Washington U niversity
POLITICAL REVIEW 27.4 |December 2017 | wupr.org
TABLE OF CONTENTS 6
My Relationship With Food
Immigration: A Thanksgiving Tradition
India Cash and Carry
Food Deserts Hanna Khalil
What Black Women Bring to Food Justice
South Korea's Got Beef With America Syrus Jin
Consuming a Balanced Plate of Information
Why Trump Can Never Be an Autocrat Luke Voyles
The Wrong IDEA
My Love Story With Judaism (and
Judgements About Food as a Proxy for
Class Annie Johnston
Should the U.S. Balance Saudi Arabia Against Iran?
Eat the Damn Bruidsed Apple Sophie Attie
Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich? Charles Rapp
The Fault in Our Cars
Lady Gaga and the Sexual Politics of Meat Julia Widmann
The Cuban Regime's Fear of Literary Dissent Rachel Butler
EDITORS' NOTE Editors-in-Chief: Rachel Butler Dan Sicorsky Executive Director: Sam Klein Staff Editors: Michael Fogarty Max Handler Katelyn Taira Sabrina Wang Features Editors: Hanna Khalil Ryan Mendelson Finance Director: Adya Jain Director of Design: Dominique Senteza Web Editor: Nicholas Kinberg Director of External Operations: Jack Goldberg Programming Director: Liza Sivriver Front Cover: Gavi Weitzman Theme Spreads: Dominique Senteza
Dear Reader, Chocolate, quinoa, and kale aren’t just our favorite foods, and McDonald’s isn’t just where we go for a burger. We encounter and interact with food and the food industry every day—in our homes, the DUC, the supermarket, and our favorite restaurants. Sometimes, food passes our lips without a second thought as we cram for an exam or binge watch the new season of our preferred TV show. But when we pay attention to what we eat, we can feel joy, disgust, nostalgia, excitement, and other sensations that can’t always be articulated through words, but rather through tastes, smells and textures. Food’s necessary presence in our lives means that nutrition is deeply entwined in issues that affect the world at every level. From agriculture to food insecurity to nutrition to food culture, our nourishment impacts our politics on the individual, national, and global scale. For this reason, we invited writers and artists to play with their food in WUPR’s last issue of the semester. We were impressed by the diversity in the interpretations they cooked up. Annie Johnston writes about the connections between food, class, and our judgment of others. Considering Lady Gaga’s meat dress, Julia Widmann discusses the sexual politics of meat. In a feature, Haley Myers writes about communities formed around the dinner table. As always, our writers also engaged with a range of national and international topics. Katy Brainerd and Daniel Grossman write about the shifting landscape of disability protections under the Trump administration, and Sam Klein considers the future of self-driving cars, to name a few. As we say au revoir to our executive board members who are going abroad, we also want to welcome four new members to WUPR’s behind-the-scenes team. Max Lichtenstein will join us as a Features Editor, Josh Hill will be the next Director of External Operations, and Sophie Attie and Daniel Smits will join the team of Staff Editors. The different talents each brings, and the passion they share, will lead WUPR into 2018 and beyond. This break, wherever you find yourself —a holiday party, skiing piste, or childhood bedroom—we wish you a healthy respite from campus. As for us: Until January, WUPR will be collecting submissions for our Religion issue. If you would like to contribute your work on the theme (or on any other national or international topic), reach out to us at email@example.com. As always, we’re thankful to you, our readers, for supporting what we do.
Until soon, Rachel Butler & Dan Sicorsky Editors-in-Chief
Interested in writing, design, or illustration? Join WUPR! WUPR.ORG/CONTRIBUTE We always welcome new contributors.
ILLUSTRATION BY ELIZABETH OBEIDAT
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MY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD Hanna Khalil | Illustrations by Dominique Senteza
ontent Warning: Mention of weight and disordered eating.
5 years old
love seeing the ways in which ingredients bring life to imagination, how spices and textures construct something uniquely original or the product of a millennium of history. My favorite part is the end of the show, when the cook shares their creation with a table of family and friends. They smile and laugh and pass around pretty ceramic bowls. There is something therapeutic about this process of making and giving, even from just watching. 12 years old
I stand on tiptoes so that I can reach the big silver bowl in front of me, leveraging my tiny body over the counter to mix the thin batter. My mother patiently oversees my slow, unsteady contribution until she takes over, whisking quickly. I watch her in admiration as she expertly pours it onto the special pans we brought back packed in suitcases. Sunday mornings were for crepes and endless options of jams, sugar and Nutella fillings. I mirror the way my mom folds them over into easy-to-hold triangles. It’s my favorite day of the week. 10 years old
15 years old
I pursue this therapy for myself. I enter a phase—I make more cobblers, crumbles and cakes than my four-person family can keep up with. “I’m ten pounds heavier, I swear!” my dad jokes, as he takes seconds. I laugh, because I know he’ll have thirds, and think about my next creation: crumbling cold butter into flour to make crust from scratch, watching custard thicken in a saucepan, resisting the urge to open an oven door so that my soufflé won’t deflate. I love having the honor of cutting slices to pass around the table.
I watch Food Network after school. Both my parents are away at work, so I cook myself scrambled eggs for lunch (I never eat the gross stuff they serve in the cafeteria) and pair it with a toasted piece of the pita bread that, thanks to my Arab dad, we always have stockpiled in the freezer.
One summer visiting family in Egypt, I feel at home when I see the feast in front of me: grape leaves stuffed and spiced, thin buttery sheets of phyllo dough layered with seasoned ground beef. Molds of perfectly cooked white rice tower over braised lamb with pieces of pita absorbing the sauce. My doting aunts comment how they don’t have to worry about me being shy at the dinner table, because I am always clear about asking for seconds. It’s a good thing – it’s not like I gain weight when I eat anyways. They’re glad I like the food they worked so hard on.
14 years old
I am probably the only kid interested in the creations of Ina Garten and Giada de Laurentiis, but I watch them anyways, fascinated nonetheless. I
not sure of themselves. My jeans are a size 4— which feel big at the time because I remember when I was a 2, and a time before that when I was a 0. My thighs don’t touch.
I read about anorexia and bulimia in health class, and I think to myself, what poor, sad girls. We learn the scientific facts about how the acid can erode your throat and how you can lose your period. We talk in my favorite student group, Feminist Future, about how the media sets unattainable beauty standards for young girls. I learn terms like “body positivity” and “fat shaming” and I think that I would never let myself became one of those sad girls. 17 years old
I weigh 115 pounds. My body is closer to “lanky” than “curvy.” I am tall and thin and my limbs are
I weigh 150 pounds. Lanky has morphed into hips and thighs that graze each other as I walk. I am a size 8 or 10, M or L. I have outgrown the parameters of “okay,” that at some point I had made up.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
I don’t see “growing up.” I see “change,” and change is scary. But perfectionism has worked for me in school. With enough studying, I can get straight As. With enough discipline I can stop changing.
until I forget it could be wrong. I still bake, but I wonder if I had done well enough up to this point to deserve a slice. I eat it anyways. I feel a little bad and tell myself it’s fine but I don’t always feel fine. I tell myself I know better than to worry about those standards of beauty I rail against and tell my friends not to listen to. I am doing this for my health. By most metrics, I am doing everything right. As I clean my diet, I pollute my mind. 19 years old
I go on a journey of health. I read “clean eating” blogs and cook their recipes. I try to make my family eat more vegetables, and meticulously read nutrition labels, closely scanning the text for the many names of hidden sugars. There is something sweet in the praise I give myself. I settle in on a Sunday evening, looking forward to a YouTuber’s “What I Eat in A Day” video that is sure to pop up in my subscription box. Aesthetically beautiful, full of new ideas and ways to incorporate into my diet the almond milk and chia seeds I’ve asked my parents to get, wholesale and affordable, at Costco. I aspire for a day of eating that could mirror that perfection. Where I don’t mess up my progress and hard work with chocolate before bed, or a side of chips.
girls, behind their seemingly balanced meals, and perfectly filtered Instagram photos of healthy food, are hiding stories like mine. Confused because she’s a feminist who knows better than to buy into all of that, but she does anyway. Confused because she wants to tell her friends, picking at themselves in mirrors, that they’re beautiful, but can’t find a way to tell it to herself. Confused because she was doing all the right things, so she wonders why things still feel so wrong. Wondering when things stopped being as simple as stirring batter round and round on a Sunday morning. I want to tell her she can also let go. Let us go back to when food was something to love and a way to love others, and most of all, a way to love ourselves. Let’s go, together.
I think I just get tired. I come to college and I no longer can control everything I put into my body. There is a barrier between me and the BD workers who make my egg sandwich and stirfry. I gain weight. I exercise. I eventually slow the battle in my head. Have I won? Health is more than the vitamins or fat or sugar or whole grains I put into my body. Health is my mind. Health is being at peace with myself so I can appreciate how long I can dance, how far I can walk, how strong I can hug. What started as an attempt at control began to control me, and I wanted to let go.
We all are allowed our “guilty pleasures,” but mine actually make me feel deeply, depressingly guilty. Still, I am spared from the conditions those sad girls have. I am not anorexic. I do not have a “real” condition. I simply have a state of mind that has been approved of and conditioned
I still eat my fruits and vegetables. But I try to stop saying that foods are “so bad” or “guilty pleasures.” I am privileged enough that food can just be a pleasure. I try to detach body from food from value. I am not fixed. I still wonder some days if I deserve to “treat myself.” I wonder how many
Hanna Khalil ‘20 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ILLUSTRATION BY RUOYI GAN 8
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
IMMIGRATION: A THANKSGIVING TRADITION Hannah Gilberstadt billion pounds of sweet potatoes. 254 million turkeys. 659,340 tons of green beans. 7,600,000 barrels of cranberries.
the Legal Workforce Act gains an extra pound at this particular time of year. Beyond the pumpkin pies and green bean casseroles, Thanksgiving is, at its core, a holiday that celebrates immigration.
These are the average annual production quantities for some of America’s favorite Thanksgiving foods. Although these figures account for a year of production, a whopping 20% of the above totals go toward the Thanksgiving feast each year. (This makes sense, though - who eats that many cranberries at any other time of year?) For many Americans, the Thanksgiving meal is the crux of their holiday celebration. We write our shopping lists, raid the grocery stores until they are barren wastelands, and spend hours preparing dishes to share with (or hoard from) loved ones. However, in the midst of preparation, we don’t often think about where our food came from before it hit the grocery store, or—more importantly—who helped get it there.
On Thanksgiving, many Americans remember the Pilgrims’ journey from England to America in order to escape religious persecution. We reflect on the harsh conditions that the Pilgrims endured on their 66-day Mayflower voyage to the New World. We recall that Thanksgiving commemorated the Pilgrim’s first harvest in their new home—a sign of hope for a bountiful future and a celebration of survival. On Thanksgiving, we are told to be thankful, for, like the Pilgrims, we could be facing the harsh realities of immigration instead of relaxing at our dinner tables. Perhaps the harsher reality is the fact that the food in our Thanksgiving feast was likely harvested by people who are currently facing the hardships of immigration in the United States.
