More food for thought…

31 05 2013


For those of you who don’t know me, I guess I’m a bit of a “foodie.” I wouldn’t consider my take on food & eating radical, but I suppose that assessment has more to do with the metric being used. Since we seem to be surrounded here in the burbs by people who live on a diet of highly processed, pre-packaged food, and frequent trips to fast food restaurants, perhaps my notions on food are radical, at least by comparison.

Here’s the simple version of my eating philosophy.

Highly processed foods are bad for you.  The vast majority of the packaged stuff in the supermarket is designed for our industrialized food system. It can be mass-produced, easily transported over long distances, and stored for extended periods. It is highly marketable for it’s convenience to the consumer. It is made from commodity crops like corn and soybeans, which once again, fit well into an industrialized system. Being subsidized also makes them dirt cheap, which makes for greater profit margins. Unfortunately, all of these issues take priority in the marketplace over the one thing you, as the person eating it, should be concerned with; it’s nutritional value.

The healthiest foods are recognizable. A healthy diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats, and nuts. Some whole grains are o.k. The more processed, or hidden in sauces and breading it is, the less it’s got to offer, at least in terms of nutrition. The rule I’ve taught my girls is easy to remember. If you have to read a label to know what it is, it’s probably not very good for you, and if you can’t understand what you’ve read, it’s poison. Of course, they know that the poison part is an exaggeration. It is meant, however, to be a reminder that such highly processed foods should be treated with a bit of skepticism, eaten as an exception to a healthy diet, and not as a staple.

We eat to live, not the other way around. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone state, “I deserve this,” “life’s too short,”  or some other equivalent. If one’s consumption is justified by some sense of entitlement, perhaps it’s time for a re-evaluation of priorities. Food is about sustenance, not entertainment. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t enjoy the food we eat, or that we can’t ever go out for an over-the-top meal. Our happiness simply shouldn’t be the main deciding factor in our daily consumption choices.

Let’s face it: fast-food and pre-packaged foods are convenient, and by definition, fast. These benefits have enabled people to spend much more time participating in activities other than food acquisition and preparation. Parents can go to work while the kids go to school, and their evenings/weekends can be filled with baseball, soccer, track, piano lessons, taekwondo, troop meetings, and the drama club.

Is there a trade-off for all the convenience? The answer is simple; your health.

This diet, which is high in calories and low in nutritional value, is also created to leave you wanting more. Remember the Lay’s Potato chip commercials pitching, “Bet you can’t eat just one”? It’s no joking matter. The industry has spent plenty researching what it takes to get sales up, and when we’re talking about food, that translates to increased consumption. They have manipulated the use of salt, sugar, and fat to get us eating more. These three nutrients are vital for our survival, thus our bodies are hard-wired to crave them. These same vital nutrients that were not readily available in the natural setting of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, are now killing us in their over-abundance. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by David A. Kessler is an in-depth look at this issue.

The fast food I grew up with was always an exception, an occasional special treat. (except for my last three years of high school, during which time my friends and I alternated daily between McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s.) Now this has become the norm, part of many families’ daily routine. Someone eating an otherwise healthy, nutritious diet can occasionally deviate without catastrophic repercussions, however, what’s the result of continually consuming too many calories without enough required nutrients? The answer should be obvious, but to make a point, let’s look at the poor souls at the far end of the spectrum; to the morbidly obese, who are, amazingly enough, simultaneously malnourished. The majority of us, however, don’t show such extreme symptoms. Those who fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve may be only slightly overweight, may experience yo-yoing energy levels, or may not have any noticeable symptoms at all. Sadly, this lack of any apparent symptoms is more a testament to the resilience of the human body, than evidence that such a diet is indeed unhealthy.

How long can our resilience save us from the very food we eat?

Spring is in the air!

3 04 2013


There’s nothing that announces, “Spring is here,” quite like three little girls running around in their brand new Easter dresses, giggling as they search high and low for a bunch of brightly colored eggs.  With all of the flora and fauna blooming in the background, it’s a tremendous fireworks show. Bright greens, pinks, reds, and purples pop everywhere, to the music of Black Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, and Robins, punctuated by the joyous explosions of children’s unbridled laughter.

