2 min read

Kerim’s Triptych for Sunday, September 17, 2023

Kerim’s Triptych for Sunday, September 17, 2023

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Item 1: The Gefilte Fish Line

On one side of the divide: sugared sweet gefilte. On the other — the side whose gefilte became standard in American Jewish cuisine — the fish is savory, seasoned with salt and lots of pepper.
… It turns out this difference in gefilte fish comes down to the explosion of a new industry in early 19th-century Poland: sugar beets.
Imported sugar was a highly valued commodity in Europe — "the oil of that time," jokes culinary historian Gil Marks, author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. And in the face of this pricey import, the first sugar beet factory opened at the turn of the 19th century, in what is now southern Poland. From there, the industry (with heavy Jewish involvement) took off, and sugar made its way into everything.

Item 2: Europe’s mummy-eating fad

Archaeologists attend the unwrapping of the mummy of Ta-Uza-Ra, a priestess of Ammon, in this late 19th century oil painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux.
Archaeologists attend the unwrapping of the mummy of Ta-Uza-Ra, a priestess of Ammon, in this late 19th century oil painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux.
Feeling ill? In 15th-century Europe, the remedy for your headache, stomach ailment, or cancer might come with a side of Egyptian mummy.
For centuries, embalmed bodies were prized across the continent not for their historical value, but for their purported medical benefits. Here’s the surprising reason that people once craved, and ate, mummies.

Item 3: The “Weird Japan” Trap

Here I am betraying my own biases toward a tiresome journalistic genre: the story that depicts Japan as a menagerie of the weird, the alien, the freakish. . . . I am deeply skeptical of the way they are often framed: to maximize the inherent strangeness of the Japanese. Americans, after all, are also having less sex and committing suicide at a higher rate and dying alone and doing kinky cosplay, yet I don’t get the sense reading these stories that these trends are indicative of the fathomless mysteries of the American soul but rather the product of identifiable material and social circumstances.

Endnote

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