Saturday, September 23, 2017

Life on the Road, and in a Walmart Parking Lot

As I write this, they are scattered across the country–

In Drayton, North Dakota, a former San Francisco cabdriver, 67, labors at the annual sugar beet harvest. He works from sunrise until after sunset in temperatures that dip below freezing, helping trucks that roll in from the fields disgorge multi-ton loads of beets. At night he sleeps in the van that has been his home ever since Uber squeezed him out of the taxi industry and making the rent became impossible.

In Campbellsville, Kentucky, a 66-year-old ex-general contractor stows merchandise during the overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse, pushing a wheeled cart for miles along the concrete floor. It’s mind-numbing work and she struggles to scan each item accurately, hoping to avoid getting fired. In the morning she returns to her tiny trailer, moored at one of several mobile home parks that contract with Amazon to put up nomadic workers like her.

In New Bern, North Carolina, a woman whose home is a teardrop-style trailer—so small it can be pulled with a motorcycle—is couch surfing with a friend while hunting for work. Even with a master’s degree, the 38-year-old Nebraska native can’t find a job despite filling out hundreds of applications in the past month alone. She knows the sugar beet harvest is hiring, but traveling halfway across the country would require more cash than she has. Losing her job at a non-profit several years ago is one of the reasons she moved into the trailer in the first place. After the funding for her position ran out, she couldn’t afford rent on top of paying off student loans.

In San Marcos, California, a thirtysomething couple in a 1975 GMC motorhome is running a roadside pumpkin stand with a children’s carnival and petting zoo, which they had five days to set up from scratch on a vacant dirt lot. In a few weeks they’ll switch to selling Christmas trees.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, a 72-year-old van-dweller who cracked three ribs doing a campground maintenance job is recuperating while visiting with family.

There have always been itinerants, drifters, hobos, restless souls. But now, in the second millennium, a new kind of wandering tribe is emerging. People who never imagined being nomads are hitting the road. They’re giving up traditional houses and apartments to live in what some call “wheel estate”—vans, secondhand RVs, school buses, pickup campers, travel trailers, and plain old sedans. They are driving away from the impossible choices that face what used to be the middle class. Decisions like:

Would you rather have food or dental work? Pay your mortgage or your electric bill? Make a car payment or buy medicine? Cover rent or student loans? Purchase warm clothes or gas for your commute?

For many the answer seemed radical at first.

You can’t give yourself a raise, but what about cutting your biggest expense? Trading a stick–and–brick domicile for life on wheels?

Some call them “homeless.” The new nomads reject that label. Equipped with both shelter and transportation, they’ve adopted a different word. They refer to themselves, quite simply, as “houseless.”

From a distance, many of them could be mistaken for carefree retired RVers. On occasions when they treat themselves to a movie or dinner at a restaurant, they blend with the crowd. In mind-set and appearance, they are largely middle class. They wash their clothes at Laundromats and join fitness clubs to use the showers. Many took to the road after their savings were obliterated by the Great Recession. To keep their gas tanks and bellies full, they work long hours at hard, physical jobs. In a time of flat wages and rising housing costs, they have unshackled themselves from rent and mortgages as a way to get by. They are surviving America.

But for them—as for anyone—survival isn’t enough. So what began as a last-ditch effort has become a battle cry for something greater. Being human means yearning for more than subsistence. As much as food or shelter, we require hope.

And there is hope on the road. It’s a by-product of forward momentum. A sense of opportunity, as wide as the country itself. A bone-deep conviction that something better will come. It’s just ahead, in the next town, the next gig, the next chance encounter with a stranger.

As it happens, some of those strangers are nomads, too. When they meet—online, or at a job, or camping way off the grid—tribes begin to form. There’s a common understanding, a kinship. When someone’s van breaks down, they pass the hat. There’s a contagious feeling: Something big is happening. The country is changing rapidly, the old structures crumbling away, and they’re at the epicenter of something new. Around a shared campfire, in the middle of the night, it can feel like a glimpse of utopia.

