The Reality Institute

Why-to eat:

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of food? The likely answer: this is something I need to put in my mouth, chew and swallow to survive for some reason. Everyone knows that eating food is essential for carrying nutrients to various systems throughout the body in order to ensure that the organism makes it through each day, but did you know that some foods can actually taste quite good?

Why-to eat a fruit:

For instance, an apple, when plucked during the appropriate time of year can be very delicious, tickling the tastebuds of one’s tongue in just such a way as to render a perfect combination of sweet and sour and bring about a smile on the part of the consumer. Pears are hit or miss. When they’re bad, it can be like sinking your teeth into a highly condensed stack of sandpaper. When they’re good, however, the sugary nectar will gush into your mouth, pouring down the corners of your lips and onto your hands or napkin or a piece of paper towel below.

Kids rave about candy, but, when you think about it, fruit is nature’s candy. The colors can be just as brilliant and vibrant as mass produced confections, but, because they’re not manufactured and instead birthed from plants, they have more nuanced flavors.

Why-to eat candy:

And just because something’s been made in a factory doesn’t exactly detract from the science and labor required to make it. Sure, a sour gummy worm is engineered to be fabricated in a highly repeatable process and packaged by someone likely paid less than a living wage in what are likely less than safe working conditions, but it is that careful repeatability, manufacturability, and marketability that actually makes the sour gummy worm taste so good. It has been made to appeal to the widest number of nine-year-olds as possible.

And the Titanium Dioxide, Yellow 5, Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1 used to dye the gelatinous matrix of Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Fumaric Acid, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Sodium Lactate, Calcium Lactate and Artificial Flavors could only be made by the minds of postmodern humans, without whom moviegoers could not enact the fantasy of eating a radioactive earthworm by pinching the ends, twisting the creature in half and screaming in the absurdity of it all before the previews end and the feature begins.

Though someone might be put off by the taste of a strawberry plucked just before or after its prime, there’s something in the taste there that somehow has more vitality than something produced in a factory.

Why-to eat organic fruit:

It depends on where you get the fruit, though, I guess. In the United States, most of the fruit sold in supermarkets is grown and shipped from locations where the crop is in season. On top of that, the fruit may come from a farm that uses toxic chemicals to limit the impact of bugs and other pests on the crop. For instance, research has found that the Monsanto’s popular weed killer, Roundup, is actually a carcinogen, with a link between its active ingredient, glyphosate, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. POEA, an “inert” ingredient in the substance, has also been demonstrated to be between 1,200 and 2,000 times as toxic as glyphosate, according to one UK study.

Why-to grow your own fruit:

The problem with organic food, however, is that it can often be more expensive than non-organic food. This is either due to the fact that the demand for such products is not high enough for large supply to drive down costs or because large companies are charging a premium for food that isn’t made with harmful chemicals.

If you’ve got the time, energy, drive, and farmable land you might consider growing your own produce. If you can manage to do so, you may just feel a sense of satisfaction from living off of the Earth and a direct connection to the land that feeds and nurtures you.

It’s possible that these chemicals could be cleaned off of the fruit before one eats it, but what may be irreversible is the damage done to the employees that pick them, often migrant farm workers paid far below a living wage because they may not have proper citizenship documentation.


They’re also quite versatile in that, it’s not required to eat a fruit without any supplemental ingredients. There is a long tradition in human civilizations of combining fruits with other products to make pastries, such as pies and cakes.

Some individuals have found food to be so tasty that entire industries have developed around its preparation. The restaurant industry is dedicated to whipping up dishes in exchange for financial currency when consumers are either too busy or lazy to make their own meals or have the belief that the chefs preparing the food will do a much better job.

In some cases, these cooks have become so renowned for their ability to combine disparate ingredients into pleasurable food experiences that they have opened multiple restaurants, published books, appeared on TV, and cooked for some of the world’s most powerful people, earning them incomes of tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. Ironically, though most patriarchal societies have categorized cooking as a distinctively female activity, men are overrepresented among this class of rich and famous chefs.

Eating food has become so well-liked that there are almost innumerable shows about the act of preparing food, including not only programs that educate the audience on how to cook certain recipes, but entire series in which individual chefs compete against one another for a symbolic title representing their skill levels. Though audience members do not get to eat the food, as it is locked behind the pixels of the screen of the viewing device, they even enjoy the very concept of cooking and eating so much that they will watch other people make and it.

Why-to watch Top Chef:

After watching a variety of different reality cooking competition series, I have come to the conclusion that Top Chef is probably the best. It’s also the first series I watched, so it may have framed my perception of reality cooking competitions so that I am dissatisfied with any other program because, with Top Chef in mind, it’s impossible to not notice the blaring sounds and glaring lights of just about every other show, particularly Masterchef and basically anything on the Food Network.

Aside from the overall loudness of other shows, the contestants on Top Chef seem to be proven professionals who are in the process of mastering their crafts.

