Archive for food

Bhakti Banquet

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by javedbabar

“What do you think they are queuing for?” asked one of the marshalls, eying the long line of people that continued around a corner. A good proportion of the five hundred people at Guru Baba’s darshan were in it.

“For food, I think,” said Sami.

“But the food stands are over there, and they are moving in the other direction.”

“So, what are they queuing for?”

The marshall nodded drolly. “They are queuing for food, and they are moving in the other direction. That’s the problem.”

Sami had been busy for the last half hour behind the scenes, fixing security and technical problems, and hadn’t noticed the queue building up. The queues to get in had been well managed, and there was a steady flow of people going in and out of the Transparent Temple, but there was pressure building inside. He went to take a look.

Guru Baba had often said that the right to food was a human right, and people here were taking him literally. There was an unbelievable queue for free Street Snacks, but none at all for the Bhakti Banquet, a set of ten delicacies in a jewel-edged palm leaf, costing a hundred dollars a plate.

Bhakti means love. The money earned from sale of this food of love would subsidize snacks and fund Baba’s charity projects. This notion hadn’t worked though, and the Bhakti Banquet’s servers were lined up, chatting, themselves looking like a queue.

Sami returned to the marshall and said, “This is a disaster. The queue is so long it has wrapped around itself completely. That’s why it seems to be moving in the wrong direction.” He silently joined a mantra for two verses, and continued. “I’m sure that’s why you came to tell me.”

The marshall nodded.

“So what should we do? I wanted to do something special for this event. I thought the two different meals would balance each other, but it looks like we’ll run out of snacks and have hundreds of banquets left over.”

The Bhakti Banquets would all go to waste. The Authority’s health and safety regulations banned distribution to volunteers, poor families and homeless people. The event would be a black hole. It was meant to pay for itself, not suck money out of projects for widows, orphans and disaster relief victims. Food is meant to produce energy, maintain life, and stimulate growth. The Bhakti Banquet was wasting people’s energy, maintaining servers’ boredom, and creating waste. It was anti-food.

The marshall said, “I was helping my son with his homework last week. It was about the history of food. The earliest method to secure it was hunting and gathering, then agriculture, and now most people rely on the food industry. It’s amazing how things have changed. Once everybody was responsible for sourcing their own food, and now people think potatoes grow on trees. How did that happen?”

“That’s it!” said Sami. “Thank you!”

In the same way that darshan affects individuals, slowly changes society, and eventually improves the world, so modern media affect everything too. A commercial conspiracy has been created. Excess war chemicals are sprayed on fields to accelerate food growth. Lotteries boost the economies of modern nations. Everyone is told they will be happier if they buy stuff. Men use cosmetics. Women drink beer. The medium is the message. The medium does the massage. We have no choice but to partake of it.

Sami announced on the intercom, “Anybody buying a Bhakti Banquet will be entered into a draw to win Baba’s robes.”

People broke from the Street Snacks queue and ran to the other side.

Smelly-Welly

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2012 by javedbabar

Shama saw Zadam regularly walking around town, and after a while he no longer noticed his strange appearance. After all, Zadam had a head with all the right features, just in the wrong places on his face.

His mouth was where his forehead should be, his nose was in the right place but reversed, and his eyes were at the bottom. That’s why he kept his green coat’s hood pulled both up and down, creating a dark hollow. People only caught hints of features and were suspicious rather than afraid.

Shama also got somewhat used to backwards talking. He could follow Zadam’s train of thoughts if he concentrated, but he often lost track. He found it easier to stick to questions and answers rather than partake of long exchanges.

Shama saw him in the produce section of the grocery store, examining blood peaches. He was picking out ripe ones, heavy and juicy, smelling them and saying, “Phoo!” and putting them back. He selected unripe ones, hard and scentless, and licked his lips, saying “Yum!”

“Hello Zadam,” said Shama. “What are you doing?”

“I am smelling good fruits.” He handed Shama a peach that could replace a cricket ball without anyone knowing. It smelled like one too.

“But this has no scent at all.”

“My senses are reversed,” said Zadam, dropping the red skull-cruncher into his basket. “I smell things early and I know what they will become like later.”

“Is that just with fruits?” asked Shama, catching a blood peach hard enough to draw blood.

“No, I can do it with everything.”

Zadam’s olfactory receptors worked in overdrive. They bound to particular molecular features, exciting more or less strongly, the combination of excited signals from different receptors flipping and flopping, integrating and reverting, a thousand times over, creating his upside-down sensation of smell.

