Defining shame

from Shame, by Gershen Kaufman.

“To feel shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense.  The self feels exposed… to anyone… present.  It is this sudden, unexpected feeling of exposure and accompanying self-consciousness that characterizes the essential nature of the affect of shame.  Contained in the experience of shame is the piercing awareness of ourselves as fundamentally deficient in some vital way, as a human being.”     

In this country, we are inundated daily by weight-loss diet suggestions, from every media source and of course, ‘well-meaning’ friends, family and strangers.  Sometimes I can tune them out angrily and sometimes I am lured by the promises.  Why?  I know the answer and it’s the reason why the diet biz is so profitable.  We want to look and feel the way that we are told we should be.  Vicious cycle.

The above quote includes a word that keeps appearing as I study shame:  deficient.  As in, not efficient?  A guess.  Even if that were the word’s root, that’s not how the word is heard and used, not the familiar connotation.  I think ‘deficient’ is pretty clear:  less than.    Worth less.  Oh… worth less, two words and the combination word:   worthless.  Eww.

Deficient: not having enough of a specified quality, insufficient or inadequate; lacking, limited; defective, faulty, flawed, imperfect, inferior, substandard, second-rate)

So, is it primarily about appearance?  Well, its certainly about judgement, the belief that one thing, in this case, one person is of greater value than another.  Is this not the foundation of racism, as well as sexism/patriarchy, class-ism or any form of bigotry?  One person or type of person is considered to be worth more, is more valuable than another.  Without going into particulars, I will simply state that the messages I took in as a young woman led me to believe that I was deficient.  I will note that I do not generally feel this way anymore, b u t… the shreds are still there, tenacious.

Like the shreds of a plastic bag that cling to the twigs of the maple tree outside my window.  It has been at least two or three years since a white plastic grocery bag first caught in the upper branches.  That shredded bag, or now, just shreds of a bag, is symbolic.  Scouring winds and weather have reduced the size and presumably the strength of the plastic bag, but it remains.  In fact, I would not be surprised if some tree bark has grown over a bit of the bag.  Trees do that.  If something is there long enough, it’s claimed.  It becomes part of the plant/tree.

So, following this metaphor, these crappy, shredded, negative beliefs about my self have grown into my body, in ways both literal and figurative.  They cannot be willed away, wished away or even with the strongest intention – hurricane force winds – eradicated.    The image has its limits.  For now, I am engaged in remembering, seeing, naming and source-seeking.  Without these steps, I don’t think I can lose the shame.  It must be seen, named and sourced.

Theater seats

I’ve always liked the Cooks Illustrated magazine a lot.  I’ve previously mentioned that I enjoy reading Chris Kimball’s letters in the front of each issue.  I also love the fact that the magazine has no advertising – so no need for me to analyze their food industry politics, as I did with Cooking Light.  Their independence from sponsors is refreshing.  I enjoy the detailed walking-me-through the recipe development articles.  And I love, love, love both the “Kitchen Notes” section and the “Quick Tips” submitted by readers.  It’s all very down to earth and person-to-person.

Just spent 90 minutes at an event featuring the staff of America’s Test Kitchen, the folks who publish the magazine, as well as producing the ATK TV and radio shows and the sister magazine, Cook’s Country.  I laughed and I (figuratively) drooled and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Kimball and his crew are all very personable and I could have listened to them chat about their work for hours – if the seats in the old Brattle Theater had been slightly less painful.

I am so bitterly tired of uncomfortable seating, on planes, in restaurants and theaters.  Those new-fangled [sic] cup holderscupholder that were added to the already narrow old seats in theaters make wedging myself into the seat a real production.  And I was not the largest soul in the crowd tonight, nor in the restaurant with the in-laws on Thanksgiving.

I loved hearing a bit of the back story for each of the Test Kitchen folks tonight.  It would be such fun to interview them about their Food Life Stories.  In fact, Adam Reid, one of the ATK staff, is the friend of a friend and agreed some time ago to let me interview him.  Guess I need to get on that!  So eager to get back to my interview list, in general.  Time.

I have been able to get more deeply into the writing this week.  NaBloPoMo really did give me the jump start I had been seeking.  These twice weekly posts may have a different tone for a while, a little less soul-baring, but I have also learned, by experiencing (is there any other way to truly learn?) the value of writing in this public voice and hitting that ‘Publish’ button.  So, thank you again to WordPress & BogHer for the structured challenge.  And thank you to any readers who are curious, as I am, to see where this Food Life Story project will take me.

