Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy holidays!

Hope everybody has a very Merry Christmas, etc.

Here is a picture of Bunpote eating our Christmas tree!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The poison keyboard

This month's Utne Reader included their list of nominations for the Utne Independent Press Awards, and guess who's on it: your favorite and mine, VegNews! And what's more, they were nominated not for design (which I think they have been in the past) but for "Health/Wellness Coverage"!

This was really too much for me. So I decided to take bold, swift action and... write a letter to the editor. Here's what I said:

I'm puzzled as to why VegNews was nominated for an Utne Independent Press Award for Health/Wellness Coverage. As a health-conscious vegetarian, I recently stopped my subscription to VegNews because they promote veganism for reasons of animal rights, not human health. Any time the two come into conflict, they side with the animals. For example, a recent issue bemoaned the impending ban on trans fats in New York City restaurants because it will raise costs for vegan fast food restaurants. They also regularly promote packaged, processed food products as alternatives to animal products, and they recently attacked the Slow Food Movement (referring to it as the "Developmentally Disabled Movement") because it doesn't have any prominent vegetarians on its board.

I could understand VegNews being nominated for Political Coverage, or for Best Design, but Health/Wellness? Not unless you mean the health and wellness of animals rather than (and sometimes at the expense of) humans.

Think they'll run it? I'm not holding my breath. My last letter to the editor (of VegNews) didn't get published and I'll bet they never even read it. Here's what that one said:

In your August issue, Dan Piraro the nutrition expert/cartoonist claims to have discovered "the reason" people are fat: Dairy! Oh, so that half cup of nonfat organic milk in my morning coffee is the reason for my "sizeable posterior"? And if I just went vegan then I'd get skinny and have a healthier heart? OK, I'll just start eating only VegNews recipes and watch the pounds melt away – after all, the amount of coconut milk in your Thai-Style Coconut Soup recipe on page 65 only has 177 grams of saturated fat! And while I'm at it, I'll head over to Food Swings in Brooklyn (page 25) and get some vegan fast food loaded with heart-healthy trans fats.

I've considered going vegan in the past but have hesitated because of concerns about margarine and soy. If you want to convince vegetarians to go vegan for health, then get a real nutritionist to make the case that a vegan diet is healthy, rather than just reinforcing our society's hatred towards fat people and pretending it's all about health. Smug articles like Piraro's that hurl insults and make unfounded judgments about people's health based on their size will only push people away.

I thought maybe the sarcasm kept my letter out of the magazine, so I decided to tone it down for Utne. But in fact, VegNews only prints letters that tell them how great they are, so I suspect that they wouldn't have run it either way. In any case, whether Utne prints my letter or not, I'll look forward to seeing the next issue where they announce that somebody other than VegNews won the award for Health/Wellness Coverage (the winner was, in fact, POZ).

And now I think I am done being bitter about VegNews.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The new war on Christmas

Forget about Bill O'Reilly's worn-out claim that liberals are waging a war on Christmas. The new war on Christmas cuts across party lines, since it's being waged by fatphobes and the diet industry. In case you didn't know: they want to slim down Santa! (Here is just one example.)

Happily, there is an organization trying to combat this effort with a campaign of their own: Keep Santa Fat. The whole thing is about half tongue-in-cheek (i.e., I think they are serious about it, but they aren't pretending like this is the most important issue in the world). But there is one very real positive consequence to the campaign: for every person who signs their petition to Keep Santa Fat, they will donate one pound of food to America's Second Harvest, which is a charity organization that runs food banks around the US. Apparently there is always a shortage around the holidays, so the timing of the campaign is particularly... uh... timely. I recommend the Keep Santa Fat site anyway since it's interesting and funny, but if you agree with the cause then it would be particularly nice if you would go and sign the petition and help out the food banks.

Incidentally, my own favorite Santa isn't fat at all. But I'm pretty sure that wasn't a deliberate attempt to send an anti-obesity message, given that Willie Stoke isn't exactly a model for clean living otherwise...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

So close, yet so far away

An Alert Reader sent me a link to this article (Alert Reader, do you have a preferred nickname?), which says so many things that I like. For example, that exercise performance is the best predictor of longevity, period. And that it is a far better predictor of longevity than BMI. That "what something looks like does not tell you how it runs" (my favorite quote in the story, from cardiologist Paul Thompson). That exercise reverses some of the so-called risk factors of obesity including insulin resistance, low HDL cholesterol, and hypertension (we already knew all that, but incidentally, doesn't the fact that exercise "reverses" these factors even in "obese" people suggest that they are not risk factors of obesity at all, but rather risk factors of a sedentary lifestyle?). That "fitness" can result from as little as 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week.

So then why, oh why, is the second page of the article subtitled "Obesity Still a Big, Fat Problem", even though nothing after that subtitle provides any evidence whatsoever for fat being inherently bad for you? And why does the author of this otherwise lovely article feel compelled to add that "Experts say that for the most part, it's uncommon to be fit and fat, which means staying trim is just as important as exercising"? OK, here's a GRE question for you all: does the second half of that sentence follow from the first? Argh. And this is followed up by a gem of a quote from Nathan Wong: "In real life, few abdominally obese patients have a high level of fitness, so practically from a public health point of view, getting across any message implying we place less importance on obesity is ill-advised." So this guy is suggesting that even though a new study just showed, once again, how much more important fitness is than BMI, we still have to be obsessed with fat because of a correlation. Say it with me, people: Correlation does not imply causation. Now say it again, louder, so Nathan Wong can hear you. This pisses me off so much I feel like just typing it over and over again. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation.

The Admiral sent me a Newsweek article that suffers from the same problem, but in reverse. You think it is going to be a totally crappy piece because it basically says that fat women's weight loss goals are not ambitious enough, in that on average the fat woman's ideal amount of weight loss would still leave her in the "overweight" BMI category (god forbid). And we all know that all this "obesity" is really "alarming" (in fact we get the words "alarmingly" and "alarming" in back-to-back sentences in the same paragraph, in case you weren't alarmed enough after the first instance). The author of the study that revealed fat women's modest weight loss goals suggested that a 5'2" woman who weighs 200 pounds probably just thinks it's totally unrealistic to get down to 120 lbs. (which it is, statistically speaking). But then the authors of the Newsweek article follow that up by saying that this "may just mean that women who are very overweight might need to achieve small weight loss goals before they can envision larger losses and change their eating and exercise behaviors accordingly." Oh, yeah, totally, I'm sure that would make it 100% easier; in fact, they should market this as a new foolproof weight loss strategy! Just lose a little bit of weight, and then you will believe that you can lose a lot more weight, and then you will totally do it! It reminds me of the Jenny Craig counselor (a thin woman) who once brilliantly advised my mom, "Maybe if you could just not eat as much..."

This article also cites that lovely "having fat friends will make you fat" idea from a while back, and here is how they explain the effect supposedly found in that study: People with fat friends "may simply see being fat as the new normal." Does this strike anyone else as being completely idiotic? Like somehow if you have fat friends you become incapable of figuring out if someone is fat or not? For some reason I am reminded of Stephen Colbert's claim that he doesn't see race -- like, literally, he can't tell if someone is black. But the difference is that the authors of this article aren't trying to be ironic.

So why am I even bothering to tell you about this article? Well, because at the end, they finally get around to saying that maybe women should be encouraged to feel good about themselves regardless of whether society tells them they are too fat. They cite a study that showed that "girls who felt good about themselves were more likely to be physically active and pay more attention to what they ate," and they advocate "encouraging women to love and care for their bodies — even when they don't match the Hollywood ideal". Then again, they say that the reason to encourage women to feel good about their bodies is that statistically, a woman who feels good about her body is less likely to gain weight, so therefore this may help "reverse or at least slow the progression of the obesity epidemic." So let me just make sure I'm clear on this: We should encourage women to feel good about their bodies, even if they are fat. But if they are fat, that is "alarming", and if they don't make large enough weight-loss goals for themselves, then they just need to lose some weight so they will feel like they can lose more weight so they can become "normal" and therefore not be so alarming to everybody else. But in the mean time they should still try to feel good about themselves.

OK, never mind, that article just plain sucks.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Now I feel like less of a freak

This is such perfect timing -- I was going to tell you my Bunpote poo story today anyway, but I felt like you'd all think I was nuts (for reasons to be explained). Now I feel vindicated thanks to this story (for reasons to be explained).

I've mostly refrained from cat blogging, because I have some readers who don't love cats, Shhh in particular. But fortunately those same readers love talking about poo. So I realized, hey, a story about cat poo, everyone will be happy. And also, those of you who know my other poo stories (especially the one about the keys) will know that I'm unlikely ever to share those on my blog. So if there has to be a poo story (and yes, there has to be one), this is it.