There are 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Of that 11.1 million, 26% report working in farming-related jobs, comprising 17% of America’s agriculture industry as a whole. In the newly introduced Legal Workforce Act (H.R.3711), a bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in September, these 2,860,000 undocumented immigrants working in agriculture will now face another obstacle to employment in the form of a new Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS). This bill is an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which oversees the H-2A guest worker program that allows many undocumented immigrants to hold temporary agricultural jobs in the U.S. The incorporation of the EEVS would require employers to verify the legal status of all H-2A employees, which would bar undocumented immigrants from holding these jobs. As of early November, this bill awaits a vote by the House Judiciary Committee.
Perhaps the harsher reality is the fact that the food in our Thanksgiving feast was likely harvested by people who are currently facing the hardships of immigration in the United States.
This is obviously not the first piece of controversial immigration legislation that this country has seen lately. In fact, this last year has been filled with some of the most drastic legislation of this nature in recent history, including Trump’s travel ban in January and decision to end DACA in early September. However, the moral weight of
The Legal Workforce Act contradicts everything our country claims to honor during Thanksgiving, and in fact, poses an obstacle to celebrating this holiday at all. Without the work of the undocumented immigrant population in agricultural
labor jobs, there would be fewer hands to pick and produce the foods we bring to our Thanksgiving tables. We take for granted that, in the frantic preparation of our Thanksgiving dinners, the grocery stores will be stocked with all of the fresh fruits and vegetables that we need to stuff our turkeys, pies, and stomachs. Americans are largely unwilling to take these low-wage, labor-intensive agricultural jobs. We rely on the undocumented immigrant population to help us maintain our regular diets, and in this case, preserve traditions that feel innate to our nation’s cultural identity. The implementation of the Legal Workforce Act would not only be harmful to the over two million immigrants who work in this industry, but could also change the future of Thanksgiving as we know it. As I sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year, I will excitedly await the combination of classic dishes that I refuse to eat in conjunction at any other time of year. I will think about the immigration story of the Pilgrims, as they left their old lives behind to find a better future in the country that we live in today. However, I will also think about the immigration stories that may not be written yet or that may be happening in the United States as I bite into a piece of pumpkin pie. I will hope for a future where legislators and citizens alike will recognize that the Thanksgiving tradition that our country values most is thanks to those whose futures are in our hands.
Hannah Gilberstadt ‘19 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
WHAT BLACK WOMEN BRING TO FOOD JUSTICE Sally Rifkin | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
o Bobbie Sykes, the farm-to-table movement is not new; it's something that's coming back around. Bobbie, a 66-year old Black woman, moved to St. Louis with her family when she was four years old and returned to her native Mississippi every summer growing up. There, on her grandmother's farm, she grew to love fresh vegetables. She learned how to clean rabbits, squirrels, and fish for her family to cook. And when she returned to St. Louis for the year, her mother taught her how to can tomatoes, okra, and green beans to last through the winter. For sweets, they preserved apples, pears, and peaches. "Because we weren't rich at all, but we were rich in doing alternative things," says Bobbie.
Resenda Sykes, Bobbie's daughter, remembers the importance of food in their household growing up. "We celebrate through food," she says. "My mom always cooked for every holiday because we didn't have money for toys, money for anything, so she always cooked a lot of food." After a series of health crises in her family, Resenda started to watch what she ate, incorporating more fresh, unprocessed foods into her diet. Today, she is the president of the board of City Greens, a nonprofit organic grocery store in the Grove which was established by Bobbie and a group of neighborhood women called the Midtown Mamas in 2009. The store aims to help residents of the neighborhood, many of whom are elderly or do not have cars, to regain control over what they put in their bodies instead of depending on the highly processed foods available at corner stores. City Greens operates on a membership system; customers purchase sliding-scale memberships according to their income level and purchase produce and other goods at cost. Until 2014, City Greens operated out of the basement of Midtown Community Services, run by Catholic Charities. Now, City Greens is an independent nonprofit operating out of a storefront on Manchester Avenue, amidst an increasingly popular stretch of businesses in the Grove.
Nationwide, food insecurity disproportionately affects women; female-headed households, particularly those headed by women of color, are more likely to be food insecure. At the time of the 2010 census, 50 percent of households with children in St. Louis City were headed by women. To Bobbie and Resenda, who both have experienced single motherhood, it is no mystery why the food movement is dominated by women. "Because those are the heads of households," says Resenda, "and they care what their kids are eating." As a dependable form of comfort, feeding can inadvertently be weaponized. To keep children out of trouble in higher-crime neighborhoods, says Bobbie, "you keep them in and you feed 'em and feed 'em and feed 'em. And next thing you know, Sally Sue is 200 pounds." Today, the food available in predominantly Black communities is often highly processed and unhealthy. Historically though, Black women have derived strength from their relationships with food and feeding. In 1967, Fannie Lou Hamer founded Freedom Farms Collective in Sunflower County, Mississippi in response to discrimination and a lack of support from the state government. The cooperative included community gardens, a commercial kitchen, affordable housing, and other resources designed to create a sustainable shared Black community. When the state weaponized hunger, the collective self-sufficiency model of Freedom Farms Collective provided an alternative structure for Black survival in the deep south, all while centering agriculture as a site of resistance. Women were also at the helm of the Black Panthers Free Breakfast program, established in 1969. Creating a temporary autonomous zone around the feeding of children, the Free Breakfast Program served Black Panther chapters nationwide and put pressure on the government to ultimately increase funding for children's food. There is something salient about growing social movements centered around food issues, likely because, as many of the women put it, "we all
need to eat." Some women involved with the inception of City Greens grew up visiting their grandparents' farms in the South, instilling in them a lifelong passion for eating and growing. Often in conversations about Black food politics, we are too quick to bring up the role of the plantation in creating a toxic, collectively remembered relationship between Black people and agriculture. It is well worth considering how autonomous Black farms in the Southâ€” and Black community food projects like City Greensâ€”recuperate a Black sense of place in the food movement.
Today, the food available in predominantly Black communities is often highly-processed and unhealthy. But historically, Black women have derived strength from their foodways. In the Grove, women were the ones to make their voices heard the loudest when it came to food issues. According to Nyree Thomas, a Midtown Mama and former director of the City Greens community garden, the dream of the market came to life "because the women never shut up." Gender roles prescribe women to feed their families and communities, so it makes sense that the
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
food activism of the last few decades has been sustained by women. Laura DeLind and Anne Ferguson picked up on this trend in their 1999 article titled, "Is This a Women's Movement?" DeLind and Ferguson argue that the movement is indeed a women's movement, but not necessarily a feminist movement, because women's work in community food projects reinforces the socialization of women as caregivers. Indeed, many of the women with whom I spoke felt as if it was natural for women to be doing this kind of work. In describing the market's early days, Nyree said, "You didn't even have to be on the schedule. You just came in and started sweeping or stocking bins. It was instinct in the women to keep the store clean and ready." Bobbie believes that this instinct was particularly potent in Black women. "I think Black women have had leadership roles all their lives," she says. "They just didnâ€™t know they had leadership roles." What the women learned about food in this process, they would teach to each other. They used to hold cooking demonstrations, chili cook-offs, and other events that built collective enthusiasm around good food. Community food work re-inscribes women's roles as caretakers, but it does much more than that. It is a portal into all kinds of activism. Nyree speaks about how she went from knowing nothing about gardening to running the community garden; Pauline, another market mainstay and volunteer, became an employee of Voices of Women, City Greens' sister organization, through her involvement with the market and is now learning how to write grants. Bobbie took her love of cooking and growing and used it to change the way her community eats; she got all the kids at Midtown to love veggie wraps. One summer camp day, she fed 97 kids. If food work acts as a conduit into these types of leadership roles for women, then it must be feminist work. Now, City Greens is an effort that spans gender, race, and generation. The co-directors are two men, one White and one Black. The volunteers are retirees, students, and professionals from all over the city. Over the past summer, high school and college students were paid to work at the market through an initiative called St. Louis Youth Jobs. One part-time worker's daughter, 13, is City Greens' youngest intern. She usually comes to the market after the school bus drops her off. And the Midtown Mamas come around to shop, volunteer, and collaborate; many of
them are now involved with Voices of Women, which teaches financial literacy and women's leadership. But the original Midtown Mamas aren't around as much anymore; they aren't coming to volunteer in waves like they used to. They don't have seats on the board. The collective, anti-capitalist, do-it-yourself energy that characterized City Greens' early days has given way to realistic concerns about staying afloat. Instead of devoting time to reaching out to neighbors and building a stronger sense of community, market staff members need to focus on filling out grant proposals and paying rent on time. Something else to consider is that the Grove is a gentrifying neighborhood; some people of color, particularly Black women, that City Greens aims to serve, are beginning to feel crowded out by the affluent White customers who call the neighborhood their own. For small nonprofits like City Greens, gentrification is a double-edged sword; on one hand, White customers and volunteers may undermine the potential for a Black sense of place. But on the other hand, the range of incomes sustains City Greens by allowing it to continue offering subsidized memberships to people who need them. What started as a project conceived of and sustained by Black women has evolved into a collaborative effort. Black and White men and women of all ages work to sustain City Greens. One particularly pleasant surprise was seeing how the Men's Club, a community group of
neighborhood men, has stepped up to maintain City Greens' community garden. But if it feels as if the store is losing touch with the community it aims to serve, I think staff and volunteers would do well to make use of the organizing tactics that brought City Greens around in the first place. The Midtown Mamas' collectivist model of getting it done and the ways they taught and learned from each other generated an energy around good food. The unique advocacy of Black women in community food efforts can be a key to lasting change.
Sally Rifkin â€˜18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
YOUNG ADAM Rachel Butler | Illustration courtesy of Open Clip Art Library He delighted in the waxy skins of lemons, Secretly scratching, sniffing, breathing in, As his mother hurried him along, Clutching grubby fingers. She left him by the apricots, To buy the chicken for dinner, stay right here! The deep violet of the eggplants called to him, And he could not resist. Roaming among mountains of sweet orange Whispering of their lush contents. Past seas of crisp green leaf, Punctuated by jewels of carrot, tomato, beet! Aglow in glorious fluorescence. He grasped the grandest shining apple, Slyly shoving it into his sweatshirt, Yet guilt overcame him, He restored the gem to its rightful place. A voice from the lights called out A mother is looking for her child, He is lost in this labyrinth of foodstuffs! Yet it could not reach him, Too far gone in his produce paradise.
