Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Twelvetide: The Omen Days

Happy holidays, everyone! The length of days have finally begun to increase with the passing of the Solstice and my family has been busily celebrating a number of holidays this month. It's been a blast, although I'll admit I'm ready to sit tight and rest for awhile.

I wrote one of my PaganSquare blogs about the Twelve Nights of Christmas and specifically about the Omen Days. I hope you'll take a look and maybe consider trying out your own Omen Days between now and Jan. 5. I'll report my results in a new post.

To add a little holiday cheer for now, here's a photo from my home. May all your fires burn bright this Yule!

Monday, October 01, 2012

October Unprocessed!

I'm starting a new project today: taking part in October Unprocessed, a challenge that amounts to eating only "real food" for the entire month of October.

As you've probably noticed from my Pagan in the Kitchen blog, I already tend to eat "close to the dirt" every day. That is, I try to work with whole foods: those that I grow myself, get from my CSA box or local farmer's market, or purchase from a store that offers sustainable, organic, and healthful foods. I also do most of my own cooking, and I rarely use anything processed, boxed, etc.

For me, the challenge is going to be about doing an even better job of this. It's going to give me a chance to focus even more closely on how I'm eating and what I'm eating and the intention with which I approach food.

My concerns so far? The occasional (maybe once or twice a week) can of Diet Coke, which will definitely be off the  options list according to the rules of the game; fortunately, coffee and tea are still fine for that occasional caffeine fix. And this is all for good, because I know I shouldn't be drinking any soda-- there's just nothing good about it. I'm also either going to have to buy some simple, rustic bread or make my own. Milk is a conundrum, too. The pasteurization process technically counts as processing, I suppose, but raw milk is illegal to buy/sell in Oregon, and I don't use milk fast enough to use raw milk quickly enough, even if I could get my hands on some. I'm going to resolve this issue by buying small amounts of milk from local, sustainable dairies. Thankfully we have a number close by.

This morning, I began the challenge with organic oatmeal (from Bob's Red Mill), served with fresh local blackberries, toasted walnuts, a drizzle of real maple syrup, and skim milk. I teach a class tonight, so will prepare a late-afternoon supper of sauteed greens with polenta. So far, so good.

I'll use this blog to report on how the experience is going-- I'd appreciate it if you'd check back now and then and offer me your cheers. And hey: you could take the challenge, too! Head on over to the October Unprocessed site and sign up! It's all for good....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Starting the Day Right....

I've made a discovery: A day that begins with physical activity tends to stay more active and motivated than one that doesn't.

A year ago, on October 5, 2011, my son began an event called "Scott's Year of Fitness Challenge," in which he challenged his family members to be active every single day. "Be active" meant just that: we had to do something active every day. "Active" was left up to each of us, but there was an implication that the activity should be something significant, something intended to improve cardiovascular fitness, build strength, increase flexibility, foster endurance, etc. On those days when we were sick, frantically busy, or stuck in airports, we decided that we would have to do at least 10 minutes of anything for it to count.
And we've done it! We've hiked, kayaked, swam, run, lifted weights, walked, rafted, biked, elipticaled, treadmilled, rowed, skiied, Zumba'd, Yoga'd, gardened, and more. Stuck in airports, we've walked the concourses to get in our time. Stuck in bed for a week after a surgery last spring, I still managed to walk a little and lift weights-- enough to not break my streak. We're stronger, we've lost weight, and I think each one of us feels better and probably happier: I know I do.

In my own case, I joined a gym, started taking my dog for longer walks, and took up swimming. And that takes us back to the first sentence in this blog: my discovery that when I start the day with activity, the day not only feels better in general but tends to find me trying to stay active. When I wake up and make the decision to head for the gym or pool as a first step in my day, it sets the day up for success. I get home and find the day still young and full of potential, and I'm filled with a sense of having done something really wonderful for myself. I feel awake and alert (and a little sweaty) with my blood pumping and my senses alive, ready to meet the day.

