Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

This just makes me sad.

David Foster Wallace at The Strand bookstore in New York in January 2006.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cold pasteurized = Irradiation

There's something to be said about euphemisms. . . They're part of our culture. They're polite ways of expressing often difficult subjects. Oh, and also, sometimes they're blatantly deceptive.

Take for example this new label created by the FDA: cold pasteurized. Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn't it? I think that's the point. Normally, when we think of pasteurization, we think "milk" and "Louis Pasteur" and that process he invented to kill bacteria and make drinking milk "safe." (all of which I think is mass propaganda masquerading as food safety anyway, but that's beside the point) While I choose not to drink milk for other reasons, those who do consume it are lead to believe that this process makes it safe to drink.

Now, what would you think if you were told your milk was irradiated? Quite different, huh. That word conjures up all sorts of negative connotations, like x-rays and mutation and cancer. And rightly so. Even the federal government doesn't know quite what irradiation does to food, and yet the FDA has approved its use on dried herbs, spice mixes and processed foods.

According to the World Health Organization (1991), "the genuine effect of processing food by ionizing radiation relates to damages to the DNA, the basic genetic information for life. . . Spoilage-causing micro-organisms cannot continue their activities. . . Plants cannot continue the natural ripening or aging process."

Sounds to me like an attempt to control the Laws of Nature.

Now I suppose you could just avoid all products labeled cold pasteurized, right? Well, that's easier said than done. You see, the government does not require companies to label their products as such. And, even when companies do so voluntarily, they use this pretty little leafy icon:

If I saw that, it would make me want to buy a jar of 10-month old dried basil that had been zapped by ionizing radiation, not avoid it. The problem gets messier. How do you label spinach? You see, the FDA has recently approved the use of cold pasteurization (irradiation, remember) on fresh spinach and lettuce. Even if it's organic. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Now how would you label a leafy green?!! You can't. And there's no way of knowing whether or not your produce has been effected by this new policy.

If you're like me, you'll avoid all those 99 cent bottled herbs at CVS, as well as anything frozen, packaged or canned, and start growing your own greens. Oh, and also, write to your congressperson to let them know, too.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

California coming home

I just returned from a trip to sunny California - San Francisco to be exact. Even though it's been about 15 years since my last visit, something about it still feels like home. . . maybe it's the sunshine, the crisp ocean breezes, the early morning mist, the fog that rises up over the Bay, the rocky, windy coastal highway, and the way strangers engage in conversation at the moment you're seeking conversation instead of being intrusive. Somehow, you feel less alone.

I've heard it said many times that "it's the light." The way the West Coast sun shines on things gives a different impression -- almost a glow -- in the way a person who is in love has a face that just beams brightly. San Francisco is a city in love, eager to share its joy with anyone who wants to belong.

The first four days of my visit were spent lodging along Fisherman's Wharf at the Fort Mason hostel. I know, I know... a hostel... "Aren't those just for young people?" "Don't you have to be a member?" "Aren't the rooms horrendous?" Well, no, not exactly. Technically, they're budget accommodations for those who travel. You get a bed, linens, breakfast every morning and free use of the kitchen to make your own meals if you choose. Sure, you share your room with 3-4 other people and the bathroom and showers are down the hall, but how can you beat $26 a night in San Francisco??! It's kinda like returning to the dorm days of college, only minus the keg parties and self-absorbed cliques. Even families with young kids make a go of it, and everyone respects each other's space and privacy, so it's a pretty nice arrangement. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that the social aspects made traveling solo feel less lonely. Check out the view of the Wharf from outside the back entrance:

Later in the week I ventured to the hostel at Union Square, which was quite a different experience. Instead of the ocean sounds of seagulls and foghorns to lull me awake each morning, there were busses and cars and "street people" and the light of a parking garage across the street to kept me awake all night. Ah, that's excitement for you. Nonetheless, considering the Hilton shared the same corner as my lowly hotel, I felt I got another bargain. All their guests walked out onto the same street every day as I did.

Once I get all of my photos uploaded and cropped, I'll have more to Blog about. . . the restaurants, Slow Food Nation conference, Slow Food Rocks concert, Green Gulch and SF Zen Center, Muir Woods, Sausalito, Muir Beach, the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park. . . (sigh. . . ).