As I write, it is autumn. Soon winter will come. Routine layoffs will start at the seasonal jobs. The nomads will pack up camp and return to their real home—the road—moving like blood cells through the veins of the country. They’ll set out in search of friends and family, or just a place that’s warm. Some will journey clear across the continent. All will count the miles, which unspool like a filmstrip of America. Fast-food joints and shopping malls. Fields dormant under frost. Auto dealerships, megachurches, and all-night diners. Feature-less plains. Feedlots, dead factories, subdivisions, and big-box stores. Snowcapped peaks. The roadside reels past, through the day and into darkness, until fatigue sets in. Bleary-eyed, they find places to pull off the road and rest. In Walmart parking lots. On quiet suburban streets. At truck stops, amid the lullaby of idling engines. Then in the early morning hours—before anyone notices—they’re back on the highway. Driving on, they’re secure in this knowledge:

The last free place in America is a parking spot.

by Jessica Bruder, LitHub | Read more:
Image: SwankieWheels

The Coming War on Business

The only time I saw Sam Francis face-to-face — in the Washington Times cafeteria sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s — I thought he was a crank, but it’s clear now that he was at that moment becoming one of the most prescient writers of the past 50 years. There’s very little Donald Trump has done or said that Francis didn’t champion a quarter century ago.

In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights. The first was that globalization was screwing Middle America. The Cold War had just ended, capitalism seemed triumphant and the Clinton years seemed to be an era of broad prosperity. But Francis stressed that the service economy was ruining small farms and taking jobs from the working class.

His second insight was that the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening. He railed against the pro-business “Economic Men” who thought G.D.P. growth could solve the nation’s problems, and the Washington Republicans, who he thought were infected with the values of the educated elites.

In 1991, when his political mentor, Pat Buchanan, was contemplating a presidential bid, Francis told him to break with the conservative movement. “These people are defunct,” Francis told Buchanan. “Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an America Firster, but don’t even use the word ‘conservative.’ It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

His third insight was that politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America.

“Middle American groups are more and more coming to perceive their exploitation at the hands of the dominant elites. The exploitation works on several fronts — economically, by hypertaxation and the design of a globalized economy dependent on exports and services in place of manufacturing; culturally, by the managed destruction of Middle American norms and institutions; and politically, by the regimentation of Middle Americans under the federal leviathan.”

Middle American voters, he wrote, were stuck without a party, appalled by pro-corporate Republican economic policies on the one hand and liberal cultural radicalism on the other. They swung to whichever party seemed most likely to resist the ruling class, but neither party really provided a solution. “A nationalist reaction is almost inevitable and will probably assume populist form when it arrives. The sooner it comes the better.”

The Buchanan campaign was the first run at what we now know as Trumpian populism. In a profile of Francis called “The Castaway,” Michael Brendan Dougherty smartly observed that Buchanan and Francis weren’t just against government, they were against the entire cultural hegemony of the ruling class. [ed. Maybe. But Buchanan was first and foremost - like Trump - mostly interested in promoting himself.]

Francis wrote a wickedly brilliant 1996 essay on Buchanan, “From Household to Nation”: “The ‘culture war’ for Buchanan is not Republican swaggering about family values and dirty movies but a battle over whether the nation itself can continue to exist under the onslaught of the militant secularism, acquisitive egoism, economic and political globalism, demographic inundation, and unchecked state centralism supported by the gruling class.”

Francis urged Buchanan to run an unorthodox campaign (of the sort Trump ended up running), and was ignored. “If Buchanan loses the nomination, it will be because his time has not yet come,” Francis wrote. The moment would end up coming in 2016, 11 years after Francis’ death.

by David Brooks, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Peter Cosgrove/Associated Press

Congress Votes to Increase Military Spending by $81 Billion

Where did all the concern over deficits go? After two years of the media lamenting, worrying and feigning outrage over the cost of Bernie Sanders’ two big-budget items—free college and single-payer healthcare—the same outlets are uniformly silent, days after the largest military budget increase in history.

