Friday, February 25, 2011

Animal Liberation -- Peter Singer (eds. 1975, 1990, 2002) Part I: Lab Animals

I'm breaking up my review of Animal Liberation into two parts because I haven't finished the book yet.  I'm a fairly fast reader, but the constant descriptions of what amount to graphic torture scenes are really hard to plow through.  It's like Martyrs but with chimpanzees instead of irritatingly beautiful French women.

The edition I have is the newest -- and the fact that the book has been through three different rewrites in three different eras makes reading it a historically interesting but also incredibly schizophrenic experience.  Although Australian philosopher Peter Singer does his best to let the reader know when he has updated sections of the material, I still found myself stopping in the middle of a paragraph and thinking, "okay, now that sounds like something someone in 1975 would think, but is it really applicable in 2002's -- or today's -- different social landscape?"  Maybe it's just the English major / historian in me talking, but I really wish Singer had just annotated the 1975 text and had done with it.  I'm a big girl. I've been to high school. I can read footnotes.

The other thing that bothered me was the constant comparison of "speciesim" to racism.  I understand what Singer was trying to accomplish, and I agree with him that in light of decades of scientific evidence that animals feel pain and even, in the case of chimps, have social structures and needs similar to those of humans, it's horrific to think of them being used in often pointless (more on that later) experiments. However, it seems a little disingenuous for a white guy to go around saying, "yes -- repressing farm animals is just like repressing human beings of a different color!" Because what qualifies him to talk about the experience of being racially oppressed, anyway?

It is also beside the point, Singer's point being that animal experimentation is insufficiently evaluated by the responsible scientific authorities and largely unnecessary given our ever more sophisticated use of computer simulations.

But what about cancer and AIDS research?  Well, Singer points out that we've already had decades of cancer research using lab animals, and we're still losing the war on cancer. Also? The bodies of animals may be too different from the bodies of humans to make drug testing on animals of any real use. He then gets into a much criticized and absolutely horrifying ethical gray area by suggesting the use of brain damaged humans as an alternative, but I've read and reread those pages and I think he just makes that suggestion to highlight the inhumanity of using animals in research.    

Next;  The Evils of Factory Farming and Vegetarianism: A Short Guide

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cafe Jaffa, Back Bay, Boston

Jeannie Berlin knows that when you've got food on your face you've had a good meal.

I think I have a slight milk allergy.  There's something about dairy products that makes me sneeze.  In the past few months, any time I have something with yogurt or cheese or even *eugh* a glass of straight milk, I sneeze loudly and embarrassingly for about the amount of time it takes me to dig my bottle of generic allergy pills out of my messenger bag.  As I did tonight at Cafe Jaffa.  So I'm writing this review in a mild OTC fog.   I'm thinking maybe obtaining a couple vegan cookbooks might be in order if my sinuses are to rest in peace.  Expect to see some vegan-oriented material in the coming weeks. 

That said, Cafe Jaffa has an excellent atmosphere -- a picturesquely battered interior, jeweled lamps and brightly painted tables, and good food for a decent price.  You will have to deal with the (to me) slightly nauseating scent of people's sizzling shish kebabs frying as they're taken to the table on metal skillets, but if you don't mind the smell of meat cooking, you will love the vegetarian friendly menu. I had an Israeli white wine --  It was nearly expensive as my meal, but interesting. Dry, with a strong hint of honey. I think you might like it.  We started off our meal with a plate of "Potato Bourekas Cafe Jaffa Style", a savory cross between a dumpling and a knish: mashed potatoes with onions and spices wrapped in a noodle-like dough (it reminded me of the dough they make lotus seed buns out of), seasoned with sesame seeds and fried.  Eric ordered the Falafel Plate with Tahini Dressing, which was fresh and well prepared if (to me -- I'm not a fan of salad) a little on the bland side.  

I had the Big Momma. My name for it, not theirs, but a name that I think is apt: a hommus, baba gannouj, and falafel sandwich.  It was delicious -- crunchy, savory, with a sweet but tart bite from the baba --  but drippy. I felt a little like a revoltingly mannered diner in a movie as I dove into my dinner slurped up hommus and baba juice and got a little bit of falafel on my nose somehow.  Mmmmm.  Always a good sign. 

We took some baklava home, and it was good, but not as good as the best baklava I have ever had, which I had in 1995 at a Greek Orthodox church's bake sale and was one of the earliest "hey, food can be stunning" experiences in my memory.  But then again, no baklava will ever measure up to that.  Cafe Jaffa comes close, though. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gazpacho Almodovar

Promo pic from Broken Embraces (2009)

A close relative of mine landed in the hospital, and my cat died, so that's why January has been kind of a washout for me, Feast-wise. I also spent much of January working on my New Year's resolution to improve my Spanish so that I can have actual conversations with people about subjects other than the location of the bathrooms at the Museum of Science.  Which was a useful skill once upon a time, when I worked in Visitor Services at the Museum of Science, but hasn't come in that handy since.  So far, I have a noticed an improvement in my reading and writing skills, even if conversationally I'm still firmly stuck in Me Talk Pretty One Day territory. However, I have gotten to see a lot of really good Almodovar movies by way of wanting to improve my listening skills.  

For those of you who do not know Pedro Almodovar, his biggest claim to fame in the US is that he launched the careers of Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.  He is also a talented director in his own right, his movies are well known for mixing social commentary, Spanish culture, sympathy for the plight of women, and a large dose of good ol' fashioned sex and violence.  

I've noticed that many of his movies feature a dish I would like to call Gazpacho Almodovar, which to the best of my knowledge contains the following:

5 to 6 large ripe tomatoes
1 large cucumber
1 bulb garlic
3 tbs olive oil 
3 tbs red wine vinegar
4 chopped green and red bell peppers 
3 or 4 packages of sleeping pills 
2 1/2 cups ice water 
lemon juice 

Puree in blender.  Serve to whomever you want to bump off.  Hide body in cooler of abandoned restaurant, get mistaken for the owner, turn the whole operation into a thriving concern. Have situation go AWRY.