⚡️Mr. Foreman’s Amazing Electric Ephemera⚡️

“Guaranteed to take no longer to be read
than takes a single cup of coffee to be drunk.”


PAMPHLET NUMBER SIX: FOOD

This is the first issue of the new year, the sixth issue total and the first in a new series. I’m going to be trying some new things (see the COLOPHON, below, for details). But enough of all that, let’s get into the object of our acts of culinary consumption: FOOD.



THE EXTEMPORANEUM

a thoughtful exploration of interesting topics enhanced by personal editorial; topics begin at the Theme and, like growing trees, sprout branches into unpredictable areas

Mayflies

Here’s a workable definition of life: Life is the acquisition of adequate calories before reproduction. I offer you the mayfly as an example. It hatches underwater as a nymph, with a big digestive system and little else. The nymph eats as much as possible, sometimes for years, only to ascend into the air as a winged imago, its final form. The imago has a mouth, but it’s nonfunctional. It can’t eat. It doesn’t want to eat. It wants to get hella laid. The mayfly lives a day or two. It mates, lays its eggs, and drops dead. The eggs settle on the bottom of a pond and the cycle continues. The eggs hatch, and the hungry nymph starts collecting calories.

Calories

I often wonder what humans of the past would think of humans of the now. Drop one of our early human ancestors into our lives and he would be stunned by a whole bunch of things we take for granted. We live in the safest age of human history. We run for fun, not to save ourselves from marauding enemy tribes or hungry megafauna. We have so much food to eat for such little cost that the leading causes of death in humans arise directly from our diets. Losing weight is actually easy, mathematically speaking, for the baseline human (with “normal” bodies not beset by disease, hereditary flaw or misadventure): consume fewer calories than you use.


Our bodies are made to prefer high calorie foods. This instinctual drive to eat the lowest possible volume with the highest possible calorie content made Americans the fattest people in the world, but it also made us come up with some pretty amazing innovations.


“My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people.” – Orson Welles



Preparation

The human life cycle is slightly different, with the same pieces rearranged. We get our calories from food we pick up and put in our mouths. This is true for most animals, but humans developed a unique twist that probably made us who we are today: we prepared it before putting it our mouths.

You thought I was going to say “we cooked it!” We did! But that came later. We evolved smaller teeth, smaller guts (see below) and smaller faces long before we ever cooked anything. Our ancestors used stone tools to tenderize meat and cut it up into smaller pieces. That’s some pre-human ingenuity!

The beauty of meat as a food source is that it lets some other poor animal collect the calories for us. Cows spend their lives eating and digesting because they have to. They eat plants, and plants have such a small calorie count for their volume that cows need a four-segmented stomach to get the most nutrition they can out. A cow converts those calories into big muscles that it needs in order to carry around all those big stomachs full of digesting grass, and then a human comes along and skips the boring part and eats the high-calorie muscles.

This all begins with the most efficient energy-creating system in the natural world, photosynthesis, which lets that crunchy grass grow into tasty food for a cow just by being in the right place at the right time to absorb the energy and carbon created when sunlight snaps ambient carbon dioxide molecules in half.

The grass uses the sunlight to make itself food for the cow, which uses the grass to make itself food for a human. Every animal takes the work of another to make itself.

After our pre-human ancestors discovered fire, they figured out how to use it to make their food better. Because meat is the easiest solution to the maximum calories for minimal effort problem, cooking meat was probably what catapulted those proto-humans into the big-brained dummies we are today.

By cooking meat, you make it easier to chew. You can eat more of it in less time. That little innovation made us who we are.

Vegetarianism

We eat meat because we always did. From fish to bison, meat was the high-calorie rocket fuel in our cognitive development. But that was a few thousand years ago.

As my morality and my politics begin to coalesce and align into a Do No Harm kind of lazy pacifism, I find the act of eating a dead animal less and less justifiable.

You might have noticed my interest in human evolution (this is the last issue to dwell on the subject). There’s no question that vegetarianism (or, dear god, veganism) in protohumans would have been disastrous. Eating cooked meat was a key to human survival over the last few bottlenecks, migrations and ice ages. But just because it was important then doesn’t make it important now.

Most of us don’t have to eat meat to survive (note: iron deficiencies and other medical issues still require many people to eat meat, bless them). My sessile, first world life makes me need fewer calories than my ancestors, and I have access to so many high-calorie, low-effort food sources that I probably wouldn’t even lose a single pound if I stopped eating meat (let alone starve).

I eat meat because I’m lazy and unsophisticated. I like hamburgers. I like hot dogs.

I believe that our species will one day look upon eating meat as a necessary evil that they will also have grown out of.


“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R. Tolkien



Broccoli

When I was in grade school and was asked what my favorite food was, I said “broccoli.” I will defend this choice to the grave. It’s still my favorite. I prefer it raw, but I’ll eat it any way I can get it. I don’t put salt on it. I don’t put cheese on it. I just eat it. I would not pass up a pizza for a bowl of brocc, but that doesn’t mean pizza is my favorite food. They are not contrary ideas.


Broccoli was created by the ancient Romans, proving that people who are against genetically-modified foods can’t even be consistent in the foods they purposelessly fear. Broccoli didn’t become popular in the US until the 1920s. It only took broccoli 2500 years to go from a cultivated offshoot of cabbage in northern Italy to a staple food in America, though, be fair, America didn’t exist for most of that time.

Fractals

There’s a type of broccoli less popular than the kind you find in most stores here. It’s called “Romanesco,” also called “roman broccoli” (image above). It differs from the other varieties of broccoli in a few significant ways (it has a nutty flavor), but it is best known for its geometric fractal growth pattern.

You’ve probably heard the term “fractal” but maybe not know what it is. The geometric fractals are easiest to understand, so I’ll make it simple: a little piece of a fractal form looks just like the biggest piece. A fractal triangle would be a triangle made out of smaller triangles, where are also made out of triangles, etc. There’a also a lot of math involved in fractals, which you can see at the link at the bottom of this pamphlet, if you’re into that sort of thing.


THE RECOMMENDATAE

A selection of delights both digital and physical, curated for your enjoyment.

  • A lot of kids know the word “fractal” because it’s a word in the song from Frozen, “Let it Go.” Elsa refers to her powers as creating “frozen fractals” and snowflakes kind of look like fractal patterns. Also, it’s a great song with a great message, but saying the message would just be restating the title.



COLOPHON

Composed entirely by James Foreman on a notebook computer with additional edits via telephone.

I wrote five issues last year, so I think that’s how I’m going to continue doing it. Volume 1 was five issues, and Vol. 2 will also be five. I don’t know how much time will be between Volumes, but hopefully not as long as last time. I’ve toyed with the idea of formatting the previous issues for print, maybe with little illustrations instead of photos scrounged from the internet.

LINKS

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-fire-makes-us-human-72989884/

http://fractalfoundation.org/resources/what-are-fractals/

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