Chronicling My Media Consumption: Vol. 6

Food for Thought (…See What I Did There?)

Unspeakable Appetites” (Lenny Letter)
In film, you’ll find a lot of female characters who are also cannibals. This short piece offers some thoughts on the matter.

Revenge of the Lunch Lady” (Huffington Post)
In one of America’s most unhealthiest counties, Rhonda McCoy, a food-services director, revamps the oft-dreaded school lunch.

There’s a Massive Restaurant Industry Bubble, And It’s About to Burst” (Thrillist)
Citing unreasonably high expectations from consumers, rising labor costs encroaching on already-thin profit margins, and pressures to compete with trendy fast-casual places, this harbinger of doom of an article predicts the death of the independently owned sit-down restaurant.

Learning to Make Lasagna in Kyrgyzstan” (Bon Appetit)
A writer recounts how cooking became a form of self-care while serving in the Peace Corps.

Journeyman” (New Yorker)
Here’s an excellent profile of Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and world explorer.
Further reading: “Fiction Confidential” (Eater)

Alpha Gal” (Radiolab)
Amy Pearl learns that she might have an unusual food allergy. What’s a person to do when she discovers that eating meat might kill her?
Further listening: “May Contain Nuts, Pt. 1: Alpha Gal Returns” “(The Sporkful)

Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow
This is truly a coffee-table cookbook, full of beautiful and at times perplexingly styled photos, dazzlingly complicated recipes that veer into impracticality, and lots of vegetables. I may never cook anything in its pages, but I still want it on my bookshelf.

Links

Nobody Is Home” (Aeon)
Thanks to our modern times, home might not be where the heart is anymore.

You Want to Marry My Husband” (New York Times)
Children’s author  Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer last fall, creates a dating profile for the husband that she’ll leave behind in this touching and heartbreaking Modern Love column.

Losing Streak” (New Yorker)
Kathryn Schluz reflects on the experience of losing things, both trivial and profound. She writes, “We lose things because we are flawed; because we are human; because we have things to lose.”
Further reading: “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness” (The Huffington Post)
Despite seeing gay rights achieve huge gains, gay men still feel incredibly alone and alienated.

‘I Feel Like a Fraud’: Confessions of a Broken-Down Domestic Violence Lawyer” (Vice Broadly)
A lawyer learns just how Kafkaesque the criminal justice system is when it comes to domestic abuse.

‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’” (New York Times)
This photographic essay documents the horrific brutality of President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent anti-drug campaign in the Philippines. It is not for the faint of heart.
Further reading: “The  Tough Guy” (New Yorker)

The Prairie Wife” (New Yorker)
Gender Studies” (New Yorker)
I am now currently waiting in anxious anticipation for Curtis Sittenfeld to one day release a short story collection.

Podcasts

Amok” (The Memory Palace)
What does a 19th century news report about zoo animal escape have to do with our present day? Spare five minutes and take a listen.

MGM Stories, Part 12: Lana Turner” (You Must Remember This)
In this episode from the archive, Karina Longworth explors the rise of Hollywood’s  “Sweater Girl.” There’s also a gripping account of her daughter’s murder trial. (Cheryl Crane was the talk of the town after she killed her mother’s boyfriend.)

No Hollywood Ending for the Visual-Effects Industry” (Freakonomics)
Stephen Dubner takes a deep dive into Hollywood’s visual-effects industry to learn why America’s studios are going bankrupt.

Millennial‘s  four-part series on Cuba
Megan Tan travels to Cuba to explore what it’s like coming-of-age in a country so different from ours.

Adulthood Made Easy
I bid adieu to a podcast that was always earnest, often reassuring, and occasionally aspirational. Each episode was full of sound advice and the comfort that comes from other people agreeing that being an adult can leave you scratching your head.

