“Taste the Rainbow”

Okay, so I’ll start by saying that I know that this is nothing like a typical post from me, but Spring Break starts tomorrow here at UofM so it seemed like an appropriate time to document my adventures in “distilling” a few weekends ago.

Any college student knows the first thing you need for a fun house party is, sadly, a lot of cheap liquor.  Our adventure began at the local Meijer, where much to our surprise and amazement, pretty much all of their alcohol was on sale.  It was a beautiful moment, and yet…

Somehow we still ended up with some cheap beverages that no one really wants to drink…

Luckily, we also purchased skittles.  Cue the making of Skittle Vodka! (I prefer the term “distilling”, it sounds classier but admittedly is not really accurate).  Basically you dissolve skittles into vodka to make skittles-flavored vodka, pretty simple concept.  And it’s a fun way of making decent tasting punch from even the cheapest of vodkas.  And it’s ridiculously easy, so if you are interested, here’s what you will need:

  • 1 handle (1.75L) of a vodka of your choice
  • 1 large bag (~20oz) of skittles
  • 5 clean, empty bottles
  • Coffee filters, cheesecloth, etc.
  • Strainer/Sieve/Colander 
  • Coffee grinder/Blender (optional)

And here’s the process:

1. Sort out the different skittles flavors into separate cups (you can also make awesome flavor mixes like strawberry-grape or lemon-lime)

2. *This step is totally optional, but expedites the process and is definitely the most fun part: grind the skittles into a delicious skittle powder.

— Stop here and quickly find something to coat with skittles sugar, I recommend ice cream or even yogurt. —

Next, add the remaining ground up skittles to an empty bottle, fill with vodka, seal, and repeat for each flavor.

It helps to shake them up every day or so too, to make sure the skittles fully dissolve.

Orange first…

Aaand lemon…

3. If you ground up the skittles, it only takes a couple of days for the skittles to fully dissolve into the vodka.  If you placed them in whole, it might take up to a week for them to fully dissolve.  Once they do, you can filter out the skittles sediment to get a clear and colorful drink.

I recommend using a filter placed in a colander, but there’s a lot of ways to do this.

To speed up the process, we devolved to simply wrapping a filter around a glass and letting it drip into a glass.  This is a bit slower, but you can have multiple flavoring processes going at once this way.

4. After the vodka has completely filtered, place into clean bottles (hopefully you can find some classier ones that we did), and serve!

There are a lot of options to go here, bold drinkers may enjoy a sour warhead version of this, or even vodka-infused gummy bears.  So have fun, enjoy, and remember Drink Responsibly!

“If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?”

The perks of being in a “Human Nutrition and Culture” class is that a bunch of great topics relating to food keep popping up in discussions. Meat consumption is an extremely intricate and variable topic among the cultural groups of the world – just to name a few interesting topics: cultures such as the Inuit live almost entirely off of animal products in a land with no vegetation, many major world religions ban the consumption of pork, a meal isn’t considered complete among Maasai without meat, and there is an arguable vegetarian trend that has been spreading throughout the United States in recent years.

For the purposes of a recent study, I looked at how meat consumption was viewed among different social classes in Medieval Europe and how this impacted their nutrition and health – and was surprised to find a modern day connection to how we identify different meats. (And if you are curious, the lower classes were actually healthier than higher classes because they ate more “cheap” foods such as vegetables and less “high-class” foods such as sugar. If only it were like that today).

Have you ever wondered why some meat is called the same thing as the animal it comes from and some have different names? Well… maybe not… but consider:

  • chicken is called chicken, turkey is turkey, fish is fish

However:

  • cow meat is called beef
  • calf is veal
  • sheep is mutton
  • pig is pork
  • deer is venison

The argument is often made that calling meat by other names such as beef and pork allows for people to psychologically distance themselves from the fact that they are actually eating a once-living creature. It’s easier to eat a steak when your mental image is not of an actual living cow but rather an abstract food term “beef”.

vs.

While this may be part of the explanation, it certainly doesn’t explain why we still call chickens chicken, which is one of the most eaten animals and hence should be the most likely to have a differential name for its consumption.

The difference actually comes from the Norman conquest of England and the resulting mixture of cultures and languages that occurred. When the Normans (French) took over England and it’s government, they became the elite and the nobles of the country. And they used their own words for their food – beouf, porc, and mouton. The commoners still kept the Anglo-Saxon names they used for the animals – cow, pig, and sheep.

