Monday, March 16, 2015

an interlude... in progress...

Politics, Poetry, and Bread


When I go to Canada I park on Sandwich St., which goes through the historic Olde Sandwich Towne, in Windsor. Sandwich Towne was first settled by the French in 1749. Sandwich, Kent is in the district of Dover, in the county of Kent, in south-east England. A medieval town, its name came from the Danish and in a way means a place by the bay or mouth of the river. In 1028 the monks at Canterbury got permission from the King to collect toll money and ferry people across the river. I always say the medieval time is where capitalism began. Richard the Lionheart landed in Sandwich in 1194 and, Wikipedia tells me, in 1255 Sandwich welcomed its first captive elephant  (a gift for Henry III from the French). The title of Earl of Sandwich was established in 1660 and there have been 11 Earls of Sandwich so far. The current, “John Edward Hollister Montagu, 11th Earl of Sandwich (born 11 April 1943) is a British entrepreneur, politician and nobleman.” Olde Sandwich Towne in Canada has a festival with food and music and events in the early fall. Although there is still some medieval architecture around town, it’s a pretty quiet area barely a mile from The University of Windsor campus. The couple of pub-style divey bars on Sandwich Rd. are on my list: Divey Bars in Random Places to Visit.

As the story goes, the word sandwich, for meat between slices of bread, may have begun with the fourth Earl of Sandwich (in the 1760s) who ate the creation (in the name of efficiency) at the gaming table instead of leaving for regular meals.


There is now also a chain of sandwich shops called the Earl of Sandwich.

The Wikipedia entry on the etymology of “sandwich” is apparently directed at audiences with no familiarity with English (language) or any cuisine that includes bread, meat, or cheese in any combination:

A sandwich is a food item consisting of two or more slices of bread with one or more fillings between them. Sandwiches are a widely popular type of lunch food, typically taken to work, school, or picnics to be eaten as part of a packed lunch. They generally contain a combination of salad vegetables, meat, cheese, and a variety of sauces or savoury spreads. The bread can be used as it is, or it can be coated with any condiments to enhance flavour and texture. They are widely sold in restaurants and cafes.

The sidebar adds: “Many sandwiches are handheld and portable; this one [pictured] is made with salami.”

Or maybe this was written by a fourth grader, which is totally possible since it is on Wikipedia. In any case, if I had not recently given up flour and wheat (just since lunch a few hours ago) I would go make myself one, a sandwich, with meat filling two or more slices of bread. The multiple baguette photo examples shown here look too good to ignore. I feel like I will have to rethink my flour/wheat plans.


In Canada we are reading Nicole Brossard’s, “Poetic Politics.”

“I would like … to make space for questions regarding different rituals, different approaches, different postures that we take in language in order to exist, fulfill our needs to express, communicate, or to challenge language itself: hoping that by playing with language it will reveal unknown dimensions of reality.”

I park 20 minutes away from the department office, on Sandwich St., because a parking permit on campus costs some exorbitant amount. After also paying $10 per trip to cross the bridge to and from the U.S. After also paying for a work visa (a new one every semester). To teach a class in which only some of the students want to read essays about poetry. A class in which most want to write poems and stories, that they want to be great, without reading anything else (theoretical) about writing.

“I have always said that writing is energy taking shape in language.” Dear Nicole, energy is taking shape in my classroom as I challenge them, and they rebel. Of course, eventually, I know, they will come to find your words indispensible.


In fact I don’t think it’s actually possible to stop eating wheat or flour. The French have been eating baguettes for some time now and they are not suffering from “wheat belly,” the latest fear trend in the American diet wars. Still, when I begin reading about what has happened to wheat, I am traumatized, become depressed. Is there no realm in which everything has not been altered with chemicals, genetically modified, produced through unsafe practices creating cancers within us as we breathe through each moment of our lives? One might imagine that wheat is grown like it has always been grown, cut down, cultivated, used for its various purposes including all sorts of flours. But au contraire, it has been bred into something different altogether to grow more quickly, have a higher yield, and be more resistant to destructive forces. This new wheat was cultivated in the 1960s and because more can be produced faster on less acreage, it has taken over the industry. This new wheat also has considerably more gluten and fewer nutrients than the older stuff. Although now they say one shouldn’t go gluten-free unless one has a specific health issue affected by gluten. The increase in the new wheat seems problematic, and may even be contributing to the gluten allergies that seem to be spreading. Until even more recently, the new wheat hadn’t actually been genetically modified, so it has stayed off the radar of people making waves about genetically modified foods. Of course Monsanto now is leading the charge in genetically modified wheat—among other seeds and foods—and unlike Pinky and the Brain who try and fail, Monsanto is succeeding in taking control over (the food production of) the world.

