Poetic Interlude: Past Particle

A tale from the end of the Universe

The last particle
Torn asunder

Drifted farther

From anything
Before

Shredding

Silent

No companion
To share its dissipation

Not even consciousness
Remained to witness

Ultimate solitude

Preceded nothing


Inspired by this news story from August, 2015.

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Why Can’t I Eat My Dog?

What follows is the first in an ongoing Q&A series about the strange inner workings of U.S. culture. 

Quandary

Why can’t I eat my dog?

Anthropological Explanation

Many forces conspire against the enterprising individual who fixes a side-long glance upon their household pet and thinks, “In a pinch…” The majority of these dissuasive forces are cultural, and therein lies their strength. There is a logic underpinning our taboo against eating pet animals, and it has to do with our close relationships with them, and the different categories these practices create.

You’ve no doubt noticed that certain animals are more “edible” than others. In the United States, most people think nothing of eating a hamburger, but grow queasy at the thought of horse meat having slipped into their ground beef, and positively livid at the idea that cat meat might grace someone’s plate. The reason is simple: we have a social aversion to mixing up different categories of animals. A taboo, if you will.

For anthropologists, taboos are a “repression of interstitial states produced by the application of discrete conceptual classes on the continuum of experience” (Valeri, p.63).

Animal-human relationships are arranged into these categories on an axis of “closeness.” The closer an animal is to humans in their cultural relationship, the less edible it becomes. Eating is a practice that creates lines of distinction between humans and animals that are not-human enough to become food. Because we have placed dogs firmly in the “pet” category, they cannot also be in the “food” category. This is why pets are taboo as a source of food: humans have formed such close bonds with them that they have become inedible. The inverse is true to a lesser extent: animals that are far from humans (exotic animals and pests) are less edible, but not quite as taboo as those closest to humans on the relationship spectrum.

Different cultures consider different animals close (and therefore inedible). Conversely, some cultures consider the animals Americans tend to think of as pets as a category of creature that is perfectly edible. It all depends on each culture’s relationships and practices with regards to each animal. Last September, a brief story appeared on KPCC about dogs from South Korean meat farms being “rescued” and brought to the United States for adoption. In this case, Americans were imposing their culturally-specific logic of animal-human relationship taxonomy onto a different culture.

Cultural norms constrain our every thought and action, and the taboo against eating the (potential/technical) food source in closest proximity to us is merely one of them. Most Americans–even enthusiastic carnivores!–likely take this comestible constraint as a given. They are “naturally” repulsed by the idea of boiling Fluffy for supper, if they’ve ever allowed themselves to consider it in the first place. (They should be repulsed; everyone knows Fluffy would be much tastier fried.) This blatant assault on American’s gastronomic freedom ensures that our taxonomy of animal-human relationships remains intact.

Originally published in my newsletter. This question sent me down a nostalgic rabbit hole of thesis notes, so count yourselves lucky there’s only one citation: “The Forest of Taboos” by Valerio Valeri.

You can submit your own question about social norms and cultural practices to “Why Can’t I Eat My Dog?” whenever the mood strikes. The ‘advice’ column welcomes all inquiries, animal-related or not, but cannot guarantee an answer to each submission.
Submit your question by May 15 for a chance to win a free book!

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Announcing a Book Giveaway

*UPDATE: I’m sweetening the deal ~ 3 ways to enter, 3 books to win!

Happy Independent Bookstore Day, fellow readers!

I’ve decided to share my love of reading with a free drawing for three books.

Enter by May 15 for a chance to win one of these books:

braggsville

20160429_103714

20160429_103617

Now through May 15, you can enter this drawing one of three ways (bonus bovine points if you do all three):

  1. Subscribe to my newsletter
  2. Submit a question to Why Can’t I Eat My Dog?
  3. Encourage a friend to subscribe or submit a question(Make sure they contact me to let me know who referred them so that both the referrer and the referee can be entered into the drawing.)

The three winners will be announced in the next edition of my Serious Rachel newsletter, which goes out toward the end of each month. I’ll be in touch with the individual winners via email to discuss delivery details.

Good luck, and happy reading!

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April 30, 2016 · 9:30 AM

Poetic Interlude: Through Train Car Windows

An imperfect mirror
At 80 degree angles
Rounding underground curves

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De-skilling the American Workforce: Saturday Night at Shakey’s Pizza

This happened about a year ago.

One evening, my partner and I were craving the flavors of our youth more intensely than usual, so we set out to find a Shakey’s Pizza*. MoJo Potatoes on our minds, we entered the restaurant about 8pm. A tad later than our usual suppertime, but we weren’t the only ones with similar plans or eating schedules.

A familiar, mostly jubilant, racket burst forth from the entertainment corner, where kids were trying to best the ski-ball game, exchanging real currency for fake in the hopes of amassing enough to purchase the latest in disposable doodads. A few small groups of adults sat eating and chatting. The smells were wonderful, the floors predictably sticky. We made our decision and approached the counter.

There were three, maybe four people working the closing shift that night. One of them was busy cooking, and another rushed over from minding the soda station to take our order before dashing off to attend to another of their many duties.

We settled at a table and waited for our order, talking mostly of how many MOJOs we thought we could eat. A little while into our wait, an employee came to inform us that they had run out of dough to make the large pizza we had ordered. Apparently, Shakey’s restaurants receive shipments of pre-cut dough, an allotted number for each pizza size. Unable to make more dough of the appropriate size, the employee offered to make us two medium pizzas instead. A generous offer (and a little too much pizza, but we aren’t ones to refuse the prospect of leftovers). In due time, the employee returned with two steaming pies and we dug in. Only on our way home did I begin thinking about what had led to our one pizza transmogrifying into two.

In telling us why there were no more large pizzas, the employee had revealed the company’s business model, which seems to place more faith in market research than in the overworked people left minding the store. Instead of providing restaurants with lump sums (heh) of dough or, here’s a thought, the ingredients to make dough, Shakey’s thinks it best to rely on predictions of how many pizzas of each size will be sold and provide pre-cut dough produced off-site. Had they more faith in their workforce, they might trust their employees to cut (or even make) the dough themselves. There would be no running out of sizes, just running out of dough.

But no. Shakey’s denies their employees the agency needed to improvise. By providing pre-portioned ingredients, the company removes the need for its restaurant employees to have or develop culinary skills. I wonder how easily the person in charge of cooking that night would be able to do so in a different pizza establishment. Are all chain pizza places so proprietary in their ingredients & processes that the people assigned to carry out the warming of the food have knowledge specific to that particular pizza place? Inquiring minds want to know…also I’d like the recipe for MOJO Potatoes, please.

Personal anecdote alert: I worked at Starbucks for a while, and I can’t operate an actual espresso machine because we pushed a button to “pull” shots. The transferable skills I learned there had more to do with customer service and pastry arrangement than making lattes (okay, I can also steam milk pretty well).

I know many of you must have similar experiences–of skills so specific to certain companies that making a horizontal career move means at least feeling as though we’re starting at the bottom again. With so many corporate chains employing so many people, I wonder if it’s becoming more difficult to transition from one service job to another because of the specialized knowledge we learn in order to succeed at each company.

What do you think?

—–

*Yes, some of them still exist!

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Filed under Contemporary, Power