These observations make sense from a physiologic point of view, for in the early morning, our cortisol and catecholamine levels ratchet into high gear, giving us a jump start that pulls us out of sleep-state and inspires readiness. To me, morning exercise magnifies this effect. It increases my sense of well-being and, I think, makes my outlook even more positive. After all, if I know I've already taken care of myself, doesn't it make sense that that would increase the enthusiasm and vigor with which I take on the world? Being active early also encourages me to find ways to stay active: taking my dog for an extra walk, doing some yard work, or maybe going for a late swim. No doubt this has to do with the endorphin-stimulating effects of physical activity, which are said to be on the same line as those associated with sex and dark chocolate....

All but nine of my son's 365 "Challenge" days have now gone by-- the year is almost up, and guess what? We've had so much fun and feel so good after doing this, we're going to do it for another year! Not only that, but we're now going to open the group to our friends who want to join up. (Message me on Facebook if interested!) I'm one hundred percent sold on the idea of daily activity, and I'm thrilled with the changes it's made in my life. (Did I mention that my meets-the-radiological-criteria-for-total-knee-replacement knee feels better, too? As in functional and with minimal pain?)

Here's the bottom line: our bodies aren't made to sit. They're made to be up and about, taking us out into our world, making us work and stretch and push and sweat. Give it a try for a week or two, and see what you think.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A New Venture....

I've begun doing a by-invitation blog over on Anne Newkirk-Niven's Pagan Square, which is affiliated with BBI Media.

Called "Celebrate!", my blog will focus on seasonal celebrations, natural cycles, festive occasions, life passages, and other special events. I'm going to link my posts here for ease of those of you who are interested in following my writing. But I'd urge you to also check out the rest of the Pagan Square blogs-- there are some fascinating discussions underway. I'm pretty excited about being part of this, and without further ado, here's the link to my first post. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Needing the Forest....

I just returned from an impromptu 24-hour camping trip in the Columbia Gorge. Sometimes you've just gotta get the hell out of the city. I took the dog and enjoyed twenty-four hours of being unplugged; of sitting by the fire, bundled against a chilly night; of camp coffee and a gorgeous dinner of wild salmon cooked over the coals; of hiking and birdsong and the river....

Like everyone else these days, I get wrapped up in daily life and schedules and to-do lists, and I forget how much I need my trees. Just saying.... There is magick and restoration and clear-headedness to be found in the forest, and for me, the Columbia River Gorge is sacred space.

Monday, August 27, 2012

How is Human History Like Parenting?

A Facebook friend posted this cartoon (from http://www.original-republican.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/those-who-dont-study-history.jpg)....

I replied that history reminds me a lot of parenting. We parents tell our kids stories and share our experiences and wisdom, hoping to help them forestall having to learn "the hard way." But humans learn through doing, not listening.

I remember back when I was involved in Boy Scouts (in the days before it became a publicly homophobic, religophobic organization) and was teaching boys to tie complicated knots: they could follow the steps in a handbook, and they could watch me demo a knot-- but until they picked the ropes up in their own hands and tied the knots themselves, they couldn't learn.

Likewise, our kids go out and do and learn the hard way, even though we parents have tried to furnish the handbook to keep it from happening. 'Seems like human history is much the same....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thinking About Neil Armstrong

The waxing Moon hangs just outside my office window tonight, and I'm thinking of Neil Armstrong. 

I remember watching the Apollo 11 landing.... I think I was maybe 15-16. Have you seen the film, 'Apollo 13'? The scene where they all watch the landing? It looked just like that at my house. My parents threw a barbecue, and at THE moment, everyone gathered around the console TV, drinks in hand, to watch. The picture was grainy, and at first I couldn't figure out what I was seeing. But my dad showed me where Armstrong's legs were and where the ladder was and the spacecraft and suddenly, I was watching a fellow human step onto the Moon 240,000 miles away. We heard him speak those forever words.... "one giant step for mankind," and everyone fell silent. 

Thirty-four years later, I would work on a NASA-funded research team that placed experiments on a decade worth of space shuttles; I met several of the shuttle astronauts and was even able to meet John Glenn prior to his famous STS-95 flight. Even so, those in-person meetings never surpassed that day in 1969 and those grainy images of Neil Armstrong leaving his famous footprints. What a wonderful, courageous man. 