OK, so here's what happened. On Tuesday night I woke up at about 4am having to go to the bathroom. I was a little drunk or hungover, or both, since some friends had dropped by earlier and we had some wine (and by "some" I mean "a lot of"). So anyway, I went downstairs and went to the bathroom, and then I decided to get myself a glass of water. And a key element to the story is that I did all this with the lights off. The reason for this is that I did not want to shut off my melatonin production. Melatonin (as is explained in the article I linked to above) is a hormone whose release is triggered by darkness. It helps you sleep and I think its production is also facilitated by sleeping. I remember reading a study several years ago that said that sleeping in an insufficiently darkened room was linked to higher breast cancer levels in women, and I also think I've read that decreased melatonin is the reason for the link between not getting enough sleep and being fat (and god knows I wouldn't want to get fat!). So anyway, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I avoid turning on the lights because apparently as soon as you are exposed to light in the middle of the night, it shuts off your melatonin production for some number of hours because your body is fooled into thinking it's daytime. Brad, if you're reading this, please feel free to tell me that I have the science all wrong here. But getting the science right isn't crucial to my story; what is crucial is that I *believed* all of this to be true on the fateful night in question.

After I went to the bathroom (in the dark), I decided I needed to get a drink of water. When I walked into the kitchen I was like, eww, has it been that long since I cleaned the litterbox? And then I realized that Bunpote must have just recently taken a fresh crap, because no way could a dirty litterbox smell that bad. And then I realized that even a fresh crap in the litterbox doesn't smell that bad, so then I was all "uh oh"... and at the precise moment when I came to this realization, I put my (socked) foot into something squishy. And finally I realized that the cat had crapped on the floor.

Now, to be fair to the little fellow, I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose. I think what happens is that sometimes a little bit of poo sticks to his behind and then he carries it with him for a little bit until it falls off. That would explain why the poo that I occasionally find around the house is in little chunk form, never full-blown turds. But in any case, intentional or not, that night the cat crapped on the kitchen floor and, by extension, on my sock.

I remained calm (probably because of the wine mentioned earlier), removed my sock, and scrubbed it with some soap in the bathroom sink and hung it to dry (in the dark). But I couldn't very well leave the remaining crap on the kitchen floor, or else the cat would probably step in it and track it everywhere. On the other hand, why let some cat crap on the floor cause me to shut off my melatonin production and give myself cancer? So I got a paper towel with some soap and water (in the dark) and attempted to scrub the crap off of its original location on the floor and the second spot where I had put my sock down again before realizing that I had stepped in crap (in the dark). And then I washed my hands thoroughly and went to bed (in the dark).

The next morning I came downstairs and was faced with quite a scene: in the bathroom, a wet, soapy sock hanging on the towel rack with crap all over it. And, in the kitchen, a big blob of crap with a shiny clean spot next to it, and a smaller smeared blob of crap nearby, with another clean spot right next to it. And a cat, looking up at me and meowing in an accusatory way, as if to say, "(1) Feed me, and (2) What the fuck were you doing trying to clean all that up without turning the lights on, dumbass?"

What's worse, I didn't get back to sleep until about 6am, because of the alcohol or the adrenaline rush associated with my horrifying discovery in the kitchen. So not shutting off my melatonin production apparently didn't help me get back to sleep. That morning as I was cleaning up the crime scene, I concluded that the moral of the story was that I should have just turned on the damn lights, because one night of decreased melatonin production wasn't going to kill me. But now thanks to that CNN article, as I said, I feel vindicated, since it turns out that melatonin may be even more important to preventing cancer than was previously thought, based on the fact that people who work the graveyard shift have significantly elevated rates of cancer. So the next time I find crap on the floor in the middle of the night, I'm leaving it there, and I'm leaving the lights off, and that's that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

That's a lot of turkey

You thought you ate a lot yesterday? Pat Bertoletti ate 6.91 lbs. of turkey in 8 minutes at yesterday's Turkey Bowl in Las Vegas (you can watch the video here). It is a truly disgusting spectacle, especially the cranberry sauce eating contest at the beginning, and the commentary is really outstanding as well as the interviews and trash-talking before the turkey eating contest. And there is such great jargon that goes along with the whole thing -- my favorite terms are the "reversal" and "Elvis has left the building" (both refer to the same phenomenon). Pat Bertoletti is regarded as the next big thing in the world of competitive eating, so it is kind of a big deal that he won this event (as well as a recent chicken wing eating contest), and some say this signals the end of the era of Takeru Kobayashi's dominance in the "sport".

Some who are not fans of MLE (Major League Eating), such as the University of Iowa spokesperson quoted in this article say that competitive eating is inappropriate because a lot of Americans are fat. I'm not sure there's really a connection (the article quotes a doctor and a food science researcher as saying pretty much the same thing) -- my guess is that people who do see a connection imagine that this is how fat people eat. No forks, just cram it in as fast as you can. But the reality is that, for one thing, some of the best competitive eaters aren't fat themselves at all. The winner of the cranberry sauce eating contest, Juliet Lee, weighs in at 105 lbs. -- she ate 13.23 lbs. of cranberry sauce in 8 minutes. And furthermore, if you watch these events, you can see that competitive eaters are doing something completely different from everyday eating. I know some good eaters (and I can take care of a lot of food myself when called upon to do so), but nobody I know can eat like this. It requires training and discipline. Would I go so far as to call it a sport? Well, I'd say it's more of a sport than other stuff that shows up on ESPN, like poker and spelling bees. But sport or not, and whether you think it is funny or too disgusting to watch, I'd say if you are looking for a symbol of American overconsumption, there are more obvious things to point to than an eating contest. For example, try 20 billion dollars in retail sales on Black Friday.

Happy Holidays...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Are you ready for some football?

I don't hate people from the state of Michigan or anything like that, I just really want the Buckeyes to beat U of M's football team this weekend. But it's hard to fit all that onto a cookie, so that's why I had to condense it into a more concise phrase. I made these cookies for game day in 1996, and everybody loved them -- not only because of the rude message but because my mom's sugar cookie recipe kicks ass (see below for recipe).

I wasn't going to write about football this week, but I've been thinking a lot about it and couldn't hold back this post. A lot of my readers are fellow academics and may wonder why a person who fancies herself an intellectual would admit so proudly and publicly to being a football fan. Some feel that football programs do harm to acadmic programs at universities because they drain money away from academic budgets, or exploit student athletes, or put too much emphasis on athletics at the expense of the real intellectual purpose of universities, or create rivalries that result in nastiness and violence. Or all of the above. Not to mention the fact that it is somewhat of a barbaric sport when you think about it. So, why do I still love college football?

Well, for starters, I don't love college football, I love Ohio State football, and Cal football to a lesser extent. But University of Illinois football, for example, can go straight to hell. So let's talk about Ohio State football. First of all, Ohio State's athletic department is fully self-funded, drawing no money from the general budget. In fact, its athletic program actually makes a profit (this was true of only 19 schools last year, according to this article). Some of the revenues are given over to the academic side; for example, the athletic department has donated $5 million to the massive Main Library renovation project that is currently underway. Yes, $5 million is a drop in the bucket ("the bucket" being a $109 million athletics budget). Still, I'm sure the library appreciated that $5 million just the same.

As for student athletes, yes, it does seem to be the case that many of them don't get a real college experience because they are pressured to excel in athletics. I'm not sure if I agree that college football players are being exploited since they get a free education and plenty of perks and probably wouldn't or couldn't go to the NFL even if they were allowed to do so straight out of high school -- but in any case, Michael Lewis' proposal to pay college football players for their services is a total loser in my opinion. King Kaufman thinks Lewis' article is "Well-reasoned, well-argued, and just plain right"; I couldn't disagree more (as is often the case with me and KK). First of all, it is wrong and downright cynical to think that no football player actually wants to go to college; for many of these kids the scholarship therefore has a real value. Also, I suspect that even if the NFL allowed high school students to enter the draft, the vast majority would go to college anyway, so I'm not sure the rules are really preventing a lot of people from earning money in the NFL. It seems to me that the exploitation argument really comes down to the fact that athletes have to spend a lot of time in the gym and at practice in order to be good enough to keep their scholarships, and this detracts from their education. But it this is all a matter of degree -- what about a kid who has to do work-study to get financial aid -- is that better than the athlete's situation because of the smaller number of work hours? At least athletes can enroll in sports for credit (not true for work-study) so that during the term when the sport is in season, they can take a smaller number of academic courses. At Ohio State, for example, I believe a player can sign up for 2 credit hours of football, meaning they only have to take two 5-hour academic courses during fall quarter and still be full-time (12 hours per quarter). So football gets in the way of the number of courses a player can reasonably complete during the quarter, but I doubt it seriously interferes with success in the courses. Two courses isn't very many, no matter what else you have going on in your life.

So I am not so sure about the exploitation angle to begin with. But on a practical level, if football programs gave away all their revenues to the players, how would universities fund the rest of their athletic teams? This would basically impose a death sentence on non-profitable sports, unless schools were to pay for their non-profitable sports out of general university budgets (another terrible idea since that would take money away from academics). In any case, to the extent that there is an exploitation problem, it is likely be dealt with thoughtfully at Ohio State in the coming years, now that they have a president who has very publicly and radically addressed this very issue at another institution.

