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.

Unapologetic

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.

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

The Ides of NaBloPoMo

What is it I want to say?      What am I trying to do?

I don’t imagine that the power of the food industrial complex will ever be dis-mantled, or even significantly altered.  The machinery for processing the life out of food has been around a long time.  The drive to increase efficiency, productivity and profits is deeply entrenched.  Despite the absurd cries of ‘Socialism!’ that arise when efforts are made to meet the basic needs of all people (read, Affordable Care Act), capitalism is a fact-of-life in the USA, is it not?

As a life-long progressive, I will always be standing against war, environmental destruction, bigotry and violence.  Defending human rights is a baseline.  Perhaps that is the link to what I want to say.  I want to encourage – that is, give courage to – myself and other individuals who have been hobbled by shame.  It is not too late to reject some of the damaging messages that we have ingested since we were children, along with chemically-altered, addictive food products, loaded with salt, sugar and fat.

Even more important, perhaps, is an effort to keep the children of today and future generations from swallowing that crap.  Crap messages of shame and self-blame; crap food from which so much vitality has been leeched.

Home cooks struggle to feed themselves and their family real food that heals and nourishes.  With limited resources and time, it’s hard to resist the onslaught of brilliant, manipulative and well-financed advertising.  Convenience foods with cozy names.  Familiar foods in which the real food ingredients have been gradually replaced by substances developed in labs and produced in factories.

I’m cooking Guatemalan Black Beans today for my family.  They love them; in fact they demand them.  I’ve been making them for 20 years with Organic Canola Oil.  I have a couple of bottles of Canola on the shelf.  Do I use it?  Toss it?  What can I replace it with?  Coconut oil, the latest ‘heart healthy‘ oil would change the flavor of these iconic beans, I would think.  What to do? (These questions refer back to the recent post: Can you guess?)

More questions…always more questions.  IMG_0380

S’okay, keeps me thinking.

What are you thinking?