Winding It Down: Update for Casual Kitchen Readers and more...

 
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Winding It Down: Update for Casual Kitchen Readers

This is just a quick note to readers to let you all know that I'll be publishing a lot less frequently here at Casual Kitchen as I start up work on some other projects.

 

There's a few more things I'd still like to do here: strip down and simplify the layout, organize a guide for readers new to the site, put together a longer-form work based on some of Casual Kitchen's key topics, fix the ad units so I can monetize the site a little less incompetently, and so on.

But after more than ten years, 3.3 million pageviews (and counting) and well over a thousand articles, I'm (finally!) running out of things to say here. It's time to let this project go... and start something else.

Casual Kitchen has been a really fun writing project, one that exceeded anything I ever, ever expected. I hope readers have learned a few things over the course of this blog's life; I know I have by writing it.

Let me thank you, readers, for your all your support and interest!

--Dan

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You can support Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!
    
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My Ego Doesn’t Want to Hear It. Why?

"You're going to want to 'peel' your feet up off the pavement more. And then lay them back down with a mid-sole strike. It'll help you make more of a circular motion with your legs as you run."

 

This was Laura, helping correct my running form, and quoting directly from Danny Dreyer's excellent book Chi Running. Which, oddly enough, I had her read years ago to improve her running form. Hmm.

I had a negative reaction to this comment, even considering it (wrongly, as we will soon see) vaguely condescending.

My reaction was nothing more than my ego attempting to "protect" me. And what I'd like to do in today's post is explore how dangerous our egos can be when they defensively and aggressively overprotect us.

I'll start by considering reality from my ego's deeply insecure point of view. Assume for the moment that my ego was 100% correct in its worst-case interpretation of Laura's comment: that Laura's intention was to lord over me how terrible my running form was, and by implicit comparison how amazingly perfect her form is. Her comment was intended to condescend and to indicate superiority.

Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous already (I mean, jeez, who wants to go through life automatically assuming such negative intent in everything said around you? [1]), but bear with me.

Now, we're both reasonably intelligent people who try to be "meta" about a conversation while we're in it. We're both mostly aware that it pays to say things in such a way that the other people understands the point you're trying to make. Likewise, we also try to be aware that the other person has "intentionality" in what he or she says too. In other words: I can generally assume if something is important enough for Laura to say, there's most likely a decent reason for her to bother to say it.

Otherwise, I've chosen to marry somebody who blithers at me for no discernible reason, something I really don't want to be true.

Once you start considering the real purpose of a conversation about running form (instead of your ego's insecure and false assumptions about that purpose), and once you ruminate a little bit about why somebody might offer a suggestion about something they noticed about your form, you start to see how important intentionality is, and likewise how important it is to assume positive intent in what others say to you.

Let's go back to my ego for a second, and return to my ego's negative interpretation of Laura's statement. My ego arrived at this negative interpretation in a split second, without any real consideration of Laura's intentions. The only thing it "considered" was the idea that I was likely being insulted somehow. Thus my ego reacted in order to protect itself from a potential ego injury... and this ended up preventing me from improving my running form, by insta-rejecting an excellent idea from a book I already knew and totally agreed with.

Thanks ego! Thanks a lot.

If you can believe it, it gets even worse: our ego protection reaction, if it's habitual, will condition our psychological environment (including those people unfortunate enough to be in it) to never offer us any helpful suggestions. Think about it: if I were to react this way to every idea or suggestion Laura ever makes, eventually she'll stop bothering to try and help me.

A disturbing way to look at this is to conclude that the more reactant your ego, the more your life will be bereft of help in all forms.

Yes, you and I both know the truism about never giving unsolicited advice. But at the same time, helpful suggestions exist only if they manifest in other peoples' minds, and those helpful ideas and suggestions appear in other's minds when they appear, not necessarily when we want them to appear. Thus we have to be ready for this "help" on other peoples' schedule, not on our own. It's just like being consistently ready in case a teacher appears.

There's yet another aspect of our ego protection reflex that's just as pernicious. Consider an example I read recently about trees in a biosphere project. Scientists couldn't understand why all the trees inside of the biosphere kept falling over before they matured. Well, it turns out that if you're a tree inside a biosphere, you never get exposed to wind. Wind is a type of stressor, and trees exposed to wind as they mature become far stronger and resilient. [2]

Essentially, our egos want to keep us in a biosphere, where we never face any wind. Our egos presume negative intent, they presume insult and condescension, and they do so instantly, reflexively. If all we do is reflexively ego-protect, all we'll end up with is a fragile, brittle, easy-to-injure psyche.

So I started peeling up my feet.






Footnotes:
[1] One useful heuristic to use at all times when interacting with others: do not automatically presume negative intent in the things other people say.

[2] A fancy word for this is hormesis, or hormetic response. The tree's hormetic response to wind strengthens it over time. For further reading on the human body's hormetic response to running and how even running shoes intefere with hormesis, see also What Barefoot Running Taught Us About Expensive Sneakers (And What Nike and Others Really Don't Want You To Know)


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!
    



