Oui, oui, bring me seven-course dinners

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By Nina Gustafson

My younger sister and I have a thing for French and British classic details, clothes being one of them. Think escape from the ordinary and old fashioned. We tend to buy these types of gifts to each other. If not sooner, it definitely started with my sister buying the book “The Audrey Hepburn way of life: How to be lovely” during a trip to the USA. I think you get where we are going…

 

Baked chestnuts, strawberry and vanilla tart, cheese dish

 

Madame Chic and her influence on our dinner times

My sister was also following a blog by Jennifer L. Scott and given our common interest in clothes, she thought I would like the book “Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 stylish secrets I learned while living in Paris”. While my sister focused on the “de-clutter your wardrobe” bits, I was rather excited about the bits on FOOD. A girl has to have her priorities straight! Quotes like “dinner was always at least a three-course sit-down affair at home” and “mealtimes were an event” caught my interest. Not that I am a very hungry person but I like the extra ordinary, extra ordinary food being no exception. After an earlier binge on British movies, our little family had already talked about starting to incorporate Sunday dinners in our routines. The book gave me the idea to try it every single day. I do like to dive all in with new things, to get the right feeling, so that’s what I did! What could go wrong?!

In the book, Jennifer describes mealtimes consisting of:

  • Appetizer/apértifs – I had already picked up the habit of occasional “apéro” (pre-dinner drink and finger food) for example cheese from a Swiss friend, so we usually had something simple for this.
  • Soup: Something light like onion or leek soup.
  • Starters/Entrés: These are not mentioned separately in the book. Sometimes we only had a soup but occasionally we switched it to a starter, or had both.
  • Main course: roast, chicken, whole fish with potatoes dish or similar. We did eat quiche at some occasions but according to the book it seems to be a lunch dish first and foremost.
  • Salad: Sometimes eaten separately, sometimes with the main course.
  • Dessert: Very often tarts (the rest saved for breakfast), other times pannacotta or meringue.
  • Cheese course: By this time we were usually pretty full and only took a small piece of cheese.
  • Coffee and digestif, which we usually combined with the dessert rather than save it for last.

Our dinners had a strong focus on French dining mixed up with elements of Italian, Swedish and Asian cuisine.

 

Onion soup, fougasse and wine and an entré with asparagus and almonds

 

During this relatively short period (I must say) of food indulgence, our movie choices also tended to strive towards those focusing on food, such as “No reservations” with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart and “Julie and Julia” with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Strongest impression did Meryl Streep do in her interpretation of Julia Child. How can you not love Julia with her personal approach to French cooking, usually dressed in pearls (yes, of course I had to add that element as well. Why do it halfway when you can exaggerate?). As a result, still being a meat eater back then, we made her signature dish Boeuf Bourguignon as one of our main dishes. Watch and learn how to cook from Julia Child.

 

 

Boeuf Bourguignon with potato rose, chicken in clay cooker, sweet potato and spinach quiche

 

Our family dinners were so much more than just the food. It was a family moment! We decided to dress up to these events. No tights or joggers, but dresses and shirts with tie was more the melody, and pearls of course. During the dinners, we had time to talk while listening to calm, often classical music in the background (this choice of music does happen on other occasions but I our general music taste is far away from it). After dinner, we played board games such as Chess, Othello and Kalaha and if it was not to late we watched a movie with (you guessed it) food theme.

 

Drawbacks and lessons learned

Because I am not a big fan of ready-cooked at any stage, these meals claimed quite a lot of time as meals were prepared from scratch including mayonnaise and similar things which most people buy. Everything around like shopping and setting the table also demanded a fair share of time, as did the actual dinners. Besides being time consuming, you cannot have a seven-course dinner every day without feeling you have had enough. You can only eat a limited amount of food at each meal and after a while we run out of space in our fridge and freezer. C’est la vie! All good things must come to an end… Although we have continued to have similar dinners now and then, I must admit that I have let myself slack, mainly because we moved to a new location and I left all my cutlery behind, but it is not too late to make a new attempt. New books like “A kitchen in France” by Mimi Thorisson, “Dinner with Mr Darcy” by Pen Vogler and “Sunday Suppers” by Karen Mordechai are really inspirational. So basically, I haven’t learned a thing! I would do it again anytime, and I think I will start already this Sunday. Bon appetite!

