Archive for November 29, 2011

Pizza for everyone! Served with a side of stupid!
Congress declares pizza a vegetable

Recently the United States House of Representatives declared that pizza—that pie-shaped piece of bread made with white flour and topped with tomato sauce and mozzerella cheese—could be considered a vegetable in school cafeterias.

Since schools have to provide students with a certain amount of vegetables a day, this means that pizza will count as one of them.

We all know we have an obesity problem in this country.

We also know that children are the most vulnerable to obesity: “Nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese and the numbers are growing.”** It’s also true that kids today are dealing with more cases of adult onset diabetes, cardiac problems, and strokes.* (For more on this issue, read my three-part series on chidhood obesity: “Don’t be an enabler,” “Letting Go,” and “Rethinking baby fat.”)

And this isn’t just because kids don’t exercise as much as they used to or because they eat more than they have in the past. It’s also a problem because of chemicals. In fact, “In 2005 scientists in Spain reported that the more pesticides children were exposed to as fetuses, the greater their risk of being overweight as toddlers. And last January scientists in Belgium found that children exposed to higher levels of PCBs and DDE (the breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) before birth were fatter than those exposed to lower levels.”°

The natural response to this problem would be that we become vigilant in our efforts to help children be healthy. But rather than do that, the United States House of Representatives, arguably one of the most powerful governing bodies in the world, has declared pizza a vegetable. Pizza. Which has around 300 calories, 670 mg of sodium, 4 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of satured fat a slice.

In the 2006 futuristic movie Idiocracy, Luke Wilson’s character travels to a future where people are so idiotic that they try to water their plants with a Gatorade-type drink called Brawndo and then wonder why their plants aren’t growing. This happens because Brawndo is a huge corporation that controls government decision-making through donations and lobbying. (Pictured above is the FDA Food Pyramid from the movie—with four parts Brawndo, one part Starbucks, one part Grease, and one part Cigarettes/Caffeine/convenience.)

Pizza was declared a vegetable last week because the fast food lobby American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) argued that they could not make food with more healthy ingredients palatable to school children. **

So what I want to know is this: does this mean we are now living in the land of idiots?






On Thanksgiving, a letter appreciating the glory that is food

On Thanksgiving, it seems obvious we should be most thankful for food. After all, we have so much of it and so many people in this world have so little.

As a result, I’m including a letter below from an aunt who worries that her young niece will never learn to appreciate and prepare food properly. This is something I worry about too—in a time when it’s more acceptable to use words like “diet” and “fat-free” than ones like “fettucine” and “gouda” and “prosciutto,” I worry that young people will never learn to truly enjoy the art of cooking and eating. Rich food is not in-and-of-itself bad for us. The problem is that we eat too much of it.

One of my tips for healthy living is indulging from time to time. It’s acceptable to do that today, but I hope people remember to really enjoy what they eat more than once a year. I am definitely thankful that I do.

An Open Letter to My Niece

For my niece … Because the internet will be around forever and I will not.

I worry and wonder if you’ll discover the flavors of the world given you are such a picky eater now. Because your parents are not world travelers, I wonder if it’ll take you as long as it took me to discover that fruit can be delicious year round and that the heirloom tomato is far superior to Jersey tomatoes. I wonder if you will continue to despise everything green as you get older and worry you’ll miss out on green delicacies like California avocados and Japanese edamame.

When I was your age, I did not spend a lot of time in the kitchen. As I got older and started living on my own, I wished I had paid more attention to how my mother made her meatballs or how my grandmother made apple pie and a crust from scratch. I do still have both of their recipe boxes filled with recipes where some are handwritten, some typed, and somewhere it’s just the ingredients and I’m left blindly to figure it out on my own. Oh, if only the internet had been around fifty years ago.