Venison follows along this same pattern, as deer were considered royal property and legal only for nobles to consume.

The language differences may have come from a deliberate desire of the Normans to separate themselves from the commoners, or it may have been a natural response of each group to continue to use their native language.

Furthermore, the elites and nobles who used the French words only saw the meat and so called it by their French names, while the commoners who raised the animals – but were probably too poor to actually eat them – called the living animals by the Anglo-saxon names. Over time, as the languages and cultures mixed due to coexistence, both were incorporated into the common language because both developed different implications – beouf, beef, for the meat and cow for the living animal.

“If you’re short of trouble, take a goat.”

This gif was circulating reddit a few weeks back and I thought it was pretty awesome so I did some more research on the subjects of the image, Fainting Goats:

A fainting goat is a variety of goat that experiences loss of muscle control and “faints” when it feels panic. Anyone with some free time should search out more Youtube videos of them in action (or rather, inaction).

Since fainting in the face of danger is an extremely disadvantageous trait to have in the wild, these goats are only found in domestic populations and fainting goats, also called myotonic goats, are actually bred to have this unique trait.

Beccause they are so unique, they are actually identified as their own species, though they are really just a variety of the common domestic goat. The first examples of them were recorded in the late 1800s and it seems that farmers were so amused by them they purposely bred them.

All colors and patterns of them exist, just as in regular populations. They are typically kept as pets and farmers find them easy to care for because they have difficulty escaping – the excitement of jumping a fence usually causes them to faint.

All fainting goats have a condition known as myotonia congenita, or Thomsen’s disease. The exact cause of the condition is unknown, though it is highly suspected to be the result of defective chloride channels in the muscle fiber or a deficiency of acetylcholine. Chloride ions and acetylcholine are both molecules necessary for proper muscle function by causing the muscles to contract – the molecules are released into muscle fibers and the muscles contract.

After they flex, normal muscles release the molecules back out through channels in the muscle fiber.  However, when panicked the muscles of individuals with myotonia congenita cannot release the molecules right away, causing a prolonged muscle contraction where the muscles cannot relax.

With this condition, panic causes the muscles the tense, however they do not relax as quickly as they should, resulting in a 10-20 second lapse where the animal’s muscles are frozen. They never actually lose consciousness. Nor do they feel pain with this condition – an explanation that breeders often cite when confronted by animal rights activists concerned with the intentional breeding of goats with the disorder.

Also, usually the older goats learn to associate panic with “fainting” and learn to brace themselves or lean up against something to prevent falling.

Still, though some are able to somewhat control their behavior, they only exist because humans love having them as pets. In the wild, this trait would never be passed on to a new generation because any individual that faints in panic would surely be the first prey to a predator. (This also contributes to another older use for fainting goats – for the protection of more valuable members of a herd. Often in predator-prone areas, fainting goats are kept alongside sheep so that if the flock is attacked by wild animals, the sheep will escape while the goat faints and does not escape.)

But for the most part, this species of goat is kept for its amusing behavior, and there are even festivals down south that honor the unique genetic situation that results in fainting goats.

“If you’re short of trouble, take a goat.”
~ Finnish saying

“I don’t know. But it’s a tradition!”

In the opening song to one of my favorite musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye described the traditions of his hometown Anatevka:

“For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl… This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you – I don’t know. But it’s a tradition!”

I have always loved this part because it is a funny and honest explanation that even someone that values their religious traditions doesn’t always understand them. Many traditions in our culture don’t have solid explanations to their origins, and ones centering on religion are always the most interesting in my opinion.

For example, I never understood as a kid why I was forced to eat fish sticks on Fridays in public school because some kids couldn’t eat any other meat on Fridays. Later I learned that it was a Catholic tradition, but I still didn’t understand why it was so important.

So why do Catholics eat fish on Friday?

Fasting is required by the Code of Canon Law for anyone over the age of 14 and under the ago of 60. Ask any devout Catholic and they will explain that it is related to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross: fasting provides a constant reminder of his death and allows an individual the opportunity to contemplate their faith and make reparation for their sins. As for the specific day, according to the Bible, Jesus died on a Friday and so this is the day that should commemorate his sacrifice. However, the specificity of only being allowed to eat fish is less clear.

Fish are linked to parables of Jesus several times in Christian stories, such as the loaves and the fishes, and one of the symbols associated with Christianity is the “Jesus Fish”:

However, the Bible does not specifically mention that people should eat fish on Fridays nor does it literally say that Catholics should fast on Fridays. This unclear source of information has lead to several fun myths regarding the “true” reason for the tradition.

