Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best coffee in Seattle

Hi everyone, I've got a post brewing on the Fat Studies reader (in a nutshell: it is awesome), but in the mean time I thought I'd share something I learned recently, which is that Seattle has some fabulous coffee. Obviously I'd heard that before, but until last weekend I'd never gone and checked it out for myself. And now that I have done so, I figure I might as well post my findings, since a google search for "best coffee in Seattle" proved to be surprisingly unhelpful as I prepared for the trip.

We had four nights in Seattle, so even though we had a bunch of family stuff to do (we were there for a wedding), I figured I could hit at least four coffee shops. I went to the forums at to compile a list of places to hit, since the geeks on coffeegeek are super-anal about their coffee. There was a remarkable amount of overlap in the places that people mentioned. Here are a few: Victrola, Espresso Vivace, Zoka, Caffe Vita, Stella, Stumptown, Lighthouse Roasters, Cafe Ladro, Hotwire, Zeitgeist, and Caffe Umbria. In particular, it seemed like the consensus favorite was Vivace, though Victrola and Zoka are also well-liked. Caffe Vita and Caffe Umbria got mixed reviews.

The first night, we stopped at Victrola for some coffees to go. I got a cappuccino and the Admiral got a regular coffee. Both were great. The cappuccino had some seriously exquisite latte art going on; it made me wish we'd sat and enjoyed it right there, but we arrived late and I think they were closing.

The next day, I ventured out on my own to the Stumptown next to the University of Seattle campus. I was doing some reading, so I ordered a latte. It was delicious and had a beautiful rosette design. I wished I'd ordered a cappuccino to better facilitate comparison with the other places I visited, but anyway, I did enjoy the latte. As I was sitting there reading, this guy started setting up for a free public "cupping" (i.e., coffee tasting) next to me. So I stopped reading and joined in the cupping. It was such a cool experience -- a very elaborate ritual that really enhanced my appreciation for the different roasts they had on offer. I also got a serious buzz -- you're supposed to spit after tasting, which I did a few times, but when you're sipping coffee that good it's hard to just spit it out. I got the Admiral an Americano to go, and he reported that it was exceptionally good (by that point I was so saturated with caffeine that I declined to taste it).

On day 3, we walked all over town. Our first stop was Caffe Umbria in Pioneer Square. Some geek had posted something about how their famously rich steamed milk was achieved by nefarious means, namely, adding half and half to the milk. Scandalous!! Well, I have no idea if that's true -- the milk for my cappucino was poured straight out of a milk carton, but I suppose it could have been tampered with behind the scenes. In any case, the cappuccino was delicious. Almost as good as the one from Victrola. That afternoon we stopped at Caffe Ladro. My cappuccino was really good, better than you could find in most cities, but not exceptional. Points for friendly service and funky decor, however. And later that night, on our way back from the wedding, we stumbled upon Caffe Vita and decided to pop in. They were just about to close, which was too bad because they really had a nice, cozy atmosphere and I would have loved to stay a while. My cappuccino was excellent -- with lovely latte art and tasting just as good as the one from Victrola.

On our last day, we finally made it to Espresso Vivace, our 6th and final stop. I had high hopes, and I wasn't disappointed. The atmosphere was cozy, my cappuccino was delicious, and the barista's latte art (pictured above) was very nice. I kind of think once you get to that level it's really hard to distinguish among really excellent coffee drinks, so I can't say that I liked it better than Victrola or Vita, but it was equally good. I guess on the whole I'd say I liked Caffe Vita the best. But I look forward to a return visit so I can check out the rest of the list.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Omg panic: only 92% of "obese" people think they need to lose weight!

This is not an Onion article, but it's so depressingly hilarious that you'd think it might be.

The article starts with a statistic: in the Dallas Heart study, of the 2056 "obese" people surveyed, 8% "said they were satisfied with their body size or felt they could gain weight."

Well, it's really a shame that only 8% of "obese" people are satisfied with their body size, but I guess that figure is not surprising. Maybe the article will go on to suggest ways we can help fat people to overcome their feelings of inadequacy in a culture that places such intense pressure on people to conform to an arbitrary and very small body norm? Oh... wait... I'm being told that wasn't the point of the article. No, it turns out that the "story" here, according to Tiffany Powell MD, is that those 8% are suffering from a "misperception" and "don't understand they are overweight," and so doctors need to hassle them about it more to get it through their fat skulls that they need to lose weight. Yes, Tiffany, I'm sure that's it: "obese" people are so stupid that they just "don't understand" that they're fat.

Of course, every article about "obesity" has to contain at least one gigantic and utterly unfounded leap of logic, and here it is: "Those with a misperception of body size believed they were healthy. But 35 percent of them had high blood pressure, 15 percent had high cholesterol, 14 percent had diabetes and 27 percent were current smokers. These risk factors are similar to obese individuals who acknowledged they had a weight problem and needed to lose weight, Powell said."

So did they also ask people if they "believed they were healthy," and it turned out that the exact same fat people who were satisfied with their bodies were the ones who said they believed they were healthy? Gee, that would be an interesting finding... but I have a sneaking suspicion that the author of this article is simply asserting that if a person said they were satisfied with their body size then that means they think they are healthy. Earth to mind-bogglingly stupid author of article: those two things are not the same at all. Maybe you should go back to reporting school. Or, like, preschool.

Another teeny problem is the inclusion of smoking as a risk factor that is supposed to have something to do with being "obese". Here's the logic as far as I can see: this person doesn't think she needs to lose weight, and therefore I will assume she thinks she is healthy even though she didn't say that. But really, this person is not healthy, which we know from the fact that she is a smoker. Therefore she needs to lose weight. And therefore she is an idiot for not knowing that she needs to lose weight, because all she needed to do was think about the fact that she is a smoker and therefore obviously unhealthy, and that there could only be one solution to this problem: lose weight!

So, OK, let's just set aside the smoking category (we'll assume the author was smoking something him/herself when he/she decided to include smoking) and look at those other "risk factors". Even if we simply add up all the percentages, we come to 77% of the "obese" people who thought they didn't need to lose weight as having some kind of health problem. Which means that at the very minimum, 23% of the "obese" people who supposedly thought they were "healthy" were absolutely right according to the health measures mentioned in the article! And let us remember that there is likely to be significant overlap between the people who had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and possibly diabetes too. So possibly up to 65% of the stupid fatties in this study who think they're healthy are totally right.

