This house

doorI have lived in this house for thirty-five years. This morning when I heard the familiar sound of the front door closing, I was flooded with feelings of contentment and safety. I would say flooded with joy, but what does that really mean?

Can I describe the rattle bang sound? First of all, the bang was not an angry or aggressive bang, simply the sound of closure; wood meets wood as the door is received by the door frame. There is a rattle in the mix, slight, but noticeable to the careful ear. The panel of windowpanes, inserted for winter into the outer door 1knob– known seasonally as a screen door or a storm door – has its own particular sound. Again, wood meets wood and the rattling, receiving sounds merge like instruments in an orchestra. Their pitches are different.

They are also blended by the alchemy of air being compressed as the atmosphere inside the doorknobhouse is separated from the air of the wide world outside. And finally, if there can be a finally in this tonal moment, there is the drift of these sounds, up through the stairwell to the third floor.

All the reading I have done about emotions and the brain instructs me that the surge of good feeling I experience is the result of chemicals (hormones) released in my body when my brain is triggered by a stimulus, in this case, the sounds. That is a crude description, but I’m trying to say that I know this is mechanical – cause and response. I know, but old as I am, a rush of good feelings still seems almost magical to me. ‘Where did that come from?’ I wonder. Even as I analyze the sounds, it is the ‘feel good-ness’ of the moment that lingers.doorknobs

I have spent most of my life in this house.  Far more than in my childhood home. Thousands of days, thousands of mornings and today I noticed my emotional response to the sounds of the front door closing.


PS:  I love old doorknobs…


I am fairly certain that Gloria Steinem would prefer not to be labeled a hero in the conventional sense. However, before I continue on this topic, I’d like you to pause and listen to a song. The title is, not surprisingly, Heroes. It is written and performed by Ann Reed (Hole in the Day is the album) and I have cherished this song since the first time I heard it. At the close of the song, Reed invokes a list of women heroes drawn from our history. Certainly there are names that could be added, but I find the litany quite stirring and satisfying. Over time I have come to appreciate the phrasing in the rest of the piece. Reed’s ‘definition’ of a hero as a friend seems right. It also aligns with Steinem’s request that she be referred to not as a mentor, but as a partner, of Jamia Wilson (Executive Director of WAM: Women, Action & the Media), with whom she shared the stage last night.

The event was focused on Steinem’s recently published memoir, My Life on the Road. Several hundred of us got to be a part of the evening and listening to both Steinem and Wilson produced many sparks of joy. Another popping source of joy for this 63-year-old woman were the hundreds of young feminists who filled the hall. I will admit that I had expected to see a lot of grey heads, but we were soundly outnumbered, which was grand! I’m not very good at ‘re-viewing’ talks that touch me deeply, precisely because they touch me deeply. When I’m immersed in the experience, it’s as if my cells are absorbing the messages and it’s hard to translate that into words.

Going back to my own thoughts about heroes, the definition: “[a person] admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities”, is useful, but doesn’t capture the essence for me. It doesn’t describe what I got from Steinem’s talk last night or the impact that the poetry of Mary Oliver has or how the groundbreaking work on shame by Brené Brown opens my eyes. Or what I feel when I listen to Reed’s song, while looking out my window at this riot of autumnal glory.

yard 11.5

It’s that spark of joy that lifts me up and inspires me. My true heroes are not people placed on a pedestal to be admired or idealized, which creates distance. They are full human beings, expressing their passion and honesty; taking risks that may leave them exposed and vulnerable. Some of my heroes are famous. Living or dead, I learn from the words and deeds they have courageously shared with the world. Many of my heroes are regular people who exhibit quiet, persistent, heart-felt bravery every day. My heroes cause me to feel alive and encouraged, given courage to be my authentic self. Reed asks: “What can I learn from you? That I must do the thing I think I cannot do; that you do what’s right by your heart and soul. It’s the imperfections that make us whole… “

A final note, about MS Magazine: If you don’t read it, you are missing out. Find a copy.

