My Ego Doesn’t Want to Hear It. Why?

"You're going to want to 'peel' your feet up off the pavement more. And then lay them back down with a mid-sole strike. It'll help you make more of a circular motion with your legs as you run."

This was Laura, helping correct my running form, and quoting directly from Danny Dreyer's excellent book Chi Running. Which, oddly enough, I had her read years ago to improve her running form. Hmm.

I had a negative reaction to this comment, even considering it (wrongly, as we will soon see) vaguely condescending.

My reaction was nothing more than my ego attempting to "protect" me. And what I'd like to do in today's post is explore how dangerous our egos can be when they defensively and aggressively overprotect us.

I'll start by considering reality from my ego's deeply insecure point of view. Assume for the moment that my ego was 100% correct in its worst-case interpretation of Laura's comment: that Laura's intention was to lord over me how terrible my running form was, and by implicit comparison how amazingly perfect her form is. Her comment was intended to condescend and to indicate superiority.

Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous already (I mean, jeez, who wants to go through life automatically assuming such negative intent in everything said around you? [1]), but bear with me.

Now, we're both reasonably intelligent people who try to be "meta" about a conversation while we're in it. We're both mostly aware that it pays to say things in such a way that the other people understands the point you're trying to make. Likewise, we also try to be aware that the other person has "intentionality" in what he or she says too. In other words: I can generally assume if something is important enough for Laura to say, there's most likely a decent reason for her to bother to say it.

Otherwise, I've chosen to marry somebody who blithers at me for no discernible reason, something I really don't want to be true.

Once you start considering the real purpose of a conversation about running form (instead of your ego's insecure and false assumptions about that purpose), and once you ruminate a little bit about why somebody might offer a suggestion about something they noticed about your form, you start to see how important intentionality is, and likewise how important it is to assume positive intent in what others say to you.

Let's go back to my ego for a second, and return to my ego's negative interpretation of Laura's statement. My ego arrived at this negative interpretation in a split second, without any real consideration of Laura's intentions. The only thing it "considered" was the idea that I was likely being insulted somehow. Thus my ego reacted in order to protect itself from a potential ego injury... and this ended up preventing me from improving my running form, by insta-rejecting an excellent idea from a book I already knew and totally agreed with.

Thanks ego! Thanks a lot.

If you can believe it, it gets even worse: our ego protection reaction, if it's habitual, will condition our psychological environment (including those people unfortunate enough to be in it) to never offer us any helpful suggestions. Think about it: if I were to react this way to every idea or suggestion Laura ever makes, eventually she'll stop bothering to try and help me.

A disturbing way to look at this is to conclude that the more reactant your ego, the more your life will be bereft of help in all forms.

Yes, you and I both know the truism about never giving unsolicited advice. But at the same time, helpful suggestions exist only if they manifest in other peoples' minds, and those helpful ideas and suggestions appear in other's minds when they appear, not necessarily when we want them to appear. Thus we have to be ready for this "help" on other peoples' schedule, not on our own. It's just like being consistently ready in case a teacher appears.

There's yet another aspect of our ego protection reflex that's just as pernicious. Consider an example I read recently about trees in a biosphere project. Scientists couldn't understand why all the trees inside of the biosphere kept falling over before they matured. Well, it turns out that if you're a tree inside a biosphere, you never get exposed to wind. Wind is a type of stressor, and trees exposed to wind as they mature become far stronger and resilient. [2]

Essentially, our egos want to keep us in a biosphere, where we never face any wind. Our egos presume negative intent, they presume insult and condescension, and they do so instantly, reflexively. If all we do is reflexively ego-protect, all we'll end up with is a fragile, brittle, easy-to-injure psyche.

So I started peeling up my feet.






Footnotes:
[1] One useful heuristic to use at all times when interacting with others: do not automatically presume negative intent in the things other people say.

[2] A fancy word for this is hormesis, or hormetic response. The tree's hormetic response to wind strengthens it over time. For further reading on the human body's hormetic response to running and how even running shoes intefere with hormesis, see also What Barefoot Running Taught Us About Expensive Sneakers (And What Nike and Others Really Don't Want You To Know)


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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Why Are Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes Obsessed with Looking Like Meat-Based Meals?

