Let Them Eat Cake – On Women and Their Relationships with Food and Body Image

cake

Dear women of the Western world, please have some cake. That’s right, get up right now, and go get yourself something frosted and gooey and decorated to within an inch of its life. I implore you to treat yourself, just because it’s a crappy, cold, grey Monday.

However, if you go have cake, there are rules. First, no hiding the cake. No sneaking it back to your desk, or hiding in a closet while you devour it. Eat that baby out in the open, and to hell with what anyone else thinks! Second, you must eat the cake and then forget about it. No making yourself feel guilty, no calculating how many extra crunches you need to do to work it off. Third, no remorse, after the fact, when a skinny girl walks past you on the street, and you start thinking about how much closer you’d be to that “ideal” figure if only you’d not eaten that stupid delicious bit of pastry and frosting.

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Your Fat Makes Me Crazy

If you live in the western world, no doubt you’ve seen or heard about this video, created by a Wisconsin news anchor after receiving a letter from a viewer who was ostensibly “concerned” about her health and her ability to be a role model to viewers.

As a fat woman, I am fully supportive of Jennifer Livingston and her decision to turn the tables on her critic by taking to the air to rebut his passive-aggressive comments (according to the Toronto Star, the two exchanged emails back and forth but when contacted by Associated Press, the man claims to have deleted the email conversation.)

What is disturbing about all of this is that there are people out there who think they have every right to tell a complete stranger what they think of their looks.

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She Works Hard for the Money

In my last post (really? August 24th? Whoops.) I ranted on about how bloggers shouldn’t solicit or accept payment for endorsed posts on their own blogs. And I still firmly believe that. But there is a way for bloggers, especially those with a specific area of expertise, to work with companies and corporations, and that is as a consultant. The oft-touted theory of “I deserve to be paid for my time and effort” doesn’t ring true when you’re being paid to say nice things about a product on your own blog, but when a company comes to you, asking for your help with something they’re producing, you most absolutely deserve to be paid a fair price for your work.

I bring this up now because I have been contacted, yet again, by a corporate entity that expected me to “help” them for free.

The person in question represented a very well-known show on the Food Network. The host of this show has a product line and endorsement deals. Their show is aired internationally. It is safe to presume that the major players involved are making a decent amount of money.

The request I received was for me to call the show’s researcher (long distance) and advise on some places in the Toronto area that would be appropriate for the show to visit on an upcoming trip here. I am familiar with the show only peripherally; I watched part of an episode once and didn’t much care for it, and since we cancelled our cable about six months ago, I haven’t watched anything on the Food Network at all. So I calculated how much research I would have to do to learn about the show and the types of places they covered, as well as how much work I’d have to do to come up with a short list of places that would be appropriate, and I replied via email stating a rate for my consulting services.

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Chili Willies

I am not normally squicked by bugs. I wear a beetle in resin as a pendant, I’ve had pets that needed to be fed crickets or mealworms. And as a food writer, I’ve even had the opportunity to eat bugs on several occasions. But I’ve done so knowing full well that I was doing so, and of my own conscious choice.

For the past few months we’ve had a moth problem – those little beige moths, known to be fond of devouring precious cashmere sweaters (yes, I’m still bitter!) – but we’d rarely see more than one a day, and we could never figure out where they were coming from.

We’d had moth issues before at another residence (thus the bitterness over the cashmere), and after a particularly disturbing dip into a jar of currants with a cork stopper (the moths had burrowed through the cork and there were thousands of larvae in the bottom of the jar), pretty much all food in our house gets stored in glass jars with metal lids or plastic containers. So the current moth issue had left us frustrated and confused.

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First and Foremost – For the Greater Good

Like so many people who watched and took part in the proceedings at Toronto City Hall yesterday, I was enthralled by the sense of coming together to support the city. People from disparate groups and organizations all took the time, despite Mayor Ford and the committee making it more and more difficult for them to do so, to stand up and tell the committee, and the people of the city, what they believe in. As a city, as a community, I think this will make us stronger. I think that it will provoke more and more people to become engaged in municipal politics, which is a very good thing – that lack of involvement is what got us into this mess in the first place.

But I’m not sure I believe it’s going to do much good.

The hand-picked executive committee went into these sessions having clearly stated that they were not going to be swayed by the deputations. Councillor Mammoliti made it clear that he was there because it was his job but that he wasn’t interested in opposing points of view, something that he continually made clear through the 22 hours of deputations with his attitude and condescending questions. In the end, the committee voted unanimously to take the advice of the KPMG report and look at making cuts, essentially telling every deputant that their time and effort didn’t matter.