Monday, the Senate voted to increase military spending by a whopping $81 billion, from $619 billion to $700 billion—an increase of over 13 percent. (The House passed its own $696 billion Pentagon budget in July—Politico, 7/14/17.) The reaction thus far to this unprecedented handout to military contractors and weapons makers has been one big yawn.

No write-ups worrying about the cost increase in the Washington Post or Vox or NPR. No op-eds expressing concern for “deficits” in the New York Times, Boston Globe or US News. No news segments on Fox News or CNN on the “unaffordable” increase in government spending. All the outlets that spent considerable column inches and airtime stressing over Sanders’ social programs are suddenly indifferent to “how we will afford” this latest military giveaway. The US government votes 89–9 to add $81 billion extra to the balance sheet—the equivalent of the government creating three new Justice Departments, four more NASAs, seven Treasury Departments, ten EPAs or 546 National Endowments for the the Arts—and there’s zero discussion as to “how we will pay for it.”

As FAIR has noted for decades (e.g., 2/23/11, 5/8/16), the media’s deficit discourse has always been a PR scam. A rhetorical bludgeon used to cry poverty any time a left-wing politician wants to help the poor or people of color that somehow is never an issue when it comes to pumping out F-22s and E3 AWACS, which evidently pay for themselves with magic.

The increase alone in military spending—over a budget that was already bigger than the next eight countries combined—is greater than the total amount spent annually on state university tuition by every student in the United States: $81 billion vs. $70 billion. This is to say that if the budget for the US military had just stayed the same for 2018, the US could have paid the tuition for every public college student this year, with $11 billion left over for board and books.

by Adam Johnson, FAIR |  Read more:
Image: US Air Force/Madelyn Brown

Friday, September 22, 2017

Sarah Palin Promises Alabamans That a Vote for Roy Moore Is a Vote for Trumpism

Early Thursday evening, after a cartoonish debate between Roy Moore and Luther Strange, the Alabama politicians who are competing for Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat, around five hundred people were gathered outside the train depot in Montgomery to rally in support of Moore. Heading into the event, Moore, a former Alabama State Supreme Court chief justice who twice was removed from office, was leading the incumbent, Luther Strange, by at least eight points in the polls. With the notable exception of President Trump, who endorsed Strange, the Republican Party’s anti-establishment wing has rallied behind Moore. Sebastian Gorka, the former Trump adviser, would be stumping at the depot on Moore’s behalf, as would Sarah Palin. At least one flyer touted the evening as a “Sarah Palin Rally with Judge Roy Moore.” An Asian woman, one of perhaps a dozen minorities in attendance, held a sign aloft that read “Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, I Love You But You Are Wrong!"

Debbie Dooley, a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, drove a hundred and fifty miles from Atlanta to attend the rally. As members of the Bikers for Trump group flexed their muscles for TV cameras, young children waved American flags, and churchgoers clutched copies of Palin’s books, hoping to get them autographed, Dooley worked the crowd urgently. By 7 p.m. it was still nearly ninety degrees outside, but Dooley—e-mailing, texting, and talking in equal measure—was unfazed. She had come to explain the importance of next Tuesday’s G.O.P. runoff, and of voting for Moore, to anyone still sitting on the fence.

At one point, Dooley approached three women who stood at the edge of the crowd in a tight semicircle. They looked to be in their sixties, a bit older than Dooley. Two were sisters, split in their support.

“I drove three hours one way to get here,” Dooley told the women, who hadn’t asked.

“Why?” one sister asked.

“This is the most important Senate election we’ve had in a long time,” Dooley replied. “I went to the University of Alabama. So, roll, Trump, roll.”

Dooley went on, “Let me tell you why. Am I upset about Trump? Oh, heck yes, I am. But I’ve been in politics for over forty years, O.K.? The last thing you want is for this to be a contest between those that like Trump and those that don’t like Trump.” She pointed at her phone. “So I even made a thing on Facebook that shows that Trump’s base supports Judge Moore.”