They say a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and I did learn a few staples over the years from my mother that have paved my way to many of men’s hearts. I know how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch, but even if I measured everything exact, it still never quite tasted like my mother’s “gravy.” I’d give you the recipe but I recently learned that you don’t even like pasta! My ears almost fell off of my head when I heard. How can you be 50 percent Italian and not like pasta? I started to think that there was a switch at the hospital but then I recalled that the other 50 percent of you is Irish, from your mother, who ironically happens to also not like pasta with red sauce. Mamma mia!

You’re a beautiful mixture of Irish and Italian, yet your taste buds are 100 percent American and were bred on chicken nuggets and French fries. So, it’s no wonder that I fret that you will not discover how delicious fresh beets can actually taste if made in a salad with a lemon-olive oil dressing where the beets are not pickled. I worry that you won’t discover that as gross as Brussels sprouts tasted when our parents made them, that they can actually be deliciously sweet and a great addition to pork if sautéed with caramelized shallots.

I wonder that if your mother and I are not around and you have a cooking question, who you will call? Will you consult the internet? Will you know that you need to take the gizzards out of the turkey or else you’ll kill your guests? Will you know that you need to shell the fava beans then blanch and remove the second skin otherwise your bowels will not be happy? Will you know that your meat needs to rest after you cook it to seal in the juices? I actually didn’t learn that about meat until I was forty as I had given up meat because of your grandmother’s leather-like pork chops.

I am sure that you’ll probably know how to bake because you have a sweet tooth much like your Aunt. I hope that you will find a friend to bake holiday cookies with, a tradition my best friend and I had when we lived close by one another. Although you never met your great grandmother Laquintano, I know you will not give out her family pizzelle recipe and will learn to choose wisely as to who to make pizzelles for since they are so time consuming and a true labor of love.

I can only hope that you will try things more than once when tasting food. As I’ve learned that much like subjects in school that depend on the teacher, food depends on the chef. I did not care for pork for years and I only knew of pork chops on the bone until someone showed me how delicious pork tenderloin could be, especially one with a maple glaze. I’ve also learned that food can take many forms and taste different depending on the preparation. Know that your taste buds change every seven years and those things you didn’t like before, you may learn to love as you get older and it’s totally okay.

I also pray and hope that corporate America has not rid us of the farmers when you get older and that you support your local farmer’s market when possible. It’s a magical place. One where you’ll discover vegetables and fruits you had never tried or even seen before and also where you’ll find that there are a dozen different types of peaches and apples. It’s the place where when you go home and cook up what you just bought, you’ll discover how delicious fresh food tastes over processed packaged food at the supermarket and secretly wish the Farmer’s market was open every day.

I hope that you learn that food is both your friend and your enemy. You never feel good when you overindulge and everything in moderation is a reward in and of itself, including chocolate. I hope you know that it is not okay to eat a gallon of ice cream-ever, even if a guy breaks your heart. My broken heart led me to San Francisco where I not only met your Uncle but also discovered a culinary experience far beyond my wildest dreams. I discovered the earthiness of fresh truffles, the decadence of pate and caviar, the sensuality of sushi, the creamy taste of avocados, the sweetness of figs and that dates really are nature’s candy, and the bursting mouth-watering flavor of Heirloom tomatoes. I discovered that there really is bad wine and there are some fantastic wines. I learned that some wine is not for sipping but for imbibing with a meal and they will complement each other like a necklace to a dress.

I hope that you understand that if you are lucky enough to be cooked for, that you should be grateful. Since every meal, when home cooked, is always a labor of love and even if it doesn’t taste great, you should always remember to say thank you to the chef.

I hope you get the opportunity as I have to eat your way through Italy, Spain and France. These are the things I hope you don’t miss out on and that you discover for yourself and the sake of your palate.

With love.


Tracy Sestili



The camera never lies:
why photos give us a false sense of who we are

I wrote last week about two people close to me—one 94 and the other just one—who were struggling with major health problems.

Since then, the 94-year-old has left us, and I can’t lie. Even though she was a nonagenarian, I feel a great loss at her passing.