Shama didn’t like grocery shopping. Something about it really bugged him. It wasn’t just the high prices at the village store, almost double those in the city – but who’s going to drive two hundred clicks each way just to get their milk? It was also the vast amount of processing and packaging, wasting precious energy and resources.

He felt that he should be producing his own food. He had a dream of becoming a farmer. That wasn’t going to happen in the city, but it could happen here in Lucerne if he…

He noticed Zadam smelling potatoes, dropping a few in his basket and moving onto cheese, which provided some amusing reactions, and then meat and fish.

“What about packaged food?” he asked Zadam. “Can you tell anything about that?”

“I don’t eat it, but I can try.”

He picked up a packet of French onion soup, took a deep sniff and smiled. It went into his basket. He sniffed a tin of spam, which went straight back onto the shelf. He smelled a chilled lasagne, which he thought about, but then made an upside-down, screwed-up face and returned it to the chiller. He tried frozen food but said it was “too hard” to smell. He smelled some fashionable Superfoods and said, “Poo!”

Shama said, “Phoo?”

“No, poo! Your body will not absorb them. They come out in your poo!”

He saw a baby. The mother was reluctant to let this disfigured person hold her child, but then she softened and said it was OK.

Zadam picked up the child and took a deep sniff. He said, “Aahhh!”

Satellite Mushrooms

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Organic Farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2012 by javedbabar

Bobby was surprised that tomatoes preferred listening to commercial stations rather than official state radio. Commercial stations were full of inane chatter and annoying jingles, rather than well-programmed classical music, but plants seemed to prefer them, probably for the same reason that humans did. They was more fun.

He tried a few different stations in the hothouse, and also began broadcasting in the fields. The results were consistent – always Munchies over Mozart, Burgers over Beethoven, and Wiggles over Wagner. It was sad but true. Crops preferred crap.

A forest of mushrooms grew beneath the satellite dish in the garden corner. Was this dish for television or internet access? There were no cables leading off from it; they must be buried. He called another worker over and said, “Hey dude, what’s this?”

“Duh! It’s a satellite dish. What do you think it is?”

“I know it’s a satellite dish. I mean, why is it here?”

“Who knows, my friend. I don’t get paid enough to answer technical questions. No one has asked me to do anything to it, so I don’t care.”

He pointed to the pink fungi growing beneath. “Maybe it’s there to protect the little mushrooms from the sun. They don’t like too much sunshine, you know. Why did you plant them there?”

People make strange jokes, thought Bobby. “I didn’t plant them there.”

“You did too! You planted them there! I saw you!”

Bobby could ignore him or play along. “Why did I do that? Please remind me.”

“Because you’re a fun guy. Get it? And there wasn’t mushroom under the dish, so you squeezed them in. Now when you pine for savoury flavour, you just pick one!”

Bobby said that’s enough.

“I’m not talking shitake, pal. Why should I button it?”

Bobby wasn’t paying attention, as he’d noticed something strange. Each mushroom looked like an upside down satellite dish. It was an exact replica in pink. Maybe he was reading too much into things, after all that was their natural shape – bell ends.

But there was something stranger. Each one looked the same but also seemed different. Each had a distinctive character, almost a personality. They seemed alive, more than a vegetable should be.  One mushroom was fat, one was thin, one was shiny, another, tough-skinned; one, wet; one, almost dead.

He hadn’t been smoking the good herb last night, so why was he seeing strange things?

The fat one seemed lazy; the thin one, active; the shiny one was happy; the tough one, angry; the quiet one, sad; the almost dead one, well dying, and in a way relieved.

The other worker said, “Look pal, no need to be so glum. I’ve got a trick I can show you.” He fiddled with the dish connections. “I studied electronic engineering,” – he looked up – “things didn’t work out, but I did learn a thing or two.” He hooked the satellite dish to his smartphone. “I can’t get a decent signal in this valley, but let’s see what we can get here.”

His smartphone had crystal clear reception. They flicked through food, health, beauty, action, romance, and crime channels. They forgot about the mushrooms, and any effects these channels may have on them. Lazy, active, happy, angry, sad and dying. They were now affected themselves.

Radio Tomatoes

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Organic Farming with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by javedbabar

Bobby liked his job on the farm. It was great to be out in the fresh air all day, even when it was raining or snowing; much better than being snowed under with paperwork. He recalled a time at year-end when his entire desk was filled with files, a foot deep or more. Now there was only rhubarb and squash to wade through.

“I’ll take care of the tomatoes!” he shouted to his fellow worker, pointing towards the eastern polytunnels. “You can do the peppers.” These were the two main hot house crops here, with two hundred metres of each in tidy rows.

