food


I can say that while teaching in China I am enjoying the process of setting young and active minds on the correct path. To that end, I tell them:

1. The United States is a very strange country, unlike any other. For that reason, they should not generalise from the USA.

2. Europe is a very barbaric place, full of petty tribalisms.

3. Bourgeois (liberal) democracy is a dreadful system, best avoided (actually, they know this already).

4. Australia is neither a Western nor an Eastern country, since it is in the South.

5. Kangaroo meat is very good for you.

Since many of my students will be future government leaders and officials, I hope these items and more will have some effect.

However, I have also learnt a few things from them:

1. Communism is not a rational ideal that you then try to actualise.

2. Communism is not singular but multiple.

3. They work very hard and know much more about the rest of the world than the world knows about China.

4. One’s stomach is the best guide for travelling to different places.

5. Office hours mean I buy them lunch and we talk for more than four hours – about everything.

‘Don’t swim after eating or you’ll get stomach cramps and drown.’

‘Wait an hour after eating before swimming’.

These and more are part of the common folklore, repeated ad nauseam to children in summer as they holiday by the beach. So the kids fidget and annoy each other before finally being allowed to swim again after what seems like an eternity. We have it from parents, teachers, and pretty much everyone.

It’s complete rubbish. You may as well say, don’t ride your bicycle after eating, or don’t run after eating, or don’t do anything energetic after eating. You might get a stomach cramp and crash your bike, trip over, or some other dire outcome. Actually, it is much like the myth of the common cold – that if you get a chill you might catch a cold. Like that myth, this one too is usually impervious to facts.

As for me, I have swum plenty of times on a full stomach. Not even a twitch in my gut when I do so.

Too often do we neglect the fact that Hegel was German through and through. Every now and then it shows through with one of those sentences that brings you up short. In the midst of his long and rather unoriginal ramble on the question of evil, he writes:

For to err is human and who has not been mistaken about this or that circumstance, about whether there was cabbage or sauerkraut with yesterday’s lunch, and about countless matters of greater and lesser importance? (Elements of the Philosophy of Right, 140(e))

Nice to be home, even after a great session at the Society of Biblical Literature on my book, The Sacred Economy (more on that soon). Above all, it is wonderful to greet our pet spider, who dwells in a corner by the dining table.

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It is a treat to introduce her to guests, who are usually not aware that they are sitting centimeters away from this beautiful arachnid. But she was looking a little thin after a couple of weeks of being on her own, so I caught a moth and dropped it into her web.

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Usually she runs and hides when my hand looms above the web, but when the coast is clear, she comes out to enjoy some dinner with us:

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Begin with purple flesh from the hump of a camel (tuo geng) and stew. Meanwhile, take the milk from a mare, agitate it until it ferments and turns into yoghurt (tong jiu). Eat the stewed camel hump, while drinking the fermented mare’s yoghurt, and then wash it down with some camel broth.

Since the itchy-fingered DG challenged me to substantiate my claim that I live on no more than $50 a week in the very expensive Land of Oz, here is a standard weekly budget:

$2.25  - 1.5 bags of rolled oats

$3.00 – half a bag of powdered milk, used for both breakfast (oats) and home-made yoghurt

$2.20 – two home-made loaves of bread.

$2.80 – 500 g of cottage cheese

$1.00 – usage of jars of honey, peanut butter and vegemite

$2.00 – 750 g of brown rice

$1.15 – a kilogram bag of pasta, if I don’t make my own.

$3.60 – assorted fresh beans (red kidney, chickpeas etc) and cans of beans

$10.00 – fresh fruit and vegetables – in season and on special

$1.50 – toilet paper

$3.00 – my indulgence: coffee beans (decaf)

$5.50 – occasional items, such as soap, detergent, toothpaste etc.

$12.00 – Meal out, transport, bicycle maintenance, etc.

$50.00 total

As you can see, there’s considerable room for luxuries, such as coffee, eating out, etc.

Note that this does not include accommodation, utilities, and internet costs: $180 per week. That’s a total of $230 per week for a very comfortable life.

All this comprises one reason why I argue that most people working at universities are grossly overpaid.

Deeply immersed in that classic Chinese ‘novel’ of over 2000 pages, Journey to the West, I came across this recommendation for a truth diet – of a Buddhist tendency:

She [the bodhisattva] ordered him to adhere to the truth and eat only vegetarian food, cutting out the five pungent vegetables as well as the three forbidden things: wild goose, dog and fish. (JTW, vol. 1, p. 178)

The ‘west’ in this case is, of course, India.