“I don’t support Moore,” the first sister said.

“I do,” Dooley said. “Who do you support?”

“Strange,” the sister replied.

“Neither one of them are fit to serve, in my opinion,” the second sister said.

“He’s not gonna win,” Dooley said, referring to Strange. “Judge Moore is going to win.” The sisters and their silent friend were eyeing Dooley more intently now.

“Look at all this,” Dooley said, again pointing to the screen of her phone, where she’d pulled up what appeared to be a news story. “ ‘Luther Strange set up a sweetheart deal.’ Look at all this corruption. I call him Lying Luther.”

“Do you know about Moore’s?” one sister said. “I know about Moore’s. Years, years, years of corruption. I don’t trust him.”

“I think Donald Trump has been given bad advice,” Dooley said. “I think that Mitch McConnell—look at the way he’s kind of slowly moving the President away from the Trump doctrine. I think the President has got advisers around him that are doing bad. Roy Moore winning can do more to advance the Trump doctrine. We will have sent the message that this is a referendum on Mitch McConnell’s leadership.” She went on, “I hear that if Roy is elected, the establishment will be so afraid, you’ll have some senators step down and decide not to run.”

“Do you support building the wall?” one sister asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Dooley replied.

“Well, Moore doesn’t.”

“That’s a lie,” Dooley said.

“Well, I heard him say it.”

“You heard part of it,” Dooley countered. “You did not hear all of it.” She then pivoted: “Luther refuses to go on record against daca. I actually saw the video.”

This went on for another ten minutes. Then Dooley saw a Biker for Trump she knew and wandered off.

“Who was she, again?” one of the women asked once Dooley was out of earshot.

The biker was named Bill Taylor. He had a braided beard and a tattoo on his left arm that said “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” He was friendly. “Moore and Trump are more or less the same,” Taylor said. “Trump jumped the gun. He just went for the incumbent. We’re sending a hundred, hundred and fifty bikes to Trump’s rally for Strange in Huntsville tomorrow.” He added, “For the President, not for Strange.”

“I can promise you,” Dooley chimed in, “that Luther will say you endorsed him.”

“It’s been a big rift in the organization,” Taylor went on. “This week, especially. Because everybody backs Moore, but it’s ‘Bikers for Trump.’ So we have to go up there to Huntsville for the President.”

After a group rendition of “Proud to be an American,” as well as the national anthem and a prayer for Moore rebuking Strange for “hiding behind the skirts of others,” a local radio personality took the stage. He noted that Trump had been “ill advised” in his endorsement of Strange. The d.j. for the event also seemed to have been misled: at seven-thirty, John Lennon’s “Imagine” came on the speakers. Only half of it played, right up to “no religion, too.” (The d.j. later said, “It was just a test song I picked. It was on my phone.”)

Soon, another local speaker was excoriating the Senate Majority Leader. “Mitch McConnell,” he said, “you can spend five million, ten million, or fifteen million, but you can’t make chicken salad out of chickenshit!” Siran Stacy, a former running back for the University of Alabama, took the podium next and addressed Trump. “You can come down here,” he said. We’ll slaughter a hog and give you some sausage. But don’t tell us how to run our house.”

After being introduced as a “rock star who helped write Trump’s U.N. speech,” Gorka finally emerged from Moore’s bus. “Washington watched the debate, and they’re worried,” he said. “Tuesday must be a sign to the swamp dwellers in D.C.” He went on, “Tuesday is November 8th all over again: the voters can choose corruption or choose America.” With that, Palin, introduced as “the original mama grizzly,” appeared. She told the crowd that Moore “was deplorable before deplorable was cool.” She employed a number of football metaphors—“trick plays may razzle-dazzle,” she said, in apparent criticism of McConnell, “but defense wins championships.” A man in the crowd told a friend, “She’s speaking our language.”

by Charles Bethea, New Yorker | Read more:
Image:Tami Chappell / Reuters
[ed. Incomprehensible (on many levels). I can't figure out what the hell these people are voting for, and it doesn't sound like they know either. But rest assured, if there's an event where Sarah Palin can command a stage (and even better, a nice payoff), she'll be there.] 

