Food, the new sex?

A famous consumer food company conducted a taste test in which subjects were asked to identify the taste of a jelly with their eyes closed. In this test, one more sense was eliminated. Smell.  Subjects’ noses were blocked. No one could get the taste right. In the next round, noses were unblocked and almost everyone could tell if the jelly was sour or sweet or salty.
Eating food is supposed to be a wholesome experience. Like sex. Why do we call someone sensual? Why do we enjoy sex so much? Why does sex make us complete and happy? Because it uses all the five senses. During your most fulfilling sex, you would not be watching Late Night Show with Jimmy Fallon or be reading the New York Times while making love.
In this day and age, the twenty some-things are very ambitious. They try to pack in too many activities in twenty four hours because they can’t invent time yet. But it is practically not possible to achieve all that in a day, so they begin multi-tasking, even with food. I, like so many other twenty some-things, eat my Nature Path sunrise crunchy maple and read the IDS campus newspaper together. For different people, everything after the ‘and’ can be replaced by thousands of options including skimming Wall Street Journal or watching The Today Show. For most single twenty some-things, including me, dinners are accompanied with Workaholics or The Office or something to that effect. So often, the meal becomes a secondary activity and the actual accompanying activity becomes the primary one. It almost becomes background music. Your eyes are so fixated on the screen of the device that you don’t admire the colors of food. Your brain is so occupied in the content that you don’t attempt to feel the texture of your toast. Your ears are so busy hearing the voices in the show that you can’t appreciate the subtle sounds that echo when butter melts in your mouth, than only you can hear. In this new lifestyle, how can eating food make you happy?
Why should then food not be the new sex? Why should it not be given the same respect, time and devotion that we give to sex? There are not many activities left that human beings can do every day without feeling sick of it. Since food is one of those things, it should be consumed with complete sensuality to experience a holistic healthy life. Most joys are ephemeral and require lot of efforts. Food, like sex, can give you blissful pleasure everyday.  

Why do we need grades? Or not?

When I was 3 and went to kindergarten, I don’t remember why I studied. When I went to first standard in primary school, I distinctly remember why I studied. To not fail. This continued till I reached standard 6th and without any planning, got rank 1. Well, the boy who used to take that place had left the school. But I was nowhere even in top ten earlier. That was surprising. Like a snake, I had tasted the blood of attention. From no one, I became number one.
Was that a curse? I had pressure to maintain that rank. And who gave me that pressure? I myself. To myself. I continued to finish every grade with rank one until this fish was taken out of the pond and thrown in a sea of bigger school. Where I sucked to begin with. Why do I call that bad? Because psychologically, I formed in my head that not being ranked-one is not cool. What next, I went to a kick ass college and sucked again real bad. Why? I did not get as good grade as my peers got.
What if there was no concept of grades and ranks? Imagine an exam with 10 questions with no points assigned to any question. Should the desire to do all questions right not be enough motivation? Can the discovery of where I made mistakes not be enough feedback? Or for me to study,  reason should be to get grades better than my peer? Should my feedback be the result that I got rank two and not rank one?
Counter theory. We may have academic institutions without grading and comparison system. But how real is that? Once you get out of that school and enter workforce, your performance will be compared with those of your colleagues. That comparison will decide your appraisal. Moreover, in the ‘real’ world, there points and ranks for everything. Every company desires to be the leader or ranked one in the business it operates. So how will not having grades mimic the real world?
Even in the absence of any grade or ranks or marks, considering that example of 10-question exam, we unintentionally create bench mark for comparisons. “I got 3 of them right, how many did you get right?”. Someone hiking Himalayas alone, without the presence of any other human being around will also have a comparative goal in his mind – to hike at least more than what another hiker did who was here before him. Is that the human nature then? His physical presence does not even need to be there for him to create benchmarks of comparisons for others?
If that is the case, how do Montessoris and Waldorfs and Rishi Valleys and Aurovilles of the world succeed in nurturing human beings who are ready to face the real world in spite of having different foundation? A foundation  of grade-less-ness.