Rachel Butler â€˜18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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TABLE TALK Haley Myers | Illustration by Dominique Senteza
atching the sunrise through the window, I remain in the same spot I first sat down in eighteen hours prior. The diner had cleared out except for my best friend and me in a booth, and the people working the early shift. The sound of the coffee brewing and our stomachs grumbling from a sugar overload echoed throughout the room. I gather the cards on the table as I shuffle the deck for our next game, “fourteen—zero, me.”
A sit-down meal like the one we shared together is such a lost concept in today’s American society. What happened to the ubiquitous family dinners that are so frequently mentioned by my Grandparents? Nowadays, many meals are spent in the car or next to a computer. In the chaos of everyday life, it is so easy to replace a meal with an extra hour of work. However, sharing a meal with friends is a form of social engagement that fosters community involvement.
When I tell people I spent twenty-four hours in a diner with my best friend, their first question is “why?”. This is usually followed up with “weren’t your bored?”. The answer is no, and those twenty-four hours were some of my favorite from freshman year. There were only two days left before my friend and I would return home for the summer, and we were excited for one last adventure. We stayed up all night playing cards, making our ultimate bucket lists, and consuming profuse amounts of milkshakes and coffee.
Growing up I was always told, “don’t talk about politics or religion at the dinner table,” but I never understood why this was. Is it because a meal should provide peaceful pleasantries connecting people through the “breaking [of] bread” rather than draw out conflicting disagreements between idealistically different individuals? Or conversely to my parents’ beliefs, should the dinner table be used as an outlet for people to voice their opinions on controversial issues, or learn about issues they lacked prior knowledge
to I would like to think that my passionate debates screaming at my crazy uncle at the dinner table meant I was destined for Capitol Hill; I believe that the value of the dinner table resides in the rare opportunity for people to sit, stay, and converse about difficult topics such as new legislation and political actors. If lessons of respectful, and sometime uncomfortable, conversations were installed at a young age, then I would be better equipped to hold these disputable discussions at age 19. Now, more than ever before, we live in an era where people are unable to talk to each other, or even look each other in the eye solely based on political ideologies. Divided by who we voted for in the general election, people have unfriended each other on Facebook, and have cut people out of their lives based on the box they checked on November 8th, 2016. Social media provided people with the platform to “delete” those out of their lives who asserted different opinions, and
yet people were surprised by the results of the election because all of their “friends” had supported the same candidate. Whether you are happy or upset with how the election resulted, it is important to note that it involved two of the most polarizing, and possibly disliked, candidates in American history; it can be argued that the gaping divide between candidates could have been avoided if more dialogue occurred between people who vote differently throughout the previous administrations. Nowadays, people have forgotten how to communicate, and instead use ideas such as “fake news” to ignore the facts that support their opponent’s ideas. The government is at a halt because these polarizing sides are unable to listen to each other and reach back towards the middle to compromise. Reaching. This is an action that is imitated at the dinner table. If you are reaching for the bread, and someone reaches to help pass it to you. ou are reaching towards each other, making eye contact, and it is almost as if you are metaphorically reaching towards middle ground. The simple act is often followed with a “thank you,” an acknowledgement of the intimate connection just made. Intimacy. Food can indulge cravings, can satisfy hunger, and can even sometimes create a sensual experience. Sharing a meal with someone may be more intimate than a first kiss. Additionally, you can learn a lot about a person from what they eat. Your choice of food
and beverage plays into your identity, or at least how you identify at the moment. For instance, Vegetarians do not eat meat. Is this because they believe in sustainability of water through the food they consume? Or is it that they don’t care for the consistency or texture of meat? Those who keep Kosher and do not eat pork nor shellfish follow religious rules pertaining to their diet; these simple details of what a person eats can relay vast information about the beliefs and values of these individuals. The dinner table is a time to share a part of yourself with an intimate community. The way I see it, the dinner table allows you to better know someone by providing the perfect place to debate the issues that matter to you. Often the people at the table are people you have formed intimate connections with, and have the ability teach you about both sides of an argument as you reach a compromise. Debating controversial issues with someone with a differing opinion can help you understand how they support gay marriage and the right to an abortion, but identify as Republican for “fiscal reasons.” Or understanding why people love their right “to bear arms,” can help those who deeply believe in stricter gun control laws. Polarizing views will not save lives, but finding a compromise can promote policy to protect and support the greatest amount of citizens. So yes, sitting at the same booth in a diner for twenty-four hours was a lot. However, not only
did I learn about myself, I learned even more about my best friend. I discovered that even though we had so much in common, we also had so many differences. He watched TV about photography, a show that would be my last choice on Netflix when trying to stay awake at 4:42 A.M. We have different perspectives on politics and where we see ourselves in ten years, but in that moment we were spending quality time together. In my day at the Peacock Diner, I found what motivates me as a student and as an individual: my desire to ask questions and to be challenged, and to acknowledge there are many sides to every issue, which will require compromise. These 24 hours comprised an experience I will never forget, and will forever be a part of who I am - something to think about the next time you take your coffee and lunch to go.
Haley Myers '20 studies in the Olin Busines School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
MY LOVE STORY WITH JUDAISM (AND BACON) Liza Sivriver | Illustration courtesy of Pixaby
y classmates in high school knew the $4.29 Bacon Double Cheeseburger as the centerpiece of my infamous Friday lunch. When my friends would spot me in fourth period with greasy fingers holding a crumpled Burger King bag, they’d shake their heads and groan. They knew I had consumed my favorite meal yet again. The tradition became inseparable from me, and thus the Bacon Double Cheeseburger became a legend my junior year.
Little did my classmates know, they wouldn’t see me bite into my deliciously greasy burger senior year. In the summer of 2015, I attended a pluralistic Jewish summer program called BIMA/Genesis at Brandeis University. The common trait between my brand new 120 best friends and me is that we all identify as Jewish, but how we interpret our faith varies from person to person. My friends at BIMA/Genesis experienced daily life differently than I do. Most attended religious day school and were raised Orthodox Jewish. At home, the most Jewish I’d been was memorizing the entire Hannukah episode of The Rugrats at age seven and mastering the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack by age eight. As a child, I latched onto whatever Jewish culture I found, especially since my secular Soviet-immigrant family could offer little in that spiritual arena. My grandma taught me her recipe for the perfect noodle kugel instead of conventional prayer. As my first experience meeting Orthodox people, I was initially in culture shock. By the end of the first week, my friends invited me to attend the Orthodox prayer service. The service didn’t resonate with me, but I appreciated its process and beauty. While I rarely connected with prayer, this exposure to observance prompted me to find my personal connection to Judaism, so I decided to keep kosher going into my senior year. Switching my eating habits connected me to Judaism in a significant, but manageable way. I felt empowered searching for an Orthodox Union seal on a box of sugar cookies because I participated in a practice that far predates me. Keeping kosher was a constant, conscious reminder of my faith, tradition, and community.
Coming to college, I dreamt of all the Jewish opportunities on campus. After I became more interested in Judaism senior year, college felt unlimited in its potential to explore my faith, especially at a school with a large Jewish population like Wash U. My first year did not meet to my expectations whatsoever—I only went to Hillel once, I stopped enforcing a strict time limit between eating dairy after meat, and I didn’t light candles for Shabbat anymore. Examples of my waning observance feel infinite. Keeping kosher was significant to me initially because it reminded me of my faith with every choice. There weren’t many Jews where I am from; the predominantly Christian atmosphere prompted an unsuccessful, albeit active, search to “feel Jewish.” Consciously choosing to not buy dessert after a meal with meat, for example, made Judaism fit into my environment. My defiant turning point in ditching kosher was on Mardi Gras. Inspired by my friends who were engaging in traditions of gorging themselves in junk food, I too liberated myself from my regular eating. My animalistic hunger was calling me, beckoning me to mix bacon with my hash browns at Village brunch. Bacon tasted better than I had ever remembered, but I was unsure as to why I broke a year and a half long streak of abstaining from pork. On deeper reflection, however, I realize that at Wash U I didn’t need food to remind me that I was Jewish. About 30
percent of Wash U’s students identify as Jewish. Here, I don’t need to actively seek out Judaism, whether it be Jewish friends, food, or culture. Historically, minority status has been integral to Jewish life and experience. Scarcity and diaspora bore solidarity between Jews. My identity holds less weight when it is occupied by 30 percent of the population, rather than 0.3 percent. I feel lucky about the access, resources, and relative safety provided to Jewish students, but I am personally struggling with occupying a majority status that only feels significant as a minority. I often wonder if I would have observed kosherstyle eating if I had chosen to go to a different college. Did the atmosphere and demographics of Wash U replace my personal mechanism for connection to faith? Or was my connection to Judaism decreasing on its own, holding all other variables constant? Probably a little bit of both. In the coming years, I hope to learn more about Judaism and explore practices across the spectrum of observance. Whether I revisit keeping kosher or not, I hope I will discover ways to connect with my religion in the future that are just as meaningful as keeping kosher once was to me. But, right now, I’m comfortable putting kosher-style eating on hold and enjoying my Bacon Double Cheeseburger.
Liza Sivriver ‘20 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
JUDGMENTS ABOUT FOOD AS A PROXY FOR CLASS Annie Johnston
ike little ships set out to sea, I push my spoon away from me.”
I grew up eating dinner with my family every night. Once my parents had both gotten home from work and my sister and I had gotten home from school, the four of us would sit down at our dining room table. In general, I wouldn’t say that my family is particularly formal, but for some reason we always sit at the dinner table. Whenever I eat with just a fork I get called out, even if my food doesn’t need to be cut. Without realizing it, these specific table manners got engrained in me over the years. I immediately notice when someone holds their fork differently, and without meaning to or even knowing I’m doing it, I jump to a whole list of conclusions about that person. We judge people for their food: both what they eat and the way that they do so. It would be possible to fill entire rule-books with the do’s and don’ts of eating at a formal dinner, and somehow these rules tend to go unquestioned. I’m often reminded that it’s impolite to break these guidelines, but it is more complicated than simply being rude. These guidelines were a way to distinguish the elite from the poor during a time there was a superiority associated with being rich. According to National Geographic, table etiquette was historically a method of demonstrating that you belonged in the upper class. Power was held by the wealthy, and politics were conducted at fancy gatherings; without the proper manners, it was challenging to have a voice in decision making. Although this is no longer overtly the case, the association between etiquette and class is still ingrained in society. If someone showed up to an official dinner at the White House and chose to only use a spoon rather than a knife and fork, people would talk. There is no official rule saying that this is prohibited, but it’s not the behavior we expect from our leaders. We still expect the rich or powerful to behave in a certain way, and when people don’t follow those manners, we make assumptions
about their backgrounds. In many ways this appears arbitrary, because it has persisted throughout the decline of many comparable societal measures. Although the standards of table etiquette have been relaxed, they are still very prominent today, and still align with class distinctions.