NaBloPoMo November 2015


I’ve always apologized too much; that is I have reflexively said “I’m sorry” several thousand times when it was inappropriate.  My mother said those words frequently and it is only in retrospect that I understand how bitterly and sarcastically she often said them.  Thanks to a dear friend, who is similarly afflicted with the ‘sorry-reflex disease’, I’ve become more conscious of my habitual use of the phrase.  This has helped me to curb its compulsive appearance in my dialog with the world.

The word ‘dis-ease’, which I used above, reminds me that these unnecessary apologies burst from my lips primarily when I am ill at ease or uneasy.  Case in point:  recently, while struggling awkwardly to remove a difficult sock, I said ‘I’m sorry’ to my spousal witness.  When asked, logically, ‘What for?’ the only response I could muster was… ‘For being alive?’

A quick check of online definitions yields two items:  first, a definition:                     regretful acknowledgment of offense or failure.

My goodness, that sounds an awful lot like shame, doesn’t it?   I also learn about  National Sorry Day, an annual event held in Australia since 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the continent’s indigenous population.  Now that’s an appropriate use of the word.

What brought this up?  An article in the newspaper, heralding the upcoming appearance of Barbie in this year’s Sports Illustrated 50th anniversary Swimsuit issue.  It is unclear whether she will be on the cover or not, however having Barbie flaunt her body in this iconic [sic] setting is part of Mattel’s “unapologetic” campaign to promote sales.  I’m not going to bother responding to the whole Barbie appearance issue; been there, done that, when my daughter was young.Barbie

What really struck me was the up-front and proud use of ‘unapologetic’.  A Mattel executive is quoted as saying “… unapologetic is a word that we use internally, [but this is the first time we are] engaging in a conversation publicly.”  I believe she means that they take pride in thumbing their collective nose at those critics who see the Barbie cult as potentially damaging for the self-image of young girls.  And more broadly, I believe the Mattel Corporation is expressing a widely held and unapologetic corporate view that profit is the driver of all decisions.

Another article, ironically placed at the top of the same page (deep in the Business section) carries forward the same theme.  It details a shift in the way the sweetener section of the Processed Food Industrial Complex is promoting its products.  Headlined: ‘The Sweetener War’, the piece describes how the combatants, team Sugar and team Corn Syrup have changed their game plans.  Less money is now going toward paying lobbyists to press their agendas with government policy makers.  In a clever (or shady?) shift, these PFIC behemoths have funded non-profit groups, billed as consumer organizations, to carry out research and ‘soft lobbying’ campaigns to influence public opinion.  Lobbyists have to be publicly registered, but non-profits are not required to reveal their donors.  Is this another Citizens United ploy?  Money talks.  Hidden money buys tremendous clout.  Manipulating or deceiving the consumer is just how the game is played.  Unapologetic.

Other recent articles have exposed the shrinking package size, but steady or rising price of packaged foods.  Unapologetic deception.  A piece about pizza consumption describes the USDA ‘dairy checkoff program’ which ‘levies a small fee on milk’, which is then used ‘to promote products like milk and cheese’.  A corporation named Dairy Management Inc., which is funded by these fees, spent ‘$35 million in a partnership with Domino’s to Chzpizzapromote pizza sales’.  Other funds from the checkoff program helped McDonalds launch new burgers with two slices of cheese.  And on and on.  This program and similar programs supporting the meat industry have been renewed in the most recent farm bill.  That’s the bill that cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.)

Unapologetic.  ‘Let them eat pizza.’

Here’s the thing… I only read this one newspaper and I know these articles represent only a small percentage of the muck that is out there to be raked up.  It makes me very tired, because there is such relentless hoopla about the ‘obesity epidemic’, which unapologetically (perhaps unintentionally) reinforces fat stigma and here ‘we’ are subsidizing the PFIC that is contributing to unhealthy eating habits.  Where’s the money, real money, to promote eating fruits and vegetables?  Where’s the money to sponsor unbiased research and publication of results that actually serve the consumer, rather than the corporation?

