Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Vegetarian Food, Then and Now

I spent the last few weeks returning to reading Jonathan Kauffman's Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. It gives interesting background as to how we came to embrace tofu, whole wheat bread, and carob. It's was also an interesting story of how the health food stores that we had in the late 60's and 70's became the Whole Foods chain.  It was also an interesting story of healthy restaurants.

I was interested in the co-operative nature of the health food stores and restaurants--not just co-operative in how people pulled together, but also co-ops in terms of financial agreements.  For example, you could be a member of a health food coop and get cheaper prices on food, or you could walk in and pay extra for the privilege of buying healthier foods.  Many of the restaurants began with a group of "owners," all of whom took turns cooking, cleaning up, and buying the food and supplies.

I remember a Mennonite co-op (or was it just a restaurant?) in Knoxville, Tennessee, where my mom and I would eat when we were out shopping.  It was tucked away in a loading dock kind of area near the big mall near our house.  You could get sandwiches on healthier breads that grocery stores had.  You could have sprouts on your sandwich, or avocado.  We'd been eating sprouts for at least 5 years when we first went to that restaurant, but I'd never had avocado on a sandwich before.

I went to school at Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina, where there were no food co-ops or vegetarian restaurants.  The chicken processing plants that had given most residents their livelihood had just shut down, and the economic situation in the town was rather grim.

When I moved to Columbia, South Carolina for grad school, I lived in the Rosewood section, which had a health food store and the Basil Pot, a vegetarian restaurant with tables that were made from the big wooden spools that phone companies used to use.  That health food store has now become Rosewood Market, in a larger space a few blocks away, and it now includes a cafe.

Sadly, the Basil Pot has closed.  It moved from the Rosewood location to one closer to the University of South Carolina.  It went a bit more upscale, with regular furniture and tablecloths and such.  The food was always delicious.  I don't know why it closed, but the Rosewood Market has managed to maintain viability.

It's hard to think of restaurants that are completely vegetarian in the way that those restaurants of the 70's and 80's were.  But we have more options at "regular" restaurants than we did then.  And many towns have more ethnic options than they once had.  For example, in my old college town of Newberry, there's now a Thai restaurant.  Times had to change significantly for that development to happen.

I'm thinking of various dietary trajectories that we see today:  where will the keto plans take us as a nation?  My supermarket already stocks a variety of "milks"--some on the shelf, like the soy milks of my youth, and many more, like a variety of nut milks, in the refrigerator case.  And that's the case in smaller towns, like Columbia, SC.

I like having the variety, but I do worry about how little knowledge of nutrition so many of us have.  We eat the way we eat because a celebrity tells us to, not because we know that by eating these foods we'll get enough vitamin A, while those foods will give us other nutrients.

But I'm grateful that it's easier to eat healthy foods now:  easier to find them, easier to buy them, easier to prepare them, and easier to find them in restaurants.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Eclipses, and Other Missed Opportunities

If you're hoping for an MLK meditation, go to this post on my theology blog.  I am now working for a school that has no classes for students on this holiday, but it's still a work day for faculty, administration, and staff.

However, I took today and tomorrow off.  A church friend and I are headed to Tampa for a Carrie Newcomer concert tonight.  Originally, I thought it might be more of a group journey.  But it will be fun with just the two of us.

My friend is the one who really wants to see Carrie Newcomer.  She felt she should make the effort, because she didn't think that Newcomer would ever come to Florida at all.  I have been interested in Newcomer's trajectory, particularly the events she has done with Parker Palmer.

I rarely go to concerts anymore.  Once I went to a concert here and there; I wanted to go more often, but I couldn't afford it.  Now I could afford it, but it seems to take so much effort.

Take Saturday for example.  We had free tickets to see Arlo Guthrie.  Once I would have gotten myself to that concert and felt lucky.  Saturday, I didn't want to deal with the Ft. Lauderdale traffic, which was already heavy in the morning when I went to spin class.  I didn't want to be out late when I had to lead church on Sunday morning.  It was partly laziness and partly energy conservation.

