Search Results for: Red Chinese

have it your way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle

Happy Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Rabbit, but things may not be so cute in bunny land no matter what astrological system you ascribe to. Last month there were reports of a shift in the astrological alignments apparently due to an Earth wobble or precession. This wobble or twist of the Earth’s axis is caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon on Earth’s equatorial bulge. I may not know a lot about astrology, but I do know about anatomy, and with the sudden burgeoning of obesity amongst 325 million people in China, I suspect that equatorial bulges may, in fact, explain the wobble.

About twelve years ago I caught a segment on television, perhaps on 60 MinutesLay’s Potato Chips were being imported to China for the first time and a massive marketing campaign was underway to introduce these thinly sliced, deep-fried and salted tubers served in a colorful and crinkly bag. One early morning as millions of people in some enormous city were bustling to work on foot and bike, a very large display of cardboard boxes was stacked at the entrance of a market.  The boxes were marked with lots of Chinese letters–and Lay’s. People were being stopped in their busy tracks and asked to sample this wonderful new product. Many of them were holding small paper bags of peanuts–their centuries-old “on the go” breakfast. The chips got a mixed review.

This segment was followed by a piece on the rapid increase in childhood obesity in China. Apparently, within ten years of the introduction of American fast food into China, ten percent of urban youth were overweight. Featured was a military boot camp-like program where about one hundred rank and file uniformed kids were being led sternly through a highly supervised exercise program.  This did not look particularly fun, but to the Chinese government, this was no laughing matter.

Five years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by the American Heart Association on obesity. A Chinese physician who now practices in the US was one of the speakers. He said, that twenty years prior–about 1985–when he attended medical school in China, it was extremely rare to encounter diabetes. For his training, he had to travel to a far off province to find a study case. He explained that now, diabetes is so rampant in China, that it is a significant drain on the Chinese health care system, and subsequently on its total economy.

As I sat to write this, my original thesis was that the US had purposefully set out to fatten up, sicken and slow down the industrious Chinese with fast food as an economic dominance tactic– but my research now makes me wonder if it was payback for what the Chinese had done to us–in retaliation for what we had done to them. Chinese cooks and restauranteurs had long ago figured out how to alter their cuisine to meet and oversatiate the American palate– happily to their own economic advantage. Consider that the first privately owned restaurant only opened in Beijing in 1980; while the first Chinese restaurant opened in this country in San Francisco in 1849. According to http://factsanddetails.com/china, there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than the top three large fast-food chains combined. Can that be?

I am often apt to echo Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation rant against food additives and flavorings and how their application to our food supply has fostered an epidemic of food addiction that afflicts even very young children. But, was not the MSG that peppered our Chinese take-out and addled our brains perhaps the grandfather of all such flavor enhancers? Had the Chinese immigrants who were so mistreated here, literally found a way to have us eating out of their hands? Nowadays, Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that Chinese restaurants here are not busy–apparently, it’s a big day for Chinese weddings.

One of the more difficult parts of my work is weaning folk off of General Tso’s Chicken, Beef and Broccoli, and pork fried rice. Big grown men look at me with sad puppy dog eyes and whimper like puppies too. They whine, well how come Chinese people aren’t fat–(or didn’t use to be)? I respond harshly, make them do a hundred jumping jacks and tell them to walk home.

The second that China loosened its restrictions on the West, American fast food conglomerates were ready to flood its shores with a deluge of the additive-enhanced foods we specialized in–and the modern, more prosperous populace was ready and eager to be seduced. The first American fast-food chain to set up shop was Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1987. Apparently, what has been attractive to the Chinese diner is the cleanliness, efficiency, and courtesy of the western establishments where customers get escorted to their tables. This gesture (perhaps along with the under 5-yuan menu) has put western establishments way above their Chinese competitors who actually serve food more accommodating to the Asian palate. However, once exposed to our mischievously enhanced food products, there is no looking back. Even the big Chinese national chain, Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle could not withstand the heat. Perhaps Confucius say: Kill enemy softly.

Though I know this is not breaking news, it is still hard for many people to fully comprehend the effects of these “manipulated” foods on our bodies. They have contributed to the alteration of the global waistline and median blood sugar level. It is really difficult for me to explain this to the many kind and gentle adults and children who sit before me as clients. How could we imagine that we are sold food that fosters a profoundly unnatural, addictive relationship? But, we are.

Well, I have a few more people in this country to tend to and then I may have to head over to China. Until I arrive, they may need to use some of those ghastly Chinese manufactured plastic food models that they ship here to teach us about food and proper portion sizes. Once there, I’ll have to convince them to reclaim their own cultural snack food of peanuts–or hua sheng. I am told that they do still magically appear if you say pi-jin–the word for beer. One thing I won’t have to contend with there is fortune cookies-the alluring end to an Americanized Chinese meal. Apparently, they originated in Japan and are not at all part of China’s culinary traditions. Still, I must remember, the stakes are high. The wobble may just make this the Year of the Hippopotamus if they do not act quickly.

