May Contain Additives

“The abstractions of science are too readily assimilable to the abstractions of industry and commerce, which see everything as interchangeable with or replaceable by something else” (41).

Life is a Miracle (2000), Wendell Berry
Image by Hans from Pixabay

Strangely, since questions surfaced and circulated about chlormequat chloride in oats (and in, increasingly, in the bodies of people who have eaten those oats) a couple of weeks ago, it hasn’t been easy to find, much less to follow, that story’s diffusion. The Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology published the Temkin et al. article in February, and then USA Today‘s Mary Walrath-Holdridge authored and published a piece soon thereafter, “Study finds chlormequat in Cheerios and Quaker products: What to know about the pesticide.” When I mentioned in ENGL2014: Food Writing last week that I do still eat oatmeal most days for breakfast, only that I now take each spoonful with my fingers crossed, several new questions arose: What even is chlormequat? What effect is it having on mice? Why are we only just learning about this now? Is chlormequat chloride used on all oats? Just the cheap stuff? Just the stuff not otherwise labeled organic? I didn’t have many sure answers, but I said I would look into it and report back. So this is some of that; that, this. A writing teacher’s porridge, unsweetened.

Chlormequat chloride is a “growth regulator,” and something of a stalk straightening agent, as I understand it. An applied chemical, chlormequat chloride guides the oat plant (avena sativa) to an ideal form: vertical stalk, perpendicular to the earthen plane; no slouching; optimum height. The 2024 Temkin et al. article found that chlormequat chloride showed up in the urine samples taken from 77 out of 96 people (83%). Evidently, we don’t know a whole lot about the effects of chlormequat chloride on humans, but we can with a little bit of plausible extrapolation pause with concern for the what we do know about the animal studies in which chlormequat chloride does observable harm.

So while I tell myself I am eating delicious, nutritious oatmeal, I am probably eating something more like oatmeal+chlormequat chloride, or oatmeal+a pretty good chance of chlormequat chloride. I make the cross-my-fingers joke as a way to cope with these unavoidable and late-discovered, later admitted additives; it’s not like we can confirm the presence of chlormequat chloride visually, much less pick it out. Still, we must eat.

Oatmeal+chlormequat chloride, or how about we call it CC oatmeal, is merely another in a continuous stream of announcements about additives. Earlier this spring there was the cinnamon+lead recall, which I remember hearing about and wondering, how does something like that sidewind beneath notice such that we only learn about it when preschoolers begin exhibiting lead ingestion symptoms after snack. This week, Lunchables, a popular Kraft Heinz snack pack, have been in the headlines again, as Consumer Reports announced that these convenient miniature meal kits contain nearly the maximum allowable daily limits for sodium, lead, and cadmium–and this comes within a year of Lunchables ascending to the status of a bona fide lunch unto itself in the eyes of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines.

These formulations–oatmeal+chlormequat, MTCI cinnamon+lead, and Lunchables+cadmium–are biochemical realities. The cinnamon was recalled. But the Quaker Oats and Kraft Heinz Lunchables examples elicited the predictable corporate hedges along the lines of “our products are wholesome, verified to be safe and entirely obliging of all FDA standards.” It’s a well worn path and a familiar refrain, and rather than make this about corporate (ir)responsibility, I have been thinking about it in terms of how it figures into food anxiety, insinuating doubt and causing everyday consumption habits to punctuate, as an underscore would, with uncertainty. How much should we worry about this?, was another question I heard not long ago. I don’t know. The ‘this,’ is it really only CC oatmeal for today’s breakfast? Tomorrow’s? I simultaneously understand ‘this’ as also much bigger, about food processing and industrialization, a dying planet, a broken world. I really don’t know. And can only come up with maybe we learn to grow oats again. Maybe we track down some brown sugar and a dash of fuckitol. Maybe we continue to cross our fingers.

Is Food Studies an Inquiry Paradigm? ?

