The Haves and the Havenot of the Food Revolution


Flipping through the articles in the food issue of the New Yorker, I’m struck by the glaring gaps between the foodie world and the non-foodie world.

We live pretty close to Manhattan, so our idea of a fun time is go into the city on a Saturday night and eat weird food. We take the kids and go for German barbecue places in Williamsburg or  elevated English pub grub in the West Village. I research new restaurants. I follow them on Instagram. I like rustic places with large portions, energetic staff, and a relaxed atmosphere. There are really, really good restaurants in NYC and a few other cities right now.

I also cook a lot at home. Before my kids go trick or treating tonight, they’ll get a bowl of potato-leek soup.

This is not how most of America eats. That is not most of America how cooks. I like that the New Yorker is pointing out that there is this amazing world of food out there right now, but they should also mention that only a very small group of people is able to access it. This food revolution is elitist. I feel like a whole edition of a magazine devoted to food should have some discussion of the food habits of most Americans.

Street Harrassment

I wasn’t going to tackle the street harrassment documentary, because everyone else was talking about it. Also, “women are harrassed on the street” seemed like a “no duh” topic to me. But I’ve been driving around thinking about it. So, if you missed the video, check it out…

In the early 1980′s, I started taking the bus to Manhattan with my friends to shop in the Village or visit museums. I was sixteen. Until we moved back to the suburbs in my late 30s, I spent a lot of time walking around the city. And harrassment was a way of life.

The women in the video said she was harrassed 1oo times in 10 hours. I was harrassed more. Because I have red hair and often walking around with my best friend who also has red hair, this led to a lot of attention. I got all the cat calls in the video. I was followed by a guy who accused me of being a witch. Random people took pictures of me. Old dudes on the subway dropped their trousers. In bars, guys would grab my ass and then pretend it was someone else. Occasionally, guys on the street would try to kiss me.

I learned how to completely tune it out, so it didn’t really bother me unless they touched or followed me.  I only really became aware of my numbness when the street calls stopped. Nobody bothers you if you’re over 35 and carrying a diaper bag. Made me wonder if I was numb to other problems.

A Wednesday

Yesterday, I got the kids off to school, did some random clicking on vapid online magazines, and then took the car to Jimmy’s, our car mechanic. Last week, Steve noticed that the headlights were out on the Subaru and was rather annoyed.

“The headlights aren’t working! How long have they been out? I had to drive through town with the high beams on!”  Continue Reading →

Increasing Economic Diversity at College

Increasing college access and retention for lower income students is one my long standing, pet topics.

When I worked for a policy center in grad school, we did a study on why good students (a GPA of B- or better) dropped out of the CUNY colleges. We were hired by the CUNY administrators to do the study. They gave us a huge randomized list of these good dropout students. We tracked down as many as we could, and asked them why they left. Many said that they hadn’t really dropped out. They took time off. Others transferred. Many said they had a family or financial crisis. Others complained about advisors or the poor sequencing of classes.

For those who didn’t transfer to other schools, personal crisis and bad advisors were the biggest  issues.

The Upshot has a great article that lists some new programs aimed precisely at the students in my old study. There are efforts to create independent advisors for these students.

Leonhardt wonders what colleges will do if they start getting more students at their door who are prepared, but don’t have the income to pay for tuition. Will colleges start cutting corners to keep tuition affordable?


Social Media and Journalism

People are consuming news in a whole new way. They aren’t walking to the end of the driveway, unfolding the Times or the Wall Street Journal, and then flipping through the pages. (Well, one person still does that. That’s Steve.)  They aren’t even going to the webpage for the newspaper and trolling through their content. (I still do that.)

Mostly, people log onto Facebook or other social  media, and then read what they’re friends are recommending. (I also do that.)

The NYT has an article about the changing modes of news consumption. ( I found this article through a link on Facebook. Very meta.) About 30 percent of adults in the United States get their news on Facebook. At the Washington Post, more than half of its mobile readers, are millenials who consume news digitally and largely through social media sites like Facebook.

More stats — “Facebook now has a fifth of the world — about 1.3 billion people — logging on at least monthly. It drives up to 20 percent of traffic to news sites…”

How does this impact the way that news is created? The article doesn’t really answer that question. Let me try.

News sources now need more content than ever, because they don’t know what will stick and what won’t. They need more and more writers to produce this content, but have less resources to pay them. So, freelancers.

They hire SEO experts, who write clever headlines that will make Facebook and Google happy. These headlines sometimes don’t reflect the content of the article, because people don’t necessary read that far into an article.

They produce a lot of the same articles that they know will appeal to the Facebook linkers. I would love to see some content analysis how the article topics have changed in the past ten years.

The New Tastes of Millenials

Millenials aren’t buying cars or new houses. Derek Thompson and the Atlantic staff have written several articles on this topic in the past couple of years. In the latest article, they recount the stats on home and car ownership for the 20-something, early 30′s age group. “The homeownership rate among adults younger than 35 fell by 12 percent, and nearly 2 million more of them—the equivalent of Houston’s population—were living with their parents…” They eventually want to own a home, but in a smaller city with a walkable downtown. Same goes for cars.

Now, why are millenials not buying homes and cars? Is it about consumer preferences — they don’t want to live in suburban sprawl — or it is because they can’t afford those items? Thompson says it’s probably a mixture of both.

I’m not entirely sure that tastes have changed that much. Yesterday, I went to two birthday parties and ended up talking a nice subset of millenials.  One woman just moved out here to the suburbs from New York City, because she wanted a backyard and good schools for her very young children. Later in the day, I talked with four other young people who were firmly commited to urban living, but they didn’t have kids yet. Tastes change when children arrive.