We judge people for their food: both what they eat and the way that they do so. It is also common to judge people for the food they eat. In the United States particularly, fast food is more accessible than meat or produce. Through fast food, there is widespread access to quick, cheap meals that require no preparation. For many people who don’t have easy access to healthy options—because of a food desert, a lack of transportation, or long hours that prevent cooking—that convenience holds significant appeal. These factors are a possible explanation for the high correlation between obesity and poverty noted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. However, people don’t tend to consider this as they judge the people buying unhealthy food. In general, people see someone buying food, quickly glance at their body type, and make a whole list of assumptions about the character and choices of the individual. When someone who struggles with obesity orders fast food, it is easy to assume that they don’t care about their health, rather than consider other potential factors. I have heard conversations that have absolutely stunned me when someone who is even slightly overweight is buying fast food. The hypocrisy of the people around me was astonishing; they conveniently ignored that they were eating the same food as the person had just condemned.
What to eat is a personal choice that has developed into a supposed marker of much more. In a burger, people see a disregard for health concerns, and in sushi they see a pretentious and costly lifestyle. Simply by looking at someone’s diet, people believe they can determine someone’s motivations and background. A study in The Economist argues that this is because of the correlation between class and food habits. They found that people who had graduated from college were much more likely to have eaten prosciutto in the last year than those who only had a high school education. In a culture that is very uncomfortable with talking about class, these discrepancies perpetuate those divisions without ever being discussed. Although it is rarely recognized, we come up with a very different set of assumptions if someone is eating quinoa with a fork than if they are eating fries with their fingers. Since it is not an easy conversation, these stigmas are perpetuated, and when they are acknowledged it is almost never in the context of class. Unfortunately, the more we try to deny this connection, the harder it is to separate the two, and the more we will perpetuate these preconceptions.
Annie Johnston ‘21 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IS A HOT DOG A SANDWICH? Max Handler & Charles | Illustration by Dominique Senteza
Pro: I have radical sandwich opinions. I see lasagna as a pasta Big Mac and fried chicken as a fried, totally enclosed chicken sandwich. But, however much you may disagree with these positions, a hot dog clearly fits any commonly accepted definition of a sandwich, namely that it is some type of food between some type of bread. Although the style of bread used and what fills it may be slightly unorthodox and outside the common concept of a “sandwich,” that should not disqualify the hot dog from being classified as such. A common argument is that the bread is cut differently than a traditional sandwich. An easy response to this is that a hot dog bun is cut in almost the exact same way as a sub and I have yet to meet a person who would not classify one of those as a sandwich. Another argument I’ve heard is that if someone invited you to go get sandwiches and took you to a hot dog restaurant, you would be surprised. This is fair, and probably accurate, but just because a hot dog does not come to mind immediately when one thinks of a sandwich, that does not mean that it should not be considered a sandwich. Overall, the definition of a sandwich is somewhat nebulous and if someone wants to make an argument that a hot dog does not qualify, they need to get a better definition of what exactly is and is not a sandwich.
Con: What is the purpose of language? Why do we use words and not grunts? The reason is that words convey meaning; a short word can succinctly capture an entire concept. The purpose, then, of language is to help us understand and convey meaning. Words are thus only useful insofar as they help us to communicate with those around. Now, if I were to tell you that you and I were going to get sandwiches, and against your better judgement you agreed to spend one-on-one time with me and come, you would rightfully be surprised if I took the two of us to get hot dogs. Sure, a hot dog may meet some technical definition of a sandwich; but it is not what, in common parlance, we think of as such. If we continue to expand the definition of a sandwich, we will eventually be left with a world where any and everything is a sandwich, and the word ceases to have any meaning whatsoever. I do not want that world for either myself or my children, and thus to my dying breath I will shout from the rooftops the simple truth: a hot dog is not a sandwich.
ILLUSTRATION BY RUOYI GAN 19
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
EAT THE DAMN BRUISED APPLE Sophie Attie | Photo courtesy of Flickr
he other day I was in the dining hall and decided to grab an apple. Naturally, I rummaged through the stack of apples for a minute or two until I found the perfect, unscathed apple, because God forbid there is a dent in my apple. As I searched for the perfect apple, I realized something was wrong with my discrimination of other apples that were probably perfectly fine, even with scratches and bruises. Why was I being so picky over these apples? What’s wrong with a tiny scratch or dent on my fruit? The answer: nothing.
There is nothing wrong with a dent on your apple or a bruise on your banana, so why has it been so ingrained in us that our food needs to look absolutely perfect before we eat it? This is a troubling issue the United States and other wealthy countries are currently facing, and this prejudice against “ugly fruit and vegetables” has helped make the U.S. the world leader in food waste. Americans are used to the homogenous, cleancut appearance of fruits and vegetables, leaving no room for those that do not fit these strict standards that are solely based on looks. People have been throwing out perfectly good food for a while now because of the association we make between things that look “ugly” as inedible. Around 1.5 billion tons of food, almost one-third of the global supply, is wasted annually worldwide because of its unattractive appearance. The United States itself is the greatest contributor to this massive amount of food waste, throwing out several million tons of food yearly. Although most of this food waste comes from the consumer side of food culture, almost 15 percent occurs before the food even reaches grocery stores and supermarkets. Interviews conducted with farmers and producers have revealed that as much as 25 percent of a crop will be thrown out, left to rot, or fed to farm animals because of its appearance. The connection people make between beauty and quality has led to a horrifying amount of waste of perfectly good food. Food waste also has a direct effect on hunger rates and the United States economy. Because food in America is much cheaper than in other countries, Americans feel less guilty about
throwing away food. This leads to greater amounts of wasted food—nearly three trillion dollars’ worth. Money is thus thrown down the drain every year because of this waste. Not only does food waste take a toll on the economy, but it has also been directly linked to hunger. About one in six people in America are considered “food insecure,” meaning they cannot always attain enough food to feed themselves or their households. Millions of Americans struggle to nourish their families, and yet some Americans find the time to throw out quality foods because they are not attractive enough to meet our consumerist society’s beauty standards. If the amount of food wasted annually was halved we could feed a majority, if not all, of those suffering from hunger in America. Whether you look at it from an economic viewpoint or a social welfare perspective, nobody benefits from food waste. Unsurprisingly, wasting food is also bad for the environment. Food waste is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and the production of food uses precious resources. An immense amount of water, land, and labor is used in today’s wasteful agriculture system, not to mention the immense amount of landfills and incinerators that are needed to discard wasted food. These landfills can be extremely harmful to the environment, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse
gases—including methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2—into the atmosphere. It’s safe to say that food waste is therefore terrible for the environment, so why does it still happen? Oh, right, attractiveness trumps all. “Ugly foods” have been garnering some attention in recent “ugly food movements,” but not nearly enough as they should be. Many nonprofit companies have arisen in attempts to bring attention to these unwanted foods, such as the Portuguese company Fruta Horrible (Horrible Fruit) and the Zero Food Waste Forum, which started a campaign for ugly foods dubbed “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables.” Even some big companies have come out in solidarity with these smaller groups. Wal-Mart, America’s largest grocer, has started selling bags of dented apples. Despite these movements, a lot more time and money will have to be put into these campaigns to save ugly foods, and ultimately all foods, from being wasted. For now, what you and I can do is change our attitudes and take the first apple from the pile without judging each one for its imperfections; I promise you they all taste the same.
Sophie Attie ‘20 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
LADY GAGA AND THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF MEAT Julia Widmann
onsider Lady Gaga’s meat dress from the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs): She walked the red carpet in an outfit made entirely from slabs of raw flank steak. Gaga, or her designers, cut out a large circle of meat from the back of the dress, leaving a large circle of her buttocks exposed with only sheer fishnet leggings. A meat-headband and pair of meat-shoes completed the ensemble.
Was there a political statement hiding somewhere? Mostly, Gaga’s choices just confused the public and angered PETA. Still, endless interpretations swirled on the Internet. Some possible theories for Gaga’s motivation included an “anti-fashion statement,” “a feminist statement,” “a commentary on aging and decay,” a statement on society’s “hypocritical attitude towards meat,” and a possibility that it meant nothing at all. Today, I might assume Gaga was protesting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which produce most of our country’s meat in horrifyingly inhumane conditions for both animals and workers, while also polluting air and water and contributing to climate change. Gaga contradicted her own statements about the dress’s meaning, oscillating from “I am not a piece of meat” to insisting it was a protest of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gay and lesbian soldiers in the U.S. military: “If we don’t fight for our rights,” she said, “pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.” Gaga, or her publicist, made a weird choice in defending her outfit this way, especially when some of the circulating theories were much more compelling. Gaga and her publicist might have made a much more interesting, nuanced argument had they read The Sexual Politics of Meat. Feminist Carol J. Adams writes about the “interplay between contemporary [American] society’s ingrained cultural misogyny and its obsession with meat and masculinity,” as the back of the book clearly explains. Though Adams wrote The Sexual Politics of Meat 20 years before Gaga’s stunt, her words continue to challenge cultural assumptions today in 2017. Unfortunately, her comparison between
the butchering of animals and the harassment and rape of women is all too relevant. Harvey Weinstein’s harassment of potentially more than 82 women, with the complacent support of his staff, disturbingly conjures the image of a meat-production assembly line. Adams also discovers an ignored, “dismembered” literary history of vegetarianism. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Wash U’s choice for this year’s Common Reading Program, features prominently in Adam’s analysis. Today, TV shows, magazines, and more often depict vegetarianism and veganism as women’s causes, leading many people to deem vegetarianism and veganism “annoying” or “unimportant.” Literary criticism has historically taken the same stance. I wonder how many Wash U discussions about Frankenstein investigated the monster’s declared vegetarianism.
Lady Gaga walked the red carpet in an outfit made entirely from slabs of raw flank steak.
underlying discomforts or horror. In Adam’s work, the absent referent is the truth that all meat products are dead animal flesh. Adams also prompts discussions about the way that meat is sold and prepared. Burgers and grills advertise to men, sometimes in freakily sexual ways—think “Burger King” burgers photographed on plush pink pillows in a canopy bed, “Carl’s Junior” ads featuring bikini clad women eating burgers, raw chickens placed to mimic the body of a woman lying on her side. Meanwhile, salads are “women’s food.” We expect women to cook and serve meat, but we expect men—often their husbands—to eat the largest portion. Either way, women and meat are objects to be consumed by men. Carol J. Adams would have made a much better publicist for Lady Gaga in the days after the 2010 VMAs. Just about any of these arguments about The Sexual Politics of Meat are more compelling than Gaga’s confusing message. An environmental argument would be equally as valuable. The Sexual Politics of Meat is still worth a read, almost 30 years after Adams published it. As we navigate a meat-filled holiday season and a seemingly endless stream of revelations about sexual assaults in politics and Hollywood, Adams continues to offer insight into the ways in which American culture talks about and consumes both meat and women.