Returning to the personal element… I am tired of feeling apologetic for taking up space, for how I look, for ‘being alive’.  I regret all the years of reflexive apologizing.  Why do these heavy hitters, these honchos get to flaunt their unapologetic stance?  It’s all about the raging range of social inequities that confront and offend me everyday.  Well, it’s my turn.  If I have earned nothing else in my 60+ years, I’ve earned the right to healthy entitlement.  It’s my turn to be unapologetic.

Two weeks

Looking back over my two weeks of daily blog posts, I have mixed feelings.  Foremost is the realization that this !^*# is hard work.  Followed by the thought, ‘… and that’s why I decided to do NaBloPoMo, to push myself!’

Fact is, I’ve been doing daily writing for many years, but much of it is never shared.  So the idea that I am putting words, thoughts, a bit of myself out there each day is a major challenge.  I know that my readership consists of a small handful of friends and I’m okay with that.  It’s really about challenging myself.

I mentioned the other part of the push in the first couple of posts.  I’m attempting to articulate the three (or more, who knows) elements of fat shaming that have come together in my mind, as I’ve been de-constructing shame.  Personal experience, the obscene culpability of the food industrial complex and the social factors around addiction, women and shame.

I am intimidated by the huge amount of information and opinion that I need to synthesize, in order to make my understanding of the ‘facts’ accessible to others.  Each thread leads to another thread, as evidenced by several of the posts.  It’s easy to be distracted and spin off in yet another direction.  That’s how I learn and how I think, but pulling it all back together is important.  I want to get these ideas out of my head and heart and into the world.

I don’t have time to follow a lot of blogs myself.  There are so many that interest me, I get frustrated.  My blogger friend Em-i-lis is a daily inspiration with her musings on food, politics, family, community and so many elements of life as art.  Her photos regularly give me a thrill or a chill.

Another online site that I check in with occasionally is ‘Talking Writing: a magazine for creative writers and readers.’  A recent blog/column by Judith A. Ross entitled ‘When Blogging Becomes Art’ caught my attention.  Ross writes about a blog which she follows called ‘Lost in Arles’ by Heather Robinson. She reflects on the impact that Robinson’s blog posts have had on her. The art of it.  “…what art does: It educates, fosters empathy, sparks curiosity, and refocuses the lens through which I view the world. It’s not gimmicky, and it demonstrates a mastery of the medium.’

Ross asked Robinson, “… if she thought blogging could be an art form.  [H]er answer was an enthusiastic yes… ‘Haven’t you sobbed until your heart wrenched from things that you have read on blogs? Or really changed the way you thought about one subject or the other? Or been so visually dazzled that the hair stood up on the back of your neck?'”

So blogging is a chain, a conversation that spins out and loops back and changes us.
I will finish out this NaBloPoMo because it’s what I’ve set out to do.  If anyone is moved by it, that is a bonus.

Here’s a bit of color:  Pomegranate  POM3

Can you guess?

Perhaps you already know and I’m the one who’s late to the party.  Party?  Well, hardly a party, a bit more somber than that.  But why not start off with a riddle?

What is a frequently used kitchen staple that I believed was a healthy choice, compared to other options?
What item takes it’s name, not from the raw food from which it is made, but from the nation where it was developed?
Actually, that’s only the first part of its name.  The name includes a middle part which is the first letter of the type of product it is; and the last part of the name is actually an acronym for the fact that there is only a low level of a toxin in this product. Huh?

canolaOkay, that last part may be more confusing than helpful as a clue.  Enough riddling.
The answer is…CAN-O-LA oil.

Here are some notes from Dr John Douillard, an Ayurvedic practitioner with whom I have studied.  You will find his bio and a link to one of his related articles at the end of this post.