I’m heading south of the border shortly for a couple of talks.

1. Queer Readings of the Bible, at the Jewish Museum. All part of the Midsumma Festival.

I’m joining Rebecca Forgasz, director of the museum, for presentations and then a freewheeling discussion. Rebecca will situate such readings in the Jewish tradition, while I’ll say a few things about ambivalent texts (Song of Songs) and camp readings (Chronicles).

Apparently you need to pay for this one (book on the site), which feels a little weird. But it seems to have a reverse psychology, since the tickets are selling rather quickly.

2. Garage Blackboard Lecture. This one is on Marxism and religion (translatability etc.), at a regular event that would have to be one of the more interesting and fascinating things going on these days. As they put it:

Garage in Brunswick.
Some seats.
Blackboard.
Hand-pumped Beer from a Keg.
Homemade soup and possibility of baked goods.
Lectures.
Two Speakers.
Dialogue.
Getting the Picture?

Apparently I get a chance to talk for about 45 minutes (along with Lachlan Ross). By the time the beer has flowed freely, we’ll be pumped with all manner of questions (and soup). No cost here!

Can’t wait.

Since the Fall was actually the invention of agriculture and all its evils – such as bread, beer, wine, and wool – I’m joining the palaeo-crowd come new year. It’s the paleao-diet for me: huge hunks of dead animal, fish, a few plants that grow as they will. And just to make sure I go the whole hog, I’ll take up palaeo-exercise as well. I will spend my days pretending I am dodging wild animals, running down prey, lifting heavy things and walking long distances with them, strutting around a fire as my prey roasts.

To make sure it’s authentic, I’m going for the real palaeo-experience. I will ensure that I eat only game animals I have hunted myself. None of this domesticated beef, lamb and pork for me. That will involve a project to bring back the auroch, the predecessor of the domesticated bovine:

auroch 01

 

A mean bugger it was, standing more than two metres at the shoulders, aggressive, with long, inwardly curved horns.

Actually, that’s all crap, since the real palaeo-diet involves mostly stuff you can gather from the ground: spiders, cockroaches, grubs, bugs, marsh rats and other scrumptious vermin, odd looking grasses, unidentifiable mushrooms, strange roots. And I will go out for long runs and return dejected and weary, shaking my head at the game we were unable to catch, lamenting my companions skewered on the horns of some wild beast. I will crouch by the fire roasting my ‘catch’ – making sure I burn off the spider legs, retrieve the cockroaches from the fire at just the right moment, turn the field mouse that I grasped in a desperate lunge. For exercise, I will spend my days shuffling about, bent double, looking intently at the ground, and leaping upon whatever crawling thing happens to pass my way, since our hunter-gatherer ancestors spent most of their time doing precisely that. And there will be no alcohol at all, since one of the main reasons human beings settled into agriculture was for the production of beer and wine.

I will ensure that I die at no later than 30 – bugger, I’ll just have to commit suicide, since I’m already older than that.

As part of my Sacred Economy project, I have been enthralled by the animal remains that provide insights into the basic features of the economies of the Levant, with subsistence agriculture at their basis. Sheep and goats have turned out to be the key, with small numbers of bovines for traction.

But what about the much-debated pigs, with their lovers and not so enthusiastic consumers? Were they fostered and consumed in that largely dry zone between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The remains of pig bones fluctuate over time, with abundant distribution during the Chalcolithic, declining to a low in the Late Bronze Age, rebounding in the early Iron Age for a while, until full resurgence in the Hellenistic era. When they are present, they are so pretty much everywhere; when absent, the same applies. Rather than laying the cause of such a patchy pattern on an emerging ideological aversion to porcine products (and investing wasted energy in trying to determine ethic identity in the basis of pig remains), it is more realistic to focus on the limited possibilities of pigs within a subsistence survival institutional form. Although pigs provide good quality meat, they fare ill under temperature extremes, requiring relatively high levels of water. Pigs are limited to the 250 mm isohyet, much higher than that required by sheep and especially goats. And they do not provide fiber or milk for human consumption. Our porcine cousins provide only limited resources, under certain conditions, and are thereby not always the best option when conditions are tough.

As a footnote, it is worth noting that where the conditions were more well watered and therefore favourable, class issues often turned on the humble pig. More often than not, pigs were used by common farmers and shunned by the ruling class. A similar situation applies to Egypt, where the riverine environment is more favourable to pigs. Here the abundant remains of pigs are limited to the rural population, while they were denigrated and avoided by the ruling class.

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