Why Are Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes Obsessed with Looking Like Meat-Based Meals?

Why do so many vegan or vegetarian recipes try to look like meat-based meals?

 

Here's a textbook example of what I mean, a vegan deviled eggs recipe. This recipe is totally vegan, with no animal products used at all, but it is designed to look exactly like a non-vegan food.

In other words, it's supposed to be a simulacrum of a food a vegan wouldn't eat.

Now, my goal isn't to criticize this person's recipe per se. [1] What I want to do is get at a more central problem endemic to vegan and vegetarian cuisine. Which is:

With so many great vegan and vegetarian recipes out there, what is the benefit of making facsimiles of the very foods you would never eat in the first place?

Remember, here at Casual Kitchen we are not vegan or vegetarian, but we often eat vegan or vegetarian meals, and we feature dozens and dozens of easy, healthy and laughably cheap vegan and vegetarian recipes here at this blog.

But imagine a rabid meat eater who didn't know any better. To her, it would seem as if vegan and vegetarian cooking has an insecurity complex. A form of penis envy even. It's as if vegan/vegetarian cooking somehow is all worried that it isn't "real" food, so in order to compensate, it has to somehow imitate or resemble non-vegetarian food.

And so, we are presented with processed pseudo-foods like tofu scramble, vegetarian hotdogs, or my personal favorite: tofurkey. It all suggests that unless a meal looks or seems like meat it can't be taken seriously as a meal.

We all know that this could not be further from the truth. Vegans and vegetarians have no reason to be insecure--much less have penis envy--about what and how they eat. So why the imitative food simulacra? Why so many processed pseudo-foods when there are so many amazing vegan and vegetarian recipes already out there?

Readers, what do you think?


READ NEXT: Casual Kitchen's Core Principles: #2: Embrace Low-Meat Cooking


Footnote:
[1] That said, I can't say I'm appetized by egg whites made of agar agar, which then require a dose of black pepper to mask the taste. This is pure pseudo-food.



You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!
    



A Sucker Born Every Minute in the Spice Aisle

Everybody knows the famous quote from P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute."

I'm one of those suckers.

The other day Laura was making a recipe from her Indian cookbook and she asked if I'd like her to grind up some extra coriander. "We should never buy ground coriander at the grocery store any more. We have a lifetime supply right here." She reached into her big secret bag of Indian spices and pulled out two packages of coriander seeds, 600 grams in total (about 21 ounces), which, together, cost about $4.50.

Needless to say these coriander seeds were not purchased in the grocery store spice aisle--as Casual Kitchen readers know, the grocery store spice aisle is a corporate conspiracy that exists for no reason other than take willingly captive and credulous consumers and rudely separate them from their money. Laura long ago got smart: she buys all her spices at an Indian grocer.

We also have a little $18 spice grinder, and Laura used it to grind up enough whole coriander seeds to fill a just-emptied 1.25 ounce jar of McCormick ground coriander. It took two minutes.

Okay. Let's do some math and find out how much of a sucker I've been by buying ground coriander in a standard grocery store--in total contravention of my very own recommendations here at this blog.

* At our grocery store, it costs $7.99 to buy that 1.25 ounce jar of ground coriander.[1]
* Laura's 21 ounces of whole coriander seeds = 16.8 x 1.25 ounce jars.
* 16.8 jars of grocery store ground coriander at $7.99 per 1.25 ounce jar = $134.23.

In other words, Laura paid $4.50 for spices that would cost $134 in the grocery store.

And here comes the part about me being a sucker. I was paying a markup of more than 2,900.00% for a spice. (!!!!!) [math: 134.23 / 4.50 = 29.88 or 2,988%]

I get queasy just thinking about it.

Stay out of the grocery store spice aisle. It's an oligopoly designed to overcharge you. And they do it because they can.

Instead, find another source away from this totally non-competitive market environment, like a local ethnic food market. And if you can buy your spices in whole form, all the better: they'll be cheaper still and they'll last forever.[2]

My example of spice industry exploitation is interesting to me (uh, and hopefully to you too, dear readers), because it basically involves me acting out of convenience while not thinking. However, another consumer might easily argue, "Heck, does the eight bucks I wasted on 1.25 ounces of coriander really matter? Really? What's the big deal?"

Well, on one level, it's not a big deal. It's only eight bucks. But then again, doing things on a small level trains you for detecting and avoiding exploitation on a much larger level. Furthermore, it trains us in the healthy exercise of throwing creativity--rather than money--at a problem.

And even on this small level it isn't really that small: there's enough value in Laura's $4.50 worth of whole coriander seeds to pay for six spice grinders, which we could use to grind up any other whole spices we might purchase, which will help us further escape the clutches of the spice cabal.