“The first suspicion-raising reason to avoid canola is that there is not a ‘canola’ plant in nature.   It turns out that, in an attempt to create a cheaper version of olive oil, researchers genetically modified the rapeseed plant from the mustard seed family and created GMO rapeseed oil. Like olive oil, it was a monounsaturated oil. The only problem was its high content of erucic acid, a compound that is toxic and problematic for cardiovascular health.

“… so, Canadian researchers figured out a way to genetically modify it further to lower the erucic acid content and give it the appearance of a heart healthy polyunsaturated fat. As long as it was lower than 2% erucic acid, it was considered safe. They even found a way to grow the new genetically modified rapeseed plant organically…

“The new rapeseed oil was given a tributary name. CAN for ‘Canadian,’ O for ‘oil,’ and LA for ‘low (erucic) acid.‘  It was the new rage… a monounsaturated oil like olive oil with a high amount of omega 3’s, like fish oils, and low in problematic saturated fats.   What could be better? Oh yes – and it was dirt cheap!  In 2006, the FDA allowed it to be marketed as a heart healthy oil.

“While there are no long-term studies assessing the risks of canola oil, there are studies that raise suspicion related to heart and circulation, fibrous tissue accumulation, growth issues in infants and more.  But remember, like all other refined vegetable oils, canola oil is cooked, bleached, and deodorized to the point where it can sit on a shelf for years and not go bad.  As a rule of thumb, if the bacteria that make things go bad won’t eat it, your liver will not be able to digest it either.”

I don’t know about you, but this !#^* scares me.  For years I have been comfortable feeding my loved ones foods made with canola oil, believing…   Well, there’s a question, who have I been believing?  Food magazines?  Whole Foods Markets?  Advertising?  How can something be GMO and organic?  I am truly befuddled here.  Comments?

John Douillard, DC is the former Director of Player Development for the New Jersey Nets NBA team. He directs the LifeSpa Ayurvedic Retreat Center in Boulder, CO

Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill by Udo Erasmus.  Published by Books Alive. 1993

To be fed


I‘m not sure why this quote from Lidia Bastianich ** struck me as so significant.  I tore it out of a food magazine and the scrap has been floating about my desk for several months.  [By now you know that I often save articles that I read…]  But this brief, almost pedestrian phase, really captured something for me:

“Cooking is something we do basically for others…”, Bastianich said.

The quote goes on, with more ‘kitchen wisdom’, but that statement of the obvious really  resonated for me.  Let’s see if I can explain.

I cook for others.  I’ve always cooked for others.  Without understanding it or consciously choosing it as a modus operandi, it is what I do.  How many times have I heard our long-time friend Jill say ‘Cathy always used to bake…’ ?  And I did.  In my twenties, baking sweets and vegetarian delights was how I gave to my friends.  In my forties and fifties I cooked daily for my little family, relishing that role, even on the days when I was tired of doing it.

I’m trying to unmask my m.o. here,  “… something we basically do for others…”  Yes, and, in the nicest possible way, it was perhaps how I controlled or limited the nature of my relationships with others.  I fed them.

There have been only a very few people whom I have truly allowed to feed me.  And by ‘to feed me’, I mean the literal act of cooking for me and a more figurative meaning as well.  It was only in these few relationships that I could relax and allow myself to be cared for, without a struggle.  It has not been easy to step away from my m.o., to trust and feel worthy of being nurtured.  In each case, it slowly dawned on me that these relationships were enormously significant.  They provide a tiny bit of balance in my ‘all giving & no receiving‘ life story.

My daughter has begun to cook for me, for our family.  Twice in the past week, while I napped in my head-cold-stupor, she created dinner, cooking the food and setting the table, complete with a lit candle.  She has fed me.

Wandering the Web

Yesterday I was browsing the IFT website.  Today a little clipping in Bon Appetit piqued my curiosity and led me to an online issue of Wired Magazine and an article entitled  “Stunt Foods” by Sophie Egan. **  I am intrigued by the internet presence of the various elements that make up the processed food industry.

