Orbiting Dicta

Monthly Archives: June 2009

Coming to Ireland

The thing about a sabbatical is that one day it will be over.  But it has been a good ride while it lasted. Except for the part where the ride was in an airplane.  So far, that has amounted to seven out of eight segments – four of those across the Atlantic.  It’s a grim way to travel, but faster (and safer) than rowing.  Besides the cramped seats, perhaps the most obnoxious part of distance travel is trying to eat on board a modern aircraft.  At least for those in economy class, most airlines appear to have a stake in the plastics industry.  Everything seems to be made of the stuff – the minute trays, flimsy utensils, tiny food receptacles, and the almost impenetrable wrappings on miniscule portions of cheese, biscuits, and chocolate (which might be plastic as well).

On my most recent trip, I neglected to request a vegetarian meal within the 12-hour limit, and absent an extra meatless meal in the galley, I settled for dining around the chicken entrée.  That was not too difficult, as the “chicken” consisted of 5 cube-like gobbets (as they said in the Middle Ages) of something pale lying in what seemed to be an oily tomato sauce.  Far more interesting was the dessert item, a purportedly hand-made oatmeal biscuit (or cookie, as they are known in the US) of whole-grain oats, brown sugar, margarine (listed as containing liquid soybean oil, palm oil, water, salt, mono- and diglycerides, soybean lecithin, natural flavor, annatto color, and vitamin A palmitate), sugar, unbleached wheat flour, raisins (which may have contained sulfur dioxide as a preservative), whole eggs, water, natural and artificial vanilla flavor, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda, all made (it says on the plastic wrapper) with love! 

Love is wonderful, but I’m not so sure about those mono-diglycerides, which are good old-fashioned artificially-produced fatty acids (hopefully, in my case, made from vegetable rather than animal sources).  Annatto is a “natural” food coloring which comes from the seed of the achiote tree grown in Central and South America.  It has long been used to color cheddar cheese and other pale foodstuffs and a variety of non-edible merchandise, and while exempt from regulation is known to cause allergic reactions in some people.  So much for the margarine.

Hardly organic, you may say, but the nutritional guide informed me that this chemical wonder provided “only” 6 grams of fat (but no trans fats), 5 mg of cholesterol, 105 mg of sodium, 23 grams of total carbs (of which 14 grams were sugars), and 2 whole grams of protein – all in a modest 35.4 gram (1.25 ounce) “brownie” containing 150 calories.  I am preserving the wrapper as a testament to the miracle of modern nutritional science!  And love.  It was the best thing on the plastic tray.

On returning to Ireland after four weeks in the US, I was not too surprised to find the economy still in tatters, the sex abuse scandal worsening as more revelations are disclosed, financial scandals involving governmental salaries and pensions, and a lot more rain.  The resulting upsurge of buttercups and daisies from the latter was a bit of a shock, on the other hand.  By rough estimate based on the number of blossoms in an average square meter (353), I calculated that something on the order of 175,000 were now crowding the back garden and threatening to conquer the world.  A few thousand field daisies added to the botanical extravaganza.  The economic downturn and other glaring problems (on the television screen, anyway) didn’t seem to faze them in the least.

Perhaps that was what Jesus meant when he said to “consider the lilies of the field….”