Monday, August 31, 2009

Eating at the Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is something like a vegetarian paradise. I do not say it is a vegan paradise (though there are options around), I do not say it is a healthy eater's paradise (though if you made the effort, you could eat healthy), and I certainly don't say it is an animal rights advocate's paradise (in fact the exploitation of animals is displayed and celebrated).

But one of the laments of vegetarians when out and about is limited options. You can find yourself in situations where your options are very limited (I've been in restaurants for social reasons where my choices were pretty much between two appetizers). The outlandish variety of food available at the State Fair includes an outlandish variety of vegetarian-friendly food.

My recommendation for fair eating is to find somebody you can share food with. This allows you a much greater variety of foods to eat without completely gorging yourself and without completely ungorging your wallet.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

this blog is the best* *source: this blog

Have you seen that commercial for a Dutch Boy paint that apparently eliminates odors? The commercial claims that 64% of people fail to notice odors in their own home. If you look at the fine print on the commercial, you'll find the source of that statistic: Dutch Boy Paints.

I'm a little curious first about the method Dutch Boy used to determine this. Did they send in a group of people to smell a house, have that group arrive at a (somewhat subjective) consensus about the nature of the odor, then ask the owner of the house whether he/she smells anything? I'm also a little suspicious of the 64% number since, oh, that works out to 16 out of 25 people. Could Dutch Boy provide some more data on how they arrived at this number? Exactly how large was the sample size?

Either way, to sell paint, Dutch Boy cites a statistic, then cites itself as the source of that statistic. Well done.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On the end of August

For many, the end of August is the end of something. But I feel the sense of new things beginning. It signals the beginning of a new academic year, which I still have enthusiasm for: it feels fresh and exciting. It signals the beginning of a new football season, which is of course a thrill. And it signals the turning of the season, the beginning of Autumn weather, which I also like.

At the end of August I don't feel a sense of ending; I feel the rush of something new beginning.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On "Bridezillas"

I've never really cared much for Reality Television, but recently I've started to see the appeal. And here it is:

You get to watch irrational people behaving irrationally.

That's it: that's the pleasure. Most of reality TV is still, to me, pretty boring. But when irrational people start behaving against all reason, reacting to events without any sense of proportion or sense, then that's fun to watch. Perhaps I'm an overly reasonable person, because I can't help being amazed and entertained by the unreasonable words and actions of unreasonable people (as long as they have the distance of television). And I don't consider that a guilty pleasure, because in this life, the only pleasures we should feel guilty about are those that harm others.

However, I'm not sure I should enjoy watching Bridezillas. Certainly, I get to watch irrational people behaving irrationally. But I'm very interested in gender representations in popular culture, and I think this show may perpetuate several negative stereotypes of women, specifically:

Women are overbearing shrews who domineer their husbands.

Women are selfish narcissists caring only for themselves and their desires.

Women are overemotional and react to minor setbacks with either yelling or tears.

That actually makes me feel a little guilty. I may be watching a sexist show that asks its audience to laugh at stereotypical portrayals of women behaving badly.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Necessity and Animal Consumption

In a New York Times conversation, Gail Collins brings up the suffering of pigs on factory farms. Ross Douthat responds:

"I’m a unapologetic species-ist: I reject Peter Singer and all his works."

Since Douthat claims to be a speciesist, it is difficult to argue the morality of our treatment of animals with him.* I can, however, argue with his logic. He writes:

"I would leave a thousand pigs to die in conditions of absolute misery to save a single human infant."

OK, that’s what one would expect from a speciesist. However, how many pigs would Douthat let die for one human being’s pleasure? Because when we talk about animal consumption in the modern developed world, that’s what we’re talking about. Individuals don’t eat meat to survive, but because they think the flesh of dead animals tastes good. When we’re talking about animals consumption, we’re not measuring the life of an animal against the life of a human. We’re measuring the life of an animal against the pleasure of a human. If you choose to eat meat, your pleasure is more important to you than the life of an animal.

Douthat also claims to be "susceptible" to arguments like that of

"an American farmer, which defends modern agriculture on the grounds of human welfare: 'We have to farm "industrially,"' he writes, if we hope 'to feed the world.'"

According to Marc Bekoff in Animals Matter,

"It takes about 16 pounds of grain to make a pound of beef."

Bekoff also writes that

"it takes about nine acres of farmland a year to produce the meat that one person eats. By comparison, a person who does not eat meat can be supported by only half an acre necessary to grow plant food for a year. Twenty vegetarians could live for a year on the amount of grains needed to provide meat for just one meat eater!"

Even if you dispute Bekoff's specific numbers, you can recognize the logic: it doesn't make sense to use land and resources to create food to filter it through animals to create less food. If your concern is actually to feed the world, then it is more efficient to feed the world plants.

