From the Editors
In “The Mind on Fire,” Jerry Adler chews on the theory that cooking allowed early humans to absorb more nutrients from food and evolve bigger brains. “Another reason for not eating salad,” Suzanne Beauregard quips on Facebook. Mimi Sheraton’s mention of foie gras in her “10 Epiphanies” aroused ethical concern. “The foie gras industry is certainly among our most repulsive,” writes Keith D. Martin of Clifton Park, New York. The food issue’s largest response was provoked by Michael Pollan’s comment in “The American Table,” his dinner conversation with Ruth Reichl, in which he says that chickens are “nasty and stupid.” Joyce Janicki of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, differs: “I find them to be full of wonderful personality, attentive, curious and intelligent. Please let’s not let this be the final word on chickens.” But Sharon Reese, a self-described vegetarian, comments, “This interview made my day.”
Food and Friends
Chickens bred for the meat industry are not stupid and nasty. These birds have been bred to be too heavy to run or fly, as their wild relatives do. This doesn’t mean that they are unintelligent or mean, but that people have incapacitated the birds’ natural physical abilities and frustrated their instincts. Even if chickens manipulated for meat production were stupid, blaming them for their defenseless predicament is cruel.
United Poultry Concerns
The snippet of Pollan and Reichl’s conversation concerning veganism made me think of my eldest son’s time on that path. An ovo-lacto vegetarian at age 14 in a family of unrepentant carnivores, in his first year of college he stopped consuming eggs and dairy products. By the third year, he eschewed all animal products, proclaiming himself a purist vegan. As a graduation present his dad took him on a trek through Myanmar. Upon his return from the developing world, I asked if he’d managed to stay his dietary course. His answer: “Yes. But veganism is just an affectation of wealthy societies wallowing in food choices.” Now he’s embracing his omnivore roots.
Oak Island, North Carolina
I read “Rocket Fuel,” about early astronaut cuisine, with special interest. I was one of two Air Force pilots who participated in a test of Gemini space program suits. There were ancillary tasks to be performed, one being the testing of dehydrated foods for space travel. The food was in a sealed plastic bag. Our procedure was to cut open the bag, pour in boiling water, knead the bag until mixed and spoon out to eat. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and toast. We tested mashed potatoes, roast beef, hamburger, all kinds of vegetables, strawberry shortcake—no ice cream. We found, among other things, that the portions were much too large.
B. Dean Smith
Smells Like Hellenistic Spirit
In “Ask Smithsonian,” the response to the question “How would the world be different if the Persians won the Greco-Persian Wars?” is untenable. Ancient Persian democracy? An oxymoron if there ever was one. The essence of the Greco-Persian Wars was the Hellenistic struggle to preserve democracy against the tyranny of the Persian empire’s autocratic rule. The struggle of the free human spirit against those forces is what is lauded as the Hellenistic spirit. To our great fortune, in time, it would serve as the foundation of Western civilization.
John D. Petkanas
Jersey City, New Jersey
After Mubarak and Tut, Zahi Hawass might be the third most recognized Egyptian in the world [“Pyramid Scheme”]. While his techniques may sometimes be confrontational, I truly believe he has the interests of the antiquities (and his country) as his first priority. He’s an archaeologist, not a politician, willing to do what it takes to protect and promote his country’s interests.