I'm grateful for those memories and grateful that when I look at the Moon, so much, thanks to Armstrong and his fellow astronauts, seems possible.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

eBay's Recent Decision: A Ban on "Selling Speech"?

Recently, eBay updated its terms of service. That in itself isn't unusual, but one of the newest edicts was:
The following items are being added to the prohibited items list: advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic; prayers; blessing services; magic potions; healing sessions; [and] work from home businesses & information.
The full eBay update may be read here.

An editor-friend from a good-sized publishing company said,
"It's one thing for towns and cities to legislate this type of thing, but an entire user-to-user based selling engine to ban it? This is insane!"
I had the same reaction, at least initially. My first thought was that the new ruling seemed to discriminate against a specific religious group, i.e., Pagans, by denying the saleability of many items and processes that they/we often consider an important part of our spiritual practices. "Makes me wonder if other religious/spiritual items are verboten, e.g., rosaries, christening gowns, mezuzahs, prayers, etc.," I wrote on my Facebook page. I even tagged a Pagan friend, Charlie, who I know makes a lot of sales over the Web and through eBay. Her response surprised me. She said,
"It's been a long time coming. Too many charlatans out there spoiling it for the good ones, as usual."
I hadn't thought of it that way, and this was a point worth considering, particularly because this woman is both very savvy in conducting this kind of Internet business and also works as a professional psychic.

Another magickal friend chimed in, backing up Charlie:
"I think it's good that e-bay is banning this because as Charlie said, there are a lot of charlatans out there. In the FAQ section . . .  it answers the question of why these are banned with, "Transactions in these categories often result in issues between the buyer and seller that are difficult to resolve." I don't see how this is discriminating."
A third FB friend offered this:
"I'm guessing the market for such things will expand widely on Etsy as a result."
Which is true.... People are going to find a way, a work-around, and keep doing what they do. Alas, this includes both the honest folks and the charlatans.

A fourth Facebooker said,
"It seems to me that what they're upset about is the question of affect versus object. Notice how they're also prohibiting business advice, not simply metaphysical/spiritual exchanges. Rosaries will be fine, partly because Christianity, but mostly because rosaries are a physical object. Charms/amulets will probably still make it up there because they are object-based. That is, assuming they're not promising to deliver David Tennant right to your doorstep. But if anyone's got a charm or spell for that then we should work something out."
By this time, I was enjoying the exchange and happy to be hearing a number of varied thoughts on this topic I had little experience with. But the whole thing still bugged me. Yes, eBay is a business, and yes, they can make the rules for their business and the ways people interact with it. But it still seemed discriminatory to me. It didn't smell quite right.

And then, the Wild Hunt posted an interesting compilation post about the issue. Wild Hunt blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters began by summarizing the issues and then pointed out that most tangible items would still be on safe ground:
"It’s important to note that items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (ie  jewelry, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases."
The WH then took me in a new direction, though, raising a disturbing question. With this, the threads came neatly together for me, and I realized why the topic had bothered me. Pitzl-Waters pointed out that in recent court cases, magickal services and divination have been classified as "protected speech" under the Constitution. He considered whether eBay's decision was interfering with free and/or protected speech, and wondered why this didn't actually discourage eBay from making these changes. Interesting, yes?

The WH also expressed concern over a potential domino effect, affecting other providers or supporters of magickal exchange like PayPal or Etsy and having a significant impact on Internet commerce. (This is close to invoking a slippery slope fallacy, but it's still a point well taken.)

The replies to Pitzl-Waters' post were fascinating to read, and many continued to echo my concern over possible "discrimination," as in this reply written by Tau'ri:
"In the news article, it was pointed out that Ebay would NOT be banning things like "holy water" and a commentor [sic] wanted to know why this was different from potions. Good point. If it's a Christian "potion" its okay, but if it's a NON-Christian "potion" then it's banned? If that isn't discrimination, I don't know what is."
So, there we are. The free speech issue is what still bothers me most, although I remain concerned about the potential for religious inequity and bias. I understand why eBay may have made these changes, but I'm still skeptical as to the underlying intent, i.e., I wish I could have heard those boardroom discussions. I imagine we'll be hearing and reading lots more about these issues in the months to come. Since we magickal folks have embraced the Internet and digital world as a key functional aspect of our culture and communication, I think this is going to be pretty interesting.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Grey School Urban Conclave!

