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January 31, 2010

the 4 clefs


The 4 clefs version of the song I Like Pie, I Like Cake is very popular here in Sydney at the moment, played by at least two DJs. I did a little google and found this site discussing them. It's worth a peak, as they have pics like the one above and a few songs you can listen to.

Personally, I prefer the peppier version of I like Pie, I Like Cake (But I like you Best of All) by the Goofus Five, which Trev pointed me to in late 2008, but which I still haven't played...

"the 4 clefs" was posted by dogpossum on January 31, 2010 8:52 PM in the category cat blogging and djing and music | Comments (0)

c25k: wk1 run2

c25k wk1, distance: 3.63km, time: 0:30, pace: 08:15, feeling: good

wk 1 run 2

hot, humid, overcast, rain

"c25k: wk1 run2" was posted by dogpossum on January 31, 2010 4:35 PM in the category c25k and fitness and running | Comments (0)

January 29, 2010

poor kneeless rainbow brite

Mostly, I feel concern for the old Rainbow Brite avatar: she had no knees. How did she shim sham with no knees? More importantly, how did she get down without knees?

After all...

Africans brought to North American were no doubt affirming their ancestral values when they sang a slave song that urged dancers to gimme de kneebone bent. To many western and central Africans, flexed joints represented life and energy, while straightened hips, elbows, and knees epitomized rigidity and death. The bent kneebone symbolized the ability to get down (12).

More talk about knees over here.

"poor kneeless rainbow brite" was posted by dogpossum on January 29, 2010 9:13 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances | Comments (0)

danny polo

This Danny Polo album The Complete Sets - London 1937-1938 & Paris 1939 plus The Embassy Rhythm Eight 1933 was brought to my attention by the twitter jazznicks, and it's pretty neat. Polo was a British musician. As per usual, the emusic track details are less than awesome, so I spent some time in the library getting details from the discographies. But only for the songs I've bought. Here they are:

Doing The Gorgonzola Danny Polo and his Swing Stars (Philippe Brun, Alix Combelle, Garland Wilson, Una Mae Carlsile, Oscar Aleman, Lojis Vola, Jerry Mengo) 30 Jan 1939 Paris

Don't Try Your Jive On Me Danny Polo and his Swing Stars (George Chisholm, Norman Brown, Tommy McQuater, Eddi Macauley, Dick Ball, Dudley Barber) 11 Jan 1938 London

He's A Ragpicker The Embassy (Rhythm) Eight (Max Goldberg, Lew Davi, Danny Polo, Billy Amstell, Bert Barnes, Joe Brannelly, Dick Ball, Max Bacon) 1 February 1935 London

Money For Jam Danny Polo and his Swing Stars (Tommy McQuater, Sid Raymond, Eddie Macauley, Eddie Freeman, Dick Ball, Dudley Barber) 1 October 1937 London

Move Than Somewhat Danny Polo and his Swing Stars (Tommy McQuater, Sid Raymond, Eddie Macauley, Eddie Freeman, Dick Ball, Dudley Barber) 1 October 1937 London

Stratton Street Strut Danny Polo and his Swing Stars (Tommy McQuater, Sid Raymond, Eddie Macauley, Eddie Freeman, Dick Ball, Dudley Barber) 1 October 1937 London

That's A - Plenty Danny Polo and his Swing Stars (Tommy McQuater, Sid Raymond, Eddie Macauley, Eddie Freeman, Dick Ball, Dudley Barber) 1 October 1937 London

Once again, Paris is important.
And 1937.
Note Una Mae Carlisle in the Paris session - she played piano there.

"danny polo" was posted by dogpossum on January 29, 2010 7:37 PM in the category digging and music | Comments (0)

social dancing

Social dancing.

"social dancing" was posted by dogpossum on January 29, 2010 4:33 PM in the category fitness | Comments (0)

January 27, 2010

c25k: wk1, run1

distance: 3.63km, time: 0:30, pace: 08:15, 389 calories, feeling: good

wk1 run 1
Surprisingly good for the first time. Much easier than an hour or half an hour of dancing.

"c25k: wk1, run1" was posted by dogpossum on January 27, 2010 4:27 PM in the category c25k and running | Comments (0)

January 26, 2010

Cyclic Rack

Cyclic Rack

Originally uploaded by Jem S Freeman


via like butter

"Cyclic Rack" was posted by dogpossum on January 26, 2010 2:18 PM in the category | Comments (1)

January 13, 2010


ellington and cjam blues

"ellington" was posted by dogpossum on January 13, 2010 9:39 PM in the category | Comments (0)

lessons from a dog

lessons from a dog

"lessons from a dog" was posted by dogpossum on January 13, 2010 9:19 PM in the category | Comments (0)

blues for greasy

blues for greasy

"blues for greasy" was posted by dogpossum on January 13, 2010 9:12 PM in the category | Comments (0)

scary cycling safety posters

scary cycling safety posters

"scary cycling safety posters" was posted by dogpossum on January 13, 2010 9:11 PM in the category | Comments (1)

musicians' local

Musicians' local

"musicians' local" was posted by dogpossum on January 13, 2010 9:10 PM in the category music | Comments (0)

to a top scientist

To a top scientist

"to a top scientist" was posted by dogpossum on January 13, 2010 9:09 PM in the category | Comments (0)

Radfahrer – Achtung

Radfahrer – Achtung

Originally uploaded by


"Radfahrer – Achtung" was posted by dogpossum on January 13, 2010 8:43 PM in the category | Comments (0)

January 10, 2010

that stupid bra colour thing

Ok, so there's thing on faceplant where you're (as in you, women) are encouraged to post the colour of your bra in your facebook update, but not to explain what you're doing. I'd dismissed this as just one of those fb games and not really worth thinking about. As it's progressed, colours began popping up in people's fb updates, and men began asking about it. As this snowballed, I started hearing a mild alarm bell tinkle.

I'm not sure I'm ok with public games that ask women (only women, mind you) to discuss their underwear in a privately owned public forum. I've also been feeling a bit strange about the edge of titillation here. As you might expect, the more purile male faceplanters immediately sexualised the game. The 'keep it secret' element seemed to fuel the sexy element. This really emphasised the fact that women's underwear - bras, specifically - are sexualised objects.
I know this kind of sounds a bit durh to type out loud, but sudden association of this fairly silly but minor bit of fluff with breast cancer really made me stop and think.

The tweet that caught my eye:

The page at the end of the tweeted link:

Lauredhel's Hoyden discussion of similar issues is probably a lot better researched and thought out than my little post.

When a friend essentially called the faceplant bluff, revealing her bra strap in a photo accompanied by characteristically dry commentary, the sexualisation was undone.... to a certain extent. I think that the important elements in this entire non-event are/were the idea that: a) women's bras are inherently sexy; b) bras are sexy because they are/should be hidden; c) women's bras are sexy because they have something to do with breasts; d) women's breasts (and women) are _always_ objects for male sexual desire. My unease lies with the effects of this association on/in breast cancer awareness campaigns and on public perceptions of breast feeding.

To return to faceplant, though... The most concerning The fucking irritating part of this is the gradual seeping-in of comments from men on women's updates on faceplant which read as sexual harassment. The majority of these have been from your standardly socially inept swing dancers, but I think an attendant unwillingness to call men on this type of commentary indicates the pervasive tolerance of chauvinism in swing dance culture. The online world simply allows us to point to specific, recorded examples of this behaviour.
More interestingly, it's worth thinking about the consequences of sexual harassment in this context. In basic terms, sexual harassment works to keep women feeling unsure of themselves, powerless to control the terms upon which they - and their bodies - are considered in public dance/online discourse. This is significant with dance, as women's bodies are necessarily open to the public gaze, and there is a continuing negotiation of the sexuality/isation of women's bodies on the dance floor. Don't get me started about fucking high fucking heel fucking shoes!

Let's talk context. There are usually more women social dancing than men, hence the term 'follow heavy' and the explicit suggestion that too many women is a bad thing. For other women. Having uneven numbers of follows and leads at a dance (where following and leading is clearly gendered) results in one group (almost always the follows, almost always women) competing - either explicitly or implicitly - for the attention of men, in order to secure a dance.
This results in tensions and competitiveness between women in swing dance culture, and, rather than working together to achieve positive outcomes, women tend to work to secure their _own_ dances/happiness, etc. This situation is exascerbated by the large number of younger women (the teens to twenties) and the emphasis on physical appearance (both in terms of conventional beauty but also performances of physical dancing ability) in social swing dance. It also serves to secure the confidence of male dancers. Simply put, it feels good to be competed for. It also improves your dancing to be on the floor, dancing all the time. And when you're on the floor all the time, dancing and feeling and looking confident, your status rises and, well, you get a feedback loop which recreate the same old boring gender dynamics.