1.   Training the Navy

I was told one myth during a tour of Sulgrave Manor in South Northamptonshire, the ancestral home of George Washington. According to our tour guide Cymon:

Queen Elizabeth I was worried about a potential war with Spain, which was highly feared for its impressive Armada. So she wanted to make the English navy better, and whats the best way to have a highly skilled navy? Have a highly skilled civilian sailor population.

Ensuring that the populous of England could only eat fish on Fridays kept the demand for work high in the fish market ensuring that they were always busy and kept in their prime, ready to answer the call for Queen and country should a war with Spain erupt.

So Elizabeth, who had already been sorting through some religious issues regarding the drastic shift from Catholicism to Protestantism by her father Henry VIII, simply added this in when no one was looking.

In reality, there is absolutely no evidence nor references to this theory anywhere, so I’ve always been curious as to where our supposedly ex-history professor guide came up with this story.

2.   The Pope’s secret profits

Another myth involves a secret pact between the Pope and the leaders of the fishing industry. The Pope decreed that Catholics could only eat fish on Fridays so they could both profit from an increase in fish sales. While this is also probably not the case, there is no denying that the fishing industry did greatly profit from this rule.

3.  The importance of the Fishing Industry

Another myth centering on fishing seems even less likely: when Henry VIII separated from the Roman Catholic Church and created the Church of England, the eating of fish became political – it implied a support of the Catholic Pope.

Fish sales supposedly declined and the fishing industry was hurt, which in turn hurt tax income and the trading industry. This was such a problem that fast days were instated by law to reverse the problems.

Unfortunately, the problem with this myth is that fish are already associated with Catholic traditions before the reinstatement of a fasting law.  So the law may have helped continue the tradition, but it by no means explains its origin.

So what is the real truth?

Sadly, it is likely that it did not involve a political ploy or religious scandal. It also is not the result of a literal translation of the Bible. More likely it is the result of a mistranslation of the Bible:

First off, technically, it is only the eating of warmblooded animals that is off limits, so fish technically are edible on Fridays.

The way the word “meat” is translated from Latin, it implies something that is “bloody” flesh, from the word caro – but fish meat is not considered bloody or really considered flesh by any definition, so perhaps it was assumed that fish simply did not count in the fasting rules.

Or, because Catholics were expected to abstain from “special foods” on Fridays in order to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifices, it is plausible that fish wasn’t really considered a special food and thus not applicable to the ban. This is likely because fish was such an integral part of the diet of the time that it wasn’t banned because it simply couldn’t be omitted from the diet.

So in all reality, the Friday Fish Fry is probably due to a translation based on the culture of the Medieval era, which turned into a tradition that Catholics still honor to keep their faith. If only the Pope had made a secret agreement with the fishing industry, it would have made the story so much more interesting.

“People want a visceral experience and feel something beyond themselves”

I’ve been on a recent kick of reading a lot about mythology and religion, perhaps because I am in some new classes such as Ancient Egyptian Religion and Biblical Studies (perks of being a second-semester senior: all the random classes I’ve ever wanted to take are accessible to me at last).

I have always been fascinated by religion, and with that goes an interest in mythology, which are religious and cultural stories conveying values and traditions. This is partly because I love learning about how people find meaning in life and how they assign value to their beliefs. Understanding the motives of a religion or the symbolism of a myth can convey a lot about the person who identifies with them, such as their view and value of the world and how they see their own place in it.

Snake-handling is an example of a religious practice – admittedly an obscure one – that I have always been interested in.  But I have never known anything about it, having only heard it negatively referenced in random television shows:

“Sorry Homer, I was born a snake-handler and I’ll die a snake-handler”
-The Simpsons

Mulder and Scully investigate a gruesome murder via rattlesnakes at a church in the deep south, where strange supernatural things happen.
-The X-Files

Snake-handling has also been in the news lately because a snake-handling pastor from West Virginia died after refusing medical treatment for a rattlesnake bite. His father had died the exact same way 33 years prior.  There was a lot of controversy over his needless death and rejection of medical care, however the conclusion was that he was a consenting adult who died for his beliefs.

I find it sad that what most of society knows about this religious group is the oddity of their practice, the extremes of their lifestyles, and the dangers of what they do. The scandal and outrageousness is reported, but rarely is an explanation of the beliefs of the group. One should not make judgments of another culture or religion, no matter how strange they seem because at that point it becomes difficult to draw the line on what is “too” different from your own beliefs.

