Monday, August 31, 2009

On buying local: What difference are you making?

Greg Breining, author of Fishing Minnesota and Wild Shore, has an opinion piece in Sunday's Star Tribune that questions traditional beliefs about the local-food movement. While the idea of buying local is big in Minnesota, and certainly popular this time of year, Breining maintains that it does not reap significant, tangible benefits in terms of saving energy and boosting the local economy.

Buying food locally is often touted as a way to save fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gases. Iowa State University reported in 2001 that, on average, an item of fresh produce travels more than 1,500 miles from farm to fork. If you cut that to 50 miles, wouldn't you save a lot of fuel and carbon dioxide?
You might think so, but transportation accounts for surprisingly little of the greenhouse gas produced by the food industry -- only 4 percent, according to Chris Weber, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Small-farm owner Steve Calvin offers a counterpoint to Breining's piece: "Does the local-food movement make a difference? It sure helps."

Image credit: Amy Mingo and Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Market life and animal studies

In its Sept. 2009 issue, Humanimalia, a journal of human/animal interface studies, reviews Nicole Shukin's Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times, the sixth installment in the University of Minnesota Press Posthumanities Series. The article uses this April 2009 AP photo of pigs captured in Hyderabad, India (as an attempt to monitor and contain the H1N1 swine flu pandemic so the city could go on with its business) to illustrate the critical framework of Shukin's book, which studies "how animal life is enmeshed in and integral to market cultures."

The central argument that capital routinely takes the form of animals – in both fetishized figure and usable flesh – confronts animal studies’ tendency to bracket off one for the sake of the other. Against her own disciplinary training as a literary scholar, Shukin insists on thinking these two dimensions of animal life together, on simultaneously foregrounding the “semiotic currency of animal signs and the carnal traffic in animal substances” across various sites of capitalist production and the social world more broadly; in effect, laying out a history and theory of animal-as-capital (7). In this sense, Animal Capital rephrases the pivotal “question of the animal,” posed by Cary Wolfe and pursued by other poststructuralist critics, in a firmly materialist register, but one that also takes seriously the seductive immateriality effects of animal imagery.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bacon haikus, chocolate watermelon on a stick, and other MN news

The Minnesota State Fair commences today, and with it, many articles of Minnesota history and state-fair nostalgia are making their way around the usual news circuits. Here are a few of interest:
-MPR's Cathy Wurzer checks out obscure places at the fair.
-Excitement has been building for weeks (er, months) about the newest food-on-a-stick offerings. A few of the most interesting new concoctions on sticks: Pot roast sundae and chocolate-covered watermelon.
-The Minnesota State Patrol exhibit will include a trooper's completely totaled car.
-There is, apparently, a bacon haiku contest. You have until 2 p.m. today to enter.
-The state fair is on Facebook.

-Subterranean Twin Cities author Greg Brick will be at the University of Minnesota Stage on Sept. 4th at 2 p.m.

-If the state fair's arrival makes you want to indulge your nostalgic side, renowned photographer Tom Arndt's Home will help you do just that. It includes an introduction by George Slade and a foreword by Garrison Keillor.

Other non-fair Minnesota shout-outs in the news:
-In an article about how Pittsburgh's literary scene is flourishing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette crowns Minneapolis "the capital of alternative publishing in the eyes of many."
-Jennifer Balderama writes about meeting an all-too-likely nemesis in the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota on the NYT Paper Cuts blog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A hungry American in Italy

I simply want to live in the place with the best food in the world.
This is the first line in Eric Dregni's forthcoming book, Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy's Culinary Capital. While Dregni did accomplish this dream, his experiences were indeed anything but simple.
Dregni had convinced his then-girlfriend, Katy, that the two should quit their jobs and live abroad for a few years. They wound up in the small fog-covered town of Modena, Italy, she as an English teacher and he as a part-time columnist for a local weekly paper.

Says Dregni: About half of these (segments in the book) appeared in a different form, actually in Italian, in my weekly column for Modena e Modena. The Modenesi seemed curious why an American would settle down in their town for three years. They wanted to know how I viewed their town, their habits, and of course, their food. My editor, Roberto, let me have free reign to explore the area and write whatever I wanted. He'd call me up late at night or first thing in the morning and tell me to meet him at the office. Often, he wouldn't tell me why—which wasn't easy to explain to Katy—and he'd bring me to his mysterious destination: a prosciutto factory, a casino in Slovenia, a parmesan factory, an architect's straw house, etc.