Back to P.T. Barnum's quote about suckers. Everybody knows this quote, but rarely do people enjoy finding out that they're the sucker. That phrase is always for somebody else. Right? Which is why it's always painful to figure out that you've been a sucker who's been getting needlessly separated from your money, for years, for no real reason. Easier just to argue that it's only eight bucks, and eight bucks doesn't really make a difference.


READ NEXT: What's Your Favorite Consumer Empowerment Tip?
And: Recipe: Saag Murgh (Chicken with Spinach)


Footnotes:
[1] This 1.25 ounce jar of ground coriander used to cost $6.99, but in recent years McCormick has jumped on the organic bandwagon, and so they've added both the magic word “organic” and another dollar of price premium to their already overpriced product. Lovely.

[2] Another scam about spices is the idea that they "fade" over time and thus need to be thrown out every so often. In some places you will even see recommendations to throw out "old" spices after as little as six months, something that is scandalously, criminally false. Of course the spice industry would love for you to throw out and re-buy all your spices every six months.



You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

    


How Martha Stewart's Brand Lost Its Mojo

Grant McCracken, an anthropologist and an insightful commentator on modernity, offered an intriguing quote recently about Martha Stewart:

"She's the mistress of the semiotic codes dear to the upwardly aspirational middle class… Martha's semiotics were powerful. Fresh flowers. Fresh linens. Fresh colors. And an embargo on all things unsophisticated and déclassé."

To anyone who lived through the 1990s, this quote captures Martha Stewart's brand perfectly.

Except that things change. Eras and generations change. And Martha's brand, at least in that form, simply doesn't click with the Millennial generation. Millennials don't even want to buy homes, much less fill them with fresh linens and flowers. They don't bake. Or read magazines.

But the companies out there selling to us need to keep brands like these alive, alive for as long as they can. This is done by "repositioning," "staying relevant" and "pivoting," all of which are annoying marketing terms that, to me at least, merely serve to underscore the rampant cynicism infesting the world of branding and consumer products.

As an example: Do you remember Emeril? Remember him and his show, his celebrity cookbooks and celebrity-branded cookware? Do you remember "Bam!"? Martha Stewart's company bought this brand too, back in 2008, in a failed effort to stay relevant. Once upon a time Bam! was cool. It sold a lot of overpriced cookware. Now nobody remembers.

So how does "Martha Stewart" as a brand stay relevant, now that civilization has thankfully moved on from mansions, fresh linens and other pretensions of a lost era? How does Martha sell--and more importantly, what does she sell--to a generation that doesn't even cook?

Back to the cynical parlance of modern media: Martha will "pivot." She'll attach her trusted name to a food delivery service.[1] She will "reposition" her brand by getting on the marijuana bandwagon, doing a bunch of campy skits with Snoop Dogg to sell you trendy cannabis products. All of which will make her "relevant" to today's consumers.

In other words, she'll do anything to sell to you.

Does it make you feel like a sucker, having stuff like this fed to you? Do you enjoy being sold one branded aspirational lifestyle in one era--only later still to see it replaced by another new, "more relevant" branded aspirational lifestyle in a later era?

The whole thing feels like an extended elaborate joke, played on three generations of consumers.


Timeline of Martha Stewart, her brand, and her companies:
1999: Martha Stewart IPOs her company, market value reaches $1.8b
2003-4: Stewart indicted, convicted and jailed for lying under oath and obstruction of justice in connection with a suspicious sale of shares of Imclone stock, one day before Imclone collapsed in value (due to failing to receive FDA approval for the drug Erbitux).
2005: Martha's comeback: Stewart is released from prison, and over the next few years, her company announces deals to sell Martha Stewart-branded merchandise at Kmart, Macy's and JCPenney, all of which devolve into lawsuits. Later she announces deals to sell merchandise through Petsmart, Michaels and Home Depot.
2011: After serving a five year ban from public markets as part of her conviction settlement with Federal regulators, Martha Stewart rejoins her namesake company's board of directors.
2015: After years of declining ad sales, declining branding revenue and declining circulation of her various publications, Martha Stewart Omnimedia is sold to Sequential Brands [ticker: SQBG] for $350m.
2019: Sequential Brands, collapsing under a mountain of debt, firesales Martha Stewart's brand, as well as the Emeril Legasse brand, for a mere $175 million, [2] less than half what they paid for it just four years earlier, and less than one-tenth of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's peak valuation. Sequential Brands now trades at penny-stock levels, at approximately 50c a share.
2019: Martha Stewart announces a deal with Canopy Growth Company, a Canada-based cannabis company, to market a line of cannabis supplements and other pot-infused wellness products for pets.


Footnotes:
[1] It's hard not to notice the rich irony of Martha Stewart's meal delivery service brand using the slogan "recipes from America's most trusted home cook." As if calling your meal delivery service "home cooking" actually makes it so.

[2] Get ready: now yet another company will likely be ramming a pivoted and repositioned Martha and Emeril in our faces all over again.


READ NEXT: Aspirational Marketing and the Unintended Irony of Pabst Beer


You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

    


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