Why do so many vegan or vegetarian recipes try to look like meat-based meals?

Here's a textbook example of what I mean, a vegan deviled eggs recipe. This recipe is totally vegan, with no animal products used at all, but it is designed to look exactly like a non-vegan food.

In other words, it's supposed to be a simulacrum of a food a vegan wouldn't eat.

Now, my goal isn't to criticize this person's recipe per se. [1] What I want to do is get at a more central problem endemic to vegan and vegetarian cuisine. Which is:

With so many great vegan and vegetarian recipes out there, what is the benefit of making facsimiles of the very foods you would never eat in the first place?

Remember, here at Casual Kitchen we are not vegan or vegetarian, but we often eat vegan or vegetarian meals, and we feature dozens and dozens of easy, healthy and laughably cheap vegan and vegetarian recipes here at this blog.

But imagine a rabid meat eater who didn't know any better. To her, it would seem as if vegan and vegetarian cooking has an insecurity complex. A form of penis envy even. It's as if vegan/vegetarian cooking somehow is all worried that it isn't "real" food, so in order to compensate, it has to somehow imitate or resemble non-vegetarian food.

And so, we are presented with processed pseudo-foods like tofu scramble, vegetarian hotdogs, or my personal favorite: tofurkey. It all suggests that unless a meal looks or seems like meat it can't be taken seriously as a meal.

We all know that this could not be further from the truth. Vegans and vegetarians have no reason to be insecure--much less have penis envy--about what and how they eat. So why the imitative food simulacra? Why so many processed pseudo-foods when there are so many amazing vegan and vegetarian recipes already out there?

Readers, what do you think?


READ NEXT: Casual Kitchen's Core Principles: #2: Embrace Low-Meat Cooking


Footnote:
[1] That said, I can't say I'm appetized by egg whites made of agar agar, which then require a dose of black pepper to mask the taste. This is pure pseudo-food.



You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

A Sucker Born Every Minute in the Spice Aisle

Everybody knows the famous quote from P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute."

I'm one of those suckers.

The other day Laura was making a recipe from her Indian cookbook and she asked if I'd like her to grind up some extra coriander. "We should never buy ground coriander at the grocery store any more. We have a lifetime supply right here." She reached into her big secret bag of Indian spices and pulled out two packages of coriander seeds, 600 grams in total (about 21 ounces), which, together, cost about $4.50.

Needless to say these coriander seeds were not purchased in the grocery store spice aisle--as Casual Kitchen readers know, the grocery store spice aisle is a corporate conspiracy that exists for no reason other than take willingly captive and credulous consumers and rudely separate them from their money. Laura long ago got smart: she buys all her spices at an Indian grocer.

We also have a little $18 spice grinder, and Laura used it to grind up enough whole coriander seeds to fill a just-emptied 1.25 ounce jar of McCormick ground coriander. It took two minutes.

Okay. Let's do some math and find out how much of a sucker I've been by buying ground coriander in a standard grocery store--in total contravention of my very own recommendations here at this blog.

* At our grocery store, it costs $7.99 to buy that 1.25 ounce jar of ground coriander.[1]
* Laura's 21 ounces of whole coriander seeds = 16.8 x 1.25 ounce jars.
* 16.8 jars of grocery store ground coriander at $7.99 per 1.25 ounce jar = $134.23.

In other words, Laura paid $4.50 for spices that would cost $134 in the grocery store.

And here comes the part about me being a sucker. I was paying a markup of more than 2,900.00% for a spice. (!!!!!) [math: 134.23 / 4.50 = 29.88 or 2,988%]

I get queasy just thinking about it.

Stay out of the grocery store spice aisle. It's an oligopoly designed to overcharge you. And they do it because they can.