I have a whole list of titles that I weighed for awhile. I considered most of the (book's chapter titles), especially "Lessons from Guido." When I told friends about this title, though, they assumed it was an Italian-American "wise guy" book. If only Guido had been named Luigi, it might have made it. Here were a few others:

-Vicolo Forni
-Handy with a Fork
-Cooking with La Nonna
-Pet Pigs, Cheese Thieves, and Porn Stars

I originally wrote this book to be much, much longer. In fact, it included all my Italian experiences from when I was an exchange student in high school to the present. (I hope to finish up writing about the earlier Italian experiences in another book someday.)

Here's a section that didn't make it into the final manuscript, on a day visit to a vineyard of Lambrusco and Trebbiano wines outside of Modena:
The "real" Lambrusco isn't the headache-inducing Giacobazzi garbage, but is dry, fizzy, and delicious. Three main regions produce Lambrusco: Sorbara, Salamina, and Grasparossa.

The bus dropped Katy and me off on the foggy fields of the Po valley, and we waded through the mud to a medieval farm surrounded by an old stuccoed wall with lizards darting to and fro. I had called ahead, but the people at the farm were still skeptical of our intentions. Even so, they sat us down and fed us and filled us full of their great wine. Times were tough, but they gave us samples to bring back to the Twin Cities to see if they could export the wine. This was organic (biologico, in Italian) wine that was only about $2 a bottle and fantastic. Both the fizzy white and red (Lambrusco) were light on alcohol and perfect for summer, as an apertivo, or with a heavy zampone supper. The Wine Company and others told us that the American market wouldn't accept Lambrusco after the damage done by Giacobazzi's "Lambrusco Cola."

A book launch event for Never Trust a Thin Cook is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13th, at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. There will be free appetizers (from Loring Pasta Bar), a slide show presentation and a book signing. This event, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Center and the Concordia Language Villages on behalf of Lago del Bosco, is open to the public.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paul Chaat Smith on Indigenous Politics

Paul Chaat Smith, author of Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, will appear on Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond, a radio program on WESU. For air time, click here.

The show is hosted by Dr. J. Kehaulani Kauanui, an associate professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University. For those who are unfamiliar with the show, here is its description:
Featuring news and interviews that address Native American politics as well as the struggles of indigenous peoples around the globe. Indigenous Politics will be airing encore presentations of its best episodes of seasons past the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month, while continuing to air fresh, new episodes on the 2nd and 4th weeks.

If you'd like more book info: Smith and editor Jason Weidemann have recorded a Q&A that discusses this 16-years-in-the-making book's content, how it came to be titled, and more. You can listen to the 18-minute video in its entirety (or in 1- to 3-minute clips) here. Here is a short video extracted from the full interview:

Monday, August 24, 2009

When in Rome ...

Eric Dregni (above, pictured with the legendary Fabio), author of In Cod We Trust and the forthcoming Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy's Culinary Capital, has a travel piece in Sunday's Star Tribune about surviving the streets of Rome via Vespa (aka scooter).

Here are a few standout pieces of transportation advice he received from locals:

-"The only way to get across the street is to cross with arrogance. Act like you don't see the cars, and they will avoid you."
-"It's even safer to cross at the zebra stripes because if the drivers hit you, they pay double."
-"Never pay on the bus; people will know you're a tourist."

The college class of '13 has always known blue jello

Beloit College recently released its annual Mindset List for the college class of 2013 (born in 1991).

Among the 75 "cultural touchstones" for this class:

#34: They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
#35: Women have always outnumbered men in college.
#72: Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
and #75: There has always been blue Jell-O.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Carrie Meyer hits the road

...actually, she's been on the road all summer.
Carrie Meyer, an economics professor and author of Days on the Family Farm: From the Golden Age through the Great Depression, has shared a few photos from her Midwest book tour. The pictures include (top to bottom): Meyer's slideshow at Paulson Agriculture Museum in Argyle, IL; flowers at Klehm Arboretum in Rockford, IL; an early tractor produced in Rockford, IL; and a photo from Historic Prophetstown in Battleground, IN.

Says Meyer:
One great thing about writing a book about a Midwestern farm is that you can go to beautiful, relaxing places on book tour. And you can visit the friends and neighbors that helped to write the book. It was a special treat to speak at Warren Paulson’s Agriculture Museum in Argyle, IL. Warren has the most amazing collection of old farm tractors and other machinery, much of it produced locally in Rockford, IL. When I was working on the book, I read about farm equipment in the diaries. Warren could show me what it all looked like.

You can follow Carrie Meyer on Twitter, where she gives daily updates from the 100+ years-old diary of Midwestern farm wife May Lyford Davis (who is featured in the book), and see a preview of a few vivid Great-Depression-era photos that appear in her book.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tidbits: Jackson Hole, Vilhelm Moberg, Charles Darwin

Today begins the Jackson Hole Symposium, an annual and somewhat under-the-radar get-together of the world's top economists and central bankers. The Washington Post provides detail on "the biggest event of the year for Federal Reserve insiders":

The topic this year is "Financial Stability and Macroeconomic Policy," appropriate for a conference that comes two years after the outbreak of a financial crisis and almost one year after that crisis deepened.

