Chthulu and HACCP Walk into a Coffee Bar…

Sitting through a one-day FOODSAFE Level I course while being partway through Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble produces an exquisite type of mental agony. It’s like gastronomic matter and antimatter coming together, over a cup of coffee. They meet up for a little chat about food practices, and one’s cortex is the café table across which they, er, demonstrate their differences. Just before life as we know it ends, we learn a few key words and phrases. Those from the commercial food safety instructor (a professional health inspector) hover in the air like malevolent menu offerings: microbial pathogens, food contamination, hazards, critical control points, proper waste disposal. Meanwhile, the barista (a Haraway avatar in a green visor, in my scenario), calls out contrasting orders from the counter, “companion species!” “children of compost!” “sympoiesis!” “chthulucene!” “comic faith in technofixes!” And then: boom.

Perhaps the key key word from FOODSAFE is against, while Haraway’s is with (and with’s kin, kin.) The Vancouver Island Health Authority Health Inspector and Professional Trainer urges us to create barriers and protective insulation between humans and dangerously undercooked food. The Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness Department at UC Santa Cruz calls for humanity to curl up among the crittersphere and embrace ecocatastrophe. I feel like the little chair on which we all perch is a well-lubricated razor blade, canted at a delicate angle of 23.5°.

Before entering the community center–classroom for my food safety intro, I was predisposed to deride the sterilization of kitchen implements and the commission of broad-based bacteriocide. I am now a little wary of incubation periods and toxicity producing bacteria. From recent readings and domestic food performances, I had come to love the cycle-loving services of decomposers and wild yeasts. I also generally hold that the ‘feeding nine billion’ discourse is problematic, but I will readily admit that stomach cramps are pretty unpleasant, too.

Haraway and FOODSAFE are now jumbling my sensibilities further—neither is a singularly straightforward prescription; neither is what I want to practice regularly. The two paradigms are SO far away from each other, and yet both have relevance within a heterogeneous and complicated foodscape. So I’m now sitting with the seeming contradictions for a bit, in order to try to sense what space there is for the solution-oriented bleach brigade to co-exist with the complexity-centered Harawayfinders. The two gastro-gangs already do, in a way, but I suspect that the twain aren’t really going to reach a productive commons when they meet at that local, fairtrade coffee shop selling pumpkin spice lattes. Like I said, boom.

Here are a few figurative Post-its from the FOODSAFE course that made my Harawayic bum clench and toes curl, in ways both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Otherly clenching and curling quotes from Staying with the Trouble are interspersed, with the aim of eventually supporting movement towards a liminal space of gastronomic-paradigmatic diffraction. Or sumthin.

No one likes bitter tastes, after all. (In reference to the FS workbook chart showing that, while both high-acid and high-alkaline foods are poor environments for bacterial reproduction, only low pH foods are ‘generally considered palatable’. Except, that is, in much of Eastern Europe and Asia, and in multiple African countries. And to anyone who has travelled a bit, or is into micro-brews, novo chocolate, third-wave coffee, and/or tangy greens.)

from Chapter 6: Sowing Worlds: “’Do you realize,’ the phytolinguist will say to the aesthetic critic, ‘that they couldn’t even read Eggplant?’ And they will smile at our ignorance, as they pick up their rucksacks and hike on up to read the newly deciphered lyrics of the lichen on the north face of Pike’s Peak.” —Ursula K. LeGuin, ‘The Author of the Acacia Seeds’” (Haraway 2016, p. 117)
I am tempted to insert emojis here symbolizing manly members, outdoor athleticism, and science fiction fembots, but I think that would be too meta. Wait… oops. Oh well. 🍆 🎒 🤖

It’s really problematic that fast-food restaurants have decided to start serving breakfast all day. Now people with egg allergies can’t safely eat hamburgers in the afternoon, because of fears of cross-contamination. (Or: Now those folks might live longer and more healthful lives, while not supporting monocultural corporate farming, poor labour conditions, and centralization of economic power.)

from Chapter 5: Awash in Urine: “In October 2011 my twelve-year-old canine friend and lifelong sports partner, Cayenne, aka Hot Pepper, started taking a notorious, industrially produced, nonsteroidal, synthetic estrogen called DES (diethylstilbesterol) to deal with urinary leakage…. Aging spayed bitches like Cayenne and post-menopausal women like me often could use a hormonal tightening of slack smooth muscles in the urethra to keep socially unacceptable leaks plugged up.” (Haraway 2016, p. 105)
One species’ medicine is another’s murder. One woman’s writing is another man’s boundary object. Another woman’s writing is an archetypal actor-network theory novel. DES is a throughline.

