During a recent guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey introduced the term "sheet caking," which she used to describe the practice of eating an entire cake in response to upsetting news coverage. And although her satirical remarks led to a public debate about the ethics of joking about the use of dessert foods as a substitute for actual civic engagement (including a panel discussion about the incident on WXXI's Connections with Evan Dawson), nobody seemed to argue with the assertion that the media we consume can influence our eating habits.
So, as many Rochestarians begin implementing their New Year's resolutions, rather than simply focusing on eating better and exercising more, it might be worth taking some time to address our media diets to ensure that we don't derail our healthy efforts by "sheet caking."
In his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," celebrated food journalist Michael Pollan explores the complex systems involved in U.S. food production, and the ways that technologies force us to make difficult, and sometimes harmful, decisions about the way that we eat. Similarly, one of the challenges to regulating the media we consume is the diversity of choices readily available to us. Between books, magazines, radio, TV, movies, websites, and social media, it's easy for us to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of media we experience on a daily basis.
Pollan ultimately suggests that one of the best things we can do for ourselves, and the world in general, is to eat locally-sourced foods — a concept that has certainly been embraced in Rochester.
After the popularity of The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan wrote Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, featuring a list of 64 simple eating guidelines, in response to readers who asked him "What should I eat?" So, here are some suggested applications of Pollan's own food rules to help you design your own local media diet this year.
Eat [Consume media] when you are hungry [engaged], not when you are bored.
Being engaged with the media you consume doesn't have to mean getting dressed and going out to sit in a theater, but it does mean that you probably shouldn't consume all your media while lying with your laptop on your belly.
A good place to ease into your local media diet is a branch of the Monroe Public Library. Even if you just want to check out a few DVDs, it's nice to get into the habit of going to the public library and curb the temptation to escape reality by binge watching TV in bed –just like going to the public market is a great way to limit the amount of junk food you buy.
Eat [Consume] all the junk food [media] you want as long as you cook [make] it yourself.
In the same way that a chef might start out as an adventurous eater, consuming media can also be part of the process of making your own media. Being involved with the production of media is a great way to make the media you consume feel more accessible by recognizing how the labor that goes into it fits together. And there are plenty of places where you can take classes and workshops to see how the media sausage is made. For instance, after taking a workshop to hone your wordsmithery at Writers & Books, you can learn to print and bind your own books in the Flower City Arts Center's extensive printmaking and book arts center.
Once you've made some media of your own, you might consider sharing your work in an annual event, like the Rochester Contemporary Art Center's 6x6 exhibition, in which all entries simply have to meet the criteria of being a six-by-six-inch square. Or bring your home movies to the Visual Studies Workshop for its annual Home Movie Day. You can even share your media making skills with others by signing up to teach a class at Rochester Brainery.
Pay more, [consume] less [media]
This is a food rule that may not be completely applicable to local media consumption habits because so much great local media can be very cheap or even free (like the paper you're reading right now!).
Many of the cultural institutions in Rochester have membership programs which easily pay for themselves in reduced prices or free admission and other member benefits. But whether you choose to donate or not, you can enjoy local commercial-free radio at WAYO 104.3 and Rochester Free Radio 106.3 any time.
Luckily, Rochester's rich film history provides plenty of opportunities to experience new and classic movies, including original prints and curated film series at local staples, such as The Little Theatre, The Dryden Theatre, and Visual Studies Workshop. These events sometimes include discussions by the filmmakers or a panel of guests, and admission is often as little as $5, donation-only, or free.
And if you feel like you just need a break, don't forget that the Strasenburgh Planetarium at The Rochester Museum and Science Center is outfitted with seats that recline to a practically horizontal position from which you can be fully immersed in the deliciously virtual environments of night skies, underwater seascapes, and laser shows. At least for a little while.