two women of give or take my own dimensions, and kept thinking I didn't have the height excuse and had better pass them. One I passed eventually, the other there wasn't a chance. What did it matter? It just did. I had to sprint at the end.

Bisou, the day after the race, attempting to see how many ticks she can accumulate despite recent application of anti-tick medicine.

2013, the end of anti-Semitism?

Nick has found that Young People Today - U.S. college students specifically - do not know from anti-Semitism. His undergrads were unfamiliar with anti-Semitic stereotypes. "Jewishness, so far as I can tell, and perhaps only in the eyes of these particular students, is a slightly differentiable form of being white, and so therefore not particularly interesting."

When I saw Nick's post, I almost immediately thought of the Albany high school teacher who decided to assign his/her class an essay in which they were to argue why Jews are awful. What if, rather than finding the assignment offensive/upsetting, the kids were simply at a loss? Could it be that today's youth are really so far removed from Jew-hatred?

My scattered thoughts on this below:

-Anti-Semitism was never the racism in the States, the way it was in Europe. That doesn't mean it didn't/doesn't exist. But if you're looking to compare anti-Jewish and anti-black sentiment, well, they're not comparable in this country. So it isn't obvious to most Americans (other than Jews steeped in Holocaust education to the point that they had recurring childhood nightmares that involved being chased by Nazis) that Jews would have ever been the Other.

-Anti-Semitism is widely perceived of as touchier than other -isms (because Hitler, also because one anti-Semitic stereotype is that Jews are touchy), so it's possible college students know full well about the Jews-and-money or Jews-control-the-media stereotype but would rather not announce this in class.

-I'm about ten years older than Nick's students, but I will say that when I was in college, anti-Jewish - as well as "positive" Jewish - stereotypes were alive and well and exhausting. Jews study all the time! Jews aren't real Americans! Jewish women are "JAPs"! Maybe this has changed - those were, after all, the days of neoconservatism-hint-hint, all that talk of a "cabal" - but I doubt it, because...

-Popular culture continues to provide anti-Semitic stereotypes. The obvious example: "The Big Bang Theory," an immensely popular network TV sitcom, as mainstream as it gets. There's Howard Wolowitz - a weakling momma's boy with a thing for "shiksas" - settling down with one eventually. There's the offscreen and implicitly repulsive Jewish mother, so horrible that a TV audience may only encounter her huskily whiny voice. And "Girls"! Shoshanna not only is a "JAP," but is referred to as such.

Still, pop-culture examples of Jews-and-money from the last couple years aren't coming to mind - lots of pop culture about Jews comes from Jews (who may be reluctant to go there), thus the quasi-persistence of the working-class nebbish paired with the highbrow WASP. Meanwhile one finds plenty of old-school anti-Semitism in comment threads across the internet. I don't know how old the people posting are, but those reading? All ages, I'd think. And... that's about as much as I can know about what those who don't know Jews/aren't talking to a Jew (certain limitations of perspective!) would think about this sort of thing. I Googled around but didn't see any poll that would tell us what anyone who's 18-22 now would think about Jews.

-Re: Nick's concern that if anti-Semitism isn't properly laid out and understood, there's no fighting it, I'm of two minds about this. Obviously, I research this sort of thing, and am hardly against spreading knowledge about modern Jewish history. The opposite! Please, world, hire me to tell you about 19th century French Jews.

But! I will repeat the imperfect analogy I provided in my post about the Albany school-teacher: when that lady comes in and tells the class of 10th-graders what bulimia is, you can bet that a bunch of girls (and, in our modern times, a good number of boys) will think, whoa, you can throw up after meals to lose weight?, and will go do just that. That act having never occurred to them spontaneously. And so it might go with anti-Semitism. If it had never occurred to kids today to believe that Jews control the media, an education in the matter might end up planting the idea in their heads. The amount of contextualization you need, to educate people who genuinely arrive at this topic with no preconceived thoughts, might be beyond the scope of anything but a Jewish-Studies or more advanced European-history class. And a brief, ill-conceived explanation - not what Nick says he did, but oh, say, what the Albany teacher did - can be worse than none at all.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Today's spur-of-the-moment trip to New York (expensive train ticket, but I do work best on the train, second-best work in coffee shops with good pastry) was probably my most successful shopping trip ever. I now have, or had:

-Two bunches green garlic.
-Two bunches ramps.
-One big bag of excellent-looking arugula.
-One bunch each, chard and broccoli rabe.
-One City Bakery chocolate croissant.
-One sake oyakodon, Sobaya.
-One (discounted) book I'd been looking for, Strand.
-One package frozen tofu skin, Sunrise Mart.
-One massively discounted Tsubaki Damage Care set, same store. Yes, that's right, a set. For $27 - giant shampoo and conditioner and a normal-size tub of the hair mask. The mask itself is normally $20.

What this tells us:

-Almost my entire non-necessity budget goes to food. Allium if at all possible. Glanced and Uniqlo and Sephora but was unimpressed.

-I'm under the mistaken impression that I'm Japanese.

-Farmers markets in Central NJ-to-Philadelphia don't open until May, and supermarkets around here don't seem keen on stocking decent produce, local or far-flung. It has indeed come to this.

-I had the opportunity to get coffee out, at any number of HMYF establishments, but simply forgot. To be fair, I had to get back early because there was a talk by a famous historian on blogging and French history, preceded by a wine and cheese reception, aka a WWPD dream (free!) event.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

-Thank you, Michael Pollan! said the Hasid with the bacon

Here's one for the food-is-the-new-religion crowd: Michael Pollan just (well, pre-recorded jogging-ready podcast) told Leonard Lopate that he (Pollan) thinks pork should be kosher. Pork, Pollan explains, can be eaten ethically, and kosher eating is about eating ethically. This sounded to me on the cusp of, Michael Pollan thinks he is in fact God (not that I, an atheist, object on anything but that's-kinda-arrogant grounds). And even Lopate, food-movement adherent and apparent Pollan enthusiast that he is, seemed skeptical, noting the thousands of years of tradition Pollan was readily dismissing. Chutzpah, I believe, is the technical term.

As for analogies... one might see where the anti-circumcision people are coming from, as in the ones who think Judaism needs to scrap that requirement. If you believe circumcision constitutes harm (maybe? maybe not?), then it might go in the way that whichever other now-we-know religious practices did as well. But what exactly is the harm done from not eating a certain kind of animal? It would seem that there's harm in eating too much meat, or unethically-farmed meat. Maybe there's some argument that certain types of shellfish actually help aquatic ecosystems and as such humans are under some kind of earth-saving duty that trumps religious conviction to eat more of them, although that's a stretch. (See: the vegans-should-eat-oysters argument.) But pork?

Not seeing it. Pork as is generally available is not something one's under a secular ethical obligation to eat - quite the contrary. That there exists (relatively - vegetarians will disagree) ethically produced pork doesn't make pork vegetarian, because "vegetarian" doesn't mean eating what Michael Pollan thinks is OK. It means not eating meat. "Kosher" means, among other things, avoiding pork.

There would need to be a compelling reason to eat whichever less-problematic pork, as opposed to a lack of a compelling ethical reason not to do so. And the existence of some feral hogs in some parts of the country (this had come up earlier on the same podcast) doesn't seem as though it would obligate whichever % of an already-tiny minority actually avoids pork to start eating it. There may be no good health reason in this day and age for non-vegetarians to refuse to eat pork, but so what? Isn't Pollan always saying that we'd do better to eat traditionally - in really whichever tradition - because seemingly arbitrary restrictions are what keep us eating reasonable amounts and balanced meals? Wouldn't that make a dietary system like keeping kosher - even if there's no specific reason not to combine meat and milk, say - advisable under his own view? Simply the fact of restrictions - of qualms - keeps people in line. Why couldn't Pollan stop while he was ahead, promoting home-cooking, being sensible?