As you can imagine, this shits me TO TEARS. Tears of rage and FURY.

But rather than sit about being angry and resentful and generally furious, I'd rather get proactive. After all, one of the side effects of this bullshit - patriarchy - is to reduce women in confidence, to keep us sitting idly, frustratedly, powerlessly by. These are things that I do to get around this bullshit:

  • I lead
  • I dance alone

Simple, and effective. In both scenarios I dance with women and I side step the broader challenges of men-leading-women on the social dance floor. It makes me feel good to develop new skills, and it makes me feel good to simply step out of that unhealthy cycle of self-blame (aren't I a good enough dancer/pretty enough/young enough/cool enough) and rage (wtf is wrong with you?!). I've also found that setting an example to other women is important. Because I'm not the only one standing there, bored, I find that other women are just as keen to get dancing - with me, alone, with each other. And I'm also very willing and keen to follow the example of other women leading or dancing alone.
One of the most important parts of this process is stepping out of the silent to-ing and fro-ing of unspoken competition between women. I think the unspokenness is significant, just as with the bra colour thing. As soon as you simply stop participating in a silent cycle that disadvantages women, you break it.

"that stupid bra colour thing" was posted by dogpossum on January 10, 2010 10:51 AM in the category lindy hop and other dances | Comments (3)

January 8, 2010

a new 8track: 9 songs I might play for flappers tonight

I'm putting together some music for tonight's set at Swingpit in Newtown. A discussion about 'fast' music on twitter + some low-level interest in 20s charleston and solo jazz encouraged me to revisit some appropriate music in my collection.

I put together an 8track of things I'm thinking about.


There isn't as much solo charleston in Sydney as there was in Melbourne when I left, though there is a bit of solo dancing generally. Very little hot 20s or 20s-style music is played here at social events. I think we might need a rash of workshops on 20s dances generally to stimulate interest and skills... actually, there's definitely interest, it just feels as though people don't really feel confident or know what to do out there to this stuff.
Personally, I'd really like to learn some eccentric 20s partner dances.

At any rate, this 8track is a list of songs that I am considering playing tonight. The sound set up at this venue is very shit, so I'm avoiding the lofi action. Which is a crying shame. But there you go. I had to add the Armstrong version of Oriental Strut, though, as I LOVE it. It also makes me think about Woody Allen films as he plays it quite often in his films (especially Bullets Over Broadway) and I'm trying to get a copy of Sweet and Lowdown.
I'm also a bit hot for Jabbo Smith atm, so I had to add Jazz Battle as well. Same with Johnny Dodds.

I stole the image for the 8track from here.

Track details:

Rhythm Spasm Rhythm Rascals Washboard Band 315 1995 Futuristic Jungleism 2:33
San Les Red Hot Reedwarmers 285 2007 Apex Blues 4:45
Jubilee Stomp David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band (Howard Alden, Mark Shane, Herlin Riley, David Ostwald, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Wycliffe Gordon) 278 2006 Blues In Our Heart 3:22
Stampede Randy Sandke and The New York Allstars 260 2000 The Rediscovered Louis And Bix 2:47
Jazz Battle Jabbo Smith's Rhythm Aces (Omer Simeon, Cassino Simpson, Ikey Robinson) 259 1929 All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 1) 2:41
Hop Head Charlestown Chasers 250 1995 Pleasure Mad 2:57
New Orleans Stomp Johnny Dodds' Black Bottom Stompers 244 1927 Golden Greats: Greatest Dixieland Jazz Disc 2 2:47
Oriental Strut Firecracker Jazz Band 228 2005 The Firecracker Jazz Band 2:36
Oriental Strut Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five (Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Lil Armstrong, Johnny St Cyr) 191 1926 Hot Fives and Sevens - Volume 1 3:03

"a new 8track: 9 songs I might play for flappers tonight" was posted by dogpossum on January 8, 2010 1:44 PM in the category 8 tracks and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (0)

January 7, 2010

vegie lasagne

- paneer (yes, again)
- baby spinach
- red slop: canned brown lentils, canned tomato, onions, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil. Would usually include mushrooms, but they were skanky
- very think slices of butternut pumpkin
- top layer of sliced basic and tomatoes.

It was finally topped with a layer of ordinary yellow cheese (some sort of cheddar situation).

"vegie lasagne" was posted by dogpossum on January 7, 2010 7:30 PM in the category domesticity and fewd and gastropod | Comments (0)

January 5, 2010

horror trifle

Looking over the CSIRO trifle recipe, I'm grossed out. What a pale, stupid arse version of a very nice dish. Berries are in SEASON in a southern hemisphere christmas! What about those lovely stone fruit?! Jelly is WRONG in a trifle!

The ONLY trifle to have is pavlov's cat trifle!

"horror trifle" was posted by dogpossum on January 5, 2010 7:44 PM in the category fewd and gastropod | Comments (0)

ya supernatural romance

Remind me to write about Lili St Crow's Strange Angels series.

"ya supernatural romance" was posted by dogpossum on January 5, 2010 3:41 PM in the category | Comments (0)

a revision of my comments about CSIRO's approach to vegetarianism

I want to add something to my first post discussing the CSIRO diet.
Here is some very basic information I've found in the two CSIRO books. I haven't looked further afield (yet).

The acknowledgments in the second book write:

CSIRO gratefully acknowledges all those who have contributed to the funding of research on higher-protein diets for weight management: CSIRO Human Nutrition; Dairy Australia; Goodman Fielder; Meat and Livestock Australia; The National Heart Foundation; The National Centre for Excellence for Functional Foods; The National Health and Medical Research Council

My immediate response to this funding from particular interest groups (especially Meat and Livestock Australia) is to wonder just how trustworthy the findings of this research can be. But then I think about the realities of funding for research in Australia. It is probably not so much that the funding bodies dictated the terms of the research, but that there wasn't funding available for research into alternatives to a high-meat diet. I'm reasonably confident that CSIRO (and the authors of this book) are reputable researchers. So it's not as though we're reading a diet book written by me.

This of course raises all sorts of interesting questions about the role of public bodies - government research bodies - as 'reputable' or authoritative sources of knowledge and information. It also makes me wonder about the way we are willing to accept 'scientific' research about health and bodies as 'objective' and 'reputable', but are far more sceptical of research on these topics from the humanities. I have read some really, seriously dodgy published work in the humanities on bodies and diet and food and so on - stuff that's really theoretical supposing and not at all substantiated by solid data - but I've also read some equally dodgy 'scientific' work. I think, though we could probably accept that CSIRO is quite good at doing 'scientific' research, that it would be wrong to assume that this study (as with any 'scientific' study) is objective or neutral or reporting 'just the facts'. This study is as guided by ideology and notions of 'body' and 'health' as any other. Science isn't neutral; it's just institutionalised in a different way.

At any rate, I approach the CSIRO diet with a degree of critical engagement. I want to 'trust' this study and diet, but at the same time, this is my body and I don't want to fuck it up with the consequences of bullshit research.

With this in mind, here are a few issues that I have with the CSIRO diet's approach to food, and most importantly with its recipes. Firstly, it's worth pointing out that the books have three general sections:
1. a discussion of the research into health and nutrition upon which the 'diet' is based;
2. a section outlining exercise, and providing some basic exercises;
3. a section of menu plans and recipes.

The books do not position the diet (and its approach to food and nutrition) within political, social, cultural context. There is no discussion about the political economies of food. There's no talk about the social and environmental sustainability of particular diets and lifestyles. There's no discussion about (or even reference to) class and how spending money on food is not dictated entirely by 'lifestyle choices', but my the basic economics of living within a budget. I do quite like the way it avoids discussions about body image and gendered notions of 'beauty', instead emphasising the benefits of fitness and good health: feeling good. I could also discuss the pictures (which are quite heterocentric and feature far more women than men), and I might later in another post.
Generally, the books remind me of the ABC. Sort of middle class aesthetics, careful with its gender talk (but still gendered), articulate but not alienating in its language, lots of nice san serif fonts. It appears 'neutral', but of course it's not.