I keep reading. Surely organic wheat must be safe from this colonization. But I can’t find any clear answers. It is hard to know if organic wheat comes from pre-modified forms like Einkorn or heritage varieties of wheat, or from the newer version. So surely one can use the pre-modified kinds of wheat, if one wants to make her own bread for every purpose all the time. I want to think that since this news is lately coming out to the mainstream there may be more transparent information about what kinds of wheat is used and where. But I think the “Wheat Belly” craze came and went fast. I want to imagine that organic wheat is not the conventional, less-nutritious, new “dwarf” variety, but there isn’t much solid information out there. And that Stanford report said that organic food was not any better or more healthy than non-organic foods. That made the national news, though in fact, the report found organic food to have fewer pesticides and antibiotic resistant bacteria, thus, one might conclude—which the report refused to do—better for health. And how many people saw the less publicized critiques of that report questioning the methods, funding, and findings? Remember when Oprah said something “disparaging” about beef? Don’t mess with the food industry, that is the lesson here. Dr. Davis, in his Wheat Belly, argument claims all wheat is the same and it is all bad. But he also claims that instead of wheat you should eat more meat and animal products, which I also find a little suspect.

In France it is more likely that traditional forms of wheat are used instead of the newer Frankenwheat. There are up to 200,000 varieties of wheat around the world, but we have come to use only a few strains for most of the world’s bread production.

The Heritage Wheat Project in Canada is working to circulate and re-introduce more varieties of heritage wheats into the mainstream and to increase some of the grains’ nutritional values. I wonder what kind of wheat they use in the bread at Whole Foods that so many people pay lots of money for because they believe it is better? Maybe I should buy my bread at the food coop, which I also can’t afford. Or I can get serious about making bread at home, by first crushing the wheat into flour, naturally the important first step. And then I read this on The Natural Recovery Plan website:

The archeological fossil record indicates that the introduction of the agrarian diet coincided with a massive decline in the health and vitality of the population. Prior to this time there was no evidence of degenerative diseases or tooth decay, but with agriculture both men and women lost considerable height which has only now been recovered after 10,000 years. There is also evidence that there was a massive increase in infant mortality at this time. So it may be that wheat - hybridised or not - was never good news for human health.


One can draw connections between any random elements. I find that my food politics relates to my thinking about language, writing, the ways that I exist (or try to) in the world. This usually results in my feeling like a misfit. What is wrong with eating the same wheat that everyone else is eating? What is wrong with generic story structure and organization in fiction writing? Why can’t I just write accessible narrative poems?

Because, as Brossard writes, “I have often said that I don’t write to express myself but that I write to understand reality, the way we process reality into fiction, the way we process feeling, emotion and sensation into ideas and landscapes of thought.”

Because there is more to life, and to language, the potential is greater if we allow ourselves to open to that. Brossard:

            So by changing the perspective, the themes, or the style, somehow you deceive the conformist reader in her or his moral or aesthetic expectations …. At the same time, you provide for a new space of emotion and you make space for new materials to be taken into account about life and its meaning; you also offer the non-conformist reader a space for a new experience—traveling through meaning while simultaneously producing meaning.

            These interventions send a message in which the poet says: I don’t agree with prevalent moral or aesthetic values. I am not respecting the status quo. There is more to life than what we are thought to believe, there is more to language than what we are used to expecting.

We offer the readers and we offer ourselves these spaces, and for some of us, the status quo just doesn’t offer enough possibilities.


Once I decided to go vegan. Or maybe I decided to go raw, eat only raw foods. You can actually make rice if you soak it in water long enough and do some other preparation. I remember looking up recipes and making a large supply of some kind of cabbage salad. Then I suffered a quick and serious bout of heartbreak about a boy I was crushing on. I don’t remember the boy or what happened. But I do remember the raw foods only lasted three days at the most (maybe only one day even, it was a doomed venture from the start), and then I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and ate most of them myself. I was a regular vegetarian who still ate fish for almost 10 years, a lifestyle choice which makes it hard not to eat bread and pasta. I started eating meat in part because I was tired of pasta, and in part because I have always enjoyed a variety of foods and flavors. I like to cook and eat especially good food, which is also hard to do without good bread. Potentially life threatening factors aside, surely it must be OK to have a quality baguette on occasion, and maybe a supply of bread made from non-wheat-flour grains on hand.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In the News

...or headlines that are on the periphery of the news...

A few articles, among the many that are circulating daily...

1. A Review of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, Utah State University Press, 2012. Edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, Angela P. Harris. 

