One bit of news that got a lot of attention last week was the World Health Organization report saying that processed meats are carcinogenic. Hot dogs, bacon and bologna, sausages, salami and ham; these generally salty, flavorful meat products have been staples of the American diet for many years. Let me quote a bit from the October 26, 2015, BBC News item:

“Processed meat has been modified to either extend its shelf life or change the taste… It is the chemicals involved in the processing which could be increasing the risk of cancer.” (Emphasis mine)

If you have read any of my blog posts over the last couple of years, you might remember my commentary on the PFIC, which is my code name for the Processed Food Industrial Complex. Well, here you have it in action. I think one of the most offensive and appalling aspects of the food industry is their method of finding ways to make more money by ‘re-purposing’ waste products. And processed meats are a classic example. Here is some info from the Clear Food website. (It’s an interesting site to check out, if you are interested in knowing what is really in your food. Warning: you may learn some things you wish you hadn’t!)

“… hot dogs are usually processed in factories, where meat trimmings, spices and other ingredients are chopped and blended into an emulsification… If variety meats, such as livers, kidneys and hearts are among the ingredients… the particular ingredient should be listed on the label.” (But often they are not!)

As a side note, Clear Food also found that 10% of the vegetarian products they tested contained meat. What?

I’ve named today’s post Waste for a few reasons. The first, as stated above, is the nefarious use of waste or byproducts by the PFIC to increase profits. There is a wealth of documentation on this common practice in books like Michael Moss’s Salt, Sugar, Fat and elsewhere. The modification and chemical additives which the WHO report tags as likely causes of carcinogenic effects, are ubiquitous (ah, I always wanted to use that word) in the processed food industry. They spend millions of dollars on scientific research into the development and use of said ‘modifications and additives’, because they are in the business of making food products taste so good that we crave them (say, bacon, bacon, bacon.)

This research, purely to enhance profit, is another form of waste, in my opinion. If redirected, the human brainpower and financial investment could make amazing contributions to the health and wellness of the world’s population. Instead, unhealthy processed food products are marketed to consumers all over the planet.

And a final reason that I chose the title Waste… Initially the PFIC was the PPFIC (Packaged & Processed Food Industrial Complex.) I dropped the first ‘P’ after realizing that it was redundant. All processed food is packaged, because it is necessary for an ‘extended shelf life’. Sometimes the amount of packaging is obscene; it’s always wasteful.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the processed meat story – or any other idea sparks or sparks of joy that you want to share. Thanks.

NaBloPoMo November 2015


NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Guess what?             I am not a victim.

What do I mean? Why is it a big piece of news for me?

I woke up at 5 AM this morning, obsessing about a brief article in the Globe yesterday and a careless comment made by someone who I know loves me and I was all bent out of shape. Got out of bed, came to this desk and began digging around on the internet to see if the N.Y. Times had also printed the item, from the Associated Press. As far as I can tell, they had not.  I got more and more outraged and worked up.  Maybe part of feeling ill was induced by lack of sleep, but the rest of it was from drinking poison.

Poison, you say?  What? Well, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this quote previously.  It is attributed to the Buddah.  If I have, sorry, it deserves repeating.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

It hit me hard the first time I heard it.  I’ve found it tremendously helpful in situations with other people, where I needed to let go of anger that wasn’t bothering them, only affecting me.   So clear, so simple, so true.

Well, this morning  I understood it differently. For a couple of years now, I’ve been writing and processing my hurt and anger re: a lifetime of fat shaming and stigma and the evils of the Processed Food Industrial Complex in all its parts.   This has been a cleansing and healing journey for me. But I have remained stuck in the anger more than I want to be. In a funny (not hah-hah) way, it became comfortable to be swaddled in outrage, which is only one small step removed from the longtime familiarity (comfort) of living in shame.     Not.