Instead, find another source away from this totally non-competitive market environment, like a local ethnic food market. And if you can buy your spices in whole form, all the better: they'll be cheaper still and they'll last forever.[2]

My example of spice industry exploitation is interesting to me (uh, and hopefully to you too, dear readers), because it basically involves me acting out of convenience while not thinking. However, another consumer might easily argue, "Heck, does the eight bucks I wasted on 1.25 ounces of coriander really matter? Really? What's the big deal?"

Well, on one level, it's not a big deal. It's only eight bucks. But then again, doing things on a small level trains you for detecting and avoiding exploitation on a much larger level. Furthermore, it trains us in the healthy exercise of throwing creativity--rather than money--at a problem.

And even on this small level it isn't really that small: there's enough value in Laura's $4.50 worth of whole coriander seeds to pay for six spice grinders, which we could use to grind up any other whole spices we might purchase, which will help us further escape the clutches of the spice cabal.

Back to P.T. Barnum's quote about suckers. Everybody knows this quote, but rarely do people enjoy finding out that they're the sucker. That phrase is always for somebody else. Right? Which is why it's always painful to figure out that you've been a sucker who's been getting needlessly separated from your money, for years, for no real reason. Easier just to argue that it's only eight bucks, and eight bucks doesn't really make a difference.


READ NEXT: What's Your Favorite Consumer Empowerment Tip?
And: Recipe: Saag Murgh (Chicken with Spinach)


Footnotes:
[1] This 1.25 ounce jar of ground coriander used to cost $6.99, but in recent years McCormick has jumped on the organic bandwagon, and so they've added both the magic word “organic” and another dollar of price premium to their already overpriced product. Lovely.

[2] Another scam about spices is the idea that they "fade" over time and thus need to be thrown out every so often. In some places you will even see recommendations to throw out "old" spices after as little as six months, something that is scandalously, criminally false. Of course the spice industry would love for you to throw out and re-buy all your spices every six months.



You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

How Martha Stewart's Brand Lost Its Mojo

Grant McCracken, an anthropologist and an insightful commentator on modernity, offered an intriguing quote recently about Martha Stewart:

"She's the mistress of the semiotic codes dear to the upwardly aspirational middle class… Martha's semiotics were powerful. Fresh flowers. Fresh linens. Fresh colors. And an embargo on all things unsophisticated and déclassé."

To anyone who lived through the 1990s, this quote captures Martha Stewart's brand perfectly.

Except that things change. Eras and generations change. And Martha's brand, at least in that form, simply doesn't click with the Millennial generation. Millennials don't even want to buy homes, much less fill them with fresh linens and flowers. They don't bake. Or read magazines.

But the companies out there selling to us need to keep brands like these alive, alive for as long as they can. This is done by "repositioning," "staying relevant" and "pivoting," all of which are annoying marketing terms that, to me at least, merely serve to underscore the rampant cynicism infesting the world of branding and consumer products.

As an example: Do you remember Emeril? Remember him and his show, his celebrity cookbooks and celebrity-branded cookware? Do you remember "Bam!"? Martha Stewart's company bought this brand too, back in 2008, in a failed effort to stay relevant. Once upon a time Bam! was cool. It sold a lot of overpriced cookware. Now nobody remembers.

So how does "Martha Stewart" as a brand stay relevant, now that civilization has thankfully moved on from mansions, fresh linens and other pretensions of a lost era? How does Martha sell--and more importantly, what does she sell--to a generation that doesn't even cook?

Back to the cynical parlance of modern media: Martha will "pivot." She'll attach her trusted name to a food delivery service.[1] She will "reposition" her brand by getting on the marijuana bandwagon, doing a bunch of campy skits with Snoop Dogg to sell you trendy cannabis products. All of which will make her "relevant" to today's consumers.

In other words, she'll do anything to sell to you.

Does it make you feel like a sucker, having stuff like this fed to you? Do you enjoy being sold one branded aspirational lifestyle in one era--only later still to see it replaced by another new, "more relevant" branded aspirational lifestyle in a later era?

The whole thing feels like an extended elaborate joke, played on three generations of consumers.


