fitness · Guest Post

There and Back Again: Part 1

I am fortunate to be able to travel for work and family, sometimes. On occassion when I travel for work, I bring my family along. This post is the first of a 3-part series on how I stayed physically active this summer while travelling with my kiddos. I hope the series is of some help to folks in re/thinking about whether it’s feasible to pursue fitness activities with kids in tow. Please note that while mine were 14 and 11 this summer, I’ve been able to do a number of activities with them while traveling over the years by taking their stamina into account and not underestimating them. We’ve done some awesome stuff that I’ve never blogged about (hiking on the Isle of Skye when the kids were 11 and 8 springs to mind). This summer was no exception. Well, except that now I am blogging about it.

The author rocking a most fashionable rented bike helmet

This summer, my spouse had other commitments when I was scheduled to travel to Rome for a conference, and yet I very much wanted to bring the children. They’re both borderline obsessed with ancient history and Roman mythology (thanks, Rick Riordan and Doctor Who). I rounded up a good friend of mine, Randi Papke, a woman whose son is friends with my eldest (both 14 at the time of our travels) and we made such plans! So, really, parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part series are There and Back Again With Two Women Over The Age of 40 And Their Kids. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to my kids the same way I do on social media as Son 1 (age 14) and Son 2 (age 11), and will refer to Randi’s son as, well, Randi’s son.

When we first started talking about traveling in Rome, I asked the three kids to each pick out something they wanted to be sure to do in Italy. While Son 1 had the simple request of finding a store that sold cards in his favorite fantasy game, Son 2 asked for what he always asks for when we travel: a cool bike ride unlike anything we could do at home. No problem, for a mere mile from our AirBnB in Rome lay one of the great wonders of Roman engineering: the Via Appia Antica which once connected Rome with Brindisi, allowing trade (and military movement) to travel hundreds of miles on a cobblestone surface from central Italy to the far southeastern corner of Italy, or what you might think of as the heel of the boot which is the metaphor so often used for the shape of Italy. And along that nearby stretch of the Via Appia Antica lay a large archaeological park in which Catholic Church buildings and homes coexist with sites thousands of years old, including several catacombs open for tours. Given this combination of factors, every single one of the five of us was pretty excited about this option. In fact, we looked forward to it for months.

When we finally arrived in Rome in July, we looked at the weather forecast and blanched: with the exception of one day early on and right at the end, it would be well over 90 Fahrenheit (about 33 Celsius) most days. So we decided to do our bikes trip our first full day in the city when it would only be in the high 80s F (30 C or so). We walked through the neighborhoods between us and the bike rental shop handily located at the northern end of the archaeological park, discovering along the way a grocery store, a whole host of serviceable apartment buildings with balconies trailing flowering vines and verdant with vegetable plants, and grates in the streets filled with cigarette butts. A small detail, but it struck me.

We also passed, at the edge of the archaeological park near the bike shop, one of Rome’s famous Nasoni. These public water fountains take a variety of shapes, but Nasoni (“big noses”) all have crystal clear ice-cold safe drinking water running constantly. Some, like the one at the Vatican Museum, are embedded in statuary. Others, like the one we stumbled across at the edge of the park, are humbly functional and, in the weather we were about to experience, entirely welcome at every turn. We refilled our water bottles and continued on to find our bikes.

The nasone on the edge of the archaeological park. It is a tall grey cylinder with small decorations such as a leaf pattern carved into the domed top. A spigot sticks out the side, and clear water streams from it. The part of the Nasoni below the spigot is brownish-greenish from algae growth but the water and the metal of the spigot are pristine.

The EcoBike shop appears on maps as Centro Servizi Appia Antica. It has bikes for children as well as adults–not as good as our ones at home, but perfectly serviceable–as well as a wide range of bike helmets and bike locks. They also rent e-bikes and electric golf carts for folks who might have reasons to not pedal as their primary source of power, and offer tours on bike or otherwise. But we are the ride-around-a-self-guided-tour sort of folks, so it was much appreciated when EcoBike staff provided a map of the archaeological park and oriented us to traffic patterns including how to take a side street with very few cars until we got to the section of the Via Appia Antica where cars are no longer allowed except for residents. Not coincidentally, it turned out, that section is also the one that is paved with ancient cobbles which you can technically ride a bike on but which we found ourselves moving up onto the well-worn dirt paths on the side to avoid. I wouldn’t have wanted to bike the rest of Rome without a better sense of the local unspoken rules of the road, but this experience was no trouble at all. The few vehicles we encountered seemed to expect to encounter us, and were slow and patient.

Son 2 circling back to see whether I was slow due to taking pictures or just… slow.

The views were pretty amazing right from the get go, with ruins just casually scattered, well… everywhere. The local cicadas filled the air with their hot summer buzz, and a good cross-breeze added to the wind of our passage without giving us too much of a headwind. In short order, we discovered astoundingly old and modern things along it dating back 2000 years and as recently as pretty darned modern, and also bars and eateries and nasoni at regular intervals.

I was, at this particular moment, a bad blogger as I completely failed to make a note of which structure this was. There were so. many. structures. It was amazing.

We were surprised to discover that a number of the sites, including the first catacombs we stopped at, were closed for the noon hour. This is pretty common, as we would learn. So we carried on until we came to one that was open continuously. We stopped to enter, buy tickets for a tour, grab some ice cream while we waited to be able to enter the catacombs, and