Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The spirited Henry Louis Gates

Leaving South Beach in Martha's Vineyard today, I found spirit -- the spirited Henry Louis Gates -- sitting on his bicycle. I first noticed the back of his t-shirt that read, "Inkwell," the name of a famous beach in Oak Bluffs. I immediately wanted that same shirt! As I approached him from behind to ask him where he got the t-shirt, I noticed a woman standing behind her car, filming him. Then, my husband, Tim, whispered in my ear, "You know who that is, right?" I looked at him strangely (feeling like an ignoramus) "It's Professor Gates," he says.

My 13-year old daughter, Bea, says out loud, "Professor Who?"

"Don't be afraid," says Gates to the cloistering videographer. "I'll answer your questions."

The questions popped from everywhere. "Mr. Gates, do you think the officer acted out of line?"
"Mr. Gates, what's going to happen next?"

Mr. Gates responded, "Well, we're meeting at the White House this Thursday. I'm sure he's a nice man."

Then we took advantage of this photo opportunity and a robust conversation in the car on the way home. I won't even begin to imagine what took place that night in Cambridge but I will say that I am grateful this unfortunate circumstance has opened up an opportunity to talk about an issue that oftentimes goes underground. Whether this instance serves an example of racial profiling or not, it opens up the door for people to discuss lingering forms of racism around dinner tables across America -- and, hopefully, very soon, as a history lesson to our children.

Fatten Up Your Veggies

So, Iowa State University has concluded in one of its nutritional studies that it is healthier for us to eat veggies that are drizzled with a little oil than, say, raw and plain. Apparently, the nutritional benefit of the plant -- vitamins, minerals, antioxidants -- is better absorbed by the body if we add a little fat to the mix. Those subjects who ate fat-free salad dressing (an oxymoron, really) did not absorb the phytonutrients as well as those who ate regular dressings.

Let me stray onto the path of fat-free for a second. As any of my readers know, I am anti-fat-free. I hate the movement. I hate that it's upped our sugar intake And I hate that people still follow the advice like dumb sheep. The problem lies in the limited word choice -- fat. A rational mind would assume that eating fat makes you fat. That's where the problem begins. The fats we eat are called fat, but we should start calling them "lipids" -- the proper chemical term -- or dietary fats (you choose). Lipids, or dietary fats, are insoluble in water but soluble in organic solvents -- monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phosphatides, cerebrosides, sterols, terpenes, fatty alcohols, and fatty acids. The fats we EAT -- lipids, or dietary fats -- give us energy, carry fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, K (Do you think it's a coincidence that we have a collective deficiency of Vitamin D in America? We can't absorb the darn vitamin because we're not eating the fat it needs to be absorbed.) Dietary fats are also used as structural components of the brain and cell membranes. This is extremely important -- brain (for obvious reasons) and cell components. The cell is the foundational block of the human body. Without solid cells, nothing else can be built. We need strong cells. We need fat to build cell structures.

Now we understand the importance of dietary fats. In light of this, it comes as no surprise that the vitamins in the fruits and vegetables are better absorbed if we add a bit of dietary fat. Consider the dietary fat a partner in the digestive process, a helper.

I'm not suggesting we all douse our green beans with scads of butter, particularly if the butter is not organic, but I rejoice when any study confirms that going "fat free" makes no sense. Eating fat does not make you fat. Eating high cholesterol foods does not give you high cholesterol. We need a clearer language to help understand the difference between dietary fat and the extra spongy yellow adipose tissue we're all lugging around and the difference between the exogenous cholesterol (the stuff we eat) and the endogenous cholesterol (the stuff we make in our bodies).

We need new words for a smarter population of eaters.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Happy 22nd Birthday To My Ray-Bans!

Ok, not a flattering picture. My 7-year old snapped it before I had my coffee but I was in a rush to tell my blogger friends my Ray-Ban story. If Ray-Ban hears my story, I might go national!

The aviator shades I am sporting in this photo that were purchased 22 years ago have boomeranged back into fashion. Well, if they had gold or silver or white frames, I'd be more fashionable but the "fly look" is back in full swing. When I saw them hitting the revolving racks in the stores, I almost fell over. Since 1987, I have worn my shades religiously and have caught a lot of heat about it. In Martha's Vineyard, I would pull them out of my beach bag while vacationing with my in-laws and, inevitably, my fashionista sister-in-law would quip, "You look like a fly."

"Fly" as in bug, not pilot.

I didn't care. They protected me from the sun's glaring rays. They stuck to my head while I served in the Peace Corps smack dab on the earth's equator in Papua New Guinea. They jostled around my backpack as I trekked around the Asia/Pacific. My eyes have sparkled, teared and wrinkled behind them over these past 22 years.

They are in perfect shape...
and in fashion once again.

Thank you, Ray-Ban, for the memories.
I have found spirit in your product.
They were worth every penny.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Keep It Real: The Food, I Mean

Today I read an article about different food labeling strategies that supermarkets are using to help consumers determine which foods are healthier than others. The labeling strategies run the gamut from Guiding Stars where the product is rated anywhere from 0-4 stars (I've been told that so many foods on the supermarket shelves rated 0 stars that the algorithms of the original formula had to be changed!) to the NuVal System where the food is given a number ranging from 0-100, 100 being the highest.

Personally, there are so many factors to consider when determining the nutritional value of a food. One must consider how much sodium, cholesterol, total fat, added sugars, organically grown or not, kosher, grams of fiber, artificial sweeteners, colored dyes. The list is endless. How does one compute an algorithm that can incorporate everything? My short answer: They can't.

Which is why I have come up with my own: Count the number of deviations from the food's original form. The greater the number, the less its nutritional value.

