Friday, August 19, 2016

Food, the Great Depression, and How History Works





DUKES FANS:

  “History is mostly side effects’” historian Arnold Toynbee

 “Nothing comes from nowhere…there is a story behind every happening
that is often more fascinating than the happening itself” Anonymous

   I was listening to a recent episode of the Public Radio program Fresh Air, and Terry Gross was interviewing two people who had written a book on the food of the Great Depression. I have both taught and studied the Depression, and while not an expert on it, I do have a good general knowledge of the era. I know about most of the historical and economic events that led up to it, some key decisions that could have or should have been made differently, the different popular music of the time, and a lot of the personal stories of people of different cultures, colors, classes, and nationalities. But I knew very little about the food of the time and how that cuisine was not only a byproduct of the Depression itself but also a mirror of certain social attitudes, technologies, and emerging science. As usual, there was a story within and beneath the story, and it made for a fascinating 45 minutes of radio.

   Terry interviewed Jane Ziegelman and Alex Coe, authors of A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression. They discussed how politicians, nutritionists, social scientists and civic planners tried to approach food scarcity on a nationwide scale. That was a huge endeavor in and of itself, but these players also wanted to do more. They wanted to create a cuisine that would not only provide hungry people with food and nutrition but also make an identity statement about the United States. The questions and problems connected to food scarcity tied not only into economics and health, but also into the nation’s fears of immigrants and rising social and demographic changes. The planners developed new ways to use institutions to address a nationwide problem, and they took clever advantage of the relatively new technologies of mass canned and frozen foods. They also tried to “help” millions of first and second generation immigrants in the county adjust to being “American’ by eating an “American” diet. This was as much about cultural identity as it was about food.

    To that end, according to Coe and Ziegelman, “strange “ foreign spices were to be left out of recipes and prepared foods, especially spices that were too hot, strong, or, well “spicy.”  Vinegar and mustard were to be limited as they might make people too “nervous or energetic.” Also left out and limited were foods that were too “textured’ an/or ‘rough.” Smooth, creamy, and what we today would call “bland” was the order of the day. If root vegetables were to be a part of one’s cuisine, they had to be either baked or smothered in a fairly tasteless sauce, preferably white. Calm foods were what was desired. There were recipes for pasta and spaghetti, for example, but in both the government recommended and prepared menus of the time, the pasta had to cook for some 25 minutes until it was a mush.  And many of the recipes called for it to be mixed with white cream sauce, boiled carrots or other overcooked veggies. Nutrition and supply were important-taste was less than secondary. Besides, if it was too tasty, some planners thought, people might get too used to it and start depending on it. That, it was thought, might “weaken their will “to look for work; they would become too dependent on handouts.

   This was also a time when public schools had become mandated, so feeding kids via school lunches was another way civic planners sought to address the food shortage. (We still do this today; free school lunches and vaccination programs are outgrowths of this approach.) But this was also another way to sell the American approach to eating. Kids of immigrants were not only learning English and how to be trained to work in US factories; they were also being taught how to grow up eating “American.” According to the planners, they were using the new science of nutrition and the new technology of being able to rapidly can, freeze and move food to help these poor and disadvantaged kids get food and good nutrition. But no one had been checking to see if these kids were already getting adequate nutrition in their meals at home and if the only food problem they had was inadequate supply. Immigrants and poor people in general know a lot about making do with little and creatively responding to scarcity. When Ziegelman and Coe looked at the typical Italian immigrant menu of the 1930’s they found that it had as much or more nutrition that many of the meals recommended and provided by civic planners. But for the planners, nutrition by itself was not enough; the students had to learn to eat less foreign and more American.  As with many social problems, the backstory behind the problem was about much more than the problem. Solving the food problems of the Depression was about much more than just food.

