For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Heaven in a spoon

Imagine this with me.

You are sitting in a comfortable restaurant - one of your favourites.  Coming here is an anticipated treat.  The waitress brings a bowl to your table, and you are immediately greeted with a warm and delicate scent that hints at a rich, savoury flavour.  Earthy mushroom.  Rich truffle oil.  Buttery garlic bread.  You see the smooth textured soup, with its speckles of mushroom pieces, artful swirl of glistening oil and a cheerful green splash of parsley at the top.  Beside the bowl is golden brown, pan toasted garlic bread.  Already, your mouth is watering in anticipation.

First, you stir the oil gently into the soup.  A new burst of glorious, delicious scent rises up with the steam as you stir.  Taking up a piece of garlic bread, you raise a spoonful of soup, rest the bottom of the spoon on the garlic bread for a moment to catch any drips, then raise the spoon to your mouth.

That first taste is a rich explosion of intense, almost meaty, yet delicate, creamy mushroom flavour.  You may not even normally like mushroom but, somehow, here it tastes heavenly.  You hold the soup in your mouth a moment, savouring the taste and the texture of mushroom bits just barely big enough to chew.  You swallow the mouthful of soup, then wait a moment for it to hit.  There!  There at the back of your mouth, a new flavour comes out - a flavour you can feel as much as you taste - as the truffle oil works its deep, rich magic.  At this point, you utterly and completely understand what the word umami means!

After a few moments of enjoyment, you take a bite of the garlic bread, where the few drops of soup from the bottom of your spoon are.  The bread is crusty and crisp; a perfectly toasted contrast to the smoothness of the soup.  The taste of real butter, enhanced with just enough garlic, melds with the flavour of the soup.  A light crunchiness on the outside, yet still soft and delicate under the crispy shell.  You chew slowly, enjoying every moment, while anticipating the next spoonful of soup.  You resist the temptation to eat quickly.  You are in no hurry.  You can allow yourself to take the time to appreciate every whiff, every spoonful, every bite of garlic bread.  Even so, the bowl is soon empty.  The garlic bread is already gone, yet you still scrape the sides of the bowl with your spoon, unwilling to let any go to waste.

When you're done, the flavours still linger.  That little bit of truffle oil is still working its magic.  There is no desire to spoil the flavours by having a sweet dessert or even a sip of water. You are completely satisfied.

Pure heaven in a spoon.

What I've just described is a wonderful treat I had today.  A couple of years back, Eldest took me out for Mother's Day to a restaurant walking distance from our home, yet we'd never gone to before.  It was a higher end place and not one we could typically afford to go to - at least not all four of us!  I'd tried an entree on special with a trio of items.  A small amount of fettuccine Alfredo, a small piece of Kobe beef lasagna and a tiny bowl of mushroom soup with a piece of garlic bread.  The fettuccine was marvelous.  It was the first time I'd had Kobe beef in anything, and I was not disappointed.  Delicious.

Yet, much to my surprise, the soup was my favourite of the three.  We finished with dessert, and I was actually regretful for that choice.  Not because there was anything wrong with the dessert - it was delicious, too - but because I regretted replacing the flavour of that soup with sweet.  For days afterwords, I would suddenly remember the taste of that soup and find myself craving it.  Some time later, Eldest and I went back.  We found the mushroom soup was available as a regular menu item in a larger bowl.  I had the soup as a starter.  I don't remember what I ordered with it.  I know I liked it - there isn't a single thing we've ordered in that restaurant that was a disappointment.  They're just really good.  Yet I wished I hadn't ordered it.  Or that I'd eaten the soup after the entree instead of before!

In the two + years since our first visit, we have gone back a few times.  Hearing Eldest and I waxing poetic about this soup, even Youngest - who doesn't like mushrooms at all - found herself wanting to try it.  She's now hooked on it, too!  Now when we go there, we rarely order anything else, and if we do, we ask to have the soup served after the entree.  On its own, the soup is very inexpensive, so this has allowed us to go more often to enjoy it.

And we do enjoy it!  Every moment of it.  It's become a treat, not only for the luxurious flavour of the soup, but as an outing together, enjoying each other's company.  As we linger over the flavours of the soup, slowly savouring every spoonful, it gives us time to chat and share our thoughts about ... oh, pretty much anything under the sun! *L*  It's not something we can do regularly or often, but when we do, it's always something special.