The event that will likely receive the most attention is a speech by Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Friday morning. Bernanke's talk is titled "Lessons from a Year of Crisis," and should include his recounting of the events of the last year and lessons from the experience for policy in the future. In contrast to his recent, highly visible appearances, this speech is not scheduled to be televised (a text will be published on the Fed's Web site, however).

-111 years ago today, Vilhelm Moberg, one of Sweden's greatest writers, was born. University of Minnesota Press has published his magnificent and popular two-volume "A History of the Swedish People," translated by Paul Britten Austin and with a foreword by Nobel Prize-winner Gunnar Myrdal. You can find more info here and here.

-On this date in 1958, Charles Darwin first published his theory of evolution alongside a similar theory from Alfred Russell Wallace in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London. As a small token of commemoration, here's a recent article that backs up Darwin's theory about the human eye.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'The book America didn't know it needed'

Debra Dickerson calls it "the book America didn't know it needed." Library Journal calls it "an unsettling and illuminating argument." Don Imus himself has expressed on his radio show that it has "a lot of big words." Today, Michael Awkward, author of Burying Don Imus: Anatomy of a Scapegoat, has agreed to answer a few questions with regard to his book's content.

1: At an initial glance, your book appears to be a defense of Don Imus's 2007 on-air comments that led to his firing at CBS. How would you explain your book's premise?

MA: The book isn't a defense of Imus's comments, but an attempt to place them -- and the hysterical reactions to them -- within a larger historical and cultural context. When I was writing the book, I saw the "nappy-headed hos" controversy as the latest in a series of events that date back at least to the mid-1990s involving charges of white racism directed at blacks when our overarching racial narrative -- of whites always poised to mistreat blacks because of deep-seated animus -- is simply not adequate to explain contemporary motivations and outcomes on many occasions. Blacks' knee-jerk reactions to such events (the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the latest case in point) suggest to me a troubled sense of beholdedness to a view that black Americans' place in the nation is static and unchanging, a view of history's unambiguous meanings for the present that blinds us sometimes to the possibly fuller and more nuanced meanings of such incidents. I look at this recent history of overreaction, and inquire into how blacks themselves use the words that got Imus and his crew into such trouble. The book asks about the implications of the increasingly mainstream place of hip-hop culture -- and black culture more generally -- in American life, and what it means for whites (including comic acts like Imus) to take up (and even parody) black usages of the racially charged phrase and sexist sentiments embodied in those three words. I'm concerned that blacks sometimes can't see the trees of today for the forests of history, and believe that better, deeper thinking about incidents like this controversy might pave the way for significant social progress.

2: Some people would say the Imus incident, now 2 years old, is in the past. Similarly, the Gates-Crowley incident has faded from the news. What does this say about the transient nature of news, when such widely-covered events that have the potential to provide significant lessons on long-standing issues in society can just as quickly fade from the spotlight?

MA: The past lingers, these incidents linger, and become part of our cultural memory even when they no longer occupy center stage. I'm skeptical about the prospects for a sustained national dialogue about anything, but I do believe that these sorts of controversies recur because they are so similar to incidents with which we are familiar. When a Brooklyn teacher was chastised by black parents for teaching a book with the word "nappy" in the title because they are certain -- without having read the book themselves -- that her intent is to cause her students to develop a negative sense of their racial identity, we can remember or at least imagine moments when such negative behavior did actually occur. (Think, for instance, of the scene in Spike Lee's Malcolm X when a white teacher tells the young protagonist that he can't aspire to be a lawyer because he is black.) We need to continue to guard against such attitudes and acts of training about racial, biological, and cultural limitations. But we also need to recognize the idiocy of such pronouncements in the post-civil rights United States. Since its end, many blacks have openly embraced the word "nappy," for instance, as a mark of cultural difference, even pride. We need to consider that sense of pride when we discuss Imus's faux pas, certainly. We need to learn the limitations of ill-informed reaction.

Further thoughts about the book:

MA: I thought I could help the dialogue about the event itself and the controversies it suggests precisely because I was skeptical at times of reactions such as those that accompanied the "Nappy Hair" moment, and because I was a loyal and well-informed Imus viewer. Also, I love comedy and -- maybe even especially -- comedians who push the envelope, who are willing to offend not for offense's sake, but to make us rethink our assumptions. And I know that that's a big part of the comedic banter of Imus in the Morning.

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