I am not sure what constitutes "too much emphasis on athletics," but I strongly disagree with the notion that an emphasis on athletics precludes or diminishes the acadmic purpose of an institution. Football helps attract students to Ohio State, including plenty of academic-minded students. I personally have to say that my decision to go to Ohio State probably had a lot to do with the fact that I grew up on Ohio State football, and I have plenty of friends who were excellent students and contributed a lot to the academic environment at Ohio State and who I suspect decided to go to Ohio State at least partly because of football. A lot of them were in the marching band with me, and this was the most demanding, most time-intensive, most fun element in my (and, I suspect, their) college experience. I feel I got an outstanding education, but I would have to say that the biggest reason I look back fondly on my college years is the band (and therefore, indirectly, football). Football games also provide an excuse for alumni to come back and visit the campus, whether for Homecoming or reunions or whatever, and this keeps people connected and also encourages alumni to donate to the university. So contrary the notion that the "football school" label diminishes the value of the education, I'd say there are ways in which the football tradition substantially enhances and reinforces the academics and people's general goodwill towards the institution.

Finally, about this rivalry thing. I think the vast majority of people don't take it personally, they just get into the rivalry for the fun and the tradition. To the extent that things get nasty, there are often cultural differences that the football rivalry is merely standing in for (not causing). For example, when a USC kid goes to a game wearing a t-shirt that says "My maid went to UCLA," this is plain old classism; ditto when Stanford kids chant "State school!" at the Cal game. In the case of Ohio State vs. Michigan, both are huge state schools with (I think) similar academic standards and similar cultures. And people from Ohio and Michigan are, I think, pretty similar (except that people from Michigan have funny vowels and they go around doing this weird thing with their hand to show where in the state they are from if someone asks). So this rivalry pretty much centers around old grudges about games from years (or even decades) gone by. The Big Ten title is almost always on the line in that game, and often someone's national championship hopes as well. There are many of us who felt that winning last year's game when Ohio State was #1 in the nation and Michigan was #2 was the ultimate prize, and that the national championship game was almost anticlimactic (sadly, it seems possible that the team felt this way too, which may have contributed to the outcome). Michigan will certainly have that game on their minds on Saturday, when both teams will have their pride on the line (in addition to the Big Ten title) since both teams lost last week. What I will have on my mind is "FUCK MICHIGAN" (though I mean that in the nicest possible way).

And now for the cookie recipe. These are the best sugar cookies -- no, the best cookies -- I have ever eaten. My mom got this recipe in her Home Ec class in 1962, and now I pass it along to you. A note about butter: the original recipe calls for 1 c. shortening instead of the butter, and the version with shortening does taste slightly better, but I couldn't in good conscience tell you to put shortening in your cookies given my own well-known anti-shortening position. But you do what you want...

Home Ec Christmas Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
4 T. milk
2 t. vanilla
5 c. sifted flour
1/2 t. baking soda (mom says she heaps the 1/2 t. a little)
1 t. salt

Cream the butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs, vanilla, and milk, and mix again. Sift flour, soda, and salt together and add to mixture. Mix. Chill overnight. Roll out on floured board and cut out with cookie cutters. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 8 - 10 minutes at 325 degrees. The key is not to overbake them -- bake until the tops are dry (not shiny anymore), but no longer than that (i.e. don't let them get even a little bit browned). Then frost with your choice of frosting and sprinkles... they taste great with the canned Betty Crocker stuff, FYI, but again I am not going to explicitly recommend this because there's partially hydrogenated what-have-you in there... so make your own decision...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Welcome to Coffee Talk

OK, I haven't discovered any new atrocities on the fat front in the last few days, and there certainly will not be any football blogging this week. So I thought instead I would give you an update on my latte art efforts.

I finally got my espresso machine back after a month in the shop. It was a horrible time, but I made it through. Unfortunately my art suffered, so I've had a lot of ugly (but still tasty) results since being reunited with the machine. You may recall my previous best effort. Above is my latest best effort. I agree it is not outstanding, but I think there are promising signs here, namely the shape and curve of the leaves. Now if only I could make the leaves a little thinner, get rid of the errant blobs and drips, not splash the espresso up onto the side of the mug, and center it better... and, uh, like make it look better... then it would look better. At least it is better than some of my previous failures such as the Christmas Tree Cappuccino and the Gonzo (that one in honor of Ralph Steadman). And even though the Stripe may have looked prettier, I think this latest one gets more technical points for filling up the mug and looking more like the rosetta supposed to look. (Here is an example of what the rosetta is supposed to look like, but I think this dude is cheating by pouring the milk over a spoon -- you are not supposed to have to do that).

In case anyone else is sick enough to want to try doing this stuff yourself, here is an article on latte art, and another one, and here are some examples of what good latte art looks like. Yes, I know, mine doesn't look like that. But this stuff is hard, people! So throw me a bone.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

News Flash

Thanks to all who forwarded me versions of this article, which summarizes results of a recent study showing that being fat isn't as deadly as some researchers previously thought it was. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

OK, quick, suppose you're some kind of "expert" and a reporter calls to get your take on these new findings. How can you continue to insist that Fat Is Bad if it doesn't actually increase mortality? Well, if you're Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, here's your new angle: "...excess weight makes it more difficult to move about."

Seriously. No, seriously, she said that. (Or something like it -- it's not a direct quote in the article).

Fillyjonk has already skewered several of the dumbass reactions to the study, including Manson's dumbass reaction above, but I couldn't help drawing your attention to it here.

On an unrelated note, I found this quiz on MSNBC. The link said "Apples or bananas? Which is better?" And I was like mmm, bananas are better, yummy, food quiz, yay, click!

Well, it turns out that it's not really a quiz about what food you like best, it's about which ones are objectively "best" in terms of calorie count, fat grams, fiber, etc. As if between two fruits or vegetables there is a single "best" one for everybody all the time. I don't know, but I think if I ate a banana at breakfast, then maybe an apple would be "best" for me with lunch.

But whatever, I don't want to spoil the fun quiz for you, I just wanted to point out this one funny part. If you take the quiz, read what it says after "Corn Muffin vs. Plain Bagel". I was like, corn muffin, what the hell do they mean by that, like cornbread in the shape of a muffin? Well, it turns out that they meant the "corn muffin" that they sell at Dunkin Donuts. Who the hell even knew or cared that Dunkin Donuts has something called a "corn muffin"? It's probably deep fried for all we know, and I doubt there's any actual corn in it besides maybe high fructose corn syrup. So keep that in mind when you take the quiz -- assume that every food item they ask about is from Dunkin Donuts, since I'm sure that's where you usually are when you're faced with trying to make healthy food choices for the day.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The mediocre elitist

New Rule (with apologies to Bill Maher): You can't be an elitist if you're not elite.

Edward McClelland doesn't think you should run a marathon unless you are really fast. He's pissed off because tomorrow's New York Marathon is going to have 37,000 runners, and because those runners will have energy gel and better shoes than runners did 30 years ago. McClelland blames Oprah Winfrey's running of the Marine Corps marathon ("a middle-aged woman hauling her flab around the District of Columbia") for opening up the sport to non-elite athletes. God forbid.

According to McClelland, Oprah's marathon time is 4:29. Evidently this is just way too disgustingly slow. McClelland's own time in the only marathon he ever ran was 4:16 -- but hey, at least he had the decency to be "embarrassed". He says he will try again next year and his goal will be "to do it in the spirit of the first running boom, in under three and a half hours".

3:30? Come on, that's pathetic. That's 63% slower than Ryan Hall's 2:09:02 winning time in today's highly anticipated US Olympic marathon trials in New York (which were unfortunately marred by tragedy when Ryan Shay, the 2003 US marathon champion, collapsed on the course and died). Oprah's 4:29 is only 28% slower than McClelland's 3:30, and keep in mind that he hasn't even run that time, he just intends to. So, as much scorn as he heaps on Oprah (which I can't help thinking has more to do with her "flab" than with her time), he deserves a double helping of it from the truly elite runners like Hall. There's nothing magical about 3:30 -- it's just McClelland's arbitrary cutoff for what constitutes a respectable marathon since that's the time he thinks he himself can do. What a fucking hypocritical asshole.

As for those real elite American runners, McClelland has plenty of criticism for them too. He says Hall has no chance of medaling in the Olympics because America's "marathoning spirit been trampled by hordes of joggers whose only goal is to stagger across the finish line", and he points out that the only American who has medaled in the Olympics lately was born in Eritrea (Meb Keflezighi), so apparently he doesn't really count as American.