Adams also makes excellent points about the language of meat disguising the reality of meat production. Of course, animal rights remain an issue. Today, omnivores and vegetarians alike are troubled by the terrifying conditions of CAFOs. They demand higher quality products like “cage-free eggs” and meat from “free range” cows, pigs, or chickens. The legitimacy of these practices is up for debate. Regardless, Adams’ argument about the language of meat holds up. Lady Gaga’s “meat dress” was, more accurately, a “cow flesh dress.” We rename “cows” as “beef,” “pigs” as “pork,” and “flesh” as “meat.” The words we use to describe animals evidence Adams’ theory of “the absent referent,” or euphemistic language that disguises
Julia Widmann ‘18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
INDIA CASH AND CARRY Ishaan Shah | Illustration by Avni Joshi
wenty years ago, we had to go all the way to Berkeley to get to the nearest grocery store, and now we are only a five-minute drive away,” my dad remarked as he passed me a closely inspected ringan or eggplant to put into a clear India Cash and Carry plastic bag. My dad wasn’t blind; he simply wasn’t looking for the Trader Joe’s and the Safeway that were in the shopping plazas that were walking distance from his apartment. As I pushed around the shopping cart, we dropped in the essential items we were going to need for the week: a big bag of chevda for my sister, a treasured packet of Patel Brothers bhel mix, some paneer, some ghee, dudi, and of course a couple handfuls of bhindi for my favorite sabji. Later, my dad ushered us over to the stack of mango boxes at the front of the store. Together, we softly squished each and every mango until he came upon a box he was fairly satisfied with. We had found a box of Kent mangoes which, according to my dad, meant that they were pretty good. Because it was a Friday, we also picked up something special: a large tub of malai paneer, whose creamy, cashew gravy was to die for.
For me, these weekly grocery trips were a routine: a time for me to joke around with my parents and help around the house a little bit. But for my mom and dad, the grocery stores were an anchor, one which brought them a little closer to a home they’d left behind. Sorting through the jumbled, somewhat suspect vegetables, meeting and chatting with the other Indians in the community, and picking up freshly made chapatis, dosa batter, and haldi was part of a way of life they had grown used to. To them, going to the grocery store was about preservation: finding a way to replicate the culture they lost by immigrating to America. As my mom described, “We had Indian friends in California who had come before us. What was harder was replicating the traditions that were dear to us when we grew up.” Having been born and raised in America, I’d always been amused by my parents’ dependence on the Indian grocery stores. I was different, I thought, an independent American college student who would make do with the
grocery stores around me. As I drove to Wash U for the first time, I realized I couldn’t be more wrong. The first thought that crossed my mind was “where is the closest Indian grocery store?” For some reason, I had almost assumed that there would be one near me; St. Louis was itself a pretty big city and I thought all big cities had an Indian grocery store. As I anxiously scoped my options for passable Indian food, I felt myself holding onto my parents' anchor more tightly than I ever had. I was incredibly incomplete
My innate desire to be surrounded by the familiarity of the Indian grocery store is part of who I am: I will never lose this fear of being disconnected from my ethnic identity.
I will never lose this fear of being disconnected from my ethnic identity. This fear didn’t become visceral until I felt the familiar domain almost escape, but it has lived dormant inside of me this entire time. An opportune shipment of fresh spices from my family saved me this time, but what about the next? What can I afford to hold on to and what am I most afraid to lose? These are the questions that I don’t want to answer because I’m afraid I won’t be able to. At the very least, I can come to terms with my fear and embrace the yearning I have for these Indian supermarkets. Maybe, I don’t have to lose the familiarity the pungent fragrances bring to me every time I walk by the freshly fried pakodas. Food is an aspect of my upbringing I have a choice to preserve. It will just take a little bit of reading. And so my dad pulled out the loose leaf pages with Gujarati scribbled on them and started translating. Following his instructions, I dropped the chopped ringan into the Crock-Pot and let them simmer.
without it. I dropped the black mustard seeds into the crackling vegetable oil, beginning to dole out the chopped onion into the Crock-Pot. The familiar aromas enveloped our kitchen on a damp July evening in my St. Louis apartment. I didn’t find my St. Louis Indian grocery store, but at last I found solace. When I was younger, I thought these grocery stores frequented my life out of mere convenience. I was surrounded by tradition, and partaking in this tradition was what everybody else did. What I failed to understand was how this bedrock of the Indian community was shaping me as it served my parents. My innate desire to be surrounded by the familiarity of the Indian grocery store is part of who I am:
Ishaan Shah ‘20 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
FOOD DESERTS: WHERE NUTRITION MEETS INEQUALITY Hanna Khalil and Ryan Mendleson | Illustration by Dominique Senteza What is a food desert? The 2008 Farm Bill defines a food desert as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities.” According to the USDA, to qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than ten miles). What factors accessibility?
A neighborhood may qualify as a food desert for a number of reasons, including having: —A low number of grocery stores in comparison to the number of residents it serves —A great distance between grocery stores —A lack of vehicular or public transport available to facilitate travel to grocery stores
businesses offer more processed, unhealthy foods, as well as less fresh produce and fewer options overall. Who does this problem affect? The food desert situation in the United States disproportionately affects minority groups. Compared to the white population, these demographic groups typically have less access to grocery stores and thus restricted opportunities to find nutritious food. For example, while 31% percent of White Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket, only 8% of Black Americans do. But the effects of food deserts are not limited to the issues of hunger and nutrition. As mentioned, food deserts often lie in areas with communities of marginalized and lower-income Americans, where residents often work multiple jobs with unpredictable shifts to make ends meet. When individuals struggle to balance work with rent and food expenses, the cycle of poverty and hunger continues and reinforces the marginalization of these group How does living in a food desert impact health?
—Low-income residents who cannot afford many food options So, what do people in food deserts eat? Americans who live in food deserts have limited nutritional options. Of the 25.3 million Americans living in low-income areas over a mile from a supermarket, 2.3 million do not own or have reliable access to vehicles. This means that in areas where supermarkets and grocery stores are in low supply, residents are often limited to the small delis, bodegas, and fast food restaurants that are more easily accessible. These
Unsurprisingly, living in a food desert has been linked to worse diet. Studies show that better access to a supermarket is linked to lower levels of obesity, while greater access to a convenience store is associated with higher risk of obesity. Diet-related diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes can have long-lasting and serious health effects. In this way, lack of food accessibility doesn’t just have immediate consequences. It disproportionately impacts low-income and communities of color with the burden of these health risks over the long-term and across
multiple generations. What initiatives are in place to combat this issue? In recent years, community leaders, grassroots activists, and government officials have made efforts to advocate for those impacted by low food accessibility. As part of her “Let’s Move” campaign, former First Lady Michelle Obama established the Healthy Food Finance Initiative, a multi-million dollar project aimed at eliminating food deserts by 2017. In her 2010 speech at a Philadelphia elementary school, she said, “we know this is ambitious, but we also know that tackling the issue of accessibility and affordability is key to achieving the overall goal of solving childhood obesity in this generation.” In New York City, for example, an organization called Just Food seeks to educate community members about food disparities and to help them increase access to local nutritious food. By promoting farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture, advocating for urban farming initiatives, and mobilizing community members to make a difference, Just Food aims to aid in the fight against food insecurity from the ground up. What about St. Louis? Following the closures of several supermarkets in the 1990’s, many areas of St. Louis lacked access to full-service grocery stores. However, over the last four years, St. Louis City has made it a priority to fight the food desert problem among its neighborhoods. Combined government and community efforts have led to the construction of new supermarkets in previously underserved
areas. It’s not perfect, but the USDA’s Food Desert Locator indicates that nearly all of St. Louis City is food desert-free as of 2015. Unfortunately, this relief in the city has not spread into the surrounding areas as effectively. Several of the communities to the North and East of the city are still food deserts. Food for Thought For many of us, our biggest concerns regarding food are how long it will take for us to cook, what type of cuisine we want to order in tonight, what the DUC is serving for lunch, or how to stay up to date on the latest food trends. But for many, food is a constant concern. For many, food is far from a guarantee. Consider how often you have had to wonder if you would be able to find something on your grocery list. Or if you struggled to find a method of transport to get you to a supermarket. If these have never been concern, then reflect on what privilege comes with not having to worry. There is a tendency to view food accessibility as an issue that affects those in faraway countries, and not a modern problem within the richest nation in the world. But for the more vulnerable populations in our communities, food can serve as a tool of disenfranchisement. When Americans lack access to the most basic of human necessities, our system maintains and perpetuates historical inequality by impacting the health, well-being, and access to opportunity enjoyed by communities.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
CONSUMING A BALANCED PLATE OF INFORMATION Jon Niewijk
octors, parents, and many others tell us from an early age to eat a balanced diet because our bodies need many different nutrients to function. Similarly, we need a balanced diet of information if we want to engage in healthy and informed discourse. This isn’t another article about the dangers of alternative facts; it’s about the subtler threat of handpicked facts. Eating only kale is just as bad for our health as eating a Big Mac between each meal. Likewise, an opinion based on the incomplete truth can be just as harmful as one based on outright falsities.
Media can mislead us by choosing which facts it highlights or omits. Consider this example: a recent Breitbart headline stated that “Just Seven Percent of Economists Say NAFTA Exit Would Trigger a Recession”. This statistic comes from a Wall Street Journal survey of 60 leading economists from several different sectors, so it’s likely credible. The headline is the type of headline that most people will read without reading the actual article; it gives a statistic in big letters but has no hook to interest someone in reading about that statistic. That setup is likely intentional; Breitbart generally supports Trump, and that headline gives readers a reliable fact that supports the view that Trump’s policies are good. An intelligent person who only reads this headline would be reasonable to think exiting NAFTA is immediately beneficial for the US economy. But opening the article reveals that “eighty-two percent of the economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal believe that withdrawal would result in slow economic growth.” Both the seven percent and the eighty-two percent are factual statistics, and the article presents both. However, someone would have to either read beyond the headline or read a headline about the survey from a news source other than Breitbart if they wanted to know both statistics. Let’s say hypothetical persons A, B, and C sit down together. Person A read the full article, person B only read the headline, and person C read a fake study on Reddit claiming that 93%
It’s not always fun to read news that expresses opinions that we fundamentally disagree with, but it’s crucial to do so if we want to have informed conversations. of economists say exiting NAFTA is good for the economy. B’s fact-based opinion on NAFTA is probably quite like C’s, which is based on false information. Both of their opinions are so different from A’s that it is unlikely that a conversation the three of them have about NAFTA will be constructive. Breitbart is far from the only culprit. Consider media coverage of the acquittal of white former St Louis policeman Jason Stockley, who was accused of first-degree murder for fatally shooting Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-yearold black man. The prosecution's case rested on the claim that Stockley killing Smith was premeditated and not justified in self-defense. They argued that Smith was unarmed when Stockley shot him, and that the gun found in Smith’s car was planted by Stockley. They cited a video recording of Stockley saying he was “going to kill this m**********r, don’t you know it" during the car chase immediately preceding the shooting to indicate that Stockley’s actions were premeditated. The Washington Post and New York Times’s main articles covering the case presented these facts:
the video of Stockley was reliable, the gun found in Smith’s car had only Stockley’s DNA on it, and the dashcam footage immediately after the shooting shows Stockley removing Smith’s body from his car, returning to his police cruiser to retrieve some unidentifiable object from a duffel bag, and going back into Smith’s car. A reasonable person could conclude from this set of facts that anyone who is not some combination of uninformed, prejudiced, or irrational would see Stockley’s acquittal as evidence of a bigoted justice system that cynically protects racist police officers. But these two newspapers both left out one fact in their stories that was prominent in Fox News’s coverage: forensic experts testified that the absence of anyone else’s detectable DNA on an object doesn’t mean someone else didn’t touch it. This testimony on its own creates reasonable doubt that Smith planted the gun; no court can convict anyone of first-degree murder if there is reasonable doubt. This one fact does not mean Stockley is innocent or that the larger justice system is not flawed; it merely reveals that this ruling is not necessarily a good example of those flaws. The omission of one small fact reverses the opinion that many reasonable people would have about the ruling. Eating a balanced diet isn’t always convenient or tasty; it’s easy to be lazy and eat ramen twice a day. Social media is designed to make things easy; it curates a newsfeed for us that can quickly become quite one-sided if we don’t intentionally add varied news sources. It’s not always fun to read news that expresses opinions that we fundamentally disagree with, but it’s crucial to do so if we want to have informed conversations.
