From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (28)—Broccoli

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
Vegetables. Can't live with 'em; can't live without 'em. Well, Newman could live without broccoli. From allergies and phobias to religious restrictions and, well, plain ol' distaste, we all know about matters of food, culture, and power. In this week's brief Seinfeld Ethnography clip, Newman assumes more willpower than he has in his vegetable-loathing tank.

[b] Pastaccoli RF
"I's go..good for you." Clearly, Newman's favorite frozen yogurt didn't come with broccoli flavor. The classic sequence of reactions in this clip move from "vile weed" to a honey-mustard chaser and (as the YouTube comments note) straightening his jacket in an effort to regain some measure of dignity. Food likes and dislikes can be profoundly personal, cultural, and everything in between. Very few people who did not grow up with it can stand the taste (or smell) of lutefisk, and a taste for head cheese had better be acquired early on. Tastes for wine, beer, and countless other beverages are "learned," as is just about any condiment more daring than ketchup or mayonnaise.

But broccoli holds a special distinction of being held up for contempt by a President of the United States and people with certain taste receptor genes. For them, as for our daring hero who thinks he can elude the phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) curse, broccoli will have the last, lingering, bitter laugh.

***  ***
The only issue with our readings for this week is where to begin. Food, culture, and theory? Check, check, check. Our intellectual cupboards are all stocked up, and there will be no Old Mother Hubbard-style tales of scholarly dearth in this pantry. We will start with the opening volume of Claude Lévi-Strauss's four-volume study of Mythology before moving on to Marshall Sahlins's description of Western bourgeois culinary traditions. We'll wrap up with one of the finest works in medieval studies in the last quarter century, Carolyn Walker Bynum's Holy Feast and Holy Fast. Through it all, we'll be thinking of the choke-hold that the broccoli floret has on one Seinfeldian postal worker named Newman.

Claude Lévi-Strauss
[c] Wood
The Raw and the Cooked (1964)
The comparison between the Apinaye and the Caraja versions [of the myth], which tell the story of how men lost immortality, provide an additional interest, in that is establishes a clear link between this theme and that of the origin of cooking. In order to light the fire, dead wood had to be collected, so a positive virtue has to be attributed to it, although it represents the absence of life. in this sense, to cook is to "hear the call of rotten wood."

But the matter is more complicated than that: civilized existence requires not only fire but also cultivated plants that can be cooked on the fire. Now the natives of central Brazil practice the "slash and burn" technique of clearing the ground. When they cannot fell the forest trees with their stone axes, they have recourse to fire, which they keep burning for several days at the base of the trunks until the living wood is slowly burned away and yields to their primitive tools. This preculinary "cooking" of the living tree poses a logical and philosophical problem, as is shown by the permanent taboo against felling "living" trees for firewood. In the beginning, so the Mundurucu tell us, there was no wood that could be used for fires, neither dry wood nor rotten wood: there was only living wood. "So far as is known, the Yurok never cut growing timber for fuel, not did any California Indians, nor probably any axless native Americans. Firewood came from dead trees, standing or fallen." Therefore only dead wood was legitimate fuel. To violate this regulation was tantamount to an act of cannibalism against the vegetable kingdom."[1]

[d] Innards
Marshall Sahlins
Inner and Outer (1976)
Edibility is inversely related to humanity. The same holds in the preferences and common designations applied to edible portions of the animal. Americans frame a categorical distinction between the "inner" and "outer" parts which represents to them the same principle of relation to humanity, metaphorically extended. The organic nature of flesh (muscle and fat) is at once disguised and its preferability indicated by the general term "meat," and again by particular conventions such as "roast," "steak," "chops," or "chuck"; whereas the internal organs are frankly known as such (or as "innards"), and more specifically as "heart," "tongue," "kidney," and so on—except as they are euphemistically transformed by the process of preparation into such products as "sweetbreads." The internal and external parts, in other words, are respectively assimilated to and distinguished from parts of the human body—on the same model as we conceive our "innermost selves" as our "true selves"—and the two categories are accordingly ranked as more or less fit for human consumption. The distinction between "inner" and "outer" thus duplicates within the animal the differentiation drawn between edible and tabu species, the whole making up a single logic on two planes with the consistent implication of a prohibition on cannibalism.[2]

[e] Fast
Carolyn Walker Bynum
Holy Feast, Holy Fast (1985)
Throughout the Middle Ages, Lenten fasts and weekly fast days, especially Fridays, remained basic marks of the Christian. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries a Christian was, as a minimal definition, someone who received yearly communion, fasted on Fridays and in Lent, paid tithes, and had his or her children baptized. In the following story from a twelfth-century chronicle, we can see the way in which food practices defined the Christian. One of the bastard sons of Arnold the Elder, founder of the line of Ardres, became a "Saracen" in the East. He was, however, accepted back into his father's house when he returned. It was only when he insisted on eating meat on Friday that the full impact of his apostasy was brought home, and the family kicked him out. To violate the Friday fast was the clearest, most visible way of rejecting the faith.

Medieval cookbooks suggest that the aristocracy observed fasting strictly, if legalistically. Meat-day and fish-day recipes were not separated in medieval recipe collections, as they were in later, better-organized cookbooks. But the most basic dishes were given in fast-day as well as ordinary-day versions. For example, a thin split-pea purée, sometimes enriched with fish stock or almond milk (produced by simmering ground almonds in water), replaced meat broth on fast days; and almond milk was a general (and expensive) substitute for cow's milk.[3]

[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975), 151.
[2] Marshall Sahlins, Culture and Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 175-176.
[3] Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 40-41.


Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Raw and the Cooked [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975.

Sahlins, Marshall. Culture and Practical Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Wednesday, October 12th
Coated Culture
Next week, we have two clips from different episodes. Both deal with coats, individuality, and culture.

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