Tag: bread

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: What Is Capitalism? Part I by Le Gauchiste

There have appeared in this space several thought-provoking attempts to define capitalism, including here (see http://www.dailykos.com/story/… and here (see: http://www.dailykos.com/story/… Although this might seem to some a mere academic exercise, nothing could be further from the truth: to be effective, activism to change, transform or overthrow any human construction must be rooted in a thorough and accurate understanding thereof.

This is especially important when discussing capitalism, both because its pervasive ubiquity creates a familiarity that masquerades as understanding and because the defenders of the system work tirelessly to spew lies about its virtues. Even more treacherous than the increasingly strained defenses of the system by modern conservatives are the ideological productions of modern liberals who claim a desire to reform capitalism or ameliorate those of its consequences they don’t like.

The key problem is that liberals and conservatives share the same basic understanding of capitalism, which is rooted in the neo-classical revolution in mainstream economics that occurred in the late 19th century. On this view, capitalism is a “natural” system arising from and based on market exchanges between buyers and sellers of commodities, which are assumed to maximize “efficiency” (defined in terms of allowing “supply” and “demand” to set market-clearing prices) and human happiness (defined as the total dollar value of market commodities bought and sold (GDP), regardless of what needs they meet or how they are distributed among the population).

Thus the neo-classical view (like the classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo that preceded it) is fundamentally ahistorical: capitalism is understood not as a historically specific constellation of economic relations, but rather as the result of encouraging the supposedly natural human tendency to engage in market transactions on a competitive basis with the goal of maximizing profit.

Even worse, the neo-classical assumption that the “market” is a naturally occurring phenomenon forces it to posit an Ideal Type Market-characterized by virtually unrestrained good-faith buying and selling backed up by rules to enforce the terms of transactions-against which historical social formations are measured by the degree to which they approximate the Ideal Type and can be called “capitalistic.” In this view there is of course no room for understanding how the historical economies of pre-capitalist social formations worked on their own terms, because those terms are assumed ab initio to represent flaws, deviations from the Ideal Type that maximizes happiness.

And therein lies the reason that neo-classical economics provides an unstable intellectual foundation for capitalist reformism that unavoidably undermines any case for change, because all such reforms involve straying from the Ideal Type Market. That is why, in televised “debates” about regulation between conservatives and liberals, when the former extol the virtues of the market and call for “non-interference,” the latter start off the same way (Obama does this all the time) and then suddenly pivot to an argument that some specific reform represents an exception to the free market rule. Conservatives thus always come off as more intellectually consistent while liberals seem (and in fact are) intellectually muddled and confused-even when “the facts” seem to stand in their favor.

We, however, are Anti-capitalists, and we need an understanding of capitalism that historicizes it as a system with a definite beginning and, therefore, a possible end.

Pique the Geek 20110731: Yeasts, Interesting Beasties

When the term yeast is used, most people think of freshly baked bread.  Many people will also think of a cold, foamy headed beer.  Both are made possible by yeast, but there are many more applications.

Yeast has been used to raise bread and make beer and wine since prehistory, and the work is very ancient.  It comes to us in modern English via the Old English gyst, which in tern derived from the Indo-European word yes, meaning quite literally to bubble.  Thus the word is very much older than our understanding that yeasts are living things, dating from the 1850s due to the work of Louis Pasteur.

When we think of yeast, we normally are referring to a single species (out of around 1500, give or take), Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  This single species is responsible for raising bread, making wine and much of the beer that is drunk, as well as alcohol for beverage and industrial purposes.  Unless I qualify, when I use the term “yeast” this is the species to which I refer.

“You Don’t Have to be Jewish…”

Just a little off beat Big Apple history that I wrote for La Vita Locavore after reading a rye bread recipe.

After an enjoyable read of a Special Wednesday Edition of Sunday Bread- NY Rye I started thinking about just how such an Old World staple got identified as “good Jewish or New York style Rye”. New York claims many foods that were not invented in the Big Apple but rye bread is really about as European as it gets.

Not only is rye the most popular type of bread in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Poland, Slovakia, and Russia, it has been a staple since long before the discovery of the Americas. In a bread timeline, dark rye even made it to the British Islands as early as 500 AD. “Since the Middle Ages, rye has been widely cultivated in Central and Eastern Europe, and is the main bread cereal in most areas east of the French-German border and north of Hungary.” A year and two days ago I wrote a cute little diary called The Irish and Our Potatoes that mentioned the Holy Roman Empire being upset when those first Spanish explorers came back with starchy spuds to compete with the Staff of Life. By that time the “Body of Christ” being threatened by the lowly potato was mostly rye bread.

I remember a time when rye bread didn’t seem the least bit Jewish. It didn’t even seem like New York bread because I walked to either the French or the German Bakery, watched the fresh bread go through the automatic slicer and always ate both ends as I walked home. I remember when rye bread began an association with the Brooklyn Jewish community and it is a cute story, a progressive story even.

Rye bread going Jewish had much more to do with Madison Ave. than Flatbush Ave. It was and still is an advertisement. Rye bread is a New York City tourist attraction. The Stage Deli advertises their slogan next to a mile high fresser in the hotel magazines.

At the competition, the late great Leo Steiner, co-owner of the Carnegie Deli, the corned beef cornball comedian and the public face of Jewish food who was was eulogized by Henny Youngman as “the deli lama” and a man who “made New York taste good,” appeared in one of the great New York nostalgia commercials. In that television commercial, from behind the Carnegie counter Leo Steiner sold Levi’s Real Jewish Rye by saying in an accent that would make Jackie Mason jealous “It makes a nice samwich.” Perhaps that is why Jackie Mason defected in the 7th Ave. Pastrami Feud.

This story of progressive advertising began long before the Carnegie vs. Stage wars, back in the days when Leo Steiner was still working in his parents’ grocery store in Elizabeth, N.J. It was in 1961 when rye bread converted to Judaism.