So why am I telling you this?  Why have I taken so much effort to describe something as mundane as eating soup? (even if it IS a fabulous soup)

Well, I discovered something rather shocking, at least to me.  Some time ago, after stumbling on the "fatosphere" and discovering blogs and websites about body acceptance and learning just how wildly uninformed I was about some health beliefs I had never even though to question, I discovered something else.  Perhaps it's because I had been thin (though not by today's standards) for most of my life and missed it, I discovered that a lot of fat people struggle with self acceptance and body dismorphia so strong, they literally don't know how to enjoy food.  In fact, some people, both fat and thin, don't even know how to eat in public.  They have been so thoroughly indoctrinated in diet culture and beaten down by the belief that they and their bodies are a source of disgust and mockery that eating in front of other people is sheer torture.  I've read heart breaking posts from people describing how painful eating in public is, with the stares, the mockery, and the judgemental comments. I simply never thought to care what the people around me might be thinking as I ate.  It didn't even occur to me that complete strangers might be judging me about my food choices based on my body size, never mind my friends or family.

Over the last while, however, I've encountered that judgemental attitude as well.  It's something that has been on the increase, and I'm seeing it from some pretty surprising sources; people I really expected to know better, and who would never have said such things in the past.  I suppose it's because I'm fat now, so I actually see it now that it's being directed at me.

I guess I'm fortunate in having somehow escaped dieting culture.  I have no guilt about eating in public.  I have no guilt about enjoying my food.  Food is meant to be enjoyed!  Food is more than just nourishing our bodies.  Food is often a sharing of precious time with our loved ones.  Food can refresh a flagging spirit.  Food can give us a well deserved break from the stress and rush of our daily lives.  Food, beautifully and skillfully prepared, can be an art form.  Food can connect us with our past.  Food can excite us about the future.

Eldest mentioned something, as we were enjoying our bowls of soup and discussing the notion that there are people who find eating in public humiliating and painful (such is the nature of our casual conversations! *L*).  She said that food is a universal language.  Like music, the sharing of food allows us to reach out and connect with others in a way beyond words or culture.

I have no doubt that there are people out there who judge me when they see me eating in public, simply because I'm fat.  People assume that if a fat person is eating something "bad," like a dessert, they are fat because they eat too much dessert.  If they see a fat person eating a salad or some other "good" food, they assume that person is being "good" by being on a diet and eating "healthy" to lose weight.  Complete strangers have no problem believing that they know what a person's health, diet and habits are, just by the size of their bodies and the fact that, the one time they've seen them, that fat person happened to be eating a "bad" food.  Or just plain eating at all.

Yes, I know there are people out there who will judge me based on my body size.  You know what?  I don't care.  They can think whatever they want.  I am still going to enjoy every savoury drop of my favourite mushroom soup in my favourite restaurant.  I'm going to enjoy the Fat Frank's cheddar smokie that I have once or twice a year.  I'm going to enjoy the delectable chicken and brie sandwich with fig jam that I've never tried before and haven't had since.  I'm even going to enjoy that spinach salad, or that fresh, perfectly ripe and fragrant necterine.  If they're disgusted by the sight of my fat body while I enjoy my food, making judgements about my dietary and lifestyle habits, they are the ones with the problem, not me.

Enjoy your food.  Enjoy eating.  Whatever your favourite food it, please give yourself permission to take pleasure in it.  Enjoy your bit of bliss on a bowl; your heaven on a spoon.

And if someone out there tries to make you feel guilty about it, they can just go stuff their judgemental attitudes where the sun don't shine.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sometimes, a facepalm just isn't enough

I've long said that logic is what people use to justify their emotional responses.

Sometimes, they don't even bother with logic.

Take this article someone shared recently.  Body scan of a 250 lbs woman vs a 120 lbs woman.

 It's an older article, but it just got passed around today by someone I really expected better from.  My surprise is not that she believes losing weight, in and of itself, is a worthy goal.  I knew that part already.  Rather it was that she apparently read this piece and didn't see the blatant ignorance of it from a mile away.

note: when I saw this post earlier today, the image was there, but as I opened it again while writing this post, the image in question was broken.  I don't know if it'll be fixed by the time you're reading this, but if not, I'll give some description.  There are two full body scan images, side by side, of two women.  The woman on the left is the 250 lb woman.  There is nothing to say what height either woman is, but in the images they appear as if they are exactly the same height.