This is a collection of essays, on various topics, about issues in academia particularly from the perspective of people of color. I have long had this theory that the increase in contingency (decrease in tenure-line positions) is in direct proportion to women, people of color, those other than economically privileged white males going further to earn higher degrees, Ph.D.s and the like, and entering the academic market. As the traditional academic world started opening to these nontraditional possibilities, it started to shut itself down. Certainly the business model-economic constraints contribute to the reversal of teaching positions (40 years ago 75% of faculty were tenure-line), but the narrative focuses on this economic situation, at least in part, as a deferral from the institutionalized racism and sexism that it protects and reiterates. From the review:

"The 30 essays in Presumed Incompetent expose a nasty truth about Academia: it is not above the realities of everyday American life. It, in fact, reproduces and reinforces society’s inequalities, stereotypes, and hierarchies within its own walls.

"That academic women, especially academic women of color, are often presumed incompetent, is probably not surprising to most. The virtue of this book is that it enables the reader to see that these experiences are not individual experiences nor are they the result of individual flaws. Keeping this insight in mind, these essays become more than just “stories” or anecdotes. They point to the larger structural and cultural forces within Academia that make the experience of being presumed incompetent for women of color far too common.


"Lugo-Lugo also touches upon a second, though sometimes less explicit, theme of this book: the corporatization of higher education.  There are several layers to this phenomenon that affect women of color disproportionately. For one, contingent labor now makes up the vast majority of faculty positions in this country.  White women and women of color are disproportionately represented in these contingent ranks. Women of color only make up 7.5% of all full-time faculty positions in Academia (pg. 449). Given this reality, the presumption of incompetence gets reinforced and magnified for women of color. But there is another aspect of corporatization that is considered in the essays in this book. These are the essays that discuss student evaluations of teaching.  Because students increasingly come to the classroom with a consumerist mentality, they feel entitled to a certain experience, a certain grade, a certain “kind” of teacher. Lazos’ chapter, in particular, is a must-read for anybody who wishes to understand the factors that impact students’ evaluations of their professors. Departments chairs and members of committees on tenure and promotion will also find this chapter useful since they are responsible for evaluating a faculty member’s teaching effectiveness and student evaluations are a primary source of that information.

2. "Love in a Time of Contingency" (titled slantedly after one of my favorite novels by Marquez)

This is from a year ago, but so relevant and important. In fields especially like Women's and Gender Studies (as well as other humanities, social sciences, etc) our academic politics don't match the fight against real world sexism, racism, economic oppression... Scholars exhort feminist political arguments in research and teaching, but ignore the perpetuation of marginalization and violence within the very institutions they are working. 

From the article:

"As Jennifer Ruth poignantly showed recently (though not speaking in the WGS context), we are all complicit in perpetuating these dynamics, including those working in “middle management.” While not making sweeping higher ed policy decisions, these “middle managers” are the actors, Ruth argues, who make the everyday decisions that continue to perpetuate this system: department chairs who accept non-TT positions to “grow” their programs, TT faculty who ask for adjunct coverage so they can finish that book. Those working in WGS should be held accountable when their actions uncritically perpetuate a racist, classist, and ableist system whose increasing corporatization is leading to a “winner-take-all” market for a tiny minority of faculty and increasing contingency for the rest. Significantly, 76% of faculty are contingentwith women and people of color making up a large percent."

3. This article from a journal out of Louisville ( is from 2001 or just thereafter. It analyzes the rise of contingent labor, especially among first-year writing teachers, and points to political movement happening across social sectors (protests against the WTO, rise of union interest among contingent workers, etc), and it calls out to those teaching in areas in which we "profess" politics or critically engaged pedagogy to also act these in our real, academic, institutional lives. This article disturbs me because I wonder, like the environmental apocalypse that is  upon us, how long does it take for the sounding alarms to turn to real change?

From the article:

"The revitalization of academic unions and growing regional, state-wide, national, and international coalition building efforts among various groups concerned with contingent labor coupled with localized legislative action can effect change. In this essay, I will report on and analyze campus, municipal, state-wide, and national organizing campaigns to address the working conditions of part-time and non-tenure-track faculty, many of them first-year writing teachers. After that, I will discuss a proposed international week of action, Campus Equity Week, that is forthcoming, and will conclude with a discussion of the rhetorical strategies that literacy workers and others agitating for change can best adopt to achieve coalition building and organizing toward improved working conditions. "

"With a rhetoric that opposes binaries and encourages agency and coalition-building, we are in a good position to articulate a broad educational agenda that acknowledges worker rights and the fundamental need for a democratic, accessible, and diverse system of higher education."

To find out more about this mini-essay project see the Introduction:The (Contingent)(Academic)(Teacher) in 2015