The one issue I want to take up here is the books' approach to (or neglect of) vegetarianism and veganism.

I wrote this in my previous post:

There are also questions to be asked about the CSIRO diet's funding (which was in part from Australian primary producers - meat farmers to be specific) and how this affected their research and findings. Their very brief section(s) on vegetarianism are really quite bullshitty. There's a line something like 'there's no evidence that vegetariaism is bad for you...' Which of course is misleading if not downright deceitful. A vegetarian diet is much better for you than a meat diet, so long as you're eating well. No diet is good for you if it doesn't have mostly fresh fruit and vegies, wholegrain foods, dairy products and then protein, and finally a small amount of certain types of fats. You can skip the dairy stuff (so long as you replace it), but you certainly don't need to eat meat.

But I wasn't entirely accurate. I was actually a bit full of shit, there. Here's what the CSIRO books actually say:

The first book has this to say about vegetarianism:

Our bodies have evolved to thrive on a wide variety of both animal and plant foods. Many people eat a plant-based diet by way of necessity, but others choose to for a wide range of reasons. Population studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer - but it is not clear if this is due to their diet or their lifestyle. However, if you are a vegetarian, you need to plan your diet carefully to make sure that all essential nutrients are included (p 39-40 Book 1)

And this (within a very serious section about the importance of calcium, particularly for women:

Vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium than do non-vegetarians. Vegetable greens such as spinach and broccoli, and some legumes and soybean proucts are good sources of calcium. Vegetarians who eat dairy foods will obtain sufficient calcium (p 46 book 1).

There's even less about vegetarianism in the second book (in a section addressing readers' questions):

Is there a diet for vegetarians?
We have not investigated whether a high-protein vegetarian diet is as effective as a high-animal-protein diet, but we do know that vegetable protein confers a similar benefit in reducing hunger. You may want to consult your GP or dietician to modify the Diet for your needs. If you wish to substitute non-meat protein, we would suggest eating 200g tofu or 260g cooked chickpeas, beans or lentils instead of 200g meat, fish or chicken (p33 book 2).

The context of these quotes - sections 'warning' about the dangers of inadequate amounts of calcium (for women especially), about malnutrition generally - is significant. Vegetarianism is framed in terms of nutritional failure or of malnutrition. It is pathologised. This is the most common criticism I've heard of vegetarianism: that you have to eat really carefully or else you won't get the nutrients you need, and that this is very difficult (if not impossible). My immediate response is to wonder whether most omnivorous human beings in mainstream Australian society eat 'properly'. Eating meat does not automatically ensure proper nutrition. The meat is far less important than the other stuff you should be eating. A standard 'meat and three veg' diet with its emphasis on white bread, processed foods and meat rather than vegetables and fruit is not as nutritionally balanced as it might appear. There's lots of interesting stuff written about the way this type of diet developed in Australian culture, with attendant discussions of mid- and post-war shortages, the rise of supermarkets, gendered division of labour in the home, the economics of mass-production and distribution of food and so on.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this literature (with which I am not terribly familiar) is the idea that science (and the idea of 'Science') defined or shaped 'modern' living and food. We could go on here about a movement away from diversity in food plant stocks and towards the genetic 'management' of food my corporations. We could also talk about the way diets are shaped by supermarket wholesale purchasing and relationships with growers. And we could discuss the role of class in 'whole food' or 'organic' counter-movements. But I don't really have the brain for it today. Really, what I want to say here is that the 'meat and three veg' diet is culturally specific. It's shaped by class and gender and ethnicity and so on. It's not 'natural' and it didn't 'just happen'. It is a product of economics and capitalism, of patriarchy, of mass media discourse and so on. It's also, ironically, the product of government policy and 'education'.

So, what I really should have just said above, is that vegetarianism is presented as deviance from a 'normal', 'healthy' diet in the CSIRO diet, and that this reflects broader mainstream notions of vegetarianism. But, of course, it's not. Vegetarianism is as difficult/easy as omnivorous eating. It is, however, more difficult socially and culturally in many contexts. Dining out offers the best example of this: vegetarian restaurants are fewer in number than omnivorous ones in Australia, and vegetarian dishes are marginalised within mainstream menus at Australian restaurants.

A prioritising of meat of course makes sense in the CSIRO diet: this is a diet focussing on high-protein diets. More specifically, it is concerned with the importance of meat in a high-protein diet. I think that the issue not so much the neglect of vegetarianism, but the over-emphasis of meat and neglect of non-meat protein sources.

What this means, in terms of the menu plans and recipes, is that the dishes are all constructed around meat. The meals are still thinking of the 'meat and three veg' ratio, rather than thinking of meals as a combination of elements. This basic point is one that we find most difficult about the CSIRO recipes. Each meal is constructed as one item + one item + one item. This is almost diametrically opposite to the notion of constructing a meal as a complex, harmony of flavours and elements. As an alternative, we might construct a meal that is composed of a series of small dishes, each representing one of a series of flavours: salty, sweet, wet, dry, etc. Or we might select ingredients that balance the 'humours' of the body: cooling, heating, etc. The meat and three veg diet lumps vegetables into one or two groups: greens and 'others'. We might instead think of the role of brassicas and leafy green vegetables in relation to pulses and grains and root vegetables. Though the CSIRO diet does explore the sources of particular minerals and nutrients, the meals themselves are still imagined as 'meat and...':

Tandoori chicken with garlic spinach
chicken with djon mustard and white wine
chicken and tarragon meatloaf
(book 1 recipe titles)

And vegetable dishes are then served with them (if at all).

In practical terms, this means that you buy the meat first, then look for vegetables to go with it. This tends to suggest that cooks will look first to their meat, then their vegetables. Which means that they're more likely to use fresh meat and less likely to use fresh vegetables. If meat is the priority, then the veggies are the 'add-on' rather than the central taste and ideological ingredient. Financially, it's challenging to build a menu around meat - it's one of the most expensive ingredients. But then the CSIRO diet is not cheap. In part because of its emphasis on meat, but also because of its neglect of seasonal variations in ingredients. I think it's worth emphasising the importance of cost: this is not a diet for those on a low budget.

Of course, this leads me to an interesting point: the idea of meat as a luxury good. This line from the CSIRO book works with this point:

Many people eat a plant-based diet by way of necessity, but others choose to for a wide range of reasons.

The line about necessity is key. I wish they'd expanded. What issues do they feel necessitate vegetarianism? Poverty? Religious restrictions? Geographic location? Allergies? I also wish they'd referenced some of the reasons vegetarianism is chosen. A few million spring to my mind immediately: ethical (preventing cruelty to animals, treading lightly environmentally, avoiding unjust labour and economic practices...), religious, economic... Surely vegetarianism for these 'reasons' is a necessity. It is necessary that they choose not to exploit animals. It is necessary that they live simply so that others may simply live. It is necessary that they honour the teachings of a holy figure by not taking lives.

Finally, the point I'd like to return to at the end, is the one of eating seasonally. The CSIRO diet does not in any way account for seasonal variation in fresh produce. It relies upon its users shopping at conventional supermarkets and having access to all ingredients at any time. We found that the preponderance of particular ingredients (tarragon!) made shopping expensive. The neglect not only of seasonal variation, but also of regional availability made shopping difficult and expensive. This is where we first began varying the menu plans: we didn't want to eat manky out-of-season tomatoes, or to walk past gorgeous fresh asparagus.
One of the delights of a vegetarian diet is that you supplement dried ingredients (grains, pulses) with fresh produce. Your diet changes with the seasons. In practical terms, this means that you're eating a menu that changes over the year; you don't just keep eating the same old stuff, day in and day out, regardless of its freshness or availability. Seasonal produce - stuff that's in season is fresher, tastes and looks better and is cheaper than stuff that is not. So it simply makes sense to build meals around ingredients which are in season rather than force-grown in a greenhouse, shipped in from overseas and riddled with preservatives and generally sapped of any flavour.
Eating seasonally does require some knowledge of the seasons, and also, by extension, of local farming practices. But this sort of knowledge can come almost osmotically if you're not shopping in a supermarket. Supermarkets stock the same products, day in, month out. Greengrocers and fresh food markets tend to buy most what is cheapest as well as keeping in stock perennial favourites. But when you're shopping at a greengrocer every week, you see the biggest piles of cheapest vegetables change with the seasons. Even if you're not buying organic.

