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The Surge...It Tingles

That tingling sensation you feel?…that means it’s working. Remember the old ads for the dandruff shampoo Selsun Blue? One side of the guy’s head was covered with Selsun Blue, the other with “the leading brand.” The Selsun Blue side was tingling. According to the commercial, that means it’s working. Or it could just be that it causes skin irritation.

I was reminded of that ad recently while watching Fox News Sunday. My whole body tingles when I watch Fox News Sunday but that’s another blog entry. When Juan Williams pointed out that the U.S. has suffered greater casualties since the surge, Brit Hume responded with vintage, aged-in-oaken-casks, condescension, “Juan, you didn’t honestly think the surge would lead to less U.S. casualties did you?”

Now I understand. More U.S. casualties means the surge is working. I can process that. Still, the whole “the surge will obviously lead to more casualties you idiot” thing wasn’t exactly one of the Administration’s key selling points back in the old pre-surge days.

So, as I understand Brit Hume and Fox News…

fewer casualties = good news
more casualties = good news

It’s no wonder Fox News* is head and shoulders above the competition.

*[by the way, try the new Fox News Shampoo—available along with the latest Factor Gear—for “fair and balanced” hair]

LET'S ASK MARION: WHAT WORKS BETTER: THE CARROT, OR THE STICK?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: As Michael Moore so ably documented in "Sicko," our health care system is disastrously dysfunctional. We outspend every other developed nation and yet, nearly 46 million Americans remain uninsured and we're less healthy in many ways than the people whose governments spend far less and yet manage to provide every citizen with access to decent health care.

But as bad as our system is, it seems poised to get even worse as health care costs skyrocket at twice the rate of inflation. Anxious employers are looking to crack down on overeating employees who eat into company profits by driving up obesity-related health care costs.

Some companies are launching "wellness" initiatives that reward their workers for adopting healthier habits, even going so far as to subsidize a CSA share or a gym membership.

Other companies are trying a more punitive approach, docking the pay of employees whose BMI (body mass index) qualifies them as obese, or adding a surcharge to their insurance costs.

In your experience, which is the more effective way to get people to skip the chips and reach for the carrot sticks--the carrot, or the stick?

Dr. Nestle: Yikes. I'm not sure either works, except for a few individuals, maybe. You are really asking (I think) what it takes to improve health behavior. A lengthy and unsatisfactory literature bears on this question, much of it theoretical and ungrounded in reality. The little we know about weight loss is that it takes way more than education. It takes a village, and a supportive one at that.

Some people are motivated by fear. One of the strongest influences on health behavior is what a doctor says to you about what you need to do to prevent a heart attack: lower your cholesterol or else!

But social changes do even better. Look at what happened with smoking. I like to tell the story that when I first started working at UCSF School of Medicine in 1976, all the doctors smoked. Ten years later when I left, nobody smoked except the hospital director and nurses. What happened? It became harder to live in society and smoke than not to.

I think we need to make it easier for people to eat more healthfully without having to do anything conscious about it. Let's make healthy eating the default—smaller portions, healthy meals, vegetables, no added salt. If people want to eat more or eat something else, that's fine but they have to ask for it, pay more for it, and add the salt themselves. Put the carrots right in front of people (but do make sure they are fresh, taste great, and are easy to eat). If someone wants chips, they can certainly have them but they have to ask. It would be an interesting experiment, no?

Jamie's Gay Rant

Jamie Kilstein's Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey:Gay People

Hack Comedy - Political Comedy

Jamie Kilstein attempts to do stand-up at clubs all over the nation.

The Power of Prayer

As we observe the passing of yet another September 11th, I pause to reflect on what I did on September 11th, 2001. I'll never forget it. After watching the tragic events unfold, I bowed my head and prayed. I prayed hard. I prayed that, in time, after the dust settled and the smoke cleared, that our government would use the attacks as a pretext to invade a country that had nothing to do with what happened that day.

Could Ted Haggard be Larry Craig's Knight in Shining (but "Completely Heterosexual") Armor?

Dear Senator Craig,

Congratulations! Yesterday, a Minnesota court granted your request to withdraw your guilty plea! But I'm still worried about you. At first I was sure you were straight as an arrow, framed by those determined to silence the Singing Senators, the quartet that sings truth to power whose reunion concert curiously took place a night after the sex sting. But then as the Republicans turned on you, doubt started to creep into my faith in your heterosexuality. And your recent behavior, pleading guilty and then withdrawing your plea, resigning and then reconsidering, suggests a strong bi-curious tendency that worries me.

But it's not too late to get your life back on track! You can't do it alone, though, and I think I know just the person to help you.

