June 16, 2013

Sometimes I reel off a series of ten or twenty blogs dealing with substantive topics in food ethics, and I manage to do it with something of a light touch, if not always a modicum of humor. So I count things like discussing the surprising rationale for NOT requiring recyclable cloth grocery bags and the inconveniences of retail food stores’ attempts at inventory control as a “substantive topic”, and I’ll even include a couple of entries on how the prevalence of all you can eat buffet tables seems to affect the formation of moral character, or the rationales for resilience and food hubs on the list. I look back on a string stretching back to last December and ignore an occasional rant brought on by robots or bat guano (even if the latter might have been my funniest effort) and feel like I’m keeping up my end of the bargain.

And then one Sunday in June I wake up and it feels like I’m channeling Andy Rooney. All I can think about is some diatribe about the lack of good tortillas or grits in Michigan, or how strange the whole idea of kale chips seems to me. I could probably gin up a paragraph or two about those little tinfoil packages of jelly one finds at chain restaurants these days. How did they get that jelly in there in the first place? Is there a job description for jelly squirter, or has that been taken over by machines? And whatever happened to just passing around the jelly jar, anyway? If it was good enough for Grandma and Grandpa, it’s probably good enough for us, too. It’s just a sign of our basic ineptitude (or maybe it’s global capitalism run amok) that leads us to think that we need little tinfoil packages of jelly, anyway. What’s next? Tinfoil packages of butter and honey?

Then it’s on to “Who even uses the word ‘tinfoil’ these days? When was the last time you heard someone say that?” Ah yes, it’s only been a couple of years since we lost Andy, but some of us miss him. And speaking of Andy Rooney, we might notice that his segment on 60 Minutes was originally a replacement for the “Point/Counterpoint” exchange between James K. Kirkpatrick and Shana Alexander. I’m sometimes tempted to channel Kirkpatrick, but not so much his persona as an irascible arch conservative as the irascible column he used to write on language. I’m tempted to point out that the word ‘reflexive’ is supposed to indicate a reflex action, hence one that is an utterly unthinking and non-conscious response. But some sociologists and geographers are now starting to use it when what they really mean is ‘reflective’—an action that has been consciously and deliberatively considered. It would be utterly irrelevant in a food ethics blog if it weren’t for the fact that their advocacy of “reflexive food ethics” is even starting to penetrate into real life!

Arrgh! Ordering that chicken fried steak night after night: Now that’s an example of reflexive food ethics. Grr! Andy Rooney would never make such a mistake.

Well, Rooney might have ordered the chicken fried steak, for all I know. It’s misusing the word ‘reflexive’ that I’m talking about. As we said in the Thornapple Blog, once before, “Jane, you ignorant slut!”

We’ll leave the kids who never saw Point/Counterpoint (it ended in 1979)—and thus have no idea what Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtain were parodying (they probably have seen that) to ponder that one awhile. Then they can tell the robots.

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



2 thoughts on “Reflexivity

  1. I miss Andy, and I miss Molly Ivins. Mike Royko I don’t miss because he lives in me.

    Copying Andy, the consummate NY Giants football fan, is one of the ways I learned to write short simple sentences then putting a period and starting a new sentence because a series of short simple one thought sentences carefully organized in a logical sequence so that the thought pattern is clear and understandable and available as food for thought (why has your food blog never included a blog on food for thought?) and which are free — the short simple sentences — of distracting side thoughts — mini-sentences — by parentheses or –what are those things? — hyperboles I think — are so much more useful than some big long sentence that takes up half a page and in which people lose the thought track, justifiably and of which there are many examples thereof in the erudite text I am proofreading but only through Chapter 6 because that is as far as the author has gotten and she will let me know when Chapter 7 is ready.



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