Family, expectations and numbing

grape night.  Returned from with in-laws and step-in-law extended family.  Spent about six hours in the car, several hours in traffic.  Tired.

This morning as we were setting out, and off & on during the day, I found myself reflecting on family, expectations and numbing.  I think we all experience variations of these themes on traditional family holidays.

Who we will spend the day with?  Who cooks & cleans up?  How are we expected to dress and behave?  I understand that it would be/is hard to be alone on this family holiday, but, let’s face it, it’s also sometimes hard to be with family.

Expectations make me think about the 1950’s housewives, home cooks, who perhaps had never learned to cook a turkey.  Suddenly they were receiving a considerable amount of pressure to produce a golden beauty for carving at the table.turkey

This did not play out well in my childhood home.  The bird was always overcooked and dry, because my mother worried that it might be raw.  My father tried to tell her what to do differently.  Honestly, I believe they fought about it every year.  Such a tense and un-festive family gathering. Why?

When I left home and gained a little perspective (and also the know-it-all attitude of a 20-year-old), I suggested that he be the one to cook the bird. No way!  Of course I had also become a vegetarian upon leaving home, which did not go over well either.  My father put turkey on my plate every year, no matter what I said.  Yep.  Expectations.

And finally, for now, numbing.  The most common numbing methods for these quintessential events are:  drinking alcohol, watching football on TV and eating too much, especially sweets.

That’s all I can manage tonight.  I have more to say on these topics and tomorrow I will write more cogently, I hope.

Happiness, joy, habit and shame

I love sticky rice.  I love making it and I love eating it and I just plain love the look of it.

Although this drawing hasn’t ‘made it’ onto a towel or tote bag with EAW designs, it’s still a favorite.  Certainly the color makes me happy.

And how does this relate to the topic of this blog?  Well, I’ve been reading in Brené Brown‘s book about the difference between happiness and joy.  One way that she defines them:

Happiness is tied to circumstance and joy is tied to spirit and gratitude.

When I make sticky rice for my family, I have created circumstances that make me happy.  I enjoy the soaking and the rinsing and sight of the rice cooker steaming away.  I love the dousing with rice vinegar and the mixing with the wide, flat bamboo spoon that I brought home from Kyoto.  So I have made myself happy.

The beauty and simplicity of the cooked rice and the memory of the little side-street bamboo shop in Kyoto awaken my gratitude.  Those pearlescent grains remind me of the joy of cooking whole foods and connect me to all that I have en-joyed in this life.  That’s an especially wonderful thing when I’ve been raking muck, about PPFIC and personal shame history, as I have been so often lately.

So what about Oreos?  Am I happy when eating Oreos?  Not an Oreo; Oreos.  Me and the rats.  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  None of the sensory pleasure that I’ve been extolling about the rice, that’s for sure.  In fact an Oreo eaten whole can be a bit dry.  I’m not a ‘dunker’; although tea or water does help.  But it’s that creamy white center: sugar and fat whipped up together to seduce my bliss point.  Pleasure centers in my brain start ringing and singing and, as I understand it, producing a spurt of happiness chemicals.

But memories? Nothing but shame.  No gratitude or joy to be found.  Sneaking cookies, hiding cookies, eating cookies when I wasn’t hungry.  All for that unbelievably brief illusion of happiness.  How did I respond to that flush of shame?  How did my body respond to the shot of sugarfatbliss?  I would reach for another Oreo.

But to repeat the question:  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  I believe another important piece of the puzzle is habit.  Okay, maybe that seems ridiculously obvious, but the thing is that while the pleasure centers are being zinged by the creamy filling, neurological patterns are being reinforced in my brain.  Every time I would reach for that Oreo, the habit became a bit stronger.  Again, that may seem too obvious, but understanding the process has been eye-opening for me.  It’s all part of the same show.

I read Charles Duhigg‘s book, The Power of Habit almost as soon as it was published in 2012.  I am rereading now, along with the other sources I’ve been writing about, because it so clearly dovetails with my explorations.  I want to make sense of the connections between the PPFIC’s push toward producing addictive food products and personal habit and shame.  It’s all there, it’s all of a piece, I am sure of it.