Spring is a time of rebirth, or renewal, that agrarian cultures are much more attuned to than the masses clustered together in urban settings.  During this time of year, farmers are preparing fields for planting, while ranchers are tending their herds of newborn livestock.  Through the wonders of technology, and the industrialization of our food system, we suburbanites are so far removed from this experience, that the full magnitude of the season can be easily overlooked.  Sure, we witness the spring bloom, (and all the damnable allergies that accompany it) but our lifestyle doesn’t really change that much, nor are we confronted by the vital necessity of this annual cycle.

The importance of spring was not lost on our ancient agrarian ancestors. Their survival was so intertwined with the seasons that such symbols as the egg and rabbit held powerful, religious significance. These pagan beliefs were so ubiquitous, they were absorbed by subsequent religions like Christianity.  Through the ages, these symbols of fertility and sex, both vital for the successful propagation of all species, have morphed into today’s easter bunny. Here’s a great blog post on the topic.

One doesn’t have to be a farmer to appreciate the importance of new beginnings, nor is this concept reserved just for the physical realm of reproduction.  Anybody seriously interested in self development recognizes the importance of regularly re-evaluating the progress being made towards a goal. Serious athletes do this as a matter of course. Spring is when the desired goal (upcoming competition) is planted.  Summer is spent growing the crop (training), finally culminating in the harvest (actual competition). Winter is a time to recoup, and reassess the previous crop based on the results of the harvest.  Then spring comes back around and it’s time to start planting again.

Obviously, our efforts to improve ourselves aren’t necessarily bound to the seasons like agriculture.  It’s springtime whenever we choose to pursue a particular goal.  Whether one’s trying to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, watch less t.v., or exercise more, spring is as good a time as any to (re)assess our progress or  recommit to an unrealized goal.

What kind of seeds are you planting to make your life, and the life of those around you a little bit better?

Kill your T.V.

22 02 2013

00025 Kill your Television

(click here for link to this bumper sticker)


The media’s actions are understandable, albeit unscrupulous.  The nature of the  entertainment industry, of which CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are part, is to increase viewership.  Increased viewership means increased ratings, which translates to more advertising dollars, which is how broadcasting makes money.  Braodcasting agencies are driven, as is any corporate entity, by what generates profit.

Television “sells.”  We’re all aware of all the advertising that is continually interrupting whatever fine programing it is we’re wanting to watch.  Even though we realize this is simply part of the television experience, how many of us stop to consider the world view being promoted by all of this marketing? This stuff can warp our sense of reality all by itself.  Over and over we are shown that, “all happy people are beautiful,” as in glamour model, does-not-exist-in-reality beautiful, (see my earlier post Evolution?) and that “All beautiful people are successful, and happy because they own product X!” Obviously, my life just won’t be complete until I do, too.

But what about the bill of goods we’re being sold  under the guise of informing us.  I’m not talking about info-mercials.  The insidious part of all that’s being sold is a skewed perspective of our world, and CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are the frontrunners pitching us a load of crap.

We can dupe ourselves into believing that we’re becoming more informed about the world around us by watching the news, but this is a dangerous, misguided belief.  The news that we’re fed is designed to entertain us, and keep us wanting more.  The purposes of informing, educating, or enlightening come in, at most, as a second priority, and only when it helps achieve the primary goal of increasing profits.

Now we also are being inundated with “reality” t.v.  Now there’s an oxymoron.  (I love the fact that I can reference “reality” t.v. with an adjective that includes moronic.)   Fortunately I cannot claim expertise on these shows.  I have NEVER watched an episode of Survivor, American Idol, Jersey Shore, any of the Housewives, Dancing with the Stars, nor the Kardashians.  From the few episodes of such winners as Duck Dynasty, and The Ultimate Fighter  I’ve suffered through, I can verify that they all suck.  (I just tune into the last 10 minutes of The Ultimate Fighter for the fight)  There is very little reality in a group dynamic when you add a camera crew, and the profit motive that comes from knowing you’re gonna hit a big payday for being a dumb-ass.

I remember seeing a bumper sticker as a child that read, “Kill your television.”  For the life of me, I didn’t get it.  I just couldn’t figure out the joke.  Now I’ve got it, and it’s not a joke.  It’s not even remotely funny.  Turn that damnable box off and go do something.  Read a book.  Go outside.  Play solitaire.  Hug your kids.  Workout.  Go for a walk.  Knit a sweater.  Kill your television.  Really.