Each time I respond with visceral rage to the ugliness and ignorance (and in the case of this Globe/AP piece, sensationalizing spin of the media) of others, I dig myself in deeper. Ranting and railing against their behavior perpetuates my experience of feeling trapped and abused. ‘They’ may have been or may be victimizing me, but I’m the one who takes on the label of victim. I believe that articulating and expressing my anger was/is liberating.  It was/is an important step toward freedom from being locked in self-blame. But now I need to step out of that anger box and stop wasting my energy.

The PFIC is the enemy and exposing, for myself, the links between its various elements is really important. But it is not a battle, a war that I can win. Not an enemy that I can conquer, no matter how many facts I uncover, allies I discover, insightful connections that I make or words I write. That’s just how it is. I can still ‘fight the good fight’, as so many other, inspiring people have done and continue to do, confronting both local and global issues.  But as an individual, I cannot move forward in my life if I keep drinking the poison.

So, it’s a new day. Yes, I’m disappointed that the Globe editors chose to print an article, dramatically (and somewhat misleadingly) headlined: Global Obesity costs hits $2 trillion. They chose to emphasize the serious weight of the economic impact, rather than the sociological aspect of the issue.  I am so sick of that bias.

I went to the source, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, wanting to understand how the $2 trillion figure was calculated.  Can’t say I was able to decipher that information, but what I did find was an extensive and nuanced study, entitled How the World Could Better Fight Obesity. It is available for download, if you are interested.  The PFIC is in there, on the list of things that need to change. I wish the media would not choose to inflame bias and stigma with crappy headlines and lifting phrases like ‘a stark prediction’, when the report is, in fact, an honest look at what is and what could be done.   Grr.   Breathe.

As for the person who loves me, who for some reason chose to describe a group of people as including ‘…two really fat people’ and in response to my reaction, stated: ‘That was the most obvious thing about them.’; well, I’m stymied.  I’ll try to accept simply being puzzled by the choice and logic.  As I toss away the poison potion, I’ll hope to release the hurt. That is my intention.  I don’t want to hold onto any more hurt and anger. No more. Not swallowing it, not carrying it, not wasting time and energy on the victim life any more.  Let the anger fuel forward motion.


I do believe that humor is a keystone to friendship. We are drawn to people who laugh at the same things we do, who make jokes that make sense to us and who, best of all, laugh at our jokes. I also believe that there is a lot of crass and unkind humor in our world, the prat fall, slapstick sort of humor that may begin with surprise and silliness, but too often descends into laughing at the misfortune of others. It’s a fine line, I will admit, but think of the many comedians (I will not even discuss the moronic ‘humor’ in many dumb and dumber films) who may start with self-mockery and then quickly are trashing ‘others-ness’ for a cheap laugh. Yuck and shiver.

Oh, wait… For a moment there I thought that I had moved away from the issue of body size, but ‘duh’, there is no humor more ubiquitous and taste-less than fat jokes. In addition to being crass and unkind, fat jokes are lazy, uncreative and lacking in wit, as well as humor.  And they are flipping EVERYWHERE. Do not try to tell me that they are not. A large man or woman is automatically seen as comic… a butt shot, an eating scene, so many endless visuals in the media. Slap, slap, slap.

Okay, moving back to the friendship and humor theme, I wonder, is there any such thing as an un-hurtful ‘fat joke’? Can the stout tell jokes on themselves, among themselves? Perhaps, but the slippery slope is that any such ‘in group’ witticisms are at immediate risk of becoming self-shaming, because they are overlaid with the prevailing sense that size is an acceptable target for mean-spirited humor.

Had to pause to look up the word ‘wit’ in the online dictionary, because the computer didn’t like how I spelled witticism. Found this interesting distinction:

            If you’re good at perceiving analogies between dissimilar things and expressing them in quick, sharp, spontaneous observations or remarks, you have wit.