Well, hey, news flash for Mr. McClelland (who, one might imagine, is of Irish descent -- i.e., not really American in comparison to someone like Brandon Leslie). The top three finishers in today's time trials were Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Brian Sell, all born in the US (in California, Michigan, and Pennsylvania respectively). Keflezighi finished 8th. I blame Oprah.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Drinking responsibly

Sorry to leave you hanging for a couple of weeks -- I went out of town two weekends in a row. We now return you to your regularly scheduled bitchfest.

But no, actually I have something relatively pleasant to report today. It's about drinking responsibly. And I don't mean not getting shitfaced and puking in the bathroom at a wedding reception (Who among us hasn't done that?). I mean buying alcohol in such a way so as to minimize the damage you are doing to the planet. (Who gives a shit about your liver? Life is short.)

This article appeared on today. It summarizes a paper that basically says that if you live east of Columbus, then surprisingly it takes less energy to get your wine from Europe (assuming it's shipped by sea rather than by air) than from California. This is because the California wine will arrive via trucks, and trucks suck. (Yay trains!) My Columbus readers ought to like it since you all get a shout-out, and also I think we should listen to the authors of this study because one of them appears to have added umlauts to his name for toughness.

Anyway, apparently Columbus is the spot where the average carbon costs are equivalent such that you can choose California or European wines based on your own preferences without feeling guilty about not making a green choice. Incidentally, if you like California wines and you are interested in sustainable farming practices, you may be interested in Benziger. We visited their winery in Sonoma the weekend before last for a tasting and we heard about their new sustainable, organic, and/or biodymanic farming practices that they are trying to implement for all their grapes. I was very happy to see this because I always liked their wines anyway, and have otherwise not really liked many of the organic wines I've tried. (Please let me know in the comments if you know of any good ones!) Admittedly, the Admiral was not a huge fan of the reds that we tasted at Benziger. But his taste is just incorrect -- really the reds are great. Trust me. If you buy a bottle and don't like it, I'll even drink it for you because that's the kind of friend I am.

Friday, October 19, 2007

My thinking about this had become very uptight

(To paraphrase The Dude.)

This week I got to hear a talk by Katie LeBesco, author of an excellent book called Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity. She came to campus to give a lecture for the Media Studies senior seminar, entitled "Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression" (which is also the title of a book that she co-edited with Jana Evans Braziel. I won't try to summarize the whole thing here, but I just wanted to point out one thing about it that has changed my thinking about fat. In the talk and also in Revolting Bodies, LeBesco made the point that the fat acceptance movement is probably better served in the long term if we quit claiming "innocence" all the time. A lot of pro-fat writing (including mine, I'm afraid) centers around the idea that fat people are not to blame for being fat. It's genetic, it's developmental, it's environmental, it's caused by a virus, it's caused by having fat friends (ha), it's a result of suburban sprawl, it's because we work too much, it's because junk food is cheaper than healthy food, it's a big mystery, etc. And hey, look at me, I eat like a rabbit and I work out all the time, but I'm still fat.

It's not to say that there isn't some truth to all this -- by now it should be obvious that not all fat people are lazy gluttons, and clearly different people have different metabolisms, giving the lie to the standard "calories in-calories out" model of weight loss. But what LeBesco is saying is that we should not act like we are totally helpless in all this. For one thing, it's easily falsified. Of course there are fat people who eat a lot of junk food and don't exercise, so we shouldn't pretend like every fat person is a health nut. Also, even those of us who feel like we don't "deserve" to be fat based on our eating and exercise habits are still not "perfect" (whatever that might mean), nor should we have to be. I don't think I eat more than the average person and I think I may exercise more than the average person, but I do have a sweet tooth and I also drink a fair amount of alcohol. So it's not as if there's absolutely nothing that I could cut out of my lifestyle if losing weight were a big priority for me. The point is that even though I may be predisposed to being fat, I am still choosing not to do everything I possibly could in order to get thin. But by acting like I am doing everything I can, I am just reinforcing the idea that being fat is something you should do everything possible to avoid. And I am also contributing to the idea that fat people don't control their own lives, they are just passive victims of whatever causes fatness.

So I have decided I am going to stop doing that. I still take pride in my identity as a runner and a vegetarian, but I am not going to act like I as a runner and a vegetarian lead some kind of ideal lifestyle that everyone else should aspire to. Rather, I am a runner and a vegetarian who is also a foodie and an enjoyer of fine beverages. And I can also be lazy sometimes, just like everybody else, and that is OK.

I am very grateful to Katie LeBesco (who in addition to being a great writer and an entertaining lecturer is also a very cool person who I was fortunate to have a chance to hang out with a bit when she was in town) for opening my eyes to this defect in my thinking which I should have recognized a long time ago.

Monday, October 15, 2007


It was another great weekend. The Buckeyes are #1, thanks to LSU's loss to Kentucky and Cal's (unfortunate) loss to Oregon State. And we had a nice dinner with our friends last night. And we went to the Lebowskifest, where the main highlight (for me, anyway) was the costume contest -- there was a Dude that looked just like the Dude, and a Walter that looked just like Walter. It was eerie. But I have to admit that the best part of my weekend was our trip to Canter's after the Lebowskifest on Friday night, and in particular, the cupcake that I got there.

We're usually too full for dessert when we eat there, but on Friday I just wanted dessert. So I asked the waiter what was their best dessert, and he mentioned a few things including 'hi hats'. My ears perked up at this because I have a cupcake cookbook that includes a kind of complicated recipe for hi-hats in which the author goes on and on about how great they are. So I figured I should have one and see what all the fuss is about, and oh my god. You have not lived until you have eaten a hi hat. Basically they are chocolate cupcakes with white frosting on top and then they're dipped in a coating of chocolate (the photo above shows one that has been dissected). I am going to have to try making these. I found a version of the recipe here that looks promising. I have a feeling that the white frosting in this recipe can't be as good as what they use at Canter's, which is just the most delicious bakery cake-type frosting, but who knows.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

OK, back to some more negative shit

Who in the hell is Michael Tarm to decide who looks " a starting line is, well, the last place they should be"? In this article on the growing number of participants in big-city marathons, Tarm points out that nowadays you will see people at marathons who are old, fat, wearing chicken suits, and/or wearing g-strings. So far, this all sounds fine to me. But a large number of people collapsed from heat stroke and exhaustion at last weekend's Chicago Marathon (possibly due to the water running out at some of the water stations along the course, though the organizers are denying that this happened), and in response to this, some unnamed "marathon purists" to say that races are "too all-inclusive" and are being overrun by "novices" who "crowd courses for more serious runners".

OK. Marathons may be getting bigger, but if race organizers seriously wanted to cut down on the number of entrants (which evidently they don't, since they like collecting entry fees and the host cities like collecting the revenues from all the people who come to the marathons from out of town), there are plenty of ways to do this. For example, they could require entrants to achieve a certain qualifying time in another marathon, like they do in Boston. Or for those races that don't wish to be exclusive to fast runners, they could just put smaller caps on the total number of entries and register people on a first-come, first-served basis. Or for races that really don't want the "novices", they could require participants to qualify by completing a shorter distance race, e.g., a half marathon, before entering. Or, hell, they could just allow entries by invitation only if they wanted a purely elite field. But none of these possibilities is explored in the article. The only identifier that is suggested for weeding out the "not-so-serious" runners is appearance. If you are old or fat or not wearing socially acceptable attire, it is implied that you are not serious enough. That is wrong and crappy. There are plenty of "serious" participants in events like this who don't necessarily "look" like elite athletes. Just to pick a totally random example, there are people weighing 200 pounds and even more who successfully run marathons. And hell, this woman is a fucking triathlete! So really, I think your seriousness as an athlete has a lot more to do with your attitude than your looks. And I hope that things like this crappy article don't contribute to prejudice against participants who lack the runner's traditional "look". Especially since, as I've said elsewhere, I personally have always found the running communities I've been a part of to be very accepting of different body types.

Monday, October 08, 2007

An antidote to the negative shit

I said I was going to try to post positive things on this blog, didn't I? Well, sometimes it's hard. I think my last post was pretty negative. So, here is a photo of my cat to brighten your day. Is he not the most adorable thing you've ever seen?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Reason #872 why men don't want to date fat chicks*

Apparently being in the company of a fat person means you are fat too.

Case in point: Last night Admiral Seamus and I were walking out of the gym (yes, the same gym) after working out, and some high school kids drove by and one of them yelled, "You guys should hit the gym more often!"

By now I am not particularly sensitive about incidents like this, so I won't necessarily blog about it every time someone looks at me funny for being fat. But the reason I thought this was interesting is that somehow Seamus was perceived as a fatty (or at least as someone needing to go to the gym) just by virtue of walking next to me. I would say the remark could have referred to our sweaty and disheveled appearance (I in particular get pretty red-faced when I exercise), but this happened at about 10:30pm and it was way too dark for them to see anything but our body shapes, especially since they were driving by. For those who don't know him, Seamus does not look at all like a fat person. I just calculated our BMI's, and his is in the "Healthy Weight" category. (Mine, on the other hand, is in the "Severely Obese" category.) So basically he got pegged as a fat person by association. And that, my friends, is another in a long list of reasons to avoid fat people at all costs.

