November 27, 2011

It’s the first Sunday after Thanksgiving. Long-time readers of the Thornapple Blog may need to be reminded that the very first entry “snuck in” right after Thanksgiving two years ago. That was the “key blog” that announced how I would write once a week to supplement the share delivery that Thornapple CSA members were entitled to receive during the winter months. Do I need to point out for readers in warmer climes that we aren’t really harvesting all that much in Michigan here on the weekend of Thanksgiving? Do I need to explain why the Thanksgiving feast is organized around the slaughter of a large fowl that would, when the snows come, be especially vulnerable to the foxes and raccoons? Do I need to explain why this dish is accompanied by root crops—mashed potatoes, winter squash and candied yams? Or why dessert pies are made from other storable crops like pecans or pumpkins?

If you take a look at what the squirrels are doing to the pumpkins sitting on our front porch, you would question whether they are all that storable. But of course real farmers would not leave something as valuable as a pumpkin sitting out where the squirrels, racoons and remaining birds could get to it so easily. There’s quite a diversity among Thornapplists, some approximating the true folk knowledge needed to have pumpkin pie not only for Thanksgiving, but also for Christmas, and others more like the Thompsons. As Robert Young used to say, “I’m not really a doctor, but I play one on television.”

Which qualifies me to pontificate on all manner of issues associated with food and farming I suppose, at least as much as it qualified Dr. Welby to hawk health products. The original key blog announced that Aldo Leopold’s environmental philosophy would provide a framework for future entries. “It’s a nice little philosophical essay,” said Diane, “but it’s not very funny.” Harsh criticism, indeed.

So by the next week I was trying to interweave some background observations on getting the farm ready for winter with some Dadaist juxtaposition of quotations from Pliny the Elder and historical comments on St. Vitas dance and it’s possible linkage to ergot poisoning. I guess it was one of those things that you had to be there to see it. The week after that we were into “Take Out Season,” and the smile-a-little-bit but hardly-ever-slap-your-knees style of the Thornapple blog was full on. I still do those nice little philosophical essays now and then, but I try not to take myself too seriously.

A year ago I was questioning whether it was worth the effort it took to keep the Thornapple blog going. But due to the overwhelming response from my readers (well, one person did write), I’ve kept it going for another year. I’ve kept it on the food ethics/CSA way theme with just a couple of deviations, and I, at least, still think of it as working within that Aldo Leopold framework. If you’re wondering what that is, I’m providing a link right here: Original Thornapple Blog. I love it when real people post comments, but I appreciate the fact that it is an enormous pain to do that. I may or may not keep it going yet another year. Winter’s coming on again in Michigan, and folks do need something to tide them over ’til the sun shines again. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld might have said, “Yada yada.”

Which brings me to the song lyric for this anniversary entry. According to Wikipedia, the song “Ja-Da” was penned in 1918 by Missourian Bob Carleton and released on a piano roll by the Original New Orleans Jazz Band. The Original New Orleans Jazz Band featured a lead singer named Jimmy Durante, which establishes the analogy to George Michael and Wham! Michael went into the hospital suffering from pneumonia this week, and we all hope he gets better soon. But that’s not what I wanted to blog about.

Carleton’s lyrics went like this:



Ja-da, Ja-da jing jing jing.


That’s a funny little bit of melody—it’s so soothing and appealing to me.

Ja-Da! Ja-Da! Ja-da ja-da jing jing jing.

Which is all well and good, but the connection to food ethics lies in the fact that the exact same chord sequence and melody is used in a blues standard that has the following food-related verse:

What’s that smells like fish pretty baby, I sure would like to know.


That ain’t puddin’. That ain’t pie. That’s the kind a stuff that you got to buy!

So keep on truckin’ mama. Truck my blues away.

Now for some reason this is often given a lascivious connotation, but I believe that the original singers were probably referring to the fact that red-blooded (which is to say, hot-blooded) boys really were attracted to girls who had spent all day in the kitchen and really did smell like pudding or pie. They were suspicious of fancy types who wore perfume, which, very much like Mrs. Smith’s or Marie Callender’s, is just NOT part of the CSA way.

There’s just a chance that Carleton was borrowing, but it’s also possible that the blues singers were making a creative adaptation of Jimmy Durante. Assignment for the week: Is there an ethics question here?

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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