Author: Larissa Banitt

Artificial islands not the fix for rising waters

While the United States of America remains the only country in the world to not have signed the Paris climate accord, some countries today are already planning to combat the effects of climate change.  Continue reading “Artificial islands not the fix for rising waters”

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A Romantic’s Take on July 20, 1969

A girl in a cotton dress and cat eye glasses

sits cross legged on the floor,

a copy of Jane Eyre clutched across her chest. 

She’s staring at the moon

Through her grainy, rabbit eared television

and thinking of the trope in stories of lovers

torn apart from each other by fate

who look at the moon and find solace

knowing wherever their beloved is, 

they have the same moon to look up to.

She wonders if the families of the men 

On her screen have that same solace now.

Knowing that if they look up to the moon, 

Not only will they know their loved ones 

Will be looking at it too (between their feet),

The families will be gazing right at them, 

though their distance makes the men

smaller than specks of dust.

Her parents start when her book

Thumps on the floor, Her hands 

outstretched on the carpet behind her.

They ask if she’s ok, but she only nods,

Too embarrassed to say she suddenly felt

Like she had peering into the

Grand Canyon last summer,

As tiny and insignificant as a grain of sand

Next to the expanse of the ocean.

She lays in bed that night,

With moonlight casting shadows 

across her quilt and decides

That love stories would be much more tragic

If they took place among the stars.

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Starbucks Reserve Bars up the coffee game

It is a little ironic that a small coffee shop in hipster Seattle with a bare-breasted mermaid as its logo has become an integral part of “mainstream” culture. 

Perhaps a desire to stay ahead of the curve was an impetus for launching the Starbucks Reserve Bars, with select stores in cities around the country and world. 

According to the Starbucks Newsroom, Reserve Bars are “an interactive space, where customers can relax near the amber glow of the Siphon brewer or watch the slow, steady pour of Nitro Cold Brew cascade into a glass.” 

The pictures in the accompanying article show stores with spacious interiors finished with wood, black walls and hanging light fixtures.

The reserve coffee itself is described with words like small-lot, single origin, unique, limited edition and microclimate.

Sound pretentious? Absolutely. Does the minimalist black and bronze logo do anything to assuage this? Nope. But hear me out, because these stores are nonetheless a cause for coffee lovers to rejoice. 

Due to how new the bars are and how few locations are open, there are unfortunately none close to Northfield, but I recently attended the New York Coffee Festival where Starbucks had a Reserve Bar stall. 

I sampled their siphon-brewed coffee, which is created with a fancy apparatus that siphons liquid between two chambers via heating and cooling during the brewing process. While the whole production was more involved than a simple espresso machine or pour-over, the resulting coffee was incredibly smooth, which the friendly, beanie-clad woman making the coffee told me was a result of this particular brewing process – that, and a characteristic of the certain type of bean they were using. 

Another drink they were sampling was a combination of espresso and ginger beer, which was surprisingly delicious. It was new and different, and I got the distinctly hipster feeling that I had discovered something before it was cool. A feeling that only slightly abated when the Stumptown Coffee stall gave me an almost identical sample. 

As showy as these new drinks and techniques are, the product is tasty and the passion of the people driving the bars is genuine. 

I think it is great that Starbucks is continuing to try new things and improve customers’ experiences instead of resting on their laurels. 

By opening new stores, they are creating a space for people to access innovative ways of consuming their favorite caffeinated beverage while holding onto the long time favorites of the original stores.

One good thing about Starbucks getting to be such a major presence is that it made good coffee accessible to the masses. Places around the country where before the best cup of coffee available was watery drip coffee from the closest diner now likely have a Starbucks somewhere nearby.

Reserve Bars have the potential, to some extent, to mimic that idea. To give people access to a place where they can experience things like nitrogen infused cold brew and siphon-brewed coffee.

It is unlikely Reserve Bars will ever be as ubiquitous as regular Starbucks, but I hope that they are successful enough to continue to expand. 

Because while some of the drinks they are offering may sound kind of out there, I don’t think they are anymore outrageous than spiced gourd flavored coffee used to be, and look how popular it is today. 

Through things like the pumpkin spice latte and other seasonal and limited time specialty drinks, the regular Starbucks stores have shown that every day coffee drinkers are excited about new ways of drinking coffee too. It’s not just for connoisseurs. These drinks may not always be successful taste-wise (think unicorn frappuccino) but they are more times than not, and they are always fun.

By thinking so far out of the box, Starbucks is taking the experience to a whole new level, and that is absolutely somthing to be excited about.

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Student journalism is a very important platform for opinions

New Northfield restaurant wows

It was a warm spring night in Northfield when my roommate, Stella Quale ’19, and I stepped into The Smoqehouse.

The barbeque restuarant, which just opened next door to the iconic store A Bag Lady, replaced a non-descript smoothie and pastry place that sported rows of brown booths.

The space has been remodeled to accomodate several high tables, a bar that overlooks Division Street and the public library and a seating area of more traditional tables.

As we walked in, the exposed brick walls, corrugated tin ceiling and bluesy indie rock playing in background screamed rustic restaurant in the deep South. But the careful construction of the aesthetic screamed hipster, including artfully dangling light bulbs and a dessert special of vanilla soft serve topped with olive oil, ghost pepper and smoked flavored sea salts purchased locally from “Northfield Olive Oils and Vinegars” (which was delicious by the way). It was a combination that worked very well and created a fun, casual dining environment.

“I felt comfortable the moment I walked in,” Quale said, “and the man who took our order was engaging and kind.”

She ordered the brisket burger, while I ordered the pulled pork and the soup du jour: sausage and veggie. We split a side of fries. While they did not have a gluten free bun substitute for me, the man who took our order was incredibly accomodating with putting the pork on the side.

I later learned that this lack of a substitute was due to the fact that The Smoqehouse gets all their buns from Brick Oven Bakery and they don’t make gluten free buns (yet), so really it’s the bakery’s fault.

Regardless, the ordering experience was a lot less painful than it often is for someone who is sensitive to gluten like I am, which was already a huge plus. They also have a vegetarian dish, though options in that department are somewhat limited. Vegans should probably consider dining elsewhere.

The food, when it arrived on diner-style metal trays and waxed paper, was divine.

“It was really good. The burger was the best thing I’d had to eat in weeks,” Quale said.

The pulled pork melted in my mouth and the secret sauce they included with the generous serving of fries was terrific. The portions were perfect and the price was extremely reasonable.

I was sad I couldn’t try everything on the menu, and quickly decided that I would have to return to work my way through their offerings.

“10 out of 10, would recommend and go again,” Quale said.

Long story short: Northfield has a new contender on the dining scene. Whether as a place to take dates, friends or visitng family, I highly recommend you check out The Smoqehouse.

banitt1@stolaf.edu

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“Exclusively gay moment” creates controversy

The live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” has been out for less than a week, but even before it hit the silver screen it garnered worldwide praise and criticism for one thing: Disney’s decision to make LeFou canonically gay.

The decision to give a side character in the story an “exclusively gay moment” has already caused the film to be banned from at least one Alabama drive-in theater and made Disney pull all screenings from Malaysia entirely when the company found out that censors had cut the moment from the version that would be showing in the country. It has also caused Russia to restrict those under 16 from watching this movie that was made in large part for children.

Activists and actors like Sir Ian McKellan, a gay man himself, have spoken out against the censors and critics.

“People who don’t like the idea of gay characters appearing in fairy stories should think what they would think if they were gay themselves and why they should be excluded,” McKellan said at the film’s New York premiere.

His point gets at the heart of why so many members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are praising Disney for this move. Despite an upsurge in the cultural acceptance of LGBTQ+ folk, the community is still very under-represented in the media, especially in the realm of complex characters who are not stereotypes or the butt of a joke.

Hopefully, the Lefou in this version of “Beauty and the Beast” is the beginning of more explicit representation from Disney and other production companies that may follow suit. Explicitness is crucially important in LGBTQ+ representation. It is easy to watch the animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” and speculate that Lefou might “play for the other team” and have a crush on Gaston. There is plenty of subtextual evidence suggesting that.

The problem with having potentially not-straight characters’ sexualities only hinted at subtextually is that people who don’t want, say, animated Lefou to be gay don’t have to see him that way, and thus production companies can deny his identity to dodge controversy by telling fans of subtextually queer Lefou “you’re reading too much into it.”

Is Lefou the perfect first explicitly gay Disney character? No. He’s the side kick of the main villain of the story. While many think of Lefou as a sympathetic character, he is still in many ways an antogonist, so making him queer is perhaps uncomfortably reminiscent of the tradition of recent films to queer-code their villains.

Essentially, queer-coding means that villains were given affects or lines that suggested they were queer to enhance their deviancy. Scar from “The Lion King,” Hades from “Hercules” and Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” are examples from Disney films alone.

In a perfect world, there would be queer heroes and villains and everything in between. People would not make a distinction as one being more problematic than the other, because in real life queer people are just as complex as non-queer people and film roles would just be reflecting that.

Consider the state of underrepresentation of explicitly queer characters and the tradition of queer-coding though, it would have been nice for a character who is clearly a protagonist to have gotten the first “exclusively gay moment” in a Disney film.

I was personally rooting for #GiveElsaAGirlfriend or for a budding romance between a certain Rebel Alliance fighter pilot and Stormtrooper deserter to be Disney’s first crack at explicit representation (Although I refuse rule out either of these for the future).

Given the international controversy a minor character like Lefou managed to stir up, it may have been prudent for Disney to start small. Making Lefou queer may not have been the perfect first choice in my book, but he certainly appears to be a step in the right direction. Provided, of course, that Disney and companies like it continue to make an effort to make queer people visible in their stories and give them roles that go beyond caricature or side kick.

banitt1@stolaf.edu

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