I leave you with an old Chinese proverb: Wherever smiles happen and happiness is celebrated you’ll find Lay’s Potato Chips. So tell me, how are you going to celebrate?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

six calories of separation

I am related to Fay Wray. Yes, the actress well-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.download

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 Estelle, and of providing nutritional services 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 exposé 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 dated Michael many years ago and I knew him through her. Back then, Michael was assigned to cover the New York State Legislature in Albany where he knew no one–except me, Pete–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 have been long out of touch, 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. His book unveils how many processed food items are insidiously designed to ensnare its consumers. It adds to the stomach-turning information 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, what Michael has achieved is to 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. 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 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.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Reporting from the Rim of the Sinkhole; The Dance of Diabetes; Have It Your Way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle; Three Good Mark(s)

(Update 2020: Did you know that General Mill’s and Hershey are sleeping together and begat Jolly Rancher Cereal which hit the shelves just in late December 2019? AAAAAAGH!)

(Update 2021: New book releases: Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs: The Simple Truth About Food, Weight and Disease by Dr. David Kessler; Hooked: Free Will and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss; and, Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal by Mark Bittman.)

My Plate Haiku

Smooth peanut butter

Spread on a peeled banana

Snack time perfection.

by Gretchen

Oh, Some of the Things I Have Done

A few years ago, while serving as a resource person for a national food security organization, I responded to an inquiry. It was from a woman doing related work for a small non-profit. Though I was then staying and working out of state, she was from a community very close to my home–so there was a welcomed familiarity in connecting with her.

When I returned home, I made the lovely thirty-five minute drive down beautiful back roads to meet with her. Sitting together in her office–a large warehouse space–she described her programs related to food access, nutrition education, and Produce Prescription Programs. Having done the same work myself, I was impressed with her sophisticated and creative approach, and the success of her efforts. She had been in this job for four years and had accomplished a lot in a rural area with limited resources. And, though her face was largely hidden behind a Covid mask, I realized that she had obtained this professional maturity by, at best, her mid-thirties.

We stayed in touch, and a few months later she informed me she was moving on to pursue an unrelated opportunity, and I wished her well. Having become linked on LinkedIn, I noticed that she identified herself as a Public Health Innovator. This intrigued me. While I did not doubt her right to ascribe that title to herself, I wondered what being such an innovator would entail, and might I, with a few decades on her, have any claim as such. And so, I began an inventory of my own path.

Let me acknowledge that by all measures, and certainly by today’s standards, my efforts were itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, tiny. I have been a very small fish, in a very small pond, with little personal agency to swim out into larger waters. I had no funds, grants, or extra supports. Maybe just some supervisors who let me do some things–or didn’t stop me. I just wanted to help those I was serving. My reach was small, and the sustainability of my projects limited, but I did possess some type of fins and gills, impelled to create something to fill a need that had lacked attention or address in its time.

What turned into my career began in the early 1980s, a period when the government, still in the wake of the ‘War on Poverty’, was crafting its national nutrition programs to bluntly address abject hunger, the effects of a few decades of corporate interests controlling the American diet were seriously taking their toll but had not yet reached full crisis level, and the folks in the natural foods movement were making the connection between diet quality and personal and societal health–but they were quite marginalized.

Margarine was still cool, soda drinks were just starting to supersize, the term ‘wellness’ was not yet coined, and no one knew were were a mere decade away from an obesity and chronic disease red-alert. Likewise, mimeograph machines were just surrendering to Xerox, typewriters to word processors, and print materials knew not of the worldwide web.

Arriving at this cusp of nutritional awakening, I began to work my way through a number of different community and clinical settings, propelled by geographic moves related to early adulthood and marriage. At each stop, I was witness to emerging issues, and being in unchartered waters I had a modicum of freedom to make things up–or should I say, find some innovative solutions.

I first stepped out of the box in 1980, when as a WIC Nutritionist in the federal program that was then only about five years old, I arranged to walk a group of moms down the street from the WIC clinic site to a little whole-grain bakery for a tour–certainly this was not within normal operating procedures. This was before there was any widespread, soon-to-be earth shattering news about the ills of Wonder Bread. But I had gotten the memo, and I guess thought this was an opportunity for an interesting, educational outing. Though my intention seemed rather innocent or naive, I guess something deeper was rising within me that would inform my future endeavors.

