Thursday, March 29, 2018

Cooking the Books with Yotam and Nigella [Podcast with transcript]

Food | Cookbooks | Podcast

Who first started collecting recipes into cookbooks? Do cookbooks have a future in a world full of online recipes? And can cookbooks tell us anything about what people are actually eating, or are they simply aspirational food porn? This episode, we explore the past, present, and future of cookbooks, from cuneiform tablets to Hail Marys, with the help of two of our favorite cookbooks authors—and Gastropod fans—Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi.

The oldest known culinary recipes. YBC 4644 from the Old Babylonian Period, ca. 1750 BC, via Yale University Library.

According to Henry Notaker, journalist and author of A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page Over Seven Centuries, the first cookbook that archaeologists have discovered is 3,700 years old. It consists of 35 recipes written on clay tablets, and its recipes are thought to have been intended for gods rather than humans. Still, it demonstrates that humans have been collecting cooking instructions for millennia. A few things have remained the same for much of the cookbook's history: they are still anthologies of imaginary meals, often fueled more by aspiration and desire than the reality of what's for dinner, and they still promise an almost alchemical transformation of raw ingredients into status and well-being.

Others aspects of today's cookbooks are much more recent. Such seemingly essential formatting elements as a separate ingredients list only became standard relatively recently. Meanwhile, the content, authorship, and user base of cookbooks have shifted dramatically in response to technological innovation and social change. Notaker points to the first German recipe to include bananas as a sign that the exotic fruit was becoming available in Europe: published in 1913, it recommends frying the fruit with marjoram, like a sausage. (The recipe was literally titled "banana sausage.") Meanwhile, Megan Elias, author of Food on the Page: Cookbooks and American Culture, traces the introduction of refrigeration and mass transportation through the strawberry's rise to glory in early twentieth-century recipes. Finally, in a world where more recipes are published online everyday than anyone could hope to cook in a week, we ask: what is the role of the cookbook today—and what might it become in the future? Listen in this episode for more of the surprising story of cookbooks, including men in drag and Norwegian drinking songs, as well as cookbook authors Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi's tales of writing their very first cookbooks.

Episode Notes

Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli-British chef and restaurateur, and the author of many of our favorite cookbooks, including, most recently, Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi.

Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson is a British food writer and T.V. personality, and the author of our other favorite cookbooks, including, most recently, At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking.

Henry Notaker and A History of Cookbooks

Henry Notaker is a Norwegian journalist and author of A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page Over Seven Centuries.

The First Recipe Book

Tablets YBC 4644, YBC 8958, and YBC 4648 together contain 35 recipes from ancient Mesopotamia. According to Henry Notaker, they form the earliest "cookbook" yet discovered, though they consist primarily of lists of ingredients and are thought to be instructions for dishes to be served in religious ceremonies, rather than for dinner. In 1995, French historian Jean Bottéro published translations of the recipes in a book titled Textes Culinaires Mésopotamiens; journalist Laura Kelley published her interpretations online here, if you'd like to have a go at preparing them yourself.

Link to podcast:

Can You Revise a Book to Make It More Woke?

YA Literature | Bias | Publishing

When a YA novel was criticized for racism prior to publication, the author attempted something radical — she pushed its release date and rewrote it.

In 2013, when Keira Drake sat down to write her debut young-adult fantasy novel, The Continent, she wanted to write about privilege, about the way that those who have it can so easily turn a blind eye to the suffering of those who don’t. Her imagination had been sparked by an NPR report about bombings in Iraq; it brought her to tears, and when she switched off the radio, she began thinking about what might happen if someone like her — someone white, sheltered, and privileged — suddenly found herself in the middle of a war between two violent societies in a foreign land. Drake set her fantasy in a place called the Continent, a brutal realm where privileged tourists, safe in their heli-planes, gaze down with detached curiosity at the native people slaughtering each other below. After a heli-plane crashes, Drake’s narrator is saved by one of the natives from an attempted rape at the hands of an enemy tribe, and she, in turn, saves his people from ruin.

Drake’s editor at Harlequin, Natashya Wilson, thought the book had best-seller potential. She offered Drake a “significant” three-book deal (publishing code for an advance between $251,000 and $499,000), and Harlequin launched a major marketing campaign, sending Drake to conferences around the country. Early readers of advance copies were enthusiastic. A review posted on Goodreads half a year before the book’s scheduled publication date hailed Drake as a visionary for her “eye-opening” revelation that “a native isn’t a savage or primitive.”