Chop vs. bob, in three acts

I was recently describing my latest haircut to someone over the phone, who referred to the style as a "bob." I was taken aback. Even though yes, I totally went and got a bob - technically went and got another bob, after various others had grown out. But a bob, to me, sounded so outdated. A helmet style. I don't want to look like Louise Brooks!

Shortly thereafter, I saw this "Into The Gloss" post, where Emily Weiss insists that her haircut (an earlier version of which is, sigh, the look I was going for - I have now twice shown this photo to my hairdresser) is a "chop" and not a "bob." It's the it style of the moment, this "chop," although I get to be one of those people who are like, I've been getting (or self-inflicting!) this haircut since forever. Well, on and off since a party in college, at which time Karlie "The Chop" Kloss was probably a fetus with no haircut to speak of.

The difference between a chop and a bob, as I understand it, is that a chop looks like (or is) what one is left with when someone with long hair just chops it off to chin-length or thereabouts. No layers, no hairstyle. This would be a bob. This, a chop. The chop is so-very-now because it's the inevitable response to the previous it-look: ombré. The chop is the haircut you kind of know you'll eventually need, once you bleach the tips of your hair.

The chop, then, is effectively a bob that has not been meticulously styled.


Which brings us to a challenge: all hair textures can be forced into a bob, but a natural-looking chop, not so much. The chop is thus an incredibly undemocratic hairstyle - a celebration of wash-and-go.

But women of all hair textures are seeking - and getting! - the chop. It just takes some effort to look effortless. Garance Doré could only join in the fun with the help of one of those keratin treatments. "Into The Gloss," meanwhile, in a post with the misleading title, "How to Work the Curl," profiles another woman who went down that same formaldehyde-strewn path.

The two women a) emerge with chic hairstyles, and b) really defend their choice, in a way that suggests curl-flattening is embarrassing, an admission of self-hatred. And this is not only politicized for African-American women but also, apparently, for some who are ethnically Italian-Algerian or Cuban-American. Both women don't merely describe how they got their hair just so, but preemptively address those who would call them traitors. But traitors to what, exactly? Is this spillover of black women's hair politics onto other populations? Is the reason so many non-black women want straight hair related, on some level, to anti-black racism? Just how sinister is all this?

My sense is that (Ashkenazi, American) Jewish women may see going blonde as political, but less so straightening. This may have something to do with how often Jews have naturally straight vs. blond hair... or it may not. (In my own family, straight hair is fairly common, but I'm not aware of any Jewish relatives with hair lighter than light brown. But there are plenty of blond Jews, so.) Or - more likely - it's because when we learn about the Holocaust, the dumbed-down version we get as kids is that Jews were hated for not being blond.

At the same time, some Jewish women are wary of straightening because the flatironed look, esp. with long hair, is considered "JAPpy." And... there are too many levels to analyze there for this blog post not to become a dissertation in its own right. Is the"JAP" with straightened hair more self-hating than the Jewish woman who fears being thought a "JAP" and leaves her hair wavy/curly so as to avoid fitting a Jewish stereotype?

My own hair, if I let it air-dry, with the chop haircut, emerges something like this. Very 1930s. To those (with stick-straight hair) who'd say, 'that's awesome!', let me just point out that it's not a style that even remotely goes with anything I wear, anything anyone these days wears. (Much like how the celebration of curves is supposed to require embracing a late-1950s silhouette.) Because of the particularities of hair texture, I can easily achieve the "chop" styling without exposing hairdressers - or myself for that matter - to toxic chemicals. Which means that as much as I'm thinking, formaldehyde, really?, I'm not really in a position to judge. Also, I have no idea what's in tsubaki oil-meets-hair-iron fumes, nor do I want to know.


And now, the defending of the indefensible: on women who do not (or do not every day) embrace their natural hair texture. Let me be clear, I also defend women who do so (as in, every day), and understand why it would likely be better if more of us did. So:

1) Often enough, for us women with shall we say textured hair, an attractive straightened look is much easier to achieve than an equally or more attractive one that embraces the essence, but not the often frizzy and inconsistent reality, of a natural hair texture. Lots of women with naturally curly hair who wear their hair curly have actually straightened and then curled their hair. Or they've partially straightened it - done a partial blowdry or partial relaxing. Either way, the curls you're seeing have little to do with the curls that come naturally to the woman in question. Others have undergone complicated rituals involving diffusers and all manner of expensive curly-hair-specific products - products that may not straighten, but definitely smooth. We cannot assume that curly=less effort, or that curly=true to one's natural texture.

2) And when do we even see what "natural" hair texture looks like? The idea that shampooing hair daily is "natural" is - and this should be obvious if you think about it - a construction. As is the idea that this approach is "low-maintenance." There's a fairly consistent societal notion of what constitutes "good" hair, and it requires plenty of artifice for those with fine-and-grease-prone "white" hair, depending how one defines artifice. Daily shampooing isn't (for most routines) some kind of hygiene essential, but merely a way to bring volume and gloss to certain hair textures. If you have a style you can do and then forget about for days on end (which was convenient during Hurricane Sandy, when the hot water went out for a week!), you may well be putting less product and time to the cause.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Once again, garment workers in Bangladesh have died en masse while producing cheap clothing for Westerners. These incidents are so awful that awful doesn't begin to describe it. Those who know how the garment industry works need to help us sort out what could be done to prevent such things from happening. The answer may or may not have anything to do with Western consumers voting with their dollars, euros, etc. If we can do something, we should. It's just not clear what. We can expect, though, another round of commentators announcing that "we" - ordinary consumers - need to stop demanding cheap clothes, as if it were that simple. At the risk of repeating myself, some things to keep in mind:

-We don't have any reason to believe paying $50 (say) or more for a t-shirt means the extra goes to workers, and not just to materials/brand/store rent/executives. Do we have reason to think J.Crew is better than H&M?

-We don't have any objective sense of what a t-shirt should cost. Our scale for this is based on what they do cost. So our sense that $15 (say) is "normal" comes from some being cheaper, some much more expensive. Maybe it turns out that $15 is half of what an ethically-produced t-shirt would need to cost, but we're not spending $15 on a t-shirt in order to be stingy. We just don't know that $15 is too cheap for a t-shirt, if indeed it is.*

-While there are some consumers who buy cheap clothes because it satisfies their lust for the newest trends, this is not what's motivating most shoppers. Most of us just notice that our clothing has worn out - which it has, either because it was poorly-made or because its cost relative to our budget permitted us to treat it carelessly - and buy new clothing. Yes, we (almost) all want to look of our era, but exceedingly few of us can even tell FW2012 from SS2013. I read fashion blogs on occasion... and I'd have no idea.

-If consumers aren't spending $30 (say) on ethical t-shirts, this isn't because of Zara-obsession, or because consumers as individuals demand to pay $15 and not a penny more, and if that kills hundreds of factory workers, so be it. It's because it's a research project to figure out which t-shirts are ethical. The sort of consumers who do care about this will know to be wary of greenwashing, and so will not blindly pay more for brands that give the impression of being the kinder choice.

*This comes up as well re: the horse meat scandal, that consumers ought to have known that very cheap "beef" was something else. When... no. How on earth would ordinary consumers know where the cheapness threshold is between low-quality cuts of low-quality cow-meat and that which wasn't cow to begin with?