You may know Pastor Ted already, but if not, you should reach out to him ASAP. You two have so much in common. You are a family values-defending, homosexual agenda-fighting, god-fearing, married-with-children, conservative Republican who sometimes plays footsie with men in public bathrooms. He is a family values-defending, homosexual agenda-fighting, god-fearing, married-with-children conservative Republican who sometimes pays for massages and crystal meth (which he throws away before using) from male escorts. As a senator, you vote against protecting gays from hate crimes and for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. As a pastor, he preaches against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. You are both close to George Bush. Ted used to talk to the President once a week!

So you can trust his advice and follow his example. After Mike Jones came forward and announced he’d had a three-year long, sex and drug-filled relationship with Pastor Ted, Haggard confessed to being "guilty of sexual immorality." After being fired from the New Life Church, Ted attended a 12 step "spiritual restoration" program and emerged, a mere three weeks later, "completely heterosexual." And you can too, Senator Craig! Who knows how to deal with your particular dilemma— trying to save America from the sinning gays, but kind of sinning yourself—better than Ted? He's been there, done that! And, Ted, along with his wife, is going back to college for a degree in counseling, which will make him even more equipped to save others, starting with you!

Before Ted can help you, though, you need to help Ted. You see, as he explained in a recent letter, "It looks as though it will take two years for us to have adequate earning power again, so we are looking for people who will help us monthly for two years." He cannot survive on the $115,000 plus a $85,000 bonus he made last year, the $138,000 in severance pay through 2007, and the royalties from his literary ouvre, which includes which The Jerusalem Diet:The "One Day" Approach to Reach Your Ideal Weight--and Stay There
and From This Day Forward: Making Your Vows Last a Lifetime, which he co-wrote with his wife Gayle. What is Ted supposed to do? Sell his $715,000 Colorado Springs home? I don't think so.

According to Ted, any financial help be will "rewarded in Heaven." You can make a tax deductible donation to Pastor Ted through the organization Families With A Mission. They'll receive 10% of the donation, but that's OK because they are a worthy cause too, directed by Paul Huberty, an upstanding patriotic military man who was married with three children when his career was cut short by multiple sex crimes convictions, including sexually assaulting a minor and "dishonorably fondling his genitals." It's clear Huberty has spiritually recovered because the outgoing message on his answering machine says "God Bless You." So what are you waiting for Senator Craig? Donate today! In turn, heaven aside, you will have the best earthly guide to get your life back on the straight and narrow.

Now Larry (may I call you, Larry?) the liberals, as usual, have it all backwards. They think you and Pastor Ted are hypocrites. They don't mind that you're gay, they mind that while you preach homophobia on the one hand you practice homosexuality on the other. Well, I don't think you two are hypocrites. I think that when you're carrying the moral weight of the world on your Atlas-like shoulders, shielding America and our values with one hand, and spearing the homosexual agenda with another, it's easy to slip up with your other body parts. So, whatever you do Larry, don't come out of the closet or abandon your committed stance against the gays. Straighten yourself, and America, out one anti-gay bill at a time.

P.S. Remember you don't want to end up a "bad, dirty, nasty boy."

CHOICE IS NOT ON THE MENU

On the West coast, we have legislators looking to ban new fast food outlets in a neighborhood where junk food is often the only option. On the East coast, a federal judge just struck down a law that required fast food restaurants to include calorie counts on their menus.

But neither of these efforts to discourage junk food consumption would solve the problem of what people are supposed to eat, instead. Are we also going to pass laws requiring that for every KFC, there has to be a Jamba Juice? Are city agencies going to give grants to mom-and-pop health food shops or crunchy granola cafes that would bring healthier choices to underserved communities?

Residents of South L.A. have the highest concentration of fast food joints in the city, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, and far fewer grocery stores than other L.A. neighborhoods. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents South L.A. and proposed the two-year moratorium on new fast food outlets, told the Times, “"The people don't want them, but when they don't have any other options, they may gravitate to what's there."

Not surprisingly, South L.A. has the highest rate of diabetes in the county, and obesity levels are greater, too. Residents have become addicted to the cheapness and convenience of junk food in a community where you need a car to drive to other neighborhoods if you’re looking for more wholesome options.

And that’s a missed opportunity for entrepreneurs as well as folks seeking healthier foods. According to the Times, a 2005 market study found that South L.A. “loses more than $400 million annually in general merchandise, grocery and restaurant sales to outside areas.”

So, evidently, there’s the potential for a win-win situation here, whereby businesses could grow their own bottom lines while helping folks fight their ever-expanding waistlines. If it takes an ordinance against fast food joints to get this better-food-chain-train in motion, then so be it.

Of course, the restaurant industry in L.A. objects to this proposal as strenuously as the New York restaurateurs opposed the requirement to post calories. And let’s not forget the Big Food-financed, oxymoronic Center for Consumer Freedom, which is always happy to fight for Your Right Not to Know. From the Chicago Tribune:

…Justin Wilson of the Center for Consumer Freedom, which gets money from the food industry, said consumers aren't crying out for menu calorie counts.

