Toast

A number of years ago, I watched a film simply entitled Toast. It was about the childhood of a famous British chef whose mother could literally only make toast–she struggled with heating up cans of beans on the stove. Anyway, she dies when the main character is fairly young, maybe ten, and his father eventually remarries, this time to a woman who is an excellent cook. I honestly don’t recall much else about the movie, but I remember how special the toast was because it was made with love. Not even that, because it was often made in frustration. But something about it was special because it connected him to his mother. Supposedly, studies have shown that the smell of toast puts people at ease–during state testing in eighth grade, my teacher made toast beforehand to help us perform better (much like cinnamon in real estate).

Food is necessary. And delicious. Usually. But it is remarkable in so many other ways as well. Food is identity, comfort, culture, connection, memory. And more. Sharing food with someone is a mark of friendship (or charity), being invited into someone’s home for a meal is in many cultures (and certainly in my estimation) a major mark of relationship. As a human being, I think about food a lot and as a social scientist, I think about what food means. Let me tell you, it can mean some pretty incredible things.

This past week, some friends and I were talking about what we would want our last meal on death row to be, should we find ourselves there. Then we decided just go with last meal in a general sense–what do you want the last tastes in your mouth to be? We gave ourselves three courses. For an appetizer, I went for steamed gyoza from Kinza. The entrée was to be porcupine meatballs (which are not made with porcupine meat) as prepared by my mother. For dessert, it was no contest, a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake as prepared by my step-mother. Then I cried for like ten years because I don’t have access to any of those things. I have to settle for Tesco doughnuts. Anyway.

Isn’t food incredible? I bet, reading my choices, most of you were thinking, “No way, I’d have to have this.” And that’s exactly my point, we are (in more ways than one) what we eat.

I have a couple of quotes for you from a reading we had this week in one of my classes. One author, Minkenberg, said, “Government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ is not at stake, but the concept of ‘the people’ is.” This sums up both a lot of what I study (who is the people) but also is super relevant to your life–particularly you fellow Americans with the presidential election process at full force. It’s a big political debate about who counts and it has major effects for every one of us. Some people say, “Illegal immigrants don’t count because they’re here illegally.” Others say, “People who don’t speak our language or share our values don’t count.” Still others argue, “People who aren’t citizens don’t count, even if they’re legal residents.” It makes me feel very much like Esmeralda, thinking to myself I thought we all were the children of God.

Another writer, Mudde, in talking about the supposed rise of the far right in Europe, used the phrase “tabloidization of political discourse.” This, too, is super relevant and deceptively straightforward. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I demonize the media kind of a lot. But also, the media is kind of crazy. Particularly at issue here, for me, is the idea of simplification. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that really anything in politics is simple. Reading headlines, then, provides an absolutely ridiculous understanding of politics. This is super evident with this presidential campaign, surprise, everyone’s oversimplifying their opponent’s ideas. It’s easy to say, “Ah, he wants to make everything free and so we’ll be in loads of debt.” It’s harder to actually explain tax plans and fiscal reform. It’s easy to say, “They want everyone to own guns and shoot first and ask questions later.” It’s harder to explain the actual complexities of crime and the legal system. Not that either of these necessarily reflect my own views. But like I said last week, it’s absolutely crucial to consider everything thoughtfully and critically–including things you already agree with. And to listen to other people’s explanations. And to do your own thinking.

Ugh, I was hoping that this week would be a more upbeat post because the last few have been so serious. But I can’t help it, the world is a serious place. Ugh. Also, sounds a great deal like last week’s post. And sorry, critical thinking is such a buzzword.

I honestly just wanted to talk about food this post. It is what it is.

I am typically a ravenous toast-eater, I must confess. Truth be told, I like my toast mostly just warm bread, only toasted to the point of barely having gotten that slight firmness on the outside. Not really even brown. But. Since being in Ireland, though, I’ve had remarkably little toast. I don’t know exactly why. But this term, I’ve stopped making sandwiches for lunch and so now rarely eat bread. I’ve sort of developed an alternative eating pattern of sorts. It’s been interesting. Anyway, so there you have it. Food. Thoughts. Food. A good pattern, if I do say so myself. Which I do.

Next post, I’ll have put two more pins into the map of my travels (figuratively speaking). So look forward to that! See you on the other side.

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