If the comments here and here are any indication, indeed, "our" demand for cheap cheap cheap is responsible. And there's an aspect of this that's just complete snobbery - consumers who either want an excuse to shop high-end or, worse, who just can't wait to announce that low-income shoppers are not merely crass but bad people. There's sometimes a certain amount of (sometimes internalized) misogyny - the kind of shopping generally preferred by women (as vs. gadgets, guns) is inherently more frivolous. But here, snobbery seems the order of the day. (There's apparently this thing called, like, the British class system?)

The Guardian commenters sure do like that Primark, which I'm assuming is a cheap store over there akin to Old Navy, is implicated here, and for reasons with little to do with labor conditions: Writes one: "I hate Primark. It's a brawling zoo. On a shopping trip to London (I live abroad) I went to Primark on an errand for a friend. Never again. Heaving, sweaty, pushy. It was like a bad TV reality show, with hundreds of people shoving each other out of the way, grasping for the prize." Another: "Truly shocking, tragic news. I can`t bring myself to shop at Primark because of their absurdly low prices, but I know that most other high street retailers are not much (or at all) better." But... those places have nicer stuff, so? Another: "I doubt most of the people that shop at Primark and Poundland are that interested in ethics. We live in a selfish world."

Another, winning the missing-the-point award: "Primarks clothes always seem to shrink or fall apart after a few washes, so they're not cheaper in the long run. Plus their jeans never fit properly." And finally, the nail, the head: "I refuse to shop at Primark well for one its full of poor people but also their ethics are incongruous with the standards i set for myself."

And, eh. There's no fundamental human right to a varied wardrobe, and if whichever necessary behind-the-scenes reforms are enacted and that means clothing costs more, well, that will be harder on those with stricter budgets. But given our current situation, those who spend more per item don't hold any particular moral high ground.


So the answer isn't condemning consumer stinginess. Nor, however, is it reacting to catastrophes of this scale as if they're no big deal. Even if the underlying argument there is sound, which, not convinced, but gosh, kind of a lot of people died there. It doesn't take that many words to acknowledge that.

A healthy attitude

Oh, what the food movement has wrought. We're forever being told that this or that ingredient, or process, is unacceptable - unethical, no, poisonous. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket! Avoid big stores entirely! No wheat! No animal products!* Eat like a caveman! While all appear to be agreed that local, pesticide-free kale and, in season, berries are acceptable, all else is up for debate. And because man cannot live on kale-raspberry smoothies alone, debate ensues. There's no consensus on where to draw the line for "processed" - Twinkies, Doritos, yes, but white rice? pasta? Is cooking the answer, or just the lesser-evil way of ruining whole foods?

Enter Mark Bittman, voice of reason. Sort of - his "vegan before six" agenda would seem to fly in the face of a traditional-foods one, given that a café au lait (it's OK if it's French) and soft-boiled egg in the morning would seem like exactly the sort of things not to gratuitously remove from one's diet. And his condemnation of milk - because it doesn't agree with him, none of us should have it? - hasn't helped. And yes, his videos with the little glass bowls of pre-prepped ingredients are misleading in the way all cooking shows are. And fine, his cavorting through Europe and recording all the excellent meals he gets to eat doesn't make the U.S.-based reader on a budget more enthusiastic about switching to rice and beans. But his overall point - we should cook more, and it doesn't need to be something complicated - is sound. His everyman example no doubt gets men in the kitchen. If Bittmanism were Kool-Aid, I'd have drunk most of the glass.

So Bittman suggests three recipes that are better than the garbage most Americans eat, but that might not fit whichever paleo-macrobiotic diet (Bittman's pal) Gwyneth is following this week. A seafood pasta, a fruit smoothie, and a chopped-vegetable salad. All sound reasonable enough. But! Everyone's been primed - thanks in part to Bittman's own writings, but in a still larger part to the nature of the internet - to contrarian that thing down. Bittman suggests pasta. And not even whole wheat! Doesn't he know about celiacs? And isn't white flour poison no matter your overall health? And clams! Must innocent animals die for our dinner? And the salad involves salted vegetables! We're not supposed to have salt, remember? And the smoothie allows for added sugar and soy or dairy! WHAT?!?!

While there are occasional comments that criticize most constructively, and others that are straightforwardly enthusiastic, it's really this horde of the furious. How dare Bittman, who's supposed to be promoting health, not know that each and every one of his suggestions is approximately as health-promoting as riding a motorcycle helmet-free, a cigarette in one hand and a steak fried in trans-fats in the other? We've reached the point where a healthy attitude about food and eating healthily appear to be, for many, incompatible.

*The one subset of this line of thought I find most baffling is that there's something inherently strange about consuming another species's milk. It would indeed be strange if we expected to get complete nutrition from it, as a calf would. But apart from human breast milk, which only even applies to the very young, is there any ingredient whose explicit purpose is to be food for our species?

Meet - or not - the parents

The child-free should not tell parents what to do. Fair enough, if we allow for exceptions.

The Guardian just published this incredible whopper of a(n incredibly common) parental complaint: a mom distraught that her daughter is not as brainy as she is. Naturally, she blames the girl's father, and clings to the idea that this is not academic mediocrity but a disorder of some kind. Same old, same old, with one detail: the author? "Anonymous." As it should be. The daughter, should she grow up and learn to read, will Google herself, perhaps her mother as well if her mother's a writer. Better for this not to come up.

Meanwhile, the bad-parenting debate reaches a new level with this discussion about whether we may fault the Boston bombers' parents for their descent into terrorism. Will Saletan correctly notes that these parents are mighty unappealing. The shoplifting's a curious detail, but the father's ability, in so few words, to insult the United States on account of this country's not condoning domestic violence, well, it would have been Borat-esque if it weren't just so depressing. When criminals like this are siblings, one does wonder if they were brought up right, and in a case like this, the more we learn, the more the answer seems a definitive not-so-much.

On the other hand, isn't this asking a bit much? Both "boys" were adults. 26-year-olds are definitely grown-ups, probably even in the Lena Dunham universe, and all the more so if they're married-with-kids. Are we to be equally suspicious of dude's wife? And parents are notoriously blind to their kids' not-so-ideal behavior (except when, like Anonymous, they're not). Go to any thread about health and The Youth, and you're likely to find parents insisting that their kids would never go near alcohol/tobacco/sex/whatever. Children, including adult children, are angels. If parents have trouble imagining their kids being normal, how exactly are they supposed to wrap their heads around a crime like this? And it seems altogether irrelevant that some broigus uncle (and oh, does this scenario ever define broigosity!) thinks the kids are/were bad seeds. Not that the uncle's wrong - he's of course 100% right - but if there's pre-existing estrangement, he's not really comparable to non-estranged (but plenty strange) parents. So it doesn't work to say that some relatives caught on, while the parents themselves did not.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Prepare to see a lot more where this came from

This from cleverly-named NYT commenter "A. Taxpayer," of - of all places! - Brooklyn:

It is highly probable that they came at an early age to become citizens to become familiar with American customs and major east coast cities in order to conduct terrorism/treason later. Their trip home was for training on bomb building.
Note that not only has this commenter decided both brothers - not just the older one - went back on a possibly suspicious trip to the old country, and that both, not just the younger, became U.S. citizens. But also, a kid who came over at around eight - as per the very article this genius is apparently commenting on, and in principle read - did so with intent to pretend to be an all-American stoner, with the intent to fake speaking American English, while secretly, underneath it all, at eight, this plan was in the works.

Meanwhile. If your great fear is foreign terrorism (and we'll set aside the relative danger of that vs. being shot by some idiot with bad coordination and no particular ideology), shouldn't you be more wary of playing up the foreignness/unassimilability of immigrants? Wouldn't that sort of thing seem to encourage alienation and then whichever % of the alienated will radicalize? Am I missing something here?