The hope now is that the deputations DID sway all of those other, middle of the road councillors so that when it comes time for the full council to vote on the recommendations, decisions will be made with consideration for issues other than budget line items.

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Gilting the Lily

I am… um… well, a little bit at a loss for words. I’ve just viewed the Beta site for Gilt, the new website/online magazine/food shop by Ruth Reichl and co.

I mean, I guess it’s been done before. Certainly, businesses put out advertorial publications to help sell their products (remember the IKEA magazine?). But this just seems so blatant. A post containing a recipe includes a sidebar full of the over-priced ingredients required to make said recipe. Certainly (hopefully), people will go out and at least buy locally-sourced ingredients instead of buying the stuff from the Gilt website. (Because – $36 for 2 pounds of asparagus? Plus delivery. Are you fucking serious??)

What about that whole idea of keeping editorial content and advertising content separate? It’s one of the basics of journalism. Okay, maybe it’s a different game when you’re writing about the stuff you’re selling. Maybe we need to think of Gilt as just a slicker, better-written online catalogue. But I feel a little cheated. I want lovely food writing for the sake of lovely food writing.

And while the name is obviously supposed to evoke idea of luxury, it becomes farcical when compared to Guilt Taste, which not-so-subtly points out the hypocrisy with faux listings for Ortolan and Chilean sea bass.

As a society, we buy into ideas of luxury every day. And Gilt is definitely selling luxury. It will probably do well. But despite the great writing, I don’t think I’ll be returning. It touches off some emotions (greed, self-pity, anger, frustration) that are too uncomfortable to endure when all I want to do is read some nice food writing without having someone trying to sell me stuff, even if it is really nice stuff.

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Yogurt – Still Full of Lies

Am I beating a dead horse if I link to yet another article pointing out that health claims on packaged food are (intentionally) misleading?

This NY Times article doesn’t really reveal anything new if you’ve been following the whole story over the past few years, but it speaks to the stretches of truth advertisers will make and the overall gullibility of consumers when you consider that people are still buying these products.

It just feels like a battle food advocates can never win. Between advertisers and media willing to repeat any study that touts a “superfood”, or an ingredient with nutritional properties, the people standing up and saying, “hey now, wait a minute, do more research” are the ones made to look like kooks.

But how sad is it that we’re willing to buy yogurt, or juice or cereal because of false promises of restored health? I’m angry that people don’t take more time to inform themselves about what they’re buying and putting into their bodies, but I’m also a little shocked at the desperation of people willing to try anything that offers any kind of promise of improvement, be it weight loss, digestive health or, scariest of all, cancer prevention.

I don’t agree with everything said by author Michael Pollan, but “don’t buy food with health claims on the package” has to be one of the wisest things I’ve ever read.

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The Special Treatment – Just For Girls

I’m not sure who to blame for my outrage. The subject line in my RSS feed says “France’s Anne-Sophie Pic Named World’s Best Chef”. And the post it represents says the same thing. But the website The Food Section really only aggregates posts from other places, and clicking through to the full article at The Independent makes for a very different story. Anne-Sophie Pic is, according to the bottled water company that decided the contest, the world’s best FEMALE chef.

And what pisses me off is – why should there be a distinction? Why are we still separating our chefs by gender?

Sure there are fewer female chefs, for a whole variety of reasons ranging from family choices (men can’t have the babies) to history (hundreds of years ago, because men were always paid more, male chefs were seen as status symbols), but it doesn’t mean that the female chefs who are working and running kitchens and restaurants aren’t every bit as good as the men.

Is the gender segregation meant with good intentions – to level out the playing field? Or is it misogyny, pure and simple?

Pic, like her father and grandfather before her, holds 3 Michelin stars. To my knowledge, Michelin doesn’t have a separate set of stars or awards for restaurants run by female chefs versus male chefs. So why the segregation for this contest?

Image: Anne-Sophie Pic photo: Jeff Nalin/Maison Pic

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The Mania For Meat

In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, Katrina Onstad questions the recent frenzy trend towards gorging on meat. As usual, the comment section of the piece devolved into the same old tired arguments of carnivore types ranting about how we were meant to eat meat and vegetarian types talking about how horrible it is.

Having been both a vegetarian and now an omnivore, I’ve see and heard all of these tired old arguments before. They’re particularly annoying in this case because not one of the commenters seem to get Onstad’s point, which is not a rant about how meat is bad, but rather to question why it is so trendy and more importantly, how folks in the sustainable food scene hide behind artisanal meat as an excuse for our own gluttony.