The author of this snippet of a piece makes very sure you know this image is incentive to lose weight because she underlines that statement and uses triple exclamation points!!!

Now, keep in mind that one of these women is more than twice the weight of the other.  So what does the writer think is so shocking, she repeats it several times in different ways?

The 250 lb woman is *gasp* LARGER than the 120 lb woman.

Amazing, isn't it?  She has a bigger stomach (actually, I'm not entirely sure what in the image is clearly identifiable as a stomach).  Even her head is bigger!  And her shoulders are really wide and, wouldn't you know it, a woman who weighs more than twice that of another woman is... wait for it... "essentially twice the size..."

Okay, so that all had me eye rolling, but it was the the rest that brought out the facepalming idiocy.  Here are her statements, with my reactions.

Her hips are much wider apart (which explains why overweight women have a lot of difficulty walking)
"Overweight" women have a lot of difficulty walking?  Really?  Funny, most "overweight" women have no problem walking at all.  Of course, the woman in the image isn't "overweight."  We don't know how tall she is, so what her BMI would be is just a guess, but she would probably fall into the "morbidly obese" category.  Clearly, when the writer says "overweight" the woman in the image is what she thinks of, not the average sized woman (statistically, the average sized woman is "overweight").

Now, the writer doesn't say "some" overweight women have troubles walking.  By her statement, she's saying that all "overweight" (never mind "obese" or "morbidly obese") women have "a lot" of difficulty walking.  Their troubles are because of their hips, and the troubles with their hips are because of their fat.

That's a lot of assumptions to make in a single bullet point.

Just so you know, I weigh more than 250 pounds.  I do sometimes have troubles walking.  That's because, long before I gained the weight, I overdid things and caused damage to my feet and knees.  That damage eventually developed into post traumatic osteoarthritis and a tendency for my metatarsals to dislocate unexpectedly, my patellas to pop out of place, and my knees to sometimes bend sideways or backwards.  Despite the pain involved, however, the only difficulty I typically have walking is going down stairs.  My hips, however, are fine.  I've had the Xrays to prove it - much to the surprise of the doctor, who seemed to think I *must* have arthritis in my lower back and hips because I'm... well... you know.  Fat.

Of course, the other aspect of her assumption is that thin women don't have difficulty walking.  Which is also completely false.  Plenty of people of all sizes and shapes have difficulty walking, for a wide variety of reasons.  Meanwhile, this writer is not only assuming that fat people have "a lot" of trouble walking, and that it's because of their fat, but she is assuming that the fat woman in the image has problems walking, while the thin woman doesn't.  We, of course, have no idea if either woman has troubles walking or not.

Look at the spine at the back of her head!
 With the image broken at the time of this writing, I'll have to describe it a bit.  On the thin woman, you can clearly see the bones of her neck.  With the larger woman, however, you don't.  In fact, what you do see is muscle tissue.  The reason should be obvious; their body positions in relation to the scanned area are different.  For the larger woman, this means you're going to see more tissue than bone.  So I don't know what the writer is going on about.  She does, however, seem to have difficulty understanding basic anatomy.  The spine is under the head, not at the back of it.

Look at how far apart her feet are due to the weight around her tights and knees.
This one is a serious facepalm moment.  Never mind the declaration that they are far apart because of how fat her "tights" are.  These women are being scanned.  This means they are lying down.  If her feet are wide apart, it's because she's LYING DOWN WITH HER FEET APART.  To quote my daughter, "Do you really think she stands with her knees bucked together like an anime schoolgirl?"

Her ankles are bent (which could be due to the extra weight)
Again, the woman is lying down.  We have no way of knowing if she normally stands with her ankles bent, and judging from how much one is bent, I find it highly unlikely.  Chances are that's how her legs and feet were positioned when she went into the machine.  I've been in those machines. Once you're in, they make a big deal about not moving.  They don't even want you to breath, never mind straighten out limbs and joints.

