Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Anti-Intellectualism and An Avocado

People often assume that because one is in a certain profession, they are well-versed on most everything about that topic. So, because I am a history teacher, I occasionally get asked some obscure question about a random historical era or figure and when I respond with "I don't know," get frustrated looks in return. While I'm certain all you teachers understand what I'm talking about, I imagine this phenomena knows no occupational boundary. Many mechanics probably can't tell you what oil filter goes on a 1972 powder blue Ford pinto, nor should nurses be asked to explain why your elbow feels funny.

While we often equate a specialized skill set to vast knowledge of anything that might possibly be connected in a brainstorm web, it seems we also assume passion for all of those outlying concepts and ideas as well. I know for a fact that this is not true. I am working on my PhD in history and have spent the past few years teaching at both the high school and college level. But, big deal, there is a lot about the profession and the subject matter itself that does not interest me in the least. I have no desire to be interviewed for a PBS special; I couldn't care less how many books, if any, I publish; I will never expect acquaintances to call me Dr. Turner; I would rather work at Centre or Berea or a community college close to home than any renowned research university across the country. Most pertinent to this particular blog entry, I hope to never become the kind of historian so entrenched in archives and the dry regurgitation of facts that I forget the importance of thought-provoking and socially relevant ideas. History without analysis intrigues me very little; why produce something that does not inspire questions or make people think?

This stuff is on my mind because I've been (re)reading work by Richard Hofstadter, a former Columbia University history professor, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and cultural critic whose political leanings were invariably nuanced throughout most his life. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are many historical narratives and styles that make me want to poke my eyeballs out. Hofstadter's work does not. I appreciate the fact that he is an intellectual historian who allows ideas, not archival minutia, to ground both theory and thesis (this is the primary critique of Hofstadter, that he did not rely enough on primary research). Even when I don't necessarily agree with a stance or interpretation, I so enjoy reading his work. It is occasionally biting and irrefutably smart, yet the writing itself is relatively understated and approachable (it seems a good sign when the arguments and wit speak for themselves without need for pretentious presentation).

Hofstadter has been on my mind because I have been trying to put some of the stuff I talk about on here in context of historical scholarship (I'm trying to push myself to write more on the dissertation rather than on Pillowbook). While I don't think it imperative to justify why my community or family makes me happy, I also see the value in occasionally stepping outside of my subjective experience. There just comes a time when tiny eyebrows and dreams of being Beyonce just don't cut it.

In Age of Reform, Hofstadter's 1955 publication that is perhaps his most renowned and influential work, he explains Populism within the context of "the Agrarian Myth." Basically Hofstadter suggests that Populism, the late 1800s political movement associated with agriculture and localized politics, has been evaluated by audiences in rose-colored glasses. His point: the self-sufficient, innocent, yeoman farmer didn't exist in the Gilded Age; instead, Hofstadter warned of putting too much stake in sentimental concepts of republicanism (pick yourself up by your bootstraps type stuff), the democratic potential of the local in wake of industrialization, and of democracy itself.

Hofstadter's argument could be easily applied to modern politics, just as it could to my blog. Occasionally, I think I border on, if not completely embrace, romanticism. I see the local as a bastion of comfort and goodness, but tend to ignore those qualities I would characterize in any other circumstance as narrow-minded and/or regressive. Is there a danger (and if so, what is it) in propagating my own agrarian myth?

With that being said, here's more "Adventures of the Yeoman Farmer" for you:):
When out mowing my yard today, the gentleman who happened to be mowing the Carhartt lot came over and introduced himself. Before asking why I had never grilled hamburgers and hotdogs for he and his coworkers instead of making them eat their bologna sandwiches for lunch (have you all noticed how bologna seems to be a part of many stories?:)), he got to telling about how he used to help my dad on the farm. In fact, he knew "Curtis Lee and Miss Jackie" even when they "were just courting," recalling how he used to drive Mom's blue pinto when she would come down from Glasgow to visit dad for a few days.
This conversation made my day.
And now, the long-awaited debut of (and the obvious segue way from Hofstadter)...
My avocado recipe for today is a pretty traditional use for my favorite fruit - my version of Starbucks Huevos Racheros Wrap. I somehow had myself convinced that statewide testing=trips to Starbucks for Mrs. Devore. This was working out quite well until my SB gift card ran out and I had to choose between my new morning fix (wrap and green tea) or gas in my car. I decided to attempt the wrap at home today. Thanks to my friend Terri, I have a new found love for corn tortillas and decided to use those instead of the whole grain flour used by SB, otherwise I used most of the same ingredients. Cilantro would have been a great addition to this dish (I am strangely fond of this herb and really think you can never add enough to any salsa or Mexican dish).