Stephen Stills

Both of Us, Bound to Lose
[ed. See also: Pensamiento]

Report: Nothing Stopping You From Deleting Your Facebook Account Right Now

WASHINGTON—Saying the entire process would take you less than a minute, sources reported Friday that there is absolutely nothing at all stopping you from deleting your Facebook account right now. “There’s no reason in the world you can’t go to your Facebook account this very second and erase it completely from the internet,” sources reported, adding that no one is standing in your way and you’ll be happy to move on with your life and never, ever look back. “No one’s permission at all is required for you to visit, click the “Delete My Account” button, and verify your password, at which point you will be free from the social media platform for the rest of your life. You can do it. You should do it. Do it right now.” At press time, sources told reporters they were unsurprised you were too fucking weak to pull the trigger.

by The Onion |  Read more:
Image: Facebook

Change Becomes You

Six years have passed since I discovered that my son was using drugs,’ wrote Vincenzina Urzia in Anthony and Me (2014), a memoir of her son’s drug addiction. ‘I was really sad all the time and devastated, not to mention how worried I was about his wellbeing. My son was not the same person anymore.’

This is a puzzling idea, for someone to become ‘not the same person any more’. The phrase smacks of philosophy – perhaps even obscurity. Yet it is simultaneously apt, capturing the emotive sense of no longer recognising someone whom we once knew. Many have witnessed someone they loved change so profoundly that the person remaining seems an entirely different one.

Drug dependence powerfully exemplifies this phenomenon of not being the same person: a mother sees addiction transform her son into a shadow of his former self. Other examples can evoke the same feeling. A ruinous relationship or divorce leaves a friend so changed that he seems like a totally different person. So too can Alzheimer’s disease – which affects up to half of elderly Americans. A parent or relative develops severe Alzheimer’s, and it seems as if the person once known has disappeared. Across a range of experiences, profound changes can make well-known friends or family become entirely different people.

These examples suggest that change fundamentally challenges our sense of self. Yet, many other large changes don’t disrupt our identities. In fact, some profound changes actually seem to make us become really or truly ourselves. Consider finding one’s true self through romantic love; discovering a hidden life passion; committing to radically improving one’s health; or experiencing a religious or spiritual conversion. The same effect might arise from harder experiences, such as surviving a period of wartime or incarceration. All of these result in tremendous transformations, but they don’t threaten identity. Instead, these changes seem to unearth our core selves, making us become who we really are. This allows for a seemingly paradoxical statement: paradigm cases of continuing to be the same person involve becoming radically different. (...)

Our apparent purposes are broader than those given by nature or even culture. While the singular purpose of an acorn is to grow into an oak, humans are creatures of multifaceted and diverse potentiality. This implies an exciting – but dangerous – aspect of the purposeful self. Often, who we seem to be now becomes more lucid over time. To illuminate this feature, consider examples of great achievements. Imagine that a young child grows into a great artist. In such a case, we reflect back to years earlier and see the seeds of artistry in the younger person. This judgment might be an error or bias; maybe it is not truly their purpose. But it is undoubtedly a common story we tell.

And whether this story is right or wrong, it seeps into our morality. The philosopher Bernard Williams introduced a fictional thought experiment about ‘Paul Gauguin’ inspired by the life of the real artist. In the thought experiment, young Gauguin decides to leave his family to pursue his artistic ambitions. As Williams astutely noted, whether young Gauguin’s choice is blameworthy or praiseworthy seems to depend on how things turn out. Philosophers call this phenomenon ‘moral luck’. If old Gauguin fails as an artist, young Gauguin seems blameworthy, but if old Gauguin succeeds, we say, as Williams puts it in Moral Luck (1981): ‘a little grudgingly perhaps: “Well, all right then – well done.”’ A different way to understand the story is in terms of young Gauguin’s apparent true self and purposes. Upon seeing old Gauguin the successful artist, we attribute seeds of artistic potential in young Gauguin; pursuing his true calling seems more excusable. In the hypothetical world in which old Gauguin fails, we worry that the young man who left his family – years earlier – departed from his moral and familial purposes (as we now perceive that he did not really have an artistic one).