Of course, buying organic is something the CSIRO diet does not make simple. Meat-centred meals with un-seasonal menus do not support a diet of organic, seasonal produce. While the second does not refer to it at all, the first book has this to say about organic produce:

We are often asked whether or not it's better to buy organic produce. Although organic fruit and vegetables are probably no more nutritious than conventionally grown varieties, they may taste better. Some organic leafy vegetables and potatoes also seem to have higher vitamin C contents, which may be due to the fact that organic produce is often smaller and therefore denser than conventional produce, which has a high water content. The bottom line is that eating more fruit and vegetables, whether organic, conventional, fresh, frozen or tinned, will increase your intake of protective compounds and is important for good health (p50)

There's a whole world of wrong in that paragraph. I'll let other people explain why.

I know I've rambled off-topic a bit here. I began with an argument about the CSIRO diet's anti-vegetarian stance. But I think it's important to point out how a meat-centred diet which neglects seasonal variation discourages the consumption of organic produce and encourages the consumption of processed foods (including canned and frozen food). I think that eating out of season is a matter of swimming upstream when you're trying to convince people to eat more fruit and vegetables. If the fruit and vegies they're eating don't taste too good (because it's out of season, loaded with preservatives and pesticides or simply sat around for too long), people won't eat them. If the fruit and vegies they have do taste delicious, they will eat them.

I think this is at the heart of a 'healthy' diet. Eating well should be a delight to the senses. It should be about pleasure. This means that a 'good diet' not only avoids discussions of 'restriction', 'denial', 'guilt' and 'suppression of appetite', but actively encourages pleasure and interest in food. Healthy eating is about enjoying food, about taking an interest in the growing and preparation of produce. It is about the provocation of appetite, the association of food with pleasure and happiness.

It's no wonder that hardcore cooks become interested in . An interest in cooking leads to an interest in sourcing produce. And this leads to producing your own food - even if only your herbs. For many foodies, an interest in gardening leads naturally to an interest in water and sustainable food production. But not all foodies. I think it's worth pointing out that being interested in food and growing your own veggies does not necessarily mean you'll end up a hardcore hippy growing organically. I think it's also worth pointing out that availability (or lack of it) often pushes cooks to gardening. I'm thinking about migrants in particular: tomatoes in Brunswick, bok choy in Ashfield. Frugality is often a prime motivator for gardening: it's far cheaper to grow your own organic produce from seed than buy it from the shops.

While the CSIRO diet has been very useful, I think that its neglect of these sorts of social, cultural, economic and scientific issues is a profound weakness.
Having said that, though, I think that its success is largely owed to the fact that it does not address these issues. Perhaps, then, it's worth thinking about the CSIRO diet as a gateway drug, encouraging an interest and food and cooking and nutrition that might lead to experimentation with other recipes and food types? Unfortunately, I think that the CSIRO diet's books discourage this type of exploration. Though the book suggests that once the 'initial' 'weight loss' part of the diet is achieved, users should move on to tailoring their meals to suit their (new) lifestyles, I wonder just how many users do stay with the diet long enough to reach that point.

Ultimately, the CSIRO diet is not so much a 'diet' as a manual for lifestyle change. But it is not, unfortunately, a manual for ideological change in terms of approaches to socially and environmentally sustainable food production and preparation.

"a revision of my comments about CSIRO's approach to vegetarianism" was posted by dogpossum on January 5, 2010 10:50 AM in the category fewd and gastropod and greenies and ideas | Comments (3)

January 4, 2010

gastropod: eating and moving

If you've tuned in for a nice chat about DJing or jazz or music, you're going to be very disappointed. This is a long story about how I think about 'diet' and 'exercise'. I'm going to say personal things and talk politics. Sometimes I will lecture. Sometimes I will rant. Mostly I will ramble. As I write this, I keep thinking about Julie and Julia, the relationship between blogging, women and food, and about the regulation and management of food. Because Julie and Julia is about regulating and ordering food and bodies. And the more I read about Julie Powell, the author of the book the film was based on, the more I see the same old connections between food, sex and women's talking out of turn about personal stuff are still important (incidentally, if anyone has a link to that online article Powell wrote in response to critical reviews of her book Cleaving, could they please let me know? Ta.)

So if you are, then, looking for a nice bit of historical talk about Ellington or carefully objective overview of the latest Mosaic releases, you will be disappointed. Best move on to SwingDJs, where there's not much talk about bodies, and precious few women doing the talking.

But if you are interested in a bit of a long chat about food and eating and mouths and bodies and so on (no, this isn't another post about True Blood), taking up your eating irons and dig in.

This post starts with a discussion about the way I've engaged with a specific 'diet'. The 'CSIRO diet' (the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet) is an interesting example of a dieting 'product' substantiated (or lent the appearance of credibility and authority) by science. More importantly, by one of the highest profile and most credible scientific bodies in Australia - the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

We originally started on the diet because we wanted to 'eat better'. We knew people who'd used it and had 'good results' (ie lost weight, felt better, etc). I had begun researching diet and nutrition but simply didn't know where to look for 'reliable' information. I admit: I simply bought the idea the CSIRO diet sold me. That the CSIRO was a 'reliable' source of 'scientific' information about nutrition and exercise. I liked that diet's emphasis on eating well - eating a lot of food, with an emphasis on fruit and vegetables. I also liked its emphasis on exercise, particularly as my wider research into exercise and health suggested that exercise and being fit are far more important for 'health' than weight loss or dieting. The CSIRO diet also suited my own ideas about exercise as a site for self empowerment.

After the talk about the CSIRO diet, I talk about my ideas about gender and diet, and outline some of my thinking about the relationship between feminism and physical fitness. Somewhere in there I wanted to talk about being a foody, but I think the point got lost a bit.

Some of my points were originally posted on a comment on the very excellent Progressive Dinner Party blog. This blog is very nice: it talks about food, but with an eye to issues of social and environmental sustainability, and engagement with class and the importance of geography and notion of 'local' (isn't that a very fine and thought-provoking set of terms?). The post is, in its entirety:

I am prepared to admit this is not appropriate talk for a food blog, because, like most contributors and commenters here, I believe Prog Dinner Party is about celebrating food, not restricting it.

However, in recent weeks a friend and I have put ourselves on diets, as we prepare for a wedding and try to fit into the frocks we've chosen (the bride, btw, is a tiny elegant little thing who has to work to keep weight on).

My weight loss method is loosely based around the CSIRO diet, which is a great sort of boot camp on how to cook with less fat, even if I can't afford to buy all that meat and I don't eat pork. My version is to follow the formula of two or three small serves of carbs a day, loads of veges and salad and some fruit and low fat dairy and oodles of lean red meat, chicken and fish (up to 350 grammes a day!). Of course I also restrict fats (not much of a problem as I'm not really into cheese or chocolate) and I cut down on carbs and (sob) alcohol. Let you know how it works in a few weeks.

But, in the mean time, I thought it might be interesting to ask PDP readers what they give up when they are faced with the choice of either losing weight or buying a whole new wardrobe. Conversely, if you have the opposite problem, of unwanted skinniness, you might want to reveal what you eat to gain weight. Folks, it's time to share ...

This is just the most fascinating place to begin a discussion of 'dieting'. My interest was caught by:
- the implied distinction between 'dieting' (to lose weight) and 'diet' (in the nutritional sense)
- the implications of 'guilt' in a discussion of food - feeling guilty for talking about dieting or moderating or managing food on a 'foody' blog; feeling guilty for talking about bodies and the way we might feel about our bodies on a blog devoted to food; and so on
- the gender at work; the way this was a discussion opened by a woman author on a blog with male and female contributors
- the invitation to discuss food not just in terms of physical size - too much or too little; fat or skinny
- the 'invitation to share' at the end

I think that this post encapsulates all my favourite things about Progressive Dinner Party: it is written by a group of authors who (for the most part) also keep their own blogs. They are a group who've 'known' each other - either online or in the flesh or both - for years. A culture of discussion, largely managed and peopled by women, but not exclusively, is encouraged, and there is the feeling that all ideas are worth exploring, so long as they're politely introduced. The comments are friendly and encouraging, even on a topic as challenging as 'dieting'.