Why-to allow home cooks on your competition cooking show:

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen amateur cooks on Top Chef, but there are plenty of them on other programs. The recipes I’ve seen many come up with on these other shows do seem like they could be delicious, but they don’t really break the mold from a conceptual standpoint. I can’t really cook, but I can conceive of cooking these dishes and, in that way, I can be inspired to try similar recipes at home as I work to hone my own food preparation skills with the seemingly attainable goal of one day appearing on a competition cooking show.

As they compete one another to become the titular “Top Chef”, the contestants create dishes that, as a food philistine, I can barely comprehend. Seemingly contradictory ingredients—say, pork belly, pumpkin seeds, ginger and cherry—are somehow blended together to the judges’ delights.

Why-to eat a Departure Restaurant + Lounge:

My wife and I fell in love with at least three of the contestants on Season 12 of Top Chef, both because they seemed to cook food that the judges loved and because of their charming personalities. In addition to Melissa King and Doug Adams, we had a particular fondness for Gregory Gourdet, who had a penchant for blending Southeast Asian flavors in novel ways. The judges fawned over Gregory’s rich sauces so much that Danielle and I had to try his restaurant, Departure, in Portland, Oregon.

Why-to go to a fancy restaurant during happy hour:

One thing to note about a lot of these fancy restaurants is that they can be quite expensive. Spending money on something that you eat in the span of an hour only to excrete it into a toilet an hour later may not seem like the best use of one’s finances, but the experience of trying strange and delicious flavors can sometimes be worth it. That is, if you can afford it and don’t have bills to pay. For this reason, it’s best to try to go to these places during happy hour, when the prices drop a bit.

The combination of seemingly contradictory ingredients mentioned above—pork belly, pumpkin seeds, ginger and cherry—is actually found in one of Gregory’s dishes and one of our favorites.

Why-to eat meat:

I’d prefer not to play a role in the death of any animals, but I was trained at an early age to enjoy the taste of meat. I think it’s something about the saltiness and richness of an animal’s heated fat, combined with the juiciness of its flesh that makes it so delicious. I’ve tried to stop eating meat a couple of times in my life, but the practice hasn’t lasted for more than a year or so at a time. After our son is born, I’ll likely try again.

The pork fat just melts instantly as it hits your mouth, sliding down your throat and carrying with it the flavors of pumpkin seeds, ginger and cherry. This was much better than the chef’s recommended dish of Smoked Duck Curry, in which the confit duck breast and leg seemed to get so overcooked that the stringiness of the meat overshadowed any positive flavor from the Thai eggplant, basil and pickled ginger.

The dessert was almost deliciously incomprehensible. Titled simply as “Dark Chocolate Brownie Cake”, the actual product included, in addition to chocolate brownie cake topped with what appeared to be freeze-dried marshmallow, pieces of peanut brittle laid across banana ice cream drizzled in miso caramel, which, when eaten together created a juxtaposition of flavors that is difficult to describe. (Something along the lines of flavor synaesthesia, in that peanut brittle might tug some faint, distant memory of a county fair from the recesses of your brain, while the flavor of banana confounds your traditional experience of ice cream at the same time that it ignites the idea of Bananas Foster on your mind’s tongue. The miso has the soybean taste that one might associate with miso soup, but, whipped into caramel, adds another confoundity to the situation.

Illustrated in sights and sounds, the result is a sveldt carny in a tailored suit from Singapore, beckoning you to take a ride on the Disco Dip roller coaster, a thing of sugar steel sent down well-oiled tracks into a dark hallucinatory abyss until you get to a phantasmagoria of 1950s malt shops: white teens on dates splitting banana splits while an old Midge cleans up after them. Sipping up the leftover soup of caramel at the bottom of the dish, Tim or Jim or John Jones asks Linda if they can go to that clearing in the forest where all of the teens go to get drunk and get drunk this weekend.

On the other side of town, the Japanese Asakawa family is living in a church as it struggles to get its life back together. A family of issei, they were first generation Japanese-Americans that had come to the United States in the early part of the century and spoke little English. Before the war, they’d gotten a nice piece of farmland, which they could no longer go back to, and, now, the father and his brother were working as landscapers for a business in town.

The third, sansei, generation Asakawa built this experience up into a thriving landscaping business which would go on to serve the wealthy of Palo Alto. Japanese culture, by then, was actually in demand and Asakawa Landscaping was sought after for its Zen-style gardens. After working for the family business in high school, the two children of the Asakawa family went off to separate California universities in 2002 and 2004, studying drama and organic chemistry respectively.

Patsy Asakawa had originally intended to do pre med, but she was so immersed in the idea that carbon was, for some reason, this essential building block to all life on Earth that she went into biochemical research instead. Produced by nuclear reactions occurring within huge stellar cores, carbon at once ties us to the Earth and the stars. It makes us at once extremely grounded and also far out and outta sight, so that when someone sings “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, they might as well be referring to all of us regular folks teeming the planet billions at a time. As above, so below.

A human disassembled into its individual elements would include, in addition to carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous—making up about 99% of the mass of the human body—as well as potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine and magnesium. Somehow, these eleven elements combine to form the Gestalt of a person, bonding, excreting and sparking in just such a way that Patsy Asakawa enjoys the process of understanding the elements that make Patsy Asakawa enjoy the process of understanding the elements that make Patsy Asakawa enjoy the process of understanding the elements that make Patsy Asakawa enjoy the process of understanding.

This drama unfolds onto the stage of Francis Asakawa’s play Relocation, which tells the tale of Francis and Patsy’s grandparents migrating to the United States, where they were forcibly removed from the family farm and placed in internment camps along with 120,000 other people.

The grandchildren of John and Linda Jones happen to be customers of the Asakawa family. Their kids, too, went off to university. Tom is developing an app in New York City now. His brother Sam moved to Thailand to teach English and study Buddhism.

He’s not going to be able to make it Ian’s wedding this August, which is a shame because that would have given Danielle and I someone nice to talk to besides Ben.)

Imagine eating each of these elements separately. Now, mentally combine them! It’s very difficult to do. It was the idea of these sorts of combinations that drove us to Departure and it was these combinations that made us love it. And we got to enjoy it all while overlooking the rainy city of Portland below.

Throughout the challenges, the contestants are eligible to win a variety of rewards, including cars, exotic vacation packages and cash prizes. Most of the time, these prizes far exceed those on other shows in value, acting as an extrinsic form of motivation for the challengers throughout the show.

Why-to air reality TV instead of scripted programming:

I remember when the show Survivor first aired in the United States and it seemed like the collective of U.S. tv-watchers was obsessed with it. I never watched it, but I was sure that the concept of “reality TV” would die off in a few years. Boy was I wrong!

Reality TV, which is more or less a synonym for “unscripted TV” even though scenes may be scripted, now occupies somewhere between 60 to 70% of all TV programming. Viewers may enjoy these shows because of a minor resemblance they may have to actual daily life (which now consists of 4 to 5 hours of TV watching per day for most Americans), but TV studios and networks prefer them because they don’t cost as much to produce.

Why-to pay game show contestants:

From what I can tell, the chefs on Top Chef are put through some pretty grueling circumstances. Aside from working alongside, and being subject to the tirades of, toxic competitors and judges, these reality show contestants are made to stay up all night cooking or to cook in scalding heat before serving food to hundreds of diners. Though they may be able to obtain the cash prize of something like $125,000 at the end of the show, plenty of the contestants don’t win anything throughout the program. It would seem that their only prize is publicity, but, if they don’t win a single challenge throughout the season, this may actually reflect negatively on the individual’s cooking ability. On top of that, they may even have to take time off from work to perform in the show.

However, for the television studio, the contestants act as the major vehicle for telling the story of the show. Without them, there would be no drama, humor, action or other characteristics viewers look for in a program. All that hard work has to be worth something other than just publicity, hasn’t it?

While an episode of scripted television may cost between $500,000 and $1,000,000, a reality show can cost between $100,000 and $500,000.

The chefs that serve as the finalists in the show often go on to be minor celebrities, due to their exposure on Top Chef, aiding in the launch of successful restaurants and careers.

It is sometimes possible to save up money to try a fancy restaurant on a nice occasion, but it may be the ordinary chefs of the world that truly do food justice. Not only because this food is more accessible from an economic and practical perspective, but because it may be cooked by people you actually know.

Most families have their closely guarded recipes, passed down from one generation to the next. These food formulations tie the family back to its roots, perhaps in a specific country and culture from many years back. In the case of a proverbial melting pot like the United States, this serves as a method for immigrants and the descendants of immigrants to hold onto pieces of culture from their homelands as they or their children are pressured to assimilate with the dominant culture.

When served by a loved one, it’s actually possible to feel the love and care that has gone into the preparation of the dish. For instance, until I met my wife, I didn’t really eat all that much. That isn’t to say that the food I was eating wasn’t good. It’s more that she taught me to appreciate it.

Watching shows like Top Chef together, I learned how complex the art of cooking could be. Then, while she cooks food, I try my best to help her out. She’s so brave going into the kitchen that she’ll often throw out the recipe she’s working with a few minutes in and fly by the seat of her jeans or t-shirt dress. I still have no sense for cooking, but I can see that she does, mixing what seem to me to be random ingredients together until something delectable comes out of the oven.

And though the taste of the food itself is what has me going back for each bite, it’s the love that she puts into every loving spoonful that fills me up. She cooks to feed us, but she also cooks to make me happy. The joy she experiences when I really like a dish and tell her that they’re the best tacos I’ve ever eaten is translated into my own personal joy. If I ever get fat, it will be both a testament to her love for me and, in turn, my love for her.

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