False Alarm – Potato Record Safe

Some of you may have missed this, but there was quite a kerfuffle in potato growing circles when Lebanese farmer Khalil Semhat claimed to have unearthed the world’s largest spud. It weighed in at just an ounce shy of 25 lbs!

Mr Semhat called in the good folks at the Guinness Book. They were obviously quite interested because a 25 lb tater would be over three times the size of the existing record. Such a find would be almost too good to be true.

Turns out, Mr Semhat doesn’t know his Solanum tuberosum from his Ipomoea batatas. Yes, that’s right, Khalil grew a sweet potato, which despite it’s English name is only distantly related to the white potato. Now you may be thinking that’s a pretty big sweet potato, and I’d have to agree. However, it is nowhere near record size, that being 81lb 9oz.

The world record for a proper potato is still held by Kenny Sloane of Patrick, Isle of Man. It is reported in the Isle of Man news that upon hearing his 1994 record was safe, Mr Sloane was “pleased”. That’s about as exciting as it gets in the Isle of Man. This is the top Manx news story for today.

Sneaky Piggy Profits

I have uncovered one of the underhanded tricks by a major corporation in the UK.

Since time immemorial, Marks and Spencer have sold Percy Pigs. For anyone outside the UK (as there would be no one inside the UK unfamiliar with Percy Pigs) they are a raspberry-flavoured gelatin-based, and yes, pig-shaped confectionery. In other words, they are small chewy pink sweets. They are delicious. Everyone likes Percy Pigs, proving the words of George Orwell that some pigs are more equal than others. Some people have been known to be almost addicted to them at times.

When I was in M&S recently I intended to purchase a bag of Pigs. I usually bought the largest size (400 grams), but recently had been in the habit of buying the medium size (200 grams) Percy Pigs together with a medium size bag of lemon-flavoured but identically shaped Penny Pigs.

I picked up a bag of Pigs and immediately noticed that it seemed lighter than usual. I thought perhaps it had been split open and some of the contents fallen out. No, further inspection confirmed that the bag was intact. I picked up another bag and it also felt unusually light. Then I saw something strange.

I saw a 7. I happened to glance in the direction of the lower left hand corner of the bag and there was a 7 next to a 0. It all became clear. There was not 200 grams of delectible pork-derived gelatin in the bag. There was 170 grams.  That woud be 15% less.

But wait, there was more. I looked at the price tag. Had M&S lowered the price to reflect the reduced quantity of pigs per package? No. Rather they had raised it. That’s right 200 grams of Pigs at £1.09 had become 170 grams of Pigs for £1.19. No announcement. No fanfare. No warning.

It’s because M&S is losing money so they have to tighten their belt, right? No. In May this year, they reported that their profits were up 20% over the previous year. They tucked £1.1 billion into the bank after paying their bills.

I will be calling M&S later today to get an explanation about this development.

Huffin and Puffin

I watched Gordon Ramsey last night as he was sky fishing for puffin in Iceland and cooking the freshly netted birds. I was quite impressed with the whole sky fishing idea, not to mention eating a bird with breast meat the colour of venison.

As you might expect, Channel 4 received complaints from viewers, including accusation of “puffin murder”. Yep, this is where the animal rights folks lose touch with reality.  Murder has always been an intentional homicide – that is the killing of a human being.

Now I’ve always said if you can kill it, I will eat it. However I know there are those folks how don’t like the killing of animals, live on granola, ride bicycles, and wear comfortable shoes. I’m happy for them. But killing an animal is killing an animal and murder is killing a human. You can call it fraterculacide or aukicide, but not murder.

I thought this comment was particularly telling: “A very bad move on Gordon’s part to be seen to condone practices in another country that would definitely not be tolerated here.” Ah yes, Brits are so culturally superior to those savage Icelanders!

Then there was “Are there no depths he won’t sink to in his quest for the latest gastronomic fad? I don’t care if islanders have eaten them in the past, or if they are considered a delicacy… these birds are adorable, and surely an endangered species?” Hmm… Icelanders have been eating them from time immemorial and still eat them, so is this really a fad?  Oh, and they are not an endangered species. Cute≠endangered. They are a protected species in the UK, but not in Iceland.

Eating Like Humans

You probably don’t have to worry about your children eating like animals. Mine sometimes get into role play as dogs or cats (when they aren’t superheroes or cartoon characters) and they have to be encouraged not to take this too far at the dinner table.

When we went out for my birthday dinner last weekend, the woman and I realised how well behaved our kids were. We sat near a family that trashed their dining area and at one point the woman got a splash of soup or some such on the face. When they left the restaurant, we were embarrassed seeing the cleaning crew come in and scrape everything away.

Many families eat like animals and don’t even realise it. Their children may be even better behaved than mine. Nonetheless, they lack the distinction that makes us different from all other creatures at mealtimes. They don’t bless their food. Fr Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory points this out in For the Life of the World. It is not just the essence of the sacramental life, it is the essence of human life. I don’t need to preach to the Orthodox choir that we are, after all, first homo adorans and only as a result homo sapiens.