At any rate, my comment in this post isn't really all that great. But it was a sort of 'ok, I'm going to finally jump in here' comment on issues I'd been thinking about for a while. I'm still thinking about all these things. Which is why I think I want to talk about them more here. Because this is a BLOG. It's meant to be indulgent, it's ok to ramble, and over here I'm not cluttering up other people's comments. I also figure it's time I got the fuck out of twitter and started WRIGHTING WHOLE PARAGRAPHS AGAIN. Finally.

I'm not sure whether that paneer dish in my last post actually conforms to our CSIRO low-carb lifestyle, but then very little does. We don't particularly like the recipes in the CSIRO recipe books. They're very Women's Weekly, don't pay attention to seasonal changes and availabilities of produce, aren't climate-relative (ie the emphasis on heavy meat dishes doesn't really gel with our subtropical life style) and they're generally very Anglo-type meals. Or Anglicised versions of cuisines from other cultures.
But we do like the way eating a low-carb diet makes us feel. It's nice to go to bed not feeling over-stuffed. We like the way this approach to food, with its serious emphasis on quantities of specific food groups, forces us to get away from the telly, eat at the dining table, eat less takeaway and really concentrate on our meals.

So we follow the CSIRO 'rules': don't eat carbs after lunch, don't eat a whole lot of carbs, eat wholemeal or multigrain/unprocessed carbs, eat a truck load of vegetables every day (salads/vegies twice a day), eat 2-3 serves (or thereabouts) of dairy per day, don't eat processed foods because they have too much salt and sugar (this wasn't a change to our usual lifestyle, but it reinforced the eat-less-takeaway element), eat a couple of serves of fruit per day. The one CSIRO rule (the biggest one, actually) which we don't really follow, is to eat at least 300g of protein per day.

The CSIRO rules emphasise red meat, and farmed red meat in particular. This means that game meats are neglected, which is a big shame when you're living in Australia, a country with a struggling kangaroo industry. I remember reading about the Eastern European refusal to take kangaroo any more (as part of some sort of reciprocal trade/carbon trading/whatevs shitstorm) and thought 'oh shit, the kangaroo industry is going to struggle.' Australians don't eat as much kangaroo as they should. It's a very, very low fat meat, and kangaroos are environmentally sustainable, unlike cows or sheep with their land-destroying hooves and grazing habits. You can buy roo in the local supermarkets, but I haven't found it in my local Chinese butcher. Though there is quite a bit of crocodile to buy in Ashfield...

So we adjust the protein part of the CSIRO lifestyle: less red meat. We just don't like it much. Less cow for us. We prefer chicken and seafood, and we like to eat meat-free dishes. So we eat a fair bit of white fish, salmon and prawns. My recent investigations into the Australian salmon industry has scared me, though, so we're easing off on that one. Living in a Chinese area means that the local fish shop(s) are really really good. But most of the available fish is sold whole, and with the Chinese names. The shop keepers don't speak English and I don't speak any Chinese languages. So my cooking has been a matter of experimentation with the whole fish situation. I must also learn to fillet my own fish.

Vegetarian dishes tend to combine grains and pulses for effective protein sources: rice and lentils; peanut butter on toast; hommus on pide. Sure, you could eat a bunch of eggs or cheese for a sort of Skip vegetarian diet, but I'm really much more interested in more complicated approaches to vegetarian cooking. But then that means you're upping your carb intake. And the CSIRO diet is all about reducing carbs and adding protein. Mostly because proteins are good appetite suppressors.

There are also questions to be asked about the CSIRO diet's funding (which was in part from Australian primary producers - meat farmers to be specific) and how this affected their research and findings. [EDIT: I followed up this stuff on vegetarianism and am revising my original comments. I've posted them in a following post] [s]Their very brief section(s) on vegetarianism are really quite bullshitty. There's a line something like 'there's no evidence that vegetariaism is bad for you...' Which of course is misleading if not downright deceitful. A vegetarian diet is much better for you than a meat diet, so long as you're eating well. No diet is good for you if it doesn't have mostly fresh fruit and vegies, wholegrain foods, dairy products and then protein, and finally a small amount of certain types of fats. You can skip the dairy stuff (so long as you replace it), but you certainly don't need to eat meat.[/s][/EDIT]

What all this means for us, of course, is that we quite like the CSIRO diet books as a general guide for eating 'well'. It's very easy to use, it's really, really well written and laid out and it makes managing your diet and exercise simple. Which was really helpful for two people who lead quite active lifestyles, like to cook a lot and like to eat even more. It was simply useful to have a nice, simple set of guidelines. But while we found we were losing weight, toning up, saving money and generally feeling really GOOD on the CSIRO diet, we didn't particularly enjoy the meals. And what is the point of eating if it's not the best fucking thing on earth?
So we began adjusting recipes and then creating our own recipes. What we've found in tailoring food from Indian, Italian, Thai and other cuisines, is that we simply eat the carb meals during the day (good lunches!) and then eat at least 2 or 3 'dishes' at each dinner. A salad or two plus a meat/protein dish. Three vegetable dishes. This can be a bit labour intensive, but then cooking is labour. To pretend that it isn't is dishonest and a sop to a processed food industry. But it needn't be shitty labour.

I love to cook, and I love exploring fresh produce. Moving to a predominantly Chinese area from a middle eastern/mediterranean community meant an exciting chance to change the way I shop and cook.
I've noticed, shopping in Ashfield, that vegetables are absolutely central to Asian cooking. Ashfield is 'pan-Asian' (to use a dodgy term) or 'Asia-Pacific': Indian families (predominantly Fijian-Indian families and Indian students), Chinese, Phillipino, Malaysian, Pacific Islander... So when I go to my local greengrocers (there are two very good ones in Ashfield, plus the supermarkets and a large number of small Chinese grocers) I see a lot of greens and a lot of people buying them. Choi. Spinach. Herbs. All of them seem absolutely essential to everyday cooking. And you buy them fresh - you don't keep choi for a week in your fridge. You eat it that day. These products are correspondingly very cheap. 50c for a bunch of coriander. $1 for a massive bunch of spinach. The next most important vegetables are onions, and then aromatics like garlic and ginger and chilli. Fruit is up there with greens - water melon, oranges, limes, lemons, seasonal fruit. At the moment it's pawpaw (GROSS), mangoes, stone fruit. There are cherries and lychees about, but they're expensive.
When I go to my local greengrocers, these are the types of vegetables that are cheap and fresh. With, of course, a massive range of other 'specialist' 'Asian' vegies that I don't even know the names of, let alone know how to cook (though I'm working on it). I hadn't figured out what the Indian students and mums were buying so much milk for until I suddenly realised: paneer! Eggs are also pretty important, and you can buy them in all the greengrocers for very little.

I don't eat cheese, bread or even smallgoods much any more, unless I make a special trip to Dulwich Hill and the delis. I eat a lot of seafood. But I don't eat much organic meat. It's simply not a Chinese butcher's concern here. So this means we don't eat pork here much (except for BBQ pork - the local BBQ joint makes FABULOUS BBQ pork and I can't resist it). My favourite butcher does do free range chickens, but I have to buy them whole and then ask her to take off the heads and feet, which feels silly. But. I can buy most types of poultry: pigeons, ducks, squabs (what is that, anyway?) and so on. I can also buy all sorts of offal.

The mass of smaller Asian grocers also means that I can buy lots of great types of soy products, lots of spices and grains in bulk, and of course, rice. Rice. Rice. Rice. But I don't buy it much any more.

This all makes for very exciting cooking for me. And it means that I'm having to get braver about asking my butcher and fishmonger for advice about buying and preparing their products. It also means that I have decided I need more than English if i'm going to be a badass cook.
Our interest in a vegetable-heavy diet has also meant that we've had to explore a whole range of salads (because it's summer) and vegetable dishes. And Indian and Asian food has brought home the textured vegetable protein. It sounds like a lot of work to make two or three dishes for dinner, and I guess it is. But I'm not working at the moment, and to be honest, our palates are positively delighted by the way we've had to explore new vegetables. At first we simply made a lot of salads with grilled meats. But that's boring. Now we eat: salads with grilled meats (especially important when your kitchen is as shitty as ours, and your BBQ so great); combinations of vegetable dishes (such as this paneer/salad combo); the odd carb-based meal (nachos one night, a potato curry another). Pumpkin has also assumed a greater significance in our lives.
Choosing vegetarian options also encourages us to be creative. If we're avoiding carbs, we're avoiding lentils, beans, pulses. But that's crap - they're awesomely nom. So we have to manage the food we eat throughout the day as well. Perhaps a salad with egg for lunch so we can eat carbs at night. The Squeeze cycles about 80km a week on a single geared bike in a hilly town, so he needs more carbs than I do. Not even a solid diet of Tranky Doo can account for a carb-heavy diet.

