The joys of flaneuring

Taking walks does wonders for the soul. One can walk in nature, in a park, or flaneur a city. The idea of flaneuring has always intrigued me. It is the art of noticing. Flanueuring comes from the French word, flâneur, which means "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer". Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. Charles Baudelaire described the flâneur in Le Figaro in 1863.

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family, just like the lover of the fair sex who builds up his family from all the beautiful women that he has ever found, or that are or are not—to be found; or the lover of pictures who lives in a magical society of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.

To see the world. Yes. Exactly. Now, most people “see” the world through their iPhones. Rarely observing through their own self. There is something about exploring, noticing the details, getting a little lost, that evokes freedom. It also feels really good to have walked the distance of half a marathon, at your pace, in a day. Walking is good for physical and mental health. This has long been known. Needless to say, my partner and I take walking very seriously.

maphattan project

maphattan project

For those of you who know us, you know we have embarked on a few “walking projects.” First was the MaPhattan Project in which we walked every street in Manhattan. We tackled one neighborhood at a time. We made it fun - it wasn’t a mundane thing. We did some reading up on each hood we would tackle to ensure we spotted famous landmarks - Andy Warhol’s factory on the east side, where Lou Reed scored heroin in Harlem, where Charlie Parker lived in the village, etc etc. We also ate at a restaurant that was either a classic gotham spot or represented the nabe well. Dominican food in Washington Heights for example. Sometimes we would do 20 miles in a day, sometimes, 10. Matt Green took it one step further and walked every street in NYC - all five boroughs. Hero. It was the best way to see one of the greatest cities on earth - the colors, the smells, and the transitions of an American city constantly on the move. And so were we.

Roaming every rione

Roaming every rione

We also did the Roaming Rione Project where we “roamed each rione (Italian for neighborhood) of Rome, street by street, taking in the sights, sounds, textures, smells + tastes.” There were 22 rioni and then after, we did one last giro around the Aurelian wall encompassing Rome which we did on 31 Dec 2018, as well as a few long walks into the quartiere beyond the wall. Food was always involved of course. And our research on the neighborhoods? Hard. Remember. Rome has been around a good long while. The accumulation of history was beyond comprehensible. Rome was also a lot harder to navigate than Manhattan. New York is for a large part, on a grid, so it was easy to find the breaking points. Rome, not so easy. Lots of twisty-turning streets and small avenues to navigate. Sometimes, going in circles. We tried to not use our google map, because that just takes the fun out of it. My partner would print out maps. Yes, we are old fashioned. We also still get DVDs. Stop the snickering. The printed version helped us get our boundaries. But that was it. Bodies of water helped. For Manhattan, you are surrounded by water. With Rome, you had to lean on the Tevere River as your guide post. The Rome project didn’t take us as much time as New York interestingly. It just wasn’t as big. Okay, maybe we cheated a little…There are so many sneaky alleys in Roma.

Now, we are onto our next adventure. We live in Washington DC which is littered with natural park spaces that often connect up with one another. We find ourselves most weekends exploring these parks, staying off man-made roads as much as possible. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "In wildness is the preservation of the world.” But we are contemplating an epic DC city walk. It would involve all the embassies/consulates, all the state named streets (interesting that DC is not a state but a microcosm of the world), hitting each quadrant - NW, NE, SW, SE. The name of this epic project? Microcosmic DC Pyschogeography. We will document it of course, eat some good food, and learn a little US history using only our walking shoes and a printed out map.

And with that, I leave you with one of my fav songs — Horst Langer by Poem Rocket on their album…get ready for it…PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY.

Food Bytes: May 26 - June 2

Food Bytes is a weekly blog post of “nibbles” of information on all things food and nutrition science, policy and culture.

Loved this NYT article about Africa’s millennials who are making their way back to farming. “We are making farming sexy.” Hallelujah. Welcome you “agripreneurs.” Make Africa the world’s breadbasket.

Speaking of leading newspapers, if you live in L.A., the city of angels, you will like the new Food section of the LA Times. It is more about where to eat and cook and less about politics and there is a paywall. While LA is having a renaissance on all things food creation, Gotham city is shutting many of its old school diner doors. “A luxury rental tower called the Frontier stands on the site of the old Frontier Diner in Murray Hill.” The New York we all loved died long ago…

Addicted to the joe? Here is everything you ever wanted to know about coffee and its expansion from Africa to the Americas.

Policy does matter. Did you doubt that? Bloomberg Philanthropy highlights the new Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health – co-chaired by Mike Bloomberg and economist Larry Summers – to address the growing health and economic burden of noncommunicable diseases with fiscal policy tools that are currently underutilized by governments and their leaders. Lots o’ case studies including good stuff on sugar tax.

We know America is struggling. The Brookings Institution has published an interactive exploration of how she is doing. The Hamilton Project’s Vitality Index is a measure of a place’s economic and social wellbeing. It combines a county’s median household income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, prime-age employment rate, life expectancy, and housing vacancy rate. What does this have to do with food? Well, everything. Check it out.

Vitality Index of America. The bluer, the better.

The last food bytes posting highlighted the research on processed foods, and impacts on weight gain. This thoughtful NPR piece talks about how hard it is to move away from processed foods, even when Americans are cooking more. Sarah Bowen and colleagues discuss the barriers: cost, time, and culinary resources. It just ain’t that easy to cook wholesome, from scratch meals day after day. You just can’t beat convenience sometimes. As the authors say: “… inequality is baked into our food system.” And ain’t that the truth.

Our favorite Tamar Haspel over at the WashPo is keeping it real. Now she is delving deep on the plant based burgers which seem to be all the rave. There are two - The Beyond Burger (peas) and Impossible Burger (soy). She takes both to task on environmental impacts, nutrition impacts and cost. And then there is steak. Will we ever replace it or our craving for it?

CSIS’s Take As Directed has a great podcast with Chris Murray at IHME on global diets and risk of disease. He discussed this paper that was highlighted previously on Food Bytes. “Diets account for more deaths [cardiovascular and cancers] than any other risk factor.” He argues the medical community is surprised and skeptical of this message. Interesting!

The Economist breaks down taxes on sugary drinks. Mexico was the trendsetter and now, 40 countries and seven American cities have started to tax sugary drinks. They argue that those that are not in favor of the tax argue that taxes are a “fun-killer, souring people’s pleasure” and can be regressive, because poorer people spend a bigger share of their incomes on soft drinks. But if demand is sensitive to increased prices, then a tax will change behavior, in a positive direction. Let’s see how it all plays out. The bigger question is, will taxes make a dent in the obesity pandemic. Hard to tell.

For any of you who collect and analyze child growth data (also known as anthropometry) in the field, the WHO has finally released a technical report that defines basic criteria and standards for sampling, training and standardization of anthropometrists, data collection, supervision, for data management including quality assessment and analysis, interpretation and reporting of anthropometric data. FINALLY. This is LONG overdue. Well done WHO. 

And last but not least, GAIN has started a new site called Nutrition Connect. Its purpose is to mobilize knowledge, share experiences, and stimulate dialogue on public private engagements (PPE - not be confused with PPP!) for nutrition. Links can also be found in the Food Archive’s Resources page.