Certainly, if we’re going to eat meat, happy cows, chickens, pigs and goats are a good place to start as opposed to the factory-farmed stuff shot full of antibiotics, living their short lives without ever seeing the light of day. No one is arguing the fact that happy animals are better, not only in terms of animal husbandry but also in terms of taste.

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This Shit Is Bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Who among us hasn’t stolen a look at another shopper’s cart in the grocery store line-up and passed judgment? And if you happen upon a lost grocery list, why, it’s as much of a vicarious thrill as reading someone’s diary. You can tell a lot about a person by what they put in their grocery cart, after all.

This grocery list, found at a Wal-Mart store, has been making the rounds online for the past week or so. The spelling, as has been noted everywhere, is atrocious. The list itself, while including some fruits and vegetables and cooking basics, also calls for a lot of ready-meals, dump and stir mixes, or outright junkified prepared foods.

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Well, Now We’re Screwed

This is the letter I just sent to the Minister of State for Agriculture regarding the announcement that the Conservatives are considering loosening the restrictions on functional foods. If you care about the fact that food companies are allowed claim their foods are healthy because they’ve added extra vitamins, or “healthy bacteria”, please contact the Agriculture Minister and the Minister of State, as well as the shadow cabinet ministers from the opposition parties and your own member of parliament and let them know that you want these restrictions tightened, not loosened.

The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of State (Agriculture)

cc: Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture,
Wayne Easter, Liberal Agriculture Critic,
Alex Atamanenko, NDP Agriculture Critic,
Olivia Chow, Member of Parliament, Trinity-Spadina

Dear Mr. Blackburn,

I am writing to you regarding the announcement that the government is considering easing federal restrictions on “functional foods”, as detailed in today’s Toronto Sun: <http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2011/01/24/17017606.html>.

Given the overwhelming research indicating that function foods are merely advertising ploys; that the addition of vitamins and minerals serve only to help sell products; and that front of package nutritional claims are intentionally misleading, why would our government be so foolish and naive as to consider loosening these restrictions instead of tightening them?

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White as the Driven Snow

Thank you, Morgan Clendaniel, for using the phrase I was recently too afraid to use for fear of pissing people off. I’m not sure why I was afraid of pissing people off, I tend to live my life assuming that most people are pissed off by something about me, and undoubtedly my Loca-Bores piece (despite all of the positive comments it got) pissed people off. Because that’s how I roll. And I’m okay with that, as long as it gets people thinking about stuff.

But in employing fancy words like xenophobic and elitist, I really wanted to just rant about “white people food”, and the subtle undercurrent (that would undoubtedly be denied if you pointed fingers at specific people or groups) of racism (another word I wanted to use in that piece but was afraid to).

But seriously folks… white people food. Not that it isn’t good. And tasty. And ethical. And local. But. But, but but… It makes us shoves our heads up own own asses, really. It means we wear blinders to the other delights around us. It means we treat people who make non-white people food as second class citizens.

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Loco-Bores

So… MacLean’s magazine reported last week that the Hamilton Farmer’s Market had plans to oust a number of long-time vendors because they didn’t fit the market’s new image of upscale, focusing on “local” ingredients grown within a 100-mile radius. Regular readers of this site will know just how much utter bullshit I believe the 100-mile diet to be. It’s elitist in its time demands (only people with a lot of money and enough free time to source local ingredients are able to eat this way); it makes huge assumptions about food miles, something that is almost impossible to calculate accurately; and it creates what is essentially a two-tier food system, with those of us with free time and free money being able to congratulate ourselves on helping the poor, downtrodden local farmer, while those with no time and little money having to shop at the oh-so-frowned-upon supermarket.

Andrew Potter, the author of the piece, makes allegations not only of elitism but of xenophobia. This undoubtedly will get people’s hackles up. But in the case of Hamilton, the majority of the long-time vendors given the boot were not white, but Vietnamese, Colombian and Middle Eastern. And when you think of “local” food, when it is featured on menus or touted in magazines or books… it’s pretty much old skool white people food. Sorry, immigrants, you don’t fit our elitist ideal.

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Hell Is Other People

So we seem to mostly be dealing with the chaos that life has handed us these past couple of months. I think we’re actually over the hump. I can look at a picture of Bowie without crying; that’s something at least.

And in trying to make some sense out of it all, to accept all that has happened, I keep playing various scenarios over in my mind. Particularly ones with other people. That is, remembering who stepped up and who got in the way. None of the “getting in the way” folks did so intentionally, I don’t think, but there’s a real social cluelessness that seems amplified when it comes to death. I don’t know if it’s simply that I am/was more sensitive to it, or if it’s because people are just uncomfortable dealing with grief in general.