Again, all this sounds like work. But then, it is. Having a body is a big responsibility. It's precision engineering. It takes a careful balance of nutrients to keep it in prime condition. But then, I quite like complex, creative processes. I like figuring out jazz routines from vintage clips. I like sewing and crocheting and making popups. And I like cooking.

Ultimately, a carefully balanced diet is its own reward. Yes, nanna, you're right. It is. Eating a diet with less carbs has made me feel a lot better and healthier. I'm sure that if you were having digestive problems (irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, heart burn, etc), then this sort of diet management combined with exercise would be utterly wonderful. I was lucky enough to be pretty sound, digestion-wise, so I found this diet (which is pretty heavy on the fibre) was just a sort of turbo-boost, health wise. I find I have to eat constantly, though, to meet the minimum requirements. Snacking twice a day. Eating lunch and breakfast every day, and not just making do with a light salad at lunch time.
I think that this sort of regime has also addressed some of my less healthy eating behaviours. Hells, I know it has. Binge eating - eating lots of sweeties or high-fat foods - was one of my responses to high stress situations, and I hadn't even realised. The CSIRO book suggests that if you really desperately have to have a sweety or a fatty food, then you should. But rather than eating a whole pack of biscuits or a whole cake, you should just eat 80g, or a small portion. It wasn't until I had to actually monitor what I ate that I realised that if I was feeling a bit stressy or tired or upset, I'd head to the (truly awesome) patisserie, baclava bakery, gelateria. I tended to explain this sort of obsessive (and compulsive) stress management as 'being a foodie.' Eating good (amazing) food was a reward for my own gastropodery. Now I still love these things, I just don't eat a million of them each week. And I've come to think about fruit and vegetables in new ways: they are their own source of awesome food-reward amazingness. To be honest, I have largely stopped thinking of food as a 'reward'. I still obsess over it (which, of course, is what diets and nutrition and foodyness are all about, aren't they?). But I'm aware of my special interest.

As I type this, I have the urge to excuse or explain away my relationship with food. Part of me thinks I should feel guilty about loving food, or about dealing with stress by eating or admiring or making or buying or writing about or thinking about or looking at food. Here are the two factors that I think contribute to this association of guilt with good and pleasure:
1. my family background
2. broader gendered notions of body

Both are bound up with guilt, pleasure, reward, punishment, forgiveness, indulgence, privacy, publicity, my feelings about my body, my feelings about myself, my ideas about other people's feelings about my body/self/value... and so on. You're probably all familiar with the discussions about bodies and gender. And I don't particularly want to discuss my family on the intertubes. But I am very interested in the relationships between feminism, feminist discourse, 'diet' and 'nutrition', images of the body and self image, 'fitness', 'health', exercise, independence, power, autonomy, strength and FOOD.

One of my own justifications for not 'dieting' or otherwise moderating or regulating or simply paying attention to what I eat has always been that I am a feminist. I don't subscribe to the idea that the only attractive/valuable/important/meaningful/good/positive/innocent/positive female body is a thin/skinny/dieted/controlled/exercised/observed/managed one.
I do believe that we are all truly unique incarnations of one particular species. Our lives - our lived experiences - our genetics, and so on all contribute to the shape and size and colour and scent of our bodies. Yoga taught me that the way we look - the shape of our bodies - is a product not only of genetics and diet, but much more importantly, of how we manage stress (where do we put it in our bodies?), how we think of our bodies (which parts do we attempt to conceal), the types of movements we do habitually (computing or running? walking or cycling? hunching or striding?), and our intimate, conscious awareness of how our bodies work.
In regards to the latter point, Yoga is, basically, about being in our bodies. This means that we must become aware of our bodies. Sounds like mysticism, until you approach it as a matter of biomechanics. We cannot correct posture or gait or stance until we understand and become consciously aware of how we use our muscle groups. And it takes practice to get good at understanding how our bodies work, or how we can make our bodies work. This means that we have to experiment with a range of movements and activities, every day, to really understand how we work. Sounds practical, really - how can we realise our potential if we aren't aware of our abilities and limitations? But most of us simply don't explore the full potential of our bodies.
From this perspective, each body is an absolute treasure trove of potential movements and muscular experimentations. Whether that body has four limbs or two, is old or young, has subcutaneous fat or not, is male or female, is pre or post menopausal... Yoga really brought home to me, simply with the rule that you always go to yoga - even if you're 'injured' - that each body is really both interesting and really really powerful. I think that this is why I now don't accept the idea of 'dis'ability. It is more useful (and exciting) to think of each body - each person - as a unique collection and combination of forces and pieces and potentials.

This sounds terribly hippy dippy.
But in terms of gender, it's incredibly exciting. Before yoga and experimenting with dance, my sense of self was determined by things like gender - my femaleness. My womanness. By 'health' - whether I was in pain, had allergies, was menstruating, had a cold, etcetera and so on. And by what I looked like. Now, I think of my body as this sort of amazing possibility. I don't think about 'fat' as appearance. I think about 'fat' as a layer or part of myself that makes it difficult to achieve a particular range of movement or to hold a particular pose or to sustain an aerobic exercise. But it's also something that makes me particularly bouyant in the pool, keeps me warm in cold weather, and makes it easier for me (ultimately) to gain muscle. It's not a liability or a bad thing or something shameful. It's just my body and me as I am at this moment. And doing regular exercise (walking, cycling, dancing - all things that I adore) has made it clear that carrying less fat is simply more convenient for certain activities. Less padding means a greater range of movement. Less weight means less stress on my (needy) foot and other joints. A system having to deal with increased fat or decreased aerobic fitness doesn't deliver the endorphine rush I LOVE in quite the way I'd like.
I am not, however, ready to adopt a hardcore athletic lifestyle. I do like a long lie on the couch. So I find a point of compromise. How much exercise must I do, how much diet management must I do to attain and maintain the right equilibrium?

So my body has become more than just a set of signifiers pointing at 'woman' or 'female'. This is not to suggest that I am not a woman or female in my mind or self. This is part of who I am. But not all. Most importantly, an interest in my body has led me to the point where I don't think of my body solely in terms of its relationship to or comparison to other women's bodies, or as a site for (masculine) sexual desire. Nor do I think of my body as a vessel for carrying my brain: it is me. My mood affects my muscles. My breathing affects my emotions. And so on.

Here, of course, the notion of 'control' or 'regime' gets problematic. Is an interest in exercise and diet simply another way of controlling the female body? If she's not interested in 'dieting' to achieve the 'preferred' or fashionable shape (or, more importantly, to achieve a body shape which allows her to properly participate in systems of consumption: purchase, discard, purchase again; clothing, makeup, 'beauty' products, shoes, perfumes, cleansers, jewelry...) is she instead 'exercising' to achieve another bodily ideal? Does this process serve just as well to keep women from moving on to other (more important) work?

Here, I have to stop and think about the way I think about myself. Why am I so interested in exercise and nutrition? And, also, where should I place my diet and exercise on a hierarchy of 'what's important'?

Control is certainly an important factor. I control what I eat, I control my life, I take control. This is, of course, at the root of many discussions about eating disorders. Food and controlling it is a way for women to control their lives. To maintain 'order' in chaos. Mainstream media, social and institutional structures - all the stuff of everyday life - works to manage and homogenise women and women's bodies. Capitalist societies organise us according to our ability to 'buy' to engage with and participate in a formalisd system of buying and selling. Patriarchy - in my culture - relies on my accepting a role as 'consumer', but far more importantly, as gendered consumer. I am to buy products which make me a particular type of woman. Or, rather, I am to carry an insistent anxiety that I am not quite right as a woman (too fat, too thin, too old...), and the only way I can become 'right' is to buy this dress, that makeup, those shoes, these diet meals... that exercise plan?

