Thursday, October 13, 2011

Letter of Intent for Boston University

I intend to earn a MLA in Gastronomy. Through that program I will hone skills that will enable me to help people realize the crucial part that food plays in their lives and by so doing shift public perception and policy toward a healthier understanding and lifestyle. I feel that my experience and education in food, writing, and philosophy give me a unique approach to food studies that is tailor-made for entering the Gastronomy program:

As a child, I was raised in an environment where food was a central part of life. My mother, a life-long certified master gardener and canner, always raised, prepared, and preserved most of the food eaten in my family. I raised flocks of chickens, cordoned off sections of the family garden for my personal use, and prepared elaborate, over-the-top lunches for myself nearly every day as a child. Like many young males, my initial interest in food was purely a matter of volume consumption. Having grown up surrounded by high-quality food, I simply loved eating. I can still recall sitting at my Italian great-grandmother's rice farm, eating seconds and thirds of recently-scavenged pheasant roadkill scraped off the nearby county road 39. That roadkill could be as magnificently prepared is still a matter of some wonder.

As I matured, my interest in food followed suit. I began to appreciate quality food for what it was, rather than simply a great way to stuff myself silly. I began to understand the beauty of fresh tomatoes at the eclectic local farmers market, the tenuous balance of local ecosystems, (for instance, how a couple extra wolves in the valley could be disastrous to FFA kids trying to raise a herd of goats) and how my involvement in a Montana AERO sustainability group could actually make a difference in curbing the spread of our tenacious, all-present enemy, turkish knapweed. Sliding loose change into a large mason jar to pay for our weekly gallon of fresh milk from our neighbors' cow inculcated in me the idea that food could be wonderful, natural, and economically viable.

As I attended Brigham Young University, my understanding of food underwent yet another transformation. As I studied philosophy, in particular the work of continental thinkers such as Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I developed a passion for what is often called “philosophy of the ordinary.” This philosophy asserts that by seeking to comprehend and examine our everyday experiences with mundane things, we can more fully understand their crucial role in structuring out lives. Through these studies, frequent semi-pretentious food nights and cheese tastings among close friends, and a semester abroad studying food and culture in Europe, my understanding of food added a layer of complexity. I began to understand food as something philosophically and culturally meaningful in addition to being so tasty and beautiful.

This interest has not since waned. As I continue to study the state of food in our country and the world, I am convinced that it is one of the most pivotal issues of modern society. Reading the works of philosophers such as Albert Borgmann and Hans-Georg Gadamer as well as searching out books about food and society has helped me to realize that all of my experiences in food - my love of fresh and local; my deep appreciation for food and its grounding role in community, family, and tradition; and my fascination with food's oft-ignored place in philosophy – come together to form a character-defining interest in food to which I plan to devote my professional, academic, and personal life. The MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University strikes me as the perfect program to propel me further in my studies and toward my professional goals.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In his awful majesty

When we drive, it is a largely conscious-less activity. We cruise along, listening to the rhythmic stirrings of the car interacting with our favorite album, reacting to the drivers around us in a silent, cacophonous dance of steel. I found myself in this mobile cocoon of mechanism today until I was sharply torn out of my world by a figure of pure sublimity.

Transportation in the downtown area is a grand, hyper game of frogger. Busses and tour boats crawl along through the flow of maddened, desperate drivers. As the Hondas and Toyotas duel for multi-lane supremacy, bicycles flit about like gadflies, largely attending to their own business but occasionally stinging one of their much larger counterparts, setting off a ripple that ends with busses careening across lanes and cars scrambling to make turns. As I joyously played my part in the game today, I found myself in yet another featureless intersection, hedged in by towering financial institutions and cheap merchandise stands selling T-shirts glorying in the self-love and boorishness of Boston Bruins fans.

I bathed in the simultaneous green lights that had seemingly been gifted upon me from heaven, and slammed the accelerator, desperate to get my monthly fix of over-twenty-mph driving. As I did so, pedestrians scurried to and fro, deftly skipping between cars as pedestrians are wont to do. Gradually, I became aware of a bent figure picking his way across the intersection directly below one of the green beacons urging me onward. I noticed the dexterity and timing of this archaic figure and mused of his destination. A 80+ yoga class, perhaps? The weekly doctor's appointment? A smile flickered across my face, betraying my self-amusement.

Suddenly, the man straightened. Arising from his hunched posture, the man turned, scowling. I was immediately arrested in his gaze of pure scorn. From his eyes, I felt an endless hatred of automobiles and all drivers thereof. As he stood, exactly in the center of my lane, I realized that this was no simple breaker of the law. As Gandalf and the Balrog, he and I both understood exactly what was going to occur in this intersection at that moment. I dug deep to find the courage to match his gaze, faltered, and fell to the onslaught of insane pedestrian pride. On any other day I may have locked eyes with a simple pedestrian who would have cowed his head to my rightful domination of the streets and fell into line. Today I was the subject, he the master. I jerked my wheel, barely sliding into the adjacent lane and barely zipping around the monumental man proclaiming his ambulatory supremacy. I fearfully glanced in my mirror, in awe, and saw him recede into the distance.

My memories of Boston driving, undoubtedly, will mix together into a melange of parking tickets, inevitable body work, and raging Italians. My encounter with this man, however, will always remain vivid and unique. I will always remember the day I saw the man.

He; the defiant, the suicidally indifferent to laws of traffic and physics -

the King of the Jaywalkers.