Category: Food and Drink
I was very happy with how this turned out, here is the audio and transcript. Here is how the CWTeam summarized it:
Michael Pollan has long been fascinated by nature and the ways we connect and clash with it, with decades of writing covering food, farming, cooking, and architecture. Pollan’s latest fascination? Our widespread and ancient desire to use nature to change our consciousness.
He joins Tyler to discuss his research and experience with psychedelics, including what kinds of people most benefit from them, what it can teach us about profundity, how it can change your personality and political views, the importance of culture in shaping the experience, the proper way to integrate it into mainstream practice, and — most importantly of all — whether it’s any fun.
He argues that LSD is underrated, I think it may be good for depression but for casual use it is rapidly becoming overrated. Here is one exchange of relevance:
COWEN: Let me try a very philosophical question. Let’s say I could take a pill or a substance, and it would make everything seem profound. My receptivity to finding things profound would go up greatly. I could do very small events, and it would seem profound to me.
Is that, in fact, real profundity that I’m experiencing? Doesn’t real profundity somehow require excavating or experiencing things from actual society? Are psychedelics like taking this pill? They don’t give you real profundity. You just feel that many things are profound, but at the end of the experience, you don’t really have . . .
POLLAN: It depends. If you define profundity or the profound as exceptional, you have a point.
One of the things that’s very interesting about psychedelics is that our brains are tuned for novelty, and for good reason. It’s very adaptive to respond to new things in the environment, changes in your environment, threats in your environment. We’re tuned to disregard the familiar or take it for granted, which is indeed what most of us do.
One of the things that happens on psychedelics, and on cannabis interestingly enough — and there’s some science on it in the case of cannabis; I don’t think we’ve done the science yet with psychedelics — is that the familiar suddenly takes on greater weight, and there’s an appreciation of the familiar. I think a lot of familiar things are profound if looked at in the proper way.
The feelings of love I have for people in my family are profound, but I don’t always feel that profundity. Psychedelics change that balance. I talk in the book about having emotions that could be on Hallmark cards. We don’t think of Hallmark cards as being profound, but in fact, a lot of those sentiments are, properly regarded.
Yes, there are those moments you’ve smoked cannabis, and you’re looking at your hand, and you go, “Man, hands, they’re f — ing incredible.” You’re just taken with this. Is that profound or not? It sounds really goofy, but I think the line between profundity and banality is a lot finer than we think.
COWEN: I’ve never myself tried psychedelics. But I’ve asked the question, if I were to try, how would I think about what is the stopping point?
For my own life, I like, actually, to do the same things over and over again. Read books. Eat food. Spend time with friends. You can just keep on doing them, basically, till you die. I feel I’m in a very good groove on all of those.
If you take it once, and say you find it entrancing or interesting or attractive, what’s the thought process? How do you model what happens next?
POLLAN: That’s one of the really interesting things about them. You have this big experience, often positive, not always though. I had, on balance . . . all the experiences I described in the book, with one notable exception, were very positive experiences.
But I did not have a powerful desire to do it again. It doesn’t have that self-reinforcing quality, the dopamine release, I don’t know what it is, that comes with things that we like doing: eating and sex and sleep, all this kind of stuff. Your first thought after a big psychedelic experience is not “When can I do it again?” It’s like, “Do I ever have to do it again?”
COWEN: It doesn’t sound fun, though. What am I missing?
POLLAN: It’s not fun. For me, it’s not fun. I think there are doses where that might apply — low dose, so-called recreational dose, when people take some mushrooms and go to a concert, and they’re high essentially.
But the kind of experience I’m describing is a lot more — I won’t use the word profound because we’ve charged that one — that is a very internal and difficult journey that has moments of incredible beauty and lucidity, but also has dark moments, moments of contemplating death. Nothing you would describe as recreational except in the actual meaning of the word, which is never used. It’s not addictive, and I think that’s one of the reasons.
I did just talk to someone, though, who came up to me at a book signing, a guy probably in his 70s. He said, “I’ve got to tell you about the time I took LSD 16 days in a row.” That was striking. You can meet plenty of people who have marijuana or a drink 16 days in a row. But that was extraordinary. I don’t know why he did it. I’m curious to find out exactly what he got out of it.
In general, there’s a lot of space that passes. For the Grateful Dead, I don’t know. Maybe it was a nightly thing for them. But for most people, it doesn’t seem to be.
COWEN: Say I tried it, and I found it fascinating but not fun. Shouldn’t I then think there’s something wrong with me that the fascinating is not fun? Shouldn’t I downgrade my curiosity?
POLLAN: [laughs] Aren’t there many fascinating things that aren’t fun?