For me, taking control of my diet, of exercise, is about taking control. I don't watch broadcast television or read magazines or listen to the radio. On the one hand this shuts me off from all sorts of interesting current affairs, but on the other, it sure does cut a whole lot of anxiety and anger out of my life. I've also noticed that it means I have no idea what is 'beautiful' or 'fashionable' in the wider world. No idea at all. My sense of self value or beauty is determined, for the most part, by the way my body works. I do take an interest in what I look like. I love to make clothes, to dress up, to experiment with colour and form and shape. But it's not the sum total of my interest in my body. My interest has shifted from 'what do other see when they look at my body' to 'what can my body do?'

Function is far more important to me these days. Dealing with pain in the past (an injured foot recently, chronic migraines years ago... and so on) means that I now aim for living 'pain free'. Every day that I'm not in pain is, truly, a blessing. Every day that I can move freely and easily is a blessing. And it's addictive. I like being able to dictate the terms of my health. Of being able to take control of my well being. And, quite simply, eating 'well' and exercising regularly is a very simple and effective way of maintaining my health.
Good health not only means that I am free from pain. I'm now aiming higher than that (and my attention is always caught by the way women experience pain and illness everyday - many women carry pain killers in their bags at all times. Surely this expectation of pain and acceptance of it as 'everyday' is something worth commenting on?) Now I want to use my body to achieve other things.
Cycling is synonymous with independence for me. It costs me nothing: it is financial independence. It lets me take myself from place to place: I do not rely on other people to get me where I want to go. It is safe: I can escape or avoid the 'dangerous streets'. These are very, very important things to me, as a woman. It means that I can control when and where I go. Cycling, unlike walking, does not carry gendered connotations of danger the way walking does. Cycling at night is consistently represented as 'dangerous' for cyclists, but not like walking. Simply, the idea of speed, of being able to 'escape' is important for me - I am not 'caught' in a bus, on a road, by myself. Cyclists don't, in an ideological sense, 'look' vulnerable the way pedestrians do. Further, repeated cycling changes the way my body looks and works. And the way I dress. Cycling regularly means that I don't wear 'feminine' clothes to ride. My clothing for cycling simply doesn't carry that same meaning or value that a dress or short skirt or low-necked blouse does. My clothing 'says' practical, independent, freedom of movement. It certainly feels that. And what your body 'says' on this level is a massive part of how women are perceived and constructed and regarded by themselves and others as 'vulnerable'. Further, the very process of cycling - of regular exercise - makes my body stronger and more independent.

I think this is the part that I like most about exercise and diet management. It makes me feel powerful. It seems almost a silly thing to write or say. But as a feminist, as a woman, I am constantly negotiating discourse which seeks to remind and convince me that I am weak, vulnerable. That to be a woman is to be un-powerful. Whether its dominant ideological presentations of woman=object or feminist discourse reminding me of unequal pay rates, rape and sexual assault and beauty 'myths'.

In my own life, I feel that activism is about action. We might begin with a process I think of as 'complaint', where we've realised we're getting screwed, and - by the Goddess! - we're angry about it! But while this is important, and it's essential to talk about and theorise and highlight the shitful stuff that happens to us, to women and to all of us, I think that this cannot be the end point. I tend to get angry about something, then get tired of being angry. Because carrying around all that anger stops you actually getting on and doing stuff.
I get tired of being angry about bullshit gender dynamics in lindy hop culture. I get tired of being angry about the way women follows compete with each other for the 'attention' of male lead dance partners. I could just give up dancing. But I'm stubborn. I love dancing. So I think of ways to get active and change things for the better. Because, really, you never know til you try. And I'm always surprised by just how much you can achieve with sufficient bloody mindedness. So, in dance, that meant learning to lead. Getting interested in solo dance. Exploring other avenues to power within the broader dance community - DJing, managing events and so on.

I got tired of being angry about my feeling afraid to walk about at night, or to catch trains at night or to be out at night on my own. I got tired of being angry that I couldn't walk without pain. I didn't want to cave and use consumption as an escape - buy a car, buy petrol, buy buy buy. And I certainly didn't want to accept the bullshit that I should be at home at night. So I started riding my bike. Physical strength, health and independence are, quite simply, empowering. And exciting. Simply thinking about your body as source of power or freedom or mobility or independence or strength, rather than thinking of your body as something to be looked at, to be held, or desired or protected is really exciting. It's hardly a new idea. The difference between object and subject isn't new at all. Nor is the association of these with gender.

I'm always surprised by women's insistence that they don't want to ride a bike or 'get muscles' or not wear make up or all these sorts of things. To me muscles aren't an end in themselves, but signifying strength, independence, power - a body with function, whose form is intimately associated with action and power and independence. All very un-feminine, in the conventional sense.

I'm not suggesting that, as an alternative, the only bodies with value are strong, athletic bodies. There are circumstances which affect the ways we use our bodies. But, as yoga taught me, it's not useful to just 'accept' your body as it is. It's far more interesting to explore our bodies, to understand and become aware of them, no matter what the specifics of our parts and pieces. One of the most important parts of dealing with my foot injury last year was realising that just because I couldn't walk or do the things that I used to love doing (and which defined me and my sense of self-value), didn't mean that I was 'totally crap'. I simply had to work with what I had. I couldn't walk. I couldn't walk 800m to the train station. I couldn't walk around the shopping centre. I couldn't go down stairs without holding the hand rail and taking one step with both feet, slowly. This was profoundly distressing for someone who is so fiercely independent. I dealt, every day, routinely, with the impatience and intolerance of strangers. I was too slow on the stairs, getting on trains and buses. I couldn't line up for very long at all. I couldn't keep up with shop assistants taking me to another part of the shop. I had to ask for help carrying heavy things. It was utterly demoralising. Distressing. Upsetting. Infuriating. I became quite badly depressed. Badly, badly depressed.
Until, eventually, I decided that - seeing as how this condition was permanent - I could either accept it, lie down on the couch and never get up again, or I could do something. I have to wear special orthotic soles in my shoes. I still can't stand up too much, walk too much or dance too much. But if I do regular exercises, I can strengthen my body to the point where I can do more. I count it a massive, triumphant victory that I'm not in pain every day. Every dance I have now is magic, a perfect, wonderful thing. But I am very much aware of the fact that I cannot simply assume that I will 'improve'. I have to do a range of exercises three times a day. I have to moderate my dancing and exercise.
I think it's the idea that I can do something that's important. Becoming aware of my body and then adopting a fairly strict exercise regime has been essential to my improved sense of self worth. Frankly, if we treat our bodies badly, if we ignore them and just assume that they will be fine without our attention, we're asking for trouble.

As a feminist, I can't simply write off diet talk and exercise talk as 'patriarchy bullshit'. I've decided that I am going to be the boss of the way I think about my body, and I'm going to think about these things in a healthy, empowering way. I consciously choose not to read magazines or watch telly or engage with mass media in an everyday broadcast model, for the most part because I am aware of the way these media present me - incessantly with the sort of bullshit ideas about identity and value I'm spent my research career identifying and critiquing. While I've also spent a great deal of time writing and thinking about the way that we can subvert or transgress dominant images or ideas about bodies and identity in the mainstream media, I simply don't think I can be arsed. I choose not to submerse myself in this discourse. I'm opting out. Because every time I see another photo of a woman advertising the latest clothing or cleaning product 'for women', it sticks. Every time I hear another comment about women's bodies on the radio, no matter how minor or even inconsequential, it sticks. And, to be honest, I'm a bit tired of getting angry or of constantly reading on the slant or from the margins or with a queer eye.

...I think I've run out of steam. It's late and I will probably have trouble sleeping now because I'm all running around inside my head.
I think I'll end, then, by repeating my points:

- exercise is good for you. It makes you feel good. It makes your body work well.
- food and eating it is good.
- talking about food and exercise is something we should do, as feminists.
- I am a feminist and I want to talk about food and exercise.
- the word 'diet' doesn't necessarily have to be a negative one.
- food and exercise are utterly bound up with issues of gender, power, identity, class, sexuality... all the usual stuff. Probably because they are - as with all the important and interesting things - important and interesting.

"gastropod: eating and moving" was posted by dogpossum on January 4, 2010 10:41 PM in the category | Comments (3)

making paneer: add acid

Basically, to make paneer, you take the milk off the heat just as it boils, add the acid and stir while it's on a lower heat. It just separates like magic, greeny whey, white blobs of curd. Awesomely satisfying.

Following a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, I began by adding some white vinegar, even though I've added lemon juice in the past. It didn't work. As you can see at the beginning of the clip it just looks like sort of lumpy milk. But then I added a couple of table spoons of lemon juice and it DID work - the curds and whey separated just like magic. Or just like science, really.