If you’re looking for motivation to lose weight … I’d say this is a really good reason to start taking healthy eating and adopting a healthy lifestyle (aka exercise regularly) VERY seriously!
I see.  So seeing the scanned body of a fat woman next to a thin woman (who, at 120 lbs, may actually be "overweight" - we don't know how tall either woman is) is supposed to make me want to get out there and take eating "healthy" and exercising VERY seriously.  The assumption, of course, is that the fat woman doesn't eat healthy and doesn't exercise, or she wouldn't be fat, right?  It attests to the usual magical thinking of dieting - that if we just do the right things, our bodies will miraculously change their sizes and shapes to fit some cultural ideal.

Otherwise we're just not, you know, taking our health VERY seriously!

By the way, this story is running wild on the net and it’s another reminder that being overweight is not that healthy!
 Well, I don't know about this "running wild" thing, since the piece was written 7 months ago, and this is the first I've seen it.  What I'm wondering about is, looking at these body scans, on what basis does the writer claims that "being overweight is not that healthy!"  There is nothing in the scans at all to show unhealthiness.  There are no tumors.  No weird growths or distortions.  No damage visible to the joints.  Nothing at all.  Just a large woman next to a smaller woman.  We know nothing about the actual health of either of them.  The fact that one of them has more adipose tissue than the other and is SHOCK AND HORROR larger than the other is all we can see.

So why would the writer make all these assumptions?  Who is she, anyways?

Oh, look.  She has a website called "Eat Smart Age Smart."  No, I haven't clicked on the link to look at it.  I don't want to give her the clicks.  According to her bio, however, she ...

Oh dear.

She's into "detoxification" and "cell rejuvenation."

Funny.  Sounds like some of the spam I get.

She's also a chef who specializes in French cooking and eats a "French culinary lifestyle" inspired by her now-husband who "never ate preserved or fast food."

Really?  A former Parisian who has never eaten Crème fraiche?  He's never eaten cheese?  Jam or jelly?  Dried fruit?  Smoked meats?  Refrigerated or frozen food?  Pasteurized milk?  Pickles?  These are all preserved foods or methods of preservation.  Even cooking is a method of preservation.  Without preserved foods, humanity would be living like animals, scrounging our food from day to day.  So what does she really mean by "preserved foods?"

Then there's fast food.  How, exactly, does she define fast food?  And why does she seem to assume that all fast food is unhealthy or bad somehow?  Many times in history, in many cultures, people lived on what we would now call "fast food."  People bought prepared foods from street sellers to take home or eat on route to their livelihoods.  Even today, street food is the norm in come cultures.  In some eras, only the wealthy even had homes with kitchens in them (and slaves to cook their meals) at all.  "Fast food" was what everyone ate.

Of course, she is talking about "modern" fast food.  Again; how is that defined, and what makes it bad?  A quick look at the food court of any North American mall will find a huge variety of "fast foods" from around the world.  Let me see how many I can remember from one nearby mall.  There's a dim sum place, two Japanese places (one specializing in sushi), a Thai place, a Korean BBQ place, a newly opened Indian place, an Italian and a Greek place.  That's what I can remember of the ethnic foods off hand.  Then there's the usual New York Fries, Orange Julius, another juice place I can't remember the name of that specializes in "healthy" juice based drinks and more.  I think there's an A&W and a KFC.  Fresh green salads, soups, naan, pastas (rice or wheat) and so on, all for the choosing, and it's all fast food.

Okay, I could go on, but I think that's enough.

Going back to the post at hand.

What galls me is that we have this short little post that is so utterly devoid of facts, yet filled with assumptions.  That someone who shills for diet fads should write it doesn't surprise me.  That otherwise intelligent people would read this and not notice the intellectual vapidness and pass it on, however, does.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Tale of Two Festivals

Well, we've been back for a while but, as usual, summer is our busiest time, so posting will remain light.

One of the reasons for being so busy lately is all the festivals we try to take part in.  This includes an art festival where Eldest will be setting up a booth to sell her paintings.

There are two yearly art festivals in the summer, and they couldn't be more different.

One is a major enterprise.  It last something like 10 days, during which about 290,000 people attended in one year (I don't know if that's the average).  A section of downtown street is cordoned off for it.  It has a year round staff with internships, plus makes use of many volunteers.  It receives funding from all levels of government, from Federal all the way down to municipal and city, plus corporate funding.  It has an outdoor stage for musical performances, roving artists, a big tent for several larger displays, and numerous vendor kiosks.  There were a total of almost 30 gallery displays in the last few years, scattered around at various indoor locations, featuring a wide range of visual artists.  We usually manage about a quarter of them, mostly because we can't find the rest, or they're too far out of our way to make them worth seeking out.

