Love And Biscuits: A Tale Of Resistance

This morning, I made biscuits like my grandmother did: with White Lily Flour, baking powder, butter, and milk. She made a well of flour, poured milk, patted the dough into a round with her hands, cut her biscuits with a juice glass or a mason jar. I loved watching her make them. I loved eating them. To really think about biscuits, you have to think about who makes them and who eats them.

To really think about biscuits, you also have to think about affordability. I wonder now why my grandmother used canned evaporated milk. Was it less expensive than fresh milk? Or just more practical to bake with the same milk my grandfather used as cream for his coffee?

Now, I most often make biscuits with unbleached whole wheat flour, baking powder, butter, Greek yogurt, and organic fat free milk. They’re healthful and hip. But this morning I made biscuits much like my grandmother did. Because I miss her. And because they’re really good. Many Southerners swear by White Lily Flour. But White Lily has been bleached to be whiter, a process that smacks of hegemony.  It’s not much of a leap from “White Lily” to “lily white,” the notorious 19th and 20th c. Republican party campaigning to exclude people of color from politics. It’s not much of a leap to suspect the lightest flour of championing the lightest skin color.

I’m not the only one suspicious of the confluence of food and social purity. Continue reading

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My Daughter Is SO Beautiful

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I’m thinking of my daughter and fearing what will be her life-long engagement with the cult of beauty we shape around women.

Yesterday, I glimpsed four-year-old Maia dressed in her Greek hero’s armor and sparkly princess accessories saying to the mirror, “you are SO beautiful!” This was the first time I’d heard something like that from her.  She’s received the compliment from others. But for years now I’ve carefully avoided praising Maia’s appearance. Instead, I’ve encouraged her intelligence and celebrated her kindness. Because these are the characteristics I’d rather she aspire to, the ones I’d like to see her define herself with. Here at the start, I hope she’ll act thoughtfully rather than think too much about her looks. Continue reading

The Dairy Industry Poses As Hansel and Gretel’s Witch (Or, How To Milk A Market)

I enjoyed Michael Sandel’s latest book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, in which the popular Harvard philosopher argues that market values often crowd out other values. It was a smart and smartly organized read: Sandel’s ideas are intriguingly developed, his critiques are strategically patient, and his chapters flow like neatly arranged lectures.

Then I read that the dairy industry hopes the FDA will let them sweeten milk and other dairy products with aspartame without admitting as much on labels.

It turns out that reading Sandel’s book wasn’t the academic exercise it felt like. Instead, it was a practical one. Because Sandel’s eye on values helps me see why I’m so eager to defend milk. It’s not just the potentially carcinogenic and certainly artificial aspartame that bothers me. In its recent lobbying, the dairy industry is pursuing economic value at the expense of other, more important values. They want to sell us more milk. And ignorance and apathy and greed and deceit and gluttony.  Or, like the witch from “Hansel and Gretel,” they want to fatten us up. Continue reading

Dear Dolly Parton: An Open Fan Letter

Dear Dolly Parton, I’m a big fan. I love “Islands in the Stream.” Even more, I love your Imagination Library. Thank you for both.

I don’t listen to country music. But I love Dolly Parton. In 1996, she began giving books to children in her hometown. Now, her Imagination Library program delivers books to children throughout Tennessee and in other states, too.  Each month for the first five years of their lives, children receive a free book in the mail.

A book is a lovely gift. But here, it’s a more than a gesture. It’s a difference. This is Tennessee. For those of you not familiar with us, we’re in the mid South. We caught the nation’s attention with the infamous Scopes trial. And when Glenn Miller recorded “The Chattanooga Choo Choo,” with those now uncomfortably racist opening lyrics. And a few years ago when Rhae County commissioners banned gay people. Continue reading