Friday, August 26, 2016

Techno Traps

They say we fear becoming like our parents but, at the end of the day, it seems inevitable. My mother, dare I say, was a bit of a techno-phobe, consistently asking my brother or I to turn on the computer for her and open Microsoft Word so she could type a document... only to have us print it out and then shut the program down. Each time, my brother and I, being disturbed from what was likely a pertinent activity like watching Jerry Springer, told her that it would be the last time we would aid her in the process and that she had to learn the steps on her own. I think to some extent, I was taken aback at her lack of techno-literacy because it echoed in myself the potential to simply shun things I didn't understand. However, twenty years later, I had to be heavily persuaded to download the Uber app after avoiding what I thought would be an overly complex process. Today, I have inevitabley become a bit (or very much) like my mother, finding myself on the outer fringes of technological utilization. But to some extent, I've found this position to be a bit of a good thing because, as the world moves faster, sometimes it's good to move a bit slower.

Even the Galaxy "Note's" we're in the age of do-do-do.

I once remember reading an article claiming that while we have the ability to do more, what with e-mail, the Internet and social media, we tend to get less done. It seems to be no coincidence that in the age of do-do-do with people bringing their work home and checking into the office on weekends that leisure activities have become increasingly mindless. Pokemon Go, for all its popularity may have given way to physical exercise but not too much cognitive activity. And that's okay. We all need balance in our lives. But sometimes, cutting back on the real things we don't need can change our lifestyle and health (even our economics) for the better.

One of my favorite books read in the past decade was Katherine Graham's autobiography, "Personal History". In it, she describes her husband's struggle with bipolar disorder and, upon wanting to buy a private jet, was warned by her mother that a person with large swings in emotional states may be more harmed than helped in their ability to travel on a moment's notice. While I'm a ways off from purchasing a private anything, I can relate to her husband's struggle with emotionas that run comparatively wild. Sometimes, too many choices can be something of a burden as doubt and the act of making decisions can impose difficulty on one's daily life. But, for me, this is an area in which I've found "low-tech" food (and living) to be of help.

When I was young, I used to love going with my mother to the grocery store... looking at all the colors in the produce section. Today, in a rare break from my mother's tendencies, I tend to spend most of my time in this same section (my mother, on the other hand, wandered more into the pasta isle). And, sometimes, it's nice to be relegated to a particular section of the supermarket where your options are limited but healthy. For me, returning to low-tech foods or foods not manufactured within the confines of four walls not only helps my body and mind, it also helps me to structure my time with the cooking process. And of course, there are other "techno-tricks" I rely on to structure my time. Herein lay a few. Enjoy!

I Walk: While walking to a designated locale is a bit easier on the pedestrian-friendly streets of DC, I try to "walk" my errands whenever possible. Indeed, I look like a bit of a vagrant carrying grocery bags on the suburban streets of Connecticut (and who's to say I'm not a vagrant at heart) but walking where I can, slows me down, exposes me to some sunlight (see Sunshine and Structure) and makes me really think about where I'm going and what I need to do (i.e. do I really want that milkshake?). At the end of the day, walking is one of those things that can literally lead to a slower pace of life and one that's more enjoyable (and fit).

Even food produced in a factory likes to pretend like it's not.

I Try to Eat Low-Tech Foods (When Possible): Low-tech foods or foods produced by nature is, of course, a misnomer. While it may not seem advanced to us, planting and cultivating crops is a technological advancement that has allowed us to settle in communities rather than roam for food as our ancestors did. But just as there was an agricultural revolution there has been an industrial one as well and today we can either forage for our food (it's still done in small amounts), farm for our food or make it in a factory. The issue with many foods made in a factory is that they're not often of the nutritionally dense variety. Rather, we often have to eat more manufactured food to feel satiated leading to issues with obesity. Furthermore, while farming has changed the appearance of food (Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel is a mind blowing read), they are still grown in soil that has to be tended to, and with the help of the sun that takes it's time with the process. At the end of the day, I feel we can identify these factors by how each type of food makes us feel. A bit earlier, I spoke about a reference to Paul Graham's emotional battles and for me, I've found natural foods to play a large role in the healing process. There are doughnut holes which taste great but sometimes make me feel more on edge then when I eat a home cooked meal. Below are a few natural foods (along with their benefits) I enjoy that take some time to grow but are definitely worth it.

Cucumbers: Hydrating

Watermelon: Viatmins A and C

Tomatoes: Lycopene (and antioxidant)

Corn: Also has antioxidants

Garlic: Contains B6

Beans: Protein, obvi.

