March 2010


In In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan recommends eating a variety of species. It’s not one of his banner recommendations, which are 1. Eat food (would your great-grandparents recognize it as food?), 2. Not too much, 3. Mostly vegetables. (And I think he later added 4. Nothing that gets advertised.) His sub-banner recommendations are things like eat from an old cuisine and eat a variety of species.

I thought it would be fun to count the species I eat for a period of time, and do-able because since I rarely buy prepared food, I know what’s in everything I eat. I just carried a 3×5 card with me for five days and wrote things down as I ate them. It was fun. It got me a good compliment and gave me an outlandish truth for “two truths and a lie,” which was the check-in for my Crisis Center meeting this week.

It was interesting, too. When I think about food variety, I usually think about a variety of meals, or maybe stealing a meal from a different cuisine than usual, not number of species. The species  really added up fast. I had 58 at the end of day two. I did not go out of my way to make my list longer, either. Note that I have not thoroughly researched this list–I just wrote things down as I ate them. I am not well-schooled in which plants are different species and which are just different cultivars. I discovered, for example, in On Food and Cooking (a wonderful book, if you haven’t seen it), that two plants I wrote down, garnet yam and jewel yam, are not different species, and are not even really yams. They are kinds of sweet potato. They will appear below as “sweet potato” but other, similar instances have probably eluded me. It’s the end of my term and I’m too busy to look them all up. Please correct me if you catch anything!

alfalfa

apple

arugula

asparagus

avocado

banana

barley

basil

bay

bean, black

beets (root & greens)

bell pepper

blueberry

broccoli

buckwheat

cabbage, red

cacao

carrot

celery

chard

chicken (egg)

chive

cinnamon

corn

cow (meat, milk)

dill

eggplant

endive, Frisee

fennel

garbanzo bean

garlic

ginger

goat (milk)

grape, Sultana

grape, wine

herring

honey bee (honey)

kelp

kiwi

kumquat

lavender

lemon

lentil (Red Chief)

lettuce (Boston, red leaf, sentry)

mango

marjoram

mint

mushroom, common

nutritional yeast

oat

olive (fruit, oil)

onion, yellow

orange

oregano

oyster

parsley

peanut

pepper

pig

pineapple

pistachio

plum

potato, red

quinoa

raspberry

rice

rosemary

sage

salmon

sesame

sheep (meat)

soy

spinach

squash (summer, zuchini)

strawberry

sugar

summer savory

sweet potato (jewel, garnet)

tea

thyme

tomato

turmeric

walnut

wheat

I just had my last Medical Family Therapy lecture. It was on eating disorders. My professor, Deanna Linville, is a specialist. One of the questions she recommended asking clients dealing with eating disorders was “What’s a good food day for you?” Also, “What’s a bad food day?”

I think those are good questions for anyone. Here are my answers:

A good food day is when I eat plenty and take the time to really enjoy the food. It usually means I’ve eaten real meals, not just snacked through the day. It means I wait long enough to feel hungry and then eat enough to feel full. It means I haven’t fixated on any food to the point where I ate it until I didn’t feel good.

A bad food day usually means I didn’t eat enough, or enough variety, usually because I let myself get too busy. It’s easy to eat nuts and raisins instead of a meal, or sometimes just forget to eat a meal, and I always regret it. I get weak, irritable, and stupid. If I eat too much on a bad food day, it’s most often because I fixated on a food (usually sugar, sometimes bread and/or cheese, occasionally meat at a BBQ or something) and ate it until I was uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t space my meals out enough and piled new food on top of old. Sometimes it’s a bad food combination, at a potluck or something, that gets me feeling uncomfortable. A random, moldy raisin made yesterday a bad food day.

How about you?

My friend Jeannie posted about the band OK Go a while ago, but I my internet was down at the time (thanks, Qwest) so didn’t watch the video she embedded. It took me until hearing about them on NPR (here’s the story) to look them up again. They have ditched their label (EMI/Capitol) in favor of independent internet distribution–a very cool business model for bands who are well known enough to get away with it. And others, too, who have the ambition, stamina, and talent to get to a high level of recognition on their own. OK Go is clearly set. They write good, catchy tunes, and their videos range from very good to amazing and get viewed many millions of times each, on Youtube. They tend to use a single, long shot to catch an elaborate, surprising sequence. I’ll put in three below. Two are for the same song. The first is the EMI version, and the second, with the Rube Goldberg machine, is their independent version, financed by State Farm. It took 60 takes to get, and they only counted a take if they got past the dominoes and ball-bearings-on-the-tabletop sequences, which they called “very flakey.” It sounds like they recorded different versions of the song (“This Too Shall Pass”) for the videos, too.

Oh, right. The NPR story was partly about how EMI is not letting anyone embed their version of the video… Well, you can still use this attempt to embed as a link to the video on Youtube:

Rube Goldberg version:

The Treadmill video, also financed by EMI, so you’ll have to use the link:

I’m keeping track of what species I’m eating this week, for a blog post. Michael Pollan says in In Defense of Food that it’s probably a good idea to eat a large variety of species. So I thought I’d keep track and see.