Thankfully, the one-year-old is doing well, and I got a chance to visit him this past weekend at the children’s hospital where he’s staying. Though he seems as happy as ever, he has a LONG road ahead of him as he has just begun eight months of chemo. That also means eight months of nausea, eight months of living with his parents in a hospital room with one bathroom and no kitchen, eight months of a central line that wraps around his body like a plastic snake, and eight months of hospital food and constant check-ups.

While I was visiting, his dad got out the iPad given to the one-year-old by an uncle. Dad showed me some baby apps and then videotaped me holding the one-year-old and flying him over my head, Superman-style.

As I’ve said here before in my “Who is the girl in the picture” post, I’ve never been comfortable looking at pictures of myself, and I don’t feel much different about video. Still, it seems hypocritical for someone with a blog devoted to body acceptance to act negatively about having her picture taken, so I try as much as possible not to voice my insecurities—though it’s often hard to do.

For this reason, I wasn’t anxious to look at the video, but the one-year-old’s dad insisted.

I was actually surprised by what I saw.

Yes, there were plenty of angles I didn’t like—angles from which my chin looked long and out of shape or my posture looked crooked—but because the image was moving, these problems didn’t really bother me as much. Sure, I didn’t always look perfect or even my best, but I also looked real and happy and alive—like anyone else.

And it occurred to me then that that’s probably what we look like in real life—happy, alive, sometimes good, and sometimes bad—and that still pictures—the kind I often grimace at—aren’t really an accurate representation of who we are because they capture us in split seconds rather than in full moments.

For that reason, I hope that the next time I see a picture of myself that makes me unhappy, I’ll remember that it’s only a fraction of who I am, not even close to me in my entirety.

One week before Thanksgiving:
why we should all be thankful for Adele
. . . a guest post by Skylar Baker-Jordan

If you’ve ever had a broken heart, you’re about to remember it now.

So said James Corden, the host of the 2011 Brits (the UK’s version of the Grammys), as he introduced the incomparable Adele. What followed has become a legendary performance involving nothing more than a piano, a single microphone stand, and one beautifully coifed ginger giving a tearful, vulnerable, yet defiant performance aimed directly at the lothario who inspired the song. Though already a successful artist, in that moment Adele became a worldwide phenomenon.

My love affair with Adele began some years prior, though. It was 2008, and VH1 had a special You Oughta Know segment showcasing up-and-coming artists. There she was, this unassuming young woman with the most gorgeous red hair and voluptuous figure, talking not about the glitz and glamor of it all, but about the music. She had just released her first bona fide hit, “Chasing Pavements,” and she was anxious to be known for her artistry, not her arse.

“I love food and hate exercise,” she said in a subsequent interview.  “I don’t have time to work out. I don’t want to be on the cover of Playboy or Vogue. I want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone…I’d rather weigh a ton and make an amazing album.”

Here was a woman who had her priorities straight. Adele was bound and determined to make it in the music industry while focusing more on the music and less on the industry. Her subsequent success has illustrated that this is entirely possible, as she has broken record after record and established herself as the preeminent chanteuse of our generation. It is her raspy voice, akin to an angel that chainsmokes Marlboros, which has propelled her to the center of the pop world, as opposed to gimmicky performances and clever marketing.

Indeed, Adele has defied all expectations, shocking critics and commentators around the world. And while it is refreshing to see a healthy, average-sized woman succeeding on her own terms in an industry obsessed with negative body images, it is also frustrating to see the sheer surprise many seem to exhibit that she’s gotten so far. There has been so much focus on the fact that she is the exception that we’ve lost sight of the fact that she shouldn’t be. We are so surprised when women like Adele or Susan Boyle become global icons that we don’t pause and reflect on how troubling our surprise is or what it says about our perception of female beauty.

The fact that Adele is not a size 0 (or size 2 or size 4) shouldn’t surprise us. After all, the majority of women I see at the office or in the club more closely resemble Adele than Katy Perry or Lady Gaga and—if record sales and Billboard charts are any indication—are more likely listening to her, too. That we spend so much time focusing on how great it is that a woman like Adele was able to achieve the level of stardom she has belies our underlying view that women who look like her shan’t or can’t succeed.

