THERE’S A BAD JOKE I USED to tell my freshman English classes—in the spirit of higher education, of course. “What’s a paradox?” I’d ask sometime during the lessons on poetic terms and conventions. It was irrelevant if, occasionally, a few good students would hazard a guess. Correct or not—that didn’t stop the punch line: “It’s what you need to get baby dox.” (The joke was equally bad told to biology classes.)
That was a lifetime ago and my jokes have improved slightly over time, I think, but the idea of a food paradox (or at least an agreeable contradiction) is one of those concepts that, once it starts, can buzz around your head like one of those big bumblebees guarding its nesting hole in the back deck. Why is it that sharing a meal can at once be one of our most communal and social activities, yet one of the most private and intimate—even passionate-acts of sharing? Eating food in a group almost always connotes happiness (or at least something approaching happiness, food fights a la Animal House notwithstanding), and a good meal can lighten the spirit of even the loneliest diner. On the other hand, some aberrant behavior associated with some serious mental disorders also involves food–anorexia or bulimia, for example. Yet food also can be a crutch and a source of comfort for someone suffering from a disease as serious and chronic as depression, or as acute as separation anxiety.
Though not exactly paradoxical, it’s funny and at the same time a bit disturbing how quickly food conventions can change. The quip in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, “Everything our parents said was good is bad—sun, milk, red meat, college,” sums it up. The fact fish flesh and fish oil are good sources of a host of necessary nutrients puts them high on the list of desirable foods. Combine that market demand with equal parts greed and accessibility and you get overfishing of almost every edible marine animal. What’s good for us is not necessarily good for us, and it’s certainly not so good for the fisheries—some once-abundant and popular fish (including cod, hake and red snapper) are now on the “avoid” list because overfishing has decimated their population or because methods used to catch them are so damaging to the environment. The fact that other species of fish once popular are on the “avoid” list because of high mercury content (Chilean sea bass, swordfish, albacore, orange roughy) almost seems like a diabolical revenge conspiracy to make us reap what we’ve sown. Call it nature’s payback.
One more item fits into this general discussion, and we’ve pointed to it several times over the years but we’ve noticed it again recently. We love darn near everything about the Hudson Valley—the fresh air, access to fresh vegetables and meat, its scenic beauty, its history. Lots of folks feel the same way, which is why so many settle here. The more the merrier, we always say, but every 100-acre farm equals 20 or more big houses, half of them maybe downwind from other farms, and not every town in the valley is as farm-friendly as Warwick. A few tons of manure spread on the fields, a 5AM wakeup call of big tractors on the road or a herd of goats bleating all day bothers some people. They complain, and sometimes they get what they want: a beautiful view with no manure odor, no noise—and no fresh goat cheese.
That reminds me—did I ever tell you the one about the guy who had a dog that looked like Eleanor Roosevelt? See, there was this guy…