This interpretation of the self as purpose-driven also makes sense of a recent experimental-philosophy discovery: we have a tendency to see improvements as more identity-preserving than deteriorations. People judge changes for the better as more consistent with identity than changes for the worse. The hypothesis of the purposeful interpretation is that the change for the better informs our impression of the earlier person. When we see someone improve, we attribute this goodness to the potentiality of their earlier self. Upon seeing the growth of a magnificent oak, we are more confident about what the acorn was really meant to be. And upon seeing a person’s positive powerful improvement, we are more confident about that part of the person’s true self, at the time before the improvement. However, upon seeing a person’s deterioration, we worry that they have departed from their true callings.

by Kevin Tobia, Aeon |  Read more:
Image: Paul Gauguin Self Portrait with Halo and Snake (1889).

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Eh! U Da Kine, Ah?

[ed. Local Hawaiian food show (his daughter cracks me up). If you're wondering what U da kine means, this kind of explains it... kine of (the last two paragraphs, anyway).]

Athit Perawongmetha, Crocodiles eat chicken heads at Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chonburi province, Thailand. 2017.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Slackers

A Plea for Culinary Modernism

Modern, fast, processed food is a disaster. That, at least, is the message conveyed by newspapers and magazines, on television cooking programs, and in prizewinning cookbooks.

It is a mark of sophistication to bemoan the steel roller mill and supermarket bread while yearning for stone­ ground flour and brick ovens; to seek out heirloom apples and pumpkins while despising modern tomatoes and hybrid corn; to be hostile to agronomists who develop high-yielding modern crops and to home economists who invent new recipes for General Mills.

We hover between ridicule and shame when we remember how our mothers and grand­mothers enthusiastically embraced canned and frozen foods. We nod in agreement when the waiter proclaims that the restaurant showcases the freshest local produce. We shun Wonder Bread and Coca-Cola. Above all, we loathe the great culminating symbol of Culinary Modernism, McDonald’s — modern, fast, homogenous, and international.

Like so many of my generation, my culinary style was created by those who scorned industrialized food; Culinary Luddites, we may call them, after the English hand workers of the nineteenth century who abhorred the machines that were destroying their traditional way of life. I learned to cook from the books of Elizabeth David, who urged us to sweep our store cupboards “clean for ever of the cluttering debris of commercial sauce bottles and all synthetic flavorings.”

I progressed to the Time-Life Good Cook series and to Simple French Cooking, in which Richard Olney hoped against hope that “the reins of stubborn habit are strong enough to frustrate the famous industrial revolution for some time to come.” I turned to Paula Wolfert to learn more about Mediterranean cooking and was assured that I wouldn’t “find a dishonest dish in this book . . . The food here is real food . . . the real food of real people.” Today I rush to the newsstand to pick up Saveur with its promise to teach me to “Savor a world of authentic cuisine.”

Culinary Luddism involves more than just taste. Since the days of the counterculture, it has also presented itself as a moral and political crusade. Now in Boston, the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust works to provide “a scientific basis for the preservation and revitalization of traditional diets.

Meanwhile Slow Food, founded in 1989 to protest the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome, is a self­-described Greenpeace for Food; its manifesto begins, “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods . . . Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.” As one of its spokesmen was reported as saying in the New York Times, “Our real enemy is the obtuse consumer.”

