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Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning.

This week, we watch the startling new documentary Totally Under Control, soothe our skin with 3rd Ritual body balms, try Japanese cheese with Malory Lane, tune in to lessons on Creative Music Workshop, and learn about the stimulating scent of pumpkin

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with British philosopher Kate Soper and Voting Works executive director Ben Adida.

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See
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Full Disclosure
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Courtesy Neon Rated LLC
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This year has been a blur, but many hard truths remain crystal clear. By now, the Trump administration’s glaring and continuing inaction to guard American lives in the face of Covid-19 is not only well-known, but a well-documented and quantifiable fact: More than 220,000 lives have been lost to the deadly virus on Trump’s watch, and just the other day the U.S. hit the 9 million mark in virus cases. While President Trump has continued to shirk responsibility, scapegoat other countries, and callously state that it “is what it is”—even as the White House itself has become a hot zone, seeing two waves of infections in the span of a single month—we know it didn’t have to be this way. 

In the new Hulu documentary Totally Under Control, director Alex Gibney, along with co-directors Suzanne Hillinger and Ophelia Harutyunyan, bring sharp-eyed clarity to the chaos with an up-to-the-minute investigation into everything that has gone awry over the past nine months. As a useful point of contrast to frame it all, the film provides details on how South Korea—which reported its first Covid-19 case on Jan. 20, the exact same day as the U.S. did—has handled its cases on an identical timeline, and to vastly different results. The story, of course, as many interviewees explain, to varying levels of detail, is that none of this has been totally under control at all. And while the pain of it may feel too fresh and tender to revisit just yet, there’s hope that the film may prove to be the urgently needed wake-up call for any still-undecided voters during this election cycle.

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Touch
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Calm Balm
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Courtesy 3rd Ritual
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Self-care, in times like these, is a necessary balm for both mind and body. When so many factors are pulling at our attention and stoking our anxieties, the smallest acts of TLC can help to ground us in the present—and momentarily stop fretful fingers from doom-scrolling into oblivion. We recommend, for your idle hands, a trio of treat-yourself body creams from 3rd Ritual that play on the planetary elements and impart a range of feel-good benefits. Sun, a body gel made from aloe vera and mango-seed butter, provides a cooling sensation that warms to the touch, as well as an energizing, herbaceous scent. Earth, infused with Kaolin clay, provides deep moisturization for hands and feet, while Moon, a body lotion made from a blend of 12 essential oils and moonstone extract, provides a relaxing wind-down ritual, apt for a bedtime “palm inhalation,” as suggested. Cycling through each concoction, themed from day to night, makes for a kind reminder, if not a luxurious excuse, to stay in tune with oneself—and to take in everything slowly, one day at a time.

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Taste
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Cheese Culture
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Experimentations with matcha using cheeses from Fromages du Terroir in western Tokyo. Photo: Malory Lane
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Cheese may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering Japan’s rich culinary traditions—but as Malory Lane, an American expat and the founder of Japan Cheese Co., tells us, it’s part of a growing artisanal movement among regional producers who are finding ways to create experimental, umami-rich cheeses that are wholly Japanese.

You grew up in the U.S. and are now based in the Netherlands. When did you get into the world of cheese, and what initially drew you to Japan?

I was an Asian studies major and straight out of college moved to Japan to teach English. I lived for a couple of years in Niigata, which is the prefecture that’s most famous for having the best rice and sake, because it has some of the purest water in the country. After that, my now-husband and I were traveling quite a bit, and WWOOFing [doing homestays and working on organic farms as part of the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms]. We ended up on a goat farm in the Israeli desert in 2013, and got put in the cheesemaking room—I was so struck by it. It’s fascinating to see a product get made from start to finish. We would take the goats out to the oases in the desert to graze them, bring them back, then feed and milk them, and use that milk to make cheese. It’s really, really moving to see and work with that entire process. 

How did you get involved with Japan’s community of cheesemakers, and what led to the start of Japan Cheese Co.?

I had this spark while in Israel, and thought, This is really cool, and I want to keep thinking about this. We moved back to Japan, to Tokyo, in 2016—my husband is a translator—and I was determined to continue exploring the world of cheese. It started by researching where I could find cheese in the city, then finding out that there are cheese shops. There’s one in Tokyo called Cheese No Koe (“The Voice of Cheese”) that only sells Japanese cheese, specifically cheeses from the northern island of Hokkaido. I’d go there and buy cheese, taste it, photograph it, and post it on Instagram between my Japanese classes. That’s when the first [iteration of] Japan Cheese Co. started: as a blog and a project to document my explorations, because I kept finding things that I knew other people didn’t know existed. It caught the attention of the cheese world quite a bit. As my Japanese got better, I met a number of cheesemakers, and also worked at a cheese shop in Tokyo for a year. I held events there, attended cheese awards—I consider myself as an ambassador to the Japanese cheese world. 

Can you tell us more about the history and practice of cheesemaking in Japan? I would guess that it’s fairly recent, and likely a factor of globalization.

