Transition: Emotional Resilience In Traumatic Times…



From CAROLYN BAKER
Age of Limits

In March, 2011, I returned from Northern California where residents there were profoundly anxious regarding the effects of radiation on the West Coast from Fukushima. How not, when on April 1, the San Francisco area newspaper, Bay Citizen, reported that “Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster”?

In typical American media fashion, out of sight, out of mind. Fewer and fewer stories of radiation realities in and issuing from Japan are being reported in mainstream news. An occasional comment surfaces, usually assuring us that we have nothing to fear. It’s all so benign. Apparently, we can now move on to “really important” stories like the 2012 election campaign.

And yet, whether explicitly stated or not, Americans and billions of other individuals throughout the world, are not only terrified about radiation but about their economic future—an economic future which will be inexorably more ruinous as a result of the Japan tragedy and its economic ripples globally. By that I do not mean that they feel mild anxiety about embellishing their stock portfolios, but rather, are feeling frightened about how they are going to feed their families, where they will live after losing their house in foreclosure, where they might find employment in a world

Transition: Sustainable Living as Religious Observance…


From DMITRY ORLOV
Club Orlov

I have spent the last few days at a conference organized by the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary near Artemas, Pennsylvania. Titled “The Age of Limits,” it was well attended and promises to be one of a series of annual conferences to address the waning of the industrial age and the social adaptation it makes necessary. This conference was quite different from all the others I have attended.

First, the venue is a campground; a beautiful one, consisting of lush meadows surrounded by an equally lush but passable forest girded on three sides by a fast-flowing creek of cold, clean water. This sanctuary is dedicated to nature spirituality, and includes a very impressive stone circle and a multitude of little shrines, altars, charms and amulets hung on trees. (Also included is an assortment of cheerful hippies skinny-dipping in the creek.) Second, spirituality was prominently featured in the presentations: the question of spiritual and emotional adaptation to fast-changing, unsettled times was very much on the agenda. Third, the campground is owned by a church; one of undefined denomination, theological bent or specific set of beliefs, but a church nevertheless. Lastly, the campground is run by a monastery that is at the heart of this church; the monks and nuns do not wear habits, do not seem to have taken any specific vows other than those of loyalty, poverty and obedience, but in substance not too different

Transition: How to Start a Tool Lending Library…


From DAVID LANG
MakeZine.com

David Lang, something of a reluctant maker, is on a journey, intensively immersing himself in maker culture and learning as many DIY skills as he can, in part through a generous arrangement with our pals at TechShop. He’s regularly chronicling his efforts in this column — what he’s learning, who he’s meeting, and what hurdles he’s clearing…

Throughout my Zero to Maker journey, I’ve prided myself on how much I’ve been able to accomplish without actually owning many of the tools I’ve needed. As someone with a tight budget and an even smaller studio apartment, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I can accomplish through collaborative outlets like TechShop and Noisebridge. However, last week, my strategy fell apart.

While working on building a standing desk in my room, the cheap, electric drill I was using totally gave out on me. I was building the desk out of large pieces of reclaimed wood, the drill was a critical part of the equation, and hauling the entire project to TechShop made no sense. If only there was an easy way to borrow a tool. Turns out, there is, but not for me because I live in San Francisco. If I lived across the Bay in Berkeley or Oakland, I could swing by the local Tool Lending Library and get what I needed.

Tool Lending Libraries work just like book lending libraries, except they allow the temporary use of tools instead of books. They allow a community to access the tools they need

How to Not Kill a Cyclist…


From MATTHEW BALDWIN
TheMorningNews

My friend was driving down a suburban road, me in the passenger seat, when he came up behind a cyclist. There was no bike lane and a car was approaching from the opposite direction, so he slowed such that we remained behind the rider.

After the other car went by, my friend began to accelerate, intent on passing. “Hang on,” I said. “There’s a sharp bend just ahead, and you don’t want to pass while we’re both going around it.”

“Why not?”

“Because—well, just watch.”

My friend tapped the brake and fell back. As the rider navigated the curve, he swung out into the road and upon reaching the straightaway returned to the shoulder. As my friend passed a few seconds later, the cyclist gave a friendly wave.

“Got it,” my friend said to me. “Thanks.”

I’m not a better driver than my friend—in fact, quite the opposite. But I am a cyclist, while he is not, and he appreciated knowing more about how we operate.