COWEN: All the ones I know, I find fun. This is what’s striking to me about your answer. It’s very surprising.
W even talk about LSD and sex, and why a writer’s second book is the key book for understanding that writer. Toward the end we cover the economics of food, and, of course, the Michael Pollan production function:
COWEN: What skill do you tell them to invest in?
POLLAN: I tell them to read a lot. I’m amazed how many writing students don’t read. It’s criminal. Also, read better writers than you are. In other words, read great fiction. Cultivate your ear. Writing is a form of music, and we don’t pay enough attention to that.
When I’m drafting, there’s a period where I’m reading lots of research, and scientific articles, and history, and undistinguished prose, but as soon as I’m done with that and I’ve started drafting a chapter or an article, I stop reading that kind of stuff.
Before I go to bed, I read a novel every night. I read several pages of really good fiction. That’s because you do a lot of work in your sleep, and I want my brain to be in a rhythm of good prose.
Defininitely recommended, as is Michael’s latest book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
Obesity has reached alarming levels in Thailand, which ranks as the second-heaviest nation in Asia, after Malaysia. One in three Thai men are obese, while more than 40 percent of women are significantly overweight, according to Thailand’s national health examination survey.
Monks are at the forefront of the problem. Nearly half are obese, according to a study conducted by Chulalongkorn University. More than 40 percent have high cholesterol, nearly 25 percent have high blood pressure and one in 10 are diabetic, the study found.
That is from Mukita Suhartono at the NYT.
The city has some of the best Soviet war memorials, noting that the text at the main Babi Yar monument does not in fact refer to “Jews.” The museums are much better than expected, with at least five worthy of a visit, including the National Museum, the folk art museum, Scythian gold museum, and Russian art museum, and the Khanenko museum.
I am underwhelmed by the economy here, and Kiev is one of the least bustling national capitals I have seen, especially for a country of its size. The distribution of stores and commercial ventures is so thin as to remind me of some parts of San Francisco. Yes, this is August but still the streets feel empty, even in the center of town. Maybe especially in the center of town. The earlier Soviet infrastructure has not been built over, and the basic outline of the city does not yet feel “post-reform.”
Poland and Ukraine had about the same per capita gdp in 1992, but now Poland’s is three times higher. Even Russian wages are twice as high. The Ukrainian economy has shrunk 17.8% since 2008, and that is not even counting the loss of territory, which still counts statistically as part of Ukrainian gdp.
Markers of the new, post-2014 Ukrainian nationalism are seen frequently, and the use of the Russian language is actively discouraged.
There is a brand or chain of Karaoke parlors called “MAFIA Karaoke.”
Unlike some parts of Moscow, there are few signs of a rip-off culture here with respect to tourists. The citizenry is unfailingly helpful when possible, though short answers are hard to come by. People in random encounters seem quite willing to give all sorts of (wordy) advice as to what you should be doing and why.
Japanese restaurants are more common than Chinese. After Italian, there is not much culinary diversity to be seen, but the Georgian restaurants are among the best in the city. As for a single recommendation, Kanapa [Kanape] for “nouvelle Ukraine” would be my clear first pick, and it is on a picturesque street with many folk art stalls.
If two people each order bottles of mineral water, they will not open one bottle for each person. Instead, they induce you to first share the first bottle, and then the second, in sequence. Thus the water is not efficiently conserved.
It is remarkable how many different restaurants serve their chocolate ice cream with a basil leaf on top.
What should I see and where should I eat? I will be there soon, and any assistance or advice you can offer is much appreciated, thanks!
That is a new and truly excellent book by W.J. Rorabaugh. It is a perfect 116 pp. of text and a model for what many other books should be.
From 1825 to 1850, the per capita consumption of alcohol in the United States dropped by half, due largely to religious influence.
As late as 1914, alcohol taxes accounted for 35 percent of the revenue of the federal government.
The Russian government moved to prohibition during WWI, and the resulting loss of revenue was a significant factor contributing to the downfall of the regime.
Note that “per capita consumption of alcohol was reduced for a very long time.” If you were born in 1900, for instance, you could not legally drink until 1933, at the age of thirty-three, a relatively late age for this habit to form.
Today “more than half of Mexican American women are teetotalers.” And: “African Americans continue to be light drinkers, and more than half of black women do not drink.”
Strongly recommended. If all books were like this, it would be hard for me to tear myself away from them.
