Friday, December 26, 2014

Goalposts and Latitude

I haven't burned food - or seriously overcooked it - in many years. If you're ruining your food every once in a while, you're not applying nearly enough care and attention.

I grew up in a family where "burned" was one of the five basic food tastes (we didn't do "umami"). Just as Heineken drinkers become accustomed to the flavor of spoiled beer (the green bottles allow light to interact with the hops, creating a skunky flavor many drinkers have come to associate with "the great imported taste"), and just as consumers are conditioned to find rancidity palatable, we, like most people, considered the occasional burnt result to be within normal thresholds. But it's not. Nothing should ever be burnt or badly overcooked.

Cooking is not multitaskable. I'm as compulsive an iPhone user as anyone, but I've never once checked email while cooking. I pay far closer attention than most people imagine to be necessary. If occasional burning is acceptable to you (even if you throw away the results!), your attitude toward cooking is entirely wrong. You're not getting it!

I once proposed that losing weight costs $1000/pound. My point was that weight loss is a far more granular and high-stakes proposition than most dieters imagine - which is why most dieters fail. Dieting is less a matter of willpower than of careful attention. Those who don't pay attention will find their efforts undone by mounting lapses. Diets aren't ruined by the lapses, any more than pork chops are ruined by the distractions. The problem in both cases is a misconceived sense of priority from the start.

Similarly, the professional musician's trick to playing consistently in-tune is to aim to be far more precisely in tune than you need to be. A serviceable A-natural can be conjured up anywhere between 439.7hz and 440.3hz, but if you relax into that full latitude, you will unavoidable miss those goalposts from time to time*, whereas those who shoot for 439.999hz to 440.001hz never miss so widely.

* - this is the true meaning of the oft-misunderstood Murphy's Law

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