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THE REAL SECRET: MORE IS LESS

The French have a saying, “bien dans sa peau.” It means, literally, to feel good in one’s skin. We have no equivalent saying; the very notion of feeling good about oneself is, well, Greek to us.

“…self-consciousness about our abs or butts or faces isn’t just an individual preoccupation, it’s almost a social dictate,” to quote Huffington Post’s own glamorous Grecian gadfly Arianna On Becoming Fearless.

Actually, it is a social dictate, according to a study in the June issue of the journal Body Image—a mandatory ritual known as “fat talk,” as one of the study’s authors, Denise Martz of Appalachian State University, explained:

“We have found in our research that both male and female college students know the norm of fat talk—that females are supposed to say negative things about their bodies…

…Females like to support one another and fat talk elicits support,” Martz said. “An example would be one saying, ‘It's like, I'm so fat today,’ and another would respond, ‘No, you are not fat, you look great in those pants.’”

Sound tediously familiar? Women who express satisfaction with their bodies risk being ostracized and perceived as arrogant, according to Martz, who speculates that fat talk is a way of coping with our unrealistic cultural ideals. Why can’t we settle for being healthy and fairly fit, instead of torturing ourselves because our thighs can never be thin enough?

Because the fight against fat helps grease the wheels of commerce, that’s why. There’s a whole industry dedicated to making you feel bad about your body, and most of us buy into it; we reportedly spend some $33 billion a year on diet related products. But we just keep getting fatter.

The solution, according to the wildly successful, dangerously demented bestseller The Secret, is not to diet, but simply to stop looking at fat people. There are lots of theories floating around about what’s causing the obesity epidemic; everything from a contagious bacteria to a chemical found in some plastics. But Rhonda Byrne, The Secret’s author, has the most bizarre explanation yet:

…food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight....if you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it.

Or just think about all those slender Sudanese. Call it the Darfur diet—think and grow thin! Byrne's book also applies an icky “spiritual” sheen to crass consumerism, à la the prosperity gospel, which preaches that God wants us all to be rich in wallet as well as in spirit. Apparently, Moses somehow overlooked the eleventh commandment: “Thou canst never be too rich nor too thin.”

Byrne’s promise that “the Law of Attraction” can bring you health, wealth and happiness has sent Americans to the bookstore in droves, making The Secret one of the fastest-selling self-help books ever. As Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, told Newsweek, "Nobody ever went broke overestimating the desperate unhappiness of the American public."

It’s good business to make us feel bad, because it makes us buy all kinds of things. But the stuff we buy doesn’t seem to bring us any satisfaction, and may actually be making us feel worse, according to Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy. McKibben notes how much better off we are materially than we were a few decades ago, and then adds:

What’s odd is, none of this stuff appears to have made us happier. All that material progress—and all the billions of barrels of oil and millions of acres of trees that it took to create it—seems not to have moved the satisfaction meter an inch…

…there have been steady decreases in the percentage of Americans who say that their marriages are happy, that they are satisfied with their jobs, that they find a great deal of pleasure in the place they live…

McKibben, one of the key movers and shakers behind Step It Up 2007, the National Day of Climate Action happening April 14th, has been warning us about global warming for nearly two decades; his 1989 book The End of Nature is widely regarded as the first book on climate change written for the layperson.

Deep Economy is an equally seminal book, spelling out the disconnect between what we think we want and what really makes us happy. The things that give us the greatest pleasure can’t be bought and sold. They are, as MasterCard would say, “priceless.”

I wish Oprah would endorse this book, because it really could transform our lives with its “more is less” message. If the premise of The Secret is really true, I should be able to make Bill McKibben materialize on Oprah’s sofa. I just have to keep picturing it.

WEEKEND GARDEN BLOGGING

The latest thing in custom-built homes in America is his ‘n’ hers matching master bedrooms, apparently. Better to be divided by a wall of sheetrock each night than have your marriage torn asunder by a spouse’s sanitation-truck-decibel-level snoring.