At this point I begin to back off. I want to cry, “Enough!” But why? Why would I, who learned to cook from Culinary Luddites, who grew up in a family that, in Elizabeth David’s words, produced their “own home-cured bacon, ham and sausages . . . churned their own butter, fed their chickens and geese, cherished their fruit trees, skinned and cleaned their own hares” (well, to be honest, not the geese and sausages), not rejoice at the growth of Culinary Luddism? Why would I (or anyone else) want to be thought “an obtuse consumer”? Or admit to preferring unreal food for unreal people? Or to savoring inauthentic cuisine?

The answer is not far to seek: because I am an historian. (...)

The dishes we call ethnic and assume to be of peasant origin were invented for the urban, or at least urbane, aristocrats who collected the surplus. This is as true of the lasagne of northern Italy as it is of the chicken konna of Mughal Delhi, the mooshu pork of imperial China, the pilafs, stuffed vegetables, and baklava of the great Ottoman palace in Istanbul, or the mee krob of nineteenth-century Bangkok. Cities have always enjoyed the best food and have invariably been the focal points of culinary innovation.

Nor are most “traditional foods” very old. For every prized dish that goes back two thousand years, a dozen have been invented in the last two hundred. The French baguette? A twentieth-century phenomenon, adopted nationwide only after World War II. English fish and chips? Dates from the late nineteenth century, when the working class took up the fried fish of Sephardic Jewish immigrants in East London. Fish and chips, though, will soon be a thing of the past. (...)

We may mistake the meals of today’s European, Asian, or Mexican middle class (many of them benefiting from industrialization and contemporary tourism) for peasant food or for the daily fare of our ancestors. We can represent the peoples of the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, India, or Mexico as pawns at the mercy of multinational corporations bent on selling trashy modern products — failing to appreciate that, like us, they enjoy a choice of goods in the market, foreign restaurants to eat at, and new recipes to try.

A Mexican friend, suffering from one too many foreign visitors who chided her because she offered Italian, not Mexican food, complained, “Why can’t we eat spaghetti, too?” If we unthinkingly assume that good food maps neatly onto old or slow or homemade food (even though we’ve all had lousy traditional cooking), we miss the fact that lots of industrial foodstuffs are better. Certainly no one with a grindstone will ever produce chocolate as suave as that produced by conching in a machine for seventy two hours. Nor is the housewife likely to turn out fine soy sauce or miso.

And let us not forget that the current popularity of Italian food owes much to the availability and long shelf life of two convenience foods that even purists love, high-quality factory pasta and canned tomatoes. Far from fleeing them, we should be clamoring for more high-quality industrial foods.

If we romanticize the past, we may miss the fact that it is the modern, global, industrial economy (not the local resources of the wintry country around New York, Boston, or Chicago) that allows us to savor traditional, peasant, fresh, and natural foods.

Virgin olive oil, Thai fish sauce, and udon noodles come to us thanks to international marketing. Fresh and natural loom so large because we can take for granted the preserved and processed staples — salt, flour, sugar, chocolate, oils, coffee, tea — produced by agribusiness and food corporations. Asparagus and strawberries in winter come to us on trucks trundling up from Mexico and planes flying in from Chile.

Visits to charming little restaurants and colorful markets in Morocco or Vietnam would be impossible without international tourism. The ethnic foods we seek out when we travel are being preserved, indeed often created, by a hotel and restaurant industry determined to cater to our dream of India or Indonesia, Turkey, Hawaii, or Mexico. Culinary Luddism, far from escaping the modern global food economy, is parasitic upon it.

Culinary Luddites are right, though, about two important things. We need to know how to prepare good food, and we need a culinary ethos. As far as good food goes, they’ve done us all a service by teaching us to how to use the bounty delivered to us (ironically) by the global economy.

Their culinary ethos, though, is another matter. Were we able to turn back the clock, as they urge, most of us would be toiling all day in the fields or the kitchen; many of us would be starving. Nostalgia is not what we need.

by Rachel Laudan, Jacobin |  Read more:
Image: French women hitched to the plow, 1914–18. American Photo Archive

Gu Gan
(古干 Chinese, b.1942)