I Try Not to Look at My Phone (When Possible): I was out to lunch with a friend this summer and, upon trying to think of the name of a restaurant she had been to, pulled out my phone for research only to hear her say, "no, I can think of the name." Her rationale was that people look at their phones too much for information that can often be recalled from memory. Indeed, I remember reading in National Geographic that the age of memory is long behind us. While the agricultural revolution brought many advancements, it still couldn't develop a television post-haste and so, there were people who memorized the Iliad or Beowulf and recited them for the entertainment of others. Today, however, with a lot of memory stored in our phones, we are free to use our energy for other means. However, for me, relying less on my phone has led to a few "advancements" in my own life.

I have to talk to people: That's right, it sounds terrifying but it can be done. They say that as our technology increases at a faster rate, our conversational skills have been shown to decline. Mine have never been great but relying less on my phone makes me text a friend to see when the local farmer's market is. It make me ask my grandma for a recipe instead of looking it up online and/or it makes me talk to the person I'm grabbing lunch with. Beyond that, I generally avoid people at all costs.

It helps with my memory: See above.

It makes me more productive: As stated above, an author once wrote that despite the ability to get more done with technology, the less we are shown accomplish. Of course, it's all in how you use the technology given to you but, for me, the second I don't want to make a decision, I take to Facebook or Instagram or the Internets. Needless to say, I don't always use technology to my advantage. But as I've been using it less for both information and entertainment, I'm forced to bite the bullet and accomplish the things I would rather put off. And after I do, I of course go back to checking Facebook.

So there you have it, a few ways to reduce the use of technology but feel better in the process. And, to some extent, cultures such as the Amish have been shown to have lower rates of cancer and other diseases. So, who knows. Try it, you'll like it.

Speaking of history...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eating Local, Religiously

In college, there was a "fine dining" restaurant perched atop the student center. It was certainly not fine-dining by any standards, but in the town of Harrisonburg, Virginia, it answered a call for formality where you could make a reservation and show your date you had planned ahead (i.e. you'd likely have a "fun" evening). But, one day, during the rush of finals, my friend and I decided to blow off steam and sit down for a very friendly and unromantic dinner.

During the course of our meal, I remember a conversation developing around religion. It was not my topic of choice but I recall my friend questioning his former alleigance to Catholicism stating that if he hadn't followed all the tenets of its dogma, he was not, in fact, a Christian. To be clear, my friend had let go of Christianity or any religious mooring years before. However, he did believe in principles and I think felt strongly about choosing a code and sticking to it. I, on the other hand, having been raised in New England, saw religion as a more fluid and secular entity... something you had to "stamp off" so you weren't one of those weird kids in the eighties and then go about your life. For us, with the exception of being denied bacon, religion really didn't inform our young lives. So it was with great shock that I arrived in Virginia and found religion to be a much more dominant and conversational force. Anyways, while formal religion never caught hold, I still think back to that conversation and sometimes begin to understand my friend's point of view.

In Sunshine and Structure, I talked about "high vibrational foods" or those picked (or slaughtered) close to consumption. Indeed hunting and gathering was serious business back in the day (and often included religious ritual). The cycle of life and death seemed much closer to one's daily experience than we currently face. Of course, I have no intention to catch or grow my own food- I've never been very natural, socially or agriculturally speaking.  But I have been trying to eat locally, which I find puts me in better touch with my surroundings.

I've never been too attached to the nature around me. If you had asked me several years if pineapples were in season in January I probably would have said, "sure." Indeed, it wasn't until last summer I learned tomatoes didn't really hit peak season until late July or August. And that's fine, we all live busy lives and don't necessarily need to know the seasonality of food as so much is available due to a new globalized economy. But to some extent, it is a globalized economy that makes getting to know one's local surroundings all the more pertinent.

The original goal of the locavore movement was to save on miles used to ship food, thereby reducing emissions and thus aiding the environment. But according to the Huffington Post, this goal may have been ill informed. In the article Eating Local: Does it Matter?, author Tom Zeller Jr. points out that if if folks in Santa Barbara (where produce is abundant) ate in a strictly local sense, it would, "[reduce] emissions from the agrifood system by less than one percent overall." So it may be well intentioned but ineffective it eat locally in a direct, environmental sense. But, eating locally can indirectly lead to the best environmentalists.

Two Summer's ago when I arrived in Connecticut, I became set on eating locally, religiously (or without exception). And when I did, a few strange things happened. For one, I began to think about the function of food in addition to its flavor. While lemons, limes and grapefruits were unavailable to add an acidic component to dishes, tomatoes could stand in as a worthy substitute. Meat became more important (as it often does when I eat more naturally). But perhaps the biggest change came when I began to care more about my local environment, knowing it was the place that provided all these fruits and veggies I was consuming. Hitting up farm stands and developing a relationship with local farmers gave me new knowledge about the seasonality of food and made me appreciate more what was available. I also felt good about giving my dollar to the local community as opposed to a more faceless corporation. Plus, although farmer's markets often make one reach a little deeper into the proverbial pockets, relying solely on local foods actually saved me coin as I simply used what was available as opposed to purchasing a melange of ingredients called for in a dish. So, when able, I would encourage one to eat as locally as possible... perhaps not religiously but as a creative challenge to get to know your food... and community better.