You should seek to learn and understand, but abstain from judgment – judging the beliefs of someone else does not benefit your own lifestyle and rarely does the practice of something you disagree with affect your own personal life.

So here is my understanding of the church – it is not mockery, nor is it endorsement of the practices involved, rather a study of the culture.

Snake-handling is usually associated with pentecostal, non-denominational churches in the holiness movement. It was founded around 1910 by George Hensley.  He began the holiness movement that required snake-handling, as well as other other acts, as part of salvation. He died from a worship-related snakebite in 1955.

This movement is most commonly practiced in the Appalachian region of the United States – coal mining towns were, and still are, centers for the practice. An interesting account of why the practice is more common among coal miners deals with the dangerous lifestyles they have experienced for decades: at one point people felt so out of control with their own lives that the practice of snake-handling appealed to their desire to be in control of their own mortality. However, there are not many first-hand accounts of the practice, mainly because followers tend to be suspicious of outsiders witnessing their practices due to the legal disputes and mockery they have suffered over the years.

Snake-handling is based on a direct and literal translation from the Bible, particularly the passage:

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover”
~Mark 16: 17-18

Followers believe that this is a command that they should take up snakes and drink poisons to test their faith to God, and be assured that He will protect them.  Another related and often cited quote is:

“Behold I give unto you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”
~Luke 10: 19

Followers of the movement practice a varying combination of faith healing, speaking in tongues, miracle testimony, snake-handling, fire-handling, and the consumption of poisons such as strychnine. These practices are the ultimate demonstration of faith, a true belief that God will protect the follower from harm. What is important to remember is that usually these practices are not required during worship, and only those that feel comfortable doing so actually handle snakes.

Snakes and fire are not a part of every worship or gathering and some individuals may never actually handle a snake (men tend to do so a lot more than women). And extreme care is taken to protect those who do not participate in the handling, such as children.

However, those that do feel the spirit during the worship can take up a snake and touch them, hold them, wrap them around their bodies, dance with them, or pass them off to other worshipers.

The strict translation of the Bible also demands conservative dress codes, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, and usually a separation of the sexes during religious events. More conservative followers may also abstain from television, newspapers, radios, and even voting in an attempt to stay out of the corrupting influences of the modern world.

Snake-handling as part of the holiness movement is just one of the hundreds of different sects that exist among Christianity in the United States and though definitely one of the more interesting and exciting ones, in many ways is no different that other religions in the United States, in that they deserve the same respect and religious-freedom as any other religious group demands.

“Food for thought”

I am currently in an anthropology class that focuses on how food perspectives, nutrition, and diets have shaped human evolution. It focuses on what we eat and why, and the cultural impacts of these beliefs. Naturally, the phrase “tastes like chicken” came into the discussion on day #1 and it piqued my curiosity about the origins of the phrase and whether it was actually true.

Fried Chicken

First off, the origins of the phrase seem to come from the late 19th century, when a European writer described eating a rat in China as having the consistency, texture, and taste of chicken. Since then, it has become a common, often comedic phrase, used to describe a variety of foods – sometimes describing things that actually taste like chicken, or something that is bland, or something that is exotic or strange.

My first instinct on the possible accuracy of this phrase, being an evolutionary anthropologist, was that perhaps all of the animals that supposedly taste like chicken originated from one common ancestor that tasted like chicken, or more accurately all things that taste like chicken actually taste like this common ancestor.

The flavor of meat can be based on the evolutionary origin of the animal, due to chemical make-up of the animal’s muscle tissues and other factors that influence taste. As it turns out, species descended from tetrapods tend to taste like chicken – i.e. birds and reptiles. Hoofed animals diverged from the tetrapod lineage, explaining why they have a different flavor than the rest of the animals we eat.

This is a phylogenetic tree, or visual representation of evolutionary history, of the species of animals that reportedly taste like chicken.  Note the divergence of the hoofed animals and the differing flavors of their descendants.

This is a phylogenetic tree, or visual representation of evolutionary history, of the species of animals that reportedly taste like chicken. Note the divergence of the hoofed animals and the differing flavors of their descendants.

This brings up the fun theory that because dinosaurs were the evolutionary predecessors of birds, they probably tasted like chicken too.

Tastes like Chicken

Of course, my explanation of the evolutionary theory of chicken flavor was promptly shot down by a friend majoring in biochemistry (you know who you are, buzzkill). He declared that the real reason that some things taste like other things is their glutamate content.