Speaking of self-doubt, I have an easy answer for David Brooks re: gender and confidence: it might be better for society if there were more self-doubt, but it sure is better for the individual to be self-promoting. And there are plenty of cases where good things get done only because an individual wants to put himself (on occasion, herself) out there. I'd also send him this, but I might be too demure to be that self-promotional.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"[A] cotton sheet that's been washed and dried over and over"

The Princeton Mom is of course not going anywhere, and is unsurprisingly better about following up with literary agents than yours truly. Her latest profundity: women in their 30s looking to land a husband are repulsive to men. Which does kind of beg the question: what about women in their 30s who already have dudes - boyfriends or husbands? Wouldn't that 30s-ness be so inherently vile as to repulse said men, and to send them off into the arms of the infinite supply of beautiful women in their 20s (sorry, late teens) available to even the most ordinary 30-something gentlemen?

In case you'd been feeling a bit whatever about the aging process, Refinery29 - among the best sites for fashion, but oh, when it veers to other topics... -  is there to make sure you start caring, ASAP. "Skincare By Age," indeed. It's this tremendous what to look forward to slideshow, detailing exactly how decrepit you'll be with each passing decade. The 30s: "You'll [...] start seeing more hyperpigmentation, fine lines, sun spots, and darker circles under your eyes." The 40s: "Pigmentation will also get worse and there will be a loss of overall skin elasticity that will be most pronounced around your eyes." But oh, the 60s: "Vertical lip lines will become more noticeable — and not to mention, a significant loss of volume in your lips is likely to happen." And there are wise insights, such that in one's 70s, "deep wrinkles" appear. Science!

In this (sponsored? it's ambiguous) post, a bunch of experts weigh in to explain how to fight decrepitude, but the between-the-not-so-fine-lines message appears to be, it's a lost cause. One doctor helpfully explains, "Your skin in your 20s is like triple-ply cashmere, but in your 70s it's like a cotton sheet that's been washed and dried over and over [...]." And it's like, message received. You will only get older. You can throw as much SPF and kale (!) at the "problem" as you like, but the only answer is to not see it as a problem. You have a choice: look like a woman of whichever age, or look like a woman of indeterminate age who's had work done, and the guesses of what age that is might not be so flattering.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Such good English

The Americanness or lack thereof of the still-living accused Boston bomber is really several different questions. The first was straightforward enough: who is this person? And when that wasn't known, one possibility of course was that he and his brother arrived from abroad specifically to carry out a terrorist act. That's not an unreasonable or xenophobic outcome to list among the possibilities when news reports emerge connecting Chechnya with an act that sure looked/looks like terrorism.

But once we did learn the story - a 19-year-old American citizen of Chechen origin who'd been in the States since age 8 - it seemed to me that this guy is of course American. Perhaps (well, definitely, assuming allegations are true) a terrible American, a genocidal maniac or a pushover prepared to become one to impress his older brother. But yes, sorry, an American. Who isn't an American 'of X origin'?

Which is why I couldn't figure out the coverage. He speaks (or spoke - seems he's not saying much) good, American English without an accent? Well how on earth else was he going to speak? He had lots of American friends? Yes, as does tend to happen if someone attends school for that many years in the U.S. This wasn't some kind of elaborate cover for a future act of terrorism, some kind of disguise hiding his authentic self. Presumably, given that timeline, this was his authentic self.

And I'm reminded of the expression, "an assimilated Jew," a phrase that suggests that all Jews, no matter their upbringing, start from some fundamental, 100%-Jewish state, and any evidence they give of having any other primary identity (American, transgender, vegetarian), anything they wear that isn't Hasidic garb, is some kind of sneaky artifice. This young man is not like an American. He is an American. One who all signs point to, just committed a truly atrocious crime.

The question, it would seem, is then whether this crime was a way of announcing treason, announcing intent to wage war on behalf of a foreign entity. But that should be a question, not a default assumption when a criminal is... white but not Christian? White but with a foreign-seeming name? Someone with relatives living abroad?

And then there's been this other aspect of the coverage-broadly-defined, about how the attackers were ungrateful to this country that welcomed them. I mean, if you've lived somewhere since childhood, is this even a matter of gratitude, or gratitude above and beyond what anyone born in the U.S. might feel? Should your debt to America be different from that of someone born here? Should you be on best behavior above and beyond the usual? Put another way: it's evil to commit a crime of this nature no matter what. But is it somehow more evil if you happened to have been born on foreign soil?

The obvious issues this brings up are how they go about this specific trial, and immigration policy more broadly. But the less-obvious, no-less-important one is national identity. Who gets to count as all-American? (The older brother's wife, says a British tabloid.) Given how many Americans have hyphenated identities, given the negligible cultural difference between someone born in the States to foreign parents and someone who came over as a young child, where exactly is this line to be drawn, if not at citizenship?

Do we really want to slide into being like so many (all?) other countries, in which one is a "foreigner" regardless of one's papers, regardless of how many generations your family's been in the country, assuming one is not of the majority religion and ethnicity? Do we want to be like Europe, where if your family isn't from that square kilometer since forever, you may be blamed for failing to assimilate, when in fact you were never in a million years going to be allowed let alone encouraged to integrate? No we don't - my pride in America comes largely from the fact that we don't do this. Or: of course we do this, but not nearly so much as other places, because of our (almost) everyone's descended from immigrants heritage, because of such things as birthright citizenship, and simply because political correctness here - and this is a point in PC's favor - discourages claims that only one group of citizens counts as authentic. Our relative lack of radicalized Westerners-of-foreign-origin comes precisely from our (relative) willingness to accept that anyone can be American. Good luck with that in France and so forth.

Which brings us to a certain complicating factor. Who exactly is this unhyphenated majority? Who are these Real Americans whose crimes might be blamed on such unhyphenated-white-guy concerns as mental illness (not that only white Christian men suffer from it - merely that this is the go-to explanation for bad behavior when one cannot point to the inner city or Islam) and hatred of liberals? I do like the woman who's so American that she wants no. more. foreigners., but she's from, oh, Greece. And then there's the inconvenient fact that one of the victims was a Chinese national here as a graduate student. Being honest-to-goodness foreign is no shield against being murdered in America for representing wholesome all-Americana... if, again, this attack was even about hurting America-as-a-nation.

Clearly, powers-that-be must investigate all angles, and sure, maybe it turns out they were part of some larger operation. But in terms of how we talk about it in the mean time, might something be gained by referring to this as an act of domestic terrorism? Not attributing to two evil doofuses (or "losers," as their amazing broigus uncle put it) something as profound as an act of war.

Report from the sticks

-'My poodle broke a nail' is not the world's greatest problem, but it's a slightly larger one than it seems like it might be.

-In which local food is bad for the environment: There's a great nearby farm that sells eggs. I drove over, in part for said eggs, in part to test my own navigational skills in farm country - vast stretches of what to me seem like undifferentiated green-ness. Navigational skills, check. But they were out of eggs. Drove back empty-tote-bagged.

A different nearby farm. Monty Python was right - llamas are bigger than frogs.

-In other farm-country news: there's nothing like your hairdresser finding a tick on your scalp to a) make you completely lose focus from the haircut in question (which, oddly enough, I now see, turned out great!), b) up the hypochondria quotient of what is generally one of your tamer beauty procedures, and c) make you feel very rustic when tossing the creature out of your hair mid-haircut. What I ought to have remembered is that one is supposed to save, not stomp on, the tick in order to properly identify it. What I did remember - well, realize on the spot - is that one must leave a >20% tip on occasions when your hairdresser must double as an entomologist.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Sometimes an example of something I've been holding forth about for some time just kind of falls into my lap, or laptop as the case may be. Food-movement proponents want us to eat seasonally, but they themselves travel the world and get to sample the local cuisines of wherever they damn well please. They want us to cook more for ourselves, but they themselves, while they no doubt cook some of the time when home, are off sampling every last restaurant in Paris, but nothing too old-school. Processed food is fine, if it's an up-and-coming Parisian chef processing it.

