Entries Tagged as 'food'

Fat and Unemployed is No Way to Live

November 19th, 2011 at 12:45 am 35 Comments

‘Galatea’ is a columnist writing about her experience looking for work after her recent downsizing. Previous entries in her series can be read here.

It took me a few weeks to stop spending all my free time lying face down in my bed after I sent out my resumes, hospital thinking about how much my life sucked now that I didn’t have a job. The pizza boxes and sodas clustered around my bed like tiny mountains, illness and occasionally I’d roll over onto my back and onto a pile of laundry that I was too unmotivated to fold.

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The Fat Diaries: Food Pantries Finally Get the Publicity They Need

October 15th, 2011 at 2:34 am 2 Comments

The Sesame Street special on hunger in America (which I discussed last week) “Growing Hope Against Hunger” aired on October 2nd and I was able to catch 99% of it. The missing 1% was due to my kids fighting over a large cardboard box that our new air filter just came in. Not even Elmo could tear them from that kind of fun. I was impressed at the job Sesame Street did.

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The Fat Diaries: It’s a Struggle Keeping Out Bad Influences

September 30th, 2011 at 5:50 pm Comments Off

My kids are finally reaching that age where I’m not involved in every aspect of their life. A few years ago I decided what they ate for breakfast lunch and dinner. I came up with, nurse or at least supervised every activity they pursued. I enforced good manners from the moment they woke up to the moment they went to bed. That is no longer the case.

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When Did South Florida Become a Food Mecca?

September 15th, 2011 at 1:13 am 9 Comments

I spend a lot of time–mostly on business–in South Florida. Tuesday night I was across the street from one of only six Skyline Chili locations outside of metropolitan Cincinnati (all of them in Florida). I ate some authentic St. Louis style BBQ ribs with onions that was just like what you’d get in the Mound City. For reasons I can’t figure out, South Florida has become a true mecca for regional foods.

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Eat, Pray, Eat Again

June 17th, 2011 at 6:23 pm 1 Comment

In the film Bridesmaids, there is a scene in which Kristen Wiig, after snubbing a kind-hearted man vying for her romantic attention, feels guilty for it. So what does she do? She bakes a beautifully ornate cupcake — and then proceeds to devour it immediately. This laborious scene lasts a only few minutes which, in comparison to Hollywood’s latest offerings, is mercifully short. Does this signify that we are nearing the end of a terrible trend in the film industry — one that constantly connects female happiness to food?

Food is no longer a theme in the cooking-show sense of the word, where a movie, such as Julie & Julia is about cooking and little more, or it makes its appearance in passing as physical sustenance. Rather, it seems that food has morphed into a symbol of “spiritual” sustenance. We see this therapeutic aspect briefly in the aforementioned Bridesmaids, but almost entirely in Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts’s latest attempt to inundate the movie-going masses with phoney messages of the soul, and what it truly means to be happy.

The movie does this with panoramic zooms of exotic locales (where joy is always just around the corner!), and seemingly incessant shots of the degustation of “goodhearted” food prepared by “goodhearted” people such as smoked eggplant and ricotta, and pappardelle with rabbit ragu.

In the course of “finding herself” after a divorce, Julia Roberts — after a (thankfully) brief dalliance with James Franco’s character, a humming, drumming Buddhist — leaves Manhattan for Rome.

The film then drowns the viewer with shot after shot of fresh greens being chopped up, homemade pasta being strained, and laughing conversation over interminable meals. Roberts’ character, Elizabeth, proceeds to find her identity not so much in any spiritual or emotional revelation, but more in the various rustic dishes she enjoys. Contentment lies, as she tells a friend, in gaining weight if it makes them happy. And if we are what we eat, then Elizabeth is a plate of linguine.

This isn’t the first time such a message is set forth. In the 2009 Italian film, I Am Love, Tilda Swinton’s character — again, a middle-aged woman — is faced with the fact that her family is changing, and she has no control over this; the family company is being passed down, her children have grown up and are getting married. So what does she do? She takes on a younger lover, one who also happens to be a chef. After having sex, they partake in the supposedly uniting ritual of cooking.

What is it about food, cooking, and women of a certain age? For the female characters in Bridesmaids, I Am Love and Eat Pray Love—and also with Meryl Streep, in It’s Complicated-- cooking acts as the only refuge in a time of emergency. It allows the woman to create something, and then decide its fate immediately by eating it, or having it eaten. She has full control, while the rest of her life is a tangled, independent mess where nothing is certain, allowing her, the “time to murder and create,” as Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Why attempt to take charge of life, when one can take charge of the kitchen? It might be easier to wipe down a granite counter-top than tears off a face, but regardless, this is the newly-masked sexism in film, and it would be a shame for viewers to think that these are independent women, while in fact they are the weakly veiled representations of the housewife from years gone by, something which women have striven so hard to escape, and yet, now accept as the ideal.

