Thursday, August 19, 2010

Can You Pinch an Inch?

Do you remember those Special K commercials? Those ads have haunted me for years and I've been skinny most of my life. I can't imagine how they affected people who weren't thin. Even now, I'm in excellent shape, not from dieting, but from exercise and eating real food, but I can still "pinch an inch". On both sides. At the same time.

Pinch *this*, Special K!

I was trying to find the old Pinch an Inch commercial online, and ran across this post about a Special K billboard ad.

For years, Special K has focused their ads on making ordinary, healthy women believe that if they're not frighteningly skinny, then the only answer is to spend all day eating Special K products. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are to be SK cereals, shakes or snack bars. It's an excellent marketing strategy, but a poor health strategy. The third ingredient in Special K's original cereal is sugar. The fifth and six are salt and high fructose corn syrup (which is also sugar). I couldn't even bear to check the other variations, like Chocolate Delight. The Milk Chocolate Protein Shake contains sugar (third ingredient), as well as four other forms of sugar AND "nutritive sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners". The shake also contains soy protein isolate, which was approved in the late 70's as a binder and sealer for cardboard boxes, but has never been approved for human consumption. Somehow, through the magic of FDA loopholes, SPI has made its way into our food supply anyway. Special K is far from the only place you'll find it.

So we can be skinny if we load up on sugar and questionable chemicals? Special K has done women a huge disservice. I know that nothing has stuck with me like those ads from my childhood. I never became anorexic or even dieted, but that slogan was always in the back of my mind. I've always scoffed at all the articles and news stories that blamed the fashion and movie industry for making skinny look healthy and throwing young girls into dieting frenzies, because I believe that people are responsible for themselves and their own decisions. And Barbie dolls. Please. What five-year-old cares if she looks like Barbie? I still don't think Barbie is the devil-doll's spawn, but when you step back and look at all the messages we get from every side, it is rather overwhelming.

What can we do? As in everything else, it comes back to the money. As long as consumers are buying enough Special K (or SlimFast or fill-in-the-blank-weight-loss-product) to keep them in business, companies will continue to produce the products. And advertise to sell them. Because the ads are working. But, the truth is all around us if we'll just pay attention. All the yo-yo and fad diets don't make us healthy, and usually cause more problems than they solve. (If they work at all.) It all comes back to a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and eating real food. Being skinny isn't the ultimate goal. Being healthy is. Overweight people who exercise are healthier than sedentary skinny people. So forget the sugary cereal, eat something truly healthy, quit watching those stupid TV ads and go exercise.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As I was browsing my favorite cookbook for ideas for supper tonight, I realized I had put the wrong title in my last post. I said I absolutely love the cookbook, then went on to call it How to Cook Absolutely Everything. And, that my friends, is what happens when you write late at night. The actual title is How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food. What's sad is the book was right beside me when I wrote the post last night. :-O

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Garbage In, Garbage Out

There are so many factors that affect our health; some beyond our control. Some would say what we eat is completely within our control. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I'll explain why and give a few suggestions on what you can do to make your food a little healthier.

The first step is to eat as much real food as you can. I'm not just talking about Twinkies vs. apples. (Though you may want to rethink eating something that's expected to survive a nuclear attack.) Most of the food in your grocery store isn't food at all. It isn't grown on a farm or raised in a pasture. It's made in a factory. I know it's cheap. I know it's convenient. But any money you save when buying faux food is almost always lost to medical bills. Our bodies just aren't made to live on chemicals with a vitamin thrown in here and there. If the package says the product is "enriched", that's a red flag. You never see anything in the produce section claiming to be "enriched". That's because produce "as part of a balanced diet" (as many products like to proclaim) is perfect just the way it is. Naturally. Messing with nature never ends well. Never.