And it's the kind of Paris travel journalism aimed Americans who've tired of Saint Germain, and who need to explore the Canal Saint-Martin area. Or who have grown bored of that as well. Not, in other words, trip-of-a-lifetime tourists. Writing restaurant reviews for the sophisticated crowd is a tough job but somebody's got to do it, and I say this as someone whose own work has led to lower-priced but plenty delicious Parisian food adventures, so no, not bitter. (Slightly bitter, but so it goes, pursuing dissertation research, not food writing.) My point is merely, gently, that if your year includes X fantastic meals in Parisian (and Californian, and so on) restaurants, then you're really not in a position to say how much of a sacrifice it is to go week after week, making the most of leftover lentils.


Somewhat of a digression, but this cannot be emphasized enough, gender. Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan want a gender-neutral return to cooking. And it's just like Dan Savage's demand for a gender-neutral return to extramarital dalliances and looking the other way. We don't live in this gender-neutral world. So "monogamish," in the context of the world of actual people, means returning to the era of, men do as they please, and women don't dare divorcing them for it, because that wouldn't be nice to the children, as if the fault in such a scenario lies with the wife.

When it comes to cooking, same deal. As Jessica Grose recently reminded us, women still do far more of the housework. When men cook - and many do! - it's something special, something they've chosen to do, not something they feel obliged to do. The burden (and I say this as someone who enjoys cooking but knows enough to be realistic about it) could in theory fall equally to both sexes, but in practice, it doesn't. Demands that "we" spend more time in the kitchen are demands on women. Gender-neutral home-ec is a nice gesture, but it would hardly make a dent.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I don't

-"I Don't Feel Entitled, I Feel Guilty" is an interesting (bleak!) essay, but everything you need to know is right there in the title. If you can't point to any broad, structural reason why you're not making a zillion dollars a year doing something fabulous (and note that the author is employed, and not trying to make it as a hipster), it's on you. Whereas if there are structural reasons, it might just be you, but it might be something else. The timeless disadvantage to advantage.

-"I DON'T want to buy a food magazine with a model on the cover."

Thus an "Into The Gloss" commenter sums up the problem - well, one - with a new (and much-hypedmagazine "about women and food," called "Cherry Bombe." The concept appears to be, well, glossiness. Models pretending to eat. Fashion insiders (Garance Doré among them) and what they (ostensibly) eat. A "Spring's Best Cookbooks" section recommending Gwynnie's now-notorious tome in which she apparently reveals that she's allergic to foods that make you fat. Farm-to-table meets luminizer makeup accurately applied. 

And it all seems like a lot of good, decadent fun, until you get to the part where the magazine's founders are asking for donations. Not just subscriptions. Not investments. Donations, as if this were some kind of charitable or at least for-profit but scrappy enterprise. The word they themselves use on the Kickstarter page is "indie." The cover model - yes, cover model - is a woman you might know as a Victoria's Secret "Angel," which might beg the question, alternative to what? But, if it were in front of me, I'd read it.

-Speaking of reading material, commenter Moebius Stripper reminded me of a book denouncing locavorism, one whose co-author I'd heard interviewed by a skeptical Leonard Lopate. The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet, by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu. And, I read it, but I confess to some skimming when it got very technical. The writing style, or maybe the subject matter, keeps reminding me of reading-comprehension exercises on standardized tests. I feel as though I'm going to need to fill out a scantron sheet about emissions and rice yields. But because I'm not entirely sure any book on this topic wouldn't make me feel that way, I'm prepared to declare the problem mine, not the authors'. (Those with what must be a stronger caffeine source than I have have provided a helpful point-by-point counterargument, which is in turn countered by one of the co-authors in the comments there.)

In any case, it's an important argument that will lose a lot of readers when it meanders from contrarian to conservative. If the point were simply that local food isn't necessarily any better for the environment or whichever social-justice concerns, then, fair enough. But there's a lot of economic liberalism, some climate-change agnosticism. If the point is that libertarian climate-change skeptics shouldn't be locavores, well, presumably they aren't to begin with.

The book was strongest when it made the point that projecting the aesthetic preferences of certain wealthy urbanites onto the global food system may not pan out. This might seem intuitive. Even in the prosperous West, even if one is prepared to overspend on groceries, even if one lives somewhere sufficiently coastal-elite, "local" ends up being, in effect, a garnish, not a lifestyle. I was at the local "farmers' market" recently - a room on the first floor of the public library. There were these small bunches of ramps - just the leaves, perhaps to conserve the bulbs - and they cost $3. That's not dinner. Same with foraging. From what I understand, it would be a time-intensive way to add some interesting herbs to a dish 99.99% of whose bulk and calories come from normal, store-bought ingredients. So policies that suggest bringing local eating to all - or retaining it where it's the subsistence norm despite what people might want - do raise the quesiton of where that food would come from.

Let me put it this way: I have never actually met a locavore. People who shop at farmers' markets and sign up for CSAs, sure, lots. But people who exclusively eat food from nearby, even just in summer? Not once.

The book was weakest when it failed to address, in language accessible to non-experts, why subsidies aren't currently shifting things away from local. Also when it claimed that farmers'-market food is not any better-quality, or possibly worse, than the supermarket variety. Even going as far as to claim that local strawberries taste no better than ones hauled in from California. It of course depends which market - not all are as regulated as the NYC Greenmarkets. But the real-deal local food, in peak season, is that much better. But even if it were not, fetishization of vegetables is one way to get people to eat vegetables. Thinking of them as a delicacy rather than a chore has its positives.

Meanwhile, there are such strong criticisms of the locavore movement that never make an appearance. The authors object to Japan being referred to as "parasitic" for its reliance on agricultural imports, and praise multiethnic cuisine options, but never mention that there's something sinister and xenophobic about some back-to-the-farm ideology. I'm not saying they needed to go all Liberal Fascism - it's for the best that they did not - but some acknowledgment of the racist undercurrents of agri-romanticism would have been interesting.

Less controversial, less debatable: they might have spent some time discussing the fact that the big proponents of local eating tend to be high-profile food writers who not only eat out all the time, but get to jet around and eat "seasonally" in whichever climate they feel like writing about that week. They're not subsisting on turnips all winter long. Or that ever since "local" became a marketing device, there's greenwashing with "local" flavor. They get at this a bit, with farmers'-market fraudulence, but it goes so much further. A "farm-to-table" restaurant is effectively one that, season-permitting, garnishes normal food with something grown on a rooftop nearby. And the thing where restaurants list which farm some ingredient came from - assuming it's even accurate, what percentage of a dish comes from a farm? Point being, even if locavorism is the way to go, consumers might be content with things that give the appearance of being local, but aren't. Which... might actually be fine by these authors, and thus might be a critique for another book.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

So much for our species

Between the Philadelphia "doctor," the Boston attack in which an eight-year-old child was among those killed, and the recent revelation that a former Stuyvesant librarian (with an interesting history) may have been mixed up with the so-called "cannibal cop," this is hell-in-a-handbasket time. It's too much horrible to process. Hoping for justice all around.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Out of one's comfort zone

The latest teacher to fancy himself Robin "Dead Poets Society" Williams is one in Albany who asked students to think outside the box (heh) and explain, from the perspective of a Nazi, why Jews are evil. (Via.) Because doesn't it just make you think? Aren't a bunch of bourgeois panties in a twist? Because that, you see, is the purpose of teaching - making students and their stuffy parents (never hip, like the teacher) uncomfortable. Obviously - and I say this as a sometimes-teacher - most teachers don't think like that. But, as a former high school student, I must say that a certain number do. Apart from truly evil (molestation) and incompetent (not showing up; conducting class by silently copying the textbook onto the blackboard; spending all of class telling off-topic personal anecdotes) behavior, this is my least favorite pedagogical approach. Proper teaching should itself be enough to give students a new perspective. But that sort of me-vs.-your-presumed-naivete attitude is irritating at best, and cultish at worst.