But hey, let's not get bogged down with the facts -- or even the version of "facts" reported in the article. Let's just continue to assume that all fat people are unhealthy and that our goal should be to make sure that 100% of fat people (not a measly 92%) are fully aware that they are fat and therefore unhealthy and that they have to lose weight. Even if we grant all that, there are some other really questionable conclusions here. For example, "Those who misperceived their body size were less likely to go to a physician. In fact, 44 percent didn't visit a physician during the past year, compared to 26 percent of obese participants who correctly perceived they needed to lose weight." The idea is apparently that it's bad if you don't think you need to lose weight because then you won't go to the doctor. But I have some other ideas that would explain these correlations. How about this: if you are unhealthy you are more likely than a healthy person to go to the doctor. And if you are fat and unhealthy, given all the messages you hear about fat being unhealthy, you are probably somewhat likely to blame your poor health on being fat, and therefore to think that you need to lose weight. Even if not, if you are fat and unhealthy you are likely to be told by your doctor that you need to lose weight. So there, I've just explained the correlation, and notice how my explanation doesn't rely on the idea that a fat person who is stupid enough to be satisfied with his/her body is also too stupid to go to a doctor. Or here's another, more depressing possibility: people who are fat but don't think they need to lose weight avoid going to the doctor even when they get sick because the doctor is likely to tell them that they need to lose weight rather than actually bothering to diagnose their real health problem.

My friend who sent me the link pointed out a similarity between this and our cultural attitude towards "depression": if you're a sensitive, introspective person who feels saddened by the state of the world, rather than being able to glibly go through life thinking everything is hunky dory the way that most people apparently do without getting bummed out by things like war and global warming, then clearly you are the pathological one and you must have a medical problem that needs to be treated in order to bring your worldview into alignment with everyone else's.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Strikes and gutters

I was so excited to see this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It's a really nice introduction to fat studies -- naturally, since the authors are editors of a Fat Studies Reader that came out last week (look for a review here -- my copy is due to arrive today!). It's so nice for once to read a sympathetic piece on fat studies that isn't "balanced" by a quote from some doctor saying "Yeah, but just because studies have repeatedly failed to show that being fat is a big health hazard, and 95% of people can't permanenly lose large amounts of weight anyway, it would be dangerous for fat people to think that they are OK." In fact, the article is totally free of such crap, with the teeny exception of the caption on the (awesome) photo of the Padded Lillies, which includes the term "overweight." It's not an unsympathetic caption, but it was clearly not written by the authors of the article, who I am pretty sure would not use the term "overweight". It's not quite as irritating a term as "obese", but for me it always brings to mind the question "over WHAT weight?" (aside: just now in googling the phrase "over what weight?" to see if I could figure out its origin, or at least remember the first place I saw it, I came across a very interesting feminist blog called Professor, What If...?. I've only read a few posts so far, but it seems worth checking out, especially this post.) I think many people consider the term to be more polite than "fat", but "overweight" clearly carries with it some normative weight that everyone should be, which I find icky. But that's a minor nitpick; you should really go read the article because it's great and I love that it appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. It seems to me that we'll need more of that in order for fat studies to really come into its own.

On the negative side, today's features this lousy excuse for an article. Read it for yourselves (or don't); I just wanted to highlight a few of the most idiotic things about it here.

First there's this funny line: "[American Heart Association spokesman Russell] Pate and other childhood obesity experts say more American youths are becoming obese because so many are addicted to television, video games, testing and fast food." I find the thought of kids being addicted to testing pretty hilarious. I personally will confess that I like taking tests, especially the bubble kind, and I liked them when I was a kid too. But I'm pretty sure I was kind of a weird kid that way. Anyway, let's give the editors the benefit of the doubt and assume the author meant "texting"; I'm still going to call bullshit on it. This strikes me as just a list of stereotypes about what fat kids do with their time. Where's the evidence that fat kids engage in more of those activities listed than other kids do?

On a more serious note, there's the whole "ticking time bomb" concept that appears in the headline and is repeated in the article. What a terrible metaphor, especially when you're talking about kids. Hey parents, if you don't make your fat child lose weight right away, he/she will EXPLODE!!! This is exactly the kind of substance-free, sensationalized rhetoric that characterizes the entire "war on obesity" and should lead any thinking person to be skeptical about the whole enterprise.

And then there is the very telling description of Russell Pate's research methodology: "Pate, who has testified about childhood obesity before Congress, says he can tell how American kids have changed by looking at old yearbooks. 'You see fewer overweight kids,' Pate says. 'There were some kids that were overweight in the older yearbooks, but the typical kid was leaner.'" Wow, I can't wait to see the results of that super-objective study where a thin guy flips through yearbooks and concludes that there are more fat kids than there used to be, based on 1" square photos of the kids' faces (which are, by the way, kids' faces -- i.e., commonly kind of chubby regardless of the child's overall physique). Maybe I'll do my own study where I flip through some modern yearbooks and conclude "Hey, everybody looks OK to me!"

There are plenty of other things to pick on in the article, but I'll just point out one last little ironic thing, which is that the photo that goes with the article is of a chubby person (I guess it's supposed to be a kid, but it's hard to tell) in a swimming pool. So if the whole point of the article is that kids don't exercise anymore, isn't that kind of a stupid photo to run with it? Well, maybe the person who selected the photo was being subversive. If so, kudos to them for getting one thing right: it's entirely possible for a fat kid (or adult) to exercise and still be fat. When I was a kid I did a sport every season: swim team, soccer team, basketball team, softball team, plus horseback riding lessons, and later marching band. And I was still fat. Gym class in middle school and high school were almost humiliating enough to take all the joy out of exercising for me (like the time sophomore year when the gym teacher's daughter, who was in my class, got put in charge of weighing everyone and she told her friends how much I weighed... incidentally, although my body composition is a lot different, I weigh the same now as I did then; how many self-righteous fat-bashers can say that for themselves?). Somehow on my own I discovered the fun of running when I was in college, and I have continued with running and/or other kinds of exercise pretty consistently since then. But it was absolutely not due to gym class -- so the idea suggested in this article that phys ed classes are the solution to the "childhood obesity problem" is, in my opinion, way off base. I'm pretty sure the people quoted in the article who promote this idea were not fat kids, or they'd know that phys ed as it is traditionally taught in American schools is no way to get fat kids excited about fun and healthy ways of moving their bodies; quite the contrary.