Food insecurity can be directly exacerbated by climate change due to crop-production-related impacts of warmer and drier conditions that are expected in important agricultural regions. However, efforts to mitigate climate change through comprehensive, economy-wide GHG emissions reductions may also negatively affect food security, due to indirect impacts on prices and supplies of key agricultural commodities. Here we conduct a multiple model assessment on the combined effects of climate change and climate mitigation efforts on agricultural commodity prices, dietary energy availability and the population at risk of hunger. A robust finding is that by 2050, stringent climate mitigation policy, if implemented evenly across all sectors and regions, would have a greater negative impact on global hunger and food consumption than the direct impacts of climate change. The negative impacts would be most prevalent in vulnerable, low-income regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where food security problems are already acute.
In other words, one needs to be very careful with a carbon tax. For the pointer, I thank Charles Klingman.
The number of people sleeping in McDonald’s outlets has increased six-fold over the past five years, a trend partly driven by rising rents and substandard housing that makes life especially unbearable in the city’s baking weather, a study has found.
The survey, organised by Junior Chamber International and conducted in June by volunteers, found 334 people had slept in a McDonald’s outlet nightly over at least the past three months. Of the 110 branches that operate 24 hours in the city, 84 had seen overnight sleepers.
This is a six-fold increase from a similar study in 2013, which found only 57 such people, popularly dubbed McRefugees or McSleepers.
A branch in Tsuen Wan hosted more than 30 sleepers, the highest among all branches, according to the latest study.
Researchers were able to interview 53 McRefugees aged between 19 and 79 in depth, and found 57 per cent of them had a job and 71 per cent of them had flats that they rented or owned, contrary to the common belief that these people tended to be jobless and homeless.
Saving on air conditioning costs, as well as comfort and security, topped a list of reasons given by these interviewees, followed by high rents, conflict with family members, the ability to develop social relations at the chain and substandard housing.
You know the drill — where to go, what to do, and what to eat? I thank you in advance for your wisdom and advice.
This paper explores the physics of the what-if question “what if the entire Earth was instantaneously replaced with an equal volume of closely packed, but uncompressed blueberries?”. While the assumption may be absurd, the consequences can be explored rigorously using elementary physics. The result is not entirely dissimilar to a small ocean-world exo-planet.
Here is the full analysis, via M.
A right-wing argument:
“If you want more money get a better job,” reads one comment on a thread asking the bad tippers of the internet to explain themselves.
A left-wing argument:
James, 22, who lives in midwestern Canada, where it’s customary to tip between 15 and 20 percent, is against tipping on principle. “I feel no pressure to give a tip because I think customers supporting the ridiculous low wages are preposterous,” he says. “The establishment should be paying a living wage for a professional server, and I am of the opinion that when this happens service will go up rather than down.”
A rebel argument:
“I don’t tip because society says I have to,” says Mr. Pink, the crook played by Steve Buscemi in the 1992 Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs.
A preference-based argument:
“I just don’t feel the need to tip that much,” explains Sam, a 29-year-old woman living in New York City. “I spend a lot on food and alcohol and travel because I enjoy those things. I’ll tip a little bit but I don’t feel like I need to tip a lot.”
…Sam says her friends all tell her that she should tip at least 18 percent, but she just doesn’t care that much. “I’m not going to be rude and say I don’t care, but I actually really don’t care,” she says. “That’s not my concern. I don’t know you. You chose that profession.”
When Facebook moves into its new offices in Mountain View this fall, a signature Silicon Valley perk will be missing — there won’t be a corporate cafeteria with free food for about 2,000 employees.
In an unusual move, the city barred companies from fully subsidizing meals inside the offices, which are part of the Village at San Antonio Center project, in an effort to promote nearby retailers. The project-specific requirement passed in 2014, attracting little notice because the offices were years away from opening.
It came in response to local restaurants that said Google, the city’s biggest employer, was hurting their businesses by providing free meals, according to John McAlister, a Mountain View councilman.
I didn’t realize until recently that broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and collard greens are all technically the same species, Brassica oleracea. The substantial differences between these sub-species are all due to patient intervention by human farmers over millennia. Many of these changes are surprisingly recent. Early versions of cauliflower may have been mentioned by Pliny and medieval Muslim botanists, but as late as 1600, a French author was writing that cauli-fiori “as the Italians call it” was “still rather rare in France.” Likewise, Brussels sprouts don’t appear to have become widely cultivated until the Renaissance.
Juan is sometimes considered the world’s greatest hitchhiker, and this was one of my favorite installments in the series. We talked about “the joys of connecting with people, why it’s so hard to avoid stereotypes (including of hitchhikers), how stamp collecting guides his trips, the darkest secrets of people he’s gotten rides from, traveling and writing books with his wife, the cause of violence in the Americas, finding the emotional heart of a journey, where he’s going next…” and which country has the most beautiful women (and men). And why Colombia and Transnistria are two of his favorite places to visit.
Here is the transcript and audio.
