- The Washington Times - Monday, January 25, 2010

Food barbarism

“In 1964, the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss published ‘The Raw and the Cooked’ (‘Le Cru et le Cruit’), in which he argued that turning raw food into cooked food traced a symbolic passage from nature to culture. Cooking, in other words, was a kind of bildungsroman for civilization itself. Levi-Strauss’ essay theorized what Julia Child’s popular television series, ‘The French Chef,’ had begun to demonstrate a year earlier with respect to American society; for we were evolving, under her tutelage, from the ‘raw’ to the ‘cooked’ — from meat loaf and mashed potatoes to coq au vin and pommes de terres lyonnaises. The recent film, ‘Julie and Julia,’ is an index to how far we have come, not only in our culinary evolution but in our cinematic one. …

“Julia Child’s introduction of French cooking to the American public also coincided — and arguably assisted — in the opening of America to foreign film, At the same time she was whipping up a sole meuniere on ‘The French Chef,’ American students were taking field trips to see the latest foreign import at Manhattan’s Paris Theater. It seems fitting, therefore, that a major turning point in the representation of food on film came from abroad, the 1987 Danish film ‘Babette’s Feast’ (‘Babettes gaestebud’). …

“Babette’s Feast tells the story of a refugee from the Paris uprisings of 1871 who escapes to Denmark and is taken in by two pious, elderly sisters who hire her as their cook. One day, the Frenchwoman has an unexpected windfall: She wins the lottery and decides to use the money to prepare a ‘real French dinner’ for her benefactors. … ‘Babette’s Feast’ became a cult favorite among an emerging population of ‘foodies’ — the term itself newly coined as gourmet cooking clubs began to replace bridge groups in upper-middle-class circles.”

Paula Marantz Cohen, writing on “Eat Drink Actor Director,” on Jan. 22 at the Smart Set

Booze barbarism

“Humankind’s first encounters with alcohol in the form of fermented fruit probably occurred in … an accidental fashion. But once they were familiar with the effect, archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes, humans stopped at nothing in their pursuit of frequent intoxication.

“A secure supply of alcohol appears to have been part of the human community’s basic requirements much earlier than was long believed. As early as around 9,000 years ago, long before the invention of the wheel, inhabitants of the Neolithic village Jiahu in China were brewing a type of mead with an alcohol content of 10 percent, McGovern discovered recently. …

“He carried the theory much further, aiming at a complete reinterpretation of humanity’s history. His bold thesis, which he lays out in his book ‘Uncorking the Past. The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverage,’ states that agriculture — and with it the entire Neolithic Revolution, which began about 11,000 years ago — are ultimately results of the irrepressible impulse toward drinking and intoxication.

“Available evidence suggests that our ancestors in Asia, Mexico, and Africa cultivated wheat, rice, corn, barley, and millet primarily for the purpose of producing alcoholic beverages,” McGovern explains.

Frank Thadeusz, writing on “Brewing Up a Civilization,” on Dec. 24 in Der Spiegel International

Green barbarism

“Recently, while I was brushing my teeth, my 6-year-old son scolded me for running the water too long. He severely reprimanded me, and at the end of his censure asked me, with real outrage, ‘Don’t you love the earth?’ And lately he has taken up the energy cause, scampering virtuously around the house turning off lights, even while I’m using them. He seems as stressed and anxious about the sins of environmentalism as I was about masturbation in the days of my Roman Catholic childhood.

“Not too long ago, at a party, a friend confessed in a group conversation that he didn’t really recycle. It was as if his casual comment had sucked the air out of the room — I think the CD player even skipped. He suddenly became a pariah. A heretic had been detected among the orthodox flock. During the indignant tongue-lashing that followed, people’s faces twisted with moral outrage. …

“Friedrich Nietzsche was the first to notice that religious emotions, like guilt and indignation, are still with us, even if we’re not religious. He claimed that we were living in a post-Christian world — the church no longer dominates political and economic life — but we, as a culture, are still dominated by Judeo-Christian values. And those values are not obvious — they are not the Ten Commandments or any particular doctrine, but a general moral outlook.”

Stephen T. Asma, writing on “Green Guilt” on Jan. 10 issue in the Chronicle of Higher Education

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