The diner as American icon

Foreigners are fascinated by American diners, seeing them as icons of American culture.  So says the BBCg:

Sitting in a diner, on the inside looking outside.

This is a quintessential American experience. Add a booth, a Formica counter and a cup of joe – as diner patrons call their coffee.

Themed restaurants and burger chains from Mumbai to Manchester aim to replicate this chrome-flashed experience, and diner fare such as home fries and fluffy pancakes are now global fast food staples.

So why are these kerbside kitchens a landmark of US culture?

The first such establishment opened in 1872 in Providence, Rhode Island – a “night lunch wagon” to serve those who worked and played long after the restaurants had shut at 20:00.

Its mix of open-all-hours eating and cheap, homemade food proved a hit, and the formula has been repeated ever since.

Today the diner occupies a place in the American heartland. The closest British approximation is not a retro-chic replica diner where hip patrons eat gourmet burgers, but the local pub.

Just as dignitaries visiting the UK and Ireland are taken for a pint and a photo call, no US election campaign is complete without a stop at a diner to emphasise the candidate’s everyman or everywoman credentials.

On the campaign trail in a diner (clockwise from left): George W Bush, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Al Gore Common touch: The diner is now a compulsory stop on the campaign trail

“The thing about this democratic counter is that anyone can go in and sit down. It can be a professor, it can be a worker,” says Richard Gutman, author of American Diner Then and Now.

“A friend of mine in Pennsylvania ate in a diner and he’s in the middle of two guys. One is the chief of police and the other is just some character. The policeman looks over and says, ‘Didn’t I arrest you last year?’ and the guy says, ‘Yes you did – pass the ketchup.’”

via BBC News – Why the diner is the ultimate symbol of America.

That diners are democratic is striking in countries with a rigid class system!  The article goes on to survey the figure of the diner in American art (Edward Hopper) and movies (Pulp Fiction).   I would say that other countries would do well to imitate our diners, as opposed to our fast food joints.

Stem cell sausage

Yum!

Scientists are on the verge of growing artificial meat in laboratories without the need for animal slaughter, according to a report cited Thursday by The Herald Sun — with one expert predicting a stem cell sausage might be just six months away.

Researchers say the advent of “pain-free” meat produced from stem cells could save millions of animals from the abattoir and help the environment through substantially reduced energy, land and water use.

Dutch researcher Dr. Mark Post, of Maastricht University, predicts the first synthetic sausage could be just six months away.

“I’m hopeful we can have a hamburger in a year,” he told New Scientist.

But a major stumbling block will be turning cultured meat into a tasty, textured and nutritious option that could make mouths water in supermarkets and restaurants. The time and cost involved are also major hurdles.

Post said the meat — pig cells fed with horse fetal serum — he had grown did not look appetizing because it was white.

“It’s white because there’s no blood in it, and very little myoglobin, the iron-bearing protein,” he said. “We are looking at ways to build up the myoglobin content to give it color.”

via Slaughter-Free Stem Cell Meat Sausage Coming Soon | Fox News.

So could a vegan PETA supporter eat one of these sausages that is made without killing an animal?  Or would the fact that it still uses pig cells violate the principles of animal rights?  And in that event, would the vegan PETA supporters join pro-lifers in opposing abortion and fetal stem cell research?

What do you think of this?  Does a stem cell hamburger sound good?  Should we try to synthesize meat so that it would not be necessary to slaughter the animal?

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . .

Some time ago on this blog, I sort of took issue with the “Common Table Prayer” commonly used by Lutherans, prayed in unison before a meal.   Remember that I did not grow up in this tradition, and I considered it more of a rhyming sing-song children’s prayer, favoring instead the prayer in the catechism with its use of the Psalm (“The eyes of all look to you, O Lord. . .”) or a spontaneous personal prayer.  How presumptuous I was in questioning a devotion hallowed by untold numbers of Christians for generations!

Since then I have come to appreciate and to use that prayer.  Above all, it is a prayer that focuses upon Christ’s presence–asking Him to come into our lives, into our vocations, into our family as everyone is seated around the table–and acknowledges Christ’s gifts, that the food we are about to eat comes from His hand and that ordinary life is the sphere of His blessings.