I have to add here: this recipe (for both paneer and the final dish that I made) are from some charmingly annotated photocopied pages from a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook that Kirsty sent me aaaaaaages ago. As in _years_ ago. Kirsty is my first choice for recipe-book-testing. I gave her my mega Jaffrey recipe book and told her to 'find good stuff' because I couldn't handle the text-heavy-ness of it. She found fully awesome stuff. But I think these photocopies were from another book.

Jaffrey is wicked cool. I find her recipes quite simple and easy to make, but the style of the directions can be a bit confusing. I think she's often making dishes from memory, so she might describe quantities in a mixture of teaspoons, cups, ounces, grams, handfuls and so on. But it's worth dealing with this stuff for her lovely historical and social introductions and commentaries to recipes.

"making paneer: add acid" was posted by dogpossum on January 4, 2010 8:38 PM in the category domesticity and fewd and gastropod | Comments (2)

January 3, 2010

things i like about true blood


I didn't like True Blood immediately. It took me a few episodes. Sometimes it's dumb. But it's also really great. I like supernatural telly. I watch every supernatural telly show I can get my hands on, no matter how terrible. I also read supernatural romance fiction, both adult and young adult. I like films with supernatural themes. I'm not really interested in 'classic' horror fiction at all, but I do read masses of SF lit. Masses of it, and nothing else these days... well, except for the odd crime novel.

I am predisposed to liking programs like True Blood. But I am also a fairly critical reader, in the sense that I am interested in critiquing themes, industrial context, audiences and so on. My doctoral research was centred on audiences and am particularly interested in fan studies.

But I also like to just watch. I like chick flicks because no one dies, and because things end happily. Though I can't abide a spineless bimbo female protagonist, I can excuse terrible acting, directing and writing if the story is nice.

What do I like about True Blood?

1. It looks really good. In that the colours are nice, the 'cinematography' in season 1 is sweet. It's really quite lush and fancy - not like ordinary TV at all.

2. Despite its fancy 'look', True Blood reads like melodrama. Like daytime TV. All hyper-emotion and ridiculous plot lines. It looks like 'quality' but reads like 'trash'.

3. Except for the sex. The sex is pretty hardcore. That's not Bold and The Beautiful, it's supernatural 'romance'.

4. It's supernatural romance lit made into telly. The TB books are truly, terribly awful. The TV series isn't. It's clever. But at the same time it's utterly celebrating the awfulness of the books. Not all supernatural romance lit is awful, but a fair swag of it is. Some of it is quite brilliant. This is where the big figures in popular fiction are at. This is where the readership is at. Women. Supernatural. Romance. Part of the pleasure of romance (you know who I'm referencing, here) is the 'dirty secret' aspect: it is 'wrong' to like it (because it is trash and terrible and all about love and kissing (and fucking) and all those things 'women' like), but it's so addictive, so pleasurable. Such a lovely, quick read where nobody (important) dies, where the morals are quite black and white and the heroine always gets (to fuck) her man.
Romances are increasingly sexy; not just chaste kisses.
Supernatural romances blur the genre lines: there are far more interesting things going on here than a woman pursuing love. Now she has a gun or a stake or a spell book or a muscle car, and her hot sexbot love interest is increasingly secondary to her job as demon hunter/werewolf friend/wiccan powerhouse.

TB doesn't quite handle these things as well as the best supernatural romance books, but then it's not looking for a women-only audience. But it takes that idea of guilty pleasure and runs with it. It's celebrating the awfullest of the awful supernatural romance books.

5. But it twists the generic conventions a little. The heroine is the least likeable character in the story. But in the books she's a really painful, stupid, shallow, racist bimbo. So the telly series is a slight improvement. But the very best character in TB is Lafayette. He is beautiful, he's glamorous, he's an arse-kicker (literally), he calls Sookie on her bullshit (I do like the way he calls her a skank somewhere in season 1), he's African American and he's gay. He is the one, persistently 'real' character. Even though he is the stereotypical young buck, he twists this role repeatedly, commenting on the way his body is read by white queer men, by white straight women, and by white straight men. His queerness is really one of the most important elements tipping me off to the campness of TB: read this as hyper-sex, hyper-gender, hyper-hype (and here, the masses of online 'tease' and 'tie-in' marketing sites (bloodcopy, TruBlood, American Vampire League, Fellowship of the Sun), Myspace account and youtube channels (BloodCopy and the Fellowship of the Sun channels) are just wonderful: there's just too much TB online viral marketing for this to be anything other than awesome parody of viral marketing campaigns.)

Supernatural romances tend to have kind of lame heroines for the most part, but the very best ones are awesome. I'm especially fond of Mercy in Patricia Briggs' skinwalker series and Rachel Caine's weather wardens. Teen supernatural romances are a whole other genre, but some feature truly great heroines: Rachel Cain's Claire in her Morganville Vampire series is great, and my current passion, Lili St Crow's Strange Angels series' protagonist Dru is fully sick.
But TB is not trying to be the very best. It's aiming for trash.

6. It sounds more like a Tex Perkins album than the Twilight sound track. Sort of dark and kind of disgusting, but in a really sexy way. You probably wouldn't date this series (well, not after you've turned 20), but by geez you'd think about having hot sex with it. And then washing very thoroughly afterwards.
It's really about the grotesque, about the flesh and the body, both in terms of sex and of violence. But then, that's what vampires are all about. Underneath. Twilight might be all about abstinence, but TB is about recognising the subtext of those type of 'safe' vampires. Really, when you're watching a vampire text, the violence and sex get mixed up. The idea of drinking blood is both revolting and riveting. While your more mainstream vampire media work because they only suggest and imply this stuff, TB is wonderful because it doesn't bother implying or suggesting. It wears it all at once, all the time. Loudly. Nothing is left unsaid or simply suggested in terms of sex and violence in TB

7. It passes the Bechdel Test.

8. It's utterly ridiculous. Truly, utterly ridiculous. It's so ridiculous you squirm and shriek.

9. The romances are really kind of horrible. While Sookie and Vampire Bill's romance begins in season one all hearts and flowers, the second season really begins to turn their 'true love' story line on its head. Eric's question about Bill's motivations in giving Sookie his blood are really telling: why exactly did Bill rush into forming this intense relationship with Sookie, taking her at a disadvantage and really keeping her as the vulnerable 'heroine' to his 'hero'? This is one of the things I really like about TB: the romance part is continually fucked about. Characters like Eric question the hero's motivations. Eric asks the sorts of questions I ask myself about romance fiction: what is so ok about the heroine being so blindly, desperately in love with the hero that she overlooks self-respect and self-preservation in pursuit of his affection (and desire)?

Jason, Sookie's dumb, body-beautiful brother finally finds 'love', but it's with an utterly screwed up vampire murdering hippy drug addict. Sookie's friend Arlene's fiance [SPOILER] turns out to be a murdering bigot [ENDSPOILER]. And it continues... I'm really looking forward to seeing how Hoyt and Jessica's sacharine-sweet romance turns out.

10. It's shocking. Not in a sex or violence way (though it really is quite full-frontal for telly). But in an excess and overflow way. There's a lot of sex, and it's quite graphic. But it's also ridiculous, particularly in season 2. There's a lot of violence and blood, and it's also ridiculous (I'm thinking of scenes like the bombing of the Dallas nest in particular). It's all colour and close-up and gorgeous lighting and cinematography. But its content is 'trashy' and really quite dodgy.

"things i like about true blood" was posted by dogpossum on January 3, 2010 8:56 PM in the category books and television and true blood | Comments (1)

January 2, 2010

practicing with sound files

Some sounds I recorded in our flat.

"practicing with sound files" was posted by dogpossum on January 2, 2010 8:54 PM in the category | Comments (0)

carrot salad

We had this with some aloo palak for dinner. Nom!

This recipe's from 'Cooking With Kurma.' This is basically grated carrot, lots of chopped coriander, lemon juice, a bit of salt and some spices cooked in a bit of oil: cumin seeds, urad dahl (I had none so used some toasted sesame seeds), curry leaves and asofetida.
It was very light and fresh and tasty with the spices adding that darker, dirtier flavour.

"carrot salad" was posted by dogpossum on January 2, 2010 7:40 PM in the category domesticity and fewd and gastropod | Comments (0)