Fast food and dead metaphors

Well, he talks so much that inevitably some of what he says is going to be rubbish. But bless him he works hard and has fired up a lot of people about food and eating well. Here’s my quote of the week, from Anthony Bourdain: “Fast food institutionalizes low expectations.” From an interview last January in Tyee Books. (He continues, “I said once that McDonald’s is like crack for children. And eating in proximity to clowns is never a good thing.” True words.)

I heard a radio program a couple of years ago where a Vancouver chef tried to do a Jamie Oliver and show kids how much better freshly prepared food was, by making macaroni and cheese from scratch and then letting them do a taste test. Just as Jamie found, many (most?) of the kids preferred what they were used to, namely Kraft Dinner.

Obviously. If your taste buds have been fine tuned by processed cheese powders and high levels of salt, why – indeed how? – would you be able to address the subtleties of real cheese? An authentic macaroni and cheese certainly won’t have the neon colouring or the gluey consistency these kids are used to either. They were trained to like this stuff by the people who bought and served it to them, without regard to the long term implications to their palates or health.

Just as we’ve been trained to expect cheap food, no matter the consequences. We have spawned and nurtured the Costco-Walmart generation, demanding bargains without regard to the quality of the cheap food, the environmental cost of shipping it from the cheapest markets, the crippling effects on local food production in poor countries, and the damage to local food production, processing and distribution industries in our own countries. I wonder what it is we buy with the money we save buying cheap food?

One thing I bought myself was a ticket to England for the writing retreat in Yorkshire, where I happened upon the second issue of The Poetry Paper, published by The Poetry Trust. In it, Donald Hall meditates at some length on dead metaphors, tagging his own with [DM] as he writes:

When we speak, when we write letters or newspaper headlines, we use dead metaphors and we understand each other. The dead metaphor is not a criminal activity – but it is an activity at odds with poetry. If a poem is to alter us, or to please us extravagantly, it requires close attention from both poet and reader. Close attention to language is the contract [DM] that writer and reader sign. The terms of the contract require that each word be fully used – so that its signification, implication, association and import may impinge upon us, move us, and reward intelligent attention.

He is evidently on the side of the fence [DM] (yikes it’s infectious!) that says poems cannot be translated into other languages – because their art lies in their multiple meanings and freshness.

Translation is a useful scam, so that languageless readers may gather notions of what Cavafy or Tu Fu are up to, but Frost’s ‘poetry is what gets lost in translation’ is a definition of poetry. Poetry lies in the minute shades [DM] that distinguish among words commonly known as synonyms. Poetry happens in the differences between the words listed together in Roget: ‘chaste, virtuous; pure, purehearted, pure in heart; clean, cleanly; immaculate, spotless, blotless, stainless, taintless, white, snowy; unsoiled, unsullied, undefiled, untarnished, unstained…’

He gives the nod [DM] to writing groups or at least friendly poem exchanges during the editing process.

Illness provides ten thousand wounds [DM] to the language, which Hall’s Index would nurse back to health [DM]. The dead metaphor is a cancer [DM] in the poem’s language which only revisionary scrutiny can cut out [DM]. We are crippled [DM] when we use ‘crippled’ except in its literal sense… It’s only in revision that we uproot [DM] the dead metaphors that inspiration provides – or we may need the help of friends… The brain notoriously overlooks its own errors while it discerns the errors of others.

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