The tomatoes had started the season really well, shooting up and flowering early, but they had slowed with balmy weather. Aphids were a bother too. The new batch of ladybugs had helped.

Bobby wondered why tomatoes in the corner were doing so well. The plants were taller and the fruits were bigger and brighter than elsewhere in the hothouse. He went to the western polytunnel to ask his colleague. “Did you use a special fertilizer in the corner? No? Any extra inputs? No? What? They were just the same as the others last week? Okay.”

Why were they so strong and healthy? So picture perfect, like the image on a seed packet. Yes, there was more light in that corner in the mornings, but when the sun crossed over there was more shade, so there was no real advantage. Maybe being near the door provided extra ventilation, the airflow helping to regulate temperature, and deterring pests. Or did they benefit from heat flowing past them?

There could be something special in the soil here, like a small rotting animal providing a sustained supply of nutrients. A microclimate? Other beneficial bugs?

The tomatoes looked like large coloured party bulbs. They were sunset red and fist-sized, with flesh like ripe mangoes and juices like nectar. Over a few days Bobby checked everything, but could find no explanation for why they grew better. He wasn’t a proud person, but would be pleased to get some credit for this. These were the healthiest, tastiest tomatoes he’d ever seen. The best ever. They would soon be ready to harvest.

He thought about the tomatoes on his day off, and found himself licking his lips.

When he returned to the hothouse the tomatoes had wilted, and some of the plants had collapsed. The fruits were looking sick and pinched, as if somebody had strangled them in the desert. He checked the drip irrigation. It was still working.

Bach provided a tender soundtrack to this sorry state of affairs. The combination of dying fruit and sad music could be a still life by a renaissance painter. Or maybe the bright colours were more Van Gogh. Tomatoes fell as he stood there; the ground was covered with dead bloody bombs.

Then he recalled something. Last week the radio in the corner of the hothouse had been tuned to a commercial station. It was another worker’s choice. There was inane banter and non-stop ads. Had this affected the plants somehow?

Maybe they didn’t like classical music as everyone supposed. Maybe they felt it was plain and boring. He re-tuned the radio to LVR. A chorus of jingles began immediately.

“Good climes with Arctic Vodka!”

“Generali Cigars – Get Smoky!”

“Double-double burgers – only at Quenchers!”

“It’s party night at Dirty’s Bar!”

“Half-price cars this month at Valley Cars!”

Bobby started humming along. The words and music were designed to please. The wilting tomatoes raised their heads.

People's Kitchen

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2012 by javedbabar

Sophie was unhappy working for HOT TV. She knew that it served a purpose, giving single mothers a way to earn a living in otherwise job-scarce Lucerne; but there had to be a better way to use her talents as a producer. There also had to be a better way to use The Place – the renovated car park at the centre of the village – than filling it with girls in hot pants and bra tops.

She’d developed a concept called TOT TV, where the girls focussed on activities to entertain their young children, but it hadn’t acquired traction. It seemed that the greater demand right now was not for colourful boards with snakes and ladders, but for neon skimpies with shakes and judders.

The Place had really been smartened up, with water features spouting and sparkling, and spiky plants with bright flowers, but that was only the smiling centre, where happy families came to chat, stroll and snack. During her daily filming, Sophie noticed a ragged edge to the village. People on the margins of this community were struggling. The HOT TV girls had found one way of coping, but others daily visited gas stations, hardware and grocery stores asking for non-existent jobs. There was poverty and hunger here, leading to desperation.

As Sophie shot vignettes about how much fun it was to live in Lucerne, continually shouting “Action!” and “Cut!” – she developed a feeling of unease. She saw affluent families, a mix of locals and visitors, enjoying The Place’s new retail and dining options. Yet on the edge of this showpiece “communal” space, just out of view, hungry eyes were peering. Families at leisure wasted food; as soon as they left, but before the cleaning crews, swift hands pulled it into the shadows.

Restaurants around the square also wasted food. To attract the widest range of customers they featured extensive menus, with local, national, international and seasonal dishes. This required vast ingredient stocks, not all of which were used. The Authority’s health and safety regulations forbade re-use of ingredients. They were thrown into large bins that were locked immediately, for retrieval only by trash crews.

Sophie asked one of the girls, Jeannie, “Is there something we can do about this? It’s ridiculous that there are people hungry every day, and food gets wasted before our eyes.”

“I was chatting with the other girls,” said Jeannie. “We were thinking of cooking for everyone.”

“What do you mean by everyone?” said Sophie. “You mean the general public?”