For those who aren't aware, the Grey School is on online school of magickal studies and arcane lore. We teach practice and knowledge in the GS-- not religion. In addition to the Pagans you'd expect to see in a magickal school, we also have Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other practitioners of "mainstream" religion. In fact, this is one of the things our school prides itself on, i.e., honoring diversity via a shared, respectful understanding. We even ask new students to take classes in magickal ethics, focusing on these ideas.

The school itself is pretty cool. We have an international student body of around 800 and an international staff and faculty of some three dozen. Students can study virtually any magickal topic in the Grey School, from herbalism to astrology to the Tarot to magickal toolmaking to lore and comparative mythology to archaeology and archaeoastronomy. As part of a class, a student might create a labyrinth; make, consecrate, and use a set of runes; study Latin or another foreign language; explore ancient texts; build a sundial; or learn to brew herbal infusions, dedoctions, and tinctures-- and these are only a few examples of what the school offers in some 450+ classes.

Although the GS is an online school, students and faculty assemble at times for "Conclaves," in-person gatherings typically held as group camp outs. They're lots of fun, giving us all chance to meet and hang out together "in person." Some of us have been Conclaving together since the summer of 2006.

This year's most exciting Grey School Conclave was held in France. I'd hoped to go, but a series of unfortunate circumstances not only left me unable to make it (insert tragically sad face here) but also faced with having a Conclave-free summer for the first time since 2006! (insert tragically sad face here) That just wouldn't do.... So, I chatted up with some fellow GS Conclavians, and we tossed together the first-ever GS "urban Conclave," with home base right here at my house.

It was a blast! People arrived on Thursday or Friday, staying here, in hotels, or in tents in my yard. Our activity schedule included classes, a campfire, great food, and lots of time to talk and share. Having Saturday lunch at the local Cartlandia food carts gave us some additional urban street cred, as did trips by a few members to Powells Books and the Willamette Jet Boats on Sunday. (The Jet Boats turned out to include a mini ghost tour. Who knew? Plus you get to go really fast and get wet!) All in all, it was a great time and fulfilled my need to Conclave. Even more important, it's always fun to hang out with my fellow/ette magickal beings, where it's perfectly normal to talk about astral travel or work with a new divination deck or practice telepathy. Good times....

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Blessed Lughnasadh!

From "Wild Celtic Rose" (http://wildcelticrose.net/blog/?p=5204)
Most Pagans, Wiccans, and Neo-Pagans today mark Lughnasadh (a.k.a. Lunasa; pronounced LOO-nuh-sah or loo-NAH-suh; also sometimes called Lammas in Christian use for "loaf mass") on August 1 or August 2 in the northern hemisphere and on February 1-2 in the southern. Some eclectic Wiccan traditions mark Lughnasadh according to the full Moon that is closest to August 1.

The roots of Lughnasadh come from old Celtic traditions, i.e., the Irish, Scot, Manx, Cornish, Welsh, and Breton peoples. Celtic polytheists (a.k.a. Celtic reconstructionists, or CRs) follow traditional agricultural markers (based on extant records, folklore, etc.) rather than calendar dates when timing celebrations. Those practicing CR Druidism may locate Lughnasadh according to the appearance of the first late summer fruits or the first grain harvest in their home area. Here in the Pacific northwest, we use the blackberries to time agricultural Lughnasadh, while CRs on the east coast tend to use blueberries. For CRs, the emphasis is on the rhythms of life in one’s home area rather than on the calendar. (For instance, rather than marking Beltaine on May 1, most CRs celebrate it once the hawthorn—or a local white-flowering tree—blooms.) In CR practices, the sacred and mundane are not separate, and the most mundane daily activity can be every bit as sacred as the carefully planned “high ritual.” Daily life is a form of spiritual practice, and hospitality is one of the most highly valued of these expressions.