  There were some interesting side effects that came out of this Depression era approach to food. For better or worse, the growth of what was to be called “food science” really got started during this era. Canning and freezing food to be shipped and delivered to many different places was just the beginning. Frozen and canned foods became an important way of serving food in the 1950’s-just think of the frozen dinners that started appearing on the scene during the 1950’s and that still fill freezers in supermarkets today. As refrigeration technologies grew, it soon became possible to eat a strawberry in Connecticut in January or a spinach salad in Alaska in February. Today we are wrestling with the questions of GMO’s-Genetically Modified Food- bee killing pesticides, and more. All of these possibilities are outgrowths of what happened during the Depression. For better or worse it took off from there.

    And there are many historians who attribute the success of the US military in World War II in part to the planning and organization that happened in response to the Depression’s employment and food problems. President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conversation Corps, for example, gave men employment doing the hard physical work of logging land, building parks, clearing swamps, etc. This developed their bodies and got them used to working as part of a squad and following discipline-essential qualities for a military. But they also needed to be fed to do all of that work, so the Corps made use of canned and frozen food and the “new American’ cuisine to efficiently feed the hundreds of thousands of men who were in the Corps. This meant that by the start of the war the US had a relatively large supply of men who were fairly well-fed and healthy and who knew about unit discipline. It also meant that the infrastructure for supplying and shipping large amounts of canned and processed food overseas was already in place by the start of the war. They needed only to develop an overseas component. According to these historians, then, responding to the food crisis as it did inadvertently helped the US government fight and win the war.

  So once again, one event or happening in history had side effects that rippled through the culture with surprising and unexpected long range effects. That is not surprising; it is how history works and how cultures, peoples and nations function. To me this is one of the joys of history-to be able to trace some of the stories behind events, to make connections, and learn and to tell those stories. When we are able to do that we make some wonderful discoveries. For everything has at least one story behind it-nothing comes from nowhere.


A link to LA Times story on feeding families during the Depression:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

CHOOSE HOPE



DUKES FANS:


“HOPE is How One Perceives Everything- Susan Allenbacak
“Music is the healing force of the universe” - Sun Ra
Hope attracts chances.” —Toba Beta

“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.  Martin Luther King, Jr. 

       Wednesday, July 13 my wife and I went to a concert at World Café Live featuring Sharon Katz and the Peace Train. Katz is an amazing guitarist, singer and organizer who is a white South African woman. In the early 1990’s in apartheid South Africa she put together a 500 member interracial and inter-cultural performance group and did performances of a show called, “When Voices Meet.” She then became an ambassador for Nelson Mandela, chartering a train and performing “When Voices Meet’ at dozens of places around South Africa, risking jail and possibly death. It was a movement that tied in with the anti-apartheid movement and played an active role in getting people to vote, spread news about health and child welfare, and more. After Mandela’s election Sharon became even more involved in what we would call humanitarian and social justice work, starting music therapy groups, raising money for children displaced by warfare, HIV/AIDS, and bringing stories and songs of peoples’ struggles to places around the world. Over the years this work that has taken her on tours to just about every continent. Her concert last Wednesday featured Peace Train 2016-a multi-cultural group of children from schools across the country singing and dancing to South African tunes and Sharon’s own rhythm-heavy and inspirational compositions. The concert attracted people of all ages, all nationalities and colors. It was a veritable United Nations of joy, happiness, commitment and unity as Sharon and the kids moved together, hand clapped, sang, shouted, and danced their commitment to a world of inclusion and peace. It was also a moving reminder of the central and powerful role music has played throughout history as a unifier and inspiration in movements for social change. We stood, cheered, clapped, cried and left the World Café with a heart full of energy, love, and most importantly, hope.