As many cyclists are aware, there are entire bookstore sections devoted to advice on co-existing with cars. We read them as if our lives depended on them, because often they do. But there are also many things bike riders would like drivers to know—like, we don’t ride on the sidewalk for a reason (it’s dangerous and in many places illegal), or that “cyclists” and “pedestrians on bicycles” are two distinct groups, or that we know we look ridiculous in bike shorts. As well as the following:

Gene Logsdon: What Is The Secret Of Parsnips?


From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Whenever I go to a big supermarket that carries fresh food, I always find these long, wrinkled, ugly, rooty-looking things called parsnips on display. Someone must like them or they wouldn’t be there, but I can’t find anyone who admits to eating them, or anyone who knows what the attraction might be. It certainly isn’t phallic, as carrots sometimes get portrayed.  What is the allure of parsnips?

We grew parsnips once. They were slow to germinate so weeds got a head start on them. As for taste, I am not saying they weren’t edible if cooked with enough butter, but that is kind of true of cardboard too. Parsnips are “best” in early spring after having spent the entire winter in cold or even frozen soil. The cold enhances their taste which tells me that in the fall they must taste terrible. Nowadays, marketers sometimes refrigerate fall-harvested parsnips before selling them.

Parsnips have been cultivated and cherished at least back as far as ancient Roman times. The most obvious reason for their popularity is that they are available to eat before any new growth arrives in spring, a real advantage before modern storage methods came along. But there are other roots in the ground that also survive winter. Why parsnips?  Help me out here.

What little solid history I can find about the parsnip only increases the mystery. In Gardening For Profit, an interesting old book by Peter Henderson, first published in 1867, the author goes to great length pointing out that parsnips

Krugman, Hartmann: End This Depression Now…



From THOM HARTMANN

Keynes was right, Reagan was wrong… We’ve gone through a great forgetting…

We have a monoculture of ruthless corporations as the only way we do business… Without strong unions, Big Money is all there is…

The tepid response to the current economic crisis could ruin the United States and Europe.

We are living through a time where we face an enormous economic challenge… We are facing — obviously — the worst challenge in 80 years and we are totally mucking up the response. We’re doing a terrible job. We’re failing to deal with it. All of the people, the respectable people, the serious people, have made a total hash of this. That is a recipe for radicalism. It is a recipe for breakdown…

There are a lot of ugly forces being unleashed in our societies on both sides of the Atlantic because our economic policy has been such a dismal failure, because we are refusing to listen to the lessons of history. We may look back at this thirty years from now and say, ‘That is when it all fell apart.’ And by all, I don’t just mean the economy.
~~

Genuine Heirlooms are Seeds with Stories…



Heirloom bean harvest. Credit: Patricia Larenas

From PATRICIA LARENAS
Shareable

Genuinely heirloom seeds are seeds with stories. They were passed down through generations of families and communities. Typically, they traveled long distances with immigrants to new lands as cherished food plants. These traditional sources of food were a comfort, and beyond that, a necessity. In our urban supermarket and fast-food culture it’s easy to forget that at one time families relied on what they could grow, and the crops they grew were a rainbow of diversity.

What happens to these unique varieties of edibles when there is no one to grow them and pass seeds on to the next generation? Extinction. Many have already been lost, but there are heroic efforts underway to save as many as possible, along with their stories.

A Cucumber Lost, Then Found

For example, I love the story of the Collier Cucumber, named after a family who began growing it in about 1910, after being given seeds by traveling gypsies. Seed sleuth Sara Straate, was able to collect information through interviews with the Collier children. Straate, who is a Seed Historian with Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), learned that in the 1950’s the parents had planted all of the seeds they had. As fate (and weather) would have it, the entire crop failed. The family was crushed to have lost this much-loved cucumber, which they ate fresh

Hey, Mendo Right-Wing Fascists: Ya got nothin to tell and sell but hate and fear…


From DAVE SMITH
Ukiah

[Here in Mendo we have our Sunday Ukiah Daily Journal served frequently with a prominent helping of steaming garbage from the far right on the op-ed pages. Here to save the day, The Three Mouskateers, Messrs. Mark Albrecht, John Hendricks and Mark Rohloff have taken it upon themselves to "promote the conservative point of view in Ukiah". They do not appeal with logic nor documented systematic analysis. It's all "pot calling the kettle black" and pure, red-hot, hyperbolic hate.