A final note about getting the car into position for jump-starting.  It has taken years of sweating and pushing to turn the vehicle of my life around, so that a jump start was even  possible.  So that this writing exploration could begin.  And as you know, you can’t push a car by yourself, even a 1960’s VW beetle.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me, believing in me when I have not, reminding me I am not alone no matter how hard it gets and helping me onward by sharing her own courage, I am ever grateful to my dear friend and writing ally, jc.  Tea and toast for two.

Betty C, part II

images-3 So, Betty was an imaginary friend.  Or imaginary neighbor or aunt for a child like me.  I’ll admit, I’ve never really understood the psychological interpretation of the need for an imaginary friend… something about not feeling alone?  However the marketing necessity of BC’s creation by one of the food industry giants is crystal clear. They needed Betty to sell their products and their ideas.

Why did the women of the 1950’s respond so strongly to Betty?  Were they feeling lonely?  To some extent, I think that was true.  The young couples who married right after WWII (and who produced the ‘baby boom’) moved to the suburbs by the millions. [Pause to NOTE, as Laura Shapiro does, my thoughts are relevant primarily to the white, upwardly mobile working class/middle class to which my family belonged.]

imagesMoving to the suburbs was part of the American Dream, but doing so often contributed to the break down of the centuries-old chain of cooking knowledge.  For many women, their mothers, grandmothers and aunts no longer shared the kitchen, as had been the norm.  In a few fortunate families, this dissolution did not occur.  I grew up with friends who learned to cook from their moms and g’moms.  Some of those moms also taught me a thing or two…and I thank them to this day.

A few years ago, I began interviewing people about their Food Life Stories.  In fact, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, that was an early phase of the circle that brings me to this post today.  I am reminded of one woman who shared this bit of advice from her 1950’s mom:  “Never get good at something you don’t like to do, like cooking, because then you will be stuck doing it.”  This woman hated to cook.  Her daughter, now a mother of three, struggles to find any pleasure in cooking for her family.

My mother’s mother virtually never cooked; which she could get away with because her husband traveled for work and my mother was an only child.  In fact, I am quite certain that my Nanna was an early and enthusiastic embracer of prepared foods, when she didn’t eat out or hire someone to cook for her.  images-1

So, did the housewives who turned to Betty Crocker have nowhere else to turn?  Not really.  Betty and her ilk were easy to access, but there were other sources…

I’m talking about Home Economics.  I’ve been doing a little research about the evolution of Home Ec in public schools.  If you took Home Ec classes in junior high or high school, I would love to hear from you about your experiences and memories.  Thanks.

Ms. Betty

Let’s talk about Betty Crocker, shall we?
Was she a real person?  That would be “No.”  BCspoon

She was a delightful persona, invented by Gold Medal Flour/General Foods to speak for the food industry in the voice of a wise & helpful next door neighbor.

She was a, perhaps the, leading character in the food industry campaign to convince women that they really wanted to use the new prepared food products that were pouring out of factories and into markets in the years following WWII.  Much of her story can be found in Laura Shapiro’s gem, Something From the Oven, published in 2004.

Independent research done at the time revealed, again and again, that women did not hate cooking and were not begging for these ‘ready-mix’ products.  (Shapiro, pp. 44-48)  But in the 1950‘s, the newspapers, women’s magazines and radio shows like Betty’s all proclaimed that women no longer wanted to cook, did not have the time to cook and the industry was there to save the day.

Some factory prepared food products were already a common sight in American kitchens.  “Canned meats, soups, fruits and vegetables, along with ketchup, pancake mix… were among the earliest products [late 19th and early 20th century] to become familiar and then indispensable.”, says Shapiro in her introduction.

The door was open and the American palate was already becoming accustomed to the taste of processed food;  “… a long tradition of using… packaged foods had encouraged Americans to develop a… sense of taste… that tended to perceive imitation [flavoring] as plenty good enough.”  (Shapiro, pp. 56)  The opening wedge of using artificial flavors to mask the offensive tastes of factory cooking.  Salt, sugar and fat to follow.

The industry was primed and began to crank out dozens of new packaged foods (some of which failed dismally.)  In this flurry of innovation, Betty was a reassuring presence, an authority that home cooks could turn to with their questions.  Betty Crocker’s New Good and Easy Cookbook was given to me in the late 1950’s.  Still on my shelf, it is splattered and stained, with notes detailing when I made a dish, changes I made and the response of diners.