Egan talks about the Dorito’s Locos Taco (DLT), introduced by Taco Bell in March of 2012.

chipsDLT is “one of the most successful fast food products in history.”  Along with the bacon sundae from Burger King and our own Dunkin’ Donuts bacon-egg doughnut sandwich, these over-the-top, brand-blending excessive products are catching on.  “… what’s unique about the DLT and its brethren is their flagrance. They celebrate their indulgence, rather than hide it.

“People are so sick of hearing about what healthy foods you should be eating…”, says Barb Stuckey, food industry expert at Mattson (developers of new food and beverage products, who promise “…compelling concepts with consumer ‘Frequency Appeal.’”  Sure sounds like “heavy users” to me…). “When one of these chains comes out of left field and introduces something so shockingly indulgent, it’s like a release from the onslaught of fear-mongering about our health.”, says Stuckey.

“Megan LoDolce, (a food marketing researcher at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity), says marketers could be using these new food species to appeal to a sort of rebellion, conscious or subconscious, against all the ‘perceived paternalism’ common in today’s discourse around eating. And certainly the rhetoric of the fast food companies lends some credence to this view: One promo for the DLT, for example, simply said in big block letters, ‘GIVE IN.’”

So, the promotors of these products may (!) be knowingly marketing unhealthy food, encouraging and capitalizing on a spirit of resistance and backlash against the facts about processed food products.  The push is to tell the consumer, go ahead, indulge; go beyond the basic fast food level of SS&F in your food and double the dosage.

“Once an idea has been hatched”, continues Egan, “bringing it to the table in real life can involve as many scientists as a government task force. Fast food chains’ R&D rosters include degrees like culinary science and nutrition but also chemistry and industrial, packaging, and mechanical engineering. Over countless iterations, food technicians work in test kitchens alongside trained chefs, with input from marketers and quality assurance specialists. There are focus groups and prototypes, operations tests and market tests.”

All in the name of profit.  What a waste of all that brain power.


A terrific business model

Here’s a note from the website of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)

“The food you consume on a daily basis is the result of extensive food research, a systematic investigation into a variety of foods’ properties and compositions. After the initial stages of research and development comes the mass production of food products using principles of food technology. All of these interrelated fields contribute to the food industry – the largest manufacturing industry in the United States”.

The more I read, the clearer it becomes that the food industry really is part of a complex set of mutually dependent industries, whose distorted world view has controlled not only food production, but a major swath of our cultural life for decades.  It’s not about food, it’s about money.  It’s not about health, it’s about money.  It’s not about improving the daily life (which includes eating, therefore cooking) of people, it’s about money.

Like the old song about “the shin bone’s connected to the ankle bone…”  In the same way that the connection of our bones make movement possible for our bodies, the industries linked to the processed food industry need each other to survive and thrive, financially.  Agribusiness, factory farming of animals, the diet industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the chemical industry, the advertising industry… They exist because of and in support of each other:  using each others by-products and cast offs; they are so deep in each others pockets, it is disheartening to consider.

Which is why I am so grateful to the authors I have cited thus far and their colleagues.  Personally, having the facts helps me manage my discontent.  Here is just a small quote from Michael Pollan’s Cooked:

When wheat is milled, “they scrupulously sheer off the most nutritious parts of the seed – the coat of bran and the embryo, or germ, that it protects – and sell that off, retaining the least nourishing part to feed us. In effect, they’re throwing away the best 25% of the seed:  the vitamins and antioxidants, most of the minerals, and the healthy oils all go to factory farms to feed animals, or to the pharmaceutical industry, which recovers some of the vitamins from the germ and then sells them back to us – to help remedy nutritional deficiencies, created at least in part by white flour.  A terrific business model, perhaps, but terrible biology.”

Terrible, indeed.