Mid-February scatters into stolen moments as the semester’s Week Five tides rise. There are classes to prepare and teach and observe, micro-interim administrative hand-offs to receive (push exchange yields soon thereafter to pull exchange), and a pair of stout reading lists for different awards and recognitions. The hours hand waves in its dinky circles, hello-good-bye, hello-good-bye, again, though time’s passing isn’t so much doldrum-thrum as labored, more-so than usual, for three fitfully stacked oncoming weeks.

Duty-whines aside, in and among those stolen moments, I am provisionally sizing up and laying out interlocking puzzle pieces toward a conversation and workshop session I’m due to lead in April with the Food Studies group, framed primarily by the question, “Is Food Studies a Discipline?” Provisional intuition says that it is not, or, rather, that where the Food Studies label circulates and sits, there are semi-baked artisanal cracker crumbs and runaway shreds of cheese that only almost made it into the pimento cheese, but there is not as of right now any large-scale organizing will of the sort that a cohering and widely shared theory would be useful for. I could be wrong! Depending upon how long cast is the shadow of this disciplinarity question, it’s early, and I am an interloper in that my own engagements with Food Studies are recent and probably naive, as such. Nevertheless, this question is intriguing enough to me to follow for a while. To engage it further, I have checked adjacencies (as a bowler needing bumpers might do) with Visual Studies and Writing Studies. I mean that because Visual Studies and Writing Studies have, each in their own time, rallied a not insignificant measure of attention and energy at their own disciplinarity questions, there are cross-checks and angles by which to compare, albeit lightly and with due consideration of all the ways such comparisons become complicated.

Approximately a decade ago, with the publication of Farewell to Visual Studies (Penn State UP, 2015), James Elkins sent into circulation an adapted version of an introductory lecture from 2011. The short piece consists of two elaborated lists, a list of farewells to unfulfilled promises (“Farewells”), and a list of “things [he’d] like[d] to see visual studies become.” Returning to the question I am considering, as a Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies academic transposing the disciplinarity question now onto Food Studies, I’ll post Elkins’ list once as it appears in Farewell to Visual Studies, and again with modifications posed as a rerig for Writing Studies and Food Studies.

List of farewells for Visual Studies (Elkins):

  • Visual studies should be harder to do.
  • Visual studies continues to depend on a relatively small, fairly fixed set of theorists.
  • Visual studies continues to look mainly at modern and contemporary visualities.

List of farewells rerigged for Writing Studies:

  • Writing studies should be harder to do.
  • Writing studies continues to depend on a relatively small, fairly fixed set of theorists.
  • Writing studies continues to look mainly at modern and contemporary composing practices and compositions.

List of farewells rerigged for Food Studies:

  • Food studies should be harder to do.
  • Food studies continues to depend on a relatively small, fairly fixed set of theorists.
  • Food studies continues to look mainly at modern and contemporary foods.

List of absences for Visual Studies (Elkins):

  • Images need to start arguing.
  • Visual studies needs to make more adequate use of its images.
  • Visual studies needs conversations about its own history.
  • Visual studies shouldn’t bypass non-art images and scientific images.
  • Visual studies should be engaged with the phenomenology of the making of images: like art history, it has yet to think seriously about what kinds of knowledge can come from the making of art.
  • Visual studies needs to resolve the unclarities of its politics.
  • Visual studies is confused about ideological critique.

List of absences rerigged for Writing Studies:

  • Writing needs to start arguing.
  • Writing studies needs to make more adequate use of its texts.
  • Writing studies needs conversations about its own history.
  • Writing studies shouldn’t bypass non-creative writing and scientific writing.
  • Writing studies should be engaged with the phenomenology of the doing of writing: like media history, it has yet to think seriously about what kinds of knowledge can come from the doing of writing.
  • Writing studies needs to resolve the unclarities of its politics.
  • Writing studies is confused about ideological critique.