Lindsey’s Huevos Rachero Mini Wraps
Two eggs, scrambled with salt, pepper and garlic powder
Add shredded cheese, tomatoes with lime juice, diced avocado
Add black beans (optional)

I put the wraps in foil and ate them once I arrived at school. They had time to “steam” in the foil and I think this improved the taste and the texture of the corn tortillas. I had Salsa Verde at school and added this to my dish (I am also strangely fond of salsa verde- “keep pouring it on”).

My wraps were quite different than Starbucks, but satisfying all the same. I give Lindsey’s Huevos Rachero Mini Wraps 4.5 out of 5 avocados on my avocado yummy scale.


  1. Liza, I had not thought of 1972 powder blue pinto since 1977 at which time we traded it for a yellow vega station wagon with fake wood grain sides.

    Lindsey: You are not going believe this, but I have never eaten an avocado. Maybe the next time you are in Cumberland County we could prepare a recipe using avocados. After all, I did teach you how to make homemade sourdough bread.

  2. Thanks so much for the idea, Mom. I've been thinking that the old Elantra was missing something.
    You and lindsey should work on a sourdough tortilla for the Huevos Ranchero wrap!!

  3. What kind of tanks did the Russians use at Stalingrad? I just figured you would know. Anyway, I'm off to seek enlightenment by visiting my chickens.

  4. I wish Glen Beck did have chickens. The thought of that makes me smile.

  5. enjoyed reading , did not know SB had things like that for breakfast but bet Lindseys are best.

  6. I didn't either, Carolyn. BUT, now I have even less reason to check it out... Lindsey's sounds great!

  7. Jackie, avacados (which I used to not care for at all) make great additions to salsas - I had a recipe for one that included mango, kiwi, pineapple, some cilantro, avacado, and lime juice. It was WONDERFUL on fish tacos and I bet would be great on a host of other things. Also made this strange-sounding salad that called for tomatoes, watermelon, and avacado in a balsamic dressing - turned out really well! They are a fun fruit!

  8. Please pardon my consistent misspelling of avOcado : )

  9. If you're looking for a simple delicious snack, I recommend spreading some avocado on wheat toast with some lemon juice and a little salt and pepper.

  10. I love avocado when it shows up on my restaurant plate, but I have felt a little insecure about selecting my own avocado in the grocery store-- I wasn't sure about firmness, etc. So I asked Google (who else?) and this is what I got: eHow's "How to Tell if an Avocado is Ripe"

    Just thought I'd share, in case anyone else is an avocado novice like me:

    "Step 1Press gently on your forehead. This is an example of how an avocado should not feel when you press on it. This means the avocado is too firm and not ripe.

    Step 2Press gently on your cheek. If your avocado feels this way, do not purchase it. Your avocado is too ripe and possibly rotten.

    Step 3Press gently on your nose. This is how your ideal avocado should feel to your fingertips. Look for avocados with a little bit of give, but not too mushy.

    Step 4Pull off the small stem attached to the avocado. If the underside of the stem is brown, do not purchase the avocado. There will be brown spots inside.

    Step 5Look for an avocado that has the softness and firmness of your nose and has a nice, green spot on the underside of the stem. You have found the perfect avocado."

    I am embarrassed to admit that I first thought Step 1 meant to press the avocado to your forehead. I'm glad no one caught me doing this in the store.

    p.s. I also read that you can further ripen your avocados at home by putting them in a brown bag (faster if you throw in an apple) and you can slow your fresh guac from browning by putting the avocado pit in the bowl.

  11. Thanks Caroline and Alexus for the suggestions:). I must say, however, Alexus, that if given the choice of avAcado (shout out CDK) on wheat toast and your mom's zucchini bread, I'm going with the bread:). Oh, and Caroline, if you get a chance, could you please email me the ratios of the salsa items?

    And, thanks so much Melissa for the useful information. I don't think I've ever bought an avocado and I am fairly confident that I would be the one pushing an unripe one to my forehead:). Great tips...thank you!