Along those lines and to go even deeper into the Biblical dimensions of this little prayer, you have got to read the piece by Dr. David Loy in the latest Lutheran Witness.  It deserves to become a classic.  You need to read the whole thing, but this is the summary:

“Come, Lord Jesus,” we cry with the Church, longing for our Lord to return in glory and set us and this entire sinful world right. “Be our guest,” we ask Him, knowing that the house that receives Jesus in faith receives His salvation. “Let Thy gifts to us be blessed,” we pray, trusting that the food on our tables will be sufficient to nourish us to do the work the Lord has given us in this world. It is such a simple prayer, and yet it gives voice to so many longings that our faith produces in us. We long for Jesus to come again, we long for the salvation He brings, and we long to be nourished to do the work He gives us.

via The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.

Is ending a bad program a tax increase?

Senator Tom Coburn, who represents my natal state of Oklahoma, is probably the biggest deficit hawk in Congress.  He’s a deficit eagle, as fiscally responsible and economically conservative as they come.  But he’s taking flack from conservative activist Grover Norquist and others for violating the no new taxes pledge that most Republican lawmakers have taken.  Why?  Because Sen. Coburn is spearheading an effort to drop ethanol subsidies, which include a tax credit for that industry.

Most conservatives consider the ethanol subsidies to be a huge waste of money, an outdated concession to environmentalists, though farmers like that industry because it buys up so much of the corn crop, sending prices sky-high.  It sends the price for other commodities sky high too, since many farmers are cutting back the production of wheat and other crops in order to plant more corn, which cuts the supply of those other commodities.  But liberals also consider them a waste of money, a payoff to big corporations.  And there is a consensus that the subsidies cause actual harm to poor countries, since turning food into fuel and the consequent high food prices means more hunger for the poorest of the poor.  And even environmentalists now oppose the ethanol option, since it burns more fossil fuels to produce it–all of those tractors in cornfields–than it replaces.  And in this time of economic travail and crippling federal deficits, the subsidies are costing taxpayers $6 billion per year.

So why not kill the beast?  Because part of the subsidy is in the form of a tax credit, so repealing it would be a tax increase, and 95% of Republican lawmakers have promised not to vote for a tax increase.

See Coburn prompts Senate vote on ethanol subsidies – The Washington Post.

Once again, in politics as in religion,  we see the spirit of legalism, which violates the spirit of the law in order to keep the letter.

Can common sense be restored to our government?  Can this country even be governed in today’s political climate?

Super E. Coli

A food-poisoning epidemic in Europe is reportedly caused by a super-toxic strain of the E. coli bacteria:

Scientists on Thursday blamed Europe’s worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak on a “super-toxic” strain of E. coli bacteria that may be brand new.

But while suspicion has fallen on raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as the source of the germ, researchers have been unable to pinpoint the food responsible for the frightening illness, which has killed at least 18 people, sickened more than 1,600 and spread to least 10 European countries.

An alarmingly large number of victims — about 500 — have developed kidney complications that can be deadly.

Chinese and German scientists analyzed the DNA of the E. coli bacteria and determined that the outbreak was caused by “an entirely new, super-toxic” strain that contains several antibiotic-resistant genes, according to a statement from the Shenzhen, China-based laboratory BGI. It said the strain appeared to be a combination of two types of E. coli.

“This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before,” Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. The new strain has “various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing” than the many E. coli strains people naturally carry in their intestines.

via Outbreak in Europe blamed on ‘super-toxic’ strain – Yahoo! News.

The specific source of the outbreak has not yet been pinpointed.  In the meantime, stay away from European vegetables.  Let’s hope the super bacteria can be isolated and dealt with before it spreads throughout the world.

Food & ideology

A Washington Post food writer, Andreas Viestad, discusses the Italian futurist artist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who tried to carry his aesthetic into food with his 1932 Futurist Cookbook.

