Filming

I’ve made a few videos, and this project made me remember something that I previously had forgotten – filming is a complete pain in the ass. I absolutely despise having to film things, set up shots, and overall try to make things look good. I did the majority of my filming yesterday and most of the stuff that I have is absolute garbage that is almost not salvageable through editing. The assumption that editing will make the footage better is also fraught with peril, as I have no idea how to use adobe editing software and I don’t have any other options for a program. Can we please just write a fucking paper instead of this utter nonsense. I’ve got so much shit to do that I can’t possibly put the time into making this project a success. I desperately hope that the grading process on this isn’t too harsh, because it’s going to be trash. I’m aware that most of this post is just bitching, but I’m significantly annoyed.

I spent five hours yesterday cooking and filming for this video and the end result wasn’t even that great. I made steamed scallops on a bed of mung bean vermicelli with a garlic sauce, stir-fried pink amaranth greens, and steamed vegetable dumplings. I think the recipes I used could have been more liberal on the addition of spices and seasoning, particularly the scallops. Also, I think that the Asian market was having an off-day in the fish department – there were barely any live fish when I was there on Sunday, and the scallops that I got weren’t great. They looked really delicious and fresh when I bought them, but they were just lacking in flavor and the texture was slightly off from how scallops normally are. I suspect that they had an issue with a supplier – they normally have dry or divers scallops, but I think the ones I bought might have been wet scallops.

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Videography

I’ve got to say, while I have a decent idea for the third project, I’m not sure how I’m going to translate the idea into something that isn’t entirely lame. In addition to the fact that I’m not sure how to write something that is actually persuasive and won’t immediately make people want to turn off my video for lack of caring, I’ve never done videography before. I don’t really know how to make an aesthetically appealing video or edit. I’ve also made a point to never have my likeness show up in a video or anything, so the fact that I have to do a voiceover is a bit daunting for me. I just don’t like to put myself in things – I have a hard time when writing papers that require sections in first-person. Possibly I have some problems with dissociation. I don’t know. I’m also not going to be able to film anything until I get my tripod for home over Easter break, so I’m not really going to have anything for my first draft on Monday. I’m in the process of figuring out how to write the script for my draft right now, and I’m really not a fan of it.

I also have a fuck-ton of stuff to do before break, and I’m really not looking forward to this week. Thankfully, I just finished a paper proposal regarding the linguistic rhetorical devices Satan uses in his speeches in Paradise Lost. Which is not going to be fun to write, but whatever. Satan in Paradise Lost is one of the most fascinating literary characters that’s ever been written. He is absolutely inspiring and seems to be the protagonist for most of the epic, which is a huge point of contention for most scholars of Paradise Lost. Personally I’m coming to terms with the fact that the Miltonic Satan isn’t exactly my moral role model, but he comes pretty damn close.

Experiments in cooking

I know that spring break seems in the distant past at this point, but I feel like one of the things I did over break is relevant to the content of the class, so I’ll share. A few days before I came back to Boone, I was intensely craving some authentic Chinese food, which is ridiculously difficult to get in North Carolina. Luckily, I live not far from a rather large Asian market where they have a small restaurant section. However, since I wasn’t busy that or the following day, I decided to try cooking a few Chinese dishes with ingredients from the market.

I made 叉烧包(chāshāo bāo), 粽子(zòngzi),and 馄饨汤 (húntuntang). These are respectively a steamed bun filled with chopped Cantonese barbecue, glutinous rice with duck egg yolk, chopped pork belly, scallions, and peanuts wrapped in bamboo leaves, and the ubiquitous wonton soup. Everything turned out wonderfully, although making all of it took roughly ten hours. The flavors and textures are unlike anything that you can get at a typical American Chinese restaurant, and most Americans haven’t come close to tasting them.  

Making the food wasn’t difficult. What was an interesting experience was the trip to the Asian market. I’ve been many times, so I’m somewhat used to the atmosphere in the market. The all-encompassing smell of fermented soy, tofu-water, and the fish market present at the back of the store. The complete lack of English labeling and distinguishable price markers. The aisle full of medicinal Chinese herbs that I’ve never seen, the live soft-shelled turtles, cow hearts, and boiled blood in the meat section, and the colorful wrappings masking bizarre snacks. All of these things become strangely comforting once you get used to them.

