Archive for the ‘Food for Thought’ Category
Contrary to the wishful thinking of many mainlanders, Hawaii is no longer populated by lei bedecked hula dancers shimmying their way to the nearest luau. In fact, with the exception of cheesy hotel-hosted luau’s, there is nary a suckling pig in sight. However, this does not mean that Hawaiians have abandoned their passion for all things porcine. Their taste for traife has simply evolved (or devolved) into a peerless love for SPAM®. In fact, Hawaiians love the grayish pink canned pork loaf to the tune of 6 million cans of SPAM® a year, the nation’s highest per capita consumption of the processed meat.
After World War II, Post-Traumatic SPAM® Disorder was so severe on the mainland that the once noble pork product was abandoned by the upwardly mobile middle-class in droves. Eventually, the only people still eating SPAM® were too poor to have much say in the matter. Even college kids avoided “the other pink meat” out of principle, relying on Hot Pockets, Mac N’ Cheese and Ramen noodles to meet their nutritional needs.
The principle explanation for why SPAM® is popular in Hawaii is that is portable, durable meat that does not require any type of refrigeration. It was first introduced during WWII by American soldiers to Hawaiian natives, who quickly adopted it as an important part of their diet.
Moreover, the Asian influence on traditional Hawaiian cuisine cannot be understated, and SPAM® happened to work well with Asian dishes. It’s not very different from the salted pork used in many Asian foods, so it became a reliable substitute for fresher and non-canned alternatives. The resulting Asian-SPAM® fusion has given birth to some unusual dishes, including the much beloved SPAM® musubi. A riff on a traditional Japanese rice ball, it is prepared with a brick of rice (shaped in the SPAM® can), topped with a slab of said SPAM® and wrapped in a bit of nori to hold the thing together.
As much as Native Hawaiians are happy with the SPAM® /suckling pig swap, privileging convenience over quality has proven to be a Faustian bargain. As traditional dishes have been abandoned in favor of processed food, the Native Hawaiians have become increasingly unhealthy, suffering from alarmingly high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The number of Hawaiian children suffering from obesity is double that of children throughout the nation. To make matters worse, Native Hawaiians are over 5 times as likely as non- Hawaiians to experience diabetes between the ages of 19 to 35 (11% vs. 2%). Between age 36 and 64, Native Hawaiians have a rate of diabetes that is over twice that of other populations (79 vs. 34 per 1000).
My sage advice to the people of Hawaii—dust off that old grass skirt, start hula dancing off the heft and bring back the locavore luau!
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Compared to many countries in the world, Japanese society is not actively hostile towards homosexuals. Japan has no sodomy laws, and provides some legal protections for gay individuals (there are even some legal protections for transgender people). While national civil rights laws do not protect homosexuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation, some local governments have recently enacted such laws. For example, the government of Tokyo has passed laws that ban discrimination in employment based on sexual identity. Some simple minded pundits cite this as ‘proof’ that there is no discrimination against gays in Japan. This conclusion is overly optimistic, to say the least. In truth, Japan remains uneasy about how to relate to gay people, so their solution is not to do so.
Group identity is highly prioritized in Japan, and the concomitant emphasis on social conformity requires gay people to stay in the closet- at least for the time being. The lack of any legal sanctions — or legal protections — is just another aspect of invisibility of gay people in Japan. In Japanese culture, public and social shaming exacts a much stronger influence over the behavior of its citizens than any law ever could.
Thus, while most homosexuals in Japan seldom have reason to fear outright persecution, violence or legal action (As many Americans still do), most are terrified that they would be ostracized by their families and co-workers if they came out of the closet. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t many people in Japanese public life- with a few notable exceptions- who have publicly announced that they are gay. Many gays are “selectively out” to a select group of sympathetic friends and family, but few gays are out of the closet all of the time.
Trapped in the closet and lacking cohesion, gays in Japan are a politically invisible group. Few gays in Japan have ever attended a gay rally, march or meeting, things are beginning to change (albeit at a glacial pace). A few intrepid activists are taking on the punitive age of consent laws that exist in some parts of the country, which dictate that the age of consent for same-sex sexual activity is higher than for opposite-sex sexual activity. On a whole, the major political parties express little public support for gay rights issues in Japan, and have little motivation to do so. It remains to be seen whether Japanese homosexuals will eventually feel compelled to reconcile the distinct divide between their public and private selves, or if they will continue to prefer the security of anonymity.