Oh well. I guess I gotta remember that at least there are people out there like Sondra Solovay and Esther Rothblum and Marilyn Wann.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fat Guy in a Little Controversy

When I saw this ad, my first reactions were: Aww, fat guy in a little coat! I love that scene! and then Hey, Chris Farley is dead, so what the hell are they doing using him in a DirecTV commercial? Apparently I wasn't alone in thinking it was a little problematic making a dead person into a spokesman for your company.

According to this article (nitpick: the article incorrectly refers to the scene as "Fat Boy in a Little Coat," suggesting that the author had never even seen this classic scene before and therefore isn't in the best position to comment on how wrong it is that they turned it into a commercial... but whatever...), Chris Farley's family was totally on board with the ad, and David Spade thought it was a nice tribute to his friend, so everyone on board apparently has a clear conscience about the whole thing and doesn't intend to apologize or pull the ad.

I'm not going to tear into David Spade for this (though Gawker had no qualms about doing so). I blame Farley's family for giving their consent, and DirecTV for having poor taste. To paraphrase the late great Bill Hicks (hey, wouldn't it be hilarious if they used him in an advertisement? maybe for Orange Drink?), when you do a commercial, you're a corporate fucking shill. You're off the artistic roll call. Everything you say is suspect, and every word that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink. (Bill meant his own drink, but hey, mine too.) So the thing is, when you choose to do an endorsement, it's like when an amateur goes pro -- you can't go back. From now on, when someone hears you say something, they will not know if you sincerely believe it or if someone just paid you to say it. So apparently David Spade made the calculation and thought, OK, the amount of money they're paying me makes it worth doing this. But poor Chris Farley doesn't have the luxury of making that kind of choice, now, does he? Maybe you don't think that's so bad, but think about it this way: there's a whole generation of people out there who were not yet born when Tommy Boy came out and might not have ever seen it, so the next time they see Chris Farley on TV their first thought may well be "Hey, it's the guy from the DirecTV ad!"

Maybe Chris Farley did other endorsements during his lifetime, in which case he was a corporate shill anyway (I'd still love the guy if that were true). Even so, the decision to use one's own talent and reputation in support of selling a particular product is one that only an individual can make for him/herself, and no matter how well his family knew Chris Farley they can't know for sure that he would have wanted to do an ad for fucking DirecTV. I'd like to think he wouldn't.

While I'm on this subject, have you all seen Jeff Bridges' ads for Duracell and Hyundai? Very un-Dude...

Monday, October 05, 2009


I was glad to see this article on today.

And, happily, I had some kind of problem loading the comments page, so I wasn't able to read the comments (despite which fact I am still confident that I could recite them to you almost verbatim). It was an all-around very enjoyable reading experience that has inspired me to stop reading comments in general -- except for the ones you post on my blog, of course, dear readers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CNN clueless when it comes to... a lot of things headline: "Parents clueless when it comes to kids' growth charts". The article basically says that when doctors (et al) distribute pediatric growth charts to parents, the parents often don't understand the charts and that this "has implications in the war against childhood obesity". God forbid that parents' stupidity should get in the way of the war effort!

The thing is, though, that many parents (at least the ones I know) are perfectly aware of their kids' percentiles on the growth charts. In fact, if anything (from the perspective on a non-parent who has politely sat through more conversations on the subject than I would prefer) I would say that parents probably dwell on the percentiles a little too much. In several cases, it seemed that doctors deliberately caused the parents to worry about their very young children by going on and on about the percentiles (not just on the height/weight spectrum, but also in terms of the timing of certain childhood milestones). It is true that most of the parents I know do not have low income or low education levels, and therefore according to the article they are more likely than others to be able to understand the charts. But I'm not convinced that being able to understand the charts is really such a wonderful thing if it causes people unnecessary worry about their children. Maybe in this instance, ignorance is bliss.

Just have a look at this example of a pediatric growth chart. Notice that height and weight are on separate charts -- even as crude a measure of the height-weight relationship as BMI is not represented. Now suppose little Johnny is 2 years old and he's in the 70th percentile for weight on the chart. What is a parent to "understand" about that? *Some* child has to be at the 70th percentile -- 'cause weight, like height, exhibits a normal distribution -- so what if it's *your* child? Well, if he's also at the 70th percentile for height then maybe the doctor would let it go. But what if he's at the 50th percentile for height? Is he then "overweight"? And should you therefore put your 2 year old on a diet to slim him down?

The weirdest part of this article to me is the part where this pediatrician suggests that pediatricians talk to parents about height and weight in terms of clothing size because "It is real to them if they are having to buy clothes frequently or if hems always need shortening to accommodate girth." OK, remember we are talking about *kids* here. Now every parent who has to buy clothes frequently is supposed to panic and flip out and think that their child is abnormal and "at risk for serious medical problems"? I can just imagine what those conversations will be like... "Well, Mrs. Jones, the reason that you have had to buy new pants for your daughter three times this year is that she has a height problem. As you can see on this chart here, Susie is in the 85th percentile for height at her age, which means that she is overheight." What, you think that's ridiculous? Because height is mostly genetic and is just a natural parameter of human variation that is virtually impossible to control? And while it's possible that extreme tallness or shortness could signal an underlying health problem, which the doctor may want to check for, it is also entirely possible that there's no problem at all and therefore there's no reason to cause the parents to panic? Well, I couldn't agree with you more. Now, why is weight not treated the same way? Hey, don't ask questions like that -- don't you know we're at war?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fat and the health care debate

Liberals: if you think that the solution to all our nation's health care problems, as well as the key to paying for a national health care plan, resides in getting rid of fat people, you are in good company: your president agrees. However, as much as I like Obama, he's just plain wrong about this. If he thinks we can "prevent obesity", he's got another think coming. And even supposing we could do that, if Obama thinks that eliminating fat people would eliminate all of our nation's medical problems and save us a trillion dollars, well, he's got even more thinking to do.