Marvin Gentz, bless his heart, and others strive mightily to counter their feverish, inept, ineloquent spewing, and my fingers are getting itchy to blast them back.

With apologies to the community, public service sometimes requires us to acknowledge the existence of those who would destroy democracy if we didn't stay vigilant. Here is their latest (UDJ 5/27/12) from the fire-and-brimstone gates of Mousekateer hell... -DS]

In the beginning of our once great country, the United States of America was founded on the joint understanding that God was our guide and partner in the enterprise of freedom. Those who landed at Plymouth Rock sought the guidance of the Almighty, too, and eventually premised the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on this relationship. In fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution states freedom of religion to be the cornerstone of our enterprise.

Dumb Rich People…


From ALAN GRAYSON
Reader Supported News

A few weeks ago, it was reported that some right-wing rich guys’ club had pledged $100 million to defeat President Obama. The Koch Brothers led the way, pledging $60 mil. Which is pocket change, when your net worth is $50,000,000,000.00.

Leaving aside the obvious issue – the estate tax – I’m puzzled as to why all those right-wing rich folks feel that way. The foundation of their wealth – the stock market – has performed vastly better when Democrats have been in charge.

In 2008, the New York Times reported that since 1929, $10,000 invested in the stock market under Democratic Presidents (over 40 years) had become $300,671. Meanwhile, $10,000 invested in the stock market under Republican Presidents (over 35 years) had become only $11,733.

Well, at least the affluent caste didn’t lose money during Republican regimes, right? Wrong. The value of the dollar dropped by 92% during that period. So in real value, $10,000 invested in the stock market under Republican Presidents actually became just $955. And forty-six cents. In economic terms, roughly the same effect as some foreign enemy blowing up 90% of our factories, warehouses, farms, malls, office buildings, apartment buildings, and every other productive asset.

Poor rich people. All the money gone. Those darned Republicans.

Michael Shuman: The Little Grocery That Could…


From  MICHAEL SHUMAN
BALLE

[Author Michael Shuman, Local Dollars, Local Sense, is well-known here in Mendo. He was here most recently giving an all-day seminar, and gave two wonderful presentations about local business during our successful fight to stop the Masonite Monster Mall. Entrepreneur Jason Brown, Your Local Market in Bellevue, Washington, is a dear friend. -DS]

What happens next in the economy – the nation’s, the state’s, and Seattle’s – no longer lies in the hands of Capitol Hill politicians, the Federal Reserve, or even the boards of companies like Microsoft and Starbucks.  It depends on entrepreneurs like Jason Brown, who has big ambitions for his small business.  Jason recently opened a grocery store in the heart of downtown Bellevue called Your Local Market. It combines the best features of Whole Foods, like high-quality local and organic products, with down-to-earth prices and familiar brands of low cost cleaning products.

Jason, however, is not your typical small businessperson. For more than three decades he has been an innovator in retailing. He brought Columbia Sportswears to New Zealand and Australia.  He created the Natural Apothecary, which was sold to Wild Oats, and then went on to develop Andrew Weil Vitamin Advisor.  He grew a bi-coastal company called Organic To Go, which at its peak made healthy options available in 33 cafes and 150 outlets.

Today, Jason is all about “local.” He and his team have scoured the Pacific Northwest for great suppliers of local fruits, meats, and wines

Gimme some of that Seth Godin would ya?…


From SETH GODIN

[For the small-time marketer, the non-profiter, the freelancer and the local small town entrepreneur... -DS]

The tyranny of low price

If you build your business around being the lowest-cost provider, that’s all you’ve got. Everything you do has to be a race in that direction, because if you veer toward anything else (service, workforce, impact, design, etc.) then a competitor with a more single-minded focus will sell your commodity cheaper than you.

Cheapest price is the refuge for the marketer with no ideas left or no guts to implement the ideas she has.

Everyone needs to sell at a fair price. But unless you’ve found a commodity that must remain a commodity, a fair price is not always the lowest price. Not when you understand that price is just one of the many tools available.

A short version of this riff: The low-price leader really doesn’t need someone with your skills.
~

“If I were you…”

But of course, you’re not.

And this is the most important component of strategic marketing: we’re not our customer.