Anyway, what's challenging about this story is that once one gets past one's initial reaction (as a friend of mine put it on Facebook, and it couldn't be put better: "WTF?"), one is left trying to pin down exactly why this crossed a line. Because it wasn't that the teacher tried to demonstrate that Nazis were humans, not monsters. After all, 'why did Nazis/so many other otherwise ordinary people throughout history hate Jews?' is a valid question to ask. Much serious research is done on this topic, little of it by Nazi sympathizers. Lots by Jewish scholars. Historians and others will not ask why some essential They hated The Jews, but rather why a specific time and place was conducive to anti-Semitism.

But the factors tended to have little to do with real-life Jews. The ancient Hebrews are rather significant in Christianity, but Jews have tended to be a tiny minority if present at all in the West. And then of course there was the question of which Jews, if any, Gentiles had contact with. If we're talking mid-19th C France... financiers, prostitutes, yes. Village-dwelling peddlers, not so much. This led to a warped perspective. Point being, the question isn't 'what's so dreadful about Jews, now and always?' but rather 'how did Jews come to symbolize materialism, urbanization, secularism, or whatever else anti-Semitism functioned as at a given moment?' So the teacher's demand doesn't even make sense as a history lesson.

So that's one problem with the assignment - Nazi anti-Semitism was not some kind of rational response to Jewish misdeeds. Nice touch, btw, that the teacher asked students to look to their own lives for examples of... Jews' evilness? Anti-Semitism? Unclear.

But the bigger problem is hello, these are high school students. They're not history grad students being trained to teach courses on anti-Semitism. They don't need to really, intensely get what a midcentury anti-Semite would have had against Jews. They don't need to learn about racist strains of romanticism, about nostalgia for an agrarian past. (Not that this assignment would make sense for grad students, either - see above.) Since when isn't it enough to tell high school kids that Nazism was a racist ideology, to give whichever standard and not inaccurate explanations depending the level of the students (economic resentment ignoring the existence of poor Jews, longstanding religious intolerance, various factors unrelated to Jews making fascism appealing to many at that time)? And if one wishes to make the point that Nazis were ordinary citizens, one might bring up the "banality of evil" argument, toss Arendt's name onto the board, and be done with it. Students can - will! - make the leap on their own and realize that if they'd been "Aryan" in Nazi Germany, chances are they wouldn't have done the right thing, either.

Insisting they write essays on Jews' horribleness is... well, it reminds me of when they bring in a former bulimic to warn teen girls, and then half the class is like, 'huh, you can throw up after meals to lose weight?', and a quarter of the class goes and does just that. Americans in 2013 aren't giving all that much thought to Jews either way, so this is a case of dumb-idea-planting.

And yeah, Jewish students may have been in the class. (To quote my friend once more: "WTF?") There's a scene in Arnon Grunberg's The Jewish Messiah, a Dutch (translated!) novel I read recently, in which a young Jewish character readily agrees with a postwar Nazi sympathizer that the world would have been better had he - and all other Jews - never been born. This in the context of a truly out-there novel about postwar Europe confronting that era, one whose title character is - spoiler alert, nausea alert - a testicle in a jar. But back on earth, kids - adults! - tend not to dispassionately ponder their own extermination. An assignment that would remove all students (save whichever budding neo-Nazis?) from their comfort zone would be altogether traumatic, even incomprehensible, for Jewish kids. It's not a lesson the entire class would be able to complete.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Preempting past-it

The past-it-ness of women at or just past legal drinking age is one of the topics-du-jour. Or was, before Ms. Paltrow's riveting occasional tobacco use took its spot.

I'm trying to remember if I felt old at 22-ish, but that was a while ago, and my memory isn't what it once was. With the help of WWPD archives, I learn that in 2005 I found it hilarious that John Derbyshire thought women past 20 were over the hill (as well as disturbing how enthusiastic he was about 15-year-olds). Oh, and that some Northwestern frat boys announced a preference for freshman girls, the point being that any older and the Freshman 15 may have made an appearance. So I suppose it was around this age that I first realized there were, in the world, a subset of adult men, who were not strictly speaking pedophiles, for whom I'd be too old.

But I wasn't losing sleep over this. As a senior in college, I don't remember ever thinking that my peers lacked romantic options on account of haggardness, and indeed this was when some of my female friends got serious boyfriends. Part of this no doubt had to do with the relatively large graduate school, as well as with UChicago undergrads liking grad students. I do remember thinking I looked old when I would commute to my post-college office job, sleepy and in office-clothes. But I also remember fearing I looked too young when, at 24, I started teaching undergrads. Plus, I read the same magazines as everybody else, heard the same anecdotes: One hears of 50-year-old women ditched for absolute children of 36. 'Younger woman' is relative.

I crossed over from Girl to Woman at 26 or 27, when I started getting ma'am'd. That did make an impression. There was no pretending that because of whichever superficial young-person traits I still had/have, the overall impression is such that I could pass for a high-school student.

But from that point on, I probably have been guilty of what is apparently a "SWUG" ("senior washed-up girl") attitude (although I'd never heard of it until skimming that article): assuming, prematurely, that I've reached the age of female invisibility. We're meant to call this "SWUG" thing anti-feminist and offensive, and it may be both of those things (as I said, I only skimmed), but it might also be something real, and experienced beyond whichever clique at Yale.

I suppose part of the appeal of a "SWUG" stance is wishful thinking. Most male attention isn't of the respectful, uplifting, Keanu-would-like-to-get-coffee-with-you-if-that's-OK variety. Some is downright menacing. And once one is wearing the married-jewelry, once one is known to be married online and off, this somehow filters out any flattering/innocuous male attention and leaves over only the creepy and inappropriate, because - apologies to Dan Savage's "monogamish" brigade - that tends to be who hits on the married. Single or coupled, there's something to be said, in certain situations, for projecting "hag."

But some of it is probably also a way of psychologically preparing one's self for the day when one really is, well, old. 29? Not that old. And that's probably where self-deprecation - see the "old age" tag - enters into it. I've heard enough times, not from PUA bloggers, not from contrarian defenders of street harassment, but from reasonable women, and not ones who were once supermodels, that the day comes when the attention stops, and that it's depressing when this happens. Although it doesn't happen to French women, so perhaps one can just move to France. But point being, there is a certain temptation to preempt the whole thing and declare one's general-audience allure kaput before it really is.

Gwyneth Paltrow smokes one cigarette a week

This - yes, readers - is the story of the moment. There are several interpretations floating around, or that pop into one's head upon hearing this:

1) Paltrow has humanized herself, revealing an imperfection, thus making herself more (well, less un-) likable.

2) Paltrow has revealed shocking hypocrisy, after lecturing us on the dangers of bread and white rice. She? Smokes?

3) Paltrow has revealed herself even more goodie-two-shoes than we thought - this is her great vice? (Consider the likelihood of a headline, "Lindsay Lohan/Charlie Sheen Smokes One Cigarette A Week.")

4) Paltrow is preempting the inevitable paparazzi discovery that she smokes.