I think that tastes in cars have changed over the decades. I hate spending money on transportation. One of our cars is 1997 Toyota Corolla, and we’ll keep driving it until the bottom rusts out. I would much rather spend money on travel and entertainment than a car.

Thompson and the guys for Vox have written a lot about their own preferences for walkable downtowns, bike paths, denser developments, and public transportation. Truthfully, I like those sorts of living arrangements, too. If you throw in good schools, I would live in that millenial utopia, too. The trouble is that they don’t really exist in this area. Local towns actively block the new construction of apartments and townhouses. Not that there is much space for those buildings anyway. There is no support for a massive investment in new public transportation systems, which are incredibly costly.

Local politics and fiscal realities will undermine the millenial utopia. It’s too bad, because I would like to ride my bike to the supermarket.

Academics as Entrepreneurs

The New York Times has an article that is getting widely circulated right now about the benefits of positive thinking. The article focuses on the research of Harvard Psychologist, Ellen Langer, and her research. She found that people who have a positive attitude and feel younger, will age better. She talks about the power of the placebo effect. That seems to make sense. She’s also trying to show that positive attitudes help to create better outcomes for cancer patients. That research isn’t really happening.

My great aunt Edna is 102. She benefitted from heredity low blood pressure and a good Italian diet. She also kept herself really busy from a young age, when her mother suddenly died, and she became the mother to the younger siblings, including my grandmother. Yes, she has a good attitude, but good genes, a purposeful life, and a proper diet is probably more important.

Langer’s ideas are less interesting to me than how she’s capitalizing on them. She’s setting up international resorts for people to gain positive attitudes and play golf.

Langer says she is in conversation with health and business organizations in Australia about establishing another research facility that would also accept paying customers, who will learn to become more mindful through a variety of cognitive-behavioral techniques and exercises. She has already opened a mindfulness institute in Bangalore, India, where researchers are undertaking a study to look at whether mindfulness can stem the spread of prostate cancer.

Langer makes no apologies for the paid retreats, nor for what will be their steep price. (This, too, is calculated: In the absence of other cues, people tend to place disproportionate value on things that cost more. Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke, and his colleagues found that pricier placebos were more effective than cheap ones.) To my question of whether such a nakedly commercial venture will undermine her academic credibility, Langer rolled her eyes a bit. “Look, I’m not 40 years old. I’ve paid my dues, and there’s nothing wrong with making this more widely available to people, since I deeply believe it.”

Making money from the academic brand is the hip thing to do. Dan Gilbert does it. I guess that academics in the sciences have been able to do this for a long time. I’m trying to think of applications for social sciences.

Plastic Women

ELLE's 21st Annual Women In Hollywood Celebration - Arrivals We really have to talk about Renee Zellweger. Here are more pictures from Gawker.

As plastic surgery goes, this wasn’t a terrible job. She doesn’t look like the Joker from Batman, and she doesn’t have fish lips. Still, she lost her signature squinty eyes and doesn’t look like herself.

The best commentary comes from Amanda Hess at Slate. She says that stars are pressured to have these procedures. Hollywood dumps women over 40. Former “it girls” like Zellweger have to get this work done, and then we make fun of them for doing it. “Plastic surgery is fake. So is the Hollywood fantasy where women over 40 just don’t exist.”

We can’t win. We’re mocked for our wrinkles. We’re mocked for removing wrinkles. Should we just disappear? Would that be more convienent for the public?

Old New York

Since we’re talking about cities, here are some pictures from the Valentine’s Manual of Old New York. I have the 1916-1917, 1923, and the 1924 edition. I’m going to sell them in my Etsy shop, when I get around to it. Here’s the digitized version.

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Quality of Life

Yesterday, I was strangely fascinated with the New York Times’ article about the hip young cities. I looked at the slide show with pictures of ski slopes, bike paths, and microbreweries several times. I like that stuff, too. Why are those cool things in cities and not out here in the suburbs?

Schools, jobs, housing and spending priorities. People in their 20′s have different needs than people in their 30′s.

Cleveland made the list as a place where young people are moving back to the urban areas. Cleveland with its decreasing population growth, actually has young people moving in. Why? There are a couple of neighborhoods that have cool restaurants and bars. They have funky old housing that is dirt cheap. The schools are horrible. So, once people have kids, they usually move back to the suburbs where they grew up. For the childless, these urban areas are perfect.

About fifteen minutes north of here, just over the border into New York state, housing is cheap. New restaurants and music shops are opening up there like crazy. Even though there isn’t a tech center or other cool jobs, they have the cheap housing and lots of places to build funky restaurants. It’s nice for us, because it’s a lot easier to get there than shlepping out to Brooklyn.

My particular suburb isn’t very exciting. It has a lot of restaurants, but most of them have been around for decades. There’s no industrial lighting or artisanal pickles. They cater to meat and potatoes old people. There are some apartment complexes, but there  hasn’t been any new construction in ages. In fact, local residents continually block the construction of apartment buildings. But people still pay a premium to live here. Why? It has a ton of pre-schools, after school sports, a bazillion civic groups, great SAT scores, a train to Manhattan, and large funky houses.

We’ve been here for three years now, and I’m starting to become more involved in the community. I could go to a meeting for some group every day. Last night, I went to the board of ed meeting. Wednesday night, I’ll be attending an information meeting on special education. There are book clubs, movie groups, spin classes, art centers. I’m throwing a pasta party for the cross country team on Friday night. Ian has a school dance that night, too. On Halloween, we’re having a bonfire party in the backyard. Most of these local activities are aimed at families, so I can’t imagine younger people going. But, for me, it’s a big playground.

So, there’s some comparative advantage going on here. Cities can short change the schools and put their resources into creating fun things for childless people. Suburbs put their effort into families. Personally, I would love artisanal pickles and bike paths AND good schools and lots of civics groups, but that’s hard to pull off.