Tag Archives: Health

Christopher Speaks Up in New York Times “Room For Debate”

A recent article about food stamps in the New York Times created a flurry of fascinating comments on the New York Times website last week, and to further the discussion, the opinion editors asked six different people to contribute a piece for their “Room For Debate” section. The piece itself was supposed to be limited to 250 words, making it difficult to choose what to write about (we devoted a whole section to food stamps in our book). So I chose to focus mainly on the challenges that people in our area face, and to mildly ignore the word count restriction by about a hundred words. I figured that other writers would say many of the things that I wanted to (which they did), and thus decided to write about something that none of them would: San Diego.

Please take a minute to read all of the entries. It is an honor to have my voice next to political food legend Marion Nestle, and I hope that you’ll enjoy the discussion.

– Christopher

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Rather Be Dead…

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Student-led protest outside of McDonald's to help raise awareness about the suffering of animals coming from the fast food giant's suppliers.

One of the joys of being a teacher is seeing where students end up after they graduate from high school. In some cases, we’re lucky to have the teacher-student relationship evolve into one where former students start to get comfortable with the idea of teacher as friend, peer, or in a few instances, colleague. Today I was pleased to see that some of my former Social Justice students have continued to get active for others, in this instance, for animals within in the food system.

It is no secret that concentrated animal feeding operations are torture for animals, and while McDonald’s has led the way in the past with animal welfare reform issues, when you start calculating the overall good vs. harm of the fast food giant it is hard to see how anyone could defend them. They provide jobs, they operate more playgrounds than most cities, and give people a delicious convienent meal option, but they are also responsible for more environmental degradation, animal suffering (and human rights abuses if you consider slaughterhouse workers), and hefty waistlines than most other businesses.

In addition, I’m sure there are several children (and probably some adults) who are terrified by that deranged looking clown and his cohort of hamburger patch friends. Anyone who as seen or read “IT” by Stephen King knows what I’m talking about.

As today is Halloween, there’s reason to give people a good scare. We’ll be spending the evening watching slasher movies with friends, but there’s nothing more scary than the reality of the slaughterhouse, or the terror that slave children feel harvesting cocoa for those little chocolate bars being passed out across the nation. While many people will be applying some fake blood for theatrical purposes today, 2.7 million land animals will be killed for food,  and close to 15,000 young boys will continue to endure forced labor, many who will be beaten and whipped on one of the 600k cocoa plantations in west Africa. That blood is real, and covers the hands of all who take part in these industries. Which is why one man even tried to prosecute himself for being involved.

Luckily, one of the other benefits of being a teacher is that I have the opportunity to help students explore these issues in the classroom. I feel hopeful knowing that tonight several of my students will be participating in reverse trick-or-treating in order to educate the community about slave chocolate, and others will be trick-or-treating for UNICEF in order to help children around the world.

However, if all of this serious stuff is too scary for you, at the very least you can enjoy these recipes for your left over pumpkins.

Happy Hallows!

– Christopher

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“Smart Choices” Reconsidered.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the food labeling program where certain food products were being marked as Smart Choices to encourage people to make better decisions about the foods they were purchasing. The problem I wrote about was that the labels were going on foods like Froot Loops and  Pops cereals. This week the program suspended its operations and many of the participants will be phasing out the labels on their products.  State and Federal authorities believed that the program would mislead consumers about the nutritional value of the foods that carried the label.

The FDA sent a letter to the program in August that expressed its concern that the program would encourage people to purchase the packaged foods over fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the FDA put out a letter to the food industry this week that called for the industry to move to a voluntary “common set of mandatory nutritional criteria that consumers can rely on when they view FOP [Front of Packaging] labels.” One of the concerns of the FDA is the way that consumers respond to front of package labeling which they worry may be “confusing” or “counter-productive.”  The letter states that people are less likely to read the nutrition facts panel  if there is a front of package claim. The ultimate goal is to help consumers make informed decisions and  “build better diets and improve their health.” Smart Choices voluntarily suspended the program citing that they had the same goals as the FDA.

While the companies who had used the Smart Choices labels were interested in luring adults to their products, often times food marketing is geared at children. Corporate Accountability International is launching a campaign to demonstrate how Ronald McDonald  is used as a marketing tool focused on children. They cite Jim Skinner, the CEO of McDonald’s statement that “Ronald has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence,” and they are asking people to help document when and where the clown shows up.

– Kerri

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Stephanie Smith, Differences in Aid, and Paul Farmer.

The conversation about food has been both lively and varied this week. Last weekend the New York Times released a feature about Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance teacher whose life has been ruined as a result of eating a hamburger tainted with E. Coli 0157. This moving and educational account of the horror that results from willy-nilly food safety protocols, is a powerful reminder of how far we have to go in order to protect our food supply and our citizens. When asked to comment about meat companies like Cargill, where the meat was traced back to, Smith recounts in the video feature that accompanies the article, “I don’t know how these people sleep at night.”

While Kerri and I are vegan, and don’t eat meat, both of us were moved to sorrow and anger over what happened to this young woman. At the same time, we also, as always, understand the pain and suffering endured by the animal that was served to her. This situation was a double loss, both for the cow, and for Smith as well. As a result of reading this story, it was hard to feel sympathy for the “pain” of those who see the possibility of McDonald’s moving into the Louvre. At the same time, I totally understand their fury about the fact that fast food chain could move into the home of the Mona Lisa.