Flavors in meat are partially due to glutamate, an amino acid derivative that seems to contribute to the “savory” flavor of meats. Research shows that chicken has a lower glutamate content than many other meats, which results in the bland flavor that chicken can have, making it a more universally-comparable flavor.

While I agree with his explanation, I disagree with his disagreement of my theory. If studying anthropology has taught me anything, its that there is never just one simple answer to anything. So often, especially in the field of evolutionary biology or evolutionary anthropology, people are quick to judge one theory as being wrong or against their beliefs. But the important thing to remember about evolution is that it is not mutually exclusive of any other fact – instead it works with these facts to help explain how and why they came about.

Which leads me to the last point about this whole article – anything I have said here does not actually make much sense because different subspecies of chicken, age of chicken, cut of chicken, flavoring, cooking method, etc. can all have huge influences on flavor so there is really no way to say that something tastes like chicken when there is really no definitive “chicken flavor”. It’s all really just fun food for thought.

Even foods that say they taste like chicken don't really taste like I imagine chicken to be.

Even foods that say they taste like chicken don’t really taste like I imagine chicken to be.

“Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme of things not found within recorded time”

Working off the theme of my past post, a defense of anthropology, I was wondering if there was a similar argument for the merits of studying archaeology and mythology, and as it turns out, a poem written in 1931 did all my work for me.

I am a huge fan of mythology and the more you know, the more you realize how much mythology has influenced culture, art, and literature. The study of classical mythology has been considered a necessary part of any education for hundreds of years, so much so that students were not admitted to many of the higher universities without the ability to read classical writings. For admittance to Harvard, students were required to be able to read and write Latin all the way until the 1950s, and even later for admittance to Oxford or Cambridge.

Mythology has always played a strong role in our basic understanding of literature and religion, even in modern writings. References from classical literature and mythology are found everywhere. So studying mythology can be important to understand the greater concepts in our world around us.

And there is a term used to imply the importance of studying mythology, mythopoiea (myth-uh-pee-uh), which stems from a poem of the same name emphasizing the importance of mythology in our culture. “Mythopoeia” was written by J.R.R. Tolkien after a meeting of the literary group known as “The Inklings”. They were a group of authors and professors at Oxford during the 1930s and 40s, and they valued fiction writing, especially the use of fantasy as way to demonstrate ethical values and Christian morals.

Members of the Inklings included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and a variety of other literary figures of Oxford in the '30s and '40s.

Members of the Inklings included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and a variety of other literary figures of Oxford in the ’30s and ’40s.

The Inklings met at this bar in Oxford to discuss their work.  They sometimes referred to it as "The Bird and Baby", and the pints served up here probably helped inspire their writing...

The Inklings met at this pub in Oxford to discuss their work. They sometimes referred to it as “The Bird and Baby”, and the pints served up here probably helped inspire their writing…

Supposedly, C.S. Lewis had said that he didn’t find value in myths because they were not true, and though “lies breathed through silver”, they were lies nonetheless. He later came to write the Chronicles of Narnia, a mythopoeic narrative with abstract allegories to Christianity, possibly as a result of his viewpoint being changed by Tolkien’s arguments.

Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, obviously found value in the reading and writing of myths and after this conversation with Lewis wrote Mythopoeia as a response. The poem, whose title means “myth-making”, defended mythology as a literary art that demonstrates fundamental truths of life. Tolkien argued that you cannot restrict your search for knowledge in the purely material world and that you must also seek truth and understanding in symbolism.

The poem is a narrative where the philomythos (myth-lover) speaks to the misomythos (myth-hater) about the value of mythology. The poem explains that the universe is a mystery and there is no way for an individual to understand everything in God’s plan. However, we have a sense and so we try to define our own world with mythology to help us comprehend the bigger issues in life. The act of creating the spiritual stories and retelling of the truths helps disclose these truths to others.

That humans retell the stories they are told and remake them to fit their own ideals and beliefs is an important part of the idea of Mythopoeia, and demonstrates the importance of it. Joseph Campbell claimed that “without relevant mythology, society cannot function well and happily”. Therefore, we need mythology to help us comprehend the things in our life which otherwise would overwhelm us with questions and wonder in our own world.

“To the one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless
even though ‘lies breathed through silver'”

PHILOMYTHUS TO MISOMYTHUS

-Mythopoeia, 1931
-J.R.R. Tolkien

“Lovely day for a Guinness”

As I mentioned in a previous post, Sláinte, the Guinness Storehouse was one of my favorite attractions in Dublin. I would highly recommend, nay require, that any visit to Dublin be accompanied by a tour. For a mere €13 (student price) we had an entire days worth of entertainment, learning, and of course drinking.