 

Nina Gustafson is originally from the Stockholm area in Sweden but currently lives in Cambridge in the UK. She is a sociologist by training and works in academia. Her blog posts cover high and low subjects but with a clear focus on the academic life and other joys of life such as cooking/dinners, yoga, travels and much more.

The 3 levels of the News Diet

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By Robert Gehrlach

Recently I went on a diet. It was my first ever diet, and an unusual one on top of that. It was not food that I cut out of my diet, it was the Daily News. And ever since I have been on this diet, my productivity, well-being and creativity have improved noticeably.

Before I went on this diet, I checked the daily news several times of the day. I skimmed through the list of headlines and sometimes read an article or two. After the ritual has been performed, I felt ‘informed’.

The news media is in trouble

Except that I was not informed. Daily News were probably never the best source for well researched and in depth investigative journalism, but recent developments have hardly improved the situation.

For one, the shift away from print to online media and the disruption of classical daily news business models resulted in a long and continuing decline of profitability of the news industry, and along with it the quality of much of the daily news we consume. This is especially true for online news: even the New York Times, not long ago hailed as a beacon of hope, is struggling with a continuing loss of online advertising revenue and slow online subscription growth.

There are many reasons for this decline. The most important one is the low value that we, the consumers, place on being informed. If we are not willing to pay for high quality journalism, we have little right to complain about diminishing quality. Our unwillingness to pay for quality information makes it difficult for the media to reconcile a desire to maintain market share and profitability with the vision of an impartial ‘Fourth Estate’ informing the public.

But there is yet another major difference between today’s news and those in the offline era. Essentially, news editors simply became too clever for their own good.

Nowadays, editors and journalists know exactly what core readers and potential new customers are most likely to click on, share, comment on, and read. It has proven too difficult to resist the temptation to trade more clicks and thus higher advertising revenue for lower content quality by adapting the product to the user’s consumption behaviour. And direct real time feedback from your behaviour to the news editor is why the daily news are bad for you.

6 reasons why the daily news is bad for you

1 Negative bias

Editors know, for example, that disaster news is generally more popular with their readership than stories about scientific breakthroughs in energy research. They simply respond to the negative bias of their readership: humans are predisposed to focus on negative news over positive news. And they give us what we ‘want’: the large majority of the news we consume is negative, creating a picture of a world that is far more dangerous, depressing and hopeless than it really is. Whist this distorted reality is what we crave, it is detrimental to our wellbeing and the opposite of what we really need: a hopeful, realistic outlook on the world that encourages active engagement with the world around us.

2 Sensationalism and poor coverage of important issues

We thirst for excitement and distraction. Sensationalist stories are dominating the news and important but less stimulating issues are poorly covered. How often do you see articles discussing topics such as education, incentive structures in the political system or the threat of the rising complexity of our world to our institutions’ ability to make proactive in the headlines?

3 Echo chambers

We love to remain in our comfort zone, and are often allergic to views and opinions that oppose our own, even if they are rationally convincing. As a consequence, we often only read a limited selection of newspapers that support our existing views. This is especially true if consume news via social media. Whilst this is what we want, we actually need to leave our echo chambers and be subjected and listen to the opinions and views of the people from ‘the other side’. Only this way can we understand one another and replace the feeling of antagonism with one of connectedness and prepare for respectful dialogue.

4 Lack of depth and context

We are short on time and are living in a world of an increasing number of distractions. Therefore, news articles tend to become more simplified and often include even shorter summaries to cater to time-poor readers. For the same reason, news also often lacks the necessary context or information on the underlying systemic issues when presenting information. This lack of depth and context can sometimes result in news-snippets that are generating the illusion of information, but actually are, in their entirety, merely a plethora of disinformation.