But succeed she has. Topping the charts in over 17 countries and selling more albums than any other artist this year, Adele’s success illustrates what many of us have known but that the entertainment industry seems baffled by: that women who don’t fit into Hollywood’s typical definition of “beauty” have something to say, too. And as 21 shows, often it is far more profound.

Part of what has skyrocketed Adele to such heights is that she penned an album which is universally relatable. A young British woman wrote 11 songs about a painful breakup which, unbeknownst to her, came to define a year in the life of a young Kentucky boy who was going through his own devastating split. The first time I heard Adele’s defiant “Rolling in the Deep” was right after my boyfriend dumped me on Valentine’s Day. With its booming drumbeats and bitter lyrics, Adele’s anthem about moving on became my own personal call-to-action. Later, when I would have to confront my ex, it was her haunting ballad “Someone Like You,” which I cried to afterwards. And when I moved to Chicago but still found myself missing him, her aching voice asking “when will I see you again?” spoke for me every time I listened to “Don’t You Remember.”

That we lived separate lives on different continents made no difference. Adele had tapped into the most primal of places to speak for the masses. I don’t know of another artist in the past decade that has done that, at least not as well and not to this magnitude.

And that is what should truly make her an exception. The fact that she is a voluptuous woman should be the least exceptional thing about her. While both listeners and critics are keenly aware of this woman’s talent, it is my hope that we don’t let our joy that a curvy woman has become a rock star eclipse our anger that it is at all remarkable. While she is breaking records, I hope that she is also breaking barriers, and that the recording industry begins signing and marketing artists based on their music, not their measurements.


SKYLAR BAKER-JORDAN is a twenty-something guppie living in Chicago and working as a junior underwriter. In his free time, he is working on a memoir about his previous life in Kentucky. Skylar says of himself, “I accept people as they are, warts and all. Nobody’s perfect—especially me. People who can’t or won’t do this have no place in my life.”

When I’m ninety-four

As I sit here typing this, one of my good friends—at the age of 94—is struggling to recover from a massive stroke and one of my new family members—who is one year old this month—is undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. I am terribly worried about both of them and hoping with everything I have that they are both spared any unnecessary pain. Still, for some reason, I feel content, and I want to tell you why . . .

I found out about the 94-year-old friend first, and I was crushed. What I didn’t get was why I was so upset given that I knew my friend’s time was short. Every time I saw her, I understood that it may be the last time. Not because she had been sick, but just because when you’re 94, everything is precarious.

The last time I saw Eileen she could not have been more happy. That was the day she introduced me to her new boyfriend—only 91!—for the first time even though they’d been seeing each other for a few years. After so many years of being married to someone else, it took that long for the two of them to be ready to let people outside their families know that they were together. Eileen still wears her husband’s ring on her finger, but she and her boyfriend George have found that it’s easier to go on together. Before their respective spouses died, the four of them had been friends for years. And in their grief, they have found some comfort in each other.

Eileen’s eyes were filmed over with cataracts that afternoon, and George’s legs were covered in age spots. But neither one of them seemed to notice these imperfections inside the glow of their love. And that’s why I’m crushed about Eileen—because even at 94, you still feel as alive as you did at 16.

I was reminded of Eileen and George when I watched Another Year, the latest Mike Leigh film, this past weekend and noticed, happily, that the romantic leads in the film—played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen (pictured above)—were similarly imperfect: he without much of his hair and she with a little extra padding around the middle. At one point, Sheen’s character says, “I’ve had some middle-aged spread” while pointing to her mid-section, and her husband says, “Nonsense, you’re beautiful.”

That was the line that made me fall in love with that movie.

I had a long talk with a single friend the other day about the importance of choosing a partner based on who a person is rather than what he or she looks like. And two days before my husband’s 42nd birthday, as we are both beginning to look more wrinkled and worn every day, I am well aware of how central this idea is to our happiness. Yes, we found each other physically attractive when we met and still do now, but it’s amazing how unimportant that seems as time passes.