Douthat justifies poor treatment of animals on the grounds that human life is more valuable than animal life (or more specifically, that the value of human life is absolute and the value of animal life is not). His defense of poor treatment of animals is a familiar switch 'em change-o: instead of making an argument defending killing animals for pleasure, he makes an argument defending killing animals for necessity. In doing so, he hasn't actually addressed Collins' claim that

"We should channel some of our concern for dogs and cats toward factory farms that keep masses of animals in a state of permanent discomfort until they’re slaughtered."

He just thinks he has.

*Though I might ask a question about the morality of our treatment of other humans. Douthat writes

"I think that the value of animal lives is contingent and the value of human lives absolute."

Can a war supporter really claim that the value human life is absolute? War always makes life contingent, relative. The war supporter claims that one group of people or type of people can be killed for the sake of something else. There’s really no getting around this: the logic of war says that there are some reasons for which some people may be killed (and modern warfare often means the people being killed are civilians). Doesn't the claim that "the value of human lives is absolute" contradict the support of a war, which claims that there is sometimes reason enough to take human life (even the claim that killing in war will save other lives denies the absolute value of human life, because the lives of some are measured against the lives of others)?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Brett Favre!

I've been blogging the hell out of the Vikings' new quarterback at Pacifist Viking.


According to Victoria Lowe at Yahoo!,

"Unless you're living a seriously alternative lifestyle, you've probably been communicating via text for a while now."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gratuitous Link

From the Onion: "Film Adaptation Of 'The Brothers Karamazov' Ends Where Most People Stop Reading Book"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Homemade Pizza

Making homemade pizza is terrific. Given the wide variety of potential pizza toppings in the world, you can really create a meal to your specific tastes (this is especially good for vegetable lovers), and different individuals in a group or family can have their own preferences. You also have more control to make it a healthier meal.

It's also a superb family activity. You can let children put toppings on their own pizza (or portion of a pizza), giving them a fun chance to participate in family meals. It's great when you can make meal preparation into a fun family activity in itself, and making pizza gives you that chance. Some kids really enjoy it.

I also recommend using pita bread as pizza crust: it's easy, can be lower in calories, and I think it tastes better.

So what if this blog becomes a boring diary of my experiments in vegetarian cooking?

Friday, August 14, 2009

On the economics of veggie sandwiches

One way to stay frugal is to avoid ordering meals at restaurants that you could prepare at home at similar quality for lower cost.

But I love veggie sandwiches of all sorts, and particularly frequent Subway for veggie subs (it's convenient, healthy, delicious, and filling). It's pretty affordable and extremely healthy (and easily vegan), so I always feel good about getting a veggie sub. But if I did feel the need to justify frequent Subway trips financially, I would claim to myself that I couldn't make a veggie sandwich with so many toppings at home at a cheaper cost. Sure, I could make a veggie sandwich, but how much would it cost to have as many toppings as Subway puts on? Fewer toppings means less quality, less satisfaction.

But I recently realized this argument only makes any sense for a person that is 1.) single and 2.) doesn't keep much fresh produce around. But now most of my meals involve planning for a family. And now I keep a high amount and wide variety of fresh produce around the house (this week I went to a grocery store four times in five days, primarily to get more fresh produce. Fruit and veggies are vital to my current lifestyle). That means that for the most part, it's easy and cost-effective to prepare quality veggie sandwiches at home. I should have realized it sooner: the only real difference between preparing for salads and preparing for veggie sandwiches is having the bread.

So I embark on a new era. Sure, I'll still try different restaurants' veggie sandwiches when I'm out, and I'll still frequent Subway for the convenience. But I already keep loads of fresh veggies around, and now I'll much more frequently make a veggie sandwiches at home (especially when it's a meal for the whole family). I can make sandwiches just as good and better at home than I can get at restaurants, and for a much better price. It's yet another filling, delicious, healthy vegetarian meal to make at home.

Things to do in St. Paul

Check out St. Paul Staycation.

Caprese Green Salad

I like the concept of Caprese salad (tomato and mozzarella based mix), but I like to eat a lot of green vegetables. Mixing some types of veggies (say, broccoli) would negatively detract from the essence of Caprese salad, but some work very well. Today I tossed together sliced tomatoes, chunks of mozzarella, small pieces of spinach leaves, and small cuts of fresh green beans with oil, basil, and salt, making a nice little alternative to a basic green salad. It tasted good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why I listen to "Celtic Woman"

All children deserves a chance to tell their friends about how lame their parents are. But as it is, I just don't afford my children any opportunity to do so. Because I don't want my children to be deprived of complaining about the lame tastes of their parents, I listen to "Celtic Woman." That's why.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Twin Cities Outdoor Art

Phalen Park in St. Paul: Lelvixin Changsha China

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Happily, our age now has a firm grip on all truth, and our values are perfect in every way.

