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.
We’ve all experienced that annoying beginning to an email (or some variation thereof – “I trust you’re well” is particularly egregious – why bring trust into it?). It is, I think, mostly an email convention, for reasons that escape me – why can’t emails be more like Whatsapps, of Facebook DMs, or another other mode of modern communication, where you just get straight to the “Yo wassup, drinks later?”. Maybe (and I’m conjecturing on the fly here) emails are stuck in some grey zone between the “old” and “new”, where the excitement of immediacy took precedence over common sense.
I mean, yes, there were faxes before emails in the whole “immediacy” game, but imagine standing over a fax machine watching it laboriously pixelate a message that begins with “I trust this fax finds you well”, and not kind of freaking out thinking of what’s coming next while you wait for the rest of the thing to materialise: why wouldn’t I be? Shouldn’t I be? We didn’t even have Dr. Google to address panic attacks back in those days. (It’s nothing, calm down.) Continue reading ““I hope this email finds you well””
Swaziland is a shithole. With more than 28% of its population positive, it has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world. (Male) homosexuality is illegal (LGBT+ does not exist in the Swazi lexicon). The king is currently trying to ban divorce. He would also like everyone to just forgive Zuma for Nkandla. He currently has 13 wives (don’t scoff – his father had 70).
It’s also the country I grew up in, and from the age of 5 to 18, I had no idea it was such a shithole. Not (I like to think) because I was stupid, but because it was a wonderful place to be a child. It’s beautiful, with rolling hills and majestic mountains, and people who seemed cool about everything. My parents’ friends lived in cool houses built into the mountains, and on Sundays when we came to visit they’d pad around in kikois smoking joints, and then we’d go swim in a river. My parents wore kikois too, and when we had people round, they would assemble around a big fireplace my father had fashioned out of an old tractor tire rim in the garden, and my mother provided roasted peanuts, marinated fillet for the braai, and Keith Jarrett or Dave Brubeck booming through the speakers perched on window sills inside the house. (They also had a live recording of then Dollar Brand playing piano at another house they lived in down the valley before I was born.)
So it’s been all the rage in the food world of late. First, the Oberlin College issue, which had Lena Dunham supporting students who decried that the sushi and bánh mì served in the student cafeterias were not “authentic”, and therefore an example of “cultural appropriation”.
So I’m in Chicago, primarily to attend the IFT16 (that’s the 2016 conference for the Institute of Food Technologists – you’re welcome), where two of my favourite thinkers were on the bill to deliver keynote addresses:
It’s also my first time in the Windy City, so I of course laid all sorts of other cunning plans to tick off Important Things on my wish-list: dinner at Alinea, Grace (OK, not really in the position to drop $200+ on dinner); failing that, Next (“just” $155); OK fine, I’ll settle for Roister and Frontera Grill. Except neither of the latter are open on a Sunday or Monday, the two days we had to explore the city.
So, my experiences and observations are unfortunately – or fortunately – somewhat more mundane than eating at all the *must-go* places in Chicago (I choose to think of this like the author of Save Room for Pie, which means that there’s always more to look forward to).
First, you bake a red velvet cake in a bowl, which you carve into a brain shape. (See, it’s as easy as learning SnapChat!)
Then you melt a bunch of marshmallows and mix them with a bunch of icing sugar until you can roll them into
grey pink matter. Now cut open your brain and slather on some cream cheese frosting and a lot of worms (because who doesn’t want to eat a worm-infested brain?).
I’m preparing to travel to Italy in a week’s time, where I’ll be teaching a course on Food Media for the Masters in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Which is really just a way of bragging that soon I’ll be swanning around in this building.
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.’