    Friday July 15 saw us at one of our favorite spaces, The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD.. A museum dedicated to the work of outside artists, this museum is one of the most joyous spaces web have ever visited, filled with color, unique sculptures, vivid drawings and paintings, and thought provoking exhibits organized around wide ranging themes. The current major exhibition is ‘The Big HOPE Show,” a multi-media examination and presentation of thoughts, experiences, and ideas about what hope is, does, can be and enables us to do. From one man’s cartoons and colorful post card illustrations of his years long medical issues and struggles to paintings and drawings re-examining the myth of Pandora’s Box, the exhibit challenges and involves one directly and calls for emotional responses. There is a video speech by Kevin Briggs, a San Francisco Bay Bridge officer who has talked down some 200 potential suicides from the bridge. He talks about how he tries to listen to the people when he talks with the would be suicides, trying to find places where some little bit of hope still lies within. He then tries to speak to that bit of hope still in them. There is also a wonderful video examination of Philadelphia artist Lily Yeh and the work she did in transforming a neighborhood in North Philadelphia with her Village of Arts and Humanities, and how she has since carried that work to places around the world. There is a scrapbook table and exhibit that calls for us to look at our positive memories as a scrapbook of a trip through our lives. And there are paintings that look at the near universal human tendency to look at birds and butterflies as images of hope and prayer. The exhibit was inspiring, and it also reminded me of who I am and how much hope is a part of that.

    As a child of the 1960’s, a son of African-American Southerners who came north and established a household in a Jim Crow world, and as a musician, teacher, and birdwatcher, I am constantly and deeply involved with hope. All of those activities point to a person who engages the world, believes in looking for the positive, imagines what can be, is working in some small way to make what can be possible, and who delights in being a human being in this world; the world that is here right now with all of its challenges. And over these past few weeks, I needed to be reminded once more that hope lives deeply within me and that it is one of the thing that motivates me; that it is an essential part of who and what I am. Last week the concert and the museum did that for me in real ways, and I am so grateful. While it may appear to be "hip" and "cool" to be cynical, hope is what provides the fuel for important change. Just look at the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, and more. We live in a world where hope, joined with persistent and consistent action, has provided important change in the face of incredible odds. And we need to remember that.

    For many of us these past few weeks have been a hard time. Our screens, TV’s, papers and more have been filled with images of violence, fear, hatred, and anger. Our new technology brought us face to face with some unpleasant things that have been a part of the United States for some time but unseen by many of us, including the shootings of unarmed people by police and the hunting and killing of law enforcement personnel. I have talked to and heard many friends and acquaintances mention how scared they are feeling and how unsure they are of where we as a nation may be headed. For those of us who are committed to a world of peace, tolerance and diversity, it may seem as if we are farther away from that vision than ever before. Those powerful positive motivators, vision and hope, may seem very, very distant. But experiences such as Sharon’s concert and the Visionary Art Museum’s exhibit are strong reminders that there are plenty of reasons to be positive and plenty of examples of the transformative and positive power of hope being lived and demonstrated all around us. And as Lily Yeh’s life illustrates, there are many people, groups and efforts in the world that are building on that hope and working to bring aspects of it into existence. Fear, despair and conflict drive our media-it is flashy, it delivers viewers for advertisers, and it can even ignite a political movement or two. But it has never produced a way of life or a society that has delivered peace, stability, beauty and tolerance. Never. We need to remember that and to focus instead on hope and to find ways, even small ways, we can be a part of building the world in which we say we want to live. Using that hope to motivate us and then putting effort into manifesting it are the only things that can defeat our fears and help us envision, engage with and build toward the world we want. For I agree with the words of Holocaust survivor, psychologist and philosopher Victor Frankl: “The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude.” I say look up, do not despair. Choose hope, and then work  in some small way to make what you are hoping for happen in our world. We must be the world we wish to see and to live in. It starts with us. I say, choose hope.