And so I swam forth through the next four decades, trying some innovative things largely within various work settings but beyond the requisite duties of my role. Here are just some of them:

The Nineteen Eighties

Presented a paper I had written entitled, The Role of Nutritional Services in Prenatal Care, to the medical team in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at a large, prestigious university medical center. (Yes, young me!). This forwarded the integration of nutritional assessment and counseling into prenatal care within that practice and enabled me to later provide specialized nutrition support to pregnant women in other settings. (1984)

Presented workshops on nutritional approaches to women’s health concerns in various workshop settings. Many of these concerns had not been properly understood until the mid-1900s and were only gaining wider recognition and support around the 1970s due to the visionaries and feminists of that period. (1985-1987)

The Nineteen Nineties

Developed a cooking class for pregnant teenagers while working for another WIC Program and observing the demise of home-prepared meals in a peak period of teen pregnancies. I enjoined the collaboration of a local Cornell Cooperative Extension agency and a community food pantry. Participants received a free bag of groceries at each class. (1994)

Implemented the following at a Community Health Center to provide greater options for well being to a low-resourced community: (1997-2001)

Physician-Nurse Team-led walking program and nutrition classes for staff and patients

Center-based Yoga Class Series taught by certified Yoga Teachers–there was a waiting list for the class

Coupon Program and Cooking Demonstrations with the local food-coop

The Two Thousand Aughts

Invited one of the nation’s first mobile produce vans intended to bring quality, discount-priced produce to underserved neighborhoods to make a weekly stop at a Community Health Center to reinforce the notion of ‘food as medicine’. This popular stop served a wide-range of clients, staff, and medical providers and raised awareness about food insecurity. (2008)

Provided to my clients (on a very small scale) low-cost, non-perishable nutritious food samples boxed in cardboard Chinese Food containers. They included sardines, beans, oatmeal, teas, spices–along with cooking instructions. These were essentially a precursor to healthy meal boxes available today. (Back then I wished I had a way to get funding to expand that idea.) (2010)

Expanded eating disorder services and resources at a college. Also, helped initiate changes to support more sustainable practices and local food sourcing for the college’s Dining Services. (2007)

The Twenty Teens

Developed and administered the clinical component of one of the nation’s earliest Produce Prescription Programs. Conducted a Program Evaluation and the Program’s results were published in a Public Health Journal. (2011-2013)

Designed a Diabetes Education Program that had included a diabetes-friendly meal that was prepared together by some of my patients in the Program who were experienced cooks–mainly elderly black ladies who had each fed countless mouths and who could serve an army or at least a filled church. The program also included a dance segment led by a local Latin Dance teacher. (One of the program attendees became a member of the teacher’s traveling dance troupe.) (2012)

Solicited local businesses to donate breastfeeding supplies to a Community Health Center for nursing mothers in honor of National Breastfeeding Month. (2013)

In the mid-Twenty Teens my work took me out of direct care environments and into more Program Management roles. By this point, innovation was largely being measured by technology-based advances where I was less well-equipped–though I still pushed my grassroots efforts where I could. My inspirations and innovations grew out of having sat with thousands of eaters from around the globe and from all walks of life, a plethora of pregnant moms, a couple of hundred college students eating their way from adolescence to adulthood, and a few dozen elementary-aged school children who knew more about food and life than you might think. I looked for every available resource to support them all as best I could, created partnerships when possible, and came up with new solutions when necessary.

Surreptitiously I removed infant formula promotional materials from the ‘free’ gift bags and magazines targeted to pregnant women and quietly encouraged vending machine vendors to replace the most nefarious offerings with others less harmful to the human organism. I produced lots of nutrition education materials and wrote many newsletter articles. And then, I embarked on documenting in 125+ blog posts ‘the intimate art of eating in response to the personal and cultural milieu’. From my work chairs to my pitter-patterings about, I bore witness to much of the difficulties we are now experiencing in even more extreme ways–demanding a more robust and urgent response. My writings presaged much of what we are confronting and I invite you to to search my site for my insights on any number of nutritional matters including breastfeeding, eating disorders, toxic food systems, child health, obesity, racism, health inequities, nutrition insecurity and food marketing. Gosh, things got a lot more complicated than just whole wheat bread.

Looking back, I acknowledge that I did a lot for a small fish. I used to say that one thing I would not do was to dress up like a fruit or vegetable, but I will don the Public Health Innovator Hat, at least for a moment. I still have a list of things that I would love to see be done, so as I ease out of this work, I’d be glad to share my ideas. Also, feel free to build upon my efforts if you can appreciate their value. Finally, fellow innovators, keep up the good work. If I catch sight of your schemes, I will be glad to celebrate them.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following, and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

Be well. Take care. Stay safe. Let’s heal.

In health, Elyn

P.S. OK. Here is one of my ideas. Let’s implement a program for vulnerable senior citizens similar to the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Program. Maybe just an add-on program called WICS.

And, here are some other important insights and innovative ideas shared by Food Bank News regarding collaborative efforts working with underserved populations with globally-based examples.

My Plate Haiku

Craving for pickles

And German Chocolate Cake

My friend is pregnant. by Gretchen

I Speak for the Fat People

Although I’ve taken a little writing hiatus, the nutritional discourse continues unabated. The stories of our communal incarnate experience resonate with frustration, guilt, and misunderstandings. This is an older piece that I published previously in three parts. I hope offers some response with a bit of healing balm. Some of its points have been raised and debated among those in the scientific community rather recently. Here it is mended back together. It is longer than my other posts but I think it reads best together.