And all of these are plausible. But I'm going to go with another, less-often-suggested possibility:

5) This tells us what we all already, on some level, knew, namely that "health," when offered up in any fashion-and-lifestyle context, is weight. If Paltrow's weekly indulgence were a massive wedge of cheesecake, then you might count me surprised. I mean, it even sounds like the kind of diet advice women once exchanged (and perhaps still do, but less openly) - instead of having dessert, smoke a cigarette. This isn't a hedonistic slip-up. It's still more image-control.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


-Sometimes vows of positive thinking aren't enough. There's a pill - legal! - that will take a person from Rhoda to Mary. I suppose I had heard of such a thing. If it also expedites dissertation-completion and preempts sunscreen-induced breakouts, and comes with Mary's wardrobe from the "Dick Van Dyke Show" days, and helps with learning how to merge onto the highway, I'm interested.

-Speaking of negativity, teacher-rants are so-very-now. Re: the second one, the consensus is that the prof is right, but I'm going to say he isn't entirely. Yes, it's irritating when students meander in and out of class as is convenient for them. Yes, the student email is of the sort that sets off instructors' uh-oh-another-entitled-one alarm bells. But this "course shopping" period - at least for the undergrads - is something they seem to think they're supposed to partake in, while instructors are instructed not to allow it. Because it clearly wouldn't work - the course has already started once it's started. There is no wishy-washy month of discussing what the course will be. The prof's substantive beef might actually be with whoever it was at the university who gave students the impression that the beginning of the semester is come-and-go-as-you-please. That, and as much as we-the-teachers wish it were so, I'm not sure that the kids who don't give a damn in school are equally apathetic at work. There are a lot of young adults in school because that's what one does, but who'd be thrilled to be at some job.

-The problem with scrapping negativity is, sometimes it really is called for. For instance, this new (or not?) emphasis on "clean eating." It's on the one hand a positive development - no longer are people assumed to be unhealthy for being overweight. "Health," we must agree, is independent of weight. So take that, thin privilege! On the other, now even those who are normal-weight and who eat plenty of vegetables are apparently poisoning themselves if they also consume sugar, refined flour, or very blended wheat flour (and that includes whole-wheat pasta, Petey), or wheat of any kind, or dairy, or any animal products, or anything cavemen didn't eat, or who on earth knows. What "clean" consists of varies in all kinds of contradictory ways - either everything must be pulverized, or nothing. 

The only constant is that not worrying about it - not obsessing over meals - isn't an option for anyone. Real food - as in, foods not engineered by Doritos scientists - is not enough. Healthy eating and a healthy attitude about eating are incompatible. But, well, consider the source. There are beauty and personal-style bloggers who, after some caveats about how they're not experts, give "health" advice that is, let's face it, advice on how to go from thin to thinner. But you're not even allowed to say that, because what they're doing is noble and pure. And according to Science, the GOOPitariat is kind of... right. Perhaps I'm the one with the problem, gambling with my health every time I open a box of DeCecco. Perhaps my defiant, feminist, but unglamorous not-worrying-about-it places me in the same category as those who really, truly don't worry about it, and who go down with whichever chain-smoking, fake-tanning, motorcycle-riding ship. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Progressive like a girdle

WWPD readers have heard this before, but it bears repeating: my beef with Dan Savage's "monogamish" is that it pretends we live in a gender-neutral world. It pretends that there isn't a history of men - powerful ones especially - getting to fool around, without corresponding freedom for women. It pretends that a relatively recent feminist intervention - that women are financially independent and socially able to exist without a husband, and thus prepared to leave (and perhaps find someone else!) if dude takes up with whomever - is what we'd been experiencing for all of human history. That it would be liberation - not reactionary regression - if men were allowed to do whatever, and women stuck by them because The Children.

If "monogamish" were about acknowledging that men and women both may have a wandering eye, if it were about asking men who want a little on the side to be prepared for their wives and girlfriends to do the same, and about acknowledging that the whole "men are visual creatures" line is sexist bunk, we might have other objections to it (such as: hetero couples' potential to make babies; all humans' potential to be jealous; the benefits of not having to worry quite so much about STDs), but it might plausibly be deemed a progressive concept. But instead, Savage goes the easy route, readily assuming that women simply aren't noticing men nearly so much as men are noticing women. It's just in men's nature to want sexual variety, whereas it's actually built into women's DNA to enjoy cleaning the kitchen and doing Pilates. While Savage advises men and women alike to consider staying with cheating partners, especially if the couple has kids, gender-neutrality isn't enough. This is, let's face it, about reverting to an era when men could get away with cheating. Which... it's an argument. But how about we don't pretend that it's a progressive let alone feminist one.

Why do I bring this up now? Because a story about a story about political wifedom brings up monogamish in relation to Anthony Wiener's wife standing by him. The young people are, it seems, down with this.

Beauty, geekery

-Autumn Whitefield-Madrano of "The Beheld" is writing a book! Can't wait to read it.

-Garance Doré, the Simone de Beauvoir to the Sartorialist's Sartre, addresses the perennial fashion-and-breasts question. While she mostly doesn't say anything we all didn't already know - high fashion, not too keen on curves - she does helpfully remind that not every well-endowed woman wants to dress in midcentury outfits. Which really is too often the suggestion - the whole "Mad Men" thing. Celebrate your physique with a girdle and out-of-date office clothing! And it's like, thanks but no thanks.

-The Guardian suggests running is the ideal sport for geeks. It wouldn't have occurred to me that jogging around Einstein's old haunts while listening to news-and-opinion podcasts would be geeky, but what do you know. Thanks to that article, I finally downloaded one of those pedometer apps. No geekiness here, though. Rest assured. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Of all unpaid internships, the ones that tend to jump out in their ridiculousness are those that involve traditional youth labor, but without pay. Unpaid internships in trendy mall-store retail and, apparently, at New Brooklyn pizzerias (with $10 individual-pie-the-size-of-a-normal-slice Manhattan food-cart outposts)... and NYMag has a piece defending this. On account of, there's a French name for working for free at a restaurant - "stage," note the italics. It's a thing that predates Bushwick hotspot Roberta's foray into not paying farm workers, because Roberta's is farm-to-fork, you see. Food's just so much more ethical that way!

On the one hand, one might say, at least in such cases, this doesn't involve kids from poorer families being excluded from high-prestige, high-mobility professions. If more rich kids enter such lucrative fields as chain-store salesperson or pizza-place urban farmer, that might leave some slots at the top for kids whose parents are non-glorified retail or food-service workers. And in principle, these are fields that don't require college, and so whichever apprenticeship period might be in lieu of tuition.

On the other, it seems especially off when jobs that normally go to people looking above all for a paycheck - not some long-range career benefit, the forging of connections - switch to unpaid. And realistically, these positions are not going to be taken in the place of college, but in addition to it. Who else but those in, bound for, or graduated from college is even thinking about "internships"? And it's not as if all such labor is going this route. These positions seem mostly restricted to organizations with a certain highbrow allure - Anthropologie, not Old Navy, and Roberta's, not the local utilitarian slice joint. The extreme of this, I suppose, would be internships at restaurants in France that you have to pay to do, and the job requires constantly demonstrating how grateful you are for the opportunity. (Some kind of immersion tourism for those who want to be sneered at by French restaurant workers more than tourists normally are?) But still, Anthropologie isn't Chanel, and Roberta's isn't Per Se. It's clear enough that lines are getting blurred, and that employers are learning the lesson that one doesn't even need to pretend that one pays one's workers.

How the sausage gets made

If you knew where your food came from - any of it... and why limit this to food? If you knew where anything you consumed came from, goods and services alike, the reality would not match up with the shiny packaging. That performance you get in class from an energetic instructor? It comes from your instructor lesson-planning in worn-out pajamas. That's just a fact of work, with the possible exception of whatever it is that goes on at Google. There's almost always going to be a back room (physical or otherwise) where the work actually gets done, and then the area only visible to the consumer. Thus that hallmark of innocuous unprofessionalism: the worker who assumes the consumer knows-and-cares what goes on in the back room, and who starts telling you how the central office/his supervisor requires this or that, when it has nothing to do with your situation.