According to Irish mythos, Lughnasadh marks a funeral celebration and feast thrown by the God Lugh (pronounced LOO) in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu. Legend claims that she cleared much of Ireland’s plains to allow for farms to be started, after which she collapsed and died. (Yeah—I’d be tired, too.) The funeral games were subsequently called the Tailtin/Tailtiun games in her honor.Interestingly, because so many hot young people appeared for the games, Lughnasadh also became known as a prime time to make matches-- of the romantic rather than the gaming time-- with many handfastings following.

In folkloric terms—and those of traditional calendar customs—Lughnasadh more or less always marks the harvest of the local berries and of the first ripening grains.

Celtic reconstructionists may celebrate Lughnasadh in several ways:

1. The celebration is invariably communal. It was typical of the ancient Celtic peoples to gather as communities or even come from distances for major celebrations, and this was often especially true at Lughnasadh as the weather was better in summer than at the other cross-quarter holidays (however, the needs of one’s farm or animals may have limited long periods of travel). The celebrations included feasting, games and tourneys (esp. horse racing), and ritual fires.

2. The ancient Gods are appeased and thanked with offerings from the first harvest and with ritual. Lugh and Tailtiu, in particular, may be honored. Danu, the Irish mother goddess, is also well honored at Lughnasadh, for she is the benefactress of all.

3. Prayers are offered for success and bounty in the coming year. Prayers may be made in the fields—among the crops—and offerings made to the land.

4. CR Druids mark the four cross-quarter holidays, but generally not the quarters (the solstices and equinoxes). Lughnasadh and Imbolc stand opposite one another in the agricultural year. For the ancient Celts, Imbolc was a festival of sacred fire, so Lughnasadh is viewed as a festival of sacred water. On Lughnasadh, it is traditional to dress wells, bathe oneself and one’s animals in wild water, and to make offerings and prayers to sacred wild water. Silver and flowers have long been considered appropriate offerings to water. Today, though, that many of us modern CR Druids do not believe in putting silver in water because of contamination, etc. We stick to flowers and shiny pebbles.

5. CR Druids also honor standing stones as guardians standing between land and fields, and traditionally do this at the cross-quarter days. At Lughnasadh, the stones may be dressed with wreaths of flowers and with effigies of cornstalk or wheat.

Photo by Sue Pesznecker.
6. CR Druids celebrate the grain at Lughnasadh. The most traditional approach is to grind one’s own corn and use it to bake a corn bannock—a flat, round, unleavened loaf. However, any grain and any baked grain product honor the custom. The bannock is traditionally carried around the place of celebration—or around one’s home bounds—three times, deosil (sun-wise). After the third circuit, the bearer stops in front of her home or garden, breaks off a piece of bannock, throws it over one shoulder as an offering, and names a thing she wishes to appease or propitiate in the coming year. The remaining bannock is then shared and enjoyed.

As for me? I'll be making a couple of handpies using local Marionberries-- combining wheat and berries in one tasty package. Oh, yeah....

7. And, of course, it’s appropriate to celebrate the fruits, too, for these are also a symbol of the holiday. Berries tend to be regarded as solar symbols, which bring even more oomph to the celebration. Ideally, the community comes together, picks the berries on Lughnasadh morning, and works them into the collective celebratory feast.

8. For CR Druids, Lughnasadh is also a festival of the high places. After the main celebrations were held, the people would visit a mountaintop or other high place and would honor Sun, Moon, lightning, and wind with fruits, grains, and sacred poems. Lugh is also a god of Sun, storms, wind, and lightening (rather Thor-like, yes?) and so is often honored in the high places. The Cailleachs—the storm hags—were also typically appeased on Lughnasadh. Such rituals were believed to strengthen the people and to keep the Cailleachs from damaging dwellings and farms.

Note 1: The weather on Lughnasadh is believed to portend the Gods’ favor (or lack thereof). Mild weather—soft sun, gentle rains—is seen as a good omen, while stormy or excessively hot weather is not and may indicate risk to the harvest.