Empathy isn’t dictated

James Lee: Local Money…


From JAMES LEE
Anderson Valley

‘Give me control of a nations money supply, and I care not who makes it’s laws’ ~ Amschel Rothchilds

It is critical to understand when, how and why the privately owned, for profit, corporate Fed Reserve and their crony banksters plan to eliminate the dollar and convert us all in one fell swoop to a digital currency.

Less than 7% of all transactions are cash. Merchants, big and small, are now switching to the new Paypal Iphone swiping technology that attaches to YOUR iphone, as they undercut the 3% fee charged by the major credit card companies, making the conversion to a digital currency seamless.

“PayPal today launched a new device, called PayPal Here, in the US, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong, that consists of a free, triangle shaped card reader and mobile phone application. The gadget connects into the top of iPhones and iPads allowing merchants to take payments on the go from any any of the four major credit cards (including American Express), PayPal accounts and even checks!”
http://www.business-opportunities.biz/2012/03/15/paypal-introduces-credit-card-swiping-iphone-device/

Spain, Italy and Greece have enacted strict (less than $1500 Euro) customer withdrawals of cash

Todd Walton: Austerity


From TODD WALTON
UnderTheTableBooks
Mendocino

“When we deeply understand that actions bring results, it can motivate us to take active responsibility for our actions and our lives.” Joseph Goldstein

Planting time: kale, lettuce, carrots, peas, beets, broccoli. Hearty potato plants rise from the ground and promise a good harvest of spuds in a month or so. Look! A hundred and eight beautiful garlic plants are nearing fruition after many months of growing. As I work in my little garden, I think about the lunatics running our state and national governments, advocates of what they call austerity (but what is actually senseless cruelty and greed), and I imagine a gang of these crazy people surveying my garden and proclaiming, “These seeds and plants aren’t producing anything we can eat right now. They need to be taught a lesson. They need to tighten their belts and pull themselves up by their own root straps. Stop watering them. Stop feeding them. Don’t give them anything until they learn to grow without any assistance from anyone.”

“But…” I try to argue, “…vegetables require time and nurturing to eventually…”

“No buts,” say the lunatics. “No time. No nurturing. Look at those redwood trees over there.

Drop the Money Bomb on Monsanto — Two Days Left…


Moneybomb Monsanto Meter

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Between May 1 and May 26, a broad coalition of food, farm, health, public interest, and environmental groups all over the country, joined by leading organic food companies, will attempt to raise one million dollars to support the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, a citizens’ ballot initiative, and other state GMO-labeling campaigns.

If we reach our goal by May 26, we’ll receive a matching $1 million gift!*

Passing this law in California is the first critical step toward requiring GMO labeling in every state.

We’re almost there.

Please join the thousands who have already donated to this historic campaign by donating online, by mail or by phone before midnight Saturday.

If we all pitch in to help California pass this historic law to require mandatory GMO labeling, it’s only a matter of time before all of us, in every state in the US, will finally be able to know if the food we buy contains genetically engineered ingredients.

Big Biotech and Big Food

Where will you be when the Frackers come for Mendo?…


From ELLEN CANTAROW
TomDispatch
Thanks to Meca Wawona

The Environmental Nightmare You Know Nothing About

If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out. As Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and misery) in sand – and if you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep.

March in Wisconsin used to mean snow on the ground, temperatures so cold that farmers worried about their cows freezing to death. But as I traveled around rural townships and villages in early March to interview people about frac-sand mining, a little-known cousin of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” daytime temperatures soared to nearly 80 degrees – bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message.

In this troubling spring, Wisconsin’s prairies and farmland fanned out to undulating hills that cradled the land and its people. Within their embrace, the rackety calls of geese echoed from ice-free ponds, bald eagles wheeled in the sky, and deer leaped in the brush. And for the first time in my life, I heard the thrilling warble of sandhill cranes.

Yet this peaceful rural landscape is swiftly becoming part of a vast assembly line in the corporate race for the last fossil fuels on the planet. The target: the sand in the land of the cranes.

Five hundred million years ago, an ocean surged here, shaping a unique wealth of hills and bluffs that, under mantles of greenery and trees, are sandstone. That sandstone contains a particularly pure form of crystalline silica.

Transition: Peak Money…


From SHAUN CHAMBERLIN
darkoptimism.org

[The Strongbow Bankers video below is priceless... -DS]

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.” – Raymond Williams

Last month I was one of forty or so attendees of the Transition ‘Peak Money’ day. It was a great collection of people, from theorists to community activists, and an important opportunity to reflect on the challenges facing us all as the glaring errors at the heart of mainstream economics start to take their toll. This post is far more personal reflection than report, as Rob Hopkins has already done a great job on that front.