This divide, in other words, is present no matter how ethically an organization is run, and no matter how noble the project itself may be. Which presents a problem when we're looking to hone on why certain endeavors might be inherently bad, or badly-run. This has kind of come up here before, when I've written about something I call squeamishness veganism. Discomfort with animal slaughter might be any number of things: 1) your conscience telling you it's wrong to kill animals, 2) your conscience telling you these particular animals are living-and-dying all wrong, or 3) you're someone whose bucolic fantasies about how any food is produced, including locally-farmed vegetables, would leave you incapable of anything that got to your plate other than via a Harvard-trained lawyer-turned-forager if you had to confront the realities. Which is why I tend to think the policing of where our food comes from should be not so much an individual-consumer concern as that of experts who can tell us how our sausage is being made, by sausage-making standards.

Which brings me to Jedediah Purdy's op-ed suggesting cameras be installed in slaughterhouses. And... it's like the GMO debate all over again. In the one corner, there are corporations being obnoxious and corporate. It's really not terrorism to report on what goes on inside a slaughterhouse. There are free-speech concerns, and it sounds like the meat industry's way off. But the industry apparently also makes the same point I did re: the gruesomeness of surgery. A strong case, and one Purdy doesn't address. The idea that simple footage - no wide-angle-lens shots of calves looking especially like Labradors (which they kind of do, and I'm totally guilty of squeamishness red-meat-avoidance, particularly after meeting some squee-inducing baby cows that live nearby), to the sound of sad music - would be unbiased doesn't make intuitive sense. If we saw video of what really happens at any workplace, we'd stop buying. Thus why reading Au Bonheur des Dames will make you not want to shop, why working at a coffee shop will (temporarily) ruin getting coffee out, etc., etc.

Perhaps it is wrong to raise and kill animals for food, and there are no doubt ways of doing so that would seem wrong even to a committed carnivore with decades of experience in the meat industry. But the video approach is basically starting from the assumption that slaughterhouses are wrong under the best of circumstances. If we see the sausage while it's still a creature not radically different from our pets, we'll stick with oatmeal, thanks. Until they start taping how that gets made.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Monday-night lifestyle section

-Beauty writing tends to fall into one of two categories: ethereal, fantasy-land discussions of which pricey creams which women with already-perfect skin use to make their pores ever-more-invisible; and critical, generally feminist analysis of the beauty industry, body-image issues, and so forth. And I've been known to read and enjoy both. But what gets lost is the reality of beautification rituals, which tend to be, well, gross. Refinery29 brings a dose of honesty with its post on "Gross Beauty Problems." Granted, one might call these health problems, albeit minor ones, but a small quibble. I like the idea.

-Hadley Freeman, one of my favorites, one of my favorites, tragically got The Cellulite Question wrong. She advises this whole body-scrubbing routine that she claims eliminates cellulite (and that the cynic in me thinks sounds like an advertisement, what with both magical products coming from the same company), and only then arrives at the only logical conclusion: nobody cares, so don't worry about it. The problem with the whole cellulite thing is, the beauty industry (guess which kind of beauty-writing I do!) wants us to think it's 1) a problem, and 2) unusual. To which I'd have to say, go to some kind of athletic event (by which I mean the everyday kind, nothing where the athletes are all secretly taking who-knows-what), and look - in a not-lascivious way - at the upper thighs of the women. Thin, athletic women - not all, but oh, I will hazard a guess, most - have cellulite. "Cellulite" is not even a thing, but a gratuitous pseudo-medicalization of what might otherwise be deemed "the upper thighs of most post-pubescent female humans."

-Remember when Mark Bittman toured Spain with Gwyneth Paltrow? There's now a post on Bittman's blog, but not by Bittman, calling Paltrow's latest contribution to our culture, a now-notorious cookbook that tells you to eat flakes of gold rather than corn or whatever, snooty and dangerous. No reference to the Bittman-Paltrow connection, nor to the fact that Gwyneth's seemingly random dismissal of whole food groups is something Bittman himself has endorsed. The post, a response to responses to the cookbook, although (perhaps ?) not to the cookbook itself, makes the point that Paltrow is out-of-touch with the common (wo)man and not a nutritionist. Duly noted.

-In New York today, I managed to swing by the Union Square Greenmarket, and lo and behold, spring vegetables have arrived! Green garlic! Arugula! Meanwhile, here in farm country, the markets don't start up until May. Many of the farms themselves, however, are more or less in this area. Which would be the cause of all kinds of grievances, if I hadn't gone and bought all the green garlic.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Intermarriage Studies

Sometimes an author's name's familiar, but you don't know why. If you have a touch of the graphomania, you can search your own since-2004 bloggings, and you're likely to dig up something. So it went with Naomi Schaefer Riley. Anyway, here she is! She's the writer who was fired from the Chronicle of Higher Education after she declared the field of Black Studies preposterous on account of the dissertations it produces... dissertations she hadn't read, and that sounded unremarkable, certainly no worse than dissertations in other fields.

Anyway, if the retort to her last intervention into the national conversation was that her own husband is black, she's now able to use the very same husband in (preemptive?) response to criticism of her latest project: a dire warning about intermarriage in America. But it's OK, because she herself is intermarried. (Anyone who thinks marrying out means overall positive attitudes towards intermarriage, let alone towards the group into which one has married, might want to check out Drieu la Rochelle's 1939 novel Gilles. An admittedly extreme example.) Whatever the case, the important fact here is that we can safely assume Riley would approve of my dissertation topic. (French Studies with a hint of Jewish Studies.)

While I haven't yet been able to track down her book, I did read her op-ed in the NYT, presenting her findings. Which leaves me with a bunch of questions to have at the ready for the book itself:

1) Why should "secular Americans" be upset that interfaith marriages "tend to diminish the strength of religious communities, as the devout are pulled away from bonds of tradition and orthodoxy by their nonmember spouses"? I guess one could argue (does Riley?) that even the secular might be upset by the no doubt disproportionate impact this has on religious minorities, but even so. If you aren't generically pro-religion, the waning of religiosity might seem a good thing.

2) "Religious leaders I interviewed — and not only Jewish ones — were broadly worried about interfaith marriage." Is this sentence merely a reaction to the information right above it re: the higher divorce rate Riley found among intermarried Jews (but not Catholics... but what about Jews married to Catholics?)? Or is it about the common assumption that Jews are the group most angst-ridden about out-marriage?

3) Is there even a meaningful category called "interfaith marriage"? Meaning: does the marriage of a Catholic and a Protestant (both of whom could be of English ancestry, or German, etc.) much relate to marriages that also cross ethnic or socioeconomic lines - marriages in which "religion" is less about piety and more a proxy for other such factors?

4) Why are we so concerned about what happens when children are born to "people who married between ages 36 and 45"? "Those who marry in their 30s and 40s, especially educated professionals, are often at the most secular points in their lives. These couples tended to underestimate how faith can grow in importance as they got older and had children." How much older are 45-year-old women going to get before having children?

5) If the older a couple is when they marry, the more likely they are to be interfaith, and if interfaith couples are more likely to divorce, that is interesting, given that we're always hearing that if you want your marriage to last, you should wait until the five remaining minutes of your fertility to say "I do." Is it that once you get to an older cohort, there are more people who had first tried and failed to marry in, and they (or their families-of-origin) see these marriages as somehow less-than?

6) Why this project, why now? People - OK, Jews - have been issuing the very same warnings about intermarriage since intermarriage first became legal/plausible.