For my first meal in my new kitchen, I wanted to cook chili, a dish easily prepared in the space of a Lazy Sunday afternoon. Shopping at Fairway, a labyrinthine and beautiful grocery store at 132nd Street, I spied ground lamb. Although Serious Eats offers an excessively complex-almost self-parodically so-beef chili recipe, I prefer a simpler scoop of beans and meat. My dorm kitchen, shared with six suite mates, is a claustrophobe's nightmare. There's no room for voluminous ingredient lists, let alone a host of tabletop appliances set aside for processing coffee beans and esoteric spices. Fortunately, great tasting chili is, for me, a matter of imprecision, intuition, improvisation, and an ex-mad scientist's soul, one turned away from Enlightenment rationalism and embracing of melodramatics.
Chili is a recurring topic on this blog; I've made thick chili from ground chuck,pulled chicken chili, and hillbilly chili from deer meat. In a chili suited for weeknight dinners and Sunday suits, I look for utilitarian simplicity. No Romantic stylings or smirking are appropriate. The following lamb chili most closely resembles my deer chili: it tastes gamey: it exhales musky post-party smoke ring from its luscious bubbles.
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pound ground lamb
3 ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 can San Marzano tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
salt and black pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions and garlic and sauté until tender and translucent. Add the ground lamb. Brown it. Add the fresh tomatoes. Mash them up with your spatula. Add all the other ingredients. Stir. Cook for 2 and 1/2 hours until the chili reaches the desired level of thickness. Serve with shredded cheese or sour cream.
In blog posts of this sort, to offer commentary after a recipe is to diverge from convention. I feel compelled, however, to remark on Jane Addams' address The Subjective Necessity of Social Settlement. Addams first delivered the speech in 1892, but it achieved greater renown when Addams included it inTwenty Years at Hull House. What impresses me about The Subjective Necessity of Social Settlements is not necessarily Addams' evangelical call to the social gospel, but rather her prescient description of hipster culture. The youth of Addams' epoch bear a striking verisimilitude to the twenty-somethings currently languishing in their parents' basements or baking macarons. Addams' writes of a young people who bear the brunt of being cultivated into unnourished, oversensitive lives. They have been shut off from the common labor by which they live which is a great source of moral and physical health. They feel a fatal want of harmony between their theory and their lives, a lack of coördination between thought and action. While Addams sets out to analyze why these young people have taken up the notion of human brotherhood, it seems to me that the young people of my generation are increasingly separated from the benevolent improvement of human welfare. Our young people do long to socialize their democracy, albeit not by works of charity directed towards our society's neediest. Instead, hipsters and the new lost generation of twentyish folk dissimulate their wealth and engage in frivolous, dilettantish activities. As Addams observes, We have in America a fast-growing number of cultivated young people who have no recognized outlet for their active faculties. They hear constantly of the great social maladjustment, but no way is provided for them to change it, and their uselessness hangs about them heavily. Hence why so many well-educated and still well-moneyed twenty-year-olds live in terrifically lousy dens in Brooklyn and repurpose shipwrecked wood and steel to make restaurants devoted to regional American cooking that barely disguise commitments to post-industrial capitalism. Huxley declares that the sense of uselessness is the severest shock which the human system can sustain, and that if persistently sustained, it results in atrophy of function. As an aesthetic or ethical movement, New Brooklyn Cuisine and hipster food and even local-sustainable-organic cooking represent an atrophying of social awareness and charitable function and basic empathy. How can we allow so many marginalized individuals to live in hunger while we weep over fairytale eggplants? Our obsession with everything artisanal-sodas, popsicles, repurposed ethnic food, soul food, Southern food-is a refusal to engage with the immense, and admittedly unapproachable, problems of poverty and race in America. The people at the vanguard of these hip bourgeois movements have had the advantages of college, of European travel, and of economic study, but they are sustaining this shock of inaction. They have pet phrases, and they tell you that the things that make us all alike are stronger than the things that make us different. They say that all men are united by needs and sympathies far more permanent and radical than anything that temporarily divides them and sets them in opposition to each other. But they only act in the most limited of spheres. But they abnegate responsibility for their own lifestyles. But they ignore the complex consequences of their own charities. A hipster or organic lifestyle's subversions merely perpetuate the dominant structures of power. And so many of them [the big THEM] dissipate their energies in so-called enjoyment. Others not content with that, go on studying and go back to college for their second degrees; not that they are especially fond of study, but because they want something definite to do, and their powers have been trained in the direction of mental accumulation. Many are buried beneath this mental accumulation which lowered vitality and discontent. I admit, I have been guilty of what Addams calls mental accumulation. Thus, the inevitable question rears its head: how to change? In answer, Addams references Walter Besant's notion of the sense of humanity. It is not philanthropy nor benevolence, but a thing fuller and wider than either of these.
As the essay progresses, Addams expounds on the sense of humanity in terms of Christian humanitarianism. Despite my skepticism at Addams' claim that such a movement occurs irrespective of propaganda and absent of dogma, and my general rejection of Addams' solution in favor of her initial proposition, I believe in the guiding principle of the Settlement: It is an attempt to relieve, at the same time, the over accumulation at one end of society and the destitution at the other. . . Unfortunately, so much of charity today is the rich helping the slightly less rich, and in the process avoiding the potential juxtaposition of the ultimate to have and to have not. Such an extreme encounter must constitute the new new objectivity.
Jason Bell is the founder and editor of The College Critic. He has written for Food Republic, Alimentum, and the Columbia Review.