As for convenience, there are solutions to that, too. However, if you just hate to cook, I really have no suggestions. Because eating real food involves actual cooking. (Unless you're a raw foodist, but I digress.) There are ways to make it faster and easier, though. Find a couple of good cookbooks. I have one that I absolutely love. How to Cook Absolutely Everything by Mark Bittman. And he ain't kidding. Aside from telling you how to cook everything from chicken stock to brownies, he has hundreds of recipes that take 30 minutes or less to fix. He believes that everyone can cook real, healthy food and he proceeds to tell you how in detail. (Not everyone will, of course. And I said "healthy" food, as in from real ingredients, not "health" food as in tofu... which is actually a topic for another post, but it'll wait.) Obviously you don't want to eat brownies and cookies every night, but they really do taste better when you cook them yourself and know exactly what your family is eating. I'm sure there are similar cookbooks out there; when I find them, I'll share them with you. Just beware of cookbooks that use faux food as ingredients. (Like Cream of Anything soup...Campbell's originated those types of recipes to manufacture a market for their soups.)

Next, be aware of where your food comes from. I watched Food, Inc and while I had heard most of the information in bits and pieces, it was very eye-opening to see where our food comes from these days. I really encourage you to watch the film yourself. Even if you feel, as my husband does, that there is nothing you can do about it, so why have those images in your head? Because you can do more than you think. The meat you buy at the grocery store and at the fast food restaurant doesn't come from animals raised on a farm. The animals are raised in crowded, unsanitary feed lots (or in the case of chickens, crowded, unsanitary, windowless chicken houses). They're fed the cheapest thing possible, which is usually corn. ALL the animals are fed corn. Even cows, who are made to eat grass. They can't digest corn properly, which is what led to the lovely E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. It literally didn't exist before the widespread feeding of corn to cattle. And it doesn't take much to cause a problem. In the 70’s there 1,000’s of slaughter houses in the US. Now there are 13 slaughter houses where almost all our food comes from. One hamburger will be made from the meat of thousands of cows, so one bad “apple” literally can ruin the whole bunch.

Even when the USDA makes an attempt to regulate, they run into obstacles. In 1998, the USDA implemented testing for salmonella & Ecoli. The idea was that if a plant repeatedly failed the tests, the USDA would shut them down. Courts ruled that the USDA couldn’t do that. So who’s protecting us? If cows were taken off their corn diets and fed grass, within 5 days, they would shed 80% of the E. coli bacteria. But the industry isn’t willing to do that. Instead, they use an ammonia bath to clean the meat.

Did you ever stop to wonder how Tyson and the other chicken companies make all those chickens the same size? Or did you just assume that maybe they do something else with those that aren't a certain size. Cut them up into those legs or breasts, maybe. The truth is that scientists have figured out how to manufacture chickens. Because of the "great scientific breakthroughs" chickens are now slaughtered at half the age they were 50 years ago, but they weigh twice as much. Because people like breasts, chickens have been redesigned to have bigger breasts. They have been engineered so every chicken in every chicken house grows to almost exactly the same size.

The pork industry isn't any better. The Smithfield pork plant in Tar Heel, NC is the largest slaughterhouse in the world. Even being located in an economically depressed area, they have to bus workers in from a 100-mile radius because of the atrocious working conditions. They’ve already run through all the local workers who are willing to work there. If they don’t care about the workers – who are handling your food – what makes you think they care about how clean your food is?

And of course, we all know about the pesticides on the produce.

While there are ways to reduce food costs, like planting your own food or buying at a Farmer’s Market, they’re not available to everyone. Many people have to choose between buying a little bit of healthy food or buying enough food to feed their family – even if it means buying junk. The biggest predictor of obesity is income level. Many people have to choose between paying for medication or buying healthy food. If we would spend more on healthy food early on, when we’re still able, the cost of food would be offset by lower medical expenses. Yes, that may be over-simplifying in some cases, but think about how much more disposable income you had before you started a family. Now think about how much you spent on eating out or buying junk food at the grocery store. Now look at your current health. If you've been eating junk all your life and you're still healthy, congratulations. Really. You're one of the few. Most of us have abused our bodies for years and we're paying the price now.

The current industrial food system is not working and it’s getting worse. The ultimate answer is changing laws and regulations. The way we get there is buying organic when you can, buying locally grown when you can, buying 100% grass-fed beef and farm-raised chickens when you can. If you can’t, do the best you can with what you have. Just being aware is the first step.

Companies are paying attention and they’re going to follow the money. Every time you buy healthy food, not only are you improving your health, but you’re telling manufacturers, farmers and the government that you want real food.

We’ve become a culture who is disconnected from the origins of our food. Chicken doesn’t come “from the grocery store.” It started out somewhere else. Most likely someplace you would prefer to never see..