List of absences rerigged for Food Studies:

  • Foodstuffs need to start arguing.
  • Food studies needs to make more adequate use of its dishes.
  • Food studies needs conversations about its own history.
  • Food studies shouldn’t bypass non-culinary foods and scientific treatments of food.
  • Food studies should be engaged with the phenomenology of the making and eating of food: like culinary history, it has yet to think seriously about what kinds of knowledge can come from the making and eating of food.
  • Food studies needs to resolve the unclarities of its politics.
  • Food studies is confused about ideological critique.

In each list for Writing Studies and Food Studies, I have boldfaced the rerigged lines that seem to me to be worthy of entertaining, even momentarily, and I have italicized the lines that suggest instead a hint (or greater) of dissonance, surfacing a quality or condition that just doesn’t quite seem congruous with the network of activities and materials that correspond with the named field of study (albeit from my own small, humble, and unavoidably limited standpoint).

Having stepped through the exercise, it leaves me with doubts about whether it generates much in the way of new insight or possibility. Might not be map to follow if we want to venture farther into the maze. Heck, it does more in service of recalling the questions about what it means for Visual Studies to have given up the ghost, so to speak (coincidentally? not conincidentally? at the same moment when Visual Rhetoric was still gaining curricular and researcherly traction, almost as if Visual Rhetoric, even if it did not get big time sustaining uptake in any of the field’s prominent organizations or journals, was untroubled by the overtures about Visual Studies’ end). And so the light turns green on the EMF meter, but I don’t know if it blinkers toward anything significant for these other two pairings, writing and food.

I don’t know yet whether I will return to Elkins’ lists or make new lists of my own for the April workshop. I am thinking that I might instead switch to an approach influenced by Steven Mailloux’s 2000 RSQ article, “Disciplinary Identities: On the Rhetorical Paths between English and Communication Studies,” where he cited Janet Emig’s 1982 CCC article, “Inquiry Paradigms and Writing.” Here’s that long excerpt from Mailloux, citing Emig:

The changed rhetorical conditions of disciplinary formation become strikingly evident in the 1982 volume of College Composition and Communication. The February issue alone contains Janet Emig’s “Inquiry Paradigms and Writing” and Maxine Hairston’s “The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing,” as well as reviews of rhetoric and composition collections that refer explicitly to disciplinary paradigms.’ Addressing her fellow researchers in composition studies, Emig argues that “our responses concerning the nature, organization, and evaluation of evidence reveal our inquiry paradigms, both those we elect to inhabit, and those we may even help to create” (64). She then goes on to elaborate the most important characteristics of an inquiry paradigm:

1) a governing gaze [a steady way of perceiving actuality]; 2) an acknowledged, or at least a conscious, set of assumptions, preferably connected with 3) a coherent theory or theories; 4) an allegiance to an explicit or at least a tacit intellectual tradition; and 5) an adequate methodology including an indigenous logic consonant with all of the above. (65)

Emig demonstrates how these characteristics inform disciplinary research into writing and how such phenomenological and ethnographic paradigms contrast with traditional positivistic paradigms, which sometimes are “simply, globally, and, of course, mistakenly” identified with “The Scientific Method.” Not only does Emig cite Kuhn in explaining her notion of “paradigm,” but she also clearly distances composition from traditional notions of science out of which came the scientific rhetoric used by teachers of public speaking earlier in the century.

The phrase “inquiry paradigm” rings nimbler than “discipline,” in part because inquiry paradigms haven’t imposed their ordering functions so deeply into the higher ed org charts (i.e., stabilizing, yes, but also overdetermining to the point of entrenchment in many cases the delineations walling off common questions by walling off departments and programs), and so it may turn out to be a better choice for inviting engagement on the question(s) about Food Studies and what, if anything, coheres its domain of activity. The governing gaze can refer, simply, to an in-common-ish attention structure sufficient for cooperative guidance (and corresponding leadership). Each of the other criteria–set of assumptions, coherent theories, an intellectual tradition, and an adequate methodology–steer me more toward uncertainty and less toward crisp, identifiable anchors, whether the ponderables are posed for visuality, food, or writing.