But I’d much rather request a combination root cellar/bunker if I were building my dream house. Jon Stewart joked about building a bunker last week, as a response to our current administration’s apocalyptic approach to foreign policy, but really, what good is a bunker without food? And what better way to store provisions than a root cellar?

My dream root cellar would be filled floor to ceiling with Matt’s canned tomatoes, my friend Claire’s jams and salsas, spelt spaghetti from Italy, tins of smoked trout and herring from Trader Joe’s, and the kind of produce that keeps really well, like the single Queensland Blue Winter Squash we grew last year that we’ve been eating for weeks now.

The Queensland Blue belongs to a family of gorgeous and delicious Australian pumpkins that have the remarkable ability to overwinter in an overheated apartment. I only knew this because I read it in Elizabeth Schneider’s indispensable, encyclopedic Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini:

You can enjoy it for months, as I did in a warm city apartment, before cooking it.

Our Queensland Blue weighed in at about 12 pounds, so heavy we left it on the vine till our friend Amy could transport it in a rented car rather than hauling it from our Hudson Valley hovel to our teeny West Village apartment via Amtrak, our usual mode of transit. We were so proud of our pumpkin progeny we displayed it on the mantle for about four months before our squash started to show its softer side.

Once our Aussie squash’s resolve to remain firm began to waiver, unlike its prime minister’s steadfast commitment to keep Australian troops in Iraq, we had no choice but to carve it up and make a seemingly endless series of soups, stews, and pumpkin bread puddings. This thing could feed a family of five for like a month. There’s still a two-pound chunk of it left in the fridge (see image above.)

All this from a fifty-cent seedling. If you’re looking for a solid investment in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, I recommend stocking up on heirloom squash. Start planting those kabochas now, so you’ll be prepared when our economy goes kaput and our planet goes kaboom.

YES, WE HAVE NO BANANA REPUBLICS

I like to buy my food from socially conscious companies--you know, like Newman’s Own, with their camps for kids with cancer, or Annie’s Organics, which awards environmental studies scholarships.

But if you’ve been topping your crunchy granola with Chiquita bananas, you may have inadvertently funneled some of your food dollars not to terminally ill tykes or eco-geeks, but terrorists and druglords.

That’s why Chiquita’s just been forced to cough up $25 million in fines to settle a dispute with the Justice Department, which has been investigating payments Chiquita made between 1997 and 2004 to a rightwing paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials. From the AP:

The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports. The U.S. government designated the right-wing militia a terrorist organization in September 2001.

Prosecutors said the company made the payments in exchange for protection for its workers. In addition to paying the AUC, prosecutors said, Chiquita made payments to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as control of the company's banana-growing area shifted.

Left, right, whatever; Chiquita doled out checks to terrorists of all stripes. I don’t want to imply that Chiquita had some kind of right wing bent.

Although, funny story; coincidentally, speaking of rightwing rah-rah, at the same time that Chiquita executives were tithing a known terrorist organization in defiance of their own legal counsel--"Bottom line: CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT," read one memo--Chiquita’s vice president of corporate affairs, Joe Hagin, took a leave of absence from Chiquita to work as the deputy campaign manager for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential race.

It’s not much of a stretch, I guess, to go from pumping up trigger happy terrorists to stumping for a faux-cowboy Crawford chump. But who could have foreseen that “regime change” would mean watching our own country turn into a banana republic?

After hearing the news about Chiquita, I took a closer look at those organic bananas I bought at Trader Joe’s the other day. Yup, Chiquita. From Ecuador, not Colombia. Are they tainted by association? Should they be evicted from our fruit bowl?

If I were a die-hard locavore I would have already sworn off tropical fruits, à la Joan Gussow, the pioneering foodie progressive whose memoir, This Organic Life, contains the following passage:

“…bananas fill me with ambiguity, and sometimes even rage. Like this very brief story that appeared recently in the New York Times “Metropolitan Diary”:

Dear Diary: Consider the street banana. Grown in a tropical paradise amid chattering birds and baby monkeys at play, it has traveled thousands of miles over land and sea. On trucks, boats, and trains it has ridden, handled by scores of people; yet its skin is unblemished, its fruit still sweet. You give the man a quarter. He gives you a banana. No change. No receipt. No bag. A transaction direct from the agora. A journey through space and time.

