Introduction to My Blog

With this blog, I aim to ask and answer provocative or otherwise interesting questions. I hope you find it valuable. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Public School Cooking Classes (This isn't a joke)

Like virtually everyone else, the lockdowns in effect around the world have helped me appreciate what in my life is and isn't important. We all think more about household essentials like tissues, soap, and toilet paper. We think about our food supplies, and how we can push our eating habits in a more self-sustainable direction. I read an interesting article in the Economist a few weeks ago about how a resurgence of gardening has occurred in the United States, and many more people are growing their own vegetables again.

I have thought hard about how I can best spend my time in quarantine, and one of the no-brainers to me has been cooking. Cooking is one of the most useful skills I can think of, and it's a skill that I don't think we emphasize as much as we ought to in childhood education. Perhaps this is more of a result of my pampered upper-middle-class upbringing, but I was never required to cook. I either heated up pre-made frozen food or my mom would cook.

I regret the fact that I wasn't taught to cook in the house, and I know that many (perhaps most) people learned some degree of cooking in the household as a child. I want to make an argument for required cooking classes in public education because I think that the skill is so incredibly useful, and has benefits one might not realize at first.

A viral meme I recall says that food can be only two of the following: affordable, tasty, or healthy. I used to tacitly accept this as true, and I made essentially no effort to eat well. I played sports and my metabolism was such that my poor diet didn't noticeably affect me. It was only over the past couple of years, as I've begun to teach myself how to cook, that I have realized that the adage I referred to is untrue.

It's only right in a superficial sense: the principle seems to be true with respect to eating out or buying pre-packaged meals. The principle is false with respect to cooking, though. With relatively no cooking experience, it's still easy to make a meal that satisfies all three aforementioned criteria for far less than even fast food prices.

This is a lesson I didn't learn until I was 18. Let me rephrase that. This is a lesson I didn't learn until long after I wrote an essay with the title "Examining and Applying the Theory of Recollection", which was about Plato's dialogue entitled "Meno" and a philosophical theory of knowledge acquisition. What did I just say? Even I barely know. All I know is that I should have learned some fundamentals of cooking before I delved into Platonic philosophical theory.

Cooking makes it much easier to eat healthier without feeling like you're depriving yourself. It also serves as a great social skill. Friends love you if you can cook something nice for them. Good cooking is also something a date will appreciate. Cooking is a nice departure from whatever else is bothering you. There's hardly anything more satisfying than putting lots of effort into cooking something and then tasting the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor.

I think that high school would be a good time for students to learn to cook because they are old enough to be marginally more responsible around hot equipment. This would also be invaluable preparation for students preparing for college, where they will likely otherwise only eat microwaved pizza and other such garbage. I actually think that students would rather enjoy taking some time out of a school day to do some hands-on work, especially if they can eat it.

I have no illusions. This idea presents challenges, including whatever level of absurd legal liability schools would have if students injured themselves cooking. Schools in poor inner cities would struggle to find local grocery marts with decent ingredients. Many students would be irresponsible and/or disrespectful, as they invariably are in other classes. 

Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives to me. Earlier today, I cooked pizzas with hummus and vegetables for myself and my mother. It went incredibly well and when discussing cooking after, I told my mom that cooking is more useful than virtually anything I learned in my years of schooling. This was obviously somewhat facetious, but I do think that it is sufficiently useful a skill that it should be part of our public education system. It would open new doors for children, encourage healthier, better eating habits, and give them a fun way to be both more self-reliant and more social.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Blind Crusade, Part 3: Really... Statues?

As the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd has continued to unfold for over a month now, it is clear to me that the national conversation surrounding race has been horribly distracted. We are now debating whether certain chunks of bronze in public settings are worthy of their place. I am, of course, referring to the tension over public statues depicting controversial figures of history.

Regardless of whom these statues depict, we all need to understand something: removing statues is an empty act that sidesteps the salient challenges posed by racism. Statues are little more than distractions from the issues that seriously need to be confronted by policymakers: endemic poverty, ghettoization, lack of investment in black communities, and a system of criminal injustice that has led to an obscene level of incarceration for black men in particular.

I try not to tear my hair out as well-meaning protesters charge at statues with ropes in hand. Placing emphasis on the removal of statues is exactly the kind of empty cultural signaling that perfectly aligns with the interests of Starbucks liberals (whom I defined in a previous blog) like Jamie Dimon and Jeff Bezos. These people would rather treat racism as a strictly cultural issue, as opposed to confronting the material and economic dimensions of racism, which would involve redistribution and community investment on a grand scale.

At the same time, don't let my critique of those fixated solely on tearing the statues down cause you to think I have any sympathy for those fighting to keep them up. I think that many of the statues coming down depict odious figures of history who should never have been honored in the first place. 

It is a national disgrace that public funding anywhere still goes to preserving monuments to men who fought to protect the institution of slavery. Symbolism, while not ultimately central to a society's wellbeing, carries significant meaning for many. If the statues truly meant nothing, nobody would have bothered erecting them in the first place. Those best known for their allegiance to the slave-supporting Confederacy are certainly fair game for removal of their statues.

Some of the statues coming down are less clear-cut cases, though. I think it's ridiculous that some are targeting George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues. These two figures were central to the founding of the country. While they were slaveholders, this was not their claim to fame. We need to accept that history is ugly, and be more careful when we consider taking down symbols of history.

Furthermore, history is ugly because the present is ugly. Would an Obama Statue be immune to this process? How much do most Americans know about the details of the drone assassination program Obama expanded, under which neither trials nor individual investigative inquiries were undertaken prior to the assassinations?  Some earned their spot on the kill list "on the basis of a single 'uncorroborated' Facebook or Twitter post".

Even our favorite public figures have skeletons in their closets. Perhaps one day all presidents who ate meat will no longer be considered kosher statue material. After all, how could our society possibly condone the act of purchasing factory-farmed meat, which is devastating to our environment and condemns millions of farm animals to lives of misery? You need to draw a reasonable and fair line in the sand, or the statue removal logic will carry you to absurdity.

The issue of race, here, is being framed by elite media institutions, pundits, and political figures who do not want meaningful reform to take place. If the shift from discussing real reforms to squabbling over symbolism continues, it will serve as a broader indictment of media and journalistic institutions driving the conversation and national policymakers who seem happy to constantly trade in rhetoric but not in ambitious policy.

The national dialogue sparked by the killing of George Floyd has been so central to political life as of late and has the potential to cause substantive nationwide reform. We cannot afford to squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to have people pouring into the streets across the country demanding change. At this critical juncture, we must work to ensure that our public policy is accountable to our values.