The Machine Stops

2 10 2012

Space Shuttle Atlantis: remember the excitement in the early days of the space shuttle?

Technology has undeniably changed our world, and for the better. Stop for a moment, put down your iPhone, turn off the t.v. or radio, and think about all the great things we’ve accomplished through technological advances.  Although there are a myriad of problems, i.e. global warming, pollution, nuclear weapons, that have accompanied our development, the over-all picture is quite impressive.  Now use some of that technology to watch this amazing video to get some perspective on what we’ve accomplished:

Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 minutes

Many of the things that seem to be central to our lives, like cell phones, and the internet didn’t exist a generation ago.  When I consider all the changes we’ve witnessed in my lifetime, I have to ponder where we’ll be in another 50 or 100 years.  It sure seems that our scientific advancements are expanding at an exponential rate.  Who knows what’s right around the corner?  How much change will our children experience during their lifetimes?

Endeavor’s final flight. The end of an era.

There are obvious benefits from all these advancements, but what are the costs? Sure, I could talk about hot topics of the day like climate change, or the poor working conditions of the people making my iPhone.  As important as these issues may be, that’s not where my head’s at today.

No, the price of all this technology that I’m concerned with is more fundamental to our daily experience as human beings.  I think it’s effects on us are more subtle, more detrimental than greenhouse gasses.  We’re paying the price every day, on a more individual, personal level, without thinking twice.  We are allowing the virtual reality of our technology to take the place of the actual reality we’re surrounded by.

Never before have we been so “connected” as we are today.  You can’t find an eating or drinking establishment that doesn’t have at least one giant, flat screen television to help fill the apparent void that existed prior to this annoying trend.  We can email, text, call, Skype, or post on Facebook.  With a smartphone, we can do all of this from pretty much anywhere, 24/7/365.  Indeed, just like a drug addict, people can’t seem to wait to check and see if there’s any news.

Yet, with all of this “connectedness,” how connected are we?

I see people who are completely disconnected from their immediate surroundings, oblivious to the world around them; individuals walking down the sidewalk talking on their cell phone, kids in the car playing games on their Nintendo DS, or groups of teens sitting in the mall all texting on their phones.  While having dinner with my family recently, I witnessed a mother and young son in the booth next to us, who, for the entire duration of their meal, were completely dis-engaged. She was totally absorbed in her smartphone, while the boy was lost in his hand-held video game.  There was absolutely NO interaction between the two.  Even their food was treated as a side dish to the electronic entree’ they were so totally engrossed in.

People will interrupt a conversation they’re engaged in to take a call, or to return a text.  (I’ve caught myself committing this inconsiderate act myself upon occasion)  There’s those that carry on their conversation the entire time they’re in the check out line, juggling the phone, their purchases, and their credit card, barely able to fulfill their fiscal obligation with the cashier, let alone demonstrate any type of social courtesy towards said cashier.  It’s so easy to think that beep or ring needs to be answered, but how much of that stuff could quite simply wait?  How many of us are really so important?  Is it the POTUS texting?  Are hundreds of lives at stake? I really doubt that call couldn’t wait until after your lunch.

From the purely practical viewpoint of a martial artist, this oblivious state of being is in violation of the first, and most vital, tenant of self defense: Be Aware of Your Surroundings.  Predators are very selective in choosing victims.  It is not simply random chance.  They look for individuals who are most likely to submit with the least amount of resistance.  People who are unaware of what’s going on are more likely to be caught off guard, shocked, and freeze, unable to respond in an effective manner.  Predators know this.  Shouldn’t we?

The fact is, the odds of us being mugged, or otherwise accosted, are really quite slim.  Driving, on the other hand, is one of the most dangerous activities the majority of us engage in on a daily basis.  How many of us increase those odds by engaging in “distracted driving?” I quit using my phone while driving after the fourth or fifth time I found myself at my destination, unable to remember any of the trip getting there.

So I have to ask myself, what kind of a world are we creating through our actions?  The more we become “plugged in” to the virtual reality of our phones, computers, and televisions, the more disconnected we become from the world and people around us.  Sure, it’s convenient, engaging, and oftentimes efficient.  And, yes, it puts us at a much higher risk, while out and about. But what about our humanity? What about our society? At the rate our technology is changing, where will our civilization be in another generation or two?