So even though this has been a week full of bad news, I still feel lucky . . . lucky to be able to write, lucky to be healthy, and most of all lucky to have found someone who agrees with me about this issue, someone I hope to know when I’m 94.

Appreciate it while you can . . .

Last night I went to an open mic sponsored by the WKU English Club and had a fab time listening to students and friends read their favorite work. It was a good evening, but I was a little horrified when a couple of the students at my table described Ben Affleck as doughy.

Doughy? Ben Affleck?

This Ben Affleck?

What they specifically said was that Armageddon was “totally awesome” and that I had to see it because it featured Ben Affleck when he was still hot and not doughy like he is now.

Here is Affleck in Armageddon back in 1998 . . .

and here he is last year in The Town . . .

Now really, if Ben Affleck is doughy, then I must be fully risen.

I tried to explain to them that after a certain age, it’s very difficult not to look doughy and that they should appreciate their college bodies while they have them.

Of course, when I was in college, I did not at all appreciate my own amazing bod. All I did was sit around and complain about the three pounds I had been trying to lose since I was a freshman. This was twenty-some years and fifty odd pounds ago, but back then, I had no understanding of how my body would betray me by stretching, drooping, bending, and ultimately even breaking. And that—unlike when I was eighteen—it would never rubber band back to its original shape.

I told all of this to the aforementioned students, but they just looked at me . . . jaws dropped, eyes wide. Had I really weighed fifty pounds less? they seemed to be asking me with their inquisitive stares.

“I should have had mirrors on every wall,” I told them. “My body was a piece of art . . .  like that one painting in the corner of your favorite museum, the one you forget to really look at every time you visit, only to find out later it was on loan and has finally been sent back to its permanent home in Fantasyland.”

The students still gawked, unsure if I was making any sense or if I was showing signs of early dementia.

But what they didn’t know is I still have the pictures to prove it.

The body count is piling up: NPR admits that diets don’t work

First Yahoo Health admits diets don’t work, now it’s NPR’s turn to do the same. Who will be next? It’s hard to say, but soon everyone will know it to be a fact—diets don’t work, exercise does, and obesity is not simply caused by eating too much.

NPR’s story is so well written and succinct that I’m just going to include it in full here . . .


Losing Weight: A Battle Against Fat And Biology


If you’re among the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight, chances are you’ve had people tell you to just ease up on the eating and use a little self-control. It does, of course, boil down to “calories in, calories out.”

But there’s a lot more to it than that, according to obesity specialist Dr. Donna Ryan, associate director for clinical research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

It’s a popular misconception, she says, that losing weight is “strictly a matter of willpower.” It’s a gigantic task, she says, because not only do we move through an incredible buffet of food spread before us every day, but we also face a battle with our own biological responses.

It starts when we begin to shed those first few pounds. At that point, “the biology really kicks in and tries to resist the weight loss,” she says.

Take 56-year-old Mary Grant, who’s faced a lifetime battling fat, beginning in childhood, when her father humiliated her in front of the family by publicly weighing her every Saturday morning and insisted on her trying diet after diet.

In the end, Grant unsuccessfully tried “the grapefruit before every meal diet, Weight Watchers in the early days, when you had to eat chicken livers, the hard-boiled eggs and salad diet, the tomato soup diet, the cabbage soup diet, essentially anything,” says Grant, “to get that weight off me.”

But the weight did not “come off.” It wasn’t until after nursing school that Grant was successful in dropping 100 pounds after a medically supervised fast. Dramatic as that success was, it didn’t last. Grant gained much of the weight back. Most people do, according to health experts.

And here’s why:

When you begin to lose pounds, levels of the hormone leptin, which is produced by fat cells, begin to drop. That sends a message to the brain that the body’s “fat storage” is shrinking. The brain perceives starvation is on the way and, in response, sends out messages to conserve energy and preserve calories. So, metabolism drops.