Yet, towards the end of the week, there was reason to rejoice as the House of Representatives approved an agriculture bill that increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) by $4.3 billion dollars, as well adding $400 million dollars to the Women, Infant, Children feeding program (WIC), and to school aid and child care nutrition programs, who saw an increase of $1.9 billion dollars. We talk about the importance of programs like SNAP in our forthcoming book, and the challenges facing those in poverty within our country. There are those who exploit these federal assistance programs, like an extraordinary example this week where booze, porn, and viagra were being purchased, but the actual fraud rate is minimal (between 2 and 4 percent).

However, while there are 36 million people in the United States who are in need of assistance (12 percent of the population), there are billions of people around the world who have it much worse. Wealthy countries like the U.S., who give the most food aid to poorer nations, have slashed the amount they’re giving to the World Food Programme, leaving the United Nations feeding program about $2 billion dollars short. This means that 40 million people will be directly affected in the coming weeks. Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP at the UN told The Observer, that this could be the “loss of a generation” of children to malnutrition, food riots and political destabilisation. “We are facing a silent tsunami,” Sheeran said. One that she says we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

While this reality is hard to comprehend, Kerri and I were reminded on Thursday that there is hope. We had the chance to hear humanitarian and physician Paul Farmer speak on Thursday, and his level of commitment to those living in poverty across the world over the last 27 years was nothing short of inspiring. For those who have the chance to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, it is a fascinating and engaging reminder that the most important question that we can ask ourselves is this: How can I use my life to improve the world around me?

– Christopher

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New York Times Lesson Plan that includes us!

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While it’s taken us a while to find out about this, it’s still relevant. So, for all of the teachers out there, here’s the lesson plan that The New York Times Learning Network designed concerning eating and economics, and of course, it includes our blog/project.

As teachers, we were flattered to find out about this, and look forward to including more lessons for teachers when the book comes out! If you are a teacher, and already have lessons about eating and economics, or the food system, please get in touch if you’re interested in sharing.

– Christopher

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Glamour Magazine Loves Us.

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We were pretty surprised to find that Glamour Magazine’s Health & Fitness section links to our project, but after peeking through some of their articles, we were happy to have their support. Big thanks to Glamour Magazine for sharing our blog with their readers!

– Christopher

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Vegan Cupcakes Take Over My Brain.

Mostly vegan cupcakes sat waiting on the table at the family cabin in Shingletown, Calif. Of course, the vegan tray made room for one outcast. Cupcakes by Kimberly. Photo by Christohper (iPhone).

Mostly vegan cupcakes sat waiting on the table at the family cabin in Shingletown, Calif. Of course, the vegan tray made room for one outcast. Cupcakes by Kimberly. Photo by Christopher (iPhone).

I’m not sure what it is about road trips that make me feel like whether we are traveling for five hours or five days we need to stock the car full of provisions for the trip. Maybe it is some sort of evolutionary survival instinct that has been passed down from our ancestors that whispers into our consciousness, “bring food, and lots of it!”

But as Kerri and I packed the cooler for our drive to Redding, Calif. for father’s day with her family, the food we put in was quite different than what we would have brought last summer. Beyond a few leftover slices of pizza, we packed apples, strawberries and almonds. No chips, cookies, or other prepackaged foods would make the 10-hour journey with us to northern California. It isn’t that those foods are inherently bad, but since the “dollar diet” our eating patterns have changed.

As we work on our latest project in the economics of eating well, which we’ll fully recount in the book (due out in early 2010), the process of experimenting with our dietary patterns is starting to pay off. In general we tended to overeat before, now we know when to stop. We used to eat far more processed foods, now we cook from “raw” ingredients. The biggest challenge that remains however is eating in social settings with others.

Kerri’s family eats a fairly typical American diet. At gatherings the guys grill up burgers and dogs, and the women cover the tables with bowls of chips, Ritz crackers with dips, some assorted fruits, soda, tea, bottled water, and some type of dessert. This year it was cupcakes, compliments of Kerri’s younger sister.

I struggle during these trips because the chips, cookies, soda, cupcakes, and other high-calorie foods are difficult to resist. I was raised to overeat, and this habit, in combination with calorie dense junk foods, is a disaster for my health.

Today I did my best. When we arrived before lunch I resisted the barbecue chips and the crackers when they came out. But as everyone around me started munching away, the crunching of chips came in like surround sound. Resisting the snack table amidst the crowd of consensus eating made me feel like that lone man standing in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square 20 years ago.

I stayed strong for a couple hours, but soon the rationalizations clouded my will to defy. Kerri said it was o.k. to snack on carrots. Then we took a long calorie-burning walk, which made it fine to have two veggie burgers instead of one (besides, who wants to bring frozen food home on long drive?).

Then Kim came out with the cupcakes and it was game over.

Rationalizations grew into philosophical platforms: eating is an act of communion – if I don’t take part I’m rejecting a shared experience, therefore rejecting her family; Kerri’s sister went out of her way to make elegant vegan cupcakes – abstaining this accommodation would be blasphemous and just plain rude.  And of course the all time favorite way to indulge “bad” behavior: “Everything is o.k. in moderation.”

As the food was put away things got easier, but each day we are here is a challenge. Eating well is hard work, and although possible, there are moments when resistance is futile.

Trying to stay strong,
Christopher

P.S. If you didn’t hear about it, Nestle has recalled all of their cookie dough as 66 people in 28 states have contracted E.coli 0157 from it. If you have some in your fridge, THROW IT AWAY. Cooking it won’t help, because the minute you open it you will have contaminated your kitchen.

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