Freshest Guinness possible, straight from the Storehouse

Freshest Guinness possible, straight from the Storehouse

The storehouse is easy enough to find; ask anyone in Dublin and they can probably give you directions. A city bus drops you off almost in front of the old Storehouse, which is no longer an active site in the brewing process and has been transformed into a museum and showcase for all things Guinness. You arrive at St. Jame’s Gate and begin the tour with a walk through the winding streets of mini-factory town.

St. James Gate, Dublin

Guinness Gates

The abandoned industrial feel of the area provides a great build-up to the actual tour, which has the same feel all throughout. You enter through the atrium, which is designed to look like a giant pint glass going up to the 7th floor of the Storehouse and would hold over 14 million pints of Guinness if filled. Immediately you see walls lined with all the styles of bottles Guinness has ever used in their nearly 250 years of brewing. Then, behold, right in the center of the atrium floor, under a giant circle of glass, is the actual land lease that Arthur Guinness signed in 1759 securing St. Jame’s Gate as the home of Guinness for 9,000 years. Here, on this monumental spot, you can wait for a free guided tour that begins about every 10-15 minutes or proceed onward on your own.

Guinness Lease, circa 1759

The tour takes you through the main steps of brewing beer and, in a manner reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, there are mazes of walkways, a room filled with barley (which you will be picking out of your clothing, shoes, and hair for days to come if your friends are as immature as mine), and even a waterfall. Of course its all educational – there are interactive displays for each of the 4 main ingredients that goes into Guinness (water, yeast, hops, and barley) which show where they come from and how they are used to make the magical beverage known as Guinness.

Guinness Barrels

So, along the way you learn about the barley and hops growing process, where the water comes from, how it is mixed and stored and fermented, and the history of beer brewing. You also learn how coopers (barrel makers) play an important role in the brewing process, as well as the farmers, workers, and brew masters.  There’s working models of the old machines used in the fermentation process, and a walk inside a giant barrel reveals a looping video explaining the brewing process from the head microbiologist Master Brewer himself.

Guinness Machines

A few floors up the focus shifts to the transportation of Guinness, and as a quote painted on an exposed steel girder explains, “The story of transporting Guinness stout is the story of transportation itself”.

Transportation

As it turns out because it is exported all around the world, Guinness played a large role in some parts of the Industrial Revolution and the development of transportation technology in the 20th century. There are lots of great artifacts from the trains, planes, ships, and trucks that have all worked to transport this fine beverage all around the world.

After this, you enter the tasting room, where attendants present each visitor over the age of 18 with a mini-pint of Guinness fresh from the keg line and guaranteed to be served at the optimal temperature and pressure, just to get you warmed up for the actual regular-sized pint you can get at one of two places in the factory. The 4th floor offers the chance to learn to pour the perfect pint and you get an awesome frame-worthy certificate upon completing this feat. According to the official guidelines, a pint of Guinness should take about 120 seconds and should be the product of a “double-pour” to ensure the proper volume of stout is added to the glass. This specialized pouring process sparked the famous Guinness advertising slogan “good things come to those who wait”.

And something else you will learn straightaway while touring the Storehouse – the Guinness company is the master of advertising. By the end of the tour I was thoroughly convinced that I should definitely be drinking more Guinness in my daily life. They have had some really great slogans and mascots over the course of their history, not to mention the famous “harp” logo.  In the early 20th century it was a popular argument that Guinness was good for you because dark beers had been suggested to slow the build-up of plaque in the arteries, so “Guinness for strength” and “a Guinness a day” were common slogans.

For Strength!

The company no longer makes claims about the health benefits of their beverage, but the classic advertising slogans remain. My favorite marketing for Guinness is the zoo animals of the 1930’s, which prominantly feature Gilroy the zookeeper and the “Guinness family” of mascots, including the kangaroo, seal, ostrich, lion, and perhaps most famously the toucan.

Guinness Toucan

Lovely Day for a Guinness!

Think of any advertising scheme and Guinness has probably employed it at some point in the past couple hundred years. And the Storehouse features a large advertising museum which houses examples of many of the interesting ads that have promoted Guinness over the years – this was actually more interesting than it may sound because some of the ads are pretty hilarious and outlandish by today’s standards (and some are just plain politically incorrect as well).