1) Here is a link to Sharon Katz’s music and work: http://sharonkatz.com/
2) Here is a link to the American Visionary Art Museum’s exhibit, The Big Hope Show: http://www.avam.org/
3) If you are interested in getting a list of some organizations that I support and think are doing some important positive work, please write me.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Hummers Are Back



 For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.
                                                                                                                                                              D. H. Lawrence

                                     THE HUMMERS ARE BACK

     This is the part of summer my wife and I really like. The trees in our and our neighbors’ gardens are fully leafed out, the early planted flowers are in bloom, butterflies are flittering about, and the sunflower seed and suet feeders are full of avian activity. As we are both retired, my wife and I can sit in the garden in the early morning as the world is waking up and/or in the evening as dusk falls and take it all in. We read, eat, smile, talk (or not talk), and just enjoy the beauty and specialness of our surroundings. Regularly before us at any one time can be an array of house sparrows, house finches, mourning doves, catbirds, mockingbirds, cardinals, titmice, hairy and downy woodpeckers, and chickadees. We are also occasionally gifted with the presence of wrens, flickers, beautiful goldfinches and nuthatches. But the real treat for us is just after the solstice. The monarda flowers are in bloom, the feeders of sugar water have been out for a few weeks now, and they have both worked their magic again. The hummers are back.

    When we moved into Mt. Airy from Germantown we began putting out seed feeders of various types in our garden. We started attracting perching birds of various types and enjoyed watching them at the feeders and around the trees and flowers. When goldfinches stated coming by we were overjoyed-we loved their happy sounding songs, their beautiful yellow color, and the path they take as they fly. One summer we camped at Wellesley Island State Park in upstate New York, and the nature center there had a butterfly garden that just blew us away. We were inside a large netted section of a garden that had all of these colorful flowers and water features, and it was filled with butterflies of all different sizes and colors. It was amazing, and when we returned home my wife began working on planting a garden that attracted pollinators. She planted Joe Pye weed, bee balm and more. We started getting some beautiful butterflies, especially during late July and August. We then discovered that plantings for butterflies can be attractive to hummingbirds as well, so we began trying to get them to the garden also. My wife planted more bee balm and zinnia and other plants they would find attractive. We also put out sugar water May 1st as the magazines suggested. For the first year nothing happened. The butterflies kept coming, and we got some great species such as the Eastern Swallowtail. But no hummingbirds. We were persistent though, and the next year a hummingbird pair found the sugar water feeder and started visiting at dusk. We were excited, and from there it just took off.

   I don’t quite know when hummingbirds became the obsession they now are, but we  have three sugar water feeders in various spots in the yard and we eagerly look forward each year to the arrival of the hummers in the garden. June 9th was when the first one appeared this year, but he then stayed away for over a week. We were heartbroken until a week ago when we saw a male at the monarda plant under the sugar water feeder in the rear of the yard. The female came the next day and they have both been regular visitors. “The show,” as my wife calls it, is on again.

    I am glad the hummingbirds are back. They fascinate me, and I have no idea why. Maybe it is their unreal tiny size. Or maybe it is their strange look, with that long, curved bill and that bright ruby red throat. Maybe it is the magical way they can hover in one spot for a while with those wings becoming a blur of movement. I don’t know what it is; they simply amaze me. The bird makes no sense-it almost seems as if it was thought up by a little kid or is some mad designer's imaginary toy. I just know that they always make me smile widely. It is impossible for me to watch a hummingbird and be in a bad mood-impossible. If I am in one and I see a hummingbird, the bad mood instantly vanishes. If I am in a good mood and I see a hummer, then the mood is only heightened. They are instant mood elevators. And they remind to me that there is much in the natural world that is strange and unusual to me and that there is more than I can logically explain or figure out. I think I can have some real joy if I don’t try to figure everything out and  let much of what the world has to show me just happen.  I only need to continue to marvel at the show-to delight in it and be grateful that I get to experience it. If I can do that, then the magic of the hummers can continue for some time to come.

  (Here is a ink to Birds and Blooms Magazines webpages on hummingbirds:
   How to Attract Hummingbirds | Attracting Hummingbirds - Birds & Blooms


image





Wondering how to attract hummingbirds to your backyard? Learn how, with these tips and tricks from our experts.

Preview by Yahoo