5 News cycle

We have short attention spans. That is why the news reports on certain news stories excessively for a limited period of time, followed again by silence regarding the former hype topic. The loss of coverage of the specific topic by the news creates the illusion of a simultaneous loss of relevance of the topic, for example in the case of the Panama Papers. More importantly, this phenomenon known as ‘The News Cycle’ creates the illusion that everything that is important happens now, and lets us disregard the importance of historical developments and ancient wisdom for our daily lives.

6 Information overload

We have limited bandwidth and ability to manage information. Frequent news checking contributes to a general overload of information and subsequent conditioning towards mindlessly seeking out information stimuli. This can have potentially negative consequences for our ability to learn and retain information.

There are of course many other challenges, such as Fake News, a decline in the public’s trust into the news media and tendentious reporting, but I guess you get the picture.

Go on a diet!

These and other reasons result in more and more people subconsciously avoiding the daily news, as they realise that they simply feel better this way. So I too began to ask myself a number of questions:

1. When was the last time I received important information via the daily news which I would otherwise have missed?

2. When was the last time I made a better decision after reading the daily news?

3. When was the last time reading the daily news gave me a new idea?

4. When was the last time I felt positive and motivated after reading the daily news?

5. What is the last positive and progressive daily news I can report?

6. When was the last time I gained a new and important insight into a systemic issue our world is facing?

My answers to these questions were revealing and motivated me to start a systematic daily news diet. I completely stopped reading or watching daily news.

Since I started this diet, the lack of information overload and regular disruptions resulted in rising productivity, concentration and increased focus during my day. The lack of constant influx of negative stories was a further benefit. At the same time, I felt that by avoiding the daily exposure to news snippets lacking depth and explanatory power I started to spend more time exploring interesting issues in depth myself, often resulting in interesting observations and input for conversations with friends and colleagues. What was surprising was that really important information reached me almost without any delay regardless, via friends and other sources.

Four months into the diet, I feel absolutely no need to go back to consuming daily news. Whilst there might be some drawbacks to the diet, such a possible lack of small talk topics related to current affairs, the overall advantages outweigh the disadvantages for me. Especially as there are great alternatives to daily news.

Nutritious alternatives

Remaining ignorant to what is happening in the world is not an option for most of us. A news diet therefore should ideally still offer you a balanced diet of information. According to your preferences, you can choose from three levels for the diet:

Level 1: The Beginners Diet:

Try to increase the times between checking the news, for example check the news every 3 days only and switching off your news notifications on your phone. Whilst this diet helps you become more productive, it does not yet address any other of the issues mentioned in the previous section. It is a good start though to test out the waters of the ‘No Daily News’ life.

Level 2: The Balanced News Diet:

Completely avoid all daily news and instead only read and buy (!) weekly or monthly news magazines, such as ‘The Economist’, or subject specific magazines that interest you, for example the ’Harvard Business Review’ or the ’MIT Technology review’. These magazines often offer more in depth reports and address underlying issues, therefore providing you with a more nutritious news diet. Another great source of in depth information are essays found in publications such as ‘The Atlantic’ or ‘The New Yorker’ and in-depth documentaries, such as the ones by Adam Curtis.

Level 3: The Hardcore Diet.

This diet is for the most extreme souls amongst us. Avoid all news and only read essays on selected blogs and quarterly or yearly magazines, for example the ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ yearly review. At the same time, increase your consumption of classic and contemporary works of literature, philosophy and the arts in form of books.

Over to you

Personally, I found Level 2 to be a good compromise, and would encourage anyone to at least try out cutting down on the news to make up their own minds. You might be surprised by how much better your life can be if you cut out a previous essential.

Robert Gehrlach is a senior consultant at mm1 in Berlin and a student of life. He is passionate about sustainable innovation, technology and society.

Note: Robert has also published this article on medium.com