I’ve recently confessed my confusion about how to make sense of the case of the homophobic baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple (because it’s obviously wrong. Unless it’s not, because one could grudgingly respect an asshole who’s willing to forego money for the sake of sticking to his (wrong) beliefs?). Apart from the philosophical conundrum it presents, I was intrigued by the legal implications of the case, which seemed to rely on whether the (non-existent) cake in question could be considered a work of art, in which case it would magically be protected by the rights to freedom of speech. Or not baking. Whatever floats your homophobic boat. Continue reading “Snail porridge not by Heston: homage or plagiarism?”
Cake has been getting attention lately, not because it’s delicious and should be enjoyed by all (which it is, and should be), but because it’s the subject of a controversial hearing about free speech. Specifically, whether it’s OK or not for a homophobic baker to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The baker in question, the Washington Post informs us, also refuses to make Halloween cakes for religious reasons:
To be compelled to do so would, he says, violate his constitutional right to speak freely. This, he says, includes the right not to be compelled to contribute his expressive cake artistry to a ceremony or occasion celebrating ideas or practices he does not condone. Well.
The First Amendment speaks of speech; its presence in a political document establishes its core purpose as the protection of speech intended for public persuasion. The amendment has, however, been rightly construed broadly to protect many expressive activities . Many, but there must be limits.
The documentary Theatre of Life is a lovely film about a lovely initiative, started by a lovely man. (Yes, most sentences are impoverished by adjectives, and the worst sentences contain three repetitions of the same adjective. Not off to a good start then.)
It’s a film about what started as chef Massimo Botturo’s idea to deal with all the wasted food at the 2015 Milan Expo (that tagline of which was rather ironically “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”). It was (and remains) a fantastic initiative – everyone’s favourite Danish chef René Redzepi after all told Massimo that he’s now “in it for life!” (ie. Robert De Niro, below) – which basically involves getting star chef buddies from around the globe (hello Ferran Adrià, Joan Rocca, Mario Batali, Alex Atala, Daniel Humm, et al.) to fashion amazing food out of stuff like stale bread and veggies no one (who’s paying) wants to eat.
Oops, I think I just made one of those clickbait titles. But what else do you call the demise of the thing that’s gotten everyone salivating up till now?
It started with the announcement that (the generally excellent) Lucky Peach is folding after their final issue is published in May. Confession: I have a subscription (though my pile does not include the elusive first copy that apparently sells for upwards of $175), and my first thought was will I get my money back for the issues I won’t be getting? ☹️
So Watson the computer has just released a cookbook. Or rather, you can now buy a cookbook full of weird pairings generated by Science.
Now Watson’s been hanging out in the [bon appetit] kitchen for quite some time already, where (s)he/it has been “learning” about which foods go together for the purposes of helping to inspire chefs and other people who like to play in kitchens about surprising combinations that apparently work. As I wrote in the Mad Dispatches on the topic of “What is Cooking”, the idea behind Watson isn’t to ‘render the human cook obsolete, but rather to put the superior speed and memory capacities of a computer to the service of human creativity by analysing, for example, similar compounds in a multitude of flavour-pairings. In theory, Watson could then come up with combinations that make complete sense but might have taken us another several decades to discover in the kitchen.’
Which is nonsense, of course. Because my Twitter is only what I’ve decided to make it, and here I will pat myself on the back for choosing not to live in a filter bubble where I only see things that please me.
In the “Science or Fiction” segment of the (then) latest Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast (where host Steven Novella serves up one fake and two real news segment(s) for his panel of skeptics – or “rogues” – to figure out), the one that turned out to be fiction involved the recent approval of a genetically modified potato designed to contain up to 40% less calories than conventional potatoes. One of the rogue’s reasoning as to why this must be fake is that there is so much research going into making foods that are more calorifically dense (think Plumpy’nut, or peanut butter “amplified”) to treat malnutrition that it would make little sense for scientists to be working on something to contain less calories than necessary.
Sugar is so convenient, isn’t it? If you believe the people behind the (predictably challenging-to-watch) film Fed Up, sugar has been a convenient way to hoodwink America into a full-scale obesity epidemic. But even more than that, it turns out to offer a really convenient way to explain away any complexities related to health and eating. Or just as a target for a (simple syrupy) finger of blame.
There have already been several excellent reviews of what’s wrong with Fed Up (very well summarised most recently by Harriet Hall), so I’ll just mention a few points that stuck out for me.
Earlier this year I was delighted to be asked to contribute a short piece for the then-upcoming MAD4 on the topic of this year’s symposium: ‘What is Cooking?’
My take was (unsurprisingly) on some of ways food television influences the way we think about cooking and eating, including that pesky question of “food porn”. Since the good people at MAD have made it available, feel free to go and have a read. (And if you’re interested in food television generally, Chris Cosentino’s much-lauded talk is also worth a watch. But then so is most of the other stuff that’s been posted – let’s just say I’m in extremely good company there.)
The food porn thing does come up again and again, with varying degrees of usefulness.* But perhaps the most logical conclusion of a cultural obsession with food and sex is the porn star who turns his, ahem, gaze, to food. Exhibit A: “James Deen Loves Food“.
And then I’d recommend two interesting interviews with James Deen on the topics of food and sex: on Go Fork Yourself (!) with Andrew Zimmern, and with the slightly more irreverent folks at Eating Disorder. Both good fun.
Or we could just let Charlie Brooker have the last word.
*Anyone with an academic interest in these matters might want to check out my entry on “food porn in media” for Springer’s Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics.