Friday, October 07, 2022

Our Neighborhood from the Air

Drone photo of the Ann Arbor Skyline

Burns Park kids and tennis courts.


Our guests last weekend with us in the park.

Our neighborhood school.

A local dragonfly for Eileen's Critters.

Drone photos by Len and Evelyn. © 2022 for maefood dot blog spot dot com.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Do McDonald's Hamburgers Taste Good?

Worldwide, McDonalds sells several million hamburgers per day, maybe even as many as 50 million. My guess is that people eat them because they like the way they taste -- along with various other reasons, especially cost and convenience. But it seems to me that if you want to understand why people, especially children, want to eat McDonalds' burgers, it makes sense to at least consider how they taste. The French Fries, too. I am not sure that the book I just read really came to grips with the way that McDonalds appeals to the human sense of taste: the tastes of fat, salty meat, of the carb-loaded bun, and the sweet and slightly acidic tomato flavor of catsup. Sure, sophisticated eaters criticize such a taste, but many many people of every possible background find fast food good, whether they admit it or not. 

Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for History.
Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America is a very interesting study of economic history. It's about a quest for economic and racial justice as reflected in the struggle to enable Black Americans to own McDonalds franchises and share in the enormous profits that fast food chains take out of Black neighborhoods in America. It's a story of politics, corporate management and prejudice, institutional racism, and many other issues made visible by the one issue of franchise ownership and the racial unfairness of American corporate structure. It is a study of capitalism and its consequences. It describes how community activists, local politicians, and national leaders all cooperated to give Black entrepreneurs a place in the high-profit-making fast food industry.

In Franchise, author Marcia Chatelain tells a story of how over time, access to education and better jobs enabled Black advertising agents to become effective in creating demand for fast food in the Black community, and how fast food outlets became a part of the community through Black ownership and employment of Black workers. It tells how Black-owned franchises became exceptionally profitable despite a variety of impediments and lack of equal support from corporate management. Although centered on McDonalds, the book includes digressions about some very interesting fried-chicken chains and others as well.

In the introduction, the author explains that understanding the history of fast food franchising in Black neighborhoods provides necessary insight into the nutritional and health issues that are often at the forefront of recent discussions of how Black families eat:

"For too long, research on race and fast food has placed the onus solely on black palates and parents for the dismal state of black health. Without an understanding of how we got here, the food justice movement will never move beyond the idea of individual choice and continue to ignore structural disequilibrium. Knowing the caloric content and fat grams in a cheeseburger from Krystal is important. Educating the public on how much of the recommended daily allowance of sodium is exceeded by an order of Burger King onion rings is helpful. Promoting healthy lifestyles can improve lives. But understanding how shifts in the priorities of the mid-century civil rights struggle, changes in federal policy on business and urban development, and the boom years of fast food converged in the lives of black America is equally critical." (Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, p. 6). 

One chapter after another provides details of many events in American Black history and the search for racial justice from the 1960s onward. Within the Civil Rights movement and within many political struggles against entrenched racism, Chatelain presents the interaction between the McDonald's Corporation and activists in Black communities in a number of American cities, especially Chicago, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. The author's knowledge and passion make this a wonderful story, though sometimes I found the details a bit overwhelming. 

An illustration from Franchise, showing a Black-owned McDonald's spared during
the 1992 riots in the ghetto of Los Angeles, another interesting area of historic study. (p. 197)

As time went on, Chatelain says, healthy food became a national preoccupation, and many studies blamed fast food -- and people who chose it and gave it to their children -- for the increasing epidemic of obesity and food-related diseases:

"In the constant evaluation of black health as jeopardized, many public health advocates fixated on food choices and acknowledged the disproportionate numbers of fast food locations in black neighborhoods. But, few made the connection with the federal government’s concentrated, sustained efforts to bring more and more fast food into the inner city, nor did they see the handiwork of the civil rights authorities in sanctioning the process." (p. 252). 

In other words, there's a down-side:

"The idea of financially sound black institutions is alluring across the ideological spectrum because it allows white conservatives and liberals alike to claim plausible deniability in their role in supporting systems and policies that maintain racial capitalism. Whether it’s called black capitalism or empowerment, the politics of black business can serve many interests, except for those of blacks most susceptible to the extremes of capitalism and racism." (p. 257).

At the end of the book, Chatelain returns to the question of parental choices in what to feed children: 

"The castigation of the eating habits of poor people, or the choices they make for their children’s meals, obscures the origins of those choices." (p. 262).  

As I've said, I found this book very interesting and full of wonderful insights about American Black history and the role of civil rights leaders and political leaders in applying pressure for a more just system. In this review I have barely touched on the richness of this history book and its treatment of many issues of justice, equal opportunity, and community development. 

The only reservation I have about Franchise is the question of why McDonald's and most other fast food chains have such a strong appeal to consumers, which I believe is the taste of the food. People of all races, all classes, all economic levels, and many countries besides ours simply like to eat it. To really understand the way fast food flavors satisfy deep cravings requires reading at least one more book; for example, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. It's all about the taste! (I dare you to write a comment here about how you don't like fast food: that's not the point.)

Review © 2022 mae sander.


Monday, October 03, 2022

Food and Drink

Will this be our last time cooking outside until spring?
Len made grilled lamb for our out-of-town visitors.

Lamb, red wine, etc. served to our visitors Evelyn, Tom, and Alice. Photos by Alice.

Breakfast: Len’s cinnamon bread. Also cofffee!

Lentil and barley soup at Carol’s house.

Broth with carrots and chick peas to be served with roasted vegetables and rice.

Another dinner, made by Alice: ravioli, chicken, salad, wine.

Lunch at the Slurping Turtle: a sushi roll and Diet Coke.

Angelo’s Diner: Roast Beef Sub, fries, and Diet Coke. Indulgent?


Drinks  shared with the bloggers at Elizabeth’s weekly party. 
Blog post © 2022 mae sander

Sunday, October 02, 2022

A Walk Through Graffiti Alley

Swirling with color and form, totally chaotic, no one’s personal creation dominates this growing collection of spontaneous graffiti. It always changes while it never changes. It fills the passageway between two streets downtown, and has spilled over into the parking garage. One artist hides the work of another. 
On the University of Michigan Campus: a new mural installation of enlarged charcoal sketches.
I will post a more complete review of this exhibition when it is fully available.

Photos © by mae for maefood dot

Friday, September 30, 2022

In My Kitchen, September 2022

My one new kitchen tool in September.

Kitchen Challenge

Most kitchen posts are about cooking, baking, and acquiring new foods and cooking devices. Today I’m going to start with something completely different: fighting stuff that gets tracked in through the kitchen door. Everyone has to keep the floor clean, but nobody talks about it! September starts the season here when trees are constantly dropping little seeds and things… October and November the trees are dropping leaves… then there will be slush and snow. 

On the ground outside my kitchen for most of the month:
Hundreds of maple twirlers

Everywhere on the tile floor: maple twirlers.

What to do?

Most of you probably have a mini-vac just like I do.
Mine is hanging beside the flour canisters in the pantry.

Fall Produce in the Kitchen

As the leaves get ready to drop, September is also approaching the end of the growing season for many great fruits and vegetables in Michigan, like peaches, plums, apricots, lettuce, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Happily, the season for apples and pears is just starting. And onions and potatoes last through the winter.

First frost date for the lower 48 states. Alaska has frosts virtually all year.
Hawaii has frosts only at high elevations. (Source)

By the end of September, the first frost here in southeastern Michigan is not far off — if it hasn’t happened already. The current forecast gives us another two weeks before it happens this year. Fresh produce is a big deal for many of us, but much depends on the weather; above is a map showing what we could expect. In my experience the frost is often a bit earlier than the map indicates, though I guess that the warming of the planet is giving us a few more days of ripening tomatoes. 

Some of the last local orange and red tomatoes, peaches, and plums… and an early apple.
I think the ripening tree fruit is more related to the length of the day, and yes, days are getting shorter.
My fresh produce comes from two stores that sell local produce: The Produce Station, a retail market,
and Argus Farm Stop, a farmers’ consignment market.

I did not freeze or otherwise save any fall produce this year,
except for this one little bag of plums, frozen for a plum cake next winter.

From Argus Farm Stop: fantastic local corn. I always husk corn outdoors.

Very fresh large duck eggs, raised by Webbed Foot Pines and sold by Argus.

You can see how fresh the eggs are by the way the yolks
stay very spherical and don’t flatten out.


I baked a white pizza.

Len baked croissants, which I documented in an earlier post.

 New book, published this month: Ken Forkish,
Evolutions in Bread

The new book features breads made with
early strains of wheat, like eincorn.

A gluten-free challah that Len made for our neighbor, using a recipe from the web.

Coming soon…

Halloween candy is everywhere, and I’ve had some already.

One by one, leaves begin to color and to drop.

I’m sharing my September kitchen summary with the blog event “In My Kitchen” hosted by Sherry at her blog Sherry’s Pickings ( This post © 2022 by mae sander.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Moshkeleh the Thief

Moshkeleh Ganev wished that his fellow Jews in the village of Mazepevke would be more respectful of him, and call him Moshke, the way the non-Jewish residents did. He wished they would skip the word Ganev, which meant thief — even though being a thief was in fact how he made a living. 

In a few short chapters, Moshkeleh and his fellow villagers are introduced: vivid and highly individual. The innkeeper and his very beautiful daughters, Moshkeleh’s fellow Jewish horse thieves and pickpockets, the very handsome visiting government official (not Jewish, of course), and Moshkeleh’s own father, also a petty criminal. Moshkeleh himself is a handsome and appealing man, but no girl would have him because of his profession. Then Moshkeleh saves the girl he secretly loves from converting and running away with the non-Jewish official. He does so in a resourceful and surprising way, as is always the case in stories by Sholom Aleichem.

The character Moshkeleh and the Ukrainian village Mazepevke reflect the humor and creativity of Sholom Aleichem, perhaps the most famous Yiddish author. He wrote the novella Moshkeleh the Thief in 1903, when it was published serially. Somehow, this story did not appear in the author’s collected works, and was recently translated into English for the first time. What fun to read it!

Who isn’t thinking about the current state of Ukraine right now, as the Ukrainians fight the invasion of their country by their much bigger neighbor Russia? My mother’s family came from a village in Ukraine, which of course I’ve always thought would have resembled the villages in Sholom Aleichem’s stories. I think my great grandmother even made bootleg liquor which was probably sold in a tavern like the one in the story. Sholem Aleichem created a vision of these villages, which have nothing at all to do with the current situation. We know why there were 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine in 1939 and today there are less than 10% as many. But Sholem Aleichem allows us to imagine what was once a world in itself.

Review © 2022 mae sander

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ai Weiwei

"Never forget that under a totalitarian system cruelty and absurdity go hand in hand." Ai Weiwei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows (p. 137)

"In China, if you try to understand your country, it’s enough to put you on a collision course with the law." (p. 147)

"Young people in China today have no knowledge at all of the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and if they knew they might not even care, for they learn submission before they have developed an ability to raise doubts and challenge assumptions." (p. 204)

"It’s a mistake to always take me seriously. (p. 217)

Ai Weiwei's story begins with his father's birth. It's a story of China for just over 100 years, during unimaginable changes from rule by the Emperor to rule by Mao to the totalitarian state of the present. It's both a personal and an intellectual history, set against the background of war, conquest, persecution, and Ai Weiwei's personal development as a startling avant-garde artist in our own time.

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows on one level is the story of just two people: Ai Weiwei and his father, Ai Quing, who was a popular poet. In 1938, Ai Qing wrote “Toward the Sun,” a lyric poem about north China, where he had witnessed "both China’s miseries and its people’s stubborn vitality. It soon became a staple at poetry readings; as evening fell, students would read it aloud around a bonfire, the light illuminating their faces, and the poem’s passion and confidence would warm their hearts." (Ai Weiwei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, p. 59). 

Before reading Ai Weiwei's memoir, I had virtually no knowledge of Ai Quing, and only broad outlines about the struggle of the Communist party led by Mao to defeat the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek. His father's life is a study of ups and downs, including rejection in China and fame outside of China (for example, a friendship with Chilean poet Pablo Neruda). Sometimes he was an acknowledged leader, at other times, because he stuck to his principles, he was sent to prison camps or far-flung exile. Here is how his life began.

"In 1910, the year my father was born, my grandfather had just turned twenty-one. The Qing dynasty was nearing the end of its 266-year rule, while in Russia the fall of the czars and the advent of the Soviet regime were just seven years away. It was the year that Tolstoy and Mark Twain died, the year that Edison invented talkies in faraway New Jersey. In Xiangtan, in Hunan, seventeen-year-old Mao Zedong was still in school; his first wife, selected for him by his parents in an arranged marriage, died a month before my father was born. But Fantianjiang, like so many other Chinese villages, slumbered on, unremarkable and anonymous." (Ai Weiwei. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, p. 17).  

Ai Weiwei's father's status varied from early recognition as a national poet in Mao's inner circle to suffering in the a rehabilitation camp for dissidents and other intellectuals in the Cultural Revolution. I really enjoyed reading about his first meeting in 1941, where he has an informal meal with Mao in his army camp, long before his military success. Near the start of the book, we read about one of the worst times: an account of the starvation that was the fate of the inhabitants of the rehabilitation camp many years later.

"In this era of dreary routine and material scarcity, the kitchen served as the focus of people’s imagination, even if little changed from one day to the next. Each morning the cook would mix cornmeal with warm water and place the dough into a meter-square cage drawer, then stack five such drawers inside an iron pot and steam them for thirty minutes. When the lid was lifted off, the whole kitchen would fill with steam, and the cook would carve up the corn bread vertically and horizontally, each square piece weighing two hundred grams. To show his impartiality, he would weigh the blocks publicly. This same corn bread would be served from the first day of the year to the last, except on May 1 (International Workers’ Day) and October 1 (National Day), when the corn bread would acquire a thin red layer, made up of sugar and possibly jujubes. If someone was lucky enough to find a jujube in their corn bread, this would always stir some excitement. The company had large expanses of cornfields, but we never once had fresh cornmeal to eat, only 'war-relief grain' that had been in storage for goodness knows how long: it scraped your throat roughly as you swallowed, and reeked of mold and gasoline." (p. 12).

Eventually, Mao had no more use for intellectuals: "the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957... marked the end of intellectuals as a force in society. From that time on, Chinese intellectuals were confined to a marginal position, and they have been there ever since." And it still burdens the freedom of thought of Ai Weiwei: "Ideological cleansing, I would note, exists not only under totalitarian regimes—it is present also, in a different form, in liberal Western democracies." (p. 83-84)

After describing the experiences of his father, Ai Weiwei continues with his own story. He was born in 1957, when his father was 47 years old, and he lived in exile with his father for a major part of his childhood and youth. Wanting a broader education the young Ai Weiwei managed to get to Philadelphia to go to college. Here, at the famous art museum, he encountered one of my favorite artists: Marcel Duchamp, who along with Andy Warhol became a critical influence on his development as a conceptual and otherwise off-beat artist -- for me one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.

"In one of the galleries, a bicycle wheel was mounted on a wooden stool; two large panels of glass, one above the other, each splintered and cracked, invited you to contemplate the relationship between the “Bride’s Domain” above and the “Bachelor Machine” below." (p. 168).


Ai Weiwei's description of his development as an artist and his view of art make up a major part of the rest of the book. He explains:

"Art had long been a consumption commodity, a decoration catering to the tastes of the rich, and under commercial pressures it was bound to degenerate. As artworks rise in monetary value, their spiritual dimension declines, and art is reduced to little more than an investment asset, a financial product." (p. 176). 

Along with his self-invention as a political activist as well as being an artist, he used provocative actions (or "little acts of mischief") as a way of public expression, influenced by Warhol and others including Alan Ginsberg. Adapting to the modern age, Ai Weiwei became a blogger with a huge following; when the Chinese authorities shut down and destroyed his blog,  he became a Twitter user, always advancing his views of art and political issues with bravery in the face of the repressive Chinese authorities.

Finally, the government subjected Ai Weiwei to 80 days of imprisonment with brutal policemen constantly questioning and badgering him for 24 hours a day. After his release he was not allowed to leave the country for several years, and his artistic endeavors were disrupted. He cultivated attention to his mistreatment in a variety of ways, and was finally released. He has now moved to Europe, where he continues to be a productive artist.

The memoir is illustrated with sketches by the author. The bicycle basket action was photographed
every day, and posted on Instagram as a symbol of his lost freedom.

An Exhibit of Ai Weiwei's Art

A number of very famous works by Ai Weiwei have been exhibited in well-known museums; in particular at the Tate Modern in London, he spread 102.5 million ceramic sunflower seeds on the floor of the great hall. These realistic seeds were created under his direction by a ceramic studio in China. They were in part a memorial to the thousands of children who died in the poorly built schools that crumbled in the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, but also they meant much more.

While I didn't see the more famous exhibits, in 2017, I did see a beautiful and exciting exhibit of Ai Weiwei's sculptures at the Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In 1995, one of Ai Weiwei's public actions was to drop and shatter a Han-Dynasty urn.
This was the subject of one room of the exhibit in Grand Rapids.

Among Ai Weiwei's very political activities was a campaign to remember by name the thousands
of children who died in the earthquake in 2008 because of poorly-built schools. 
The authorities did everything they could to stop him! This sculpture, titled "Porcelain Rebar,"
recalls the tangled metal rebar visible in the rubble of the schools.

Review and photos © 2017, 2022, mae sander.