Globalization had a foot into it, but what most people don’t know is that even in the sixth century, there were cows and a small dairy-making culture in Japan. Most of those were white cows—like the Brahman cow associated with India—and came on the path with Buddhism to Japan. But the first time you really start seeing cheese coming into the Japanese diet is actually after World War II, when the U.S. occupied Japan, and they helped institute a school-lunch program to address malnutrition and food shortages. In it, they included cheese and a little carton of milk. At many Japanese schools, even now, they usually include a piece of cheese and a carton of milk in lunches, and it’ll be locally made. The other historical marker is 1964—the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which saw the first air freight of cheese come in from France, for the French athletes who said they wouldn’t go a month without cheese! [Laughs]

When it comes to regionality, terroir, and technique, how do these elements play out?

There’s not much regionality when it comes to cheese in Japan quite yet—at least not in the same way you see it in other parts of Japanese food culture, mostly because many of the cheesemakers are first-generation. 

That said, there are cheesemakers who have become known for certain cheeses and experimenting quite a bit: In Hokkaido, there’s one group that makes a very special raclette, washed in local hot spring water—as opposed to the traditional brine, saltwater solution—that is full of minerals and natural enzymes. When it comes to microorganisms and cultures, there are cheesemakers in Japan who are doing it really uniquely. There’s one maker in Chiba who actually trained as a microbiologist. Years before she started making cheese, she had all these petri dishes of experiments for different cultures. There’s another cheesemaker who collaborates with a local sake brewery—he’ll take a bag of the leftover rice from sake production, and hold it in the milk while it’s fermenting, so a lot of the koji from that will seep into it and create a very different aroma. And then there are a lot of makers who are using what we think of as Japanese ingredients, washing them in umeshu plum wines, Japanese whisky, or wrapping it in shiso leaf, or aging them in different vinegars, like tamari or soy sauce. There’s a really good one out there, a soft cheese that’s wrapped in dried yuzu rinds.

That sounds delicious. Any chance those specialities will be available outside of Japan any time soon?

The thing with Japanese cheese—or at least all of these—is that the best, high-quality, artisanal cheeses are not being exported. Japan Cheese Co. had been working to do that this year, but the coronavirus has closed off a lot of the markets. It will probably be another couple of years, and for now, we’ll be focusing more on the education side of things. I love the juxtaposition that exists between most people’s idea of what Japan is, and what Japanese cuisine is. And then you have Japanese cheese. From a cultural, anthropological perspective, it’s simply fascinating.

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Hear
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Improv as a Metaphor
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(From left) Billy Martin, Chris Wood, and John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood. Photo: Jimmy Katz
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In the early 1970s, the nonprofit educational program Creative Music Studio (CMS) opened in Woodstock, New York, with an unconventional aim: invite artists—regardless of their musical ability, socioeconomic status, or culture—to live and play together, using the universal language of sound. It became a breeding ground for musical cross-pollination and spontaneity, hosting numerous virtuosos, including MacArthur “Genius” Grant winners John Cage, John Zorn, and Charlie Haden, and redefining music-making as an act of listening, observing, and reacting. 

Today, the organization is helmed by experimental artist, drummer, and composer Billy Martin, who’s introducing its methodology to a new generation. (A friend of The Slowdown, he also wrote the jingle for our Time Sensitive podcast.) Martin recently unveiled Creative Music Workshop, an online platform that builds on CMS’s legacy with free masterclasses and an ever-growing library of archival footage from workshops past. This week, it began the first of five week-long digital presentations by the jazz-fusion band Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW), of which Martin is the drummer, called “Inside the Minds, Outside the Lines.” “Our general philosophy is to continuously reinvent ourselves,” Martin says of MMW, which plans to detail strategies for others, musicians or not, to do exactly that. As with CMS, which has long believed that anyone’s innate creativity can create something new, Martin sees beauty in moments where people simply let things happen. “Being playful, not thinking too much, not conceptualizing ahead of time—you can use those ideas every day,” he says. “Improvisation is a metaphor for life.” 

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Smell
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Stimulating Squash
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Photo: Fredde 99
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According to Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, the neurologist and psychiatrist who founded Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, nearly 20 percent of people who suffer from a diminished sense of smell also suffer from sexual dysfunction. “We’re certainly not the first to acknowledge this,” he told the medical journal Alternative & Complementary Therapies. “More than a hundred years ago Freud said that, in order for society to remain civilized, it was necessary to repress our olfactory instincts.” The most effective smell for arousing men, his team discovered, is that of pumpkin—specifically, pumpkin mixed with the scent of lavender. In a study conducted by Hirsch’s foundation, 40 percent of participants—who were each connected to a plethysmograph, a device that measures blood flow caused by sexual arousal—were turned on the most by the distinct autumn aroma, which was delivered via a scented mask along with 23 other fragrances. 

Hirsch isn’t exactly sure why the scent of an orange squash lights a man’s fire. It could be the pathway that connects the olfactory bulb to pleasure centers in the brain, his team suggests, or the “odors could induce a Pavlovian conditioned response reminding subjects of their sexual partners or their favorite foods.” (Remarkably, 20 percent of participants got a thrill from the scent combination of pumpkin and doughnuts.) While the jury’s still out on the reasons behind the gourd’s titillating effects, one thing is all but certain: The next time we get a whiff of pumpkin spice, fall festivities won’t be the only thing that comes to mind.

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun. Tiffany Jow contributed the Hear and Smell columns.

Co-Editors: Spencer Bailey and Tiffany Jow
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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