Jon Niewijk ‘21 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | FOOD
SOUTH KOREA’S GOT BEEF WITH AMERICA Syrus Jin | Illustration by Edison Ho
t’s summer 2008. Tens of thousands of South Korean citizens pour into the streets of Seoul, holding demonstrations and organizing marches day and night. An overtaxed Seoul police force uses water cannons in sporadic clashes with protesters. President Lee Myungbak sees his approval ratings plummet to below 20% as his cabinet begins to tender resignation letters. US diplomats hurriedly meet with their South Korean counterparts, and statements are floated before the media that the turmoil will not affect the US-ROK security alliance. The issue driving all this instability? Beef. Delicious, affordable American beef.
See, in 2003 it was detected that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease”, was present in some American cattle. South Korea was one of many countries that banned imports of American beef in response. This ban lasted for almost four years until President Lee entered negotiations with the Bush administration in January 2008 and reversed the ban. Although unknown at the time, this was one of the first steps towards the ultimate ratification of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2011. This beef ban reversal eventually precipitated mass protests in Seoul as demonstrators accused President Lee of bowing to American bullying, at the cost of Korean public health. The 2008 U.S. Beef Protest eventually died down with no major consequences for Lee’s administration. American beef resumed its flow. In December 2016 it was reported that American beef exports to South Korea reached the $1 billion mark. By itself, American beef might not have put the alliance in jeopardy, but it is a key example of the numerous issues which plague the U.S.-South Korean relationship. Even with the United States tied to South Korea by a long history of cooperation and shared security concerns, fissures continue to appear in bilateral relations. If those fissures are allowed to fester, there will be far more than ribeye at stake. President Trump’s summit with President Moon Jae-In last June was not a wholly new cut on
American relations with South Korea. In line with Trump’s anti-globalization rhetoric, he has accused South Korean companies of grazing on unfair trade deals. Most of Trump’s beefier complaints have quieted as Moon Jae-In has followed the U.S. lead in dealings with North Korea, but there is no doubt that American vacillations have startled the herd. But for many South Koreans, the new American administration is merely an extension of an existing narrative of American dominance of South Korean affairs. Regardless if the accusation that the Bush administration bullied Lee Myung-bak into allowing American beef is true, what’s important is that the public widely perceived it to be the case. This administration’s extraction of promises to renegotiate the U.S.-R.O.K. Free Trade Agreement and address the U.S. goods trade deficits is particularly ill-timed, as South Korea is still reeling from crippling Chinese sanctions that were issued after the initial deployment of THAAD systems and South Korean lawmakers have very real concerns that their alliance might lead to Seoul being nuked. That South Korea might have to punish its own business in a renegotiation of the FTA is only one more source of pressure that threatens to push South Korea out of America’s orbit. China, too, has enough leverage to drive a wedge into the U.S.-R.O.K. alliance. Even though China’s sanctions failed to force Moon’s administration to reverse the deployment of THAAD, the effects were udderly devastating. South Korea’s trade ties with China is the tenderloin of its economy and Moon Jae-In faces plenty of domestic pressure to avoid spoiling the milk. He has since reassured Beijing that there are limits to South Korea’s alliance with the United States. In an interview on November 4th, President Moon ruled out the possibility of a trilateral alliance with the U.S. and Japan, pushing against broader American strategic dreams of a unified Northeast Asian bloc to balance China’s influence. This is combined with recent proposals for a domestic nuclear policy and an accelerated ballistic missile program by South Korean lawmakers. Given the unreliability of Trump’s commitment to American agreements abroad, fears
of a nuclear North Korea, and trade ties with China amid U.S. cries of economic unfairness, there are real incentives for South Korea will become more independent of its constraining bilateral ties with the United States. To be clear, it is still very likely that Moon Jae-In will continue to pursue a pragmatic policy of continued cooperation with the Trump-led United States. The 30,000 American troops stationed in Korea will not disappear overnight. But a recalibration on how the United States manages its presence in the country is needed to reassure lawmakers in Seoul and the South Korean public that the U.S. is a reliable and helpful ally. Otherwise, the U.S.-R.O.K. alliance which has lasted for the past sixty years may become seared in ways that won’t be easily repaired.
Syrus Jin ‘19 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | NATIONAL
WHY TRUMP CAN NEVER BE AN AUTOCRAT Luke Voyles | Illustrations courtesy of Pixaby and Wikipedia
n October 30, 2017, conservative writer and intellectual Norman Ornstein spoke at Washington University in St. Louis to promote a book he co-wrote, One Nation After Trump. He argued that the Trump presidency is leading the way toward autocracy (government by one person), kleptocracy (government by thieves), and kakistocracy (government by the worst). In fact, an ideologically diverse range of political commentators, including Ornstein, Masha Gessen, David Frum, Jeffrey Goldberg, Megan McArdle, Ezra Klein, Sarah Kendzior, and Paul Krugman are all united in their belief that the Trump presidency has either inaugurated an age of autocracy or is constantly lurching toward autocracy. While it may be true that President Trump is aiding in the creation of a kakistocracy or of a kleptocracy, Ornstein and the others are wrong about the Trump administration forming an autocracy. Their claim of a nascent autocracy becomes much weaker when considering the necessary branches Trump would need control over in order to become an autocrat. For instance, the Republicans’ (and Trump’s) influence in the legislature pales in comparison to the two instances where the United States government came closest to a one-party state: the 18th Congress (1823-1825) and the 75th Congress (1937-1939).
The 18th Congress and the 75th Congress are unique among the 115 incarnations of the United States legislature in that they most resemble the legislative branch of a one-party state. The oppositions in both were completely marginal and as a result rarely made any impact. The 18th Congress began with a Senate of 42 Democratic-Republicans, 3 Federalists, and 3 vacant seats and a House of Representatives of 188 Democratic-Republicans, 24 Federalists, and one vacant seat. The 75th Congress had a similarly lopsided start: The Senate had 76 Democrats, 16 Republicans, and 4 senators of other parties, while the House of Representatives had 333 Democrats, 89 Republicans, and 13 representatives of other parties. Even the argument for state governors aiding Trump’s cause across the nation rings hollow compared to the party affiliation of state governors during the 18th and the 75th congresses. Currently, 34 states governors are Republicans, 15 are Democrats, and one is an independent. In 1823, 22 of the 24 state governors were Democratic-Republicans, one was a Federalist, and one was an independent. In 1937, 38 of 48 state governors were Democrats, 8 were Republicans, and two were associated with minor leftist parties of the period. Republicans can still only dream of such dominance as the Democratic-Republicans and Democrats held in the aforementioned cases. While the 18th Congress may be far too antiquated to compare with current Congress because the executive branch under James Monroe was quite weak, the 75th Congress has much to say about the weakness of Trump’s position and political clout. Compared to the 76 Democrats in the 75th Congress, the Republicans hold a mere 52 seats in the Senate. They currently hold 239 seats in the House of Representatives compared to the all-time opening record by the Democrats of the 75th Congress, who held 333 seats. Even with substantial gains in 2018, Republicans are unlikely
to come close to 60 seats in the Senate. The last time Republicans held 60 or more seats was in March of 1909, and Republicans have never topped 250 seats in the House since they held 270 seats at the beginning of the 71st Congress (1929-1931). Simply put, there is no realistic way that Republicans could ever hold the kind of majority the Democrats held in 1937 at any point in Trump’s presidency or for any part of the foreseeable future.
The 18th Congress and the 75th Congress are unique among 115 incarnations of the United States legislature in that they most resemble the legislative branch of a one-party state. Even if Trump and the Republicans received reelection by landslides, there is no guarantee that they would work together in any meaningful way. The 75th Congress featured Democratic senator Josiah Bailey of North Carolina joining Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan in writing the Conservative Manifesto that denounced much of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal measures. The Senate also rejected Roosevelt’s court-packing
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | NATIONAL
plan even though the Democrats possessed enough votes to support the scheme. Alongside the divisions in the 75th Congress, the 18th Congress’ successor showed the destruction of the Democratic-Republican Party, as President James Monroe retired and the party split first into supporting the candidacies of John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay for the presidential election of 1824, and then into a ProAdministration faction and Anti-Administration faction with the beginning of both the 19th Congress and of John Quincy Adams’ presidency in 1825. Trump had nowhere near that support with 304 electoral votes and he certainly did not have the backing of the popular vote. Roosevelt also had a previous Electoral College victory of 472 votes to Herbert Hoover’s 59 votes from 1932 to further argue for the popularity of his programs. Additionally, most Republican lawmakers did not take immediately to Trump in 2016. Even the one who have not always stayed close to him, as Jeff Sessions’ support of and attack from Trump clearly illustrated. Trump, many of his supporters, and many of his opponents may believe that he can rule arbitrarily with the consent of Congress, but that is highly unlikely given the highly fragmented legislature, both inside the Republican Party and within the Democratic opposition. Trump’s bluster against media companies and websites combine with his actual reprisals against the same companies and websites to reveal his actual weakness regarding censorship of the press. The closest anyone has come to being arrested over protesting the current administration was when a court found Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz guilty of disrupting the peace by laughing at Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing as Attorney General. However, a higher court later acquitted Fairooz. By contrast, author Studs Terkel recorded an interview with noted African-American reporter and writer Alfred Duckett in which Duckett claimed that African-American newspapers such as the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Afro-American needed clearance from the federal government before reporting on racial discrimination in the United States military during the Second World War. Franklin Roosevelt headed the federal government in question. Roosevelt
also blatantly violated the liberty of JapaneseAmerican citizens by placing them into internment camps. It would be stunning if thousands of people were similarly moved by the Trump administration due to resistance amongst the opposition in the national legislature as well as in many courts.