In "Anachronistic Arrogance" in Religion Dispatches, Peter Laarman is critical of a tendency to dismiss the positive ideas, accomplishments, or art of historical figures because their social politics are not up to our progressive standards. I think of John Fowles in The French Lieutentant's Woman, speaking to his ages' sense of superiority over the Victorians:

"So much the better for us? Perhaps. But we are not the ones who will finally judge."

Happily, Laarman explicitly addressed the thought I had while reading his article (and often have when considering this problem of "anachronistic arrogance," as Laarman puts it):

"A little generosity and humility are called for here. I predict that the rap on this generation, and on even the most progressive among us, will end up being homo sapiens “species-ism.” And how will we feel when our good works and thoughts are dismissed because we disdained the sensibilities of whales and dolphins and horses and frogs and (yes) even that little piglet who contributed to yesterday’s breakfast?"

Fiction and Reality

In his article "The Courthouse Ring" in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes about Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Gladwell does not cite literary critics on the work; instead, he cites "the legal scholar Monroe Freedman," "the legal scholar Steven Lubet," and "the scholar Lisa Lindquist Dorr" who "has examined two hundred and eighty-eight cases of black-on-white rape that occurred in Virginia between 1900 and 1960."

I think there is insight to be found in this approach. However, I think in treating Atticus Finch as if he were a real life Alabama lawyer/politician of a particular time, Gladwell misses any of the real insights to be found in Atticus Finch as a fictional, imaginary character. If he wants to focus on a real time and place, his approach might help us to construct an understanding of Harper Lee's own values, biases, and limitations; instead of using real history and law to expose the flaws of the fictional Atticus Finch, he might use real history and law to expose the flaws of Harper Lee. However, Gladwell doesn't explicitly do this.

In this way, I think Gladwell combines two worlds. He tries to bring real Alabama history and society into the world of To Kill a Mockingbird, and he tries to pull the imaginary Atticus Finch out of a novel and set him in real Alamaba history and society. I don't think the approach quite works.

I grow tired of Garrison Keillor

I'm tired of Garrison Keillor posing himself as the authoritative voice of Minnesota, or more broadly the midwest. He speaks as if he has the insights into who "we" are, and he's the one with the ability to articulate it to the world (or more problematic, to us). I find a lot of his insights problematic (who is included or excluded from this "we," for example), but I'm particularly exhausted with his tone of wise homespun authority, as if when speaking about "us," he speaks for "us."

Gratuitous Quote

"A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses."

--Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The KC Chiefs in Wisconsin

The Kansas City Chiefs are holding their training camp at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in River Falls, WI. If you like football, it's a great idea to take the drive out there. It's a short drive from the Twin Cities, and it's a good time. There are relatively few people there: it's spacious and casual to move around watching an NFL team practice. It's a nice place to take a family, too.

If you go to River Falls, be sure to stop by the Grateful Bread bakery. Delicious cannolis! It's a great experience there. I've only had pastries and such there, but there are several vegetarian option on the menu, so I think I'll be stopping by there more frequently this year (especially since I'm ready to lighten up a little more on the mostly vegan lifestyle).

Here are some photos from our day at camp. First, your intrepid blogger, wearing his E.J. Henderson Viking t-shirt. I feel like a Henderson shirt outs me as a Viking rube. Any offensive skill position player would be expected, and defensive Pro Bowl stars like Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen, or Kevin Williams might be expected. But E.J. Henderson is a stud that the connoisseur Viking fan would root for. By the way, my son peed on this shirt and I went to the UW-RF book store to buy an emergency t-shirt (a UW-River Falls Theatre shirt--if I'm getting an emergency shirt, it might as well be for something I participated in).
My son Fox had a great time.

My wife and son Pacey.
The Chiefs' quarterbacks. A good looking group.
A nice interception

Dwayne Bowe

Matt Cassel. I think he could be a good quarterback.
Dwayne Bowe

A QB's pass goes by Dwayne Bowe's ankles.
Incidentally, we got to hear Chiefs' head coach Todd Haley yell at one wide receiver, and on a separate occasion he was shouting that a robot can't play wide receiver (hmm, a robot wide receiver). According to SI's Lee Jenkins, this is common occurance. On the topic, we also saw SI's Peter King watching practice. I mulled what a meeting might be like ("Hello Mr. King. I write for a Vikings blog where I spend a lot of time criticizing your writing. It's a pleasure to meet you").