That little story demonstrates a desperate ignorance about how food is produced at the millennium, and at what cost. For this stroller’s banana was undoubtedly grown not in a tropical paradise but in a banana tree desert from which chattering birds and baby monkeys were long ago banished to protect the ripening fruit from our competitors. Blissfully oblivious to the real conditions under which her banana was grown, she is equally blithe about those thousands of miles her banana has traveled, “on trucks, boats, and trains” that spewed into the air combustion products that are helping warm the planet right where she’s standing…

But when it comes to bananas, there’s no such thing as buying local. What’s a banana lover to do?

Go native and plant paw paws, Gussow suggests. Paw paws, “the only tropical fruit tree to survive the ice age in the northern hemisphere,” were once widely grown in the U.S. and reportedly taste like banana custard. I say “reportedly” because I have never, ever seen one anywhere.

Lewis and Clark subsisted on paw paws during their expedition, according to Wikipedia, which notes also that “Chilled pawpaw fruit was a favorite dessert of George Washington.” Thomas Jefferson planted paw paws at Monticello, too.

So where have all the paw paws gone? Apparently, the paw paw has a short shelf life and doesn’t ship well. But unlike most fruit trees it isn’t plagued by pests, so it ought to appeal to organic farmers who sell their produce to local markets.

I planted a pair of paw paws in my garden after reading Gussow’s book five years ago. They’re coming along nicely, but they have yet to yield any custardy-banana-like lusciousness.

Should we abandon bananas in the meantime? Organic Chiquitas are grown without chemicals, but there may be more pernicious toxins lurking under those pesticide-free peels. I don’t really like the idea of supporting a company with ties to perpetrators of needless wars—or rightwing paramilitary groups, for that matter.

TURNING UP THE HEAT ON MEAT-EATERS

OK, so you’re a conscientious carnivore: no factory farm frankfurters for you! And that bacon you had for breakfast? It came from a happy hog that frolicked and foraged freely before being humanely slaughtered.

Seems like a win-win-win: you’re boycotting all those agribiz atrocities, supporting sustainable farming, and getting a healthier, tastier product. Hey, you’re even fighting sprawl! Those local livestock farmers couldn’t make a living off their land without ethicureans like you snapping up their sustainable sausage. Your willingness to pay top dollar for top round that’s grass-fed spares untold acres of pasture from being plowed under to grow rows of strip malls and condos.

But that pasture-raised pork may still be enough to get you exiled from treehugger eden, according to Kathy Freston, a self-help author and blogger who proclaims that “vegetarian is the new Prius.”

Freston’s latest pro-vegetarian post, “You Call Yourself a Progressive -- But You Still Eat Meat?” makes the case that eating any meat, regardless of how it’s raised, is grounds for revoking your green credentials:

“It'd be like driving an SUV that gets 15 mpg rather than 10, or driving an SUV three days per week instead of seven. Sure, it might be better for the environment, but with so many more fuel-efficient ways to get from A to B, there's no need to drive any SUV at all. Eating meat -- any meat -- is the same thing: With so many healthy vegetarian options that are kinder and far more eco-friendly than even the "best" meat products, there's just no good justification for someone who claims to be an environmentalist -- or to oppose cruelty -- for doing it.”

I’m one of those foodie activists who preaches the pasture-raised gospel. A tireless (and tiresome) proselytizer, I pass the grass-fed butter and pat myself on the back for spreading the word about ethical eating.

But Freston makes a compelling case for cutting out meat altogether. As a lover of bacon, it pains me to admit this, but most of her arguments are pretty much unassailable, and she’s not the only one making them.

A cat needs to eat meat, but for humans, it’s just a treat. We eat it because we like it, not because we need it. Our bodies function better without meat, in fact. “The meat industry’s big public relations problem is that vegetarians are demonstrably healthier than meat-eaters,” notes NYU nutritionist Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat.