But if that shortened cupcake scene in Bridesmaids is anything to go by, it’s that films are veering away from the literal food-for-thought motif.  Let’s hope that Hollywood will choose something a bit more interesting than a pastry as the way to a happy, fulfilling life.

The Fat Diaries: I’ll Miss My Food Pyramid

June 3rd, 2011 at 6:41 pm 8 Comments

When I was a kid, and the PE teacher used to give us lectures on health.  PE class was always a trial for me. I was one of those kids who was always on the sidelines, prescription clutching my inhaler like it was a magic talisman against jarred fingers and rug-burn. Needless to say, pills the teachers always thought I was a lost cause since I couldn’t kick a kickball, run a lap or hit a whiffleball. They pretty much implied that by being a sick-y, I would never be an all-American, Schwarzenegger-looking, healthy young person. When we were being lectured on nutrition, I always got some pointed looks from the teachers. Then in 1992 we were gathered cross-legged on the gym floor and showed a pyramid. This was supposed to solve all our problems nutrition-wise.

There was an enormous base of bread and pasta, a colorful tier of fruits and veggies, a tier of dairy and protein and a starry field on the top of the pyramid labeled “fats, oils and sweets”. We colored in charts with crayons, and made our own charts with pictures of foods cut out from magazines (It was kind of sad how many pictures of cookies, Twinkies, Little Debbie cakes and Gushers fruit snacks we tried to cram into that top triangle). And of course we got stuff wrong. We were informed by our teacher that potatoes were not vegetables, that cake was not a grain and that Slim Jims were not meat.  And after we studied the pyramid, every one of us kids noticed something. No one ate 11 servings of bread a day. Some of us didn’t even eat meat every day.  And being children, vegetables were to be avoided and scorned.  For a ten-year-old, this was a curious puzzle.

This chart was made by our beloved and infallible government, which I held in awe and terror. I was also convinced that the government had at its disposal learned scientists like Einstein and Batman to reign over ignorance. How then did they create a chart that so poorly reflected my life? I asked my mom about why we didn’t eat 11 servings of bread a day. I even got upset about it a few times. Eventually my mom told me to quit overdramatizing, that her meals were perfectly healthy, and if I was so worried about my health that I might try getting a little more exercise. Exercise? That wasn’t on the pyramid! I was stumped. Two omnipotent forces in my life were contradicting each other and I didn’t know which one to believe.  So I did what most 10-year-olds did: I ignored it and watched TV until I forgot about it.

The pyramid was still an intrusive force in my life, but I just nodded my head and colored in the worksheets like a good little android. My mother and the school cafeteria were still selecting what food I ate and I had little influence over either. The most input I had on my daily meals was selecting a breakfast cereal.

Needless to say, the pyramid over its nearly 20-year career has failed miserably. It’s been criticized as misleading, inaccurate, and everything else. It got a makeover in 2005 by including exercise, but that failed horribly too. So this week, the Government has released a new advisory graphic called “choose my plate” and given it a new website.  The graphic itself is fairly straightforward: a plate, divided into four sections, each sporting a food group. Dairy has sadly been reallocated to a tiny glass in the corner (which I personally don’t agree with) and a whopping half of the plate is dominated by fruits and vegetables, with the grains and meat fighting for dominance of the other half.

This will probably get me a lot of censure as a meal planner and mom, but when I saw how many fruits and veggies were supposed to fit on that plate, I uttered a very loud, “WHAT THE CRAP?” This went against everything that was inadvertently drummed into my head — that whole grains were the most important.  (Hey! I guess I was paying attention!) Not only that, but a few things were left a little vague. Does this plate represent my day or just any given meal? Where do dairy products that are not milk (like cheese and yogurt) fit in? How do I cram so many fruits and vegetables into my fridge and then manage to eat them before they go bad?  Why is 2% milk no longer considered low-fat?

I was a little annoyed at all the applause this icon is getting too. People are lauding it as life-changing and a superb overhaul, etc. It’s just a picture. It’s as vague and meaningless to a 10-year-old as the other picture was, because kids don’t make those choices. I mean, yes, thanks for trying, and yes, thanks for teaching this to kids, but then don’t send them to a school cafeteria where their serving of vegetables are going to be French fries or salty canned corn.  Consequently, completely removing sugars and fats (dubbed by Sesame Street as “sometimes foods”) is just ignoring the biggest elephant in the room. It gives viewers no clue as to how often or how many treats should be allowed.

