Season of the Witch
Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, here’s a selection of truly inspired vegetable carving from Shawn Feeney. If these don’t make you give up in despair on your own pumpkin, then you’re either impervious or pretty damn good yourself. But aside from the charm and virtuosity on display here, Feeney’s work does something else that’s rather surprising. To put a big name on it, when Feeney carves up a piece of veg, he’s decommodifying it. Before he starts, we’ve got a chunk of interchangeable USDA #1 Squash, but when he’s done, the anonymous squash has become something singular and unique. Now, you could say that Feeney does the same thing when he shapes a lump of clay, and you’d be right. But the difference here is that these carrots and avocados and squashes really were all one-of-a-kind to begin with, and Feeney, as an artist, responds to that when he works; the 350-pound pumpkin he carved told him that it was going to have a cleft chin before the first cut was made. The beauty of this is that even those of us whose sculpture skills are considerably more primitive can accomplish the same thing. After all, when’s the last time you saw an off-the-vine jack o’lantern that looked like it was manufactured?
Well, the answer to that last question is — actually — found north of Los Angeles on a 40 acre organic farm belonging to Tony Dighera. He grows pumpkins, but he does it with a twist. And a squeeze, too, because his pumpkins grow inside plastic molds that shape them into “pumpkinsteins.” That’s right, a pumpkin in the shape of Boris Karloff’s head in full Jack Pierce makeup. They’re pretty remarkable-looking, no doubt, and they’re earning back their R&D money in a hurry, at $75 per head, and sometimes up to $100. Before we accuse him of vulgar opportunism, understand that Farmer Dighera auditioned 27 varieties of pumpkins and spent nearly half a million bucks experimenting before he found a squash ready for his closeup. What’s more, previous to his adventures in pre-shaped produce, his organic farm was a money-loser. So I can’t blame him for doing something rather clever to set his produce apart from the crowd. But I can question the sensibility of buyers who are willing to pay a premium for the individuality of an item that is scrupulously made to not display any individuality at all.
A different kind of plasticky fright can be found in Germany. As you likely know, Germany is home to the oldest food purity law, the Reinheitsgebot, which governs the making of beer and restricts its ingredients to nothing more than water, barley and hops. (Yeast did not make an appearance because, in 1487, yeast was unknown.) The Reinheitsgebot was superseded in 1993 by the German Provisional Beer Law, but the changes were minor: now the barley could be malted and yeast was admitted to exist. Nowhere do the laws permit the inclusion of plastic, but that’s what a recent study has discovered: micro-plastics in 24 out of 24 brands of German beer. The researchers weren’t able to pin down the source because, it seems, the source is just about everything, from clothes drying on the line, to filtration systems inside the breweries themselves. A nice, cold plastikweizen, anyone?
That might be the appropriate beverage to pair with an appallingly gelatinous seafood meal featuring cannonball jellyfish, AKA “jellyballs.” In the states of the Atlantic south, fishermen are adapting to the lack of actual fish by turning to netting jellyfish. The jellyball fishery is, in fact, now Georgia’s third largest catch. The market for these lovelies is Asia, primarily China and Japan but, as you can imagine, some people are looking for ways to open up the domestic market. It might be a tough sell. But then again, jellyfish don’t sound so bad when you compare them to the other untapped protein source often touted as our future — insects.
Finally, on a sweeter note, Samira Kawash, a Rutgers academic who goes by the nom-de-blog of “The Candy Professor,” runs down the surprisingly long and curious history of sending “candy to the troops.” Whereas today the notion seems rooted in dental hygiene and nutrition, candy was once considered a fighting food, scientifically proven, no less. Scary.
Pumpkinstein by Pomah Magician