The facts are these: (1) You can't make fat people thin in the long term. (2) Making people thin doesn't necessarily make them healthy anyway -- in fact in many cases it does just the opposite. And (3) a national health care plan is going to be expensive, and rather than pretend like we can eliminate all the costs by forcing or guilting everyone into getting thin, we need to just suck it up and pay for the plan, even if that means raising taxes.

I have noticed a lot of anti-fat rhetoric associated with the health care debate. There's John Mackey's controversial WSJ editorial, and Michael Pollan's response in the New York Times, and Obama repeating his previous claims. And then there's Ashton Kutcher's statement on Bill Maher's show (which Maher of course did not call him out on): "Frankly, I don’t want to pay for the guy who’s getting a triple-bypass because he’s eating fast food all day and deep-fried snickers bars." (I should immediately point out that this quote doesn't single out fat people, just people who eat a non-Ashton Kutcher-approved diet. But I think it's not totally out of line to imagine a fat person as the stereotypical person that he had in mind with this statement.) But I've also seen it coming increasingly from ordinary people -- in debates on Facebook, for example, and in the comments that people make on some of the articles mentioned above.

Here is what I would like to say to everyone who favors universal health care: our message has to be consistent or we are doomed. It is totally hypocritical for a pro-choice liberal to declare that "a woman's body is her own" but then turn around and try to tell others what to eat and how much to exercise and how much body fat they are allowed to have. Universal health care means covering everybody, regardless of whose "fault" it is when they get sick. That is the whole point. If you keep talking about policing the way people live their lives as a way to drive down costs, you are playing right into the Republicans' fear-mongering about how Big Government takes away our freedom. We liberals need to get our thinking straight about this, or this whole health care thing is going nowhere.

P.S. Sorry for the comment moderation; I've been getting spam comments every day on my last post and I don't know how else to block them. I'll try to approve your comments quickly.

P.P.S. I just got wind of a new blog called Fat Habitat that may be of interest. It's about fat and sustainability. There aren't many posts yet (and the last one was pro-Michael Pollan before he made his recent anti-fat remarks, so it will be interesting to see how he's treated in the next post), but this will be one to watch.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Automatically refreshing

(I got tired of the SkyMall catalog shtick.)

On recommendation from Guy Fieri (a.k.a. "Guido"), we decided to check out Taylor's Automatic Refresher. For those not familiar with Guido's oeuvre, he's the Guy from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (a.k.a. "Triple-D"). A cheeseball, most certainly, but we like him and his show (more on that below), and he hasn't steered us wrong yet (in addition to Taylor's, we recently went to Byways Cafe in Portland, also featured on the show, also awesome).

Anyway, so Taylor's. They have three locations -- one in St. Helena, one in Napa, and one in San Francisco. Triple-D featured the Napa location, but we hit the one in SF, which is in the Ferry Building (which we recommend in general as a cool place to spend an hour or two -- they've got a bunch of shops including Cowgirl Creamery and Scharffen Berger, plus the Slanted Door, which is a great restaurant with a great bar). Our meal (pictured above) included the ahi burger, which is basically what got us in the door, and which turned out to be really super awesome. We had actually already tried making it with some friends about a month ago based on the recipe in Guido's book (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) and it was really delicious -- our grill-master did an excellent job and the ginger-wasabi mayo and asian slaw, courtesy of the Admiral, really made it. The version in the restaurant was just as good; OK, better. Plus we got some super-garlicky garlic fries with it, which definitely enhanced the experience, and a nice bottle of wine. The Admiral ordered the bleu cheese burger but accidentally got the cheeseburger (as he pointed out, more differentiation among the names of the menu items couldn't hurt), which was tasty too. It certainly wasn't cheap for a meal of burgers and fries, but oh my, it was yummy.

Back to Guido. There's a lot of hate out there on the internet for some reason (try googling "Guy Fieri" with "douchebag" and you'll see what I mean). And, you know, I can see how some people might find him annoying, although I also suspect people are jealous of how awesome his job is. But anyway, not liking him is fine (even though I don't really see how anyone can dispute the fact that it's cool how his show highlights independent local hangout spots that generally have moderate to low prices and often are into making all their food from scratch using organic and/or local ingredients), and certainly making snarky comments about a public figure is not something I disapprove of. What really grinds my gears, however, is the way that so many of people's negative remarks about him make reference to his being fat -- just try googling "Guy Fieri" with "fat". I have to admit that maybe his being a chunky fellow is part of why I like him -- granted, it's probably easier and more common for a fat man to get his own TV show than a fat woman, but still, not that many fat people have TV shows. So I give him props for making it in spite of being fat (actually I don't think he's all that fat -- but he's definitely fat for TV). Am I a hypocrite if I like the guy more because he's fat but I think it's bad if people like him less because he's fat? Well, no, I don't think so. Maybe I would be if there was someone I disliked because they were thin, but I'm pretty sure I'm not that way. And furthermore, it's probably pretty uncommon for someone to have to overcome anti-thin prejudice in order to make it on TV (I don't deny that anti-thin prejudice exists, but I'm thinking it's not much of a problem in Hollywood).

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Fish & Farm Carrot Cake Cocktail.

So we met up with a buddy at Fish & Farm in San Francisco, a nifty gastropub that I highly recommend. They're doing some very cool stuff with good ingredients that are local, organic, etc. Another interesting thing about them is that the prices on the menu are "all-inclusive" -- so no taxes or tips to worry about (and sales tax in SF ain't cheap -- 9.5%!). This means that what look like moderately expensive prices are actually quite reasonable for what you get.

I started with a carrot cake cocktail (pictured above). Sound disgusting? Well, it was actually quite tasty. According to the menu, the ingredients are: roasted carrot vodka (?!?), cake spice brandy, cream, brown sugar, and brandy-plumped raisins (mine only had one, which sat cutely in the bottom of the glass waiting for me to finish the drink and eat it up). It really does taste like carrot cake, too, which is a personal favorite of mine -- more on that in a future post.

The food was awesome too. Among the three of us, we tried fish and chips, a super-tasty burger, and fried chicken. All were excellent.

I should also mention that in addition to the carrot cake cocktail, Fish & Farm offers a bacon cocktail (yes, a bacon cocktail) called the Bacon-Drop. Of course the Admiral couldn't resist ordering it. I tried it, flexitarian that I am, and actually I rather liked it. He kinda hated it, himself. De gustibus non est disputandum, I suppose.