"There's a lot of consumers who want to have a meal and not worry about taking out a calculator," he said. "We're a little concerned we're creating a warning-label society."

Yes, and they’re even more concerned that when you provide consumers with more facts about the foods they’re about to choose, they start to make healthier choices, as the success of New England supermarket chain Hannaford’s “Guiding Stars” program proves.

The FDA, recognizing the need for better consumer information, held a preliminary hearing on Monday to consider whether it should establish some kind of national ratings system that would simplify choices for consumers. As it stands now, food manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad are devising their own standards, which are inconsistent and may leave shoppers befuddled.

That’s why Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is hoping to push legislation that would require the FDA to establish a single system. Harkin released a statement that read, in part:

"The proliferation of different nutrition symbols on food packaging, well-intended as it may be, is likely to further confuse, rather than assist, American consumers who are trying to make good nutrition choices for themselves and their families. FDA should take meaningful steps to establish some consistency to these many different systems of nutrition symbols."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has also filed a petition asking for a national front-label symbol system. Referring to Britain’s “traffic light” system, which ranks foods by their fat, salt, and sugar content and gives them green, yellow or red lights, CSPI’s executive director, Michael Jacobson, said:

"You could send a child to the store with 20 bucks and say, 'Johnny, you can buy whatever you want as long as it has a green dot — and you can get one red-dot food.”

The anti-regulation “Nanny state” naysayers insist that it’s unfair to force food manufacturers to provide consumers with so much guidance. After all, isn’t it pretty obvious that some foods are healthier than others?

Well, actually, no, sometimes it’s not. Brian Lehrer, who hosts a call-in show on WNYC, our local NPR station, did a segment on this subject today with Marion Nestle and Diane Brady, who writes for Business Week, and a woman called in to tell the story of how virtuous she felt about her menu choice till she read the fine print:

Caller: “I was sitting there eating a buffalo chicken salad thinking I had selected the most appropriate thing on the menu and kind of looking at the people at the table next to me thinking, oh, how unhealthy, they’re having a burger, and the menu happened to have calorie counts and fat content and I looked down and I realized that I was about thirty percent higher in fat content in my meal than the person sitting next to me…”

Another caller said she always reads the labels when she shops:

Caller: “It always really interests me when you find a brand in the grocery store that’s organic and you think it’s going to be very healthy and then you look and the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup…

Brian Lehrer: “…but it’s organic high fructose corn syrup! Marion Nestle, is there such a thing as organic high fructose corn syrup?

Marion Nestle: “oh, of course there is…and most people think it doesn’t have any calories! I mean, that’s another reason why calorie labeling is so important, because there’s now very, very good research that indicates that if people think that something’s healthy, they underestimate the number of calories that it has by a very, very large fraction—and this is just human nature.”

This is the challenge we face today, in a nutshell; how do we get people to literally stop drinking the KoolAid, even if it’s sweetened with organic high fructose corn syrup?

COALITION OF THE TILLING

It’s a gray and gloomy day in Manhattan. We’re reducing other regions to rubble so we won’t have to clean up any more rubble here, supposedly. Matt and I think about our friend Mike who had just started a new job on 9/11 at Marsh and McLennan, the offices where the first plane hit. Mike was a peaceful and deeply spiritual man who would have been horrified by our invasion of Iraq.

But millions of Americans bought into the notion that attacking Iraq was a logical response to the destruction of the Twin Towers. Support for the war has been especially strong in the proverbial heartland, and our rural communities have born a disproportionate cost, sending their children off to die for this neo-con con job.

So I was heartened to find out about a new organization called Farms Not Arms, which has also helped launch a group called the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. From the Farms Not Arms website:

We come from different political, religious and social backgrounds but share a common concern that this great country of ours, founded by small farmers and craftsmen, return to the spirit and ideals on which we were founded.

We strive for a world that reduces the risk of war by eliminating its causes poverty, injustice and religious intolerance. We call for all countries to stop misappropriating their resources on war and to focus rather on fighting hunger, disease and protecting our environment and our farmland.

On a day when it’s hard to feel good about the way things are going, it’s nice to know that there’s a crop of peaceniks growing in the midst of all those acres of corn and soy. Whatever the differences between us rural and urban types, we can agree on at least two things: we all want to give peas, and peace, a chance.

Lessons from Bush's Bio

Reading Bush's biography Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush is a truly enlightening experience.

Now we have known that the President has a penchant for nicknames.

Nickname for Alberto Gonzalez: "Fredo"
I think because Bush thought his name was Alfredo.


Nickname for Karl Rove: "Turd Blossom"
Because of his Turd Blossom hip-hop move

Nickname for Vladimir Putin: "Pootie-Poot" Because after you say this about someone: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul," not using a nickname just makes no sense.