Humor, on the other hand, is the ability to perceive what is comical, ridiculous, or ludicrous in a situation or character, and to express it in a way that makes others see or feel the same thing. It suggests more sympathy, tolerance, and kindliness than wit…

So, perhaps my personal definitions of wit and humor are somewhat at odds with the dictionary, but that’s neither here nor there. What I find interesting in this quote is the idea that humor intends to ‘make others see or feel the same thing’, which goes back to my opening thoughts about humor as a foundational part of friendship. When a humorous comment strikes home for me, I know that the speaker sees the world in a way that is similar to my own outlook and I enjoy that.

The other phrase that really struck me in this dictionary note (which attempts to draw distinctions between wit, humor, irony, sarcasm and satire) is the statement that ‘ [humor] suggests more sympathy, tolerance and kindness.’ Really? That is a fascinating idea. Is that to say that wit is the quick, sharp jab of comedy and humor is a gentler creature? I’m all for tolerance and kindness, that’s for sure. I’ll have to think on that a bit.

If anyone is reading this… what say you?

And in the Not Laughing department:




Follow through

Today I am discouraged. There are several reasons why, but I don’t want to go into them.

Honestly, I want to quit this whole adventure. I think maybe exposing myself, my thoughts, feelings, painful history and current vulnerabilities is just not for me. I am not cut out for this.

Enough with ‘acting as if’ I am fearless, courageous, willing and able to spill my guts on a blog. Today, doubt and judgment win, just like the wealthy white men who won so many of the elections yesterday.

Sometimes a day can make a heck of difference. I know that it has happened before: after the worst of days, I can wake up with a jolt of optimism and purpose. So, who knows how tomorrow will dawn.

I’d like to follow through on this commitment to NaBloPoMo, but not if every post is full of whining.

Here’s a bit of info about GMOs in a product many of us think of as healthy and old fashioned.  It’s a ‘think again’ moment:







Oh, and one more thing…


Congressman Tim Ryan has put together a petition asking (!) that the FDA label the sugar content in processed foods in teaspoons (a measurement most people in the U.S. are familiar with), rather than in grams.  You can read and sign the petition here.  Its a small thing, but seems worth a moment of your time.



Thinking about the article I quoted yesterday, (Professor Pothos’ research findings), I started to chuckle, struck by an ironic thought. The image that came to my mind once belonged to the women’s [sic] magazines in the grocery store checkout lines, but now includes the sidebar of almost every Internet site. I’m speaking of the weight-loss and ‘New Diet!’ claims that sprout endlessly in our media-saturated and weight-obsessed world. Seems like there is a new, sure-fire plan every day.

It’s easy to mock and scorn those annoying promises, so gloriously promoted and later debunked. However, it’s also true that articles touting new research on ‘causes of obesity’, or in this case, ‘Why it’s so hard to diet’ are regularly presented as earth-shattering, only to be pushed aside by the next big thing. Are they different sides of the same media game?

As I once-upon-a-time grasped at the latest weight-loss solution, I am now likely to seize upon a new study that appears to explain the whys and wherefores of body size. I’d like to think that I’m a bit wiser now about the whole hype game. I turn a blind eye to the magazine headlines proclaiming that some starlet with a small belly has found the true and sacred answer to weight loss. I sneer, curling my lip at the ‘Never eat these five foods’ adverts that pop up on the computer screen.

I exercise my critical eye.

I read snippets from studies that conclude, based on research with rats or mice, that there are mechanisms that are hard wired within me.  Some are species specific, some familial-ly genetic and some are neural pathways that have been created by trauma or the death of critical microbes in my intestines. These scraps of information, taken with a grain (but no more) of salt are something I want to share with others who may not have the obsession or time to seek them out.

I believe these data bites are pieces of the puzzle. Although my history and the story of millions of large people cannot be rewritten, these studies contain a cautionary note. This may be what my researching and writing are all about, really. I’m driven to understand what has shaped me as a person, both physically and emotionally.