Apple picked from tree. Barring the enormous amount of pesticides sprayed on the poor fruit, this is high in nutritional value. No deviations from the original. Good for you.

Dole applesauce. Pretty close but considered less. I'd say one deviation from original because it has been processed (I know I'm starting controversy here but I'm going with my theory).

Apple juice. With all the fiber and water extracted, leaving us with a concentrated form of liquid sugar that will rush the insulin from our beta cells, two to three from the original form. Drink water instead and just eat the apple you picked from the tree.

Fruit roll-ups. I'm not even sure there's real fruit in them but I would guess with all the added chemicals, dyes and sugar, we're about 5 deviations from the original. NO GOOD FOR YOU.

So, you see where I'm going with this. When determining the nutritional value of a food, don't let all the numbers give you a headache. There are thousands of them out there and we can't let ourselves get boxed in like the processed food on our shelves. Just keep it real and stick as close to the food's original form as possible. The lower the numbers of deviation, the higher the nutritional value.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Genetically modified health?

A recently announced collaboration between Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. and Monsanto Company, a seed company, is yet another illustration of ongoing efforts to put plant breeding to work for consumers. The two companies will work together to identify and develop unique varieties of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach for the North American market. Dole and Monsanto will focus on offering consumers choices that have improved nutrition, flavor, color, texture, taste and aroma.

The above is an excerpt from an article by Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru. I might be ignorant but, last time I checked, Monsanto and health have not been used in the same sentence ever except to blow the whistle on the company's genetically modified influence over our crops that are gaining quantity and losing quality. Lower quality usually means lower health benefits. But, in this article, the company seems vested in enhancing the nutritional potency of its synthetic vegetable offspring. This is curious to me.

I hesitate to comment in a pro or con way about the Dole-Monsanto partnership. I will pause in disbelief before speaking.

But I do invite others to post comments. Perhaps my closed mind will open a bit.

Don't blink if you want to pick strawberries in CT

Rain hammered Connecticut almost every day in June, the "month of the strawberry." Each day I considered venturing out to pick strawberries, I would look outside and let the clouds deter me. We'll go tomorrow. And tomorrow returned again and again until this past sunny Sunday when, finally, we could travel to Rose's Berry Farm in South Glastonbury for breakfast followed by unabashed picking and eating. We would ride home with berry-filled cardboard trays and red-stained faces, feeling that annual ah-ha satisfaction of truly eating locally and in season. Is there any better feeling in the world than digging your feet into the earth and eating right from a plant (I try not to think of the amount of pesticides needed to grow fruit these days -- kills the romance -- or the amount of money a farm loses with a pick-your-own program)?

Breathing in the blessings, I sit on the veranda with Tim and the girls looking out over the exquisite, bucolic Connecticut fruit farm. Isn't life wonderful?

"I'll have the french toast with strawberries and cream," I smile at the waitress.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Strawberry season just passed. We have blueberries now," she says.

What?! Strawberry season is over? It's July 5, days away from June. How can strawberry season be over? "Over" as in complete, finis, fruitless, barren fields, nary a strawberry in the patch? This thought I cannot bear. My mind had not considered blueberries. I was fixated on the red, juicy berry, the nectar of gods and goddesses. Blueberries conjure up childhood memories in Maine, not local eating in Connecticut. Hmf.

"Ok, well, I'll have the quiche." Now I am beyond repair. I don't even want fruit. I order quiche, with bacon of all things. I don't even like bacon. I watch as I rebel in my mind against the short-lived season of the strawberry. I need to grieve and cannot muster enthusiasm for another fruit at the moment. I feel like I'm cheating on my beloved strawberry, my raison d'etre du jour.

"Quiche?" The entire family shrieks at me with surprise.

"Yes, quiche," I insist with my arms crossed like an angry child.

I glance over at the organized hills where laborers, even on a Sunday, bake in the sun to glean sweetness from our land. In the distance, I can hear the muffled voices of the girls ordering their french toast with blueberries and cream.

"Where are the blueberries?" I ask the waitress.

"Right up on the hill along the road."

"Oh," I respond.

I wanted to ask where the strawberries grew so I could mourn my loss for this entire year. I had a few weeks of peak picking time and I missed it. The season has passed. I had taken the strawberry for granted. In the winter, I will mourn my loss even more when I see the big, plastic containers stacking the grocery shelves bragging California's annual prosperity. Not in Connecticut. We can't afford to blink or else we'll miss the growing season of the little red blokes.

As the waitress leaves to put our order in, I stop her. "Excuse me?"


"May I have a side of blueberries?" No sense in missing that season, too, I realize.

"Sure, we've got plenty of those."

In the end, I chose to live in the season and savor the moment. And, in this moment, the blueberry boasted its appearance.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

68 Hot Dogs?

Joey Chestnut ate 68 hot dogs in buns. That little fact rose to the top of my July 4th Yahoo! News list.

I'm not sure what to think or feel about this. An indescribable repulsion is gagging my throat as I write these words. I can hardly imagine eating two Nathan's hot dogs, never mind 68. The nitrates in one would leave me stranded with a headache for the rest of the day.

But I suppose that on the celebration of the birth of our great nation, what other news would I expect to be at the top? A blurb about a company promoting disgusting excess and then celebrating it. Does that sound unpatriotic of me? I hope not. I'm just not surprised. But, in the future, I will expect more from our harbingers of news.

Hey, congrats to Joey Chestnut for being able to stuff his face so quickly. I think he chowed those dogs in record time -- 10 minutes? Maybe Pepto-Bismol could get in on the action, capitalize on a post-eating indigestion reality tv show. Who vomits and/or recovers first? Something tells me we'd have more viewers than we'd like to believe.

Yes, God Bless Our Great Nation and its love of hot dogs.

Happy 4th!

Next year, Joey, go nitrate-free.