Television & Movies

Season 4, Rectify
I expected nothing less than a stellar final season of this beautiful, thoughtful show. In many ways, Rectify is the anti–crime procedural; whereas most crime shows treat viewers to fast-paced plot twists, splashy action scenes, and forensic science, Rectify is never really interested in who commits the rape and murder that upends the Holden family’s lives. Instead, it’s won my everlasting devotion because it takes its sweet old time (only a few months elapse over the course of the entire show) and feels introspective in a way that many other shows are not.

Search Party
Looking for more hilarious shows about really annoying twenty-somethings that live in Brooklyn? Look no further! When Dory learns that a college acquaintance has gone missing, she enlists her ragtag group of friends and her boyfriend to crack the case.This show, which can be best described as a satire, is sharp and self-aware with plenty moments of humor and existential ennui.

Moonlight
Just go watch it. I promise it’s excellent.

Books

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Paul Beatty’s Man Booker prize is well-deserved for this absurdist tragi-comedy, in which the protagonist tries to reintroduce segregation to save his hometown in California. You’ll laugh out loud, feel deeply uncomfortable, and learn something about race in America.

Honorable Mentions

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Chronicling My Media Consumption: Vol. 5

Links

10 Streets that Define America” (Curbed)
Full of cinematic gifs of boulevards, thoroughfares, and tree-lined avenues across the United States, this interactive showcases how new developments and changes have affected ten different cities and neighborhoods. Put it all in perspective with a nifty feature that lets you see how a profiled town compares to your current address.
Further reading: “Return to Ohio” (The Atlantic)

Brand New Hue: The Quest to Make a True Blue M&M” (New York Times Magazine)
Natural blue food coloring is notoriously difficult to make, but with consumers eschewing artificial anything, food chemists at Mars Chocolate put their thinking caps on and try to recreate the bright hue so easily provided by Blue No. 1. Fun fact: Blue No. 1 is the only food dye that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Spoiler Alert” (Pacific Standard)
On the topic of food, a bureaucratic nightmare of regulations and 15 federal agencies maintain the safety of our food supply. Ironically, these rules might make us more susceptible to the next outbreak of foodborne illness.

How Cubans Live as Long as Americans at a Third of the Cost” (The Atlantic)
Take a peak inside a country where health care is protected as a constitutional right and a holistic and primary care physician–centered approach.

Speak, Memory” (The Verge)
When Roman Mazurenko passes away, his best friend creates an unusual digital memorial: a bot that responds to texts from his loved ones so uncannily reminiscent like the deceased.
TV accompaniment: “Be Right Back,” Black Mirror

With Child” (Harper’s Magazine)
With our current administration, we might see more states looking a lot like South Dakota when it comes to abortion access.

Sex, Drugs, and Bestsellers: The Legend of the Literary Brat Pack” (Harper’s Bazaar)
Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, Tama Janowitz, Donna Tartt and Jill Eisenstadt give the Lost Generation a run for their money.

Launch Pad” (New York Times Magazine)
Arunachalam Muruganantham made it his mission to design an affordable sanitary pad for the women in his life.
Further reading: “Code Cracking,” “Look Again,” and…actually, the entire Design Issue is worth reading from front to back.

They Speak Gilmore, Don’t They?” (HazLit)
When I watched the reboot at home, my brother, who was also in the living room, turned to me after the opening scene and asked, “Why are they talking so fast?” Well, here are some thoughts.

My President Was Black” (The Atlantic)
Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the promise, disappointments, and experience of America’s first African-American president.

My Friend Sam” (New Yorker)
Curtis Sittenfeld writes a touching essay to her best friend Sam. Their friendship takes them from their college days to Sam’s cancer diagonsis. I won’t spoil the ending.

My Son, the Prince of Fashion” (GQ)
Michael Chabon reflects on accompanying his son to Paris Fashion Week, where he begins to understand who is son really is, his passions, hopes, and dreams.

