Flavor of the month: Depression

PETA has now formally taken a stand on ice cream.  In late September they sent a letter to Ben and Jerry of Vermont ice cream fame urging the use of human breast milk in place of the bovine variety.  The letter was sent after Storchen restaurant in Winterthur, Switzerland declared they would be using 75% human breast milk.  PETA rightly argued that if the eternally ‘neutral’ cheesemakers can take a stand on this issue, so can we.

Still, I have personal problems with the thought.  Despite distance, eating such ice cream invariably brings to mind another woman’s breast.  The thought creeps me out.  Granted, there’s nothing appealing in thinking about a cow’s teat when I’m eating, but somehow the other one is just more disturbing.  And then there’s the invariable thought of the woman behind the breast.

What kind of woman would be giving up her breast milk for ice cream?  Is there a high likelihood of disease transference?  What about drugs?  Putting aside the fact that the potential milk donor may or may not be a heroine addict, what about legitimate medical dosages and even over-the-counter medications?  What kind of nebulous drug interactions could take place in a vat of donated human breast milk?  Just how much would they be able to even test for, let alone remove?

Even in ideal cases, there are questions.  What kind of raging hormones am I likely to get dished out with my butter pecan?  What if the milk donor of my scoop, despite the fact that she is perfectly healthy and completely drug free, lost her baby and feels depressed every time she has to pump?  Am I getting those hormones along with my Chunky Monkey?

On that note, how much different is it from what we’re currently getting?  What kind of antibiotic and other medications are we getting secondhand in our ice cream even from cows?  What if all the cows are depressed, as PETA would allege, from losing their own children or even from poor living conditions?  Just was IS in that second scoop of rocky road?

Nobel Anger.

I do sometimes get depressed about how my own particular culture is ignorant of and insular from the rest of the world.  Of course, Just looking at the relative sizes of countries, it’s just as easy for most Europeans to visit another country as it is for us to visit another state.  And it is hard to outgrow a prejudice without personal experience to counteract it.  If you never meet a for-real French person, how do you know they aren’t all snobby and rude?   However, much as I can understand US pride and US ignorance and US inward-focused narrowmindeness, that doesn’t mean i like it.  I deal with it, I try to educate and eliminate it where possible, and I hope for future understanding.

For myself, I would not consider this cultural background a disadvantage.  I know it’s there, but I would not say it handicaps me in my own life.  perhaps it’s arrogance, but I’d like to think I’ve grown beyond the prejudices of my upbringing.  in particular as a writer, I’d like to think I have a little perspective and a little objectivity and a little observational prowess.  I’d like to think my upbringing does not keep me from being a good writer.

According to Horace Engdahl, permenant secretary of Nobel’s Swedish Academy, that’s virtually impossible for most of us US citizens.  Evidently (and unbeknownst to me) US writers are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture,” dragging down the quality of their work.  “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.  That ignorance is restraining.”

I can accept that the majority of Nobel Prizewinners are European.  I can accept that some, even many, people feel that Europe is still the center of the literary world.  They have an intense and continuous history of it – of course they have extensive skills to draw on.  But I don’t think our own history puts us at that much of a handicap.  I don’t think we are too insular, or too ignorant.  I think we do participate, fairly actively, in the literary world (note, world, not immediate insular community).  Yes, we do have some shoddy writers, but so do all countries, even those in Europe.  That doesn’t mean we can’t, or aren’t, producing grade-A literature.

Let’s take the three books I’m reading right now (yes it’s three, yes I read a lot).  The first one, the fluffy one, is a sci-fi novel by C. J. Cherryh.  This one happens to be about humans interacting with two different groups of aliens, one of which has a very Oriental flavor.  It’s not the most profound literature, but the topic seems…oddly appropriate. Someone from the US can imagine the way humans might interact with not only a different culture but a different biology in a realistic way?  I would not call that insular or ignorant.  Another book I’m reading is The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya.  She’s Russian.  It’s translated.  I guess it’s one of those random outliers of a book that made it into the US literary scene, even though it’s translated and deals with post-apocalyptic Russia.  Because obviously, we don’t translate enough.  The third book I’m currently reading (dare I say involved with?) is The Breif Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  It’s awesome.  If you haven’t read it, go out and buy it, because you will want to read it again.  Diaz is a Dominican-American writer who often writes about the immigrant experience.  He’s very insular – he only writes about the DR or the US.  I wouldn’t call him ignorant though, especially considering the footnotes, which are almost as playful as those in Nabokov’s Pale Fire, but are also far more informative and factually based.

I’m sure Mr. Engdahl is getting his fill of criticism over this interview, and I wouldn’t mind the US losing the Nobel Prize for Literature to someone worthy.  But if no US writer makes it on to the short list this year, after this particular interview?  That smacks of insularity and ignorance.