*And yes, I know that a lot of men want to be with fat chicks, but let's not deny the fact that many of them do not.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Like owner, like cat

Our cat Bunpote loves to eat. No matter how much food you give him, he inhales it immediately and then wants more. I sympathize with him, and we give him a lot more food than the bag says you are supposed to give a cat his size (10 pounds!), but in the back of my mind I worry about him getting really fat. And then I wonder if I am a hypocrite. My main reason for not wanting him to grow into one of those giant 25-pounders is that cats that size have trouble reaching their butts to clean, which is yucky and can cause irritation and health problems like anal prolapse. But I wonder if maybe that's really not a big risk, and if I have just bought into it because I have already bought into the cat version of our society's anti-fat hysteria. Maybe this is parallel to the claim that fat (in humans) raises a person's risk for esophageal cancer. Apparently this is true, and I don't mean to downplay or trivialize what must be a really horrible kind of cancer to have, but the disease is so rare even for people with an "elevated" risk that it seems like a pretty lame reason to give someone for why they should lose weight. I think the only reason it gets mentioned is that the other supposed "risks" of being fat like diabetes and heart disease have not actually been shown to be caused by fat.

Anyway, so we're trying to be laid back about Bunpote's chubbiness (and are even pondering the question of whether we should just give him as much food as he wants -- though for now we're avoiding that because overfeeding can cause gas, which B already emits a fair amount of), but we also can't help making fun of his body and eating habits. We even coined a new verb, to bunpote (tr.), which means to inhale your food as fast as possible. As in: Gosh, Fred, you really bunpoted those tater tots! And I also could not help making the LOLcat above. I meant to get a shot of him sitting next to his empty food dish, but by the time I got the shot, he had gotten up and was walking towards me, and I actually think it ended up being funnier that way.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Does exercise make you thinner?

Meg sent me this article about studies showing that exercise doesn't really make you thinner. I like the article because it rings true for me impressionistically in addition to being well argued. Every time I have trained for a marathon, for example (which has been lots more times than I've actually gotten through the training and actually run a marathon), I've gained weight over those few months when I was training. Whether this was because I ate more because running made me hungry (or because I felt justified eating more when I was running more) or because I was gaining muscle, or some combination of the two, I don't know. But I didn't really care, because I knew I was getting in shape regardless of the number on the scale. And I also knew there were plenty of good reasons to keep up the running besides the (nonexistent) weight loss.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Are you drinking yourself fat?

That was the title of the link on CNN's front page that takes you to this article. When I first saw the title, I thought, "Perhaps..." so I clicked on it. But then I realized the article is actually about drinking *soda* (er, "pop" to my readers back east). OK, so maybe not. I stopped drinking soda probably ten years ago, and now I only have maybe 4 of them a year, max. I don't think those 4 per year are making me fat. And I can think of plenty of other fat people who drink very little soda.

I think the article is interesting and no doubt a lot of people gain weight from drinking soda, but I love how they're trying to make it out like the "obesity epidemic" reduces to a single cause, and if we just quit drinking soda then we'll all get thin. It reminds me of crap like the Atkins Diet, Zone Diet, Blood Type Diet, Carbohydrate Addicts' Diet, the anti-dairy stuff, and basically every fad diet that has ever come along and convinced people that if they just stop eating X, then they'll get thin. While it's true that soda has got to be worse for you than carbohydrates or dairy or any of those other unfairly demonized foods, this doesn't mean that "obesity" can be cured by cutting out soda. If it could, then hell, I'd start drinking that shit again, just so that I could quit and lose a bunch of weight as promised!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Um, ICK?

The other day, we were out to dinner at the Buffalo Inn and we overheard two guys at the next table saying something about "hot chicks with bad vaginas". We were driving down Arrow Highway not long afterwards and saw a huge billboard advertising "VAGINAL REJUVENATION" and "LASER VAGINOPLASTY". I must have been living under a rock for the last several years, because I had never heard of all this stuff, and yet if you google it, you'll find it all over the web. I think that is probably the funniest site I found, not only because of the name but because of the picture of the woman on the front page, which I have ripped off and posted here in case you're at work and don't want to visit in order to see it.

I am imagining that at the photo shoot, the photographer instructed this model to try and look shy, a little coy, innocent, but also seductive. Like A Virgin, you might say. I guess that's part of why this grosses me out -- doesn't having your vagina "rejuvenated" sound a lot like getting yourself a child's vagina? And apparently it's a lot like that. You get it "tightened" and "reinforced" so that it feels young again. And then there is vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, and hymen repair surgery. So if your lips are "enlarged" or "asymmetrical" (really?), or if you got your cherry popped but you want your new jealous boyfriend (or boyfriend with a virgin fetish) to be able to do it again for the first time, then you can get all that taken care of by the Labia Doctor. From what I understand, some of these procedures started out as remedies for real problems that people had, e.g. incontinence, severe deformities, etc. But I don't get why women with no real gynecological problems would do this to themselves (and if someone wants to explain it to me, I am all ears). Yes, I understand that it supposedly increases sexual pleasure. But labial reduction is just vanity. And vaginoplasty? Sounds gross. I know what it means, but when I hear the word, it still sounds like plastering your vagina. Like the walls are falling down and you hired a handyman to shore them up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Good piece by Paul Campos

My friend Meg tipped me off to this a nice, short article by Paul Campos where he reiterates part of the argument that he made in The Obesity Myth. This is good reading, and if you like it then I highly recommend the book.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our house is now a home

Here is a picture of our new cat, Bunpote!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Walkable neighborhoods and you

Sorry for the lull this week -- it was the first week of classes, yadda yadda yadda, [insert more excuses here].

Anyhoo, I found this article on CNN today, which seems to be saying that living in a walkable neighborhood makes you less likely to be 'obese' (or to 'weigh less' -- the two are sort of conflated here). The conclusion is very interesting and makes a lot of sense intuitively, though I had a little trouble following the argument as it was made in this particular summary of the original research. The CNN article says there is no statistical difference among (self-identified?) 'exercisers' or among 'non-excercisers' based on whether or not they live in walkable neighborhoods, so this seems to contradict the point of the article -- but I think it is just poorly written, because this more in-depth article from Science News Magazine online does make a statistical connection. Maybe what's going on is that there are more 'exercisers' in walkable areas. Actually that would make sense given the discussion towards the end of the Science News article, where it is pointed out that maybe people who are naturally sedentary prefer to live in non-walkable neighborhoods since they prefer to drive everywhere anyway. So maybe there is actually more of a 'sorting' going on than a causal relationship between walkable cities and lower rates of 'obesity' (however they measured that -- probably BMI). But the Science News article goes on to draw what I think is a pretty reasonable conclusion based on the studies they describe, and that is that even if there is some sorting going on, people who live in walkable neighborhoods will do more walking even if they're not big fans of walking generally. So there is still a health benefit to living in a walkable neighborhood, and regardless of whether this leads to weight loss or not, it's a good thing. One researcher, an economist, is quoted in the Science News article as saying that the people drawing a connection between non-walkable cities and fat are just smart-growth proponents trying to 'hijack the obesity epidemic' to advance their agenda. As far as I'm concerned, the 'obesity epidemic' hysteria is so ridiculous and overblown that I don't mind if all that energy gets shifted to a more reasonable and productive purpose like convincing people that our neighborhoods need to be more walkable.

In other news, we are going to get a cat! Photos to follow...

Also, Michigan lost again this week. Or, I should say, they were humiliated. By Oregon. 39-7. At home. Life is good.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Awesome weekend

On Sunday a (Kenyan-)American, Bernard Lagat, won the world 5K championship in Osaka in 13:45.87 after winning the 1500 last week. Awesome! I ran in a 5K with my pals Anne and Brad that day too. I might have have run faster if I weren't tired from marching with the alumni band the day before (more on that below), but I was pleased with my 38:45 anyway, especially since I had not gone running at all for the previous three weeks because of being sick, going on vacation, and a variety of other excuses. The winner of our 5K, Rob Moore, finished in 17:22. Man, I was so close (to being halfway done when he finished), but he just outkicked me in the end. Despite my loss to Rob Moore, it was a beautiful day for a run and it was so much fun to hang out with my buddies.

In other news, how about those Buckeyes? Such a beautiful day for a football opener (and Buckeye victory), and marching with the alumni band was a blast. Even better, how about those Mountaineers?! For those who missed it, Michigan got beat by Appalachian State on Saturday. This is the first time in college football history that a ranked I-A team lost to a I-AA team. People are calling it possibly the greatest upset in the history of college football. I am calling it AWESOME!!! This was the scene at Ohio Stadium after our game had ended and they switched all the TV's under the stadium to the end of the Michigan game. My parents and I were there, but we were in a different part of the stadium from the band, so we were just in the middle of a ton of screaming fans jumping up and down.