One thing I approve of is the website’s emphasis on portion control. They advise you to eat off smaller plates to avoid overindulgence. In addition we’re encouraged to avoid processed foods (which unfortunately they refer to as “frozen meals” — again, kind of vague). They also say that you should “compare numbers” to pick food that’s lower in sodium, but then don’t give you any idea about how many milligrams to shoot for.

The website still has to update their section for kids (and subsequently what our kids will be taught in school), but I’m pretty sure it will be similar to my nutritional education on the carpeted gym floor and involve crayons and glue sticks. I just don’t see how this plate will function any better than the pyramid, nor do I really understand what people hope it will achieve other than giving people a VERY general idea.  As a tool for parents, teachers and students it seems pretty useless. The only thing that I’m optimistic about is how this will affect school nutrition programs. If the schools have to adopt these guidelines in their lunch programs, I’m all for it (provided that ketchup and potatoes stay out of the veg section).

As for the kids, I get the feeling that they’ll do what generations of kids have already done with the pyramid: pay minimal attention, color their worksheets and forget about it — that is until another graphic comes out that changes everything again.

The Fat Diaries: Can I Have That Downsized?

May 27th, 2011 at 9:57 pm 3 Comments

Lately, buy cialis people have been complaining that companies are cutting back on the size of food portions. The chips come in smaller bags, medical the cookies come in smaller boxes, sale and even the food itself is smaller. We can pretty much blame this on the rise in food prices, affecting everything from milk to eggs to meat and sugar. Since companies don’t want to substantially raise their prices, they’ve decided to compromise and make the portions smaller. It’s pretty evident when 8 oz of chips becomes 6 oz, less so when those 8 toaster pastries are just a little smaller and a lot of Americans feel like they’re being cheated. They are getting indignant or even downright angry over the change!

Public opinion aside, I think this is a GOOD thing for America. The fact that food companies are choosing to make packaged portions smaller actually suggests they may be listening to our demands for healthier options. In fact, some companies are jumping on the fact that smaller portions mean fewer calories. The sneaky part is when they advertise their smaller packages as being lower calorie when they haven’t changed the formula.

Still, in a capitalist sense this is America really taking lemons and making low-sugar lemon-flavored Crystal Light. And I have to say, I like it. I LOVE that Starbucks now has teeny-weenie cake-pops that are only 200 calories. Don’t get me wrong, $3 for two bites of chocolate cake is grossly expensive, but hunger-wise it’s just as satisfying as paying $6 for a scone the size of my head, and there’s no guilt afterwards (except for the wasting $3 part).

Teeny-tiny ice-cream sandwiches in the grocery store, smaller crackers, smaller yogurt pots — it’s working out well for me! I’m eating less calories and still feeling full while still spending about the same on my weekly grocery bill. When you consider that specialty health food costs MUCH more money than average food, one of its chief tools for weight loss can be… wait for it… portion control. Simply eating less food costs less than a commercialized diet meal plan or a gym membership.  The only thing left to lose is our sense of entitlement – something which could potentially scuttle this great movement.

One mentality that Americans have, which is one of the reasons (I think) that we’re battling an obesity epidemic, is this mindset that we need more food because we deserve it.  “How dare you make my food smaller! I work hard, I deserve the biggest ice-cream cone money can buy!” “I’ve had a hellish week I deserve a burger — not piddly quarter-pounder— I deserve a GIANT burger made out of 2 lbs of Angus beef!” Well my fellow fat Americans, bigger isn’t better. Being the nation with the largest number of heart-related deaths should be proof of that.

So rather than feeling entitled to that extra 2 ounces of food, I’m going to heave a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to pay an extra 2 bucks for those extra ounces that I shouldn’t be eating anyway.

And my message to the food corporations of America is this, “Can I have that downsized, please?”

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The Fat Diaries: Beware the Vending Machine Diet

May 13th, 2011 at 6:33 pm 2 Comments

New rules are being proposed by the FDA that could (if approved) make some changes in the world of vending machines. The feds want the calorie content of each item sold to be prominently displayed next to or on the machines themselves, seek much like restaurants have been required to do on menus.  Now I said “yippy” when they did this in restaurants, cialis and I even did a victory dance when they required movie theatres to do this, but as far as vending machines go, I’m not so sure.

In its favor, I like the new caloric display rules. I like going into a restaurant and knowing the calorie content of my meal. I like knowing that I weigh my options more carefully and that I have to stop and ask myself: am I really hungry enough for a 500 calorie sandwich or will the 230 calorie soup be enough? If they post calorie information on vending machines, people are more empowered to make healthy choices (even if that choice is to skip the machine and bring a sandwich from home).

But on the other hand this seems a little redundant and the logistics of it seem like a nightmare. Even the FDA admitted it was stumped and couldn’t provide many feasible solutions as to how this should be done.

For one thing, the calorie content of snacks is ALREADY printed on all the packaging. In revolving machines, one can usually spot the labels on sandwiches and some chips. In spiral machines, you can’t see them though. This problem could be solved by simply flipping the packaging around, but then you’d lose the product name. Some companies are beginning to package their products with calorie content on the front of the bags. If they start doing so on the front of their single-size packages that would solve this problem.

Some proposals suggested that signs or posters displaying a comprehensive list of the contents and the calorie count be hung next to the machines.  The problem with this is that the content of vending machines is in constant flux. When one product doesn’t move it’s switched out for another. This would require the nutrition signs to be (a) cheap and easily replaceable ; (b) in a medium where content can be easily updated, for example a digital sign – though this of course would need to be durable and tamper-resistant, or (c) display every conceivable item that could ever be sold in the vending machine.

One idea I came up with in my mad imagination with is to have a “general calorie count” sign where approximate calorie counts are given by types of items. Chips: 200-250 calories. Or chocolate bars: 130-200 calories. It wouldn’t be foolproof, but combined with the nutritional information on the packets, one could make some general estimates.

A way to accommodate schools where there are vending machines (and there are already proposals in this vein) would be to limit the types of food that go in machines in the first place. Many schools are already restricting machine selections to snack foods that are low calorie and healthy.  But as for office buildings, there’s nothing that can really restrict vending machine contents. That’s for the office-dwellers to work on. And some have gotten proactive and done this.

They start petitions! They leave post-it notes on windows and hold meetings about vending machine snacks! We’re not powerless drones in this situation; we CAN affect change when it comes to vending machine content without relying on the government to make mandates for us. So until the FDA comes up with a solution, let’s come up with our own.

My solution? I skip the vending machine entirely. I’ve known the pitfalls of living on vending machine food in high school and college and it brought me nothing but heart ache, acne and rotten teeth.  It’s just one of those things I had to swear off of when I decided to drastically change my eating habits. It’s also the one thing I miss the least. There’s nothing that bugs me more than paying a buck-fifty for a bag of chips I could make for twenty cents. I bring my own snacks and lunches to the pool, gym, and work (when I do work in a building) and I use my own selection of healthier food from home. If it’s just a passing 3:00pm fancy when I really need a sugar rush, I ignore it and look for a water fountain instead.

Having absolutely no quarters on my person helps this resolution a great deal, but it kind of sucks when we have to take the toll road.

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The Fat Diaries: Can You Sleep Your Way to Skinny?

May 6th, 2011 at 6:35 pm 3 Comments

So how was your weekend? A doozy right? A royal wedding and the bad guy dies. Sounds like a Shakespeare play (or maybe a Disney movie). But if you’re like my house, illness you stayed up late or got up early to watch both… which meant you got approximately 18 hours of sleep from Friday to Monday (bleech). Why can’t news happen at a decent hour?

I think most of America was haggard, rx pale and unwashed on Monday morning which probably meant we were ALL craving massive amounts of carbohydrates. I actually broke down at the gas station (weeping, pills sobbing, etc.) before I marched into McDonalds and bought a small #1 combo meal with a coffee frappe.

It’s been pounded into our head since we were old enough to whine, “but I’m not TIRED, Mom!”  that sleep is important. The amount of sleep we get affects how well ALL of our systems run including our immune system, our digestion, our sex drives and even our sanity. It also affects our weight. Lack of sleep throws our hormones out of whack, especially hormones that tell us when we’re hungry and when we’re full. Ghrelin levels rise which tell us we’re starving and need food now, and leptin levels dip so we don’t know when we’re full. Our body is also slower to process the food and instead of flushing out fat cells, it stores them. Which means that extra hour on Twitter or playing World of Warcraft is making us fatter.

More than one dietician has argued that one reason why America is so fat is because we don’t sleep enough. We’re a distracted culture, trying to fit so much into our lives. We have multiple demands on our attention: there’s our personal life, our work life, our family life, our social networking life.  That’s a LOT to cram into 24 hours while leaving enough room for 7 hours of sleep and 15 minutes of “Nobody talk to me for &#$@ sake!” alone time. On top of that, when we’re cranky and tired from our fitful five hours of sleep, what do we use instead? Caffeine!

We down energy drinks (most loaded with sugar) we slug back GALLONS of coffee and tea and soda (more sugar) to stimulate our brains just enough so that we may drive to work without running over people and operate a computer at limited risk to the internet. But if you’re like me, the coffee doesn’t really kick in until about noon followed by a huge dip in the afternoon. We’re all familiar with the 3pm slump, and what do we do to get through it? MORE CAFFEINE!  By the time it’s 8pm our heart rate is soaring, we’re wide awake and ready to start the day! Too bad bedtime is in three hours. Then we toss and turn until 2am and it starts all over again the next morning.

This leaves most of America tired, cranky, and opinionated (oops, that last one is just me). It’s all just another cog in the machine generating a Fat America.

So, what do we do about it? This is another “heck if I know” situation, because after 30 years I still can’t manage to get to bed on time! I’ve never been a morning person and from early childhood, all of my memories from 6-to-11 am involved being dragged out of a warm bed to stare unseeing at a blackboard. It was worse when I hit puberty, because my sleep clock was telling me that I wasn’t tired until 1am and that I should sleep until noon every day. Now that I’m a mom, I’ve been cursed with two kids that think the morning is when the sun comes up and not when mommy feels like rolling out of bed.

This year, my birthday present was that I was allowed to sleep in until 10.

Here’s hoping for Mother’s Day.

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The Fat Diaries: The New Eating Disorders

April 29th, 2011 at 5:42 pm 2 Comments

We’ve all heard of anorexia, diagnosis bulimia, view and even lately overeating described as a psychological mania in people. In fact thanks to America’s new crusade against obesity more hours and study are being devoted to the science of why we eat. If we’re going to tackle this rising problem, we need all the knowledge we can get. I read an article this week about two new eating disorders that are surfacing in the psychological world. The first is adult selective eating disorder, the second is orthorexia.

The first term applies to adults who can only stomach a very limited selection of their favorite foods. It’s much like the picky-eating habits one finds in a child, but the behavior extends into their adult years. I admit I’ve heard of this first one. I have a few friends who abstain from lots of different foods with different textures because it “grosses them out.” In fact one friend (for a time) would only eat food that was white like pasta, crackers and mashed potatoes. In fact, a few years ago I even saw that TV special on Maury or Oprah (or something that was on when my kids were in school) about the woman who only ate french fries. That was it. Nothing else. Well now Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania are trying to get the facts on this rising problem. They’ve started a registry of people to get a rough headcount and plan to do studies on why outside of a few foods, all other foods seem so repulsive.

The second disorder, orthorexia, is a classic example of too much of a good thing being bad. It’s an obsession with healthy food to the point of severely limiting food type and intake to unhealthy levels. Subjects fixate on healthy food to the point of neurosis and starvation akin to anorexia except instead of losing weight the goal is to be healthy and untainted. This condition has been linked to obsessive compulsive disorder and the numbers seem to be rising given the latest emphases on health.

Neither of these are officially classed as eating disorders, but that might change soon, and more disorders may follow as we delve into Fat America to discover what’s going on with us. The big question is, is American obesity a cultural mindset or is it a disease? Both are drastically different stances with different cures. One implies that obesity is the symptom and the latter means it’s the sickness. What does that mean for us?

If obesity is a treatable disease, how do we go about treating it? Do we treat it like an epidemic and try to stamp it out before it spreads, or do we try to phase it out gradually like all the anti-smoking laws and campaigns? If it’s a disease, is it something we send people to doctors for? Will bariatric surgery become the new “tonsil surgery” for the 21st century? Will it be coverable by insurance (obesity’s already a pre-existing condition!). If it’s coverable by insurance, how will Obamacare hold up under it?

These are questions that we need to bring up while we’re discovering more about the science of eating, and I sure as heck don’t know the answers.  An even bigger question though, is will this involve another one-size fits all solution? America right now seems to be focusing on the weight issue more than the health issue. We keep hearing about fat people, heavy people, people with asthma and diabetes, but what about the other end of that scale? What about the orthorexic people and the picky eaters who are dangerously underweight, or even at a “healthy” weight but still not getting the nutrition they need?

Will America be there for them too? Or will their efforts be lauded as geared in the right direction? Before we slap a one-size-fits-all band aid over the problem, let’s keep our focus in check.

If America becomes finicky over who it sees as unhealthy, we all lose out.

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