Soapbox Post

The trip from Arizona to the site of the IHEST Summer School required a cab from Scottsdale to PHX, a plane from PHX to Charlotte, another plane from Charlotte to Paris, Charles de Gaulle, a cab from CDG to the Lyon train station, a 2-hour TGV trip to Dijon, and an hour cab ride to Saline Royale, along the way crossing nine time zones in just under 23 hours of travel. Needless to say I’m experiencing a bit of jet lag.*

 

Can I give you a detailed account of all the sessions at the summer school today?  Not exactly.  There were certainly some good presentations about public deliberations on science and nuanced responses about the need for scientists to not just talk to the public, but to listen to them as well.  But considering the physical condition I’m in, I just want to get down to the basics – and when it comes to traveling long distances a close second to finding transportation is finding something to eat.  So this blog entry is going to be about food.

 

I just finished eating a delightful meal.  The director of the conference informed us that the chef specialized in using local products and while he was not yet an official star, he soon would be.

 

Up first was tomato soup. A bland way to begin right?  I can safely say I’ve never had tomato soup like this.  As it was set before us we were told that there were no less than seven varieties of tomatoes in it.  I calculated that perhaps I’ve had a total of four different varieties of tomatoes before this evening and that’s only if you count cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes as different. The presentation was stunning – with the pureed tomatoes arranged carefully so that you could clearly see three different colors.  Next up?  Curried pork with rice. The pork was, of course, locally raised and spiced just enough to bring out the flavor without overpowering it.  For dessert we had a plum and apricot tart. Of course, following the evening’s theme, they weren’t just any plums… they were locally collected wild plums. Oh! And I forgot about the wine.  First we had a deep golden wine made of Chardonnay and Savagnin that tasted like a robust well-aged lightly oaked Chardonnay and a red wine made from the Poulsard grape. Two of those three grapes I’ve never heard of before, even in the famous Cornell University wines class. 

 

This meal was a bit different from my previous full sit-down meal. On my flight from Charlotte to Paris, I got to consume the ultimate in efficient, processed food technology.   The pasta was pre-heated in its own plastic wrapped plastic tub. I think there was some pesto in it. That’s really the only taste I could make out.  The bland spongy mini-roll was also wrapped in its own plastic – bulging at the seams because of the pressure changes. The salad, again covered in plastic, was a few leaves of green lettuce swamped in tiny carrot shavings.  The dessert… well… I wasn’t brave enough to try the carrot cake-looking thing.  And the wine was $7 extra, so I stuck with a can of ginger ale.

 

So why am I rambling on like this? Honestly, it’s not simply because I want you to feel sorry for me for having to suffer through airplane food or envious that the conference organizers are treating us so well.  For me, it’s a reminder of how values shape decision-making.  Both these meals gave me the basic nutrition and energy I needed to continue my day. But other values shaped them as well.  As much as I make fun of airplane food, it’s really quite remarkable that a crew of four people can feed 250 plus people a full meal 39,000 feet above thousands of miles of open ocean.  These meals have to be prepared quickly as the cabin crew have other duties, they have to be reasonably light to save on fuel, they have to be able to be stacked in small bins, and they have to keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool.  My first meal at the summer school? Well that’s a meal that could only be had in the Jura mountain region of France.  The meal was designed to take full advantage of the materials that are only available here – providing a unique experience and perhaps even a reason to travel thousands of miles. 

 

I hope that a theme of this meeting will be that values shape decision-making processes and that one needs to appreciate the values of others in order to understand why they take the stances they do. A lot of nanotechnology work is focused on maximizing efficiency – it’s like serving meals on a plane.  If you want to get something done quickly and with a minimum of fuss, nano might be the way to go. But if you’d rather take your time and enjoy some local flavor, nano may be the last thing you want.  I suspect that a number of people resisting the development of nanotechnology are afraid they’ll lose the chance to eat soup made with seven varieties of tomatoes.

 

* Historical trivia question: Who was the first person ever to have a documented case of jet lag? Supposedly Charles Lindbergh felt even more tired than he should have after making that famed transatlantic flight.

 

 

About the Author:  Jameson Wetmore is an assistant professor with CSPO and CNS-ASU, and ASU’s School of Human Evolution & Social Change.  He currently is in France, participating in IHEST’s European Summer School.

 

[more Blogging from France posts]

Comments
Susan Fitzpatrick
Aug 26, 2010 @ 9:01am
Has anyone asked the poor lowly "public" how they feel about being told they have to walk or ride their bikes to work, give up visits to distant relatives, eat only what is in season, and so on while academics can consume enormous anounts of energy deciding how best to harangue them about their lack of appreciation for and understanding of science? Perhaps it is time for scientists and scholars to remember that they are part of the "public." In the realm of policy - science has a place - it is just not a more priviledged one.
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