E. M. Forster pondered this same question in his The Machine Stops.  Click the link to read chapter one, and then guess what year he wrote this amazingly prescient short story.


17 09 2012

Already as beautiful as could be!

The Lovelace is an old hotel in my hometown that had been converted into apartments long before my time. It was a pretty cool place to reside back in my college days, with a community t.v. room in the former lobby, and a toilet and a shower down the hall. It was one of those old buildings with a boiler in the basement, and the radiator heaters that clank and hiss as the steam passes through, constantly waking you in the middle of the night, and heating the building in the dead of winter to a temperature just short of blistering. The adjustments never worked on the individual radiators, so you were left to controlling your room temperature by how wide you flung open the one window that wasn’t painted shut. My friend and I rented a couple of the more swanky apartments, with our own kitchens & bathrooms.

But I digress…

While living in the Lovelace, a group of us watched an extensive, multi-part, BBC documentary on human sexuality. There are two key points I gleaned from this show that have been the basis for my philosophy on the subject ever since.  The first is the simple biological forces at play in human sexuality, and the second is the media’s manipulation of those forces for their own gain.

The first episode discussed the biology.  From a purely scientific standpoint, sex is about the propagation of our species; the survival instinct. A large part of what drives us is simply the species’ need for the successful production of healthy off-spring. What is considered ideal when selecting potential mates, however, differs slightly between males and females of a species. (These differences, together with social conventions lead to a whole list of other issues, better left for another post.)

Males want to assure the proliferation of their off-spring, as opposed to another male’s. What better way to do that than be there first? Thus, females that have just passed puberty are desirable, and girls of this age tend to be proportionately long legged. A healthy mother is more apt to be able to birth healthy off-spring, so all of the traits we associate with health, such as bright eyes, and clear skin, come into play. Other attractive physical traits include enlarged breasts and flushed skin tone (arousal).

The Barbie Doll is an extreme exaggeration of these traits, with physical proportions that do not even exist in reality.  However, everybody knows that’s just an imaginary toy, right?  (I should rephrase that: these proportions don’t exist in the natural, un-manipulated state, since they now apparently do exist in reality, thanks to modern cosmetic surgery!)

In a later segment they applied this knowledge to advertising. They took a photo of a blond model in a black skirt, revealing plenty of cleavage and leg, lying on her side in a sultry pose. As we all know, she has already been doctored up with plenty of make up, and the lighting/photography is just right. Then they put this photo on a huge computer screen (common enough today, but remember, this was back in the early ’90’s!) The computer tech then proceeded to completely manipulate the image. First, he eliminated every skin blemish at the pixel level, a level unobservable to the naked eye! He added a little more color to simulate arousal, and added a little shading to increase the definition around the breasts. He then increased the size of the breasts and width of the hips ever so slightly, while decreasing the waistline just a touch. Finally, he increased the length of the legs by something like 20%. Now we have a “photograph” of a woman that DOES NOT exist.

I was unable to find the above mentioned documentary online, but came across this excellent ad from Dove.  It pretty much says it all.

Our reality is so twisted by technology and the media, and given the overwhelming, non-stop bombardment we have created, i.e. billboards, magazines at every checkout, t.v.s in restaurants, smartphones, computers, it’s like a science fiction story come to life. This is so prevalent, it’s no wonder members of both sexes have completely unrealistic expectations. And now we’ve got botox, liposuction, silicon implants, and laser treatments to try and attain a state of perceived “beauty” that has never existed.

I have always found this disturbing, and now, as a father of three daughters, the sense of urgency has me looking for a cabin far from the insanity of the suburbs! Don’t people see the terrible message they’re sending to their daughters? We tell our children they’re beautiful, and then buy them makeup so they can be “more” beautiful? Our society glamorizes movie stars and pop stars, as if it’s an ideal to aspire to. Has everybody forgotten that it’s all fake? The people we see in movies and in music videos and read about in magazines are not real.

As this media blitz continues to expand into every corner and niche of our daily lives, bombarding us with image after image of the impossible, the line between reality and this completely man-made virtual reality is becoming harder to distinguish.   Are our actions as parents helping our children recognize this, or are we just feeding the illusion?

(here’s a link to a good article from CNN, with some great links on this subject)


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