I speak for the fat people. Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax who spoke for the trees, someone must speak for the fat people. Unlike the trees who needed a spokesperson because they had no tongues, you would think that the fat people would be able to speak for themselves. Of course, fat people have tongues. If they did not have that taste bud-laden sensory organ, they would not be fat. Given the current weight of the world, this group should not be particularly hard to hear. However, in the huge public dialogue about weight and obesity, the fat people are merely statistics. There are no real people behind the statistics, and this is where they have lost their voice. Therefore, they are stripped of any ability to speak with authority on the topic.

I am not a statistic. Though I have had some years where I toed the chubby line, for the most part, I have done my part in tipping the scales toward societal svelteness. Besides my obligation as a citizen to keep the fat numbers down, as a nutritionist, it is my professional responsibility to pull people out of the fat pool and to keep them from falling in at all.

It is no big secret that the medical and nutritional community has not done a great job in their role as bariatric (the science of obesity) lifeguards. I myself do not have a great track record of turning people into mere shadows of their former selves. But, I have spent my career as a nutritionist hearing the stories and struggles of the fat people and observing the ways of food and eating that define this turn of the century. I am a spy in the house of girth.

The fat community does, in fact, have some spokespeople. There are magazines, journals, books, and websites–written mainly by women–who have spent one day too many in the deprived and depraved world of dieting. There are individuals who are doing incredible and poetic work about re-informing and re-educating on misconceptions about weight and health and respectful self-care. Still, many of these efforts are marginalized or featured in venues that only topic-obsessed people like myself pay attention to. Even Roseanne Barr once said, “It’s OK to be fat. So you’re fat. Just be fat and shut up about it.” For every undertaking that sings the praises of body love and acceptance, there are thousands of counter-voices screaming the imperative to whip this fat away.

Therefore, I believe I must use my credentials to speak out. I hope that the fat people can accept me, a thin person–who is often cold and prone to osteoporosis–and an ex-stress and emotional eater to be their voice. Born of thin mother and fat father, I will try to do the cause justice.

Let’s begin by putting the issue of overweight into perspective. If we look at weight historically, I’m pretty certain that from the beginning of time, there have been fat people. We have all seen the pictures of early Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men. Even those quintessential hunters and gatherers seemed capable of packing on a few pounds. After them came Confucius, King Henry the Eighth, Mamie in Gone with the Wind, Jackie Gleason, Pavarotti, Aunt Bea, and my grandmother. Chances are your grandmother was fat, too.

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadiu...

Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadium, Marseille, France, le 15 juin 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since our early beginnings, human beings have come in varying shapes and sizes and large-size was not necessarily an aberration of medium-size. It is good that there are large-sized people. A world without them would mean a world with fewer great opera singers, chefs, women of ample bosom, football players, construction workers, and cuddly grandmothers.

It is not very difficult to become fat. You do not have to go out of your way to try. If Chinese youth can become fat, then anyone can. Only about 4% of the population has naturally model-thin bodies. That means that many models are starving themselves in order to be models. It also means that the rest of the Size 2 wannabes are expending a lot of physical and mental energy in the pursuit of thinness. Carolyn Knapp, in her book, Appetites, tells the story of a woman who describes the angst she feels putting on her stockings every morning. She wonders what she could have accomplished in her life with the time she has spent worrying about her weight.

There are the naturally skinny–and then there are the neurotically and pathologically skinny; and the metabolically hyper-activated skinny–those who sustain themselves on a steady diet of excessive caffeine and nicotine—or maybe extensive exercise. For the rest of us, the possibility of becoming overweight is just around the corner. We are physiologically and neurologically wired to pack it on. The ability to store fat came in pretty handy a time or two during our multi-millenial evolution. We have about 107 compensatory mechanisms that prevent us from starving to death. A bunch of those certainly kicked in to save our forefathers when they were unable to kill a bison. In people who attempt to starve themselves toward thinness, the body fights back–it regains the lost weight plus more, and then absolutely refuses to budge.

In addition, we are wired for comfort. Research shows that the food habits that sustain us are those that we developed while still wrapped in the loving veil of early childhood. Whether that happened to be gazelle, chicken soup, mashed potatoes or cheeseburgers, you will probably turn to those foods as an adult. Believe me, the corporate world certainly knows this. The Happy Meal ensures that today’s toddlers will become tomorrow’s adult fast-food consumers. The concept of comfort foods is one I hear a lot about during my spy missions. Women have confessed to me that they would choose a good loaf of bread over sex. The quality of the sex is not indicated in this context.

Then, of course, there are our natural temperaments as well as good old genetics. I listened once to the tender story of a woman who was adopted as a child. She never met her birth mother, but she possessed a very old, poor quality home movie that she believes is of her mother. Though she struggles to see the face better in search of subtle resemblances, it is the woman’s thighs that confirm her finding. She states, “Look at the thighs. Those are my thighs.”