Note 2: This is a good place to mention that CRDs are polytheist, believing in a number of Gods and Goddesses, each with their own personalities, appeals, etc. This is in contrast to being monotheist (believing in one God/dess), pantheist (believing that all God/desses are manifestations of one source), or atheist (not believing in a God/dess force at all).

9. Finally, divination is a common part of any CR ritual. Typically, offerings and appeals are made and then a divination is made—or an omen read—to assess the Gods’ responses. In this way, those performing with works enter into a dialog with their Gods. If an unfavorable reading is obtained, additional offerings or appeals will be made. As a cross-quarter holiday, Lughnasadh is a prime time for divination.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Moment of SIlence

My heart goes out to the victims of today's Aurora, Colorado shootings. Let's all be sending them collective strength as they deal with the aftermath. Unimaginable tragedy has struck, from the hands of one of our own, and getting past this sadness will take time. That's enough for now....

Monday, July 16, 2012


I’m not. But often, I see people posting on Facebook about being bored or their kids being bored or how bored they are or how they hate being bored and having nothing to do.

I hadn’t considered it before in concrete terms, but upon reflecting on these “I’m bored” comments, I have become aware that I’m never bored. This is a revelation—not because it surprises me, but because even though it seems obvious, I’d never really thought about it until now. In truth, I’m tired more often than I’d like to be. Stressed or overworked, sometimes. Lackadaisical every now and then. But bored? Never. Honest: never.

The English teacher me headed for the dictionary to see if I could discover any new insights about the word “bored.” The dictionary often rewards my efforts with arcane meanings that have been lost or altered over the centuries; this time, the results were more or less straightforward but still rewarding. When used as an adjective (describing a kind of feeling or awareness), “bored” comes from Old English via Germanic roots via the word bohren, reflecting the verb, i.e., the making of a hole into something, followed by the reality of emptiness created by that hole. Presumably, when one is “bored,” there’s an empty spot within that the bored-afflicted can’t seem to fill or doesn’t care about filling. Similarly, a person described as “boring” may be considered tedious or tiresome or dull or even as a wet blanket, one who sucks life out of a space and creates even more emptiness.

As for me, I just don’t seem to find those holes in my day. I wake up in the morning and immediately start thinking about all the things I want to and have to get done that day, and the day becomes a matter of unbounded possibilities and finding balance between what must be done and the fact that there’s never going to be enough time to do everything I want to do. Likewise, when I find myself with free time, it’s never a matter of being bored and feeling “empty.” I tend to have the opposite problem: too many options. Should I start the new book? Work on my sketching? Grade a few papers? Make some progress on the next book outline? Dive into my photo-organizing project? Putter in the garden? Go for a swim? Read for an hour or two? Watch a movie? Take Owen for a walk? Call a friend for coffee? Write a blog post? Check Facebook? Fiddle with my herbs? Try a new recipe? Clean the garage? There are dozens of ways I can spend my time, and there’s never enough time to do everything. When I’m confronted with unexpected time, it becomes a gift of unrealized possibility and excitement. Some may called me a little too Type A, and I wouldn't be able to deny the label. But bored? Never. Not so far, anyway.

So where’s the disconnect? Why do some people struggle with recurrent ennui and apathy while others simply don’t find boredom in their personal gene pools? I have no answer. Maybe as children, the oft-bored never learned to keep themselves busy. Maybe the frequently-bored have never developed hobbies—and let’s be clear that playing with a smart phone doesn’t qualify as a hobby. Maybe they don't read. (If one loves reading, you'll never be bored.) Perhaps, as noted above, being "Type A" confers immunity against boredom. Part of me also wonders if boredom may be an effect of our increasingly digitalized/sound bite world. Are we becoming so dependent on electronic entertainment and instant e-socialization that we’re lost when left to our own devices? To be honest, I hope that’s not it, because that would be incredibly depressing.

I’m not sure what’s at play here, what makes some people lose hours to boredom on a given day. I’m just thankful that I wasn’t bored this morning, am not bored now, and don’t plan to be bored anytime soon.