Here is one excerpt:
VILLARINO: As a rule of thumb, I always like to say that you stop cars with your smile and not with your thumb. There are actually a lot of things you could do to improve your chances of getting a lift.
It’s not like go there, stick out your thumb, and get a ride. Definitely, smiling as a car is passing — it’s a really important thing. Then there are very subtle things that people wouldn’t guess that have an impact, and they do…
For example, a driver has on average three seconds to decide whether he’s going to stop or not. He sees you, he’s driving maybe 80 miles an hour, and you suddenly pop out. There are a lot of things going on unconsciously through his mind to decide whether he’s going to stop or not. You have only these seconds to convey any message of trust, and so you have to do things.
For example, one is smiling. The other one is, when you manage to get eye contact, then I reinforce. Let’s say, I’m showing my thumb, but I also switch my hand signal and point it to the direction in which I’m going as I’m smiling. This makes a more personalized link over the general link you are already doing, which is thumbing.
Then the way you are dressed, the way your backpack is positioned . . .
VILLARINO: Oh, yeah. Scandinavia.
COWEN: Those countries have plenty of cars. Why are they so slow?
VILLARINO: That’s amazing. To be hitchhiking in Scandinavia, you see all this row of Volvo cars passing you by [laughs] and they will never ever stop.
I had talked to a Swedish friend of mine, and she just said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t stop either,” she said, “because it’s so cheap and affordable to have a car. Then if someone is hitchhiking and doesn’t have a car, you would think he has second intentions or something wrong is going on here.”
COWEN: Would you describe yourself as a workaholic hitchhiker?
VILLARINO: Yes. [laughs] I am. People would be so surprised to see how much time there is involved on the backstage behind the screen because you hitchhike, you have books, and you have a blog. The blog is so time consuming.
Juan had the very best answer I thought as to why the New World is more violent than the Old World, overall. It starts with this:
VILLARINO: Probably because in our evolution as territories, we have had violence as a part of it much more recently in the timeline. We were conquered by means of powder. I think that’s probably in the genetic of our culture. I hope not.
Strongly recommended, and I hope to read and see more of Juan in the future.
I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with him, no associated public event. Here is his home page, and the About section. Here is Wikipedia on Pollan. Here is a Sean Iling Vox interview with Pollan, on his recent work on LSD and other psychedelics, and his most recent book is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Pollan is perhaps best known for his books on food, cooking, and food supply chains.
So what should I ask him?
D. asks me that question, citing Morocco, BA, and Paris. Here are a few factors militating in favor of such cafes:
1. The weather should be reasonable. This militates in favor of Mediterranean climates, with Paris eking through nonetheless. It hurts much of Asia.
2. The broad highways and thoroughfares should be removed from where the cafes might go. This factor harms Los Angeles, which otherwise has excellent weather, and helps La Jolla. Note that BA and some of the larger Moroccan cities were designed and built up around the same time, based on broadly European models, and to fit early 20th century technologies.
3. Street crime must be acceptably low. Bye bye Brazil.
4. Pollution should be fairly low, otherwise sitting outside is unpleasant. This harm many Indian and Chinese cities.
5. Streets must not be too steep. Sorry La Paz, and yes here at MR we adjust steepness coefficients by altitude.
6. Skyscrapers must not be too plentiful. This harms Manhattan, because the sunlight is mostly blocked.
7. Explicit or implicit marginal tax rates on labor should be relatively high. Another boost for the Mediterranean. And is cafe culture therefore correlated with smoking culture?
7b. Explicit or implicit land rents should be “low enough.” After all, they have to be willing to let you sit there all day. Just try that in midtown Manhattan.
8. The cities should have mixed-use neighborhoods, well-connected to each other by foot, conducive to many diverse groups of people walking through. This hurts many parts of the United States and also some parts of Latin America. It is a big gain for Paris.
9. The city dwellers need some tradition of “being alone,” so that these individuals use the cafe to connect to the outside. You will note that in many parts of Italy, the people-watching street cafe is outcompeted by the “stationary street conference, five guys who know each other really well yelling at each other about who knows what?” They never get around to that cafe chair. So the city needs some degree of anonymity, but not too much. This harms some of the more traditional societies found around the Mediterranean. On the other side of the distribution, too strong a tradition of television-watching hurts cafe life too.
10. Another competitor to the people-watching street cafe is the zócalo town square tradition of Mexico. I myself prefer the centralization of the zócalo (though admittedly it does not scale well fractally). So the city also has to fail in providing just the right kind of parks and park benches and focality in its very center. Surprise, surprise, but dysfunctional local public goods are by no means unheard of around the Mediterranean, Paris too, BA, and cities such as Casablanca.