On top of all this, let’s sprinkle on a life change, or just daily, chronic stress. Take your pick. Break-ups, abuse, graduate school, poverty, working long hours, caregiving, illness, depression or menopause are possible choices. And, God forbid you should simply possess a deep sensuous life-affirming passion for cooking and eating. Throw any of these on your plate and if your primal wiring wasn’t enough to enlist you, then current circumstances will. Even the once-thins can become the now-fat–especially in this current milieu where food is literally out to get ya. Not even the high school cheerleader is immune. Any emotional state that is heightened, increases for many the desire to seek food for reward. When one is working their way up the weight chart, it is because they are possessed by physical or emotional hunger, or physiological changes that they can neither understand nor control.

I can hear you begin to protest that it has to be more than just this. Aren’t we soooo bad? We ate the piece of chocolate cake (and we loved it). How could we? How dare we? That translates into four hours of floor mopping according to the calorie expenditure charts.  That must be fair penance for the crime. As a spy, my days are peppered with the monologues and dialogues of self-hate and recrimination that people utter like a mantra before and/or after each foray into eating. The guilt is palpable. We must have all been ____________ in a previous lifetime. (insert your own response.)

I was heartened once to hear a man describe his joy-spreading tactic. Essentially, he spends half of his time acquiring special little chocolates and the other half gifting them to people as morsels of universal love. I am either becoming a very cynical nutritionist or a very empathic human being. The collective psyche is longing for the morsel of joy even at the expense of the perfect waistline. The truth is that we have appetites and hungers because we are merely human, not because we are bad people. However, when all of these human tendencies accumulate into extra pounds, getting rid of that weight is very difficult.

A few years ago, I attended a conference on an obesity-related topic. As a group, we were to brainstorm how to counsel a postpartum woman with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30. The exercise had me squirming from the get-go. As the attendees were getting rather dead-ended in their attempts to master this case-study, the presenter, a physician and researcher at a major university said, “Let me offer this idea. I am often in my office at my desk and on the phone. I could just sit there and talk on the phone, but instead, I stand and pace as I am talking.” My agitated brain said, “Yes, let’s file that idea to use.” 3889254107_2383b9acea_cNot with my clients but in this article. I could picture Homer Simpson stuffing one more donut in his face while muttering “Ah, vigorous pacing. That’s the ticket.” I wondered when was the last time this guy got out of his office and realized the experiences of real people, real fat people.

Hardly are all defined cases of overweight problematic. Some in the field maintain that the goal is for all individuals to attain an “appropriate” BMI.  Short of that, they will be at risk for various health problems. My intuition and much science beg to differ. Many people are fine–if not perhaps better off–with a little extra weight on them. Pavarotti once said, “The reason fat people are happy is that their nerves are well protected.” My own observations reveal that the neurotically thin tend to be more frayed than their rounder counterparts. Besides, BMI is just a tool. At times it is a cruel tool—or at least a not very nice one. It makes no allowance for age, fitness, or even natural body type. Whether we like it or not, our bodies will shift and change as we age. Nature, with no ill intent, seems to want to round us out a bit as we mature. That is how we get to be grandpas and grandmas. Appropriate BMI does not necessarily confer lack of health risks–only ones of a particular nature. Last long enough, and we tend to eventually shrink back down.

Do not get me wrong. I am not undermining the seriousness of the obesity crisis that we are facing. I understand its consequences perhaps more than most. I see the implications of excessive weight that people struggle with on a daily basis and I strive to alleviate the challenges through educational, lifestyle, and nutritional support. I bemoan the forces that are propelling our society into ever-expanding levels of girth, especially those that are now affecting our children.

Still, I feel a need to call TIME OUT! To stop the madness that makes those who are the statistics speechless. To stop pointing the finger merely at the individual without an understanding of the deeper forces that are at play. There are multi-factorial causes that lie at the root of the weight gain epidemic. Many are so abstract or insidious that it is very difficult for the experts—let alone an ordinary individual–to understand what is going on. Though overeating, bad eating, food addiction, and poor lifestyle choices are definitely a part of it, the magnitude of the communal weight gain doesn’t seem to make sense based on calories alone. In the causative mix lie politics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, poverty, nutrition misinformation, abuse, dieting, food sensitivities, sensory science, profits, changes in the components of our food, environmental toxins, personal and spiritual alienation and lifestyles spinning out of control. There are strange bedfellows in each and every fat cell.

Now, back to our friend the Lorax. For the record, the Lorax, our venerable spokesperson, was rather portly himself. Based on his picture, I’d put him at a BMI of about 29. I’d describe him as neither apple nor pear-shaped but rather pickle-shaped. According to Dr. Seuss, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish and mossy.” The final message of the Lorax in his plea to save the environment was UNLESS. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

I too am rather shortish. Oldish, brownish, and mossy may someday also describe me. For now, my intention is not to imply an ultimatum. It is, however, to bring a greater sense of compassion and understanding–and a broader lens to the discussion and to the approaches to care.