And then other brain signals tell the body it’s “hungry,” and it sends out hormones to stimulate the appetite. The combination of lowered metabolism and stimulated appetite equals a “double whammy,” says Ryan. And that means the person who’s lost weight can’t consume as much food as the person who hasn’t lost weight.

For example, if you weigh 230 pounds and lose 30 pounds, you cannot eat as much as an individual who has always weighed 200 pounds. You basically have a “caloric handicap,” says Ryan. And depending on how much weight people lose, they may face a 300-, 400- or even 500-calorie a day handicap, meaning you have to consume that many fewer calories a day in order to maintain your weight loss.

This means no more grapefruit or cabbage soup diets: You need a diet you can stay on forever. For most people, that means high fiber, low fat and low sugar.

But you can fight back against a lowered metabolism. You can “kick” your metabolism back up by exercising every day. One recent study found people were able to burn up an extra 450 calories a day with one hour of moderate exercise.

It doesn’t have to be vigorous jogging. You can walk briskly, bike or swim. Health experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day in order to reduce risk for heart disease. But obesity experts say if you want to lose or maintain weight, you have to double that and exercise at least one hour every day.

Giving it the old college try . . .

I’m teaching a unit on food in my freshman English classes right now and using several pieces from the healthy living section of this blog. The students seem to be enjoying them, but it is strange to be going into class every day and talking about my thoughts and experiences with them.

And it got really weird today when the subject of BMI charts came up, and I had to tell them that, according to the NIH, I am obese.

Despite the fact that I talk about this issue all the time here and encourage everyone to come out of the closet about their weight, it was still really difficult to stand in front of a room full of eighteen-year-olds and say that I fall into the obese category. I know as well as anyone how superficial and hurtful students can be, so it felt both brave and foolish to put myself out there that way.

But I told them about this because I wanted to use myself as an example of why the numbers are misleading.

Many people don’t know this, but one of the reasons we’ve seen such a spike in how many people are obese and overweight in our country is because thirteen years ago—in 1998—the NIH changed the way they determine who is overweight and who is obese, making an additional 8.5% of Americans overweight overnight.  As CNN explains, “Or, put another way, 25 million Americans who weren’t fat before are now” because the NIH changed their standards one day.

According to CNN, “Using the old criteria, the average woman — with a height of 5 feet, 4 inches (1.6 meters) and weighing 155 pounds (70 kilograms) — was considered overweight.

Under the new definition, that weight drops to 145 pounds (66 kg). A person at the same height who weighs 175 pounds (79 kg) would be considered obese.”

What this means is that we all got fatter simply because the NIH redefined what it means to be fat. As one commenter said on another blog, that’s “like redefining ‘blue’ as ‘green’ and then panicking because the sky changed color.”

I’m not trying to argue that we don’t have an obesity epidemic in this country or that we shouldn’t do something to try to counter-act it. We do and we should. One of the main reasons I created this blog was to fight obesity since I believe that dieting is a major contributor to the obesity problem.

But I also think it’s easy to get confused by the numbers. Yes, we are fatter as a country, but a big reason for the increase isn’t that our body composition has changed as dramatically as the numbers imply. It’s because someone changed the way the numbers work.

It makes me wonder what else they’re not telling us.

The bottom line is that the BMI scale is flawed. Just like any other system designed to evaluate millions of people, it’s not always accurate. I may fall into the NIH’s obese category, but I also have low blood pressure, low cholesterol, and a low resting heart rate as well as a smallish waist. Thankfully my doctor knows this is more important than the size of my thighs.

I just hope my students get that too.

Is she really with him?

I gave a talk today at the Western Kentucky University Pop Culture Colloquium called, “Really Odd Couples: The Hollywood Tendency to Pair Gorgeous Actresses with Schlubby Actors.”

I’m not going to include the entire talk here, but I thought it would be interesting to include the long list of television shows and films that are guilty of pairing average dudes with Barbie types.

If you see any I’ve missed, just let me know!
































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