Every Body Goes Haywire” (n+1)
An author reflects on the neurological disorder that inflicts her and her mother.
Further reading: “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” by Leslie Jamison

The Hygge Conspiracy” (The Guardian)
All those cozy nights spent around the fireplace with hand knitted socks, hot cocoa, and the company of family and friends have a dark side.

The Soccer-Star Refugees of Eritrea” (New Yorker)
The Eritrean soccer team has a field day as they plan a mass defection after a World Cup game. (Sorry for the bad pun.)

Profiles

The Afterlife of a Ballerina” (Elle)
Alexandra Ansanelli is exceptional in the ballet world: a prodigy who discovered dance years after most aspiring professional ballerinas put on their first shoes; a principal dancer not only for the New York Ballet but also the Royal Ballet; and in a move that surprised everyone, a rare talent who decided to quit at the height of her powers.

The Attorney Fighting Revenge Porn” (New Yorker)
Meet Carrie Goldberg: the lawyer fighting in the new frontier of sexual privacy.

The Mysterious Metamorphosis of Chuck Close” (New York Times Magazine)
Chuck Close has made his career with larger-than-life, exquisitely rendered portraits, but he has entered a new phase in his life—divorcing his wife, disappearing to Miami Beach, and developing a new mode of painting that is a departure from the pieces that made him famous.

Books/I Recently Read a Lot of Non-Fiction

The Argonaut by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson reflects on family life, motherhood, and her partner’s gender transition in this wondrous essay-memoir. The writing spills over with beautiful turn-of-phrases, and Nelson intersperses her prose with just the right amount of critical theory to keep your brain on your toes.

The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson
For those who are interested in learning more about systemic racism and oral histories, I got you covered. Life for African-Americans was marked by constant terror in a world whose byzantine rules life-threateningly fickle at best.

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
If you’re looking to escape your liberal bubble with a book, skip Hillbilly Elegy and pick up sociologist Arlie Russell Hoschild’s empathetic, candid account of the people she met in a deeply conservative county of Louisiana.

TV

Stranger Things
I know, I’m late to the party, but who knew I would like this nostalgic, creepy, and endearing show so much?

“The Inherent, Unsullied, Qualitative Value of Anything,” You’re the Worst
This episode does impressive work in terms of both its form and content. We pick up (kind of) full-circle with the gang at a wedding, where the continuous camera shots do a wonderful job of depicting the small dramas of the guests. By putting the characters with lots of feelings about their lot in life and their significant others in a social setting that is meant to be celebratory and requires them to be on their best behavior, it’s no wonder that conflicts come to a head.

Black Mirror
Black Mirror continues to excel in pinpointing the uncomfortable and unsettling facets of our technology-filled world and taking them to their logical, dystopic extreme.
Further reading: “The Speculative Dread of ‘Black Mirror‘,” New Yorker

The Crown
This serialized is simultaneously captivating and excruciatingly boring in its careful attention to detail, but if you’re as obsessed with Queen Elizabeth as I am, then you’ll love every minute and be unusually forgiving of the bad CGI animals. The show shines with its nuanced portrayals of the monarchy and the toll it takes on Elizabeth and her relationships with those around her.

Podcasts

Heavyweight
In this introspective show, host Jonathan Goldstein takes listeners as he tries to right past wrongs, mend broken hearts, and resolve petty squabbles. Plus, Heavyweight’s theme song is the catchiest.
Highly recommended episodes: “Toby,” “Tara”

Boy in the Picture,” Reply All
There’s a lot of stuff on the Internet, which means that there are a lot of stories behind the items that wind up there. PJ, Alex, and Sruthi try to track down a boy that’s featured on a meme and create an episode that has a crime-procedural flair and plenty of moments of suspense.

Revisionist History
Malcolm Gladwell takes his signature blend of pop social science and passioned polemic to the airwaves with ten episodes that want to challenge your assumptions and make you reconsider the forces that lead to certain decisions and historical events.