For this preliminary go-round, I’ll let this end with a ‘good enough’ nod; it’s gotten me thinking in ways I wasn’t before. Nothing conclusive, not yet. Senses of new and reshaped possibilities. And there is time, pocketed in dips and dives intermittent throughout the next couple of weeks, yet with sufficient momentum that I can pick these ideas up again with the goal of chilling the aspic for setting it more firmly by mid-late March.

Goose Meat For Tenderness ?

Food Writing preparations for Thursday’s class session sidewinded unexpectedly to Agriculture Canada’s 1970 (revised) volume, Methods for Sensory Evaluation of Food. The small internet-archived book has just 64 pages, and most of them provide models for Likert ratings and corresponding statistical lookups so as to go easy on calculator-keying. Especially telling about the book’s time and place are selection of foods features in the examples: peaches, “fish-potato flakes processed under two different sets of conditions” (16), and, here, “three samples of goose meat” (30).

I don’t think I want to go the meandering long-haul distance on this one; it’s too tangential to our focus on whether and to what extent, if so, food evaluation is plausibly indexical, relatable from one person to the next, communicable, and so on.

Without venturing too far into the numbers, I want to pose as a methodical backdrop categories of appearance/aesthetics, aroma/scent, taste, texture and consistency, temperature, and overall flavor, which I understand to be a more integrated and holistic sensory impression, whereupon each becomes inflected with the other (much of which I have adapted from sites like this). From this context, we have a system of a certain sort, and yet, this is meant to provide an antecedent for the more active and applied part of the class, which will include sampling an apple, mandarin orange, or banana, listening again to “Are You Really Appreciating the Apple? from Savor, and “Eating an Orange” from A Pebble for Your Pocket, and then, through writing and conversation, engaging reflectively on the relationship between experiential knowledges and the techniques, associated with mindfulness, in this case, for granting greater (or is it simpler, if intensified) saturation to the sensorium, while eating. I know, I know, 99 word sentence. Blog forgive me. I am mulling over the contrastive frames for experiential transposition, and that sets up promisingly in this first model, assigning ratings to discrete qualities, as compared to the mindfulness meditation that invites spacetime flux, the cosmos in a bite of tender goose meat, or GMO fruit, as the case may be.

Are the Artificials Expressive? ?

Stepping into AI discussions since November 2022 has felt to me like stepping into a mixed gravity bounce house, enthusiasts bounding miles-high right next to cautionaries clinging clutch-knuckled to whatever handles avail themselves of the seeming-eternal humanistic basics.

Me, I’m just doing what I can to check the conversations, keep walk-jog sideline pace, or possibly bounce high enough for an occasional dunk-thought, sort of like those tenth grade lunch breaks when the gymnastics spring boards were theatrically repurposed so that everyone who wanted one could have an attempt at reaching the rim. Just a touch! I hope that’s not too much mixing, from bounce house to springboard-boosted basketball, considering I am over here trying to make a point about artificial intelligence, large language model “writing,” and the scoops of words masquerading as discourse from ChatGPT.

I was listening to a podcast—Ezra Klein, I think—while driving to Virginia from Michigan on August 2, and although the podcast wasn’t about AI, per se, the discussion of First Amendment law and free speech got me puzzling through a question about whether AI-generated prose is legally expressive. I am not the first; I am also not a lawyer. But. To illustrate, consider this: a local politician is running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. Not being much of a speech writer, they tap GPT4 on its non-shoulder, prompting it to return for them an applause raising statement about democratic values. The AI returns a lukewarm soup of a statement, and it just so happens to include in it a damaging and slanderous falsehood about another local official. Litigious gloves are off. Legal teams are enlisted. And the candidate mea culpas with the grandest of agentic shifts: “GPT4 made me say it!”

It reads to me as one of the most ground floor conditions, a lower order stases: Is AI expressive? Is ChatGPT responsible, legally or otherwise, for its so-called writing?