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Hypnosis is an enduring source of fascination and controversy in contemporary psychological circles. Scientists cannot even reach a consensus about what hypnosis even is, how it works, and its overall effectiveness. In fact, since the founding of hypnotism some 200 years ago by Anton Mesmer, it has been impossible to find agreement among professionals about pretty much anything regarding this mysterious mental state (state theory) or imaginative role-enactment (non-state theory), usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a long series of preliminary instructions and suggestions.
Non-state theory was pioneered by Theodore Sarbin, who hypothesized that hypnotic responses were motivated attempts to fulfill the socially-constructed roles of hypnotic subjects. Thus, his role-taking theory of hypnotism did not view hypnosis as an altered state or as a single process. Rather, hypnosis is a conditioned response to the social and situational aspects of the hypnotic context, along with the subject’s attitudes, expectations and beliefs about hypnosis. He also contended that hypnotic behavior is a role governed by social behavior in which one participant plays the role of hypnotist while another plays the role of (being a) subject. The subject uses ordinary cognitive strategies such as imagery, fantasy, and selective attention to create subjective experiences he or she then report being hypnotized.
Many have misinterpreted Sarbin’s theory as claiming that hypnotic subjects are simply “faking”. However, he was careful to make a distinction between faking, in which there is little subjective identification with the role in question, and role-taking, in which the subject not only acts externally in accord with the role but also subjectively identifies with it to some degree, acting, thinking, and feeling “like” they are hypnotized. He illustrated his point by making analogies between role-taking in hypnosis and role-taking in other areas such as method acting, mental illness, and shamanic possession, etc. This interpretation of hypnosis is particularly relevant to understanding stage hypnosis in which there is clearly strong peer pressure to comply with a socially-constructed role by performing accordingly on a theatrical stage. In sum, Sarbin was keenly aware of the fact that human beings are fundamentally social creatures.
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Umami is one of the five discrete tastes-along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty- which is sensed by receptors on the human and animal tongue. It is a loanword from Japanese that means “flavor” and it refers to the ‘savory’ flavor of foods such as meat, cheese and mushrooms.
Umami was first discovered in Japan in 1908, when food scientist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda concluded that kombu, a type of seaweed, had a distinctive taste that was not present in most foods. He discovered that kombu’s uniquely delicious flavor was the result of its high concentration of glutamate. From there, he crystallized monosodium glutamate (MSG), the delicious seasoning that was sadly fated to become fear fodder for American hypochondriacs in the 1980s.
In 1996, a team of University of Miami researchers studying taste perception made another breakthrough; they discovered separate taste receptor cells in the tongue for detecting umami. Many Asian foods are packed with natural umami, especially Thai cuisine, which uses fish sauce, a.k.a. umami in a bottle. Unfortunately, in the United States, this awesome discovery has spurred snack food manufacturers to jump on the umami bandwagon. Hydrolyzed protein, an addictive and unhealthy sounding new additive, keeps bringing shoppers back to the junk food aisle (and probably doesn’t help the American obesity epidemic very much, but I digress).
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Halal (Arabic for lawful or legal) is a term that designates any object or action that is permissible to use or engage in according to Islamic law (haram designates unlawful or prohibited). The term is most commonly employed to delineate the food that is permitted for Muslims to eat, but it is also used to designate permissible cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals and food contact materials.
Generally, all foods are considered halal except the following (which are haram):
Swine/Pork and its by-products;
Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering;
Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants;
Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and certain other animals; and
Foods contaminated with any of the above products.
The French culture wars over Islam have become bitterly contentious in the past few years, and it was inevitable that halal foods would eventually become a point of contention in the fiercely nationalistic country. The latest brouhaha involves the Franco-Belgian fast-food chain “Quick,” which (heaven forbid) sells halal burgers on their menu. The firestorm over this indignity was ignited when René Vandierendonck, the socialist mayor of the northern city of Roubaix, took issue with the chain’s decision to remove bacon burgers from their menu at his area location and replace it with a version using halal beef or turkey bacon. Claiming it was “discrimination” against non-Muslims, the mayor has filed charges with justice officials for “prejudicial racial catering.” He is so incensed, in fact, that he formally lodged a complaint with France’s premiere anti-discriminatory authority on the issue.
The mayor’s critics point out that Roubaix’s “Quick” outlet is one of eight in France to enact this change to the menu, in an effort to adapt to its predominantly Muslim clientele. Sadly, this skirmish is just a drop in the well in France’s ideological war over how to adapt to the presence of its large (and growing) Muslim minority while preserving its essential “Frenchness”. However, it seems unlikely that the pervasive Islamophobia in France will convince many Muslims to embrace cultural assimilation. If the “Quick” controversy is any indication, France has a long way to go before it comes to terms with the new realities of its fast changing nation.
