Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stuff White People Like

I never really considered myself a white person. I imagined that white people were like the popular kids at school - they knew they were privileged and that they wielded significant power. I, on the other hand, was always keenly aware that I was different from the American mainstream. I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas, Easter or Halloween, I had never even attended a school that had a dance and the once treyf Oreo cookies were substituted in my diet with kosher Hydrox sandwich cookies. I certainly felt like a minority. Confused as to why there was never a "Jewish" circle to shade on demographic surveys, I often penciled in "other" or left the entire field blank. That was before I discovered the site Stuff White People Like and realized I was apparently whiter than Wonder Bread.*

*Disclaimer: There are too many reasons why this statement (and post) might be offensive. But that only proves my point. (See SWPL #50 and #101).

1. Stuff White People Like

I don't remember when I first learned of the Stuff White People Like blog, but in the past three years it has spawned books and debates and humor and has become the very thing it mocks. I admit that I am guilt of liking just about everything on their list and that makes me feel pretty vanilla. Then I read this piece about White People Food and it struck a nerve, claiming that the New American cuisine, the Alice Waters "farm-to-table" beets and kale and quinoa diets that foodies laud has a certain "monolithic blandness" to it. And the writer makes some pretty good points along the way, albeit in a snarky self-righteous tone. But rather than wallow in criticism (another thing White People Like?) perhaps the article could focus on the ways in which American food culture has become a sort of melting pot (salad bowl?) of ethnic foods, opening more people's eyes to the variety of culinary traditions around the world and enabling fusion of different flavors. Furthermore, America's lack of definitive culinary traditions has made it easy to invent a standard "healthy" diet to counteract the detrimental effects of the standard American diet (or the "SAD" diet). Still, kale and beets are not always the answer. Sometimes it's rice or beans or kasha or tofu or sea vegetables. Or reindeer meat.

2. Anthony Bourdain

He travels the world eating exotic foods and is the foil to Rick Steves' nice guy tour guide persona. His writing style, even more than his television persona, is smart and engaging. And his episode of No Reservations in Sweden rocked my world. Bourdain visits the Sami people of Sweden, where reindeer herding is the main occupation, and their meat and blood are important sources of sustenance. They are becoming slightly more Westernized but for the most part their diets are still heavily reliant upon reindeer meat. In this 2006 study on Lifestyle, Genetics and Disease in Sami, researchers found that the Sami diet, high in meat and low in fruits and vegetables, is
"contrary to most national dietary recommendations and may be expected to be deficient in certain nutrients, particularly those that mostly come from plant foods (eg fiber and some water soluble vitamins.) Several studies have found that in general, the Sami have adequate intake of all micronutrients except for folic acid, fiber, and calcium and iron for women. However, differences in dietary intake do not appear to have led to any differences in serum lipid profiles."
Populations have lived and thrived off a variety of diets around the world for ages. And while I love kale which grows abundantly in my region, the Northwest, must everyone really include it in their diets?

3. Reality TV

While No Reservations may be the one quasi-reality show that I sometimes watch (okay, with the very occasional Matchmaker Millionaire with my roommates), there was a time when I watched an entire season of Top Chef. I was at my parents' house to stay with my grandmother who has Alzheimer's and needed to be watched. She had little attention span for anything but Top Chef on Bravo. Thankfully they were having a marathon and together we watched nearly an entire season. It was the only time I really watched the show on tv. But last year when I met with my classmates to launch the 2010-11 Student Nutrition Association at my school, I suggested we host a contest similar to Top Chef. Six months later, after hours upon hours of meetings and emails and preparation, Top Chef: Bastyr was launched and was a huge success. With eight teams of two students competing in the school's Nutrition Kitchen using limited ingredients, we invited guests to sample the fare, vote for their favorite, and listen to the judges opinions on the matter. The event raised nearly $1300 toward our meal team for Teen Feed and was a fun way to use the culinary arts to bring about social change. Hopefully it will continue next year as well, with a few tweaks and changes to make it a bit smoother.

4. Wikipedia

During the first week of work back in 2003, one of my more eccentric colleagues came up behind me and whispered in my ear, "type this into your browser: E-N-dot-W-I-K-I-P-E-D-I-A-dot-O-R-G." It brought up a page that lacked an eye-popping design and was covered in too many words. Before I could verbalize the question mark that must have appeared on my face he explained that this was Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that anyone could contribute toward and edit. He told me that it was a democratic site that would change the world, with new languages added all the time. I thought he was nuts. He spent most of his nights writing articles and would occasionally leave town for "conferences." For months I scoffed at Wikipedia. Then he left his job to take a full-time position at Wikimedia. The joke was on me. I can no longer deny the impact Wikipedia has had in its first 10 years. And I don't know what my go-to site would be every time a random question popped into me head.

5. Impact

Since it is already 2011, I can use the word impact, a commonplace buzzword in the world of non-profit organizations (Stuff White People Like #12). But even in its most basic, untainted form, it conveys a level of influence or "force exerted by new ideas." And in the hopes of making an impact, next week I will join dietitians from all over the state of Washington to lobby our legislators to support nutrition programs and legislation (see SWPL #62).

Some of the runners up for this post were "Stream of Consciousness" a la Holden Caulfield and Catcher in the Rye. But rather than listing it blatantly, I felt that employing some stream of consciousness was a better homage. "Chocolate" was another big contender, but, well, most people like chocolate. And anyway next week I have some international chocolatiers staying on my couch so I may have more to say about it then. Also, I was afraid people might get confused, inverse the descriptors and think I meant that white people like white chocolate. And that's just crazy talk.

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