If no, then follows a corresponding set of questions about what writing qua “content generation” actually boils down to. Humans are, arguably and correspondingly, small(er) language models (SLMs). Certainly this doesn’t mean that an SLM can’t every so often augment their repertoire of inventional, compositional, and interpretive range with a sidekick LLM, a backdrop behemoth spitting possibly everything ever. But my hunch is that the SLM should be cautious about surrendering its language to this other phenomenon overmuch, or all-out ventriloquizing the LLM as though its expressions will be satisfactory, sufficient, or both, just because it is big.

Writing, as a verb, doesn’t shield itself especially well from contending, sometimes mismatched, activities. In fact, three decades of writing studies scholarly activity has worked mightily to expand writing, sparing writing its alphabetic-linear reduction, and pluralizing it loftily with overtures of multimodality. Much of this has been good and necessary and warranted, but there has been a trade-off. The trade-off is the you can fit a whole lot of yes-that-too under the baggiest of umbrellas, and then along came the LLMs. I wouldn’t argue that anyone should revert to exclusive or narrow-banded definitions of writing, tempting as it might be (e.g., only a pencil-holding activity, or a thing that happens when a human hand makes a keystroke). But I would say that the lines have blurred between “content generation” and “writing” in ways that are not always helpful for demarcating reasonably distinctive activities and in ways that risk promoting shortcut mindsets when writing is presumed to be ready-made, extractive, and infinitely/generically scoopable from an allegedly ever-improving LLM.

Collin recently referred me to Alan Jacobs’ recent entry, “on technologies and trust,” which aptly sketches the position that we wouldn’t ever think of enticing prospective students to cooking school only to tell them that everything they learn will be derived from HelloFresh boxes. A similar logic extends to graphic designers from templated fallbacks. While the masticated options might be appealing to the uninitiated, they are not quite the same as learning by practicing when that practice entails selection, decision, trial and error, and so on.

I am not convinced that LLMs are expressive, and I want to work on making evaluative sense of AI more forwardly in these terms.

A final illustration: In April an HVAC technician visited the house for routine maintenance on the heat pump leading into the air conditioning season. Before leaving, he started to tell me about how he used to manage a big game preserve in Tennessee, though it closed, and so he changed careers. He then went on to tell me about his daughter who was taking an interest in cattle AI because she had a friend who was working with ranchers in Texas; the friend was finding cattle AI quite lucrative, he explained.

It took me a while to figure out that large-scale livestock procreation, too, has an artificial alternative; that’s “cattle AI,” for us non-ranchers. I think about this often as a checkpoint in conversations about AI and content generation. Might be, cattle AI is for cows what ChatGPT is for writing–artificial, expedient, not to be mistaken for the other embodied, developmentally-dependent, organic-contextual (more than mechanistic) act.

Episodes

“The depth and complexity of human memory is staggeringly rich.”

Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop (2007), “Of Selves and Symbols,” p. 86
Photo: The time when two experimental cracker doughs were spread on silicone sheets laid atop wire racks for sliding into a dehydrator.

The time when I woke up tired on the last April Sunday morning during Year One of pandemic. The time I yawned over coffee and oatmeal ritual and plucked yesterday’s dried honeydew, apple spirals, and bananas soaked in lemon juice from silicone sheets to make room for something else. The time when I attempted two cracker doughs, one based on lentil sprouts and the other based on mung bean sprouts. The time when the waft of cracker doughs constituted with sprouts more than with any other ingredients and the smell’s description, what word could it be but “disappointment.” The time when there were other ingredients mixed in like oatmeal, onion powder, dill, salt, shredded coconut (lentil batch) and like white pepper, black pepper, salt, lemon juice, popcorn, and mustard (mung batch). The time when flax and chia were in both experimental doughs but those ingredients were mostly for nutrients and texture, bonding and composition and flavor, not scent.