I do not intend to deny the role of personal responsibility—be that for everyone. It is a big piece of the puzzle. Though it is critical that we address the current weight epidemic–we should not do it with an assault on the fat people. We must not slap everyone silly in an attempt to squeeze them into a size six dress or Speedo swimsuit. Besides, who would be left to sing the blues? And though I’d have been happy to find my grandmother at the gym, it could not replace the experience of cuddling up on her big, warm lap with wonderful smells wafting in from the kitchen.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following, and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Resources (2010): Women Afraid to Eat (Frances M. Berg); Intuitive Eating (Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch); Health at Every Size (Dr. Bacon); Dances with Fat (Ragen Chastain)

The end of overeating. Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (David A. Kessler, MD); Born Round:  A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite (Frank Bruni)

erin's plate

Erin’s My Plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Plate Haiku

Adirondack lake

Soothes us  from the heat–weightless

We float like feathers.

By Elyn

 

by the time i got to woodstock

There I was having a mindful eating moment. Though I teach others the importance of this technique frequently, I rarely slow down enough to practice it myself. What it took for me to have my own blissful experience–where you sit in total oneness with a food or a meal fully attuned to the multi-sensory act of eating–was the result of a harmonic convergence between my teenage daughter and not one, but two teenage boys.  

It was a beautiful warm Friday in April when Zena and I found ourselves perfectly aligned to spend the afternoon together on the last day of her school spring break. Easily, the legendary village of Woodstock presented itself as the mecca for our little excursion. Morning obligations tended to, we hopped in the car and headed out. About a third of the way there, Zena decided to see if she could reach her summer camp friends, Ethan and Josh, who live there. Despite the fact that the two had school that day, and were actually in it when she contacted them, in vague teenage boy fashion they arranged that they would meet her somewhere after track practice.

It was the kind of day where you celebrate shedding the cumbersome clothing of winter and first drive with the car windows down. Whenever I go to Woodstock, the songs of The Band drift easily into mind, as I was once fortunate to see them perform there–in their adopted hometown. Little did I know that just a few days later, word of band member and Woodstock resident Levon Helm‘s death would pass a cloud over this sunny musical epicenter. But that day, it was all sunshine as Zena and I browsed the little shops, bought T-shirts and sunglasses and walked our way into that wonderful space where appetite is earned and asks to be rewarded with something special. We checked out a few little spots, yet in Goldilock fashion, it was not until we came to the Garden on the Green did we find the cafe that was just right.

Though the beautiful outdoor garden area was closing down for the afternoon, inside provided just as warm and welcoming a place to please my palate. Every inch was aesthetically charming. Ah, but there was more. The menu consisted of purely vegan offerings created from local provisions. We were giddy. Though I am no stranger to vegan and vegetarian restaurants when available, eating out in most places usually entails rapid eyeball movement over the menu to find the few non-meat selections. Here, every choice was seductively available.

We sat at the table by the large front window overlooking Woodstock’s little village green and ultimately decided to share a warm lentil pecan pate with sage, Tuscan arugula, and white bean salad and a wonderful black bean and roasted corn quesadilla. We settled in looking at all the pretty things that surrounded us. However, just as the food arrived, Zena said, “Oh, there’s Ethan!”  and went running out the door to greet him. I turned to find her in that kind of exuberant silly hug that teenagers enjoy with one of those Skinny Boys. She ran back in and asked if I would mind that she go hang out with him, concerned about leaving me alone to eat. I said I didn’t mind. We asked the waitress for a to-go container and I packed up a little picnic box for her to take outside–complete with the nice silverware–which we returned later.

So there I was, alone with this beautiful food. Right away, I knew what I needed to do to fill my time. I had already embraced my surroundings–taking in the other diners, the waitresses and trying to interpret the Spanish conversation coming from the kitchen. I now needed only to address all of my attention to this amazing meal. With each sense engaged, I looked at, smelled, and lingered over every single bite. I considered the textures–the creaminess of the pate along with with the crunchy crust of the bread it spread itself upon, the lovely bitterness of the arugula mixed with the tender softness of the white beans. I chewed incredibly slowly, which is not something I ordinarily do and really appreciated the unique meal. And, yes, as I tell my clients is apt to happen, I sensed my satiety rather quickly. I was actually a little bummed. I could have easily eaten all of the food that was before me while I waited for Zena to return, but with careful listening, my body said it had enough. I was determined to honor it.

Right about then, I looked out to the window and my maternal lens caught a view of Ethan loping away in one direction while Josh came bounding in from another. Zena came heading back into the cafe. She asked for more time, mentioning something about guitar lessons. On most other days or in some other place, my patience might have waned, but not there and not then. As she skipped out again I perused the very vegan dessert offerings and extensive tea listing and chose a Chinese Sencha Tea with which to extend my experience. I had recently read about specially harvested Sencha teas and was excited to try one. I stayed committed to my mindful intention and inhaled the pleasant aroma with each tiny sip.

Not too long after, a parent-propelled car pulled up in front of the cafe and whisked Josh away–and Zena rejoined me. Though the teenage boys had vanished with a cinematic flourish, my satisfaction lingered. Since then, I have been more conscious to calm myself and to eat more slowly when I bring myself to the table.