Politically Incorrect Guinness Ad

Upon reaching the very top of the Storehouse tour, you find yourself in the Gravity Bar, the top of the pint glass structure, where you can also get your complimentary pint of Guinness if you didn’t get it at the Perfect Pouring Station earlier. The Gravity Bar offers a complete 360-degree view of Dublin and the surrounding countryside and is the perfect finishing touch to the tour (unless you count hitting up the bars of Dublin for more Guinness after leaving the Storehouse like we did).

This was the view of Dublin as seen from the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Storehouse, 360-degree views from the 7th floor!

This was the view of Dublin as seen from the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Storehouse, 360-degree views from the 7th floor!

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

It is a universal standard that no matter where you travel to, for whatever reason, the first thing people will ask you about is the food. It goes without saying that most places have a lot more distinctive food than the US, because we have a wide variety of everything. If someone asked me what the food was like in America, I wouldn’t really know what to say. But it’s pretty easy to talk about food in other countries because its more of a specialty there – Italian pasta is unbeatable, I’ve only ever ordered fish & chips in England, Guinness is best drank in Ireland, and the presence and quality of guinea pig kabobs is far higher in Ecuador than the US.

Yes, I said guinea pigs, I couldn’t help it, I love telling people I ate one of those evil furry little creatures that bit me every time I ever tried to pet one as a child. But, seriously, Ecuadorean food is great, so much focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, and the traditional cuisine is rich, filling, and yet still healthy. There were fruits and vegetables that I never even knew existed in the world, and something that I found incredibly thrilling as a traveler was simply wandering fruit markets looking for foods I hadn’t tried yet. My favorites were guanabana (soursop), mora berries, and a ridiculously fun-to-eat fruit called granadilla.

The first time I got one of these, I had no idea how to eat it – you crack it open and eat the fruit-seed pods (that look disturbingly like fish eggs) without eating the white inner part of the shell. They are absolutely delicious and are equally fun and time-consuming to eat!

And the best part about food in Ecuador is this: hunger didn’t seem as big an issue as it might have in similar countries, because the government places a high priority on the availability of food for everyone, and healthy food is cheaper than unhealthy or “fast” food.

More widely available that anything else in a local market, is fresh fruit of all shapes and colors

More widely available that anything else in a local market is fresh fruit of all shapes and colors

For comparison:

  • A full meal at basic restaurant (soup, avocado slices, potatoes, corn, steak, sometimes juice): $2.00 – 3.00
  • A combo meal at McDonalds in Quito: $5.00+
  • Bottle of Coke: $1.50
  • Bottle of Water: $.50

And these healthy differences in Ecuadorean food are a concrete part of governmental policy that have been in the country’s Constitution since 2008. Food Sovereignty, as it is called by the members of the Via Campesina (Peasant’s Way), is the people’s right to define their own food system and have access to healthy, local foods.  This social justice group also focuses on environmental policy and indigenous and women’s rights.

The Food Sovereignty policy

  • supports small farmers and encourages local production and sales
  • works to prevent runaway prices of food products
  • ensures that animals intended for human consumption are raised in a healthy and humane way
  • promises that in case of anthropogenic (human-caused) or natural disasters, the government will step in to ensure that people in need still have access to food
  • and it deals with many other issues as well, ranging from sustainable growing practices to standards set on international foods that are imported

So basically, the government works to ensure that all people have access to healthy and fresh food, and also that food is grown as environmentally-friendly as possible. And this always makes me wonder, why can’t the American government get their act together and have policies like this? Give subsidies to healthy food and tax unhealthy fast food, instead of vice-versa?

As a poor college student – about to get poorer as graduation time approaches – I know all too well that an entire meal at Wendy’s can cost as little as $3.00, but a salad at Wendy’s is double that? A bag of chips costs ~$2 but a bag of apples costs $5? It’s not fair that Americans of lower socio-economic status are forced to buy unhealthy food because they can’t afford anything else, putting them at risk of health complications that arise solely out of their economic standing. The reason our economy is this way in regards to food is probably a complicated mess of politics, economics, and a deep-rooted tradition of what Americans view as a typical diet or their right to consume whatever they want (and undoubtedly a little bit of corruption in the policy-making sectors). There is no quick fix to a problem such as this one, but an increased focus on sustainable food production and a commitment to ensure healthy food for all seems like a good start?

