- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Taste test

“I would buy two complete sets of ingredients, one at Walmart and the other at Whole Foods. The chef would prepare them as simply as possible, and serve two versions of each course, side by side on the same plate, to a group of local food experts invited to judge. …

“As I had been in my own kitchen, the tasters were surprised when the results were unblinded at the end of the meal and they learned that in a number of instances they had adamantly preferred Walmart produce. And they weren’t entirely happy.

“In an ideal world, people would buy their food directly from the people who grew or caught it, or grow and catch it themselves. But most people can’t do that. If there were a Walmart closer to where I live, I would probably shop there.

“Most important, the vast majority of Walmarts carry a large range of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. And Walmarts serve many ‘food deserts,’ in large cities and rural areas — ironically including farm areas. I’m not sure I’m convinced that the world’s largest retailer is set on rebuilding local economies it had a hand in destroying, if not literally, then in effect. But I’m convinced that if it wants to, a ruthlessly well-run mechanism can bring fruits and vegetables back to land where they once flourished, and deliver them to the people who need them most.”

Corby Kummer, writing on “The Great Grocery Smackdown” in the March issue of the Atlantic

Good story

“[Author Zachary] Mason’s fragment prods us to second thoughts. [Odysseus] is a hero, after all, who, upon returning home to Ithaca, goes off on one of literature’s wildest lying sprees. To his wife, father, and household staff, Odysseus tells a series of tall tales, ostensibly to test everyone’s allegiance. But his stories are far more intricate and embroidered with detail than is necessary for that purpose. He even tries to put one over on Athena, telling the goddess — disguised as a local shepherd boy that he’s a Cretan fugitive. …

“Mason is hardly the first to pick up on this strangeness. How to understand Odysseus’ lies has been at the heart of retellings going back to the 5th century B.C. Sophocles cast him as a hero in ‘Ajax’ and a villain in ‘Philoctetes.’ Virgil, claiming the Trojans as ancestors of Rome, called Ulysses cruel and deceitful. …

“Mason isn’t interested in making a moral judgment. In Odysseus, he’s found a kindred spirit: a supremely talented storyteller forever dreaming up new material. The effect of reading ‘The Lost Books’ is to make you realize that it’s not just its narrative of homecoming that makes ‘The Odyssey’ so archetypal. It’s also that the poem captures the irrepressible human impulse to tell stories. And, perhaps, to favor a good story over a strictly accurate one.”

John Swansburg, writing on “History’s First Unreliable Narrator,” on Feb. 18 at Slate

Oscar dry run

“Britain’s annual BAFTA awards (honoring excellence in the film, television and video game industries) took place last night. If the outcomes there were any indication of what we might see in L.A. on March 7, Kathryn Bigelow’s going to be one happy director. Her 2009 film, ‘The Hurt Locker,’ won six of the eight categories it was nominated for, including Best Film, Director and Original Screenplay.

“‘Avatar’ took home awards in the Special Visual Effects and Production Design categories. Other winners included ‘Up In The Air’ for Adapted Screenplay and ‘Up’ for Animated Film. As far as individual actors, Colin Firth and Carey Mulligan were named Leading Actor and Actress, and Christoph Waltz and Mo-Nique nabbed Supporting Actor and Actress awards.

“Are any of these wins destined to repeat themselves at the Oscars in a couple of weeks? If history does indeed repeat itself, that might be the case. Last year, the BAFTAs named ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Best Film, and its director, Danny Boyle, was given the director award. Also, Kate Winslet won the Leading Actress award for her role in ‘The Reader.’ These same people/films were given the equivalent recognition by the Academy a few weeks later across the pond.”

Anna Swindle, writing on “The Hurt Locker wins big at the BAFTA” on Feb. 22 at Paste magazine

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