Regarding the Supreme Court, Trump’s influence might seem the most long-lasting as he might be able to choose several justices on if some of the more aged justices retire or die. Nevertheless, Trump cannot foresee with complete accuracy what his nominees will do on any number of given issues. For example, Democratic presidents nominated justices who turned out to be more conservative than expected with the appointments of Felix Frankfurter in 1939, Robert Jackson in 1941, Tom C. Clark in 1949, and Byron White in 1962. Republican presidents nominated justices who turned out to be more liberal than expected with the appointments of Harry Blackmun in 1970, John Paul Stevens in 1975, Anthony Kennedy in 1988, and David Souter in 1990. There is no reason to believe that Trump will appoint multiple justices who completely agree with his agenda. On the first anniversary of Trump’s winning the presidency, commentator and author Matt Taibbi wrote an article entitled “Nothing Has Changed.” He argued that what he considered to be the toxic atmosphere of both the 2016 election and of Trump’s insensitive and undignified remarks continued unabated throughout
Trump’s first ten months in office. While I agree with the title of Taibbi’s piece, I believe in that statement for a different reason than he intended. Trump is brash and horrendous at political compromises, but he would not be the first president that was ineffective as the chief executive. In a span of twenty years of American political history, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all shared the dubious distinction of being the only presidents to not receive the nomination of their parties as their first terms came to a close when they had not explicitly refused the possibility of a second term. The United States recovered from such divisive and unsatisfactory examples of leadership despite the nation enduring a long American Civil War that the aforementioned presidents did little to prevent in the long run. Many commentators (and college students) became overwhelmed with fear at the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. They expressed fears of nuclear annihilation and of further marginalization of minorities by officials from the federal government. Thankfully, the presidency of Trump has been highly reminiscent of the presidency of George W. Bush. Bush/Trump says something people consider offensive, idiotic, or silly. Critics collectively roll their eyes while supporters defend him tooth and nail. While Bush was in many ways a better unifier and a better president than Trump has proven to be, a slogan from the Bush years has come back to haunt Trump. Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote an article for The Nation in 2004 criticizing the Republican Party for its supposed incompetence. The article was entitled “Dissent is Patriotic.” The country and its political scene did not change as easily as many American feared. For the reasons in this article, Trump can only be a politician struggling to pass his agenda through Congress and the courts. Whatever his (or others’) dreams about becoming an autocrat, they must be gently laid to rest.
Luke Voyles ’18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | NATIONAL
THE WRONG IDEA Katy Brainerd and Daniel Grossman
his past September, when Betsy DeVos reversed Obama-era policy on campus sexual assault investigations, students took to the streets to protest. When DeVos rolled back protections for transgender students, the media covered the story until nothing was left unsaid. Last month, DeVos rescinded over seventy guidance documents protecting the rights of students with disabilities. Among other purposes, these guidelines outlined how schools must spend federal money for special education and translated complex legal language to allow parents to advocate for their disabled children. Without the rescinded documents, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) becomes less clear, leaving both schools and parents unsure of the extent of disabled students’ rights protected under law. The IDEA is vital to student success because it ensures that students with disabilities are able to learn in the least restrictive environment possible and mandates that these students receive assistance that allows them to reach their academic goals. Unlike these earlier civil rights rollbacks, however, this newest move by DeVos received little media coverage and nearly no discussion on social media.
One in every five American women report that they have experienced sexual assault. According to the U.S. Census, the same numbers apply to Americans who have some form of disability; once again, one in five. While legislation surrounding sexual assault is often questioned and analyzed, particularly by college students, many do not take the time to educate themselves about the rights of their disabled peers. Why, if the reach of these two phenomena are comparable, do we turn a blind eye to issues facing the disabled community? Earlier this week, we had a conversation with David, an incredibly talented student at Washington University who also happens to have cerebral palsy. In his schooling years prior to coming to Wash U, he had to move between three different school systems, and each move created new challenges. His mother researched what accommodations he could receive at different schools (like physical therapy, a note taker,
or extra time on tests) before each move. She used some of the recently rescinded documents, which clarified what schools had to provide for David, to advocate for her son. No person with a disability is guaranteed to have an advocate like David’s mother to fight for their academic success. The recently rescinded guidance documents make it especially difficult for people without strong advocates to thrive in public schools. Students with disabilities knew that they were in for some potential changes when they heard DeVos state during her confirmation hearing that the IDEA “confused” her. She also refused to answer questions regarding whether or not schools should meet IDEA standards. Though DeVos is correct in saying that some of these guidelines are outdated, there is a difference between rescinding a guideline with a new plan in mind and rescinding a guideline without establishing structures to help students and their families navigate a now uncertain future. Devos argues that a voucher system is best for American students. Many experts agree that this move that would leave disabled students without options. Voucher programs grant students who have needs that cannot be met by public schools a certain amount of money to go towards paying for a private school education. Though this seems like a sensible solution, it is important to consider that by accepting a voucher, parents waive the rights covered in the IDEA, accepting consequences like the denial of admission from schools based on their child’s disability and giving up their right to due process should the student’s needs go unmet by the school. In addition, the vouchers rarely cover the full cost of a private education. This system would erase decades of hard work and steps towards inclusion by disability advocates and is not a viable solution for disabled students. DeVos is not trying to make education more accessible, but instead is giving up on the schooling system that most benefits disabled and other marginalized students: public schools. It should not be the burden of parents of students with disabilities to call for action and
As a university, we must realize that by making education more difficult for our disabled peers, we make our student body less diverse and inclusive. demand a better system. They have enough on their shoulders as they work through these uncharted waters of education for their children. Just as students took a stand for victims of sexual assault or transgender rights, students must start conversations about this issue and take action. Since attacks on the rights of people with disabilities aren’t properly publicized in mainstream media, it is even more important to educate yourself on the realities of policy’s impact on people with disabilities. Start small; have conversations with friends about your thoughts on campus accessibility, or stop into an Ability or Best Buddies meeting. You can also contact your senator and make your voice heard. As a university, we must realize that by making education more difficult for our disabled peers, we make our student body less diverse and inclusive. It is time for us to support disabled students with the same passion and drive we show when supporting other issues faced by our community.
Katy Brainerd ‘19 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at brainerdkk@wustl. edu. Daniel Grossman ’19 studies in the School of Engineering & Applied Science. He can be reached at email@example.com.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | NATIONAL
THE FAULT IN OUR CARS Sam Klein | Photo courtesy of Flickr
t won’t be long—a few years, maybe ten— before the algorithm begins killing us.
As self-driving cars emerge on the market, eventually overtaking human-operated ones, there will inevitably be fatal car accidents in which computer code is responsible.
Self-driving cars rely on deep neural networks to operate. This means that humans haven’t encoded every plausible scenario into the car’s code, telling it what to do in any given situation in any place and time. Rather, while programmers can influence the car’s sense of which outcomes are favorable, the car develops its own way of making decisions based on what it observes through its numerous sensors and instruments. Over time, the algorithm builds itself, and the programmers themselves have no way of fully comprehending the car’s decision-making process. They just know that it works. And if it doesn’t, they tweak the code to indicate that the output was wrong, and the algorithm modifies itself to avoid the bad outcome. After enough iterations of this “machine learning”—after enough trials, tests, and refinements—the carmakers, and eventually the federal government, will decide that what we have is good enough for society. The end result will be much, much safer than human drivers. But it won’t be perfect—some accidents will remain unavoidable. Consider a dilemma that self-driving car manufacturers are facing: assuming that it’s too late for any other option, should a car hit a jaywalker, or should it swerve out of the way and potentially kill its driver? Should the safety of the driver, who bought the vehicle, come first? Should the illegality of jaywalking be factored into the computer’s split-second decision? Should it be a 50-50 chance? Should a car kill one person to save many? (This recalls the infamous Trolley Problem from your intro ethics course.) These are the questions auto manufacturers and government regulators must face. Our whole society, however, has to grapple with a whole new reality—an era of increasing machine autonomy. However the algorithm decides to
act, people will die, and there will be no accountability or justice. Can you really blame the coders, who laid the groundwork for an algorithm much safer than a human driver, when the algorithm unpredictably fails? Can you blame the owner of the car, who was not in control? The coders cannot have any ethical culpability, as they tested the algorithm and found it safer than humans. And what about the car companies? They could be legally liable if their car is deemed at fault, but how challenging would this be to prove? We must confront this inevitability now, head-on, before it becomes reality. Tragedies borne by self-driving cars will claim lives, and while the unlucky few may never get a sense of “justice” or “closure,” we will have no choice but to write off this lack of accountability as the cost of increased public safety. To be clear, around 100 people die in car accidents in the United States every day. A large chunk of these are caused by distracted driving, drunk driving, or other forms of human error. Self-driving cars don’t text or drink. They don’t fall asleep at the wheel. And on top of this, they can use radar and other technology to detect hazards down the road that an attentive human driver could not. Because of this technology, fewer people will die. But for those that do die, the experience that
their families face will be different; instead of confronting the responsible driver in court, there might not even be a court date. In the event of a nonfatal injury, the injured party will have a similar experience. Self-driving cars will malfunction, sometimes with fatal results. The specter of dying via computer glitch—a miscalculation of the road ahead, a somehow undetected deer—is uniquely disturbing. There’s no clearly culpable individual to throw in jail. Nobody did anything wrong. And, worst of all, it could happen anywhere, at any time, with no way for the occupant to try and avoid it. Indeed, getting in a self-driving car is a surrender of agency to a machine. Even though we are worse at driving than we think, we take comfort in the idea of being in control. Even though a self-driving car never gets tired, has no blind spots, and is much more precise than a human, when it comes to that split-second choice, the car will make a decision, and it will be controversial. Auto travel of the future—the near future—will be overwhelmingly safer than it is today. But this safety will come at a psychological cost. That will be our burden to bear, whether we’re ready or not.