And... If you happen to live in New England (or any temperate climate for that matter), Martha Stewart's current issue of Living magazine offers tips on how to preserve the local goodness of tomatoes for Winter. Enjoy!

An odd picture to a great song... bout a lil' farming.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Just Do It

I've always been somewhat athletic (meaning I was better at sports than school) and have generally enjoyed athletics when done for fun. The ones I had to or have to do (running and yoga, respectively) I tend to dislike immensely. But that is another story for another time. As a person engaging in sports growing up, however, the ubiquitous Nike slogan, "Just Do It," never really resonated with me. Indeed, I saw quotes on the backs of T-shirts claiming, "pain is temporary, pride is forever," that seemed to shake my core more than the brand's three simple words but, recently, I've come across Nike's commandment in a variety of fashions.

This morning, I learned, indirectly, that my yoga studio had hired a new instructor. Gorgeous and accented, the young woman encouraged us to, "just doooooo it," when holding a difficult pose. Although her quote made me chuckle, it brought me back to an earlier time when "just doing it" was another course of action to be taken.

At thirteen-years old, I woke up on the day of my Bat-Mitzvah to the band 311 singing on the radio. I remember I woke to "Come Original" because I was nervous-as-fuck and generally remember everything about those specific 24-hours. Coming downstairs for breakfast, my father (who was the last person in my family to undergo such an ordeal) noticed my discomfort and stated something to the effect of "it's like they say in the Nike commercials, honey: just do it." As my father had begun exploring Eastern Religion several years before (which, looking back, generally brings the whole Bat-Mitzvah thing into question) I was used to him quoting the Dalai Lama or, even worse, an unknown monk. So hearing a familiar quote from a company pimped by the likes of Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippin, Andre Agassi and the like actually served to put me in better spirits. And indeed, reciting prayers infront of 120 people actually turned out to be not that bad (should you ever have to just involuntarily do it).

20 years ago at the Olympics.

But besides my silly Nike memory I've come across the slogan recently in situations other than my aforementioned yoga experience. In yoga, however, you begin to relax and, as you do, emotions that have somehow seemed trapped within the tenseness of your muscles are released smack dab into your consciousness, begging to be dealt with. And deal with them we must. 

Much like the old joke about psychologists, when one begins to practice Bikram yoga, sentences beginning with, "Bikram says..." become much more common. And one thing Bikram says that has always resonated with me more than the Nike slogan is, "if something is hard, you should do it," (cue laughter). Lately, I've had to make a few decisions that have been difficult. But making the decisions which require letting go of our fears, inhibitions or whatever inevitably make us lighter and stronger.

Inspiration continues with the Mighty Mos Def.

Recently, The New Yorker released an article talking about something seemingly "low brow" for their publication: our happiness. Through the article (entitled, A Better Kind of Happiness), author Will Storr references Aristotle and his theory of happiness as an active endeavor, not something that lands on our porch one fine day. As opposed to delaying gratification (heaven) or seeking it constantly (headonism), Storr claims Aristotle's idea of eudaemonics strikes a balance between the two, neither delaying happiness or denying pain but working (constantly) in service of an ultimate goal (much like an Olympian). Hearing about the theory of eudaemonics made me think about a quote that truly resonated with me years ago. I once read in Vogue that when Donna Karan and her husband Stephen began practicing Zen Buddhism, he claimed he was now, "happier having been in his own life." For me, being afraid to make key decisions sometimes made me feel a bit dull, as though my life was placid but in separate painting of which I was not a part. Indeed, while hestitating to make difficult decisions can seem to keep us "safe", they often rob us of empowerment to make meaningful change in our lives. And empowerment... is essential.

Corny but, "I can."

Recently, a publication somewhat diametrically opposed to The New Yorker (The American Conservative) ran an interview in hopes of profiling the Trump supporter. While Trump supporters certainly run the gamut of social and idealogical spectrums, support is particularly concentrated in areas of Appalachia where many working class Americans have seen down and out days... placing them in diametric opposition with East Coast "elites". Within the interview, J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy discussed his Appalacian upbringing, claiming that many in the area felt a sense of disempowerment in their own lives. According to Vance, "[b]elieving you have no control is incredibly destructive, and that may be especially true when you face unique barriers." So, when it comes to difficult choices, sometimes "just doing it" provides us with a sense of control, no matter the consequence. And our sense of empowerment and happiness builds, our bodies are often the better for it. But, as stated before, that is another story for another time. In the meantime, if you need inspiration to "Just Do It", Nike's commericals seem to deliver more inspiration than their slogan. Enjoy!