 

Marinetti was the leader of the Italian futurists, a poet and demagogue closely associated with the ruling fascists but often in conflict with them. (He criticized them for being too traditional and for their anti-Semitism.) He is best remembered for his many manifestos calling for a break with the past. One of his most memorable and controversial was the “Manifesto Against Past-Loving Venice,” wherein he suggested that the “small, stinking canals” of Venice be “filled with the rubble of the past” and paved over and that it be rebuilt as a modern militarized and industrialized city.

His venture into gastronomy started in 1926, when in another manifesto he called for a ban on pasta, describing it as “an absurd Italian gastronomic religion.” The favorite food of Italians, Marinetti claimed, made them lazy, tradition-bound and pacifist. He was met with massive protests. Petitions were signed. Housewives took to the streets. An enraged nationalistic journalist even challenged Marinetti to a duel. Marinetti accepted and — as happened so often in his colorful career — lost. He was gravely injured.

Marinetti’s many stunts made him famous, but they are also why he was seldom taken seriously. Today he is an obscure figure, even in Italy. But when I read “Futurist Cookbook,” I have little doubt he was on to something. Many of his ideas have since become commonplace. His proposal to make a cuisine that consisted of lighter sauces, bite-size dishes and “a consistent lightening of weight and reduction of volume of food-stuffs” is pretty uncontroversial, even though it sounded strange at the time.

Other ideas have an uncanny similarity to what is happening at the frontline of creative cuisine today. A recurring theme in Marinetti’s work, for instance, is the participation of all senses while dining, as illustrated by “A Tactile Dinner Party.” In another futurist meal idea, a house is built on a tongue of land between ocean and lake, and the smells from the sea, the lake and a nearby barn all contribute to the experience. Several other meals involve scent or music. When Blumenthal at the Fat Duck asks a diner to don headphones and listen to the sound of the sea while eating an oyster, he clearly has entered some of the same territory.

Similarly, Marinetti’s chapter “Invitation to Chemistry” has been answered by today’s modernist cooks, who are both lauded and criticized for being technology-focused and for using texture- and flavor-altering chemical compounds in their food. Playing with the shape and the appearance of the food is pretty commonplace today. At El Bulli, I was once served a dish consisting of two perfectly simple raw razor clams, one real and one faux. Playing with the diner’s expectations is also one of the ideas behind my futurist-inspired recipe for an orange-colored, orange-smelling dish that doesn’t actually contain orange (see recipe, Page E6).

via The Gastronomer: What if one futurist had made his ideas more delicious? – The Washington Post.

Cuisine is an art form, no less than music and painting, and I have often wondered about the extent to which a particular approach to food is expressive of ideology and worldview.  For example, Asian food is directly tied to Taoism, with the putting together of sweet and sour, smooth and crunchy, etc., expressing the yin and the yang, the balance of opposites that is the key to harmony in the universe.  I have known Christians who would not think of partaking of books, movies, or music that are not “Christian” who nevertheless love to eat Chinese food, not caring about its worldview as long as it tastes good.  (Do realize I’m not opposing Asian cuisine, far from it, any more than I’m advocating staying away from other art forms that aren’t Christian.  The aesthetic elements, whether food that tastes good or art that is in good taste, already fall under the created order of God’s rule.)

Marinetti’s ghastly ideas–the rejection of tradition (making Italians give up pasta?) and the embrace of chemicals and technology–are clearly modernist.  His radicalism and his assaults on ordinary human values–thinking they can be changed by mere willpower–are also clearly fascist.

So is the traditional arrangement of meat and potato and vegetables separately on a plate an expression of American individualism, as opposed to the communal pots of many combined ingredients that more communal cultures favor?  Are casseroles favored at church pot luck dinners because in their mushing together of diverse ingredients they express Christian community?  And what are we to make of the postmodernist touch in so many restaurants today of stacking the different foods on top of each other?

How does fast food express the consumer capitalism of the pop culture?  Can you tell someone’s political beliefs by what they eat?

OK, how far can we take this?  (I’m being partially serious and partially unserious.)

 

I’ve written about the Futurists and their very real (but often minimized) connection to Fascism.  They demonstrate that Fascism was most certainly NOT conservative, but instead “the latest thing” much beloved by  “cutting edge” artist and thinkers.


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