Any SF cocktail fans out there recognize the glassware?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Cheeseboard Pizza.

Cheeseboard Pizza is this awesome pizza place in Berkeley that's part of the Cheeseboard Collective, a co-op that has a truly amazing selection of cheeses. They are really nice in there and will let you taste any number of cheeses and give you recommendations until you find the cheese you want. Anyway, the pizza place is truly outstanding and one of my favorite things in the bay area. Basically every day they make one kind of pizza, always vegetarian, no sauce, a good amount of garlic and oil, and usually with creative ingredients and some kind of fancy cheese. The day we went they had the above pictured pizza on offer (fyi, in case it just looks like a pile of pizza, the deal is that they give you a free half slice with every half pie, so we got two free half slices with our whole pie, which is what you see sitting on top). It had mozzarella, garlic, some kind of yummy mushrooms, and was topped with spinach and parmesan cheese and a little lemon. The spinach seemed like it would be a little weird but had a nice effect. This is my absolute favorite pizza anywhere.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Gordo Burrito.

There are few better things in life than a burrito from Gordo. I can't believe we were in the Bay Area for 3 days before we actually got around to having one.

Check out the photo. (FYI, I had to nibble off the top of the burrito very carefully to get that cross-section -- so don't say I never did anything for you!) Do you see the melted cheese? That, my friends, is the key to an excellent burrito. In every other city where I've had a burrito, you get little cold pieces of shredded cheese that don't really melt, and therefore they don't get fully integrated into your burrito experience. But at Gordo, they have this steam thingy. They take the tortilla and put a slice or two of cheese on it, and then they lay it onto this round thing and pull down another round thing on top of it, and some steam comes out, and then when they pull out the tortilla, the cheese is all melted and the tortilla itself is floppy and kind of sticky. Then they put in the rest of the ingredients -- the way I order my Super Bean and Cheese, I get pinto beans, rice, fresh salsa, guacamole, and sour cream (incidentally, the guac's not bad, especially for how cheap it is -- though of course it's no Gloriously Garlicky Guacamole) and roll it up. You can also get meat and/or hot sauce, and you can get other kinds of beans. Regardless of how you order it, your cheese mingles beautifully with the other contents of the burrito, and since the tortilla gets kind of sticky, that means that it wraps up well into a tight (but fat!) burrito. I can usually eat mine very neatly without dropping anything out of it. There's no drippage, nothing wet coming out of the burrito at all. And did I mention how cheap this place is? We're talking super cheap.

Another thing to point out about Gordo is how awesome the name is (it means "fat", for those who don't know, and I believe it can also be used as a noun to mean "fat person" or "fat thing", though I'm no scholar of Spanish). So that makes it a good way to kick off my Bay Area food blogging. More soon!

Friday, July 03, 2009

We'll be sure to wear flowers in our hair

So we're getting ready to head to the Bay Area for about a month, and I'm very excited. It's for an academic thing, which I am looking forward to, but I have to confess that I am a little more excited about seeing our friends and (more relevant to the blog) eating wonderful food. I don't want to turn this into a food blog, but I've decided I'm going to take pictures of our culinary adventures for the month and share the highlights with you all. I envision a mixture of our old favorites (burritos from Gordo, cannoli from Cafe Trieste) and stuff from places we haven't tried yet, especially in San Francisco proper (since I never felt I explored the city sufficiently when we lived in the area).

Don't you worry, though: after the trip is over, soon enough I'm sure I'll get back to complaining about the state of the world and how stupid and mean people are.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sometimes you're pleasantly surprised

I saw this link on CNN today about Sanjay Gupta's new "Four Months to Fitness" program and I was like, oh no, what new anti-fat crap is he going to have for us today? Because let's face it, the guy has a history of saying some pretty fucked-up shit about fat (that last one really gets me -- there's a part where Gupta says "The obesity epidemic radically changed the way new Natalie's Bridal Shop does business. Five to 10 years ago, owner Jeannie Posner sold mostly size 6 and 8. Now it's more like 8 to 14" -- er, yeah, because people who wear sizes 8-14 are totally obese...?).

I started reading and the first specific detail he mentioned about the plan was a website for tracking what you eat, and I figured this was more of Gupta's same old anti-obesity bullshit. But then I kept reading and it got to be mostly about exercise, and my fat ass almost fell out of my chair when I got to this sentence: "While smaller waists and less weight are things that will inevitably occur as you start incorporating these tips into your life, the real goal is a longer, more functional and exceptional life – free of disease and dysfunction." Wow. I mean, I don't agree that weight loss is "inevitabl[e]" with exercise and/or eating a healthy diet (as opposed to a weight loss diet), but I can totally get behind the whole rest of what he's saying there. Maybe this program is actually kind of cool. It almost makes me want to join, except not quite, because Sanjay Gupta is still an asshole. Maybe just less of an asshole than I thought before.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Book Chat

My pal Anne and I used to have Book Chat every now and then. We haven't done it in a while -- I don't know about her, but my excuse is that I haven't been reading any books outside of my own academic field lately! So sad. But anyway, I just got back from a trip to the UK, so on the plane I had ample time for reading, and I read Zadie Smith's On Beauty based on recommendations from multiple friends. Since it touches on issues I talk about in this blog, I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone (sorry, I hate that metaphor; the other one I really despise is "flesh out," but sometimes they're apt, so what can you do?) and simultaneously do a blog post and a Book Chat. So Anne, if you're reading, this one's for you!

This is way too complex and interesting a book for me to write a full review of in a blog post. Instead I thought I'd just mention a couple of things about it.