And now, thanks to Dead Certain, we know that Bush has a nickname for Dick Cheney. Referring to the decision to "mission accomplish" Iraq, Bush says: "This group-think of 'we all sat around and decided' -- there's only one person that can decide, and that's the president."

So, now we can add Bush's nickname for Dick Cheney: "the president."

HI, HI, MISS AMERICAN PIE

Just when you think globalization’s gobbled up every last morsel of Made-in-the-USA goodness and led us down the low road to China, along comes Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guided Tour of America to prove that where there’s pie, there’s hope.

And there’s an awful lot of pie out there, as the folks from Sustainable Table discovered on a five week-long ethicurean odyssey that took their bio-fueled tour bus from West Hollywood to the Hudson River Valley, making truly local stops along the way and holding pie contests from coast to coast.

Sustainable Table set out to show that even though the average American pantry’s been hijacked and held hostage by industrial agriculture and its partner in crime, Big Food, we still know how to whip up a sweet or savory pie using fresh, seasonal, locally grown ingredients.

Our nation dropped the ball and put a massive dent in our civic psyche when we started bowling alone, but the Eat Well road trip proves definitively—and deliciously—that a humble crumble has the power to bring us back together, sharing new recipes and old, rare heirloom and garden variety produce, fresh from the earth we’ve been treating like dirt in recent decades.

Millions of movie goers this summer watched the sour, spindly food critic Anton Ego catapulted back to his happy childhood by a bite of Remy the rat’s Ratatouille, reminding us that wholesome, homemade food contains the one ingredient that money can’t buy: love.

I’m not saying that all you need is pie, but it’s a tasty place to start, as Sustainable Table’s founder and director Diane Hatz discovered along the way. Hatz, the indefatigable idealist who dreamed up the Eat Well road trip, was already overwhelmed by the response the Eat Well road trip was receiving in its first week as it stopped at local farms, markets, and restaurants to rally the foot soldiers in the real food revolution:

As we explained that we were traveling across the whole country to show people that sustainable food is here to stay, that this is now more than a movement, it’s a way of life for many people, they started thanking us. When we mentioned that we were on the road to promote sustainable, local food and to support small family farmers, more people thanked us. And I mean sincerely, from the bottom of their hearts thanked us...

…That sense of gratitude and thanks has been everywhere we’ve gone…In West Hollywood, I was hugged by quite a few who think that what we’re doing is so important not just to the food movement, but for everyone in this country. We all need to know that we can eat healthier, and that even though there might be problems with our food system, there are a lot of people out here under the radar who are doing amazing, dare I say revolutionary, things.

Of course, Hatz herself would have to be high on that list, having played a key role in producing the Meatrix movies, the Eat Well Guide, and the GRACE Factory Farm Project--three influential campaigns that have raised awareness of the flaws in our food chain while promoting sustainable solutions.

We joined the Eat Well road trip for the final leg of their tour last Friday, setting out from midtown Manhattan in the morning and taking a tour of several Hudson Valley farms and a vineyard on the way to a big blow-out barbeque in upstate New York where a few hundred urban and rural foodies, farmers and regular folks feasted on the finest foods our local producers and purveyors have to offer. This is how you sell sustainability; as our friend Andrew noted, savoring the exceptionally delectable pasture-raised heritage pork, “It just tastes better!”

Having followed this transcontinental pie pilgrimage for the past month via Sustainable Table’s website, I got a bit of a thrill when I actually boarded their rock-star-style bio-fueled bus. With everyone from Barbara Kingsolver to the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnick hopping on to the eat local bandwagon, it’s clear that ‘good food’ movement movers and shakers like the folks at Sustainable Table are changing the way we think about food in this country. Under the radar? For now, maybe, but as I sat on the tour bus and talked turkey (free range, naturally) with Hatz and her crew, I had a sense of history in the making. And Hatz does, too. From her own on-the-road blog of August 8th:

I remember the 80’s being a decade of greed and wanting only for oneself; the 90’s perhaps a decade of confusion and despair to some degree, but I’m here to tell you that the start of the 21st century is a decade of hope…

…Perhaps this era will be one of reconnection and community. Maybe what we at Sustainable Table picked up on - our belief that local sustainable food is about community, that eating and sharing pie is simply a metaphor for that connection people are now seeking – perhaps people are feeling that everywhere. All I can say is that I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve gone so far.

Is a more humane and sustainable food chain just pie in the sky? Joe Hill, the legendary union activist who coined that phrase back in 1911, wouldn’t think so. Hill, a member of lefty labor union Industrial Workers of the World, had tremendous faith in the power of grassroots activism to foster social change. And so do I. To paraphrase Morrissey, Pie Lovers of the World, Unite and Bake Over!

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