The key theme that seemed to run throughout the day was of ‘collapse’. Sadly, travel problems meant I was an hour late to the event, but the first sessions I witnessed were reports from Transitioners in Portugal, Ireland and Greece on the impacts of the economic problems there. The talk was of collapse having already happened for many there, with statistics quoted including an 89% increase in Greek unemployment in three years, and Irish suicides having doubled since 2007.

This part of the day pulled no punches. Most of us were left grey and shaken as the harsh reality on the frontlines of the crisis was relayed. For me, a defining memory of the day was watching alternative economists in attendance sitting listening to this – people who have spent decades warning of these outcomes and trying to head them off – their heads shaking sadly with lips pursed, hands involuntarily coming to their faces in dismay as their Cassandra curse unfolds. Of course, the statistics were not new to them, but hearing these stories in person

15 Thought-Provoking Discussion Questions Every Book Club Should Ask Themselves…


From JULIEANNE SMOLINSKI
jezebel.com

Book clubs can be a wonderful way for like-minded people to get together and share their love of literature. Maybe you’re long out of college and miss the academic pleasure of “talking out” a book, or maybe you’d like to get more insights than reading alone can provide. Or maybe you just want an excuse to drink wine and jabber with girlfriends.

Some people have suggested that book clubs are a silly, middle class diversion for the kinds of pretentious bourgie women who want to have high minded discussions about books you buy at an airport so you can read it “before you see the movie.” The ever-reliable Daily Mail has some pretty hairy horror stories about a dark underbelly of mutual trade-paperback enjoyment, one populated by “show offs, drunks, and fibbers.”

To keep your book club on task, and to avoid it devolving into some kind of sycophantic bacchanal of people who buy sweaters on GILT group, try using discussion topics. Many bestsellers come pre-equipped with reader’s guides and discussion questions just for book clubs.

Here are a few that can be adapted to your book club for its specific needs.

1. During the sex scenes in the book, did you picture the other people in the book group also having to read the sex scenes and feel sort of weird about it? Why do you think we have so much trouble acknowledging our friends as sexual beings?

2. Who here owns a TV? Why, or why not?

3. Several people have noted key differences in structure between

Gene Logsdon: Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees and Trees Don’t Grow On Money


From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I was so gratified to see Wendell Berry’s remarks in a recent interview (“Wendell Berry: Landsman” with Jim Leach in Humanities magazine, May/June 2012) where he makes a point about economics that is overlooked in these days when divisiveness rules the political roost. The general view is that the economic battle is between capitalism and socialism, but as Wendell observes, “both are industrial systems and they have made the same mistakes in some ways.”  Both have ignored “the propriety of scale and the standard of ecological health.”

Yes, yes, yes. But I would like to go farther (probably too far) than Wendell did. Both capitalism and socialism are similar industrial systems basically because both accept and practice the industrial idea that the fundamental tool to “growing an economy” is the ability to borrow money at compound interest rates. I certainly would be foolish to deny the effectiveness, maybe the necessity, of being able to borrow money. We borrowed to buy our first house and car. But seeing how borrowed money nearly ruined people I knew when I was growing up, I was determined never to borrow again if I could avoid it and I never did. Repaying a loan over a long period of time often means buying the house or car twice and if one carries credit card debt all the time, to paying for stuff more than three times.

Somehow this kind of insanity has become sanctified in our society as if it were holy scripture. The phrase “free enterprise” is uttered by its high priests with all the fervor of a biblical evangelist uttering “the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I remember

The Best Lies Money Can Buy…


From STEVE BENEN
Maddow Blog

The New York Times seems quite impressed with the latest attack ad from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which is poised to blanket the airwaves in swing states. The Times calls it “deeply researched,” “delicately worded,” and “low key.”

The paper neglected to mention another phrase: misleading to an offensive degree.

Jamelle Bouie had a good take on this:

As befitting a Karl Rove outfit, the claims in the ad are either misleading, or outright falsehoods. Citing a Reuters story from 2009 on conservative efforts to sink the bill, Crossroads GPS insinuates that the stimulus was a failure, despite wide consensus that the bill kept United States out of a depression, and significantly improved prospects for recovery.