Thirty years ago, our government actually tried to warn us to eat less meat. In a report entitled “Dietary Goals for the United States,” the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs recommended that we “reduce consumption of meat.”

But the beef lobby went berserk. That simple message got fed through the meat industry p.r. grinder and came out: “choose meats, poultry, and fish which will reduce saturated fat intake.”

In the decades since, meat consumption has risen dramatically while the USDA’s guidelines remain vague and convoluted. And the toll meat production takes on our environment has shot up significantly, too. A report last year from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” provided a startling look at the link between meat consumption, environmental degradation, and global warming.

Henning Steinfeld, senior author of the report, stated that “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

Researchers at the University of Chicago determined that American meat eaters are responsible for 1.5 more tons of carbon dioxide per person than vegetarians every year. But even one of the authors of that study, Gidon Eshel, doesn’t insist that we should give up meat entirely:

"It doesn't have to be all the way to the extreme end of vegan," says Dr. Eshel, whose family raised beef cattle in Israel. "If you simply cut down from two burgers a week to one, you've already made a substantial difference."

Kathy Freston disagrees, stating that “if we're eating meat, we're making a conscious decision that is even more wasteful and polluting” than driving a Hummer.

But I don’t drive at all; I’ve never owned a car and rely mostly on mass transit to get around. Doesn’t that give me some kind of carbon offset, or at least a karma offset?

Freston claims that our craving for meat “can be largely satisfied by the luscious faux meat options out there.” Now, I like tofu as much as the next progressive, which is to say that if you marinate it and bake it or slather it with bar-b-q sauce and smoke it, it almost tastes like…something. But still. Can’t I have the occasional biodynamic burger with grass-fed cheese and pasture-raised bacon?

HOW FREE TRADE FRUITS & VEGETABLES STUNT CHILDRENS’ GROWTH

 

Now that Michael Pollan’s got us fretting about “food miles” and the provenance of our produce, I no longer buy Chilean raspberries or Argentinean pears for fear of racking up too many frequent flier miles on the plane to Planet Doom.

And after watching the “stalkumentary,” Asparagus!, I just say no to the Peruvian asparagus that’s subsidized by U.S. tax dollars as part of our War on Drugs; paying Peruvian farmers to grow vegetables instead of coca leaves hasn’t made a dent in the drug trade, but it’s very nearly destroyed American asparagus farmers who can’t compete with the cheap imports.

Now I’ve got a reason to pass on Central American produce, too; according to Monday’s NY Times, Guatemalan children are routinely forced to work long hours for low pay processing fruits and vegetables that end up in American schools, hospitals, restaurants, and the military.

A 16-year-old named Maria, a factory worker since the age of 12, told the Times she works six days a week and spends her Sundays attending special classes for child laborers:

“I can be so tired, so exhausted, but I feel so good when I come home and read,” she said, her tears stopping and her face lighting up. “It can be any book. I just like to see the words.”

President Bush, who just likes to see the pictures, breezed through Guatemala yesterday touting the benefits of free trade at an agricultural cooperative that supplies produce to Central American Wal-Marts.

Bush helped farmers load lettuce headed for the global market, and then declared the lifting of the leafy greens to be “one of the great experiences of my presidency,'' according to the Guardian. Evidently our president prefers heads of lettuce to heads of state.

Bush’s message to the people of Guatemala? “…you have a friend in the United States of America. We care about your plight.”

But not as much as we care about low prices, according to the executives at Legumex, one of the food producers who exploit children in order to meet America’s demand for cheap food:

“We’re a developing country,” said Hermann Peterson, the company’s auditor. “We can’t have the same conditions as factories in the United States.”

Bush insists that free trade will improve wages and working conditions in Central America, but so far, CAFTA’s done nothing for the children of Guatemala, according to the Times:

None of the child workers interviewed around here said they had yet felt any benefits of Cafta, as the trade pact is known, which Guatemala signed nearly two years ago and which slipped through the United States Congress by a hair.