Time and again in my work I am reminded how important mindfulness is in regard to eating. Mindfulness, or simple but exercised awareness, is essential for a balanced relationship with food. In the big dietary gestalt, we tend to focus the problem on what we are eating and to seek answers in changing dietary content. I myself am apt to tend and mend in this way as well. However, commonly what is revealed in the real story of eaters, is that a deeper conflict exists. Even in those whom I assume must have their inner compasses precisely calibrated and their plates all balanced, I eventually divine the agita, angst, stress, and shame that accompanies how people feel about how, why and how much they eat. This is often more so the problem that is seeking attention and assuaging. These principles are ably addressed and applied at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Slowing it down and paying profound attention ultimately can change the patterns, often dysfunctional, that repeatedly dictate our feeding relationship. From thoughts to actions, mindful eating can be a powerful tool for increasing compassion towards ourselves, helping to reassign food to its proper place and for improving physical health. In its most simple sense, it will increase the ability to truly taste and savor food. More profoundly, it can provide more information than most diets do; affords permission to eat and decreases deprivation feeding behaviors that usually backfire. Ultimately, it allows one to derive more pleasure with less intake. It can be practiced with one tiny piece of chocolate or with an entire meal. It can be explored casually or studied diligently.

Two books that are in my midst these days that address mindful eating are, Eat, Drink and Be Mindful a workbook by Susan Albers; and Peaceful Weight Loss Through Yoga by Brandt Bhanu Passalacqua. I recommend them both. I also invite you to choose a moment this week to eat mindfully. I would love to hear about your experience if you care to share it in a comment. Who knows, you may find that you shall be released and or that you begin to know better the shape you’re in.

Enough with the obtuse song references.

In health,

Elyn

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Spread peanut butter

On whole grain sweet dark bread

Raspberry jam-yum.    by Barb

I Speak for the Fat People: middle part

Let’s put the issue of overweight into perspective. If we look at weight historically, I’m pretty certain that from the beginning of time, there have been fat people. We have all seen the pictures of early Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men. Even those quintessential hunters and gatherers seemed capable of packing on a few pounds. After them came Confucius, King Henry the Eighth, Mamie in Gone with the Wind, Jackie Gleason, Pavarotti, Aunt Bea, and my grandmother. Chances are your grandmother was fat, too.

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadiu...

Pavarotti Image via Wikipedia

Since our early beginnings, human beings have come in varying shapes and sizes and large-size was not necessarily an aberration of medium-size. It is good that there are large-sized people. A world without them would mean a world with fewer great opera singers, chefs, women of ample bosom, football players, construction workers, and cuddly grandmothers.

It is not very difficult to become fat. You do not have to go out of your way to try.  If Chinese youth can become fat, then anyone can. Only about 4% of the population has naturally model-thin bodies. That means that many models are starving themselves in order to be models. It also means that the rest of the size 2 wannabes are expending a lot of physical and mental energy in the pursuit of thinness. Carolyn Knapp, in her book Appetites, tells the story of a woman who describes the angst she feels putting on her stockings every morning. She wonders what she could have accomplished in her life with the time she has spent worrying about her weight.

There are the naturally skinny–and then there are the neurotically and pathologically skinny; and the metabolically hyper-activated skinny–those who sustain themselves on a steady diet of excessive caffeine and nicotine—or maybe extensive exercise. For the rest of us, the possibility of becoming overweight is just around the corner. We are physiologically and neurologically wired to pack it on. The ability to store fat came in pretty handy a time or two during our multi-millenial evolution. We have about 107 compensatory mechanisms that prevent us from starving to death.  A bunch of those certainly kicked in to save our forefathers when they were unable to kill a bison. In people who attempt to starve themselves toward thinness, the body fights back–it regains the lost weight plus more, and then absolutely refuses to budge.

In addition, we are wired for comfort. Research shows that the food habits that sustain us are those that we developed while still wrapped in the loving veil of early childhood.  Whether that happened to be gazelle, chicken soup, mashed potatoes or cheeseburgers, you will probably turn to those foods as an adult. Believe me, the corporate world certainly knows this.  The Happy Meal ensures that today’s toddlers will become tomorrow’s adult fast-food consumers.  The concept of comfort foods is one I hear a lot about during my spy missions. Women have confessed to me that they would choose a good loaf of bread over sex. The quality of the sex is not indicated in this context.

Then, of course, there are our natural temperaments as well as good old genetics.  I listened once to the tender story of a woman who was adopted as a child.  She never met her birth mother, but she possessed a very old, poor quality home movie that she believes is of her mother. Though she struggles to see the face better in search of subtle resemblances, it is the woman’s thighs that confirm her finding.  She states, “Look at the thighs. Those are my thighs.”

