I am related to Fay Wray. Yes, the actress known for her theatrical screams, who portrayed Ann Darrow in the original King Kong film. More dramatically, though inadvertently, she was “the beauty who killed the beast”. I guess lots of ordinary people have some connection to famous ones–but mine is pretty crazy, right? When Fay Wray died in 2004 at the age of 96, the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished for fifteen minutes in her honor.
The story is even a little more interesting. Cousin Fay was born in Canada to a Mormon family who eventually moved to Hollywood. She attended high school there and entered the film industry at a young age. Though most famous for her role in King Kong, she had many film and TV roles in her long career. It was in Hollywood that she met and married my grandfather’s cousin, Robert Riskin. Well, I know you are probably wondering if my connection by marriage counts–but Robert Riskin has a celebrated history as well. He was a prolific playwright and screenwriter–an Academy Award winner best known for his work with the director Frank Capra on films such as It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
So, while they led very glamorous Hollywood lives, the bulk of my relatives lingered in New York. Though many of them possessed various artistic talents, my celebrity relations remained thus limited. Nonetheless, though I live in a tiny circumscribed world, I am tickled by the notion of brushes with fame. My shortlist includes that of being picked up while hitchhiking in Big Sur by Carl Reiner and his wife, and of providing nutritional services so to speak to Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Brokaw, Peter Martins, and Bill Bradley during my various stints as a waitress. I actually had a little tiff with Mr. Bradley about a diet soda–he shouldn’t have been drinking the stuff anyway.
And, then there are my amazing nutrition connections. I have mentioned before in various posts that not only do I know Mark Hyman–I lived with him during college; I had breakfast with Marc David; I am pretty positive that I grew up in the same town as Michael Pollan–so that is association by geography; and I did clearly imagine seeing Mark Bittman in Brooklyn one day.
So, already sitting on a pretty full nest of impressive–though perhaps exaggerated–VIPs for a small village girl, imagine my surprise when this happened. A few weeks back, my inbox began to flood with feed from my professional and personal networks about a new book called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Everywhere I turned, I was seeing or hearing about this new expose of the food industry. My first reaction was to file this for later. But, then something caught my eye– in the tiny print of the text that appeared on my screen. The author was Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Michael Moss. It took one quick message to my college and journalist friend Ellen to confirm my suspicion. This was not just any old Mike, Mark or Tom–but another very real connection.
Ellen once dated Michael and I knew him through her. Many years ago, when they were together, Michael was assigned to cover the New York State Legislature in Albany where he knew no one–except Pete and me–and baby Morgan. So Michael hung out–and ate–with us. At that time he was finishing his first book, Palace Coup: The Inside Story of Harry and Leona Helmsley of which I have an autographed copy–made out to the three of us. Though we lost touch a long time ago, I was aware that he was a well-regarded journalist. He had won the Pulitzer in 2009 for his investigation of an E-coli outbreak. So, I was not at all shocked to see that he had written another book. Instead, I found it remarkable that someone I knew was bringing big attention to a matter so near and dear to my own work. The news about the book now seemed more close than far. Eager to get my hands on an excerpt the day it ran in the New York Times, I grabbed the magazine section from my brother-in-law before he even finished his beloved puzzle page.
In the weeks that have ensued since the book was published, Michael Moss has been very busy on the circuit with very public appearances including the Daily Show. Its been nice to see him again. From my perspective, I am not sure that the book unveils anything entirely new regarding how many processed food items are insidiously designed to ensnare its consumers. Much of this has been revealed by the likes of Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, David Kessler in The End of Overeating, and Greg Critser in Fat Land and discussed by people like–me. However, from my reading of the excerpt, I think what Michael has done is put faces and names to the industry. He got inside and he obtained admissions from those who were controlling the direction and deception of the products–that what they were doing was bad. The depth of the collusion is always chilling to encounter, no matter how many times one learns of it–and for many, this will be new. He writes, “It’s telling that many of the wealthy food executives I spoke to about their products wouldn’t dream of eating the stuff themselves.” How he managed to obtain hidden documents and how deeply he infiltrated, speaks to his highly tuned investigative acumen.
So, here I am again, giddy that I actually know someone else who is poised to affect the societal metabolism. I am not sure how heavy his final indictment was–but he has certainly added to the conversation. (Updated 2020: To highlight what this was all about, I had initially made mention here of Kellogg’s Krave Chocolate Cereal which was relatively new at the time. While I have ignored the cereal aisle beat since then, today I am shocked to learn that General Mill’s and Hershey are now sleeping together and begat Jolly Rancher Cereal which hit the shelves just in late December 2019. You have got to be kidding me.) Stuff like this makes me want to scream one really huge Fay Wray scream. Believe me–I have it in me–even if it is just by marriage.
Please continue to join me in the collective noise-making about food justice and reclaiming a path toward real food and societal health. Take a peek at this fun video, Unjunk Yourself from the Turn the Tide Foundation. Watch the film, Hungry for Change. Drop me a line, say hi, and share your thoughts. When you are famous I will be so glad to say I know you too–though I am thrilled to know you anyway, right now.
Speaking of which, I am thrilled that Joanna Hess is my dear friend. Joanna is a teacher, artist, and visionary who has managed to bring additional beauty to the already stunning Hudson Valley region in New York. Joanna is the recipient of a donor kidney which provided rebirth to a healthy life. April, the month of rebirth and resurrection is also National Donate Life Month. Please inform yourself on the importance of organ donation and encourage yourself and your friends to become donors.
In health, Elyn
Smooth peanut butter
Spread on a peeled banana
Snack time perfection. By Gretchen