The ad continues in this vein, blaming high insurance premiums on the Affordable Care Act — when the cited article says otherwise — and blaming Obama for the increase in debt, despite the fact that under his administration, government spending has risen at a slower pace than any time in the last 60 years.

Indeed, the great irony of the ad is that it’s Karl Rove attacking Obama for the fiscal policies the president inherited from Rove’s old boss.

The Times write-up focuses on the ad’s efficacy, and I suppose it’s possible uninformed voters who are easily swayed by nonsense, policy gibberish, and outright falsehoods will find it compelling.

But perhaps now would be a good time to note that efficacy and honesty aren’t the same thing, and the latter matters more than the former.

The Crossroads attack ad is as cynical as politics can get, working from the assumption that voters are fools.

Romney The Liar Lies About Public Sector Jobs Again…


From ROMNEY THE LIAR

Willard continues to distort the economic record at every turn. Now he says that President Obama deliberately “bailed out” the public sector in his stimulus, and that the public sector needs to shrink. In point of fact, it already has. The facts are these:

Paul Krugman posted this chart last week:

Krugman explained, “That spike early on is Census hiring; once that was past, the Obama years shaped up as an era of huge cuts in public employment compared with previous experience. If public employment had grown the way it did under Bush, we’d have 1.3 million more government workers, and probably an unemployment rate of 7 percent or less.”

If you take all the job losses that have happened under President Obama, and all the job gains over the same period, the economy is still in the hole — but nearly 100% of the losses are from the loss of government jobs.

This may seem counterintuitive, and the right simply chooses not to even consider the facts on the merits, but the principal difference between our fragile recovery and a more robust recovery is the domestic austerity measures that have been in place — and served as a counter-stimulus for three years.

The Rise of the New Economy Movement…


From GAR ALPEROVITZ
AlterNet

Activists, theorists, organizations and ordinary citizens are rebuilding the American political-economic system from the ground up… The movement includes young and old, “Occupy” people, student activists, and what one older participant describes as thousands of “people in their 60s from the ’60s” rolling up their sleeves to apply some of the lessons of an earlier movement.

Just beneath the surface of traditional media attention, something vital has been gathering force and is about to explode into public consciousness. The “New Economy Movement” is a far-ranging coming together of organizations, projects, activists, theorists and ordinary citizens committed to rebuilding the American political-economic system from the ground up.

The broad goal is democratized ownership of the economy for the “99 percent” in an ecologically sustainable and participatory community-building fashion. The name of the game is practical work in the here and now—and a hands-on process that is also informed by big picture theory and in-depth knowledge.

Thousands of real world projects — from solar-powered businesses to worker-owned cooperatives and state-owned banks — are underway across the country. Many are self-consciously understood as attempts to develop working prototypes in state and local “laboratories of democracy” that may be applied at regional and national scale when the right political moment occurs.

The movement includes young and old, “Occupy” people, student activists, and what one older participant describes as thousands of “people in their 60s

How reading fiction can make you a better cook…


From DARYA PINO
Summer Tomato
For J

It’s a little known fact that before I became interested in neuroscience (which was well before I became interested in food) I spent three years as a literature major at Berkeley. The power of language to whisk us away to other worlds, times and even into other people’s minds never ceases to astound me.

Fiction can often give me a better glimpse into a culture than even visiting, since the amount of time and exploration required to really get a sense for the mindset and lifestyle of the people who live there is substantial.

Excellent works of fiction transform me as a person as I internalize the vibe of a book, and what I read has the power to influence what music I listen to, how I dress, and even how I eat. When a book really pulls me in its hold can last for weeks or even months at a time.

For instance, it’s impossible for me to read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which I’ve done several times, without craving Spanish tapas and red wine for the better part of a month (this is also why Spanish food is one of my absolute favorite cuisines). The Last Chinese Chef had me exploring obscure alleyways in Chinatown in search of the best dumplings and peking duck, and before reading it I would have said Chinese food wasn’t really my jam.

Midnight’s Children, the meta-award winning book by Salman Rushdie, forever changed the way I think and feel about Indian food. Spices and heat permeate the characters and events in Midnight’s Children, which is one of the literary tools Rushdie uses to portray his native culture. My obsession with Indian food lasted for months as I read this and other works by Rushdie, since I couldn’t stop reading him after finishing the first.

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