But I felt a bit of sadness.  There aren't many artists that I'm willing to make an effort of money and energy to go see live.  I realize that many of these artists won't be with us for too many more years--but it's still a lot of money to see most of them, and a chunk of time.

Part of me would rather stay home and make my own art.  It turns out that it's fortunate I didn't have my heart set on the Arlo Guthrie concert.  My spouse was in such a state of grieving at the news of the death of his favorite Philosophy professor that he'd have been in no state to go to a concert.

On some level, it's been strange to see him so wracked by grieving; he's rarely shown that level of emotion over much of anything.  On some level, it's good to know that he does still have an emotional life.

Yesterday we had a quiet afternoon at home.  I finally finished Jonathan Kauffman's Hippie Food.  I went to bed thinking about various vegetarian restaurants I have loved--perhaps I'll write a blog post about that tomorrow.

I meant to get up to see the eclipse.  When I did get outside, it was too cloudy to see much, so I went back to bed, but never really got back to sleep.

This would not have been the first eclipse I would have seen with the blood red moon.  And hopefully, it won't be my last opportunity to see an eclipse.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Death of a Favorite Philosophy Professor

Yesterday was a tough day in our house.  My spouse found out that his favorite undergraduate Philosophy professor, Garth Kemerling, died last year. He was only 69.  The obituary didn't say how he died or what he died of.

I was sitting in the front bedroom where I write, and I heard strange noises from the back of the house.  I found my spouse bent over with his face in his hands.  We'd been experimenting with some hair dye, and at first I thought something dreadful had happened to his hair or eyes.  But he was sobbing because of the obituary.

We spent much of the day crying on and off.  Some deaths when they come are expected.  I'm thinking of my best friend from high school who had suffered a horrifying esophageal cancer.  I still cry a bit here and there, but when the news came, I wasn't surprised.  On the contrary, I was surprised she held on as long as she did.  Our professor's death came as a shock.

Yesterday was one of the days when I realized the value of Facebook.  My spouse spent the day corresponding with classmates who were similarly sad.  They exchanged memories.  They comforted each other.

I felt sad not just because of the death of our favorite professor, but because the type of education we all received at our small, Lutheran, liberal arts college doesn't exist much any more.  Our education revolved around the questions of our values and how to shape our lives according to what matters.  Of course we had important subject matter to learn, but the conversations around that subject matter and before and after class came back to the core values that our institution hoped to instill in us.

I am willing to bet that not many people get that kind of education anymore.

As I watched the day unfold, I thought of all the times when I wondered if anyone would care if I up and disappeared.  Dr. Kemerling probably had no idea that people felt so strongly about his classes and his modeling of young lives.  When I feel similar thoughts, let me remember yesterday.

My spouse is my favorite Philosophy professor, but Dr. Kemerling was my second favorite. The world needs more Philosophy professors like him, not fewer. Sigh.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturday Snippets from a Week of Shut Downs

This week has been one of those weeks where I went to bed embarrassingly early on Friday night:  lots of long days at work, spin classes every day as I try to win a bike in the Feb. spinathon, my online classes gearing up, time with friends.  In other words, it's been a mix of delightful and drudgery, as most weeks are.

Despite my early bedtime, I'm still feeling a bit brain dead, so let me just list some things that have been on my mind, rather than trying to craft a coherent essay:

--I've been asked to write for Gather magazine again.  That makes me happy.

--I had a lovely evening where I read Marie Howe's Magdalene straight through.  What a wonderful collection of poems, with interesting insights into what it means to be a woman through the centuries.

--Although I'm sad about the death of Mary Oliver, I'm delighted to see people posting her poems and talking about how much her work meant to them.  It's been a great reminder that a life in poetry can make a powerful difference.

--I'm distressed about the state of the U.S. government and this longest government shut down ever.  But Nancy Pelosi impresses me beyond measure, even as I wish she'd do something more to break this stalemate.  Do I know what that something should be?  No.

--I wonder at what point air travel will be impacted beyond the longer wait times at the security lines.