Never buy fish from a supplier who isn’t inspected by the local health authority. There are a lot of illicit fishers out there. (This, accompanying a video clip of a sleazy-looking guy coming to a bistro’s back door with contraband salmon in a plastic bucket. Must be a local thug trying to dodge sales tax. Or someone trying to support his family.)

from Chapter 2: Tentacular Thinking: “I remember that tentacle comes from the Latin tentaculum, meaning “feeler,” and tentare, meaning “to feel” and “to try”…. The tentacular are not disembodied figures; they are cnidarians, spiders, fingery beings like humans and raccoons, squid, jellyfish, neural extravaganzas, fibrous entities, flagellated beings, myofibril braids, matted and felted microbial and fungal tangles, probing creepers, swelling roots, reaching and climbing tendrilled ones.” (Haraway 2016, pp. 31–32)
I suddenly want Japanese noodles and Korean seafood, and to visually-manually investigate the lid closures on urban composing bins, and to go get an MRI of my bodily self so I can sketch on it with fine-tipped whiteboard markers.

For a while there, it looked like the big candy companies were going to go back to making all their nut and non-nut treats on the same production line. It’s good that they didn’t, because otherwise nut-allergic kids wouldn’t be able to keep getting treats, too. (Adolescent-onset diabetes for everyone! Hooray!)

from Chapter 3: Sympoiesis: “Sympoiesis is a simple word; it means ‘making with.’ Nothing makes itself; nothing is really autopoietic or self-organizing. In the words of the Inupiate computer ‘world game,’ earthlings are never alone.” [see: Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)] (Haraway 2016, p. 58)
With apologies to Ian Lewis and Inner Circle, Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when the allergens come for you? Cause you know they were already there, you plain-M&Ms-gobbling, jumbo–Jelly Belly–sniffing, non–self-making sugar freak, you! They were on your skin, in your house, floating into your lungs from other people’s packaging and their reusable Bulk Barn containers.

When washing your hands at work, you should take approximately the time needed to sing the “Happy Birthday” song to yourself twice. (Following the example in the video, however, one would only hum the song, so as to avoid paying royalties to Warner/Chappell music. Except any time after 2015.)

from Chapter 1: Playing String Figures with Companion Species: “Terrapolis is a fictional integral equation, a speculative fabulation…. Terrapolis is n-dimensional niche space for multispecies becoming-with…. Terrapolis is a chimera of materials, languages, histories…. Finished once and for all with Kantian globalizing cosmopolitics and grumpy human-exceptionalist Heideggerian worlding, Terrapolis is a mongrel word composted with a mycorrhiza of Greek and Latin rootlets and their symbionts.” (Haraway 2016, p. 11)
Nuff said.


5 thoughts on “Chthulu and HACCP Walk into a Coffee Bar…”

  1. I have similar mixed feelings. Though a physician, I tend to move away from the over-sanitized world and into the “dirtier” and fermented one. My preconceptions were strengthened when I took an online course from Coursera on the microbiome of the gut and as I observe, professionally, the increasing antibiotic resistance occurring in the world. We somehow need to encourage a healthy and diverse “normal” flora as a part of the community in and on our bodies.

    1. Nicely said, Doug. (And nice to see your name pop up here! I hope you’re doing well.) There are so many new explorations of the importance of the microbiome in making us who we already were–and importantly, the issue of ignoring the complexity of the micro-environment, even as we worry and activate ourselves around the macro-environment. There was a particularly useful doc on the subject, from many angles, that I saw on Radio-Canada’s show, Découverte. If it’s still active online, the show is totally worth watching:

  2. No one likes bitter tastes, after all. Except all those people who’ve been training on dandelion…

    1. If only THAT were a training program for all new humans…! Twould lead to a fine appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us (and will increasingly), and to the roots and shoots we ignore. Ferment on, VC!

  3. Hooray! My FOODSAFE Level I certificate arrived! I can officially work in a BC commercial culinary environment now. About two years ago, I defended a PhD about ecosophic gastronomy, but suddenly? Today? I feel like a real live food practitioner. Out west, anyway.

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