Tonight I ate dinner as I often do with my friend Seth Rydmark. He lives in a Christian dormitory that offers free dinners to guests of dormees. It’s a nice bunch of kids. (And beautiful singers–ever notice that Christians can mostly sing? They know the harmonies for “Happy Birthday”–stuff like that.) Seth and I get geeky about psychology (and sometimes theology) and are usually by far the last to leave the table, deep in some obscure conversation. Tonight, the salad was made of one of those baby-green mixes and I was trying to identify the species. I asked Seth if he knew the name of that pale, frizzy stuff. He said no and asked the girl next to him, and explained my project. She said, “Why would anyone want to do that?”

Seth said, “Well, you know, whatever there is in life, there’s a nerd for that. And Nathen is a nerd’s nerd.”

I’ve been working my whole life to deserve a compliment like that!

And by the way, does anyone out there know the name of that pale, frizzy salad green?

I listened to the new seminar from The Long Now Foundation today, by Beth Noveck. (You should listen to the Long Now Seminars, too, by the way. They are a series of great lectures by really smart people applying long-term thinking to their area of expertise. Find them here.) She is Obama’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government. Her lecture is called “Transparent Government.” It’s not nearly the best of the series, but I was interested in what she was saying about what some private companies are doing with the data that is now available about the operations of the government. She talked about Sunlight Foundation‘s coverage of the health care summit, how as each politician spoke, you could see who donated how much to their campaigns. I imagined video of the speakers, with subtitles laying out the relevant campaign contributions floating in front of their faces. I checked it out and it wasn’t like that. It was more like a chat that happened at the same time as the summit. Pretty cool, but probably too much work to catch on with the public.

But why can’t we have what I imagined? It seems like it could be automated. The data is available. We have face-recognition programs and voice-recognition programs. I wonder how it would change things if there was a cheap app that effortlessly outed any politician in real time like that, if a senator speaking about health care reform could be seen as a mouthpiece for insurance companies, based on the actual amount of money they’ve received. It would make politics more entertaining to watch, at the least. And probably creepier, too, but I am willing to make that trade-off.

My good friend Grace has adopted a boy from Ethiopia, Rahmiel Yared Llewellyn. I got to meet him for the first time last week. He was immediately friendly with me and we had fun throwing a bouncy-ball around. It’s just wonderful to see how much he and Grace have bonded already. They seem just right for each other.

Yared and Grace, 2/20/2010

Here’s part 5 of the stuff I learned in my undergrad in psychology that I thought should have been headlines. If you missed them, here are part 1, part 2, part 3, & part 4. As always, if you are interested or skeptical, leave me a comment and I’ll give you my sources.

If You Punish Your Kids, Use the Mildest Effective Punishment: Do the mildest thing you can that stops the behavior you don’t want. The reason is that a punishment that is harsher than necessary takes the child’s initiative for stopping the behavior out of the picture. If you say “Hey, don’t do that,” and the child responds, they come to think that they didn’t really want to do that thing anyway, since such a mild rebuke got them to stop. Psychologists call these principles “insufficient punishment” and “self-persuasion.” These are research findings, not just speculation. If you sit on and beat your child to get them to stop doing something (as suggested by Mike & Debi Pearl), they will believe something more like “That activity was so great that I’ve only stopped because of that horrible punishment.” In other words, the form of the punishment affects the identity of the child–do they behave well because they think of themselves as well-behaved, or do they behave well only because they fear punishment?

You May Want Your Kids To Be Less Blindly Obedient Than Most People: One of the most famous psychological experiments of all time found that most people risked killing someone they barely knew, given an institutional setting and an authority telling them to do it. The Nazis were mostly not evil, just obedient, like most of us.

Humans Can Be Conformist to the Point of Doubting Their Own Senses:

Each Ethical Decision You Make Affects Your Future Ethical Decisions and Your Identity: If you, say, decide to cheat on a test, you will be more likely to cheat on tests in the future, think of yourself as someone who cheats on tests, and form permissive attitudes about cheating. The opposite is true if you decide not to cheat on a test.

Complement Your Kids For the How Hard They Work, Not How Smart They Are: Getting attention for being smart tends to make kids want to appear smart, which makes them choose easier challenges and lighter competition; it’s the success that matters. Getting attention for hard work does the opposite. This means that these kids will end up smarter than the kids who got attention for being smart.

Teach Your Kids to Think About Intelligence as a Fluid Property: That is, teach them that they can become more intelligent by trying. The more they believe it, the more it will be true for them.

If Your Kids Read, Don’t Reward Them For Reading: They will be more likely to stop, if you do, because they will start to think of reading as something they do to be rewarded, not because they like it. If they don’t read, reward them for reading. This goes for other activities, too.

« Previous PageNext Page »