DE VIENTO EMPANADAS

Now, I know I just talked a lot about healthy food and healthy food is great! But, I leave you now with a recipe for deep fried de viento empanadas, a specialty of Ecuador that I was luckily enough to try at an indigenous music festival.  Here’s the recipe, a little rough as it is translated into imperial measuring units from my memory of an old Ecuadorean lady yelling it at me because she thought that would make me understand her better:

  • ~2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 oz butter
  • 1/3 cup water

You also need:

  • Cheese for inside the empanadas – there is really only one kind of cheese in Ecuador, a fresh, moist, white cheese that has no other name than simply queso, so I would suggest any white, weak cheese – I used mozzerella.
  • Oil to fry them in – vegetable, sunflower, or canola oil probably work the best
  • Sugar to sprinkle over tops

When I made this recipe, I altered the flour and water a little bit to get the right consistency – this recipe is traditionally used in a high altitude, so that might make a difference or I didn’t get the measurements just right.

  1. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, butter, and water until a soft dough forms.
  2. Take a small ball of dough, depending on how big you want your empanadas to be, and flatten into a circle.
  3. Fill half the circle with cheese and press together, ensuring they are sealed tightly.
  4. Fry in oil until golden brown, flipping halfway through (about a minute per side).
  5. Remove from oil and sprinkle with sugar, allow to cool, and enjoy!
I watched these cook before my very eyes.  De viento empanadas - cheese filled, sprinkled with sugar.

I watched these cook before my very eyes. De viento empanadas – cheese filled, sprinkled with sugar.

“Starbucks represents something beyond a cup of coffee”

In keeping with the theme of logo mythology (see my post about Godiva), I have always loved the Starbucks logo and am annoyed that they are constantly “modernizing” it, taking away all the imagery it represents. The original logo, back in 1985 when Starbucks first started, was this:

Starbucks Logo, 1985

From the FAQ page of Starbucks.com, they say they “wanted to capture the seafaring tradition of early coffee traders”. And they did so rather well, with the twin-tailed mermaid. However, the symbolism associated with them is perhaps more controversial than Starbucks, as a national corporate company, would like, which is probably why it keeps getting simplified.

A twin-tailed mermaid, sometimes called a Melusine or a siren, and is commonly portrayed as being half-serpent/fish and half-human. They are a symbol of transformation (specifically relating to alchemy) and also symbols of unity that link earth and water, and body and soul. They could be evil, like the sirens of Greek mythology who lured sailors to their deaths, or simply a feminine spirit of fresh or ocean waters that bestow love on humans.  In mythology the are commonly represented in a very similar manner to the original Starbucks logo:

A depiction of a twin-tailed mermaid in a Medieval Bestiary (a book of stories and Images relating to animals that were real and perceived-real)

A depiction of a twin-tailed mermaid in a Medieval Bestiary (a book of stories and images relating to animals that were real or perceived as real)

The most common story involving a twin-tailed mermaid is that of Melusine, a beautiful woman who turned into a serpent from the waist down while bathing. Her suitor, a variety of different men depending on the source, met her at a magical enchanted fountain in the middle of the woods (an innocent maiden alone at an enchanted spot in the forest should always always always raise a red flag, but apparently he didn’t think it was that strange). She agreed to marry him under the condition that he never disturb her on Saturdays when she bathed. He agrees to her wishes and they get married and live happily ever after.

For a while anyway, but eventually he gets curious and suspicious of what she does alone and sneaks a peek, only to see her in her serpentine form. He is horrified and she is angered by his betrayal, so she turns into a full-on dragon in a fit of rage and she leaves him in a fury. Basically, moral of the story is: there is a monster inside every woman. Even though it was his mistrust and disobedience that caused the whole incident, it was a sexist medieval metaphor for the duality of female nature and the malevolent forces that could reside in all women.

Twin-tailed mermaids also represent fertility in most cultures they are found in, which is what the Starbucks logo most closely resembles – the bare breasts and the two tails spread apart say “come hither” in a very obvious way. This logo has actually sparked controversy in the past, which may be why Starbucks seems to be systematically censoring their logo, first covering the breasts with hair, cropping out the view of the navel, and then omitting the images of the tails.  Now it has become so cropped that it is hardly noticeable as a mermaid:

Starbucks Logo, 2012

So if you take anything away from this, I hope you have learned two things:

  1. Starbuck’s logo is that of a creature that lures people to their doom with sweet music, just as their coffee lures me in to waste my money every time I need a caffeine high.
  2. Starbucks should stop changing their logo because the old one is super cool and full of interesting history and sexy symbolism.