Cheese is at once a testament to the Creator’s ingenuity in providing enzymes and bacteria that will do fearful and wonderful things for milk and to man’s audacity in the face of some pretty forbidding stuff. The blander varieties, of course, are hardly more alarming than milk itself; but the farther reaches of the subject put even brave men to the test. There are cow’s-milk cheeses which will convince you that someone has dragged a whole barnyard indoors, and goat’s milk cheeses which taste as if the goat sat in them. There is something grandly faithful to the real being of creation about strong cheese. Good Limburger (with onions and rye bread, by all means), noble Liederkranz (America’s greatest cheese), French Münster, ripe Reblochon, vile Livarot, and all the deceptively pretty, shockingly flavorsome goat cheeses recall man to the humbleness of his grandeur and the greatness of his low estate. The first man is of the earth, earthy. If I had only a single temporal blessing to wish you, I would not hesitate a moment: May you be spared long enough to know at least one long evening of old friends, dark bread, good wine, and strong cheese. If even exile be so full, what must not our fullness be?

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

We are being flooded with matter about which nobody gives a damn. But the really frightening part is that the attitude begins to rub off. No home can be built without that love of detail which is the hallmark of care, yet we seem to be getting less and less able to bother. People cannot be fed without detail, children cannot be taught manners without detail, wives cannot be kept happy without detail. But in our superspirituality, we expect that a handful of good intentions and a headful of bright ideas are quite enough to make a home. The truth is, though, that matter will break us unless we love it for itself and start paying some very careful attention to its demands. We are not angels; there are no disembodied intelligences in my household, we are all things here, from the raisins in the cake to the father at his table. For the likes of us there is no middle ground between care and catastrophe.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

Some argue that the schools have neither the time nor the obligation to take notice of every discarded or disreputable scientific theory. “If we carried your logic through,” a science professor once said to me, “we would be teaching post-Copernican astronomy alongside Ptolemaic astronomy.” Exactly. And for two good reasons. The first was succinctly expressed in an essay George Orwell wrote about George Bernard Shaw’s remark that we are more gullible and superstitious today than people were in the Middle Ages. Shaw offered as an example of modern credulity the widespread belief that the Earth is round. The average man, Shaw said, cannot advance a single reason for believing this. (This, of course, was before we were able to take pictures of the Earth from space.) Orwell took Shaw’s remark to heart and examined carefully his own reasons for believing the world to be round. He concluded that Shaw was right: that most of his scientific beliefs rested solely on the authority of scientists. In other words, most students have no idea why Copernicus is to be preferred over Ptolemy. If they know of Ptolemy at all, they know that he was “wrong” and Copernicus was “right,” but only because their teacher or textbook says so. This way of believing is what scientists regard as dogmatic and authoritarian. It is the exact opposite of scientific belief. Real science education would ask students to consider with an open mind the Ptolemaic and Copernican world-views, array the arguments for and against each, and then explain why they think one is to be preferred over the other.

A second reason to support this approach is that science, like any other subject, is distorted if it is not taught from a historical perspective. Ptolemaic astronomy may be a refuted scientific theory but, for that very reason, it is useful in helping students to see that knowledge is a quest, not a commodity; that what we think we know comes out of what we once thought we knew; and that what we will know in the future may make hash of what we now believe.

Of course, this is not to say that every new or resurrected explanation for the ways of the world should be given serious attention in our schools. Teachers, as always, need to choose—in this case by asking which theories are most valuable in helping students to clarify the bases of their beliefs. Ptolemaic theory, it seems to me, is excellent for this purpose. And so is creation science. It makes claims on the minds and emotions of many people; its dominion has lasted for centuries and is thus of great historical interest; and in its modern incarnation, it makes an explicit claim to the status of science.

— Neil Postman, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future

In fancy restaurants it is even worse because the server has to take you through the evening’s specials, which are described with a sumptuousness and panache that are seldom less than breathtaking and always incomprehensible. My wife and I went to a fancy restaurant in Vermont for our anniversary the other week and I swear I didn’t understand a single thing the waiter described to us.