Timeline of Martha Stewart, her brand, and her companies:
1999: Martha Stewart IPOs her company, market value reaches $1.8b
2003-4: Stewart indicted, convicted and jailed for lying under oath and obstruction of justice in connection with a suspicious sale of shares of Imclone stock, one day before Imclone collapsed in value (due to failing to receive FDA approval for the drug Erbitux).
2005: Martha's comeback: Stewart is released from prison, and over the next few years, her company announces deals to sell Martha Stewart-branded merchandise at Kmart, Macy's and JCPenney, all of which devolve into lawsuits. Later she announces deals to sell merchandise through Petsmart, Michaels and Home Depot.
2011: After serving a five year ban from public markets as part of her conviction settlement with Federal regulators, Martha Stewart rejoins her namesake company's board of directors.
2015: After years of declining ad sales, declining branding revenue and declining circulation of her various publications, Martha Stewart Omnimedia is sold to Sequential Brands [ticker: SQBG] for $350m.
2019: Sequential Brands, collapsing under a mountain of debt, firesales Martha Stewart's brand, as well as the Emeril Legasse brand, for a mere $175 million, [2] less than half what they paid for it just four years earlier, and less than one-tenth of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's peak valuation. Sequential Brands now trades at penny-stock levels, at approximately 50c a share.
2019: Martha Stewart announces a deal with Canopy Growth Company, a Canada-based cannabis company, to market a line of cannabis supplements and other pot-infused wellness products for pets.


Footnotes:
[1] It's hard not to notice the rich irony of Martha Stewart's meal delivery service brand using the slogan "recipes from America's most trusted home cook." As if calling your meal delivery service "home cooking" actually makes it so.

[2] Get ready: now yet another company will likely be ramming a pivoted and repositioned Martha and Emeril in our faces all over again.


READ NEXT: Aspirational Marketing and the Unintended Irony of Pabst Beer


You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

Displacement

When you buy something, you aren't just buying that something. Buying a TV isn't just buying a TV.

It's buying a device that may suck up as much as two months' worth of time per year from your life (yes, on average, people watch that much TV). Further, watching TV actually makes us less happy.

In other words, "buying a TV" is really displacing about 15-20% of your time, and likely displacing an equivalent amount of your happiness.

If you knew that gleaming new TV you were about to buy would actually provide anti-time, anti-enjoyment and anti-happiness, would that change anything?

Let's say you buy one of those meal prep/meal delivery services like Blue Apron or HelloFresh. The benefits (as they are presented to you) are clear and concrete: you'll save time, you won't have to cook, your life will be easier. This is why these services are sold to you.

But what might this service displace?

It will displace the practice of a basic life skill that, over time, could become increasingly easy for you through use (or increasingly difficult through disuse). It will also displace the act of building efficient grocery shopping skills, yet another basic life skill that gets gradually easier and easier over time. It displaces healthy social activities centered around the practice of cooking. And this is to say nothing about the displacement of all the other things you could do with the money you've spent.

You can certainly drive yourself crazy overthinking this, but it doesn't change the fact that all of our purchases (really, all of our acts and all of our decisions) displace something else that we could otherwise do.

And in the heat of the buying moment it's nearly impossible to focus on what a purchase will displace. But because it tends to put the brakes on spending actions, I think this could be a useful frugality tool to have handy when making any purchase. And it goes without saying that the companies selling these items or these services to you do not want you to think this way at all. They want you focused on the comfy, easy-to-visualize realm of obvious benefits. They don't want you in the uncomfortable, abstract realm of displaced activities and displaced happiness.

With all this in mind, I've created a mini-checklist of pre-purchase questions you can ask yourself to help you focus on what that purchase will displace:

1) Am I being humble about the results of this purchase? What incorrect assumptions might I be making about how I'll use (or mis-use) this product or service?

2) Unintended consequences will undoubtedly result from this purchase. Have I considered them? What might they be?

3) Should I hold off on this purchase to think through questions 1 and 2 a bit more?

Readers, what would you add?


See the intelligent and useful book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton for related ideas on this topic


You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!