I want to share the information and insights I have acquired from food researchers like Michael Moss (Salt, Sugar Fat) and others regarding what I call the Processed Food Industrial Complex (PFIC). I want to share the psychological and sociological information and insights I have gained from Brene Brown (I thought it was Just Me…) and others, which have helped me to de-construct the monster called shame. And I need to share some of these new ‘facts’ that are trickling out to the public, backed by oceans of scientific research, explaining or attempting to explain misunderstood phenomena about weight.

I want people like me to know that it is not our ‘fault’. The boogeyman and cudgel named the ‘Obesity Epidemic’ has many causes, with roots deep in our profit-driven, misogynistic culture. I am determined to throw off the blame, the claim that we simply lack discipline and will power.  In some ways the deck has been stacked and it’s time to understand that and listen to our own bodies. For far too long the slick voices of the PFIC, presented by their marketing and advertising geniuses, have dominated and we have internalized their inaccurate and self-defeating messages.

End of diatribe.

Next time:  Friendship

What if…

Another line of thought, springing from: What if… I had been told, ‘don’t worry about [my] size’… is more concrete: my actual body size and eating behavior over the years. I was first placed on a diet at age eight and my food intake was restricted for the next ten years by my parents. There was a lot of stigmatizing, teasing by my siblings and parents (there was a post about this last November…) a lot of shame and a concurrent, childhood pattern of ‘secret eating’ began. If your siblings are given ice cream after dinner and you are told that you cannot have any because are too fat, I think that it’s a fairly predictable response from a preteen. It’s the same as hearing: you can’t go out after 8 PM and sneaking out the window to meet your friends; or any other prohibition that triggers a defiant response from a child.

Some forty years ago I first heard about ‘yo-yo dieting’ and the body’s ‘set point’. The most basic explanation made sense to me immediately. It seems obvious that the body needs and expects a certain level of nutrient intake for optimal health. As an organism, it responds to an experience of starvation (read, restrictive diet… and the diets of the late 20th century were certainly restrictive) by drawing on its reserves (stored fat, then muscle) and adjusting its expectations/needs. As I understood the concept at that time, the body changes its ‘set point’ and proceeds to operate in starvation mode. Add a few extra nutrients (calories) and the weight piles on. In the case of yo-yo dieters, where their weight goes up and down repeatedly, the body’s internal regulatory systems get completely messed up.

That’s pretty much how I understood the concept back in the 1970’s: simplistic and undoubtedly containing medical inaccuracies. However, over the years, a lot of research has been done and mountains of literature have been published about the ways in which the body reacts to healthy and unhealthy eating. Remember, overeating and dieting are equally unhealthy eating patterns! I have found much of the latest research into the neurological aspects of this issue is fascinating. One such article crossed my path recently.

“Emmanuel N. Pothos, associate professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and neuroscience in the Tufts School of Medicine’s Department of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology and his colleagues are focusing on the reward system in the brain that motivates us to seek out food…”

“When an animal eats a meal, the brain’s food reward system releases dopamine, one of a group of chemicals called neurotransmitters that relay signals between brain cells. Dopamine produces a pleasurable sensation that lets the animal know it has satisfied a primal need.”

“A number of factors can knock the reward system off kilter… Gaining weight and losing weight alter the system… as can certain diseases, including addiction.” (Ah, addiction.)

“Starvation… will alter this reward system’s otherwise tidy feedback loop. When an animal is having a hard time finding enough food… the brain doesn’t want it to feel satisfied after just one meal. The brain wants to compel the animal to keep looking, to keep eating, all day if it can.”     Here is a link to the full article.

Speaking up

When I was younger, I protested.  As I became aware of the ‘wrongs’ in the world, I marched, picketed, rallied and performed civil disobedience.  I was mostly inarticulate, but I put my body out there and let it speak for me.  “Count me” as against the Vietnam war, U.S. interference in Central America and the perils of nuclear power plants.  “I am one of many” supporting civil rights, women’s liberation, workers rights, gay rights, environmental causes and reproductive rights.