“Yes, we could approach the restaurants for spare ingredients…” Sophie tried to interrupt but Jeannie kept talking; it was this determination that kept her dancing like a monkey in front of rolling cameras to feed her child. “I’m sure they would find a way around the regulations. Say once a month, we could have a People’s Kitchen, where we cook up whatever we have, and people bring whatever they can, and we all eat together.”

“Like a huge potluck?” said Sophie.

“Yes, but it’s not a matter of luck. It’s a matter of intention.” Sophie was impressed by her thinking and agreed to help.

On the last day of the month, when restaurants rotated their ingredient stocks, the HOT TV girls wandered around collecting ingredients, and developed recipe plans based on their haul. The next evening at the centre of The Place, they set up the People’s Kitchen and cooked dinner for everyone. Their free ingredients, with added herbs and spices, made fabulous stews, stir-fries, curries and roasts, accompanied by some salads and sweets.

“I have an idea,” said Jeannie. “Let’s make a monthly show to highlight what we are doing here, called LOT TV.” Sophie nodded her head upward indicating the need for further explanation. Jeannie said, “We were chatting while we were cooking. We believe in the Laws of Karma and Attraction. The more everybody gives, the more we all have.”

I underestimated them, thought Sophie. These HOT TV girls are on fire.

Sustainable Sandwich Specials

Posted in Lucerne Village, Organic Farming with tags , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2012 by javedbabar

Danny was hungry. He wouldn’t normally have considered going to the Lucerne Valley Hotel, but had heard that their diner was under new management by some kids from the City. Maybe their service had improved since his last visit, and their ingredients, and their cooking. He recalled a spongy patty with plastic cheese and cardboard bun, served with slimy greens and oily chips. Where had they got them from, the transfer station?

Things were better the moment he entered. The walls were painted dark grey, and stained carpet had been ripped out to reveal original floorboards which were sanded clean. There was a smart new glass counter manned by hip staff. He tried not to stare at their piercings and tattoos, which featured Greek letters and Celtic patterns entwined. There was a large blackboard saying SSS, but with no further details.

“Hi, I’m Joho,” said a cheerful twenty-something with a ring through the centre of his nose, and blonde dreadlocks bearing beads and shells. “Welcome to Sustainable Planet. Have you been here before?”

“I have when the hotel guys ran the joint.” Danny raised one eyebrow, and they shared a smile. “This place is looking great now. I can’t wait to try the food.”

“Shall I run through the menu with you? Okay, SSS stands for Sustainable Sandwich Specials. That’s all we’ve got right now – the full menu’s coming next month. We have meat, fish, veg, and fruit options; that seems to cover most people’s needs.”

“Well, what’s on the menu for today?” Danny felt good about this place. It was just what the village needed; a progressive, friendly place where you know your money is supporting the environment rather than its destruction.”

“The meat option today is CAFO beef. Do you know what that stands for? It means Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, a place where hundreds of thousands of cattle are crowded together, often up to their knees in their own excrement. They are disgusting places that lead to much distress and disease.”

Danny’s mouth fell open. “How is that a sustainable option?” Was the dreadlocked kid taking the Mickey?

“I thought you may ask that question. You see, we rescue as many cattle as we can from the feeding lots; this removes them from the industrial food chain plus highlights their plight to our customers. It’s served rare, on rye, with wholegrain mustard.”

Danny felt he was missing something but didn’t want to be difficult. These kids were trying their best to promote an earth-friendly philosophy. He asked, “What’s today’s fish option?”

“It’s dolphin,” said Joho.

“I’m sorry, do you mean dolphin-friendly tuna?”

“No, it’s Pacific White-Sided Dolphin, Lagenorhynchus Obliquidens. Japanese trawlers kill them accidentally and it would be a terrible thing to waste them, so we buy them up wholesale. We choose our ingredients very carefully to make customers think.”

This guy’s logic is pretty messed up, thought Danny. Maybe non-carnivorous options would be more palatable. “What about the veg and fruit choices?”

“Today’s veg option is High Fructose Corn Syrup reconstituted into corn chunks, and the fruit choice is oranges sprayed with Agent Orange; nice irony don’t you think? They’re salvaged from chemical field trials.”

Danny got up to leave. “I’m sorry pal, I can’t eat anything here. Everything you’ve offered me sounds disgusting. How is any of it sustainable?”

“Now we’re getting somewhere, my friend. Nothing we do on earth is sustainable. Sustainable development is an oxymoron; all human activity leads to environmental degradation. That’s what we want to tell you. This joint is a public interface for our policy; what we are really providing is food for your mind.”

