A Record of Sticking Places
In September, Lauren Berlant wrote the following description of writing on her blog, Supervalent Thought:
Most of the writing we do is actually a performance of stuckness. It is a record of where we got stuck on a question for long enough to do some research and write out the whole knot until the original passion and curiosity that made us want to try to say something about something got so detailed, buried, encrypted, and diluted that the energetic and risk-taking impulse became sealed and delivered in the form of a defense against thinking any more about it. Along the way, something might have happened to the scene the question stood for: or not.
At first, I thought of that as something that applied only to “serious” writing—to articles or book chapters that unfold over months or years. But in retrospect, I think it’s actually one of the reasons I started this blog: to have a place to delve (even if only shallowly) into the kinds of questions that were distracting me from writing my dissertation and then seal them up so they’d stop cluttering my thought process. At some point in the process of writing most of the longer, essayish posts, I get sick of the topic and just want to be done with it. So I finish it, and even if I haven’t entirely resolved the question I started with, I feel released from thinking about it at least for a while.
However, the blog hasn’t quite had the intended effect of freeing me up to write the dissertation because, unsurprisingly, getting mentally “free” takes up a lot of the time and energy I ought to be spending on that other, more important “performance of stuckness.” And the whole idea of having a mentally “clean slate” before I deal with my dissertation was probably always a hopeless ambition.
So this part of the retrospective on the year is also a sort of penitent offering to anyone who’s come to appreciate or even maybe expect this kind of content. In the next six months, I need to finish and defend and submit my dissertation. Also, I’m getting married. Between the two, I’m probably not going to have the time to do a lot of longer posts on culture/history/politics. I’m toying with the idea of taking excerpts from the dissertation and editing them into blog-friendly essays on the weekends. But in case I don’t end up having the time to post much of anything substantial for at least the first half of 2011 and that makes you sad, maybe there will be something here that you missed or might be interested in revisiting.
Hipsters on Food Stamps—A three-part look at the bogus “trend” piece published last March in Salon about college-educated people using food stamps to buy organic, ethnic, and otherwise non-subsistence-diet foods and what it says about food & social class in America:
Part I: The New Generation of Welfare Queens—A critique of the article that places it in the longer history of concern about how the poor eat
Part II: Who Deserves Public Assistance?—An analysis of the comments and some of the myths about social class and poverty in America they reflect
Part III: Damned If You Do-ritos and Damned If You Don’t—An attempt to explain the contradictory trends of patronizing vs. romanticizing the poor and how they eat and what kinds of contemporary anxieties the bogus trend of hipsters on food stamps might be a response to
Responses to Food, Inc.—Posts related to the film (and the broader agendas it gave voice to) and how they distort the picture of the American food system and confused their audience.
Part I: No Bones in the Supermarket—An interrogation of the film’s premise that “looking” at the food system will lead everyone to the same conclusion
Part II: Is the Food More Dangerous?—The film suggests that industrial animal agriculture is responsible for the deadly strain of e coli that killed at least one innocent child, but it turns out that’s not true. Grass-fed cattle have less generic, harmless e coli but the same prevalence of 0157:H7.
Price, Sacrifice, and the Food Movement’s “Virtue” Problem—Why a food “movement” predicated on spending more or making sacrifices is necessarily limited to the privileged few.
The Myth of the Grass-Fed Pig—Why not every farm animal can or should be “grass fed,” and the ecological argument for vegetarianism.
The Myth of the Grass-Fed Pig, Part II: Cornphobia—On the epidemic of irrational fears about corn inspired by Michael Pollan’s books and the documentaries he has appeared in.
Part I: Natural, My Foot—Agave nectar isn’t an “ancient sweetener” used by Native Americans, it was invented in the 1990s and involves a process almost identical to the one used to make High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Part II: What’s Wrong With Any High-Fructose Sweetener—Why agave nectar, with up to 90% fructose, isn’t a healthier substitute for sugar.
Part III: The Mint Julep Taste Test and Calorie Comparison—The results of a comparison between agave and simple syrup-sweetened mint juleps and some number crunching that shows you could theoretically cut a small number of calories by substituting agave for sugar, but not if you use the recommended amount, which is calorically identical.
Why Posting Calorie Counts Won’t Work—Calorie counts are already appearing on menus across the country, and will soon be required for most chains. This series explores why they won’t make Americans thinner or healthier.
Introduction—A brief run-down of the reasons I don’t think the policy will work as intended.
Part I: The Number Posted is Often Wrong—What you see on the label is not always what you get, and the difference isn’t entirely random.
Part II: Most People Don’t Know How Many Calories They Burn—The problem of calorie ignorance isn’t one that can be fixed with an educational campaign—people don’t know how many calories they burn because they can’t know, because it changes, especially if they change their diets.
Part III: Calorie-restriction Dieting Doesn’t Work Long Term—A meta-literature review of three decades of research on calorie-restriction weight loss that shows again and again that by far the most common result of dieting is weight loss followed by regain. And an explanation of why the National Weight Loss Control Registry isn’t a representative sample. Read more »