“These trade agreements were written for investors in large American corporations,” Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, told the Times. “They weren’t written for American workers and they weren’t written to protect Central American children.” Brown was a staunch opponent of CAFTA while he was in the House of Representatives.

The child labor laws are routinely violated, and little or nothing is being done about it.

Bush took time out from loading lettuce to check out some Mayan ruins, after which Mayan priests vowed to purify the sacred archaeological site to eliminate ”bad spirits'' after Bush's visit.

Back home, we’ll have to settle for Dana Priest setting off the Walter Reed stink bomb in the Washington Post. Our CEO president expressed dismay over the revelation that our soldiers are receiving such shabby treatment, just as he claims to be concerned about abysmal conditions in foreign factories.

But the “message: I care” mantra, passed down from Poppy, is moldier than the walls at Walter Reed. No need to read about it; just look at the pictures.

NO SYMPATHY FOR THIS DEVILED “GOOD EGG”

Blogging took a backseat to baking this weekend as we whipped up conspiracy-flavored canapés for a NYC book party in honor of Marcy Wheeler, the blogosphere’s foremost Plameologist and author of Anatomy of Deceit. The event, which doubled as a fundraiser for the Yearly Kos blogger convention, was a collaborative effort by Drinking Liberally, the yKos Committee, and Eating Liberally, so our Menu of Mass Deception had to feed hordes of hungry Kossacks.

In honor of Marcy, Matt and I fired up our tiny 18” wide tenement stove and cranked out hundreds of leak tartlets, pigs-in-a-blanket-denial, Scooter pies and no-uranium yellow cakes. Then we piled our piping hot hors d’oeuvres into a taxi and trundled off to Tribeca’s Tank, the artsy alternative hipster hotspot where the event took place.

There, we served up Plame-broiled mini-burgers (well, OK, they were actually grilled, but that doesn’t sound as good) and had the pleasure of nourishing the netroots literally and savoring the Libby verdict with the Kossack crew, the Liberally crowd and progressive celebs like ace activist cartoonist Tom Tomorrow and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. And Laughing Liberally’s own Katie Halper took the stage to serve up some Novak on a bagel, slicing up the former Crossfire curmudgeon and making toast of his “Christian” conversion.

But the laughter was bittersweet, because despite Libby’s conviction, no one’s been held accountable for the real crimes that were committed in this case.

And what of all the pity for poor Scooter Libby, the fall guy? After all, he was only doing his master’s bidding, like a faithful dog. When the verdict was read, his wife, Harriet Grant, reportedly reacted with rage and was overheard by several reporters saying “We’re gonna f**k* ‘em.”

Harriet, honey, your husband and his cronies have already rendered Iraq more or less FUBAR, to use the military vernacular, and they’ve done untold damage to our own democracy in the process, so enough with the screwing around already.

Stop feeling sorry for Scooter and think of the thousands of people who have been killed or maimed needlessly because of the Bush administration’s mendacity. If Libby wanted to be cage free, he should have been a stool pigeon, instead of taking the fall for a lame duck. Birds of a feather flock together, until a prosecutor goes on a hunt for the truth, shooting for scoundrels. I only wish Patrick Fitzgerald could have bagged them all, but sadly, the buckshot stops here.

(* asterisks are solely for the benefit of my father, whose stint in the Navy was not sufficient to overcome his allergy to four letter words…)

CLIMATE CHANGE BREEDS PREEMIE WILDLIFE

The climate change-naysayer brigade remains steadfastly unmoved by the plight of polar bears slipping and sliding into extinction as the ice caps melt from under them.

But unseasonably warm weather is spawning a wave of premature wild animal babies, and I defy the hard-hearted, soft-headed climate change deniers to ignore the plight of these fuzzy wuzzy preemies.

The maternity ward at St. Tiggywinkles, a wildlife hospital in Britain, is overrun with baby hedgehogs, bunnies, and squirrels suffering from the misfortune of “being born at the wrong time,” according to the Independent:

The visible impact on Britain's wildlife has manifested itself in the form of earlier than normal breeding, egg-laying, nesting and flowering of plants and trees, observed in British wildlife for more than 15 years and now linked to global warming in a whole series of scientific studies. They have sparked huge new interest in the discipline of phenology ­ the timing of natural events.