World Food Council

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by javedbabar

“May I have a word please, Zoe?” said Mr. Amin. His impish smile had won over many during his political career as Minister of Culture for Northern India, and continued to do so now in the not-for-profit sector of Canadia. It was only that smile, he believed, that had kept Open Hearts seniors daycare centre open. So many times when it was on the brink of closure, bank managers and provincial officials had been charmed by it. It wasn’t just his smile though. It was a million smiles gathered together from every senior that came here and was entertained, fed, and listened to, and whose children and grandchildren slept better knowing that Ma, Pa, Grandma, or Grandpa looked forward to their day ahead. Mr. Amin said, “Which delicious items are you making for us today?”

Zoe said, “We’re having East Indian today, especially for you, Mr. Amin. Tarka dal, mutter chawal, roast chicken for carnivores, and saag aloo for vegetarians, plus some salad, pickle, and sweet.” She didn’t have time to stop working. She whisked gram flour, chopped coriander, and wiped down surfaces as she spoke.

“Mmm… That sounds delicious,” said Mr. Amin, licking his top lip. “What’s the sweet today?”

“It’s halwa with flaked almonds. It’s the first time I’m making it here. I hope it turns out ok.”

Mr. Amin said, “I’m sure that it will. When are you taking your break, Zoe?”

“I don’t usually take it,” she said, peeling onions and squeezing out tomato paste. “I don’t have time. I work straight through.”

“You never take it?”

She nodded.

“Ok, please come and see me when you’ve finished cooking?”

She was about to ask something, but he beat her to it. “Yes, after you’ve done the preparation, but before serving.”

She came to his office at 11.30am. Mr. Amin knew that there was never a good time for these conversations, but it was best to have them in the middle of the day. That way the victim wasn’t shocked immediately upon arrival at work, but also didn’t hear about it just before going home. They had half a day without the knowledge, then half a day to deal with it. He called this his “Half-and-Half” approach to human relations.

He said, “Zoe, do you recall the questionnaire last week? Yes, we asked for clients’ views on how we ran the centre. One of the questions concerned the food we provide. Did you know that? Good.” It was going well so far and he gave her a winning smile. She smiled back. Maybe he’d smiled too much though, so he followed it with a frown, and Zoe frowned too. That was better. “Well as you know, you can never please everybody, however hard you try. Some people always complain. That’s not a reflection on you. Not at all. But we should at least be aware of their opinions, and maybe we can make small changes to please them. Things that are easy for us to do, and will make them happy. Yes, yes, I’m about to tell you.”

He specified the complaints: “cold food”, “boring food”, “flavourless food”, “stale food”, “disgusting food”, “ugly food”, “horrible food”, “food that produces nightmares”, “food that gives you diarrhoea”, and “food that makes you constipated”. Mr. Amin felt that there was little merit in these complaints. These Seniors were going through a process of transition – written about in the Indian scriptures – with one life stage changing to another. Their Childhood and Householder days were long gone, and now they were disempowered Elders. Their opinions counted for little, even in their own homes. The questionnaire had provided them with an opportunity to flex their muscles, and show some authority. At least on paper they could still be boss.

Poor Zoe was shocked. “What will happen now?” she said. “Will I lose my job? Will you bring in prepared food instead?”

“No, no, of course we won’t,” said Mr. Amin.

Her eyes flashed. He’d never noticed the amber. “Who said these things?” she said with anger. “Was it lots of people or just one person? I’m sure it wasn’t Irene, or James, or Albert, or Smuel. They appreciate my food. I bet it was that miserable Gemma – doing her knitting and talking about math. What use is that to her now? Counting down the days till she dies?”

He said, “Zoe, I know that you’re upset by this, but that’s enough. I can’t tell you who said what. Don’t take it personally. Let’s think what small things we can do together.” He left it there, as it was time for Zoe to serve lunch. He saw her slopping food out to clients. Her scowl alone would give them indigestion. Mr. Amin’s Half-and-Half approach wasn’t perfect he knew. They had a further conversation after lunch, and his smile worked wonders. Zoe was a sensible woman who knew that every job had hurdles to overcome. She now accepted the situation, and said that she would do the best she could with the time, budget, and resources available. In his view she performed miracles already with the $2 per person per day ingredients budget.

That evening Mr. Amin called an influential old friend in India. He told him how Zoe marinated food at home so it would taste better for the clients, that she shared her secret family recipes, sometimes added her own special ingredients, was often too busy to eat, and went without food when people wanted seconds.

His friend agreed that her daily good actions superseded her annoyance at the clients. It was clear that she filled her food with love. The next week a registered package for Zoe arrived from India. It was a certificate of merit from The Karmic World Slow Food Council. Mr. Amin framed the certificate and displayed in the kitchen. It was easy for him to do, and made her happy.