It wasn’t until five months later that a legion of less enchanted readers took to Twitter to offer a differing perspective. Justina Ireland, an African-American author of young-adult fiction, tweeted out a point-by-point summary of her read in which she called the book a “racist garbage fire.” Ireland eventually deleted the thread after receiving a barrage of death threats, rape threats, withering reviews of her own books, and an anonymous email to her editor calling her a bully and urging him to drop her. And so it was that Drake, like her protagonist, suddenly found herself at the center of a feud between two warring factions. Read more...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Beware the smart toaster: 18 tips for surviving the surveillance age

Internet | Safety | Privacy

There’s enough to worry about today without having to wonder if your toaster is plotting against you.’ Illustration: Jason Ford     
We’ve come a long way since the web was just a fun place to share cat gifs – now it’s a place mostly dedicated to finding and selling your personal info. Here’s what you need to know in this new era

On the internet, the adage goes, nobody knows you’re a dog. That joke is only 15 years old, but seems as if it is from an entirely different era. Once upon a time the internet was associated with anonymity; today it is synonymous with surveillance. Not only do modern technology companies know full well you’re not a dog (not even an extremely precocious poodle), they know whether you own a dog and what sort of dog it is. And, based on your preferred category of canine, they can go a long way to inferring – and influencing – your political views.

Just over a week ago, the Observer broke a story about how Facebook had failed to protect the personal information of tens of millions of its users. The revelations sparked a #DeleteFacebook movement and some people downloaded their Facebook data before removing themselves from the social network. During this process, many of these users were shocked to see just how much intel about them the internet behemoth had accumulated. If you use Facebook apps on Android, for example – and, even inadvertently, gave it permission – it seems the company has been collecting your call and text data for years. Read more...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You? | danah boyd

Information literacy | Social Media | Media literacy

Published on Mar 7, 2018
A decade ago, we imagined a world of participatory culture where youth would be empowered to actively and strategically use technology. Through peer/self-learning and formal education, young people have developed a well-informed understanding of the world through social media. However, this participatory culture can be unhealthy, cruel, and socially devastating. In this talk, I’ll explore unintended consequences of efforts to empower youth, media manipulation and literacy, polarization, and other issues. danah boyd Principal Researcher & Founder & President Microsoft Research/Data & Society The SXSW EDU Conference & Festival cultivates and empowers a community of engaged stakeholders to advance teaching and learning. Visit to learn more.

The below original text was the basis for Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd’s March 2018 SXSW Edu keynote,“What Hath We Wrought?” — Ed.

Growing up, I took certain truths to be self evident. Democracy is good. War is bad. And of course, all men are created equal.

My mother was a teacher who encouraged me to question everything. But I quickly learned that some questions were taboo. Is democracy inherently good? Is the military ethical? Does God exist?

I loved pushing people’s buttons with these philosophical questions, but they weren’t nearly as existentially destabilizing as the moments in my life in which my experiences didn’t line up with frames that were sacred cows in my community. Police were revered, so my boss didn’t believe me when I told him that cops were forcing me to give them free food, which is why there was food missing. Pastors were moral authorities and so our pastor’s infidelities were not to be discussed, at least not among us youth. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, but hypocrisy is destabilizing. Nothing can radicalize someone more than feeling like you’re being lied to. Or when the world order you’ve adopted comes crumbling down.

Link to post on danah boyd's blog: Click here

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Banning literature in prisons perpetuates system that ignores inmate humanity

Censorship | Prison libraries | Human rights

Lawsuit among latest reminders that reading, education can help ensure that prisoners who gain freedom, keep it
(Photo: John David Mercer, AP)   

Last month, the publisher of Prison Legal News became one of the latest organizations to take action against the nation's prison systems for censorship.

The Human Rights Defense Center lawsuit targets the Illinois Department of Corrections and alleges that it keeps HRDC literature out of the hands of prisoners, including the monthly Prison Legal News magazine — which covers court rulings and other aspects of the criminal justice system.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The New Vanguard

Women's history month | Women writers | Fiction

Our critics chose 15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century.

Corey Olsen
In 2016, the feminist press Emily Books held a panel in Brooklyn titled, a bit cheekily, “What Is Women’s Writing?” There was no consensus, much laughter and a warm, rowdy vibe. Eileen Myles read from a memoir in progress and Ariana Reines read a poem, wearing a dress with a pattern of a city on fire. All of this felt exactly right.

But even if it puts your teeth on edge to see “women’s writing” cordoned off in quotes, you can’t deny the particular power of today’s women writers — their intensity of style and innovation. The books steering literature in new directions — to new forms, new concerns — almost invariably have a woman at the helm, an Elena Ferrante, a Rachel Cusk, a Zadie Smith. 

For Women’s History Month, The Times’s staff book critics — Dwight Garner, Jennifer Szalai and myself, Parul Sehgal — sat down together to think about these writers who are opening new realms to us, whose books suggest and embody unexplored possibilities in form, feeling and knowledge.

As we put together a reading list, we introduced a few parameters, for sanity’s sake. We confined ourselves to books written by women and published in the 21st century. And we limited our focus to fiction, but not without some grief. Memoir has emerged as a potent political and literary force in recent years (see the terrain-shifting work of Maggie Nelson, for example). And poets like Claudia Rankine, Solmaz Sharif and Tracy K. Smith are some of the most distinctive voices working today.