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(Image courtesy of XKCD.)
St. Valentine’s Day is an annual holiday held on February 14th that celebrates romantic love. The origin of the holiday hearkens back to a Catholic saint named St. Valentine. The problem is that there are actually three St. Valentine’s (all were martyrs to boot), and no one is entirely sure which St. Valentine is responsible for the holiday. All we really know for sure is that in 469 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 a day to honor St. Valentine, and ostensibly celebrate one of these three men.
According to one legend, St. Valentine #1 was executed for objecting to a decree from the Roman emperor that banned his soldiers from marrying. Another legend claims that St. Valentine #2 was executed for being a Christian. Before he died, he allegedly left a farewell note to his beloved that was signed, “From Your Valentine.” Sadly, little is known about the life of St. Valentine #3….
It is widely believed that St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14 because it is the day the birds begin to mate according to an ancient belief from the Middle Ages. In fact, during the Middle Ages, a fertility festival was celebrated each year on February 15.
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Trepanning, currently the oldest discovered surgical procedure, is an ancient medical practice in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull, exposing the dura matter in order to relieve pressure in the skull. Evidence of trepanning has been found in prehistoric human remains dated to 6500 B.C., and archeologists believe that the practice was used to “treat” migraines, epilepsy and mental illness. It also may have been used as an emergency surgery following traumatic head wounds. Trepanation was also practiced in the classical and Renaissance periods, as a cure for various ailments, including seizures and skull fractures.
While modern advances in cranial surgery have made this rather gruesome practice obsolete in mainstream medicine, self-trepanation has been popular in some folk medical circles since the early 1960s. Dutchman Bart Hughes is widely considered the father of the contemporary self-trepanation movement, after he published the influential 1962 monograph, “Homo Sapiens Correctus.” Hughes claimed, among other things, that trepanation increases “blood brain volume,” thereby enhances cerebral metabolism. He asserted that consciousness is directly related to the volume of blood in your brain, and that babies have a higher state of consciousness because their skulls have not fully closed. Thus, by increasing brain blood volume, trepanation could boost energy levels and allow an adult to return to a childlike state of consciousness. While Hughes has amassed an impressive number of followers, it is worthwhile to note that he never finished medical school and no studies have been published in support of his claims.
Despite a complete lack of supporting evidence, some fringe alternative medicine enthusiasts continue to extol the virtues of self-trepanation. Incredibly, seemingly normal British painter Amanda Feilding performed a self-trepanation with a drill on camera in 1970 (her partner and fellow self-trepanation enthusiast Joey Mellen did the filming), for the film “Heartbeat in the Brain.”
Prior to Feilding’s on camera antics, Mellen had attempted self-trepanation with a drill on a number of occasions with (mostly) limited success. His first stab at it was a fiasco; he had no medical experience, and the needles he purchased for the purpose of administering anesthetic to the top of his weren’t strong enough and ended up breaking. The next day Mellen purchased stronger needles, took a tab of LSD to calm his nerves, and actually managed to make some inroads into his skull. However, fully driving the spike into the bone proved impossible to accomplish without outside assistance.
Mellen sagely realized he needed some assistance and contacted Dr. Hughes in Amsterdam, who promised he would come to London to oversee Mellen’s third attempted procedure. However, The British Home Office had listed Dr. Hughes as an “undesirable” visitor, and immigration officials subsequently barred his entry into the country.
Undeterred and impatient to get to drilling, Mellen decided that he would have a better chance of success if his girlfriend performed the trepanning for him. He again took a tab of LSD and Feilding went to work. After a respectably lengthy sawing, Mellen suddenly fainted from the blood loss and had to be rushed to the emergency room (where the doctors told him he was lucky to be alive).
Despite Mellen’s drug-induced, self-inflicted brush with death, he remained undaunted, and was able to successfully “break through” his skull on his fourth attempt, if one considers drilling a hole in your own head a success. Sadly, most of the footage of Feilding’s self-trepanation has been lost. However, those with a strong stomach can still see portions of the film in the aptly titled documentary, “A Hole in the Head.”
According to friends of Joey and Amanda, they are still a happy couple, and the two of them co-own an art gallery. In fact, many of their old friends claim that they are markedly happier and better adjusted since their successful self-trepanation surgeries.
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