The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind
This year for Christmas, I gave my son-in-law Dan and my wife Sheila a book entitled “The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt.

I’ll be honest, the title intrigued me and I was interested in discovering the secret of connecting with many “good people” on all sides of the political and religious spectrum.

Mind you, a little “love” and empathy is sorely needed at this time of great political and social upheavals.

Furthermore, I was intrigued by people’s reaction to the following situations (Dan pointed these out shortly after opening his present):

“A family’s dog was killed by a car in front of their house.  They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cooked it and ate it for dinner.  Nobody saw them do this.”   Or . . .

“A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a chicken.  But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it.  Then he cooks and eats it.”

Now, I do not intend to spoil this “good” but challenging read on morality, but you can rest assured that logic and common sense are vastly overrated in trying to unite “good people”  divided by politics and religion.

For those that can’t resist to getting to the punch line, Mr. Haidt concludes with the following:  “Morality binds and blinds.  It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle.  It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”

His key recommendation (also at the end of the book for those who can’t stomach a moral philosophy read) is this:   “Our politics will become more civil when we find ways to change the procedures electing politicians and the institutions and environments within which they interact.”  He suggests the following website:   www.CivilPolitics.org

For those who want to explore moral philosophy, test your own moral compass at YourMorals.org

Cookbooks and Cooking

In today’s New York Times, Kim Severson writes that “Written Recipes Undergo a Makeover” which argues that in today’s modern cookbooks “instructions have shifted away from formulas toward deeper explanations of technique, offering context and lyricism in ways Fannie Farmer could not have imagined . . . they teach the reader to be a more intuitive cook, a cultural change that reflects a nation that is cooking better than it has in decades.”  (Editor’s Note, I will not embed any more links to New York Times articles, since readers inform me that you need to be a paid subscriber to open some of the links.)

While this is a well-balanced article – only if you read the entire article – the underlying proposition is that today’s modern cook requires and receives more information to help them become a “more intuitive chef.”  Indeed, Ms. Severson argues that today’s cookbooks are focused on stories that relate food to use and cooking techniques that allow home chefs to become more creative.

Does Ms. Severson’s proposition hold water?  Maybe, but observing popular cooking on TV or YouTube doesn’t make for inspired cooking anymore than learning the theory of brick-laying makes you a better bricklayer.   Consistently great cooking requires practice to refine techniques and to help the “inspired” chef think outside the box.

I’ll site just a few examples from my experience to illustrate the point:

  • I once watched Martha Stewart prepare a paella on one of her TV programs.  While I might call her preparation a fish and chicken rice stew, it lacked the subtlety of an authentic paella.    In short, it was a disaster and you didn’t need to taste it to know why.  Sure, there are hundreds of instructional videos on YouTube on how to make paella, but does anything taste like an authentic paella that Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali had prepared at La Matandeta?:

  • I once watched an Iron Chef some years ago in which popular TV cooks, Giada De Laurentiis and Rachael Ray, were paired with Mario Batali and Bobby Flay.  To refer to Giada and Rachael as anymore than sous chefs in this exhibition would be an insult to most any serious chef.  And yet, these two  “inspired” chefs each have their own cooking program on TV and now teach technique to others.  Doesn’t make sense to me!
  • When I worked in the stationery industry, we would often buy “cookbooks” at the Gift Show in New York for resale at Christmas.  Sadly, we needed to judge the book by its cover (the title and sometimes the author), since the staged food photography and the recipes hadn’t yet been written.  And yet, these are the cookbooks from which future generations of chefs will draw their inspiration.  I think not!!

Having cooked for well over 50 years, I am not averse to inspiration but feel that every home chef that truly wants to feel more confident in the kitchen needs to practice, practice and practice.  Learning from “true” cooking experts is far better than watching popular TV programs.   For instance, my sister-in-law practiced making bread daily for well over 2 years, before she decided she had become proficient.  She insists that she is still learning.  Mind you, bread has only four ingredients:  flour, water, salt and a touch of yeast.

In any event, I have prepared a list of my 5 favorite cookbooks for those who want to jump-start the learning process.  For those interested in the “whys” of cooking, I would strongly recommend a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated.  (Editor’s Note:  Don’t bother with the cookbooks, but the bi-monthly magazine is very good!)

D-Day: Pictorial History

Educated readers from the other side of the pond will often send suggestions to raise the publishing standards of GourMay. As Shakespeare and W.C. Fields would say it is simply a “fool’s errand.” (Editor’s Note: Actually neither one of them was reported to say such a thing, but it certainly sounds like they should have).

While our politicians are posturing themselves to be “on the right side of history” based on scientific heat map polling from trending Twitter feeds, one reader sent me this fascinating “then and now” pictorial of D-Day locales from “The Atlantic.

When you click on individual pictures, the scenery will switch to how the same spot looks today.

Take a few moments to reflect on the sacrifice made by so many so that we could enjoy a day at the beach.

For those who are truly into “Universal Love” rather than “selfies,” I give you a link to Hubble Advent Calendar courtesy of The Atlantic. The image below is December 1.

s_h01_eic1007a