When I look back now, I can see that my activism protesting injustice was partially fueled by the indignities and unfairness that I had experienced as a child and adolescent.  My drive to protest was largely unconscious, that is, I just knew what was ‘wrong’ and I acted.  In many ways the pattern of my life can be seen in that way; my instinctive reaction to a situation informs my response.  And I am perfectly okay with that.

Nowadays, in my later middle age, that ‘gut reaction’ is still my primary motivator and I rarely question my perceptions and instincts.  However, there is another element that has come to the fore.  In a much broader way, facts have joined with instinct to inform my opinions and actions.  And what is personally most significant – I am using my voice.

Often it is in my writing; sometimes in person.  Call it the confidence of age, if you will, but I am quite comfortable speaking my piece.  I am angry.  For decades I reacted with indignation and outrage on behalf of others.  Now I feel free to express fury on my own behalf as well.  The movie I have been urging you to go see next week, Fed Up, eloquently presents the case against the PFIC pushers I began writing about last fall.  It exposes the food industry and their governmental lackeys.

Did you know that the World Health Organization proposed guidelines (for at least the second time) more than ten years ago, limiting the amount of sugar recommended in our daily diet?  Did you know that the American Sugar Association and our government (led at the time by G.W. Bush) actually threatened to withhold U.S. funding ($406 million) for the WHO unless the recommendation was changed?  If you need proof that the bullying was effective, look at a nutrition label.  You will see that although sugar is listed under ‘Amount Per Serving’, there is nothing listed under ‘Percentage Daily Value’.  What?  The pushers won.  Outrageous.  In case you want to know more or I have been unclear, here are a couple of links to articles, in Mother Jones and the British paper, The Guardian.

Veering away from the PFIC for a moment, I want to bring your attention to an eerily parallel story regarding our public schools.  Here’s a link to a magazine article I read.  The early section entitled The beginning of “reform” really stunned me.  When the author says “Corporations recognized privatization as a euphemism for profits”, my feelings went from misery to rage. Add in the fact that something like 80% of our public schools have contracts with the PFIC to provide food products (not real food) for children…

To quote my beloved grandmother Inez Lewis Johnson, “It makes me mad enough to spit!”  Which was strong language for a lady born in 1895…

Until next time, be well.


Fed Up

Just back from a preview showing of the movie I mentioned last week, Fed Up.

So much damning information about the PFIC (Processed Food Industrial Complex).  And I may need to revise the title I’ve given, to include the US Government’s role in this horror story.

Honestly, I can’t think right now.  My head is swimming with factoids and my heart is churning with emotional reactions.

So, for now, I am going to say, go see this film.  Here is a link to the trailer.  Here is a link to the list of theaters where it will be showing, starting in the couple of weeks.

On another topic:  I’ve been writing about corners.  More next time.

“Should.” “Don’ Wanna.”

Everything seems to be taking a little longer today.  I am out-of-sorts and easily irritated. “Should, Don’ Wanna” is my theme song.

Is there a pressing should?  Well, I could do X, Y or Z. Yeah. I could.  I try to remember to say ‘could’ instead of ‘should’.  It’s definitely a less violent word than should, but still triggers an apathetic “but I don’ wanna”.

Where am I going with this?  Into a dark, self-defeating hole.  Think I’ll stop now.  I’ll come back to this negative chant – which can be viewed from a more positive angle in terms of choice – some other day.

I do have a piece of (potentially exciting) news to share. Here is some information about a new movie called FED UP, that’s coming out in May. It’s clearly promotional hype, but there is one sentence, which I have highlighted below, lest you miss it (grin) that speaks directly to so much I have been trying to say in this blog. I am so, so eager to find out the veracity and the source of this statistic.