The main point of interest (here, anyway), is that one of the main characters (since there's not a single main character in my opinion -- there are many characters that are sympathetic and well developed), Kiki, is fat. She's described as being 250 or 300 lbs. Her fatness is something that comes up multiple times in the book, but what's nice is that it doesn't define her, and she is nothing like a token fat character or a one-dimensional caricature of a fat person. In fact, she is an extremely complex and interesting person. Her relationship with her husband Howard is also affected by her being fat (particularly since she wasn't fat when they got married), but it's only one factor in a relationship that's otherwise complicated by her and Howard's psychological quirks (he's a neurotic academic; she doesn't really consider herself to be an intellectual even though she thinks deeply about a lot of things and is very sensitive and insightful), race (she's African-American; he's British), and their long history together. There are some scenes in the book where Kiki feels self-conscious and you get the idea that her being fat is contributing to it, but since she's a non-academic surrounded by a bunch of academics (Howard teaches at a small college in a small town) you figure that in many instances a thin white person in her situation would have felt self-conscious too. I only remember one scene where explicit mention is made of Kiki feeling self-conscious about being fat, and that's an incident mentioned in passing where she's in a hurry and gets herself a bagel and coffee and feels like people are watching her eat since this is what people do to a fat person who dares to eat in public. I thought that was a really interesting observation on the part of the author, because that is exactly what people do to a fat person eating in public! But I don't know how Zadie Smith knew that -- having seen a picture of her, she doesn't look the slightest bit fat. So, good for her for thinking of it. (On the other hand, maybe the reason she knows is that she has found herself doing it! But based on her sensitive portrayal of Kiki, she certainly doesn't seem like she's anti-fat.)

There's an interesting thread running through the descriptions of Kiki having to do with her as an "African queen" or a goddess. She's described as being pretty, but in at least one case where someone tells her she's pretty, it's in the context of the African queen idea. There's a related notion of Kiki as a "strong black woman". Kiki has an uneasy relationship with both of these ideas -- on the one hand, they're both flattering on the surface, but on the other hand, she's tired of them, and she is not convinced that they're accurate. She tries to use the "strong black woman" idea for inspiration to get through a difficult situation, but deep down she seems to think it's bullshit. Both of these ideas are ways in which people spin her fatness as being OK or positive, but they imply that if she weren't black then her fatness would not be OK. So it seems she'd rather do without them, although maybe she also enjoys the benefits of them. I have to admit I never thought too deeply about either of these ideas, but now that I've read this and thought about it, yeah, I think they are both kind of problematic, and certainly trite in any case.

Relating to the race/fatness issue, at some point it it turns out that Kiki and Howard's adolescent son Levi (who himself is thin) is attracted to fat women. I think the first time it comes up is at a point when Kiki and Howard are having a crisis in their marriage, and it seems like Levi gets interested in fat women as a way of siding with his mother or expressing solidarity with her (even though at that moment he doesn't actually tell her about it). What's kind of interesting is that it also seems to be a way for Levi to assert his blackness. At the same time as he starts being interested in fat women, he also is getting involved with a group of friends whose nationality and station in life are very different from his own (he goes to great lengths to hide from them where he comes from), but who are unified by being black. Later on, we find out that Levi has pictures from fat porn magazines in his bedroom (and I think the women are black, though I don't remember for sure). Kiki comments on Levi's attraction to fat women once, saying something like of course men ought to like women with a little meat on their bones that don't look like they're undernourished. She clearly has a particular situation in mind but states it in general terms. Usually she is good-natured and doesn't make a lot of negative remarks (except when arguing with Howard), but this is one of the few comments that comes off as bitter.

Anyway, I haven't done this book justice at all, but these are just a few items that I thought might get some of you interested in reading the book. I highly recommend it, for lots of other reasons than what I talked about here! If you've read it (or if you read it in the future), please feel free to leave a comment about any aspect of the book or my interpretation of it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Hey everyone, did you know that if you gain 83 lbs. you can get yourself on the cover of People magazine? Just ask Kirstie Alley. As far as I can tell, that's the only thing she has ever really accomplished. Let's face it, she sucked ass on Cheers. Now all she does is get paid by Jenny Craig to get thin and brag about it, then get interviewed by People magazine about how she got fat again.

All this would be fine and kind of boring, just another example of a narcissistic celebrity looking for a way to get into the news, if it weren't for the fact that she is spreading such a damaging message. In the People interview she refers to herself as "disgusting" because at 5'8" she let herself get up to 228 lbs. Yes, god forbid someone who's 5'8" should weigh that much. Can you imagine?! Jesus, how disgusting!! She also enlightens us all about how she got to such a disgusting size: she "went wild", she banished her workout equipment to the garage, and for dinner she would eat two cups of pasta with six tablespoons of butter. Um, OK, actually that last part *is* disgusting. In fact it's so disgusting that I'm going to go ahead and suggest that it's an exaggeration (or dare I say a lie?). But even if she really did eat that much butter on her pasta, unfortunately the implication is that other people who weigh 228 lbs. eat six tablespoons of butter on their pasta too. And they just "go wild" with their eating, and of course they don't work out. (Otherwise how could someone get to such a disgusting weight?!) This is just what we need, isn't it? The best part is that at the bottom of the People article there's a link that says "Does Kirstie's will to lose inspire you?" That seriously made me laugh out loud.

Kirstie, please shut the fuck up! If you want to lose weight, have at it, but does the whole fucking world have to hear about it? Your stupid "inspirational" story is not the slightest bit inspirational, for many reasons including the fact that half of it is probably complete bullshit. You got paid by Jenny Craig to promote their dumb-ass weight loss program, so why should we think that anything you have to say about it in a "candid" interview is anything but more propaganda?

In other news, just wanted to give you a heads-up that it's troll season. A couple of days ago a book was released called Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere (no relation; I haven't read it yet but I look forward to it) and so there have been a lot more random hits on this blog. Which is totally great and all, except that some of the people who stop by here and post comments are assholes. Usually you can spot them by name ("Anonymous") but other times you have to read like one or two words into their comments to figure it out for sure. If any of them are excessively vile I will delete them; otherwise, I'm leaving the comments open, so feel free to respond to any and all comments from trolls. (Also please remember that I try to avoid anti-thin stuff around here, so if you want to say mean stuff to a troll, please make it about something else.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fat people are destroying the planet

Not just by uglying up the place, but through global warming. Don't take my word for it -- just ask these guys from the "London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine"! It turns out that all of us Fatty McFattersons could save the planet, if only we didn't insist on being so fat. Fortunately some other bloggers were on top of this and have pretty much skewered it, so I'll just direct you to them: Fillyjonk over at Shapely Prose brings the snark; CarrieP at Big Fat Blog gives another good analysis and points out that for their calculations, the "researchers" assumed that fat people drive bigger cars (!).

