Letters for the week of September 22-28, 2004

Turning up a nose toward Dogtown; finding links between Nam and Watergate; quarreling with the corn syrup industry; and separating yuca from yucca.

“Anatomy of a Boom,” Cityside, 9/1

Gentrify this
I have just one question about a boom in Dogtown. How gentrified is the neighborhood likely to get, given the seemingly constant odor from the wastewater treatment facility?
Ulysses Hillard, Oakland

“The Wars at Home,” Visual Arts, 9/8

Two foul tastes that taste foul together

Perhaps the Oakland Museum exhibition on the impact of the Vietnam War in California fails to explain adequately the context of President Nixon’s resignation speech. But when she judges that this image imparts the “false impression” of a Vietnam-Watergate scandal link, reviewer Brady Kahn is guilty of feeble history and narrow vision.

The record shows that Nixon’s resignation was very much “an outgrowth of his Vietnam policy.” The abuses now known by the shorthand Watergate began with the so-called White House “plumbers” operation. This in turn, was spurred by two key leaks in 1971: press reports of secret bombings and other military operations in Laos, and Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers, an internal government assessment of the war in Indochina.

More broadly, the atmosphere of social division, paranoia, and government “credibility gaps” — all hallmarks of Watergate — is directly traceable to Vietnam. The latter fit the former like a hand in a glove.
Irvin Muchnick, Berkeley

“The barriers are cultural,” Letters, 9/8

Junk food is cheaper

You might not be in the practice of printing letters about letters, but the recent letter from Rachel Stubblefield is at worst flat-out wrong, and at best just an off-the-cuff guess.

A recent policy update in Nutrition Today explodes the myth that healthier diets are less expensive. The authors find that a diet rich in junk foods like sodas and french fries is likely the least expensive way to meet one’s daily caloric needs. For better or worse, caloric needs are how we currently measure nutrient intake.

Ms. Stubblefield no doubt means to imply that, in terms of nutrient intake — of which junk foods are notoriously deficient — healthier foods end up costing less. In so doing she is being disingenuous in her assumption that people make their food purchases with nutrients in mind, and misleading in stating as fact a conjecture. I wish that Ms. Stubblefield were correct — it would make my job of promoting the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among limited-income residents easier. Unfortunately, I can’t make that leap of faith without accompanying supporting data.
Josh Miner; food systems analyst, UC Cooperative Extension, Alameda County; Berkeley

“Salvadoran Dilemma,” On Food, 8/11

You say yucca,i say yuca

Let’s get this Latin American food mess cleared up once and for all!

Yucca (pronounced “yuk-ah”) is not a food in any cuisine. It is a genus of plants in the agave family growing in deserty climates. Joshua tree and Lord’s candle are both yuccas.

Yuca (pronounced “yoo-kah”) is a South American root crop, now widely grown around the world, which occurs in both bitter and sweet forms, depending on the amount of cyanic acid in the root. In bitter forms, the acid is removed by expressing the juice from the ground root. Yuca is also known as manioc and tapioca. It is the original source of tapioca. The wide distribution of this root (Manihot esculenta) is due to its low demand on the soil, since it consists of starch and little else. Hence it replaces other more demanding crops around the world where soils have been depleted.

It is true that restaurant menus and groceries often misspell yuca as “yucca,” but whose fault is that? Instead of replicating the error, your supposed food critic should be setting an example of accuracy.

Similarly, masa is not “ground corn cooked with slaked quicklime.” The unground kernels are soaked or boiled in lime water in order to slip the skins off the kernels. (The simplest and oldest source of lime is wood ashes.) Then the kernels are dried and ground. Masa is equivalent to hominy, except that it has been ground into a meal. The lime absorbed in the soaking results in a significant calcium content in the masa, which provides the major source of calcium in corn-based diets.
Jeffrey M. Dickemann, Ph.D, Richmond

Professor emeritus of anthropology, Sonoma State University

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