Thirty years ago the U.S. Government issued its first ever dietary guidelines and with it one of the greatest health epidemics of our time ensued. In her documentary feature debut, executive producer and narrator Katie Couric joins Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth), Regina Scully (The Invisible War) and Stephanie Soechtig (Tapped) to explore why, despite media attention and government policies to combat childhood obesity, generations of kids will now live shorter lives than their parents.

Upending the conventional wisdom of why we gain weight and how to lose it, FED UP unearths the dirty little secret the food industry doesn’t want you to know — far more of us are sick from what we are eating than anyone has ever realized.

The truth is, only 30% of people suffering from diet-related diseases are actually obese; while 70% of us — even those of us who look thin and trim on the outside — are facing the same consequences, fighting the same medical battles as the obese among us.

Following a group of children for more than two years, director Stephanie Soechtig achieves a profound intimacy with them as they document their uphill battles to follow the conventional wisdom, ‘diet and exercise’, in order to live healthier, fuller lives. They are undertaking a mission impossible. In riveting interviews with the country’s leading experts, FED UP lays bare a decades-long misinformation campaign orchestrated by Big Food and aided and abetted by the U.S. Government.

Here is a link to the trailer, which doesn’t address the 30% and 70% statistic, but it’s worth a look.  Sugars



Poetry & tiny beads

Last Wednesday, a writer friend unexpectedly took me to a poetry reading.  As it happened, she also gave me a belated holiday gift, a collection of poems by the same poet, her favorite, Billy Collins.  If you don’t know his work, please check it out…

I thanked her the next day, for taking me ‘to another realm’.   Laughter, beauty and inspiration, I told her, were the things that I dis- or re- covered there.  Like fresh air, water or an open, silent vista.  What I needed, when I needed it, but didn’t know that I did.  I presume and hope you have sometime had that experience.  The reading was at Symphony Hall, an elegant setting, although I had never been quite so far from a reading poet before… I actually watched him on the ‘Jumbo-tron-style’ screen!  His generous gifts of story and poem were not at all diminished by the distance.  5171172_f260

That simple and most excellent evening was the cause of my delay, posting here on Thursday morning, instead of my self-imposed deadline of Wednesday evening.  Thursday passed by as many days do, filled with tasks and such.  Risking TMI, I will share that a nasty GI bug or food poisoning (my own cooking?) awoke me overnight and I spent Friday and Saturday abed.  Weak, tired and bored, I had the opportunity to read his poems (and others) and to think in the manner only stretches of un-busy-ness allow.  That is to say, deeply, which I believe implies calmly.  To be ‘relieved’ of even the brain power to plan “what I will do when I feel better” was at first frustrating, then allowed a deeper sinking into self.

Please know that I have no idea what courage, stamina and spirit it must take to survive a truly lengthy recovery from serious accident or illness.  I only wish to say how this string of events has unfolded for me, from a seat in the second balcony in Symphony Hall, to physical distress to bed rest.

There are on-topic things that I could write about and post today.  Mark Bittman had an excellent Op-Ed in the NY Times last week, which I want to discuss.   Here’s the first paragraph, for a taste.  There are so many reasons to admire this man: a chef with a global view.

In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyper-processed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.

Among other things, his piece led me to a new book called Lethal, but Legal, whose author discusses the ‘Corporate Consumption Complex’.  What a delightful surprise to encounter unknown kin of my ‘Processed Food Industrial Complex’!  Written by an academician, the book contains the results of mountains of research that I barely dreamed of attempting.  Many thanks to Professor Nicholas Freudenberg, whose words I will surely be sharing here, as I read about the Triple C.

In conclusion, however, here is what I wanted to share with you today.  The aforementioned string of events in my personal life has become a simple necklace, with four tiny, hand-molded beads.  In the past few days, I have written drafts of four small poems.  They are not especially good; in fact they are not yet poems, really and they may never reach that goal.  There are a few nice images and a nice ‘turn of phrase’ or two.  But the thing is – I wrote them.  A little fissure into the inner world of image and emotion, wrought by chance.  images-4