As a follow-up to the United Airlines post, in case you're interested, here's a petition you can sign that will be sent to United telling them it's not OK for them to have their gate agents size people up and make them pay double to fly as punishment for being fat. Part of United's justification for their newly articulated policy was that they received 700 complaints from people who felt inconvenienced by having to sit next to a fat person. So the goal of the petition is to show United that their new policy is going to piss off a lot more than 700 people (there was another similar petition on PetitionOnline that had already reached 700 signatures, but sadly someone hacked it and managed to get it deleted from the site before the owner was able to compile everything to send to United).

Friday, April 17, 2009

United We Are Assholes

Oh god, what to do... United was my favorite airline until now. I have racked up a bunch of frequent flyer miles with them, and just last weekend I got a free upgrade to first class on a United flight from Chicago, just because I put myself on standby for an early flight and they sold out all the economy seats but still had room in first! It was totally awesome.

But now United is going to start charging fat people for two tickets. Granted, I don't personally meet the criteria for being required to buy an extra seat according to this article, but now I feel like I ought to stop patronizing them. Even if I didn't feel some obligation to express solidarity with my fellow fatties, I'm also a little worried that I might get hassled at the gate. As Kate Harding points out in the post linked to above, how are they going to decide whether a person meets the criteria or not? Probably by authorizing the gate agents to visually size people up and decide whether someone looks too fat or not. Even if I never got forced to buy an extra ticket or miss my flight because of being fat, I would be absolutely outraged if I got pulled aside and grilled about whether I use a seatbelt extender (I don't, as it happens) or if I can lower the armrest (I can, and I always do if there's someone in the seat next to me, but it sure isn't comfortable), or worse -- if they made me sit in a seat in front of everyone at the gate and prove it. Even the thought that from now on the United gate agents will be looking me over and thinking about such things makes me feel angry and uncomfortable.

Of course Southwest had this same brilliant idea a while back, and it caused a little stir which has since (apparently) dissipated. There were some widely publicized cases of people being harrassed at the gate, Southwest got some bad PR, and then I imagine they asked the gate agents to back off a little bit even though they kept their discriminatory policy on the books. At least I haven't heard much about it since. I've flown on Southwest since then -- maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but they're so cheap and convenient that I just couldn't help myself. United, on the other hand, isn't particularly unique. I probably could avoid United without too much inconvenience or paying more for flights -- though I do have those frequent flyer miles, which are probably enough for a flight at this point... dilemma...

Well, anyway, I guess I'll have to think about it a little more. In the mean time, I'll daydream about a time when all this airline bullshit will be largely irrelevant (at least for domestic travel), thanks to this.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yeah, but you're still a tool

So David Noonan can't believe he's still a vegan. What I can't believe is that this is considered "news". This guy is obviously a huge fucking narcissist, but why on earth did an editor have to indulge him in it? David Noonan, I do not give a shit if you are vegan. And I really don't care about your philosophy of "food as fuel", except perhaps as a data point in our recent poll. What I do care about, though, is your asshole attitude towards fat, because unfortunately someone thought it would be a great idea to give you a large audience for your smug little rant. I'm sure you just think it's cute and funny, but did it ever occur to you that reinforcing the idea that being fat is a fate worse than death might contribute to people choosing death over fat? And before you say that's ridiculous, just take a look at this, and this, and this. And then go fuck yourself.

On a lighter note, my friend's brother features as the villain/instigator in this story on about the "Krispy Kreme Challenge," a very interesting annual tradition at NC State where you run 4 miles. Oh yeah, and eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in the middle of it. The idea appeals to me for so many reasons, but watching the video convinced me that this is not an event that I ever need to try to participate in myself. See what you think!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

D'oh of the week

Ahh, CNN, you are so rife with fodder for my blog. When I'm in a rush and feeling guilty about not having posted recently, I know I can count on you to have something obnoxious about "obesity" right on your front page. You didn't let me down today! This article is a perfect example of how to imply that being fat raises cholesterol, without actually having to say anything that is technically false! Just say, "Given the increase in childhood obesity and diabetes in the United States..." and then go on to talk about how more kids are being diagnosed with high cholesterol these days. Sure, you didn't say "obesity causes high cholesterol," but will your average reader notice the distinction? Does the author of the article even understand the distinction? My guess is no on both counts.

And about that "increase in childhood obesity"? Uhh, yeah, that kind of ended ten years ago. But hey, the point still stands, right? Assholes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Joy of Eating

I'd like to do a little informal poll. Here is a statement: "Food is just fuel for your body. I don't eat for pleasure; if I want pleasure I get it from other sources." Before you read on, please think about your reaction to the statement (and post it in the comments, if you're willing -- on this one, I actually invite people who are anti-fat and stumbled onto this post for some reason to please chime in). Does it apply to you? If not, do you aspire to it? Do you think it is a mainstream view?

OK, now the context. This statement is something that my trainer at the gym told me. He used to be fat (he was 300 lbs., and I think he's about 5'7") -- now he is more like 200 lbs. and very lean. He doesn't lecture me about losing weight (if he did, I'd tell him off and/or quit working with him), so this kind of indirect parable-type thing is the only way I've ever heard his philosophy on the subject. He said he hasn't eaten any cheese in probably 3 or 4 months. I'm not really asking if he is "right," since I don't think there is one right way to think about such things (it is surely obvious to my regular readers how I feel about it, but I'm not arguing for my own view here). So I'm not asking whether a person "should" eat for pleasure. But I do wonder how common a view it is, and whether people who are fat-haters would agree with it or not. I actually have conflicting expectations about this. On the one hand, I can imagine that it's a common view among bodybuilders, and a lot of fat-haters are bodybuilders (or claim to be bodybuilders, when they're posting nasty comments on people's blogs). On the other hand, a common uncharitable claim about fat people is that we do not know how to really eat for pleasure, we just cram as much cheap, low-quality food as possible down the gullet in as short a period as possible. So this would lead me to expect that the fat-haters would argue that you "should" try to get pleasure out of eating.