The time when the other three trays rounding out the dehydrator–as the crackers baked (call it “dried”)–where cantaloupe and I wondered if the cantaloupe, cheap as it was for being $1.88 per unit at Kroger last Monday, was any good. The time when the cantaloupe’s hydration–its juiciness–was all wrong when cut open but then I sliced it into narrow strips and loaded it onto trays anyway. The time when the compromise on cantaloupe quality pertained only to one of the discounted cantaloupes but to the other one, actions being louder than words, you said, you’re garbage. The time when I tossed the second cantaloupe. The time when the experimental cracker doughs and cantaloupe slices dried (call it “baked”) into the afternoon. The time when I set a timer for one hour and just before the hour was up I used the pizza wheel to score the approximately square shapes of eventually crackers knowing too I could have used a butter knife. The time when as I rolled the pizza cutting tool, not having had lunch yet, what would I have?, thoughts drifted to the oddness of a world blue, more than 50,000 people dead of Coronavirus in the U.S. this month and the president’s expressions of sorrow, pain, remorse, heartache were imperceptible, or, if we’re going to be charitable, they read to me as insincere, performed, dutifully noted. The time when thousands of people died in a month and the flags stood at full mast. The time when so few people on TV seemed upset, when after scoring cracker lines, there was a moment of wondering at a heart’s generalizable capacity to know or worry or anticipate the sorrow of others.

The time when grey springtime afternoons were swiftly swallowed up by a new blog entry and some reading and a walk to campus to scan a few chapters into PDFs needed for rounding out the promotion packet. The time when, how long would it take for the crackers to be really, really crisp? The time when I skimped on yoga and did (modified) push-ups and situps instead and had a granola bar for a snack. The time when handwriting with greater swellforce than before started to matter and I downloaded iFontMaker and for $7.99 or the price of more than four iffy cantaloupes. The time when I installed iFontMaker and set mind to scrawl a handwriting character set spontaneously as if a rapid prototype blinked from so many years of muscle memory and sinew memory and bone memory and fingernail memory and lunula memory and cuticles and interstice…so many memories, more than translate but the attempt is still okay and the font better than expected so here’s to hoping the crackers will be, too.

Dry Food

A kitchen countertop.
A kitchen countertop. In the foreground, lidded jars and assorted containers filled with dried sprouts, banana chips, apples, and pears. In the background, two half gallon jars with fire cider infusions and a half gallon jar of horseradish jicama slaw several days into a lactoferment.

Login chances entry, entry chances rekicked essayisms: login chances rekicked essayisms. Never will be what it was back when.

Reading René Redzepi Journal (generously lent by A.S.) with a green cover and a one inch binder clip holding it together on the right because the adhesives opposite “binding” gave up, quit holding on, saying, in effect, flap pages, flap. Or the volume–a loaner–was more roughly handled than Phaidon Press Limited ever could have imagined. It’s only six years old and falling apart. Page-turn gently; the young, too, are old nowadays. Even the strongest glues are temporary. Once inside the book, there’s this:

Tuesday 22 February

While investigating Trash Cooking we’ve come upon a small discovery: the fish scales we always throw away have this brilliant crispness. They don’t taste of very much in their own right – they’re more of a vehicle for the frying fat – but it’s delightful to watch them transform from small, disgusting, slimy refuse, to completely white, glassy, brittle flakes. They will certainly go on the menu somewhere. (24)

Trash Cooking clicks with a freegan impulse and gets me thinking again about food resourcefulness, also dumpster diving, also safety-netted scrounging and foraging experiments run on pseudo-precarity. It’s a different feeling when you the fish scales are piled and never make that leap. But anyway, whatever of it, guts and discardeds, today’s menus are for the most part idling. And more, six days later:

Monday 28 February

We’ve been obsessively drying anything and everything we can get our hands on. The rest of the staff outside the test kitchen are sullen, as we’ve commandeered every device with even the slightest heat to dehydrate our products. The Dried Kitchen is such a big project, far bigger than I realized, and it’s taking a goddamn long time. It takes three bloody days to dry an endive at 60° C [140° F]. Two days for a cucumber. At some point in my fervour, I asked the boys to dry every variety of pumpkin…but now I’m not so sure. (25)