But until now the changes have been seen as potentially harmful in the future, rather than the present…

…Cold weather can either kill young animals or prompt them into hibernation, from which they do not awake because they lack sufficient fat reserves.

Toads and newts that should still be under a rock and pipistrelle bats which are normally still hibernating in hollow trees and barns have all been found out and about ­ and there aren't enough insects around for them to survive on. The most unusual animals at the hospital are several edible dormice, so called because the Romans used to eat them...Ten times the size of a normal dormouse and looking more like a small squirrel, with a bushy tail, they normally don't emerge from hibernation until May.

OK, so there’s nothing very cuddly about toads, newts, bats, and mice, and you really don’t give a crap if they starve to death. But that leaves the mosquitos to feed on us.

Icky insects and cute lil’ critters form the very foundation of our food chain. Honeybees have vanished en masse and left no forwarding address, leaving farmers in the lurch and scientists scratching their heads.

Baffling, yes, but what mystifies me more is how self-proclaimed Christians can take their colleagues to task for worrying about global warming instead of focusing on “the great moral issues of our time,” which consist, apparently, of abortion, gay marriage, and abstinence education.

Save yourself for marriage, or save the planet? What threatens our future more, the failure to preserve virgin forests, or the failure to preserve virginity? I’m pretty sure the dormice at St. Tiggywinkles don’t give a rat’s ass about the sanctity of marriage.

COUCH POTATO POWER

I’ve figured out how to solve three of the biggest problems our nation faces in one fell swoop. The solution to our energy crisis, global warming and the childhood obesity epidemic is sitting right under our noses—or, more accurately, on our sofas.

Yes, it’s true, those chubby little couch potatoes fueling up on high fructose corn syrup-sweetened soda and leaving a fine coat of neon orange Cheez Doodle dust on the cable remote are our future; a huge (and getting bigger all the time) untapped source of energy.

We’re letting all those corn-based carbs go to waste, while the tab for the childhood obesity epidemic is, like the corn in Oklahoma!, “as high as an elephant's eye, an' it looks like it's climbin' clear up to the sky…”

That’s why I’m proposing a new initiative I call KICK, or Kids Into Corn Kilowatts. Think about it. Instead of sending record numbers of our corn-fattened kids to have their stomachs stapled, KICK would convert excess calories into electricity by hooking kids up to energy-storing elliptical trainers and Stairmasters, like the ones they use to power the lights at the California Fitness Health Club in Hong Kong.

With KICK, kids could spend their summers generating energy instead of sitting around stuffing their faces. We’ve been scapegoating lousy school lunches and a lack of gym class for the childhood obesity epidemic, but a new study reveals that kids actually pack on the pounds in the summer, suggesting that “outside the limits of a school setting, children are even less physical and eat even worse.”

So, if parents are going to pump their kids full of Pepsi and Cheetos till they waddle like force-fed geese on their way to the foie gras factory, why not get those surplus carbs off their middles and onto the grid?

While President Bush barnstorms for biofuels in Brazil, the corn-based ethanol craze is already running out of gas and starting to look like a fool’s gold rush. Turning all those amber waves of grain into gas is not only terribly inefficient but environmentally degrading, too. My form of corn-based energy makes so much more sense.

Now, I know the concept of KICK may raise some eyebrows, and some questions, such as “Doesn’t this violate child labor laws?” and “If it’s not ethical for me to enjoy a premium dark chocolate bar because it’s made from cocoa harvested by child slaves on an Ivory Coast plantation, how can it be kosher to power my iPod with electricity produced by peddle-pushing toddlers?”

A couple of points: number one, all KICK power would be made in America, so it’s totally patriotic. Number two, is it really any more dubious than Colorado’s new program that puts prisoners to work picking produce on private farms? Thanks to the crackdown on illegal aliens, migrant farm workers are nearly as scarce as honeybees, and farmers are desperate for a new source of cheap labor.