But some of the things people said or did with regards to our situation are just mind-boggling.

The worst had to be the questions. Bowie was a neighbourhood fixture. And when he was gone, people noticed. Some people noticed and said nothing, aware that the answer to what they were thinking was none of their business, and using their brains to conclude that if the lady with two dogs is now seen with only one dog, that it might not be the best time to ask her where he had gone.

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Patio, No

I have a question for restaurant owners everywhere.

If your restaurant has a patio (or even if it doesn’t), why is it necessary to have your front windows and doors open on a hot day? Is it because you assume that everyone loves sitting on the patio, and by opening doors or installing big garage-style windows that open to the street that customers seated indoors will feel like they’re on that patio? Or is it just a way to get around running the air conditioning?

Because not everyone wants to sit outside.

Greg and I went out for lunch today. We arrived at our destination to find that the place had all the windows and doors open, and that it was actually hotter inside than outside on the patio, where there was at least a breeze.

I’m currently balancing on a very thin precipice with my allergies. Six weeks in and having tried three different medications, I’m finally at a point where I can actually go outside to get from point A to point B, but sitting for an hour or more in air full of astronomical amounts of mold spores is really not fun.

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Our Elite Clubhouse, Made From Peaches and Tomatoes

Oooooh, Loblaw’s you bastards!

How dare they?? I mean, really how DARE they try to sell local produce? Don’t they know the rule about how you’re not a good, conscientious consumer unless you buy it directly from the farmer? You icky supermarket shoppers, you can’t be in our special club! Yes, sure, we preached at you to buy local produce and support local farmers. But not from an (ewwww!!) supermarket!

Yes, Loblaw’s is at it again, for the third year in row they are setting up stands within and outside their stores with a farmers’ market-style booth featuring locally-grown produce. This is good, right? Because we want people to buy and eat more local food. And since, despite the proliferation of farmers’ markets in urban areas, most people still buy at least some of their fruits and vegetables from supermarkets, it’s better to have it be local instead of imports. Any switch is a step in a positive direction, right? Good things grow in Ontario?

Apparently not.

Because Robert Chorney of Farmers’ Market Canada seems to think that Loblaw’s is just trying to capitalize on the markets’ success. Well… yeah. But that’s a given. And food activist Anita Stewart says “For generations, all across Canada, farmers markets have been embedded in our collective food culture.” Really? I’m thinking Stewart has/had a very different food culture than the majority of Canadians, because my informal poll indicates that most people grew up with supermarkets, only occasionally visiting a farmers’ market.

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Unleashed

I’ve probably given myself a bad reputation for being that crazy neighbourhood lady screaming at people to put their dogs on a leash. I’ve gotten into arguments with people about it. Of course, the kind of people who let their dogs run around leash free on city streets are usually not the kind of people (and yes, I mean “kind of people” in the MOST derogatory way) who you can talk logic with. They don’t believe their dog would ever hurt another creature and they think you’re whack when you point out that a leash would protect their dog from harm. “Oh, he always comes when he’s called,” they’ll reply. Then they’ll call the dog over to prove their point and the dog will give them a withering look and wander off in the opposite direction.

This morning we were out walking the dogs and walked past a nearby apartment. An older Asian woman was sitting on the curb of the driveway in front of the building, a yellow dog (some kind of lab/sheperd cross as best I can tell) sitting beside her. I’m watching the dog because I can tell it’s not on a leash, but it sits there until we’re almost past. And then it leaps up, runs across the driveway and through a flower bed and latches onto Petula’s head. I kick at it a few times, and scream at it, and it backs off.

Through it all the Asian woman sits there unblinking. She doesn’t get up, yell at the dog, or make any effort to hold it back. In fact, she says nothing at all, despite the fact that Greg and I are screaming bloody murder at her – until we threaten to sue her, at which point she just starts repeating “not my dog, not my dog!” Given her behaviour throughout, that might very well have been the case.

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All That and a Bag of Chips

Somewhere, Jamie Oliver is crying.

The new conservative government of England (hey, what happened to the balancing forces of a coalition?) has caved in to demands from the junk food industry and has scrapped the Food Standards Agency (the equivalent to the FDA). Which means that junk food companies are now free to self-regulate.

It seems that the junk food industry and its lobbyists weren’t terribly impressed with a motion to put stop-light style labels on the front of food packages indicating healthy and poor choices. The industry won that battle, arguing that consumers could use the existing nutrition labelling to calculate the percentage of each nutrient that the food item provided. This is similar to what we have in Canada and the US and let’s be honest – who sits down and calculates their daily intake of every nutrient?

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