Sam Klein ’18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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WU POLITICAL REVIEW | INTERNATIONAL
SHOULD THE U.S. BALANCE SAUDI ARABIA AGAINST IRAN? Nicholas Kinberg
humanitarian disaster in Yemen. Sanctions against Qatar. Consolidation of power in Riyadh. And yet another possible proxy conflict in Lebanon between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is what you get when states—Saudi Arabia in particular—get blank checks from the United States of America. This is why the world’s last absolutist monarchy must be brought to heel, even if they continue to aid us in the containment one of America’s greatest enemies, Iran. This is the opposite of what the U.S. has been doing since President Trump’s inauguration. Contrary to President Obama’s lukewarm policy toward the Arabian kingdom, President Trump has embraced the Saudis with open arms. This has likely emboldened Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to continue his reckless foreign policy, which began with the intervention against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen back in March 2015 and continues to this day. It has now escalated to sanctioning Qatar, the nation in which the U.S. al-Udeid airbase is housed, and possibly keeping former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri prisoner, likely to prepare for a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
helps. To quote Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson Center and non-resident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment respectively, “Both of us are feeling nostalgic for the good old days when the Saudis were scared of their own shadow.” These times are long gone with the rise of Prince and soon-to-be-king Salman, who has been outmaneuvering other members of the royal family to clinch the top position since 2015. In June, he put a prominent member of his family and contender for the throne, Mohammed bin Nayef, under house arrest. Just a month ago he created an anti-corruption commission to oust other powerful figures in Saudi politics, among them being Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, the richest man in Saudi Arabia. In total, Prince Salman seized moguls worth $800 billion, cementing his claim to power. Had this “anti-corruption commission” been in good faith, investors would be quite pleased, especially since Prince Salman is implementing Vision 2030. This development project, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, is set to ween Saudi Arabia off oil and potentially modernize its civil society, with attributes like women being allowed to drive by June 2018 and a space-age city, Neom, being constructed.
The positive U.S.-Saudi relationship is not without reason. Iran, one of the United States’ greatest adversaries, has been exploiting instability in the Middle East ever since its 1979 revolution. It has fostered anti-Sunni sentiment in Syria and Iraq, facilitating the rise of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda frequently praises Tehran as one of the main backers of its machinations. And they threaten several allies, including Saudi Arabia and Israel; this threat would increase tenfold if the Iranians were to acquire nuclear weapons.
But because analysts the world over have declared that this commission was just a mere power-grab by the Crown Prince, many remain skeptical. It doesn’t help that on the scale of “Anti-Corruption and Transparency” created by the NGO Freedom House, Saudi Arabia clocks in at a lowly 1.44, with 0 being the worst and 7 being the best. It helps even less that Saudi Arabia has promised large reforms like these in the past, only to deliver meager results.
Fighting fire with fire, however, hurts more than it
Even if Vision 2030 succeeds, however, that
won’t necessarily bode well for Middle Eastern geopolitics. Such an ambitious expansion, even if half-successful, would further inaugurate Saudi Arabia as the regional hegemon of the Middle East. As an illiberal monarchy whose only real pulls are their pro-Americanism and stance against Iran, should Saudi Arabia really be given more keys to the region? This is the point at which multilateralism is needed more than ever. The Middle East belongs to all its constituents, not just the kings and princes of Riyadh. U.S. foreign policy in the region can and will function with or without the acquiescence of the Saudis because they know that without us, Iran will be calling the shots. Iranian expansionism can be stopped, but only through local empowerment, not Saudi Arabian intimidation. The U.S. can and should pride itself on the maintenance of its global alliance network. It can do this by coordinating where it can and holding back where it should. Blank checks, especially for illiberal states, will always end in disaster.
Nicholas Kinberg '20 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
WU POLITICAL REVIEW | INTERNATIONAL
THE CUBAN REGIME’S HISTORICAL FEAR OF LITERARY DISSENT Rachel Butler | Photograph by Rachel Butler
ithin the revolution, everything; outside of it, nothing.” With these words pronounced in June of 1961, Fidel Castro dictated a course for Cuba’s intellectuals that would prove all too literal in the years to come. Writers who became disillusioned with the revolution and fell out of favor with the socialist regime, such as Heberto Padilla and Reinaldo Arenas, were persecuted by the Cuban establishment through methods such as censorship, exile, denouncement and imprisonment. Some writers today are able to publish their work and remain unpersecuted in Cuba by walking the thin line between being within the revolution and outside of it, such as Leonardo Padura, who keeps his criticisms of the government relatively opaque and subtle. Dissident literature threatens collectivist political systems such as that of Cuba, because such systems depend on the ideological unity of their populations, and public expression of dissent can lead to widespread ideological discontent.
The “Padilla Affair” of 1971 is marked by many as the beginning of the Cuban government’s persecution of writers. Heberto Padilla was, at first, an enthusiastic supporter of the revolution, as many writers and intellectuals were in 1959. Yet throughout the 60s, Padilla took a more critical view of life in Castro’s Cuba. Prior to the Padilla Affair, the government had not yet decisively cracked down on intellectual dissent in the country. In 1968, Padilla was even awarded first prize in a national poetry contest run annually by the Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, or UNEAC – the Cuban Writers and Artists Union. His collection of poetry that took the prize, titled Fuera del Juego (Out of the Game), contained clear revolutionary skepticism, with such lines as: “The poet! Kick him out! / He has no business here. / He doesn’t play the game / He never gets excited / Or speaks out clearly. / He never even sees the miracles.” Soon after receiving the award, Padilla was placed under house arrest, and in 1971 was
interrogated for a month by the Cuban security police. He was later forced to appear before UNEAC and make a public confession of his counter-revolutionary crimes and accuse other writers of similar sentiments, an episode that became known as the Padilla Affair, which began a sea change in the attitude of the government towards Cuba’s intellectuals. The literary and the political became inextricably intertwined in the country, with each fighting against the other. To writers outside Cuba like the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, Padilla’s forced confession was proof that "to force comrades, with methods repugnant to human dignity, to accuse themselves of imaginary betrayals and sign letters in which even the syntax seems to be that of the police, is the negation of everything that made me embrace, from the first day, the cause of the Cuban revolution: its decision to fight for justice without losing respect for individuals.” The five-year period immediately following the Padilla Affair, from 1971-1975, became know as the Five Grey Years by many Cuban intellectuals. Cultural institutions, including UNEAC, were altered or created to encompass virtually all creative talent and to enforce political standards upon it. In a 2014 WorldPost article, Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban blogger and dissenter, calls this process “the parameterization of art; a process where a set of parameters of acceptability is created along ideological lines, dictated by power.” During the Five Grey Years, artists who did not remain within these parameters were fired from their jobs, harassed, forced into labor camps, or even imprisoned. In the 80s, the strategies that the Cuban government used to control the country’s writers shifted away from intimidation and imprisonment to a more subtle form of parameterization – creating incentives to follow ideological guidelines. Sanchez refers to this shift as “substituting the carrot for the stick. Instead of repudiation rallies—screaming mobs surrounding their homes – public scorn and threats of prison, intellectuals
were offered small stipends.” This change may have been due to the increasing public outcry, both within the island and in the rest of the world, which came in response to writers speaking out against the government after being forced into exile. Starting in 1980, the government became less forceful in its persecution of dissenters and tried instead to capture the country’s intellectuals with perks, such as permission to travel abroad and the possibility of paying for the trips in national currency, instead of the expensive convertible pesos required from other Cubans. Members of UNEAC were allowed to have an email account, and some even received a home Internet connection. However, all this privilege came at the cost of not criticizing the government—“of agreeing to the gag order,” in Sanchez’s words. The methods used by the Cuban government to prevent and obscure intellectual dissent reflect a deep fear of this type of criticism. This fear at first seems strange, given the small number of well-known and accomplished writers and intellectuals in the tiny country. Other socialist countries like Cuba have, throughout history, responded to intellectual dissent with a similar degree of ferocity. In the Soviet Union of the 60s and 70s, Soviet authorities used similar tactics to repress dissident writers: distributing propaganda that discredited dissidents, confiscating dissident literature, removing dissidents from their jobs, prosecution and incarceration, and exile. What is it that inspires such a violent reaction to intellectual dissent in socialist governments? They don’t threaten socialist leaders militarily or even politically for the most part, but they do influence public opinion. In his famous 1944 critique of socialism The Road to Serfdom, the Austrian economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek wrote, “If people are to support the common effort without hesitation, they must be convinced that not only the end aimed at but also the means chosen are the right ones.
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The official creed, to which adherence must be enforced, will therefore comprise all the views about facts on which the plan is based. Public criticism or even expressions of doubt must be suppressed because they tend to weaken public support.” This “common effort” focus is specific to collectivist political systems like socialism (and, in practice, fascism), as opposed to a capitalist society where the focus is on individual effort. In a collectivist society like that which existed in Soviet Russia and which exists in Cuba today, collective political ends trump individual expression, rather than individual expression dictating political ends as it does in democratic, capitalist societies. Public unity—the universal belief that “the means chosen are the right ones”—is essential to collectivism, because any outburst of individual dissent threatens the integrity of the system. In order to maintain its authority as a socialist government, the Cuban government needs to keep its citizens in ideological agreement—thus Castro’s proclamation of “Within the revolution, everything; outside of it, nothing.” If people were allowed to think outside of the ‘revolution’ mindset, Cuban socialism would not last long. Leonardo Padura Fuentes, a contemporary Cuban writer, seems at times to be an exception to the “outside of it, nothing” rule. Padura is the author of a number of detective novels and other books, and was awarded a UNEAC prize for literature in 2012. He has been able to skirt punishment by the government by avoiding outright dissidence, while still burying social criticism in many of his works. He explains the manner in which he is able to remain on this thin line: “I have no militancy, not with the Party, nor with la disidencia.” In this way, Padura operates not quite “within the revolution,” but not quite “outside of it,” either. Sanchez describes Padura as “an unusual man”: “His ‘rarity’ lies fundamentally in having been able to sustain a critical vision of his country, an unvarnished description of the national sphere, without sacrificing the ability to be recognized by the official sectors.” Still, every time he finishes a novel, Padura worries, “This is the one they’re not going to let be published.”
Old Havana, 2015
It’s not clear what the best approach to writing is in a country as keen on ideological censorship as Cuba. Padura has said that he chooses to remain within the constraints set by the Cuban establishment “so that I can express what Cuba is, and I have not left Cuba because I am a Cuban writer and I can’t be anything else.” The author Reinaldo Arenas, on the other hand, felt that it was his obligation to challenge the political status quo in Cuba in his writing: “If someone is a true writer—not an opportunist who wants to be in favor with the government of the day – that person is always going to be for freedom. Because the simple truth is that without freedom, the writer cannot exist. And the writer who is for freedom is, by definition, not for any totalitarian system. So the duty of the writer is to write well and champion freedom. And he champions freedom because he has an obligation —what better obligation that this?” As long as Cuban socialism endures, it will be difficult for writers in Cuba to include obvious political criticisms in their work. And yet, great literature and culture continues to be produced in the country. Sanchez points out a growing change in ideological tides in Cuba: “Suddenly,
the rebellion appears to be winning over a broad cultural spectrum of this island, slowly, but with clear signs of irreversibility. This time the vanguard of change has not been launched from books, nor in the lyrics of songs, nor in the curricula of the universities, but in them it is finding an amplifying echo.” Padura’s work is an exemplar of this echo. Perhaps soon intellectual dissent won’t be so difficult on the island. As Sanchez writes, “The critical consciousness of Cuban society seems to be waking up.”
Rachel Butler ‘18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at
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