The trip to the market wouldn’t feel the same without the sense of otherness that I get, though. 95% of the patrons are Asian and speak Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, or Japanese. The announcements on the intercom are in Mandarin Chinese. I can understand some of the Chinese, but that doesn’t stop me from being entirely out of my linguistic comfort zone. This sense of being a minority is something that most white Americans don’t – and maybe go out of their way to never – experience. People assume that they know what Asia is like because they know their Chinese Zodiac symbol and eat takeout vegetable dumplings, but in reality never actually interact with the culture. I think this is quite sad, actually, and encourage anyone who hasn’t been to shop at an Asian market – of course it is not the same as going to China or Thailand, but the microcosm of Asia in one of these markets is a good start.

Julie and Julia

Well, that was… a movie. I regret spending any time watching it, although thankfully I watched it on 2x speed so I didn’t have to suffer as long as I could have. If I wanted to watch a half-baked dramatization of a half-baked chef I would watch Top Chef or something. Not only was the movie a typical representation of bland cinematography and writing style, Julia Child is one of the least interesting chefs that has ever become famous. She was a decent TV personality and managed to entertain an American audience, but she developed her cooking style through imitation of French cooking, which is counterproductive. Of course it is important to learn the technical skills that French cuisine requires, but attempting to replicate a cooking style is never the way to go. An American will never be better at cooking French food than a French chef of the same caliber. The American can become passable, decent, even good, but this requires extensive work with the knowledge that you will never surpass them. It is a much better investment of a cook’s time to learn techniques and apply them to foods of one’s own cultural background, so that you gain a basis for cooking. With this basis and feeling for the techniques and ingredients, you can begin to develop your own style and ingenuity that is the marker of a good cook – maybe even eventually a great chef. Child’s emphasis on the “frenchness” of her cooking leads to discouraged cooks and countless imitators of a cuisine full of history and culture.

Okay. Rant over. Other than those few things, I think that the movie was fine. One thread that I found between this movie and the previous shows that we’ve watched is the theme that cooking can “save” a person. In Cooked, Pollan is trying to encourage cooking so that our health and culture can be preserved – saved. In Chef’s Table, each of the individual chefs was saved by food in their own way. Cooking gave them a purpose and a craft that they can master, as well as a goal that they can strive for – much like it did for Julie in this movie.

The Bad Show

I’m not really sure what to say about this episode, other than it was very depressing. Hearing stories about the worst types of humans is not exactly uplifting. I think that the stories about the creator of Zyklon B and the Green River killer were interesting, albeit disturbing, but I don’t quite understand how they relate to the topic of rhetoric and composition?

I do understand the link between research ethics and the Milgram experiment, though. I’d studied the experiment before, and I go back and forth as to how I would respond in that situation. I would like to think that I wouldn’t hurt another person, but I’m honestly not sure I would care in that situation, particularly if I was being paid and had faith in the researchers. Thinking about it is scary, nonetheless.

I am also ambivalent about the morality of the experiment. I understand that being put in that situation might be unsettling and perhaps scarring for a person, but I think that some things cannot be tested properly and confine to APA guidelines. I’m also not entirely sure whether this experiment was necessary; did the researchers really learn anything that they couldn’t have got from other sources? I think that a more clear-cut example of a breach of research ethics might be to explain the actions of Imperialist Japanese Unit 731, which is something that lots of people aren’t aware of.

I think another interesting question that is somewhat related is whether it is ethical to use the findings of unethical experiments in current research. Despite the atrocities committed by the Nazis and Imperialist Japanese in World War II, some of the research that they conducted led to things that could be potentially useful in making people’s lives better or even saving lives. I’m not completely aware of what the official stance on this is, but I think it has something to do with the use of these experiments somehow encouraging further unethical studies.