I have sometimes been embarrassed around visiting unbelievers and not blessed the food. Either that, or I can have a tendency to rattle it off like an auctioneer. I didn’t want to impose my religion on them. Predictably, I had it all backwards. What I should be offering them is an opportunity to experience their own humanity. Religion is either a compartment of life that can be sealed off when inconvenient, or it is the very nature of who we are and to deny it is to make us not just less than who we are, but other than what we are.

By not blessing, we turn the food into an affirmation of materialism with the inherent value of cardboard. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we no longer deny a heavenly gift to our guests. If we would deprive them of this, then we cannot say we love them, regardless of how closely we may be related to them.

Even in restaurants, sitting amongst strangers, if we bless our food, we bless them. This is not because we make a show openly. This would be the Protestant idea that value is only derived from knowledge. By blessing the food, we make Christ present in and at our meal. Who is not blessed by proximity to Christ? Even by these small actions, we fulfill our essential mission to bring Christ to a hungry world starved of the love of God.

Multiple Celebrations

Today is the 172nd anniversary of Texas’ independence from Mexico.

It is also my parents’ 46th wedding anniversary.

So may God grant all Texans, and especially my parents, many years.

Here in the UK is also Mothering Sunday, as it is Laetare Sunday in the Western Church calendar. After the unnamed first child participated in a karate tournament (from which he did not received a trophy, to his continuing consternation), we looked for a place to go out and have dinner. Having not planned ahead, it was not easy to find anywhere with an available table on such short notice.

Having exhausted the possibilities in Hooterville, we tried to see if we could go to our favourite Chinese buffet in another cathedral city. They didn’t have a table until 6:00, so we tried their other location, also in a nearby cathedral city. They had one available at 3:00, so we went there.

It was heaving. There were a lot of English people eating Chinese food on Mother’s Day. The food was okay – not as good as our usual location – but all you can eat.

As this is Meatfare Sunday, I will now be giving up mentioning meat dishes on my blog until Pascha.

Lenten Guilt

All my Orthodox blogging friends are excited that Lent is almost here. We Orthodox really do Lent. None of that giving up chocolate or just going teetotal. That’s not to deny that chocolate is off the menu – thanks to dairy in the ingredients. Alcohol is reserved for weekends and all of the fifth week. We even give up meat for an extra week before Lent, before going totally vegan for the duration.

I say “we” in the sense of being a member of the Orthodox Church. I don’t do Lent very well. For most Orthodox it is a time of spiritual renewal and cleansing. For me it is mostly a time of guilt. I sometimes get through the first week without meat. Forget Cheesefare Week. I mean the first week starting on Clean Monday (the Orthodox version of Ash Wednesday). I am a carnivore. Not an omnivore. Okay, I eat the vegetables that take up a small area of my plate next to the meat. Left to my own devices – i.e., unless my wife cooks my meals – I’m perfectly happy to just eat meat.

The only mitigation is fruit. I do like fruit. But you can only eat so much of it. I don’t think I could be a fruitarian for six weeks. I’d eventually have to have it on top of a meringue, covered in cream. Neither are fasting foods.

I’m the second person St John Chrysostom was talking about in his Paschal Homily. “Ye sober and ye slothful, honor the day. Ye that have kept the fast and ye that have not, be glad today.” And I am very glad when Pascha arrives. I love singing “Christ is Risen”. And at least for Bright Week the rest of the Church is fast-free like me.

Missing the Point of Lent

I sat down to write something else, but I checked my email and an saw one of the most ridiculous things in the history of Christianity. I say that realising that there have been some pretty ridiculous things.

The Anglican bishops of Liverpool and London have decided that it is not enough to give up chocolate for Lent. That Anglicans give up chocolate for Lent should tell you something about how far they’ve drifted from Holy Tradition, but I suppose they’re a step better than those who have given up Lent altogether. So maybe you are thinking the good bishops are moving in a positive direction. Wrong.

The Rt Revs James Jones and Richard Chartres want us to give up carbon. Not all carbon, mind you, given that we are carbon-based life-forms. And not actually the eating of carbon – or anything else for that matter. No, it’s much more convoluted than that. They want us to give up a light bulb. Here’s how it works: Light bulbs require electricty; electricity has to be produced; producing eletricity result in the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; Al Gore says that’s bad.

Put differently, the Bishop of Liverpool’s logic is this, “It is the poor who are already suffering the effects of climate change. To carry on regardless of their plight is to fly in the face of Christian teaching.” The poor are suffering the effect of climate change? Seems to me the warmer weather makes it easier to sleep rough. People in substandard housing with poor insulation are paying less for heating. How are the poor suffering?

I’m not particular good at doing Lent (which for Orthodox Christians doesn’t start until March 10), but I won’t be using it for making a political statement based upon specious science. I hope you won’t either.