--I continue to be shocked at the extent to which it appears that the president of the U.S. has been in the service of Russia.  I'm the daughter of an Air Force colonel, and I never thought I'd see this day in our country.  I am shocked that others, especially those in high office, have not been reacting in a more distressed way.  I want to believe that they are quietly, privately distressed, but I no longer have faith in many of these people.

--I know that a massive winter storm is barreling through much of the country.  While I am glad not to have to deal with snow, I do miss the first bit of a snow, the thrill of the flakes drifting down. I suspect it may be a bit like our rainstorms are here. I used to love a rainy day, but now I worry about flooded streets and the house springing a leak. Snowstorms seem more ferocious these days--welcome to climate change on a wrecked planet.

--I've been doing a better job of reading, but aside from volumes of poetry, I haven't actually been finishing books.  That will be a goal for next week, to actually finish one of the many books I've started.

--It's interesting to reflect on this time period as one of shut downs:  the government shut down, the LA teacher's strike, weather that cripples us.  The shut downs that leave us limping seems like an overarching metaphor.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Farewell, Mary Oliver

I confess that I am late to loving the poet Mary Oliver.  It was not until this past year, to be specific, that I really read much beyond "The Summer Day" poem--and to be truthful, I hadn't read the whole poem, just those 2 final lines:  "Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"

During the season of Lent, a group of us at my church did a 6 week series of journaling exercises that came from the intriguing company SALT; it's still available here.  Each week gave us a Mary Oliver poem, a passage from the Bible, and writing prompts.  It was during this journey that I realized the scope of Oliver's talent.

I had made the mistake of many critics:  I saw her poems as short and fairly simple.  If I thought about her at all, I probably had vague thoughts of a nature poet.  While she's certainly working in that tradition, she's doing so much more.

Consider, for example, this poem:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

New and Selected Poems, 1992
I don't think I had ever read this poem before 2018; those first three lines made me woozy with a variety of emotions.  And yet it's not a poem that encourages us to hedonism--no, it calls us to be more attentive, to be present.

Before our Lenten journaling group, I hadn't realized the spiritual nature of so many of her poems.  During Lent, we read "The Poet Thinks about the Donkey," a poem that considers the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, an event Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday.  As with many of her poems, I thought I understood it on the first read, and then it stuck with me much longer than other poems that are more complex.

During one of our sessions at church, my parents were with me, and later  my Dad called to get the name of the poet we'd been reading.  One of the things I admire about Oliver's work is its wide appeal to so many people.  The poems are profoundly moving--and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.

 I love that the poems are short--easy to read in a single sitting. I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.

I love the theology of these poems. It's a theology of love and respect. It's a theology that tells us that we are worthy. It's a theology that tells us we don't have forever, so quit wasting our precious days. It's a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature. It's a theology so understated that many readers likely don't even recognize it as a theology.

I want to write these kinds of poems, poems that point towards the Divine, rather than shoving readers in that direction.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Changes in Our Apocalyptic Poems

I've been typing poems into the computer, which means I've been reading through some poetry notebooks.  I've also been sending poetry packets out to journals, which means I've been reading old work.

I've been thinking about my apocalyptic poems and how they've changed since the election of Donald Trump.  I'm wondering about those changes. 

Clearly they were prompted by Trump, which means those types of apocalypses envisioned by Atwood could be possible--a hostile government comes into power and things go downhill quickly.  I had always seen the history of the west as a progress in a fairly linear direction towards greater freedoms.  At least that's how I viewed post WWII history once the Soviet Union crumbled.

My pre-Trump apocalypse poems often revolved around natural disasters, not political disasters.  My post-Trump poems are different, in a way I can't quite articulate yet.  The disaster is more shadowy, but it's clear that people must get moving.

I've also been wondering if my poems are different now because I've been reading different apocalypse poetry since the election.  For example, in the waning months of 2016, this poem by Adrienne Rich kept appearing in a variety of places.  I wrote several poems inspired by the imagery in this poem:  abandoned meeting houses, revolutionary roads, people disappeared.