Movies

Manchester by the Sea
I saw this movie on a Thursday afternoon in a theater filled with senior citizens, one of which fell asleep and snored loudly in a back corner. And it was the perfect way to watch Manchester by the Sea. What this movie does best is capture the funny awkwardness and small tragedies of everyday life. I laughed and cried, sometimes all at the same time, and it’s the type of thing that gels well with my (very) dark sense of humor.
Further reading: “The Cinematic Traumas of Kenneth Lonergan,” (New Yorker)

La La Land
This movie was just so, so charming.

I’ll Have It Whole

Like a scene from an inverted Proust novel, the memory of breakfasts with my grandparents conjures the taste of cantaloupe milk. In fact, it is the only thing I can truly remember eating during those early mornings. My grandfather bought the milk from a vendor down the street. It came in amorphous plastic sacks labeled in green with a line drawing of a melon. I picked these packages up by their corners and used a pair of scissors to carefully cut a slit for a short plastic straw.

Here in the US, the milk comes in structured cartons, the flavorings in three: plain, chocolate, and strawberry. Cantaloupe is a seemingly counterintuitive flavor option, but no more so than strawberry, a fruit more acidic and thus more likely to curdle milk than complement it. Most chocolate milk also fails to live up to the promise of its name, offering little in the way of actual chocolate taste and leaving a grainy trail of sediment from chocolate powder too stubborn to dissolve. On the other hand, we describe the taste of ripe melons using adjectives derived from dairy products: creamy and buttery. The pH of a cantaloupe clocks in at an almost neutral 6.5. But more importantly, the cantaloupe flavored milk of my memory was not sweet in the hollow, sticky way that made the back of your teeth ache. Its sweetness was full-bodied, drawing out the wholesome richness that could only be attributed to milk. Each sip felt well-rounded.

***

I could have been the poster child for the now-defunct “Got Milk?” campaign. Each week, my mother brought home a gallon of milk from the supermarket. By the end of seven days, we would open the fridge to find that the shelf on the door was empty, the plastic container already sent to the recycling bins next to the driveway. I drank at least two glasses of milk every day. It seemed to match everything I ate: cereal, slices of Betty Crocker cake, tacos, baked ziti, fried rice, soup, the frozen pizza and chicken nuggets served at the school cafeteria.

For the most part, the milk of my childhood came in plastic jugs. It was pasteurized, homogenized, and fortified with vitamins A and D. The label was red, which meant it was whole. From the ages of six to eleven, my brother and I drank it out of matching plastic mugs featuring the Disney characters inexplicably dressed in Mexican costume. My mug had a scratch over Donald Duck’s head. His did not.

Not only had my parents made milk the kid-approved beverage of our household, they also had left me believing that the best milk had exactly four percent fat. I had my first glass of skim milk at a sleepover, and I left the next morning, sleepy from too many movies and confused why anyone would buy something so diluted. 2% came later, also at a friend’s house, but we ate from plastic utensils that had absorbed the synthetic scent of dishwashing detergent. Water, milk, orange juice—everything tasted like fake lemons.

But as quick as they were to support the reign of whole milk in our house, they were also just as quick to end it. Their cholesterol levels were too high. Their hearts beat under the sudden specter of clogged arteries. Whole milk, while not the main culprit, was now an unnecessary risk. Besides, my mother explained, my brother and I didn’t need it anymore. When we were small, she had fretted whether our bony wrists and thin limbs were the products of genetics or undiagnosed malnutrition. Ignoring her own delicate wrists, she bought whole milk and hoped its lipids and proteins would smooth out our angles.

Whole switched to 2%. The gallons turned into quarts. My father developed lactose intolerance, and my brother began to complain that milk unaccompanied by food also upset his stomach. Yet when I tried to leave the house without eating breakfast, my mother would shout after me to take a granola bar, and when I refused, to please at least drink a glass of milk.