Luckily, the state of Colorado is willing to loan out low-risk inmates for the low, low price of only 60 cents a day—cheaper than an undocumented worker, and perfectly legal! As Ari Zavaras, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, told the NY Times, it’s a great opportunity for the prisoners:

“They won’t be paid big bucks, but we’re hoping this will help our inmates pick up significant and valuable job skills,” Mr. Zavaras said. “We’re also assisting farmers who, if they don’t get help, are facing an inability to harvest their crops.”

KICK offers kids an equally terrific trade-off; they won’t get paid at all, but they’ll be building sweat equity in a cleaner, leaner future. Why settle for the status quo of leaving no child behind? Why not start actually moving our kids forward? They just need a good, swift KICK.

GROWING UP FAT = GROWING UP TOO FAST?

Childhood obesity appears to be causing some girls to reach puberty as early as age 9, according to a University of Michigan study just published in the journal Pediatrics:

"Our finding that increased body fatness is associated with the earlier onset of puberty provides additional evidence that growing rates of obesity among children in this country may be contributing to the trend of early maturation in girls," said Dr. Joyce Lee, the lead author.

Blooming too early is a bad sign. Global warming’s got my tiger lilies blooming in July instead of August. And now it looks like a fast food diet’s got girls growing up too fast. Our hothouse culture already cheats tweens out of childhood, and premature puberty can only burden young girls further:

"Earlier onset of puberty in girls has been associated with a number of adverse outcomes, including psychiatric disorders and deficits in psychosocial functioning, earlier initiation of alcohol use, sexual intercourse and teenage pregnancy and increased rates of adult obesity and reproductive cancers," the study said.

Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Tyler Moore’s eternally dieting best friend, once held up a brownie and said something like, “I ought to just apply this directly to my hips.” Maybe someone should produce a PSA showing a 9-year-old girl waving a pair of deep-fried chicken breasts and saying, “I might as well apply these directly to my chest.”

TWINKIES: THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL-STRENGTH SNACK CAKE

Will Scooter Libby get his just desserts? Half-baked claims about Saddam Hussein’s alleged appetite for yellow cake, aka enriched uranium, gave rise to the whole Plamegate fiasco, but instead of using the Twinkie Defense, Libby’s lawyers opted for the even more pitiful “I forgot” ploy, inspired, perhaps, by a decades-old Steve Martin SNL monologue:

How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don't say "I forgot"? Let's say you're on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, "I forgot armed robbery was illegal."

Libby’s lawyers claim their clients’ felonious fibs to the FBI were a symptom of discombobulation, not duplicity. The pressures of his job were such that he simply couldn’t remember who said what to whom, when.

Had Libby pleaded excess Twinkie consumption instead, his lawyers could have reasonably argued that their client suffered an adverse reaction to all the mysterious minerals and chemical compounds that go into those iconic golden snack cakes.

Exhibit A would be Steve Ettlinger’s hot-off-the-presses Twinkie, Deconstructed, which follows the Twinkie’s odyssey from a simple cream-filled cake with a short shelf life to eternal Big Food legend. The original Twinkie, made from eggs, lard, and flour, has morphed over time since its birth in the thirties from a conventional yellow cake into an Agribiz amalgam of processed ingredients and chemical compounds—39, altogether—that only an alchemist could understand.

The road from eggs, lard and flour to ferrous sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, and sodium stearoyl lactylate is a long strange trip indeed, and a microcosm of our twisted food chain. Steve Ettlinger went digging, literally, to learn what goes into all those indecipherable, unpronounceable ingredients, and lays it all out for the layperson in a friendly and folksy fashion.

That’s not to say, though, that Ettlinger’s expose is easy to digest. But then, we’re talking about a processed food made, in part, from the food grade equivalent of Plaster of Paris. If you’ve got a hankering for a cake made from the same minerals our military uses in tracer bullets and artillery shells, I guess a Twinkie would hit the spot.

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