Chef’s Table ep. 1-4

Full disclosure: I’ve watched Chef’s Table before, and it’s one of my absolute favorite shows. The cinematography is astonishingly gorgeous, and the storiesrecomposed_by_max_richter_-_vivaldi_-_the_four_seasons_front_cover and intentions that the chefs use to create their art is inspiring. The soundtrack of some of the episodes is also noteworthy – the show uses selections from Max Richter’s re-orchestration of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to elevate some of the silent food and cooking montages to artistic perfection.

When I rewatch this show, it’s striking to me how often the theme of sustainable ingredients comes up. For some such as Dan Barber, it’s more ecologically driven. But other chefs emphasize the quality of locally-grown, individually beautiful ingredients as a key part of their cooking, even without the global effects. Both of these schools of thought have two things in common: absolute respect for one’s ingredients and a connection to one’s surroundings. This is similar to how Pollan notes the importance of diets that vary by region and the benefits of whole ingredients as supposed to chemically-synthesized foods.

For me, one of the most intriguing things about the chefs on this show is how they communicate their life stories through their cooking. It seems that Niki Nakayama is a perfect example of the effects that patriarchal societies, both Asian and Western, can have on an ambitious woman. However, Nakayama does not allow these detriments to slow her down. On the contrary, she uses the determination that she has gained from these experiences to create another language with her food. She allows her food and ambitious hospitality practices to speak for her strength and creativity. Francis Mallman uses his cooking to communicate his appreciation for Patagonia while showing how he has managed to escape from the confines of traditional French cuisine – and therefore attain his own personal freedoms. This use of food as a tool for communication and as an alternate form of language is also present in Pollan’s Cooked, when he emphasizes the social significance of home cooking and the history of food traditions.

The most striking aspect of Chef’s Table is the absolute passion and ambition of the individual chefs, and the emotion that transfers into their craft. There is an otherworldly aura that comes with being the best in one’s craft that some interpret as arrogance, but I’m not sure that this the case with these chefs. The amount of dedication that these individuals have is remarkable and enviable.

Cooked

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I absolutely adore all kinds of food and cooking. I’ve cooked for my entire life; most of my family is intimidatingly good at least one cooking discipline. I’ve had the fortune to make friends that have devoted their lives and careers to culinary arts – they’re the type of person that would drive a car held-together with duct tape so that they would have money left over to buy winter black truffles. I consider myself fairly invested in the culinary world, and I love any opportunity to learn more about aspects of it that I might be ignorant of.

It seems to me that Cooked is a love letter to culinary arts. The beautiful cinematography of the food indicates the vibrancy of the traditions, but shots that do not focus on the food itself are still gorgeous. Particularly when the camera is filming someone performing their craft, the shots are framed in a way that makes movement look almost spiritually significant. Paired with insightful narration and a lovely soundtrack that does not overpower the visual imagery, Cooked would be an interesting viewing experience even without the content.

Generally, scientific explanations are not all that interesting to me. I have experience with brewing mead, and even when I do that I have a partner do all of the hydrometer calculations, as I prefer the physical work and artistic consideration of flavor. However, as the science is presented in Cooked, the scientific aspects of food are more of a way to understand the art of food rather than the end goal of cooking. Most of the scientific knowledge and technique is shown with metaphors that make it intriguing to the non-scientific viewer.

It considers not only the practical and scientific aspects of food, but also the deep historical and cultural background that comes attached to it. The consideration of bread as a cultural signifier of famine or surplus is still persistent even in a largely post-scarcity culture like America. We might have biologically adapted to cooking, but our cultures are so intertwined with our food that it’s almost impossible to consider them independently. The Greeks believed in the principle of philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger” and was typically expressed through the procurement of wine and food for anyone who came to their doors. In the beginning of the Odyssey, this gesture was extended to Odysseus, and the introduction of his character is almost impossible to understand without this food-centric gesture. One traditional Chinese greeting is “你吃了吗?”, which means literally “have you eaten yet?” and reveals how the food culture and occasional scarcity of food in China shapes their interactions.

Overall, Cooked is an absolutely worthwhile watch, yet I wonder if some of the technical details overpower the sections that are meant to showcase the soul of the food and the passion that goes into making it.