This year, I was able to briefly check it out on opening night, then missed the rest while out of province.  This year's theme seemed to be a First Nations thing, though I'm not sure how a guy in fishnet stockings, cowboy boots and a bison skin works out (and it's bison, not buffalo, people!  You'd think they'd at least get that right).

Most of the stuff wasn't up and running when Youngest and I passed through, partly due to the foul weather, so I didn't see many of the vendors.  Some artists do have pavilions and displays of their work for sale.  Eldest had looked into getting one, but the cost was so incredibly high, it was unreachable.  Many of the vendors are actually people who stay for most, if not all, of the festivals, selling mass produced jewelry, "exotic" clothing and accessories.  Then there are the food kiosks, of course. And a beer garden.  There's almost always a beer garden at all the festivals. *L*

It's an interesting festival, but we've been liking it less each time we go.  The first thing we got tired of was the themes of previous years, which were universally anti-human.  People are evil; let me show you how by filling old cars with dirt and planting things in them.  Or sticking a bunch of garbage recycling found objects whatever onto this tall poll.  I think I would have liked the resulting displays a lot more if they didn't include preaching at me.

I think they do try to focus on local artists, though I am not sure, since we've seen so few of the gallery displays.  The live entertainment is usually quite good and very diverse.  I find it enjoyable to wander around, looking at the vendor displays, taking in the live entertainment, and enjoying certain food vendors for an annual treat of specific dishes we don't see any other time of the year.

It's an enjoyable festival, but there's one thing that doesn't happen.  People don't really buy any art.  It's there to look at, and those who can pay the exorbitant fees to put up a kiosk do hopefully sell enough to at least pay for their spot.  It is not, however, an event that is conducive to actually acquiring art.

Then there's the other festival.

This one is so completely different, it's hard to compare them. 

First off, there is no government funding of any kind.  The organizers did try that in the early days, but between the red tape and hoop jumping to qualify for grants - not to mention the strings that came attached to the money - made it more hassle than it was worth.  Especially since the cost of hiring someone to do all that used up most of the grant money they received.

There are no streets blocked off for it.  Instead, local merchants sponsor the festival and allow the festival organizers to use their frontage.  There is an application process for artists who want to take part, and they pay a nominal fee for their spots, based on the size.  Many of these spots are strips of sidewalks in front of stores.  Others are large enough to set up a small shelter (we have a 9'x9' folding gazebo, some string up tarps, while others just hope the weather is good).  The artists are required to actually be working on something while at their display, whether it's painting or sculpting, or whatever.  The artists are spread out along both sides of a major street, with a couple of side areas on some green spaces where there's a bit of extra room.  The artists can't block the sidewalks or store entrances, since pedestrian traffic has to be able to go through unimpeded, but otherwise can set up however they wish.  The organisers offer a lot of support for the artists, including giving advice on how to best market their wares, set up their displays, and prepare for being at the festival itself for 3 days (such as having sun hats or sunscreen, water bottles, etc.).

This year, there are about 400 artists taking part - the number has steadily increased over the years - plus a secondary location was found for crafters to sell their wares as well.  The festival lasts only three days, and about 300,000 people attend it.  For some artists, such as a co-worker of my husband's, this annual festival is the only time they put their art up for sale.  Over the years it's been found that, for many people, this festival is where they bought art for the first time.  It's also been found that these same first time art buyers often become life-long collectors of art, coming back year after year specifically to add to their collections.  People going to the festival have a chance to watch the artists at work and talk to them about their pieces.  For many of the artists, this festival is where they made their break into being a professional, as Eldest did, and is a major kick-start to their careers. 

The entire mood of this festival is completely different from the first one I described.  It is open, accessible and utterly unpretentious.  The artists and patrons interact with each other directly.  Fellow artists strike up conversations with each other, with experienced artists gladly giving advice to new artists, trading tips, stories and getting to know each other.  They even watch out for each others booths for bio-breaks.  It's also a fine example of free market capitalism!

In fact, other than both festivals being centred on art, they are pretty much complete opposites.

I know which one I prefer!