“Tonight,” he began with enthusiasm, “we have a crepe galette of sea chortle and kelp in a rich mat de mer sauce, seasoned with disheveled herbs grown in our own herbarium. This is baked in an inverted Prussian helmet for seventeen minutes and four seconds precisely, then layered with steamed wattle and woozle leaves. Very delicious; very audacious. We are also offering this evening a double rack of Rio Rocho cutlets, tenderized at your table by our own flamenco dancers, then baked in a clay dong for twenty-seven minutes under a lattice of guava peel and sun-ripened stucco. For vegetarians this evening we have a medley of forest floor sweetmeats gathered from our very own woodland dell.. ..”

And so it goes for anything up to half an hour. My wife, who is more sophisticated than I, is not fazed by the ornate terminology. Her problem is trying to keep straight the bewilderment of options. She will listen carefully, then say: “I’m sorry, is it the squib that’s pan-seared and presented on a bed of organic spoletto?”

“No, that’s the baked donkling,” says the serving person. “The squib comes as a quarter-cut hank, lightly rolled in payapaya, then tossed with oil of olay and calamine, and presented on a bed of chaff beans and snoose noodles.”

I don’t know why she bothers because, apart from being much too complicated to take in, none of the dishes sounds like anything you would want to eat anyway, except maybe on a bet after drinking way too much.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

Further, such squeamishness [engendered by subjectivism] creates a certain normative vacuum in our public spaces. In walking off the field of our shared moral and aesthetic life, we cede that field to corporate forces, which are not at all shy about offering up a shared experience: the emo coming out of the sound system. That’s what we end up with. The way anonymous others leap in on our behalf and install these systems, without anyone taking responsibility for them, makes the shared experience unavailable for discussion. It can’t be subject to disputation, and this is why it feels suffocating.

The taken-for-granted presence of the Muzak system spares us the exposure that comes from bringing forward one’s own taste for others to respond to…. And this process is self-reinforcing: the saturation of public space by the inevitably lame manufactured experience spurs us to plug in our earbuds, reinforcing our self-enclosure.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

Perhaps this is the place to warn you against an excessive zeal for cleanliness when it comes to ironware. Properly seasoned, iron is one of the greatest cooking materials in the world, but the average American housewife has been so brainwashed that she commonly scours off the cooking surface without thinking. Woks and iron skillets should be rinsed and wiped, never washed. If someone comes along and tells you cleanliness is next to godliness, the proper answer is, “Yes—next. Right now I’m working on godliness.”

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

The corpses of our shallow cares

But within those limits, possessions really do become the prime evidence of what we care about. The woman I delight in becomes my wife. The man I care about becomes my friend. The food I like becomes my dinner; favorite china, my china; a desired guitar, my guitar. All, to be sure, in so far as possible: but save for that limitation, if I care, I seek to possess. I do, and I should. Covetousness, greed, the lust for ownership, is only—is precisely—the perversion of care. It is the love not of things or people, but of having. It makes a good, not of goods, but of gain; and, in the long run, it makes a man quite unable to care for the real goods at all.

[What] follow[s] from this: if care is shallow, possessions will be discarded. (They slip away, too, and they wear out, but that isn’t our doing.) The man who buys a boat will soon enough find out whether boating is one of his real cares. Our possessions make demands upon us; they form us as much as we form them. Most of us have an attic or a basement in which we bury the remains of our former fascinations. We once felt deeply about photography or golf, but over the years we learned differently. Closet and dump now hide the corpses of our shallow cares. With mere things, of course, the learning process is quite painless; all we lose is some time, a little money and perhaps a small quantity of face. But when it is our care for people that proves to have been trifling, the results are usually tragic. The discarded home-movie outfit is one thing, the discarded wife or child quite another. In either case, however, possession proves or disproves care.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board