Diversity – In Action ?

Diversity in the modern context is often seen as simplistic as having certain number of people at one place from different backgrounds – race, color, culture, gender, sexual orientation. Many work places claim to be diverse because their employee composition represents a reasonable mix of people. Same goes for many organizations around the world. At my school, I noted that we have significant number of international students. So if diversity is to be measured in terms of pie chart and excel tables, we stand pretty high. Yet, I noticed an interesting trend, beginning with class room. White Americans sit with white Americans. Black Americans sit with black Americans. Asians sit with Asians. So goes with Indians. I avoided the risk of committing the fallacy of hasty generalization. So I started observing in social settings – in bars and social events. I could still notice it in varying degrees. Picture decorated Facebook walls are a testimony of this. No amount of forced diversity could fix it. People started appearing as tiny magnets who you can keep separately but as soon as external forces are taken away, pieces get down to their original tendencies and form sub-network. 
I thought hard to explain this trend. One possible line of reasoning was that our average age could be 27. At this age, we are more or less frozen in our preferences, tastes and the kind of company we enjoy. (Although my aunt who is in her 80’s refuses to agree and she maintains that it will be so unfortunate if human beings shut themselves so early in life and that she continues to learn to enjoy the companies of new people every day). With those frozen preferences comes the impatience with dissimilar persons. Is that what we can call the exact opposite of natural affinity or comfort zone? Language would definitely play a role. Many international students might be having lesser proficiency in verbal English. Those who are proficient might not be patient enough to listen slowly and speak slowly with non-native English speakers. There kicks in the ‘matured’ age of 27.
To validate this explanation, I turned my attention to undergraduate students. They range from 18-22. That’s a very malleable age. One would expect that that would be more interactions there. I started by observing just the kids walking around the campus. Interestingly, the degree of association with similar people was less yet observable. I do not have any numbers though to back up any of the observations as none of this has been a controlled experiment. I do however give a solid credit to the power of observation. Whole Buddhism is based on this power. Today, with the power of big data from social media we are coming to the conclusion that happy people attract happy people and depressed people would make associations with other sad people. Eastern philosophies found that back in the day and so did Quantum physics that all matter emits waves and good or bad interactions amongst matter depends on constructive or destructive interference of those waves. Replace matter in that statement by people, and there you go!
Coming back to the validation of the observation in younger demography, I started asking undergrads I would meet in different classes, lectures, talks, bars, streets, bus stations. Question would not be, “Who do you hang out with?”. Question would be, “Since you came to college, amongst the new close buddies you found, how many of them are not from your native culture?”. Answer will be mostly zero.
I do not subscribe to the idea of diversity whose foundation is based on filling in the quotas. And then creating layers of diversity around the buckets through events or forced interactions. This numerically driven diversity often masks the underlying lack of diversity in action – which is attained by gradual annihilation of boundaries of culture and geography. When people manage to make as close human connections with people of different backgrounds as they succeed in making with people of their own back ground, that’s when you get the true foundation of diversity. And then, there will not be humongous need to create affinity clubs and organize events to validate the diversity quotient of the organization at the top level. The decentralized diversity at the level of people to people understanding will itself be the natural catalyst for voluntary celebrations and events.
Question now is how to lift that decentralized number from zero or minimal to a respectable figure. Is it even possible to fight the original forces of natural affinity and comfort zone to create new comfort zones and new affinities ? In my quest for a solution, I ran into this concept of Homophily – tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others. Apparently, its presence has been found in a vast array of network studies. But can we not find similarity in values? Does similarity has to be always in what music you like, what sports your play or watch and what food you eat?
My knowledge in cricket, or in most sports or in any music outside Indian classical or Bollywood is minimal. I do not share my interest in cooking, in movies, and in fashion and in few others with a whole lot of people. Yet I can say that my closest friends admire similar things in people as I do. Human values are much above any traditional ‘hobbies’ and ‘interests’. They possibly could be key drives for creating decentralized diversity at a mass level.