I’m not so sure, too. I’ve had a Cosori dehydrator for a few weeks, drying some of this, drying some of that. 145° F/62.7° C, four hours at a time. Lemon juice soaked fruits with chili powder, cayenne, ginger, or cinnamon added. Lemons and blood oranges. Sweet potato chips in onion powder and, after a round of drying, barbecue sauce for a second round. Mung sprouts tossed in dijon. Mung sprouts soaked in pickle juice. Apple slices. Bananas slices several different ways, including peels on. Pears with dill weed. Possibly more than all the rest, I’m looking forward to separating fire cider, one month infused, liquid to bottles and solids to puree for drying and grinding into seasoning for I don’t know what, exactly, but probably popcorn topping. April 15 will be one month for the cider, but tomorrow, Easter (4/12), seems like as good a day as any to roll free the lids from the jar tops, convert solids to puree to leather to dust. But there’s a backlog in that cantaloupe and green apples will have to wait another day or two. These and other patiences. I’ll continue these meanderings for a while, slice and season and dry and sample, eat the dried foods whether they’re good or bad, forgettable or unforgettable. And as I do, I’ll puzzle out some of this:

  • Candying sequences, including chocolate coated citrus slices.
  • How to get the wire racks to more readily release the dried foods, including better uses of sheets, oils, or parchment.
  • Chopping/chunking fruits for baked goods reintegration (e.g., strawberry or banana nib brownies or chocolate chip cookies).
  • Homemade granola bars.

Cabbage, Jicama, Beets

Spiced kraut, jicama sticks, golden over red beets, and cayenne kraut.

Next batches, spice blend kraut (experimental and mysterious, possibly terrible…or great), jicama, gold beets over red, and cayenne kraut. The krauts are half food processor, half crude cut. The jicama sticks are a pay-it-forward to Is.’s schoolmates who after one of her basketball games *ran over to ask, “Can you send more jicamas with Isabel?,” and the beets are a first attempt, ordinary 2% salinity. As for the last round, cayenne kraut was, it brings a briney tear to my eye how good it was now that it’s almost gone. Also did a half gallon of halved brussel sprouts; I’d make them again, tart and crunchy. But I learned that green beans are best with dill and also no, life is pretty fine as it is without fermented asparagus in it. #nextbatch #widemouth

Original Gravity

I enjoyed a first taste—to be honest, three first tastes— of Original Gravity brews at the Michigan Beer Festival late last month. I sampled their Belgian Training Wheels and 440 Pepper Smoker before an OG-veteran I was with persuaded me to try their Southpaw IPA. The Pepper Smoker was peculiar (smoky and peppery), but not the sort of thing I’m sure I’d want in a full glass. The Belgian Training Wheels was good, although I find a lingering banana-like note about which I remain undecided (i.e., better keep on the training wheels). But the Southpaw was one of the most memorable beers I had at the event, and OG’s setup was impressive down to their custom taps. I’d never visited their brewery in Milan, a small town 15-miles south from here along US-23, but after the Beer Fest and after hearing more about the place, I made mental note of it, adding it to a short list of places in the area worth visiting.

D., Is., and I spent Saturday morning and early afternoon at the Toledo Zoological Gardens, and the nice thing about the zoo, besides the baby elephant, the sloth bears (what I think of as my middle-age totem), and hippos, is that Original Gravity is located directly on the route back home. In fact, that could be the advertising pitch for our visit to the Toledo Zoo on Saturday: On the way home, you can exit in Milan, Mich., have a sandwich and a pint of Southpaw, and take a growler of Belgian Training Wheels to go.

We tried their veggie and grilled cheese sandwiches and ordered a side of hummus—all were better than expected, a definite cut above the competition. In fact, this has been one of my complaints about neighborhood brewery in Ypsi: the food is meh. OG doesn’t have an elaborate menu, but they’re doing it right. Great sandwiches made with fresh, local bread (Erie Bread Company, I think). The draw of Southpaw: great. And the growler of Training Wheels, well, probably more than I needed because I just won’t drink a full growler in a week. But I wanted to re-run the lingering notes experiment, and the growler—half of which remains in the fridge—was more than enough to collect new data.

Next time I get a growler, it’ll have to be before a cocktail party where I can share it with others interested in local/regional brews. And I don’t know whether OG will be bottling any time soon; either way, I’d happily go back, which of course means I am working to pencil in another family excursion to the Toledo Zoo soon.

Aisle Mich

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz lately about the Buy Michigan Now program. There’s a related festival in Northville this weekend. We didn’t make it over there, but the local television news coverage has portrayed it as a Michigan products showcase, with products amounting mostly to local foods, fashion, art.

This is the second annual festival, which means the BMN group has been around for a couple of years. Their web site challenges visitors to take a pledge. Nearly 5,000 people have done so to date. Like many pledges, with this one people promise they will think differently, that they will speak positively of Michigan:

I hereby pledge to play an active role in building a strong, vibrant, and diverse Michigan economy. I will be a part of the solution by speaking positively about the state, learning about our products and services, and making a concerted effort to buy from Michigan businesses. I will Think Michigan First!

I suppose this kind of thing will become increasingly common as we (all?) square with the consequences of economic dissipation–a products and services onslaught from elsewhere, too frequently from anywhere else but here. Despite the emphasis on economic stimulation via spending and consumption (also this fee structure for landing in a database), programs like these are reasonable attempts to affect how people think about the local. Granted, BMN is more Long Here than Long Now. But it’s a start, even if what the planet (and Detroit by proxy) really needs is more Long Here and Now.

It starts me thinking about related improvements. Ignoring for a second the spatio-categorical inertia common to all major grocery stores (specialty food markets seem willing to tinker with this), it would make sense for grocers to reconfigure ever so slightly around buy local programs like this one. BMN provides a PDF grocery guide, for example (Why is Bell’s not on the list?). But just think: if, instead of carrying the list around, I could walk into a store and pass through an area where products all came from the state I live in, I would be much more likely 1) to recall those products as viable options and 2) to purchase them. But radical rearrangement is at odds with an existing infrastructure unsuited to relocating some subset of dry goods, frozen foods, produce, and meats (even if Meijer already does something like this for a “Lunch on the go” cooler curiously positioned in the middle of aisle 7 or 8). Another route would be an added layer of labeling: big blue stickers on Michigan products (faceted classification for grocery products). And another would be some sort of intelligent environment device­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­–an app for the smartphone–that adds locative snapshots to a illuminate a product’s trail before arriving at the store and, while it’s at it, puts it in the context of a couple of recipes. Still a few years off (bad news for the ‘N’ in BMN, if so), yet redefining encounters with products in the spaces where we typically find and buy them might make appreciable progress toward a $10 per week spending habit that would, so the BMN promotional materials argue, scale all the way up to $38 million if adopted across the state.

Dinner Club

We are next up in the Dinner Club rotation. In just over three hours, we will welcome three families, ten guests total into our home for an evening of food and drink. Among them: teachers, environmental engineers, foodies, artists, and their tots. For most of the day, I have been preparing for this event. I am tired, sweating, allergic, etc. And I have been thinking about the rules of Dinner Club, which I will post intermittently throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening (in stolen moments), time permitting.

Rule 1. Sunshine.

Rule 2. Especially when you feel an argument brewing, do not mistake Dinner Club for Fight Club.

Rule 3. If the guests are pizzatarians, honor their special dietary needs as best you can.

Rule 4. No moving of furniture inside of 90 minutes to scheduled arrival.

Rule 5. No unplanned painting projects. Note: This is not only a Dinner Club rule, but a rule for any time guests are on their way.

Rule 6. Wolaver’s before, during, and after.