Planting the Tree Today

I'm back. Thanks, readers, for indulging me while I took a little time off from writing.
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I've been thinking about this quote a lot recently:

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.
The next best time to plant a tree is now.

Unfortunately, I've been agonizing lately over why I didn't start doing certain things earlier in life. I wish, for example, that I had begun compound lifting much, much earlier in my life. My body (at its current age) just doesn't respond all that well to heavy workouts. It takes me days to recover, and after a good workout of deadlifts, squats, pullups and bench presses, I am wiped. Wiped out for the rest of the day. I wish I were fitter and more robust than I am, despite all the effort I put into my fitness.

Sure, there are solutions here. I can do lighter, milder, maintenance-type workouts. I usually feel good after workouts of that level of intensity. But then I'll just be in maintenance mode. That's fine, but in maintenance mode I won't be getting stronger, I won't be growing.

This is one of those examples where I think to myself, "shit, if I had just planted this compound lifting 'tree' twenty years ago, I'd have a real tree now. I'd be much more adapted to lifting at a level that I'd be satisfied with." But I can't go back to twenty years ago and plant that compound lifting tree. I can only plant it today. (Well, technically, I planted it a few years ago, but still.)

I can come up with lots of other examples, sadly: I wish I had taken up drawing or painting earlier in life. I wish I had learned to surf earlier. I wish I had taken up language learning wayyyy earlier--like back when I was still a teenager.

And then, I recall a conversation with a friend of mine who's then-partner told her, "It's too late for me to get started on retirement. I'm too old now to bother to save money." He was just thirty-seven at the time.

Now, let's take a moment and notice the circular logic and self-defeatism of giving up on doing something simply because it's possible you could have started earlier. This should resonate with anyone embracing YMOYL, early retirement or any of the frugality strategies discussed thoughout Casual Kitchen. If your first thought is "it's too late for me" then nothing can ever be worth doing. Tough to go through life like that.

And so here, readers, is where I confess my hypocrisy to you. The complaint about not starting to save money earlier and my complaint about not starting lifting earlier are identical! They are the same.

Of course it's always easier to see flaws and hypocrisies in others than in ourselves, isn't it?

So there's my problem and my challenge--and yours too, if you struggle with the "it's too late" issue anywhere in your life: Get over yourself and plant the tree. Now.



READ NEXT: Good Games
AND: YMOYL: The Full Companion Guide Archive




You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!

[Links] A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food

Readers, I'm still doing some traveling, so please enjoy this post from Casual Kitchen's archives--one of the most popular posts from the early years of this blog.
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Here at Casual Kitchen I spend a lot of time writing and thinking about ways to save money on food, and today I thought it would be a great time to run a retrospective of some of our best and most read articles on the subject.

Feel free to peruse the links below for posts on how to cook more efficiently at home, ideas on how to eat well on very little money, and other articles on how to save money in the kitchen.


Recipe Ideas:
All CK Recipes Filed Under "Laughably Cheap"

Money-saving Tips and Ideas:

Ten Tips to Save Money on Spices and Seasonings
A Simple Way to Beat Rising Food Prices
Mastering Kitchen Setup Costs
Eight Tips to Make Cooking At Home Laughably Cheap
How to Get More Mileage Out of Your Cookbooks

Longer Essays on Food Costs:
Stacked Costs and Second-Order Foods: A New Way to Think About Rising Food Costs
Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It

Tips on Saving Money while Eating Healthy:
What's the Most Heavily Used Tool in Our Kitchen? Our Rice Cooker.
How to Make Your Own Inexpensive Sports Drink
How to Create Your Own Original Pasta Salad Recipes Using the Pasta Salad Permutator
Two Useful Cooking Lessons From Another Cheap and Easy Side Dish
Fresh Herbs Part 2: Solutions to the Waste Problem

Cooking Strategies and Tactics:
How to Team Up in the Kitchen
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
More Applications of the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking
Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking
Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating
Doing Your Favorite Thing: How to Spend Exactly the Right Amount of Money For an Important Celebration



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You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!