On top of all this, let’s sprinkle on a life change, or just daily, chronic stress. Take your pick. Break-ups, abuse, graduate school, poverty, working long hours, caregiving, depression or menopause are possible choices. And, God forbid you should simply possess a deep sensuous life-affirming passion for cooking and eating.**  Throw any of these on your plate and if your primal wiring wasn’t enough to enlist you, then current circumstances will. Even the once-thins can become the now-fat–especially in this current milieu where food is literally out to get ya. Not even the high school cheerleader is immune. Any emotional state that is heightened, increases for many, the desire to seek food for a reward. When one is working their way up the weight chart, it is because they are possessed by physical or emotional hunger or physiological changes that they can neither understand nor control.

I can hear you begin to protest that it has to be more than just this. Aren’t we soooo bad?  We ate the piece of chocolate cake (and we loved it). How could we? How dare we?  That translates into four hours of floor mopping according to the calorie expenditure charts.  That must be fair penance for the crime. As a spy, my days are peppered with the monologues and dialogues of self-hate and recrimination that people utter like a mantra before and/or after each foray into eating. The guilt is palpable. We must have all been ____________ in a previous lifetime. (insert your own response.)

(one more segment to follow)

Thank you for listening, sharing, following, and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

Related Posts:  I Speak for the Fat People: First Part and I Speak for the Fat People: Last Part

In health, Elyn

Related Resources 2010: The end of overeating. Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (David A. Kessler, MD); Born Round:  A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite (Frank Bruni)

 

she weighs how much?

I present this as a Zen Koan. A Koan is a paradoxical question, the meaning of which cannot be understood by rational thinking. It derives from the Japanese words “ko” for public and “an” for ‘matter for thought’. This is clearly a public matter for thought in the current dialogue on childhood obesity. How do we best serve a seven-year-old girl whose high weight highly challenges notions of normal growth patterns?

pond-3046592_1280

Image by Debi Brady

This girl is not a nameless, theoretical child. Tanazia is an amazing girl who I know. She has keen inquisitive abilities, deep empathy for others, and sophisticated insight for someone so young. She is deeply connected to her family, respects her elders, and helps care for her three-year-old brother and emotionally reactive two-year-old foster-sister who she shares a room with. She excitedly tells me that when she grows up she would like to do something to help others. When her grandmother mentions the Peace Corps, she responds that there are people right here in her own community who are in need.

Tanazia—who is just one of many children who are accumulating weight in an inconceivable short amount of time–is in a relatively good situation. She now lives with a set of very caring grandparents who love her dearly. She has a stable roof overhead, and there is a modicum of food security. While some family members are overweight, her grandmother, who had gastric bypass surgery a few years ago, is generally food-savvy and keeps a relatively healthy home. Plus, she has a back yard–one large enough and safe enough to play in—a rare commodity in this part of the city.

Despite this, she has already had to armor her body with layers of body fat against many emotional wounds. She was born to a 15-year-old mother who has since had two more babies and is now pregnant again. Her father has died, and she was at an early age exposed to and a victim of domestic violence. Her grandmother has chronic health problems. And, she herself, has asthma–another player in the childhood obesity conundrum. Her mom has supervised custody and gets to see her daughter every other Saturday for just a few hours. Equipped with few ways to show her love, during their time together she usually takes Tanazia out to eat somewhere. It’s usually Chinese food or pizza with soda and candy.

This sweet child has already endured the taunts of kids. Going to school-squeezed into her charter school uniform skirt—is something she is already leery of by second grade. Though her grandma does give her breakfast at home and provides her with lunches to bring to school, controlling the intake at school is hard to do. Unfortunately, the meals provided by the school lunch programs do not meet nutritional recommendations and are a sad source of the low-quality foods and excessive fats, sugars and calories that are contributing to the problem. Turning down a free meal or two in a day would be hard for anyone to do, especially for those to whom the secure availability of food is not a given.

Declining the morsels of joy to be found in the cheap junk foods that easily find their way into all the cracks and crevices of our lives–cupcakes, bags of chips, Rice Krispie treats, fruit punch– is nearly impossible for those with easy and happy lives let alone for those who excessively use food as an easy and legal pursuit to push down painful life experiences.

And, although Tanazia has a backyard, the physical activity levels of young girls who live in vulnerable neighborhoods are amongst the most limited. Add in the cold winters in this part of the country and the possibility of expending calories diminishes even more.

Despite these challenges, this beautiful child tries hard to do what I—her nutritionist—have recommended. She drinks mainly water, she listens to her belly to see if it is really hungry—a task most adults find hard to do– and has only a small piece of cake at birthday parties and church functions.

My heart breaks at having to impose such harsh restrictions on such a young life. I know restriction breeds hunger. I know parental strategies require fortitude, patience, non-judgment, and structure. I don’t have many options nor enough solutions to fight all the forces that prey upon this innocent child and countless others like her. Current anti-obesity initiatives come far too late and offer little. Cute and catchy names of new programs belie the gravity of the situation and chew at my cynical side—the part of me who knows too many stories of real children’s lives. Societal weight stigmatization adds to the burden. I pray for this young girl to grow up healthy and whole, equipped with all she needs to be a powerful adult. Hopefully, size alone will not get in her way.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn