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Archive for July, 2006

I’m going to go off on a food rant for a second here.

 

Store’s effort to sell fresh chicken raises concerns

 

The story above interests me.  The people concerned about the possible slaughter of poultry in their neighborhood grocery store don’t identify themselves as vegetarians, animal lovers, or even crazy PETA activists.  They aren’t concerned that the method of killing the chickens is cruel (which it isn’t).  They simply seem to have a problem knowing where their poultry comes from.  I’ve run up against this dilemma quite a lot lately.  People want to eat, but they also want to know as little as possible about the food they’re consuming.  We have become so far removed from our food sources that it’s worrying to me in a large-scale Malthusian way.  If we were to lose all means of current food production tomorrow, how many of us would be able to sustain ourselves?  How many of us know which wild berries or mushrooms are edible?  Or how to grow a vegetable garden?  Or how to clean a fish?  Or how to slaughter a lamb for meat?  Or milk a cow?  Or simply even COOK?

 

I was reading a book by Anthony Bourdain a few weeks ago, called A Cooks Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.  In one of the chapters, Bourdain recounts visiting a friend’s family farm in Portugal and participating in the slaughter of a pig for a big feast later that week.  Even though he is a chef and deals with food every day, in its many states – cooked and raw and all stages in between – Bourdain is at first repulsed by the entire ordeal.  He describes in ragged detail the struggle of the immense beast for its own life before it finally succumbs to the knife that has been plunged into its belly and drawn across its neck to bleed it dry.  Bourdain nearly loses his composure entirely as he assists the butchers in cleaning the pig and removing its entrails.  But it’s at that point he comes to a realization: this pig was a fine pig and struggled mightily – and for that Bourdain feels terrible – but the pig will also serve an entire village for a fortnight and more.  Every part of that pig is used up, even the bladder, which is inflated and tied off to form a crude football for the children.  The feet are pickled, the brains are served scrambled with eggs, the head is made into lovely cheese, the entrails are transformed into delicious dishes and the flesh is processed and dried to serve as food for many months to come.  This pig did not die in vain.  The butchers are not cruel people.  We have simply become too far removed from our food – in our puritanical minds, we view a pig and a piece of pork as two entirely separate and distinct objects.  Why?

So, back to the business of Thomas Malthus and progress traps.  Let’s talk about agriculture (and farming and ranching) to that end.  Agriculture is a runaway train and a fundamental progress trap, leading directly to a vastly expanded population but seldom solving the issue of famines or hunger.  This is due to two inevitable consequences:  a population will grow until it reaches the limits of its food supply (Malthusian progress in action) and civilizations all become hierarchical at some point or another, meaning that the upward concentration of wealth (and food) ensures that there will never be enough for everyone in that society.  We can already see these patterns eagerly at work in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Just take a look at the simple numbers of it all: the estimated world population at the height of the Roman Empire was 200 million.  The whole world.  Today, the estimated world population is 6 billion (up from 2 billion in 1925).  To compare, it took thirteen centuries – 1300 years – to add another 200 million to the worlds population.  Today, were adding 200 million people to this earth every three years.

 

Which leads me back to my first question: when global civilization and its people reach the natural limits of the earth and ultimately come crashing and grinding to a halt – not if, but when – how many people are going to be able to feed and support themselves and their family?  Can anyone even remember as recently as the Great Depression when Americans got the first taste of their foundations being shaken to the core, unable to feed themselves, finding that their carefully constructed lives were nothing more than houses of straw?  Or the dark centuries that fell over most of Europe and the Middle East after the fall of the Roman Empire?  Or the great civilizations of the Mayans or even Easter Island?

And, at the end of the day, should the slaughter of poultry for food be our greatest concern?  Really?

Getting down off my soapbox for a minute, all I’m really trying to say is that weve got far greater things to concern ourselves with.  Maybe getting back in touch with the things that ultimately sustain us – food being one of them.  So, when was the last time you cooked?

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Hallelujah

I’ve come to the decision that there isn’t enough Leonard Cohen out in the world, with the exception of Hallelujah.  It’s a marvelous song, and who doens’t love Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright, but there needs to be more Leonard Cohen out there for people to appreciate.  The man is a genius, people.  So…here:

First, the correct words to Hallelujah (not the song lyrics):

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord,
but you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
the minor fall, the major lift;
the baffled king composing Hallelujah!

Your faith was strong but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof;
her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair
she broke your throne, she cut your hair,
and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah!

You say I took the Name in vain;
I don’t even know the name.
But if I did, well, really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word;
It doesn’t matter which you heard;
the holy, or the broken Hallelujah!

I did my best; it wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

And now, four other Cohen poems:

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips,
it is because I hear a man climb stairs and clear his throat outside the door.

–Poem (I heard of a man…)

 

Ah, the silver knives are flashing in the tired old cafe
A ghost climbs on the table in a bridal negligee
She says, “My body is the light, my body is the way”
I raise my arm against it all and I catch the bride’s bouquet

Too early for the rainbow, too early for the dove
These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood
And there is no man or woman who can’t be touched
But you who come between them will be judged

–The Gypsy’s Wife

 

O come with me my little one, we will find that farm
and grow us grass and apples there and keep all the animals warm.
And if by chance I wake at night and I ask you who I am,
O take me to the slaughterhouse, I will wait there with the lamb.

With one hand on the hexagram and one hand on the girl
I balance on a wishing well that all men call the world.
We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky,
and lost among the subway crowds I try to catch your eye.

–Stories of the Street

 

Here is your crown
And your seal and rings;
And here is your love
For all things.

And here is the night,
The night has begun;
And here is your death
In the heart of your son.

And here you are hunted,
And here you are gone;
And here is the love,
That its all built upon.

Here is your cross,
Your nails and your hill;
And here is your love,
That lists where it will

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, goodbye.

–Here It Is

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Hola, mis amigos…

A short post from Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico…

I am sitting at an open air bar (which happens to have a computer with internet access), under a palapas, watching the Germany-Italy match, with two pina coladas sitting in front of me and, having just finished snorkeling in the reefs off Cozumel all afternoon, am in heaven.  The ferry ride from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel is not the most pleasant means of transportation if you are prone to seasickness, so the only unenjoyable part of the day is that I had the pleasure of vomiting into the beautiful turquoise waters during our trip.  It was a small price to pay.

We’re leaving in the morning, quite early.  We have to catch the ferry back to Cozumel at 6 am.  I promise to write more when I get back and possibly include pictures.  We’ll see how tired I am and how utterly depressed I’ll be to be back in Houston.

Hasta luego…

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