Looking at the cookbook today, I am surprised (but shouldn’t be) by the appearance of a prepared food item in virtually every recipe.  Sometimes several canned products and Bisquick combine to make an entree.  Mini-marshmallows and canned pineapple show up a lot.  Fact is, it all scares me a little.  But.

But, what I can’t explain is the sensation of support and encouragement that still arises from these pages.  I am transported back to the seven-year-old child who could, and did, learn to cook with the help of Betty Crocker.  She was not real, she was packaged, just like the food she was created to sell, but…      BCface

Cooking Light

cooking lightI like Cooking Light magazine.  I even enjoy the regular note from the editor, Scott Mowbray.  Now, it’s also true that I like to read the letter that Christopher Kimball writes in each issue of Cook’s Illustrated and I’ve heard that not everyone enjoys his stories about Vermont so much…  So you can draw your own conclusions about my reading tastes.  They are, in truth, quite broad.
Anyway, back to Cooking Light.  I find the articles to be informative and I’ve made a good many tasty and healthy meals using their recipes.  They have a reasonable policy toward day-to-day cooking.  Meals can be relatively simple to prepare, but include a range of food-based nutrients and flavors.  Their ‘recipe make-overs’ are healthy without being ridiculously stripped down.
After discussing the loss of cheese in Cheez Whiz yesterday, I decided to take a closer look at the ads in the current (November) issue of CL.  I wondered how closely their advertising policies mirrored their sensible food philosophy.  In general, they do pretty well, with a few exceptions.  A Special Report on Sugar in this issue almost makes up for those problematic advertisers.
As you can imagine, I loved this opening in Kimberly Holland’s report:
“… Sugar … [is] everywhere in the American diet, though largely invisible.  … added to all kinds of processed foods, even those we don’t think of as sweet, such as salad dressing and marinara sauce.  Sugar, along with fat, is one of the key contributors to the caloric density of many packaged foods – the bulking up that happens when whole foods are refined, processed, flavored, and boxed.”  (pp. 39)
What follows is a lot of interesting, and some surprising, info about refined white sugar and alternative sweeteners.  For the most part their conclusions are in line with the research I’ve been reading.  You might want to take a look at the article in the library or on a magazine rack in the store.
But back to those ads…  One ‘offender‘ (in my opinion) appears right alongside some of the Sugar Special Report:  Kellogg’s “To Go” protein drink.
“…it boasts 5 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.   It forgets to boast 4.5 teaspoons of sugar though… [this] highly processed… product… [is] very cheap to make, utilizing commodity soy and whey to bump up protein, and using polydextrose and cellulose to bump up the fiber count. Polydextrose is a synthetic source of soluble fiber… And as if the product is not sweet enough with 4.5 teaspoons worth of sugar, artificial sucralose and acesulfame potassium are thrown into the mix… what is canola oil doing in the drink? Or trans fat heirs-apparent mono and di-glycerides?”  This quote is taken from the blog Fooducate; read full commentary here.  Very disappointing to see this fine, health-focused cooking mag promoting a product that scarcely contains real food ingredients.
I am even more alarmed that the November issue of CL has a three page ad for BELVIQ, a weight loss drug recently approved by the FDA. You know, it’s the the sort of pharmacological ad that needs two extra pages just to list the risks and possible side effects of the advertised drug.  Now I realize that it’s good advertising income for the magazine, but not a responsible choice of advertiser, in my humble opinion.
Consumer Reports says “skip it”.  They note that “ … the European Medicines Agency was so concerned about the drug’s safety that it rejected the drug. The drug’s manufacturer, Arena Pharmaceuticals, recently withdrew its application for the drug’s use in Europe.”    Here’s a link if you want to check out the rest of their report.
There are ads for several Campbell’s products.  Only two days ago there was a report on WBZ-TV about the possible collusion of Campbell’s and the American Heart Association. It is claimed that they have misled customers by putting the AHA’s “Heart Check of Approval” on some soups that contain questionable amounts of sodium (salt).  A lawsuit has been filed that “suggests the AHA benefits financially from awarding these seals of approval. Last year, it collected $2.7 million from food manufacturers. The association maintains this was to cover the costs of the Heart Check program.”  Here’s the link to the WBZ report.
Does it all go back to money, money, money?  Hmm.
Okay, tomorrow I will try to be more upbeat, but for now I will say that despite these questionable advertising choices, this is a great issue – a 276 page Thanksgiving Double Issue.  Now that I have finished raking muck, I can go back and enjoy reading the recipes.