***

I am not a picky eater, but I am particular. I will frown if the cupcakes I have baked are too dense, when the giant apples from Costco have none of the honeyed fragrance that fruit is supposed to have, and when broccoli is cooked past the point of crunchiness. I can also tell you when the milk has past its peak of freshness. I can even quantify it on a scale where a score of zero is an unattainable Platonic ideal and a one means that your milk is too solid to pour down a kitchen sink.

Milk spoils gradually in our refrigerator. Five days after purchase or at the approach of its sell-by date, milk scores a 0.5 on my sliding scale of freshness. When it begins to turn, it still tastes fine, but only if you don’t think too much about it. Two days later though, the milk, at a score of between 0.6 and 0.65, is only passably drinkable, more suited for baking and cooking. Anything beyond that is questionable. My mother, who both drinks milk regularly and lives at our house on a permanent basis, is the only one brave enough to stir dregs of this product into her occasional cup of coffee.

“What’s the difference?” I watch black turn into sepia as she stirs her spoon.

It is times like these when I wonder whether this is a matter of mind over matter, but I cannot be the only one who can tell that the old milk from the fridge is more viscous than it should be. That even the smallest amount of whole milk will make a richer cup of hot cocoa than a river of skim. That the UHC milk sold in rectangular cartons, unrefrigerated on the shelves of French grocery stores, tastes caramelized. I swear the grass-fed, organic whole milk that I accidentally bought one spring afternoon from Hyde Park Produce tasted sweeter and creamier. My roommate shrugged when I said this. She thanked me for buying groceries and took the glass she poured back into her room while I stood at the kitchen counter, still trying to make my case. It was different. It really was different.

***

If you try to find cantaloupe milk today, you might return home empty-handed. The closest substitute that you can find are paper cartons of papaya milk, its official-looking label explaining how many kilojoules contained in this product. In fact, my milk-drinking days largely exist only in my memory. In keeping with most of my family members, I now only have milk when it comes with a bowl of cereal and spend my grocery money on Greek yogurt instead. Between spoonfuls of yogurt and granola, I worry that I will eventually lose my tolerance for dairy altogether. My dad, who still eats ice cream out of the carton with me when I am home for school breaks, tells me that it wouldn’t be the end of the world, which is all I need to hear before I add milk back to my mental grocery list for next week.

At the store, I hover in the dairy section. 2% or whole? Other shoppers whisper “excuse me” and bump into my elbows. Their choices are automatic and easy. Nine times out of ten, I will walk out of the store with 2%, but sometimes, I pick up a plastic container with a red label. It always tastes exactly as I remember.

Today, I Ate an Apple Pear

During one of our buying-produce-in-bulk expeditions, my dad and I discovered the apple pear at Costco. Last week’s Costco run produced some particularly interesting fruit, including to but not limited to purple apricots and mini grapes (a.k.a. champagne grapes). Apple pears immediately made the list because they reminded me of fun Skittles flavors and sounded like a marvel of science. With all that talk about the dangers of GMO’s, why apple pears were even on display at Costco added another layer of mystique to this mysterious fruit.

As of five minutes ago, I discovered that apple pears are not some fun hybrid of an apple and pear, but an actual species of pear. Also known as sand pears or Asian pears, this species is taking North America by storm, according to Google result number two.

I had my first apple pear while I was hopping around on the internet on some research expedition. I had high hopes, envisioning the thing to have all the orchard-tasting sweetness of the apple with the porous, watery crunch of pears. However, after a few bites, I decided that it didn’t taste much like anything. It was sweet, and the taste reminded you of something fruit-like (in a natural way [skip the artificial flavor, of course, and I just used double brackets, what is this?]). In the battle between apple and pear, the pear-like qualities dominated, and I don’t like pears. All in all, I was very underwhelmed.

Now, it all makes sense. I was eating a fancy pear when what I really wanted was a honeycrisp apple.