Who are we?

Question: What forces have shaped humanity most?

Jacques Pepin:  As I think I mentioned, Levi-Strauss before who said that cooking is the process by which, you know, nature is transformed into culture.  That very important.  And European civilization, you know, certainly you can go back.  And anything can be filtered through the food itself.  I mean anthropology, history, sociology, even politic you know?  You have political decision like the tax on la gabelle in France in the 17th century which put a tax on salt.  Those are political decision who decide where the food goes, or how the food is going to be consumed; or the embargo of Carter in the ‘70s.  Again the grand embargo against certain country in Europe.  This political decision as we see in Africa and other parts of the world will determine where the food goes, who dies, and who starves.  And who dies and who lives.  So those are . . .  Whether it’s political . . .  Religion.  You know food can be a . . .  The Bible is an enormous source for food, or for history of food if you want, you know.  So whether it’s sociology, there is no part of social science which cannot be really filtered through food.  And to a certain extent now, it becomes a subject which is more not only relevant, but more respected.  I mean at Boston University, we’re offering our Master of Liberal Arts with a concentration on Gastronomy.  I mean that would have been totally unthinkable 20, 30 years ago and even less than that.  When I came to America and I worked at the Pavillion, which was considered the greatest French restaurant here.  I was part of Local 89, and Local 89 was the dishwasher, the chef, the cook, to everybody in the same basket.  There was no difference.  And at that point, you know, I have to say that after . . . after the Pavillion I worked for Howard Johnson.  I worked with a lot of black people.  Black chef behind the stove.  That’s where I _______ most into the kitchen.  And now that the cooking had exploded and had become very glamorous, and inspired, and even genius-like, you know, then you, for some reason – and I think it’s a loss for the country – don’t have many black who are into cooking now.  A couple, you know, but not many.  But many young American chefs are in that business now, which as I say years ago they would not even . . . that was considered a low, uninspired type of job which now it’s exactly the opposite.  So we have the peregrination of the chef.  It’s quite interesting because something happened in the same way in the 17th, 18th century in France.  In fact there was a book written by Meneau in the first half of the 18th century which is called Le Nouvelle Cuisine France – the new French cooking.  So you see the nouvelle cuisine which erupted here in the ‘70s, but already existing in the 18th century.  And it went down and up.  Cuisine was at an apex again during the . . . during the end of the 19th century at the time of the belle epoque.  Then it went down and up again.  So it’s an interesting take, again, to look at this story of cooking.

Question: How has technology changed cooking in the last 50 years?

Jacques Pepin: Well technology certainly has changed a great deal of the cooking.  And it’s changing maybe even more so now.  There is good and there is bad.  Certainly things like the food processor, saran wrap and plastic . . . or rubber spatula are, for me, great innovation of the last 30 years.  But it is like this, you know.  We always manipulate food.  And our ancestors, you know, didn’t have anything to eat.  And what we call wheat now was actually a wild . . . a wild weed which through cross-breeding, and changing, and manipulation we end up now with this.  I mean not that long ago when I was a child, you could not eat string beans.  _________ on one side, and the other side which I tried to do . . . And I had to do a couple of _________ or whatever it was that my mother wanted me to do.  My brother and I tried to cut the end of it with a scissor, too, which of course those beans were absolutely uneatable.  So now there have always been some manipulation to make it better without the string; or to make the animal fatter, or not as fat, or more tender, or this and that.  So those manipulations have existed all the time.  Now bio-engineered food is something else, you know, that we get into other areas which have to be controlled.  I am not, by definition, opposed to anything.  Because I think to feed the world we need that type of improvement.  But it has to be extremely controlled, you know?  But without any question, if you can do an egg which tastes like an egg for me – as good as an egg – and it has half the amount of cholesterol, why not?  You know if you can have a tomato, that because of some manipulation, doesn’t need to be sprayed with an insecticide or pesticide or anything, being resistant to this, why not?  That may be a plus.  But as I say you have to do that with circumspection.  You really have to control it, you know?

Recorded on: 09/04/2007

 

 

Food is at the heart of human history.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.


Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.