Tuesday, May 26, 2015

on meat.

If you haven't heard, the project to grow meat in a lab had a proof-of-concept a couple of years ago. (Actual cow cells, not some protein replacement.) The taste was a little funky, and it cost more than $300,000, so there was room for improvement. The scientist has managed to cut the cost by more than 80%, which is remarkably fast progress for any product's path to commercialization. Barring calamity, someone will be trying to sell it within 10 years, probably much sooner. Hopefully it's edible, because the upside is huge: while we should continue to complain about how much water almond trees use (and must use every year to keep them alive), livestock in California uses a lot more. Plus the way we produce meat is quite literally horrifying.

I eat it anyway, because I have to.

The selfish part of me isn't sad that I have to eat meat, because meat is delicious, and banh mi is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. I have had a couple stretches of not eating meat, and they were complete disasters.

The first time was accidental: I stayed 3 weeks at San Francisco Zen Center, which doesn't serve meat at all. The food was good at the time--it varies depending on which student has been placed in charge of the kitchen, a position so important that Dogen wrote his most famous essay about it--so I didn't really miss meat. After maybe a week and a half, though, I was chatting with a resident, and I commented that I felt like my energy level had been ticking steadily downward.
"Oh, yeah," she said. "You need a hamburger. I need to duck out periodically to go eat meat somewhere."
Off I went to Rosamunde Sausage Grill, and I felt better after the first bite.

The second time, I was farther in to Zen practice, and felt very keenly that I should stop eating standard urbanly-available meat, because it's really just a catastrophe for the planet, and unspeakably cruel to the animals. I figured I'd try it for a month and see how it went. I ate what seemed like pounds and pounds of lentils and beans, though I also wasn't really eating cheese or butter at the time.

I was running every other day, and after a couple weeks I suddenly realized that running had been getting harder and harder. My legs felt like they were made of lead, my muscles had no bounce-back; things I would expect every so often, but not every time. After 3 weeks, I ate some kind of meat thing, and again felt better immediately.

Now my body's all horked up and weird--or rather, it's mostly normal for the first time ever, but only with the aid of medication--and experiments in vegetarianism are out of the question, especially because the kind of energy issues I've dealt with for the past couple years feel suspiciously like those times I wasn't eating meat. It's sort of sad, though.

Maybe "cultured meat" will save the day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

books books books

A while ago I started keeping a list of books I read, because otherwise I'll just forget. If I have the titles, I'll usually remember a lot about it.

Obviously I would want to count them, but until this year, it never occurred to me to just put them in an HTML numbered list. That makes counting much easier, though since I'm lazy and I condense series into one entry, I still have to do math. I add books in the year that I finish them, which is the only sensible way to do it.

Last year I finished 42 books. I discovered some really excellent series that jacked up the numbers, but even so, that's 0.8 books per week. I also worked full-time, but you can tell who's doing most of the parenting chores, and it's not me.

This year I've finished 21 books, and the list is a bit less fluffy than 2014. This is also the 21st week of the year. I'm pretty split now between e-books and paper books; the e-books particularly feed my lifelong habit of reading a dozen books at once, because I borrow them through the Kindle app in my iPhone and iPad, and if I don't finish them but borrow them again later, the Kindle app remembers my place and any notes I made and everything. I have some long-running project books:
  • Cubed - Nikil Saval.
  • Consider the Fork - Bee Wilson.
  • Plato at the Googleplex - Rebecca Goldstein.
  • Notes of A Native Son - James Baldwin.
  • A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn.
  • Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck.
  • Moby-Dick - Herman Melville.
It's not a coincidence that most of these are information-dense non-fiction. I sometimes have a hard time focusing these days.

Grapes of Wrath I read in high school, but after being blown away by East of Eden in Chile, I re-read Of Mice and Men last year, and clearly Younger Chris did not properly appreciate Steinbeck.

Moby-Dick (1852) is fascinating. I use it for bedtime reading, because nothing happens and it calms my mind. It's exquisitely crafted, but...what is it, exactly? Is it a novel? I can only appreciate it if I set aside my preconceived notions of a novel as a Story about Events involving Characters who might change somehow by the end of the book. There is a plot, but it doesn't appear until about 20% through the book. Melville just wasn't in any hurry.
"Come, dear reader, and let your Ishmael tell you, not about a ship or its captain or some stupid whale or whatever. Sit with me as I wax rapturous about the glories of shipboard living, the importance of the harpooneer, the fine hand-crafted details of the pulpit in the fishermen's church."
The pulpit took at least 2 pages. No joke. This author is deeply, passionately committed to describing things.

I like it, though! Now that we're actually on the ship and we've met the psychotic captain, there's a lot of Shakespearean vibes going on. Melville coins words like Shakespeare did: overscorning is the one that sticks with me, but several times I've typed a word into Google when the Kindle dictionary didn't know it, and the only reference is to quote Melville's passage. The guy loved English.

Now that I think of it, there's a woeful amount of Shakespeare I've never read. Maybe that can be the next thing to put me to sleep.