And yet, there are still other types of apocalyptic poems I've been writing, poems that refer past apocalyptic times.  Here's one for your Thursday.  At a previous point in this presidency, I worried about something that wasn't the possibility that leaders will never figure a way out of this government shut down:

Fire, Fury, Power

Bellicose leaders bellow
about fire and fury and power
like the world has never seen.
I water my petunias
which struggle in this heat.

I think of all the nuclear knowledge
that I once had: RADS and half lives
and how to read a Geiger counter.
I knead the bread dough
and set it on a warm windowsill.

I think of the geography of the Pacific.
I wish I had paid closer attention
in distant history classes. I plot
trajectories of ICBMs on an old
globe that names countries that no longer exist.
I walk the dog who greets
everyone with overwhelming joy.

I wait for news updates.
In these days of nuclear brinksmanship,
I fully expect someone to beat
a shoe on a table and threaten
to bury us all.
I’ve been saving this wine
for a special occasion. Tonight
I will drink it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Home Made Bread and Other Hippie Food

I am reading a wonderful book, Jonathan Kauffman's  Hippie Food:  How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat.  It gives interesting background as to how we came to embrace tofu, whole wheat bread, and carob.  Well, some of us did.  Much of it I already knew--but he connects the various people, food, and movements in interesting ways.

In some ways, my life has been a microcosm that reflects some of these changes.  I remember my mom's tuna noodle casseroles and pot roasts.  I remember when beef was very expensive during the 1970's--now there are weeks when veggies cost more than beef or chicken.

As my dad got into running, and as we met interesting people at church, our family experimented with unfamiliar foods.  I remember a young intern who served a church we attended--she was a vegetarian and baked her own bread.  She wasn't the first vegetarian we knew--that would be one of my mom's cousins.

One summer, my mom had me help her with a bread baking experiment--I was hooked.  As I've been reading Kauffman's book, I'm remembering my stricter vegetarian days when I experimented with a variety of ways to get more protein into the breads I baked:  soy flour, dry milk powder, nuts and seeds.  These days, my protein intake is fine, but I worry about needing more fruits and veggies.

In terms of the other foods Kauffman covers, especially the chapter on soy, I'm not as much of a fan.  I've done lots of experimenting with tofu and never found a healthy way of cooking it that resulted in something delicious.  My experiments with tempeh have been disastrously inedible.

Yesterday, I thought of all my cookbooks, when our library assistant told me how much the librarian loved the Moosewood cookbook that I had used in a library display.  The librarian planned to buy her own copy.  I wrote to the librarian to tell her that she could take that book--it was on my donate pile because I have too many cookbooks.  She wrote me a rapturous thank you note.

My reading has made me think about the communities that produced these cookbooks, the Moosewood restaurant that made those cookbooks possible, along with the more loved (by me) books by Mollie Katzen.  Kauffman explores the Tassajara bread book and the other whole food cookbook, which I owned for awhile.  By the time I got the Tassajara books, I already had enough bread baking experience that I didn't really need them.  Now I don't need many cookbooks at all.  I know what I want to eat and how to make it.

I'm fascinated by the communal aspects of this food, by the communal care that was so much more prevalent in the 60's and 70's.  Lots of unwashed, hungry students descend on San Francisco?  Let's feed them!

Last night, I had a lovely night of reading, writing, and sketching, as I waited for my spouse to come home from chorale rehearsal.  I read a few posts by a blogger who is baking in retirement and thinking about the theology of baking bread (go here and here).  Maybe it's something about winter; rabbi Rachel Barenblat is also returning to bread baking, as she writes in this post.

Last night, I wrote this Facebook post:  "It's 8:25 at night--much too late to start baking bread, and yet I have this yearning to knead dough. I have no countertop, and an inadequate work space on a wobbly table. I would likely fall asleep before the yeast was done rising. I will not stay awake until the wee small hours of the morning baking bread and writing poems."

If I didn't have such a full day at work today, I might be tempted to take a mental health day:  I'd stay home, bake, and then this evening head down to Miami for a poetry reading.  But because it's a full day at work, that will not be the day that I have.