And, I hope that reading this didn't bore you. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Solar Storms

Earth is, right now, on the receiving end of the energy from a massive X-class solar flare, meaning that enough energy has reached Earth to potentially disrupt e-communication and, even more importantly, to create aurora borealis right here in the continental U.S. Or, at least in the northern regions.

I've had no luck seeing anything with my naked eyes-- I looked last night, but because it's summer and getting dark quite late and because my home is surrounded by tall trees, I had no luck. But I happened to be online with my Cornell Heron Cam group (from northern New York state) when we realized we were picking up aurora activity on Cam #2. It wasn't much-- just a sort of upwelling/oscillating brightness every couple of minutes-- and it was pixellated and in black-and-white. But it was still cool to watch.

It was also a fine start, I might add, to Mercury retrograde, which began yesterday and will cause disruptions of its own. Be careful out there....

Saturday, July 07, 2012

I Hate Cilantro

One of my Facebook groups is called, “I CSA: Therefore, I Am.” My colleague, Jaime Wood, and I are getting Community Supported Agriculture boxes this year from a co-worker’s farm, and we decided to set up a FB group to detail our experiences with all those veggies. (And by the way: We’d love to have you join in if you’re interested—look us up!)

We’re having fun with the group, and some interesting topics are coming up, like how do you make a white sauce that’s gluten-free, and what the heck do you do with kohlrabi? This evening, we started talking about cilantro. I happened to mention that I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. Heck: I hate the stuff. And that makes a total of about three things I’ve ever eaten that have given me the queasy shivers and thereafter become mostly un-eatable. Interestingly, they’re all herbs: tarragon, spearmint, and cilantro.

Tarragon tastes… weird to me, although in a different way than cilantro. It just tastes off. Wrong. I’m able to eat it if it’s served to me in a dish and I have to be polite, but I don’t enjoy it. Spearmint bothers me when used in candy or as a flavoring in foods (makes me shudder), but I’m able to drink it—and like it—when it’s one of many ingredients in a tea blend.

But cilantro? There’s just no way. It really, truly, honestly tastes bad, and I’m not exaggerating. It creates this awful, moldy, soapy undertaste that obliterates and screws up whatever it’s served with. Touching it is awful, too, because the aroma clings indelibly: if I have to handle cilantro or breathe its scent, it makes me almost instantly queasy. Sometimes it even causes my airways to constrict, activating my latent asthma. That’s always fun.

And here’s the thing: I’m not alone. Among well-known cilantro haters are none other than Julia Child herself, plus television chefs Fabio Viviani and Ina Garten (“The Barefoot Contessa”). (Kim Kardashian supposedly dislikes it, too, although I hate myself for knowing that.) Search the Web and you’ll find “I Hate Cilantro” groups and Facebook pages along with cilantro surveys claiming it to be the most divisive food of all, the one that creates a clear dividing line. Apparently, there’s no gray area: people either love the stuff or they can’t stand it, and some 10% of us humans are in the latter group. Scientists have discovered that we “haters” actually have a gene expression/mutation that changes how we taste and perceive cilantro. This goes hand-in-hand with recent research explaining how the sense of taste has a strongly genetic basis and varies widely from person to person.

The discussion sent me to the Web, where I found this really interesting New York Times piece about cilantro hatred. It’s full of fascinating facts, like that the word coriander (coriander seed and leafy cilantro are from the same plant) is from the Greek for “bedbug,” linking cilantro’s smell to that of “bug-infested bedclothes.” Or that the perceived soapy smell results from aldehyde chemicals common to cilantro, with the same aldehydes used by bugs to create noxious scents that repel invaders. Also, it seems that most of the “haters” live in parts of the world where cilantro and coriander aren’t part of the traditional cultural diet. Conversely, in countries where cilantro has always been added to lots of foods—Vietnam, Latin America, Portugal—almost no one experiences the tastes-like-a-moldy-bar-of-soap phenomenon.

The NYT article suggests that one may be able to retrain his or her palate to tolerate cilantro, but I suspect that only works for those who simply aren’t that thrilled with the stuff—not for those, like me, whose genes have already been programmed on the subject. In any case, I'll continue to avoid the noxious green, and if you feel the same way, stand proud and tall, knowing you’re not alone.