As if this wasn't great enough, how about those Yellow Jackets? Wow, Notre Dame never had a prayer (ha). And Cal manhandled Tennessee, thanks in part to a totally sweet punt return by DeSean Jackson (who went to Admiral Seamus' high school, FYI). So all in all it was an outstanding weekend... on the way home from the OSU game, we heard a talk radio guy saying that because of the OSU and Michigan games and the fact that ND was in the process of losing, this could be the greatest day in the history of mankind. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but I'm having trouble coming up with a better one offhand.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Home sweet home

OK, we're back from our little vacation, and as promised I feel more cheery now and I'm not going to post about anything crappy today. Even though I'd love to rip into this article that appeared on CNN today. OK, just one little comment about it: if the US gets its own "obesity czar," how do I apply for that position? Because that would be awesome...

Anyhoo, our garden produced its first tomato, so I thought I'd post a photo of it. Mmm, juicy, yummy, roma tomato goodness. Fresh tomatoes from the garden make you never want to buy those waxy orange tomatoes from the grocery store ever again.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fat cooties!

This article appeared on today, reporting on a study that shows that a common virus known as adenovirus-36 may contribute to weight gain. Researchers found that stem cells exposed to the virus differentiated into fat cells and more readily stored fat than did stem cells not exposed to the virus. They also found that 30% of "obese" people have antibodies to the virus (indicating previous exposure) while only 11% of the rest of the population has the antibodies. So this may mean that the virus causes or contributes to people gaining weight.

The CNN article is interesting, but it also kind of sucks because it keeps pointing out (in case any of us fatties might get the wrong idea) that being fat is still your own damn fault even if you were exposed to the virus. For example, Dr. Samuel Klein is quoted in the article as follows: "We don't want obese people to feel that it's all their fault because it is not all their fault ... but clearly the buck finally lies with the person." Oh, let me get this straight: we don't want fat people to feel like it's all their fault since it's not all their fault, but ultimately it's all their fault. Yes, that's very clear. And a helpful bullet point at the top of the article boldly asserts: "Bottom line cause of all obesity: Eating more calories than you burn". Of course this is not true if you define "obesity" according to BMI, since as we know, BMI only looks at height and weight, so a muscular person like Brad Pitt can be "obese" based on BMI, and probably not because he eats more calories than he burns. And furthermore, even if we restrict the term "obesity" to refer a high percentage of body fat, the "calories in - calories out" model (which the same Dr. Klein quoted above also puts in a plug for) is still not a very practical concept even if technically correct. This is because, as has been demonstrated time and time again, not every person burns calories at the same rate, and some people are more efficient than others at extracting and storing calories from food. So it's not as if you can just read the number of calories on the food label or the number of calories on the digital display on your treadmill and be confident that those are the actual amounts of energy that you are taking in or expending.

I guess I just think that this finding, while interesting from an intellectual point of view, isn't really going to have much impact on fat people -- we don't know how much effect the virus has, there's no vaccine for it currently, and "curing" people of the virus will probably not make them thinner. So I don't really think fat people are going to look at this and think, oh, I guess I will stop exercising and start eating a less healthy diet now that it turns out it's not my fault that I'm fat. And so I don't know why the author of this article was so hung up on trying to prevent people from seizing on it and using it as an excuse for being fat. Well, OK, I guess I do -- it's because if anything other than laziness and gluttony contributed to fat, then maybe it wouldn't be quite as awesome to discriminate against fat people. And that would sort of take away all our fun as a society, wouldn't it?

I (and therefore the Fatosphere) will be on vacation for a few days, so try not to miss me too much. I bet my posts will be more fun and lighthearted after I get back!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Top Ten Reasons Why I Will Never Read VegNews Magazine Again

(Except To See If They Print My Letter To The Editor In Next Month's Issue)

I used to subscribe to VegNews (subtitle "VegetarianNEWSPOLITICSFOODTRAVELBUZZ"). I stopped my subscription about a year ago because (a) it's not really a vegetarian magazine, it's a vegan magazine, and if you're "just" vegetarian (or if, god forbid, you eat fish), you get insulted at least once per issue; (b) they promote conspicuous consumption, running an annual "Vegan Weddings!" issue and always doing tons of product features and advertising; and (c) I got tired of how they are always promoting the cult of celebrity, doing all these features like "Hottest Vegetarian!" or "Most Fascinating Vegetarian" and it's always some actor or singer like Pamela Anderson or Moby. They also always have this nauseating two-page spread with photos of the VegNews publisher and staff hobnobbing with various (vegetarian) high society types at glitzy gala events.

But anyway, I do occasionally still buy a copy off the newsstand because I like some of their recipes and their features on vegetarian restaurants in various cities. Well, no more. The August issue was so offensive in so many ways that I have decided to permanently cut VegNews out of my reading diet. Here are ten choice items:

1. In the Publisher's Note at the beginning, Joseph Connelly takes aim at the Slow Food movement for not promoting vegetarianism and not "setting a place at the table" for a prominent vegetarian. It's not made clear that Slow Food actually excluded any vegetarians who wanted to get involved -- Connelly is calling on them to make an explicit invitation. OK, but there might be a nicer way to do this than to publish a piece entitled "The Slow Developmentally Disabled Food Movement". I'm not big on political correctness, but is it absolutely necessary to use "developmentally disabled" as an insult? And do they have to insult Slow Foods anyway? It's a pretty great organization from what I know about it.

2. On p. 24, a blurb called "Go Veg, Al Gore!" This piece congratulates PETA for hassling Al Gore about not discussing the contribution of animal farming to global warming in his movie, and for not being vegetarian himself. The reader is referred to an earlier issue of VegNews where they already hassled him about it in a nasty Publisher's Note by Joseph Connelly, that one entitled "You Know It's Hot Out Here for a Wimp" (the 'wimp' being Al Gore). I guess if you make a documentary, your lifestyle has to be acceptable to everyone who might possibly watch it. PETA seems to think so, anyway, since they also openly hassled Michael Moore for being fat when Sicko came out.

3. Another blurb on the next page called "Trimming the Trans Fat" comments on New York City's law that will phase out trans fats in restaurants, with an end goal of eliminating all artificial trans fats by July 2008. OK, so far so good, except that the blurb actually puts a negative spin on it! The blurb ends with a quote from someone named Freedom Tripodi, who owns a vegan fast food restaurant in Brooklyn and is "concerned about paying more for non-hydrogenated margarines and passing the costs on to customers." Tripodi says, "If that happens, it will reinforce the argument that being vegan is more expensive, which is something that we have worked very hard to debunk." Cry me a river!

4. On page 31, a collection of quotes (clearly intended as things You Should Agree With) from a South Florida Sun-Sentinel article on Dr. Neal Barnard's "Vegan Plan for Diabetes". The most irritating: "Barnard, who has long advocated a diet free of dairy products, eggs, fish and meat of any kind, said the obesity epidemic in this country is fueling a secondary epidemic of type 2 diabetes..." So this guy buys into the "obesity causes diabetes" theory so fully that he states it as a fact, and we're supposed to believe anything else he says? I don't know, I bet you can be a diabetic vegan if you try real hard...

5. Pages 32-33, "VegScene," that thing I already mentioned with all the celebrity photos. This month features gems with captions like "Actresses Amy Smart and Wendie Malick smile for the flash-bulb frenzy" and "Alexandra Paul and husband Ian Murray nuzzle together for the camera." The spread includes a photo of Rory Freedman, author of Skinny Bitch, a "tough love" (i.e. mean and anti-fat) diet book that VegNews has been promoting the hell out of.

6. Page 42, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, is one of the "25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians" and gets high praise for recently switching from vegetarian to vegan, and because Whole Foods has implemented a "humane production system" for food animals. Wait, what? Al Gore gets berated for not being vegetarian and not pointing out why animal farming sucks, but then Mackey is a great guy because he went vegan, even though he and his company make a shitload of profits off of killing animals and selling their dead bodies for food? Just because they do it "humanely"? I don't know, this seems like kind of a double standard...

7. A vapid piece called "Veg on Every Budget" that features caricatures of vegetarian women from three different economic classes and suggests what fun vegetarian stuff they should spend their extra money on. The "High-Rolling Herbivore" has $30K of disposable income per year and spends it on, among (many) other things, "truffle-infused olive oil, Prius with hemp interior, solar-paneled summer house in the Hamptons"... and don't forget "one smokin' pair of Raffia Stiletto sandals". Wow, she sounds like a great person.

8. The very most egregious thing in this issue: an article by cartoonist Dan Piraro, who has discovered that dairy is the root of all evil. Apparently dairy is the reason why people are fat and why they have heart disease, so we should all go vegan. Here's a sample of the nice things he says: "...we all know obese vegetarians whose hearts think they are trying to pull a locomotive out of a swamp every time they attempt to get out of a chair." Charming. Later on he lists some "facts". "Fact: The calcium you get from milk comes with artery-clogging saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, and pus." (Really? Even if it's nonfat organic milk from cows not treated with growth hormones?) But here's the best fact -- "Fact: Anyone following your sizeable posterior down the street knows you're addicted to dairy." Hey Dan, here's another fact: Anyone taking the time to read your insipid article knows you're just a dumbass cartoonist with some kind of stick up your ass, pretending to be an expert on something you know nothing about.