On another note, I have an update on the last post. I got a very nice response from the person I emailed. It still seems like we disagree about some things, but she seems open to talking about it. Also, it turns out that some of the materials they are using in class are about the physical and psychological damage that can be caused by dieting. I am not sure how she is reconciling these things with the CDC slideshow that, as I pointed out, feeds into the "obesity panic" which in turn puts more pressure on people to diet. But I was happy at least to know that the students are getting some materials that challenge the pro-diet view.

One last thing. The Admiral sent a link to this article on why Sanjay Gupta should not be Surgeon General. I agree, not only because of Gupta's views on single-payer health care, but for these additional reasons.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fat in the classroom

On Tuesday I attended a lecture on campus, and as I walked into the room, a class had just ended and the professor (whom I know casually) was still packing up her stuff. I saw on the whiteboard some what looked like a list of reasons why people are fat. So I asked the professor what class it was and what they had been talking about, and she said it was a health psychology course and that today's lecture was about "weight". I mentioned that I had an interest in this subject and was curious about what they talked about, and she said they had discussed the conscientious objectors experiment (I assume she meant this) and she showed a CDC slideshow about the change in "obesity" rates in the US over time (scare quotes mine) (and I'm guessing it was this). In the most casual possible way, I asked what the slideshow did about the fact that the BMI cutoff for obesity was changed in 1998 (well, I actually said I wasn't sure, but it was in the 1990's and I thought 1996). She responded that the cutoff was 30 and had been 30 for a very long time and that she never heard of the change I was referring to. This I found kind of disturbing, since here she was lecturing students about BMI but didn't know the history of the BMI standards. Maybe it's a minor point, though. Anyway, what bothered me even more was that she went on to say about the CDC slideshow, "What's really striking about it is the change." And I was like, "The change?" and she was like, "Yeah, the increase in the percentage of obesity state-by-state over the years." And I said, "Hmm, I wonder how much of that is attributable to demographic changes," and she replied, "No, it can't possibly be explained by that because the change is way too dramatic." Since the lecture was about to start, I just smiled and said, "Hmm," and then added that I'd love to talk more about this stuff with her sometime, and she said that sounded good.

So I sat there during the lecture, totally unable to focus, instead just stewing about how the students at my institution are getting a misinformed view about fat. When I got back to my office, I wrote the following email:

"Hi [name],

It was interesting chatting with you this morning and I wish we'd had more time to talk! While I'm thinking of it, I just wanted to send you a link to a post on a blog that I read, where Paul Campos critiques the traditional view of BMI (I don't know if you're familiar with his work, but I could send you some references if you're interested). Here is the link: If you get a chance to look at it, I'd be curious to know your reaction to this line of argumentation. One of the most interesting points, to me, is the fact that the average weight has not actually gone up by a very large amount in the last 30 years (and I think it would be even less if you factored in the increased average height over the same period). So I wonder whether demographic trends actually could explain quite a bit of the change. I also think it is interesting to consider what other factors have contributed -- it sounds like you talked a bit about that in your class. I'd love to know if you have the students reading anything in particular about this that I might be able to get ahold of.

Also, I looked around online and found some references to the change in BMI standards. Apparently it happened in 1998, not 1996 as I thought. I forget what happened to the standard for "overweight," but the "obese" cutoff was a BMI of 32 prior to 1998 and then changed to 30. I don't know what the CDC materials do about this change -- I think I found the slide show you mentioned, and it just says "BMI >=30", implying that they applied the new standard to the data from all years including pre-1998. On the other hand, impressionistically it looks like there's a big jump between 1998 and 1999, so I wonder whether they could actually be applying the old standard to the data from 1998 and previous, and then just stating the modern cutoff. That would certainly be interesting to know! I also think it is interesting to think about what the motivation was for the cutoff being revised, and indeed for the cutoffs in general.

Anyway, I just thought I'd drop you a line about this, and if you are interested in talking more I would be glad to do so.


After I sent it I obsessed about how she would react to the email, because from the little that I know about her I actually like this person, and people around campus seem to respect her. And I kind of think if another professor sent me an email challenging something I had taught in class, I might get a little defensive about it no matter how nicely it was worded. So I forwarded my email to a colleague who knows her well (and who isn't necessarily a true believer in everything I think about fat, so I figured she'd be objective), and she said she thought it was "completely collegial". For the rest of the day on Tuesday I kept checking my email and wondering when she'd write back. But now that a couple of days have gone by, I've realized that the reaction is not actually the most important thing here. First of all, there's a chance I got the wrong impression and this person actually has a more enlightened view than I'm giving her credit for. I did see that one of the things on the list written on the board was "Genetics 50-60%" (I may have the numbers wrong, but it was something like that), so at least that was apparently acknowledged (though I think the actual figure is higher, to the extent you buy into these percentages that people try to assign to the role of genetics in X). But even if her views are actually quite yucky, at least I've given her a little taste of the idea that there exists a critique of the mainstream view. I wouldn't expect to suddenly change someone's mind with an email, but who knows, maybe next time she lectures on this stuff she'll at least say, "There are those who disagree..." and then perhaps a student will pick up on the comment and go out and learn about the alternative point of view for him/herself.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Hi all, sorry for the hiatus. I've had a busy couple of weeks -- first I went to San Francisco, and then two days after I got back I went to Amsterdam, arriving home on the very day that classes started here.

Anyhoo, just a couple of random thoughts. First, this photo. I took it in a cheese shop in Amsterdam. I figured I'd share it with you all, since I'm all about promoting happiness here. And this certainly makes me happy. The cheese was just as good as you might imagine. We tried an awesome edam, and a really awesome orange something or other that was gouda-like but not gouda (it's in the photo but I can't make out the name), and a delicious aged gouda with big salt chunks. Anyone out there got a favorite cheese? I really love this one cheese called Robusto that we used to get at Whole Foods, which is one of those aged goudas (or gouda-like cheeses anyway). I also really like this one particular cheese called Humboldt Fog which is a goat milk cheese with a layer of ash in it. And as far as less exotic things go, I also really enjoy fresh mozzarella. And ricotta. And cotija. Oh, cheese.

On an unrelated note, the Admiral sent me this article about Oprah. You've all no doubt heard Oprah's recent revelation that she's gained a bunch of weight, and maybe you've read some critiques of her hand-wringing about it. But I think this article puts the whole thing into perspective in an interesting way.

I guess that's it for now. I swear I'll post more regularly in the future!