9. "No Kidding," by Kristine Genovese, about her struggle to adopt a child. Apparently once the social workers found out she was vegetarian, this started coming up every time she talked to them about an adoption, and now they keep trying to hook her up with kids who love salad. Mind you, Genovese acknowledges that her vegetarianism has not actually held up the adoption process, but she still complains about it coming up at all. And in the process, she finds it necessary to spew out prejudice against fat people, who must all feed their kids "fried foods and sugary desserts". Genovese doubts that "overweight or obese" people would have as much trouble adopting as she did -- apparently she has missed the numerous recent cases of fat people being prohibited by the courts from adopting. She's mad because some of the other people trying to adopt were fat, and yet she doesn't think they got hassled at all because "...questioning the eating habits of an overweight person would be considered, at the very least, politically incorrect and at worst, downright cruel." Ha! Hahahahahahaha!

10. A regular feature on the last page called "What's In Your Fridge?" with a picture of a self-satisfied reader and his/her open refrigerator filled with vegan food. This month's fridge owner, Carol Banning of Los Angeles, has a lot of processed, packaged food. But hey, it's vegan! Admittedly, Carol's fridge isn't nearly as bad as the one in the last issue I saw, where this guy had a fridge that was completely full of junk food and not a single fresh fruit or vegetable in sight. But still, I'm sure we can do better than Boca Burgers, Gardenburgers, Sunshine Burgers, Silk, etc. And these companies are all getting free advertising out of it! (In case you didn't know, Boca Burger is owned by Philip Morris.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New pawns in the obesity war:

Pregnant women!

According to this article that appeared on today, the Institute of Medicine is planning to review its suggested guidelines for how much weight a woman should gain during pregnancy, and is expected to decrease the recommended amounts. The current [stupid] guidelines recommend that women with a "normal" BMI should gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, while "obese" women should only gain 15, and underweight women should gain 40.

How they came up with these specific numbers that are supposed to apply to all women everywhere, regardless of how tall they are or how their bodies are composed or how big their babies are, is beyond me. But the new proposal is likely to be even more idiotic. Apparently women gaining too much weight during pregnancy "...has been one factor in causing the epidemic of overweight and obesity that we see in our country" [oh, the horror!]. This is according to "doctors who say heavy moms are gaining too much weight and the current recommendations do not factor in the country's obesity epidemic." No mention of who these doctors are or whether they are basing their complaints on anything other than their own anecdotal impressions, but no matter. Pregnant women are a segment of society that used to be left alone (relatively speaking) as far as fat phobia was concerned, and we can't possibly let this whole group of people not be hassled about being fat! We must guilt women into going on diets when they're pregnant, even if it harms their babies! We can't let fat people gain weight and not give them shit about it!

One assface, Dr. Patrick Catalano of Case Western Reserve University, actually says that "an obese woman has nutrients stored away and doesn't need to gain weight to provide for the baby." Umm, maybe doctors don't have to take a lot of hard math classes in school, but you don't need a graphing calculator to figure out that in order for your weight to stay the same while you have a fetus, placenta, and all that other baby stuff growing inside of you, that means you will actually have to lose some of your own body weight during the pregnancy... duh... which means going on a diet while pregnant... which I really hope this guy is not advocating... Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he might have meant that "obese" women don't need to gain any weight in addition to the weight of the baby and stuff. If that's what he meant, then CNN needs to issue a clarification! Right away! So that no fat pregnant women start going on diets and cause harm to their babies!

I'll just sit here and hold my breath waiting for them to post that clarification...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Be yourself, but only if you are thin and you eat beef

Saw this post on's Broadsheet yesterday. It's a sarcastic response to this crappy article in the New York Times that basically says women should order a big juicy steak on a first date, because it signals to men that they are not worried about their weight or about seeming dainty or feminine. So that's great -- women should be thin, but they shouldn't try to be thin. Or if they are trying to be thin, they should pretend that they aren't trying to be thin. And either way, a cow should be slaughtered. Of course, all this advice is geared towards thin women -- there's no word on whether a fat woman should want her date to think she is worried about her weight. Presumably a fat woman just won't be on a date to begin with.

Another thing that grinds my gears about this article is the way that vegetarianism is portrayed. From the adjectives used to describe meat-eaters in this article, you are led to conclude that vegetarians are: pretentious, not down-to-earth (that one gets in there twice), neurotic, obsessed with their weight, people with "food issues", high maintenance, mousy, wimpy, insipid, childish, vapid, uninteresting, and finicky. The article does acknowledge that maybe the best thing to do is to order what you want instead of thinking too hard about what other people think you should order, but it is quickly made clear that "what you want" is sure to involve a dead cow. So, as the title of the article says: "Be Yourselves, Girls, Order The Rib-Eye"!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Down on the farm

Admiral Seamus and have been inspired to do some gardening lately, and I think someday we might end up with a whole backyard full of veggies and stuff. At the moment we're growing basil, mint, sage, lavender, cilantro, rosemary (which was already here when we moved in -- it grows in bushes here!), soybeans, limes, tomatoes, potatoes, and lettuce, plus some fun but less practical stuff like jasmine, marigolds, impatiens, bougainvillea, succulents, and palm trees. We plan to add onions and carrots at some point, and who knows what else. And we just started composting. This is all part of our master plan to become self-sufficient. Of course we're a long way from that, but in the mean time it's pretty cool growing at least some of our own food.

Anyway, I figured I'd post some links to a couple of friends' blogs that also deal with gardening and farming. One is M-M-M-M-M-My Pomona, which is written by some friends of ours who just bought a house in Pomona and are dealing with all the joys of home ownership including yard maintenance. Another is Notes from Ethel's Cottage, which is written by a friend who just bought a house in the Bay Area and is engaged in what she refers to as "suburban farming" (and yeah, she uses the same blog template that I do).

In the future I'll post some photos of our garden for your enjoyment. For now, here's a picture of a verbena flower from the little garden we had at our old place.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Been caught speeding

So I was running on the treadmill at LA Fitness today, and it just so happened that the Admiral was on the elliptical machine right next to me (this is the first time we've done that -- usually we're on opposite sides of the room). I was about a mile and a half into my usual 5K (3.1 miles) when one of the trainers came up to me and motioned for me to turn off my iPod. Then he said, "Can I get you to put your hands on the heart rate sensors?" I was like, "Fuck you, get lost." But then out loud I said, "Uh, it won't give you your heart rate if you're going faster than 4 miles per hour" -- he should have known that since he works there. Then he asked what my target heart rate was, and I was like, "I don't know, I usually just look at this chart on the treadmill," and he said something about how the chart isn't necessarily accurate for everybody. Then he said, "Did you know that if you work out above your target heart rate it can ruin your metabolism?" I don't know if that's true or not, or even what it means exactly, but I quickly got the idea that the reason this guy was hassling me was that there's a speed limit for fatties, and it's less than the lighting-fast 4.7 miles per hour at which I was zooming along. And also that the guy was assuming that if a fat girl is in a gym, her primary goal must be to lose weight rather than any other athletic goal she might have for herself, like, say, running a faster 5K. The hassling went on for a little while, and finally I told the guy, "You know, I've been running for 11 years." His eyes widened, but before he could stammer out his dumbass reaction to this mind-boggling revelation, suddenly the Admiral, my knight in sweaty gym clothes, chimed in: "Are you singling her out because she's fat?"

Whoa. You should have seen the look on that guy's face as he whipped his head around to see who was sticking up for me. Deer in the headlights would be putting it mildly. Keep in mind that at that time the guy didn't know that the guy on the elliptical machine was anything more than a stranger to me. And man, did he get busy backpedaling. "Oh, no, not at all," he said. "I just circulate around and talk to people. In fact, let's check out *your* heart rate." He was smooth, but I could still see him sweating. He tried to get the Admiral's heart rate, but the sensor wasn't working, so he just kept up this random nervous chitchat. He asked the Admiral how long he had been coming to the gym. The Admiral looked at me and was like, "What has it been, a year now?" and the guy was like, "Oh, you two come in together?" The guy looked back at me and clearly his mind was blown at this point -- the fat girl is a longtime runner, and now it turns out the fat girl has a *man*?! As the computer from Logan's Run would say: INPUT CONTRARY TO ESTABLISHED FACTS.

So at this point I was back in the conversation. The guy asked me a bunch of questions which were either meant to make clear that he totally respected that I was a serious runner, or else to test whether I was really a runner. He asked if I had ever run a marathon, and I said yes, two of them, but that I was working on my 5K time now. He asked what my time was, and I said that it was 37:30. Then he asked when my next race would be, and I said I was planning on doing a 10K in Ohio over Labor Day weekend. I guess all this satisfied the guy, because then he started telling us about his own exercise routine (as if we gave a shit). He mentioned that he had suffered from shin splints, and at this point I decided to turn the situation around on him. So I asked in a helpful way (as any veteran athlete would), "Oh, do you know the stretches to do for shin splints?" Pretty soon after that he was on his merry way.

OK, what to take from all this? Well, at first I was just pissed at that guy for stereotyping me and assuming that a sweaty fat girl on a treadmill was going to harm herself. But then I realized that the guy was just reflecting the general attitude at LA Fitness, which is that the reason to go to the gym is to lose weight. They currently have signup sheets for personal training sitting on a table right at the top of the stairs that go up to the treadmill area, and they say at the top (something like): "If you want to burn fat and keep it off, running may not be the best way. Learn more with a personal traning session..." I've never bothered with my free training session, but a friend of mine (who is not fat) did have hers a while back, and she said that the trainer kept wanting to get her on a program to work on her "problem areas" when all she really wants to do is run. So clearly this is kind of a "thing" at our LA Fitness location. I'd like to think this emphasis on thin, toned bodies above all else (including health) is just a quirk of LA Fitness or maybe just a SoCal thing, but sadly I think it is a nationwide (and even international) problem. I just think it is a sign of a pretty fucked up society when fat people are constantly hassled about not taking care of their health, and yet when they are in the gym engaging in the healthiest activity imaginable, then they get hassled about not doing the optimal workout for weight loss. It makes pretty clear what our real priorities are.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From the "You Have Got To Be Fucking Kidding Me" department

This article appeared in the LA times on Sunday. It says that some companies are now starting to give their employees "incentives" to lose weight, in the form of charging people extra for their insurance if they are over a certain BMI cutoff. One smug asshole explains it this way: "If you have employees who don't care about their health," she said, "what else are you supposed to do?" Gee, I don't know, maybe keep your nose out of your employees' personal lives?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Our new look

The astute observer will notice that the Fatosphere's color scheme has changed. I did this for two reasons: One is that there is another blog about fat that was using the old template (now I can't remember what it was, unfortunately) and I didn't want to be the same as anyone else. Another reason is that I thought the old one was unnecessarily dark and might have dampened the mood of my dear readers. Of course there is plenty to be pissed off about, but there are also things to be happy about, like this delicious cappuccino I made today (I have been working on the latte art a lot lately... and I will continue to torture you with photos of it until it's perfected). You know, it's the little things...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Holy crap...

Unfortunately I'm getting to this a bit late since we had company this week, but in case you haven't already seen it, you can check out this article that claims you will get fat if your friends get fat. It is based on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that attempted to track weight gain within social networks, and it found that among men, those whose friends or relatives became "obese" (i.e. their BMI changed from below 30 to 30 or above) were more likely to become "obese" over a 4-year period. The effect was apparently not found among women (though most of the articles I've seen about the study don't mention this).

There are so many potential problems with the study (like the fact that the "social networks" in question included blood relatives, when it has already been pretty well documented that fat runs in families), and yet the major media outlets are trumpeting the results as if they prove that having fat friends makes you fat. The headlines are mostly variations on "Fat is Contagious!". Here are a links to a few of the stories:

Washington Post (this one is great because it likens being obese to a "fad" -- yeah, I hear it's the next big thing)
New York Times
Time magazine

Most of the articles I've seen have mentioned the fact that one might interpret (the inaccurate media reports of) the study to suggest that you should dump all your fat friends, and then they say something along the lines of, "No, don't really do that, that would be mean." (It would also not make sense, because the "findings" of this study, such as they were, were that men are more likely to become fat if their friends and family *become* fat, not if they already *are* fat.) But here is one article (already posted by Aditi a couple of days ago in a comment about my "Be Afraid" post) where this asshole William Saletan actually comes right out and says you should dump your fat friends: "To resist a fattening norm, you need willpower. To reverse it, you need to promote responsibility, which implies blame. You almost certainly need stigma. And realistically, to add normal or underweight friends to your circle, you have to relegate others who are overweight. That may be bad for your fat ex-friends, who will lose your friendship as well as your thinness. But it's fine for you, since you'll have just as many friends as before." Where to begin? First of all, Asshole. Secondly, in order to make "normal" friends, you have to make room by dumping your fat friends? Like there is some maximum number of friends you can have? Thirdly, you need stigma? As if there isn't one already? As if it's perfectly acceptable in our society to be fat and we all have to be vigilant against that? Another thing that is really galling about Saletan's article is that he starts out by saying how terrible it is that the spin on all the articles about this study have been so biased in favor of fat people. Huh?! This sounds to me like a tactic of the right wing: claim that the media is biased towards the other guy when the reverse is actually true, and that way any outrageous bullshit you want to spew out will be perceived as being reasonable. Yeah, we live in this world where it's so cool to be fat and everyone wants to be fatter, and the media is telling us it's great to be fat, but William Saletan is here to cut through all that PC nonsense and tell you how it really is.

Just to get that nasty taste out of your mouth, here are a couple of great responses to all this from the blog world:

Peggy Elam

Kate Harding

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Go Meat!

The Admiral found this on Grist yesterday -- apparently it is unaltered from the original, which appeared in some magazine (don't know which one). Here is the original post. I went to the "Go Meat!" web page, and there it's more clear that they are playing on the phrase "Go Team!" with their slogan (which I didn't get from the magazine ad). OK, so it makes a little more sense, but We Are Still Not Amused.

I am not the kind of person who goes around trying to convince everyone else that they should be vegetarian, but I can't help feeling a little defensive when there's an explicit "Go Meat!" campaign out there. I just don't think meat is something that needs to be promoted.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Be afraid, be very afraid...

This article appeared on MSNBC today, claiming that 75% of Americans will be in the "overweight" category (based on body mass index) by the year 2015 if the current trend continues.

OK, the fact that Americans are getting fatter probably does signal something bad (though of course BMI is a lousy way of tracking how fat people are). The average American's diet is no doubt pretty bad, and most people don't exercise very much, and these things must be contributing to making people fatter on average. The fact that diet and exercise are getting worse probably has something to do with the fact that people are living farther and farther out in the suburbs, commuting longer and spending more time in their cars in general, and working longer hours for the Man. Not only does this force people to sit on their butts all day, but it's draining and takes up time that might be spent hitting the gym or cooking a nice healthy meal at home. I'd like to see more media attention given to these serious problems rather than to surface manifestations of them, like people getting fatter.

But that's a different post. What I wanted to point out about this MSNBC article is the fear-mongering. It reminds me a lot of the way the Bush administration linked 9/11 with Saddam Hussein (41% of Americans still believe that Hussein was responsible, according to this article). If you just kind of keep saying the words "obese" and "overweight" in the same sentence with "heart disease," "diabetes," "cancer," and "death," then of course people are going to think that fat causes all those other bad things, especially if your society predisposes you to think that being fat is bad anyway, for aesthetic reasons. In the case of fat, I don't think every doctor or researcher who makes this link is necessarily trying to mislead people -- a lot of them may actually believe that fat causes those other things. Or maybe it's just that it is easier for them to convince people to work on getting healthier by boiling it down to a bogeyman like fat, rather than trying to promote a more complicated message like, "Having a poor diet and being sedentary, which might cause you to be fat, will also increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, so you should try to eat healthy and exercise to improve your health, and it is possible that you will also lose some weight if you do that."

But whether or not we are being maliciously deceived, it's working. People just assume the link without any evidence. Consider this sentence from the article: "...those with BMIs of 30 or above are obese and at serious risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers." Maybe there is a statistical correlation between a BMI over 30 and higher risk for those diseases, but notice how the sentence implies that a 30+ BMI *causes* increased risk, without actually coming out and saying it, or backing it up with data. Compare that with another sentence that does something similar: "Before 11 September 2001, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained" (George Bush, State of the Union Address, January 2003).

And then, of course, there are the vague scary threats. Aside from the title of the article itself, there are quotes from "experts" trying to freak you out. For example, the lead researcher on the Johns Hopkins study described in the article asserts that "Obesity is a public health crisis." Never mind that the study doesn't say anything about people's health, just their fatness. So the researcher who said that is expressing a personal opinion not based on the research, but it sure does sound scary, doesn't it? Another member of the research team says that "Obesity... will soon become the leading preventable cause of death in the United States." Does the study actually show that fat is killing people, or is this just some spooky speculation? The article actually ends with this quote, so the whole thing is pretty clearly meant to leave you feeling unsettled. Kind of like quotes like this are supposed to make you feel unsettled: "If we do not defeat the terrorists and extremists in Iraq, they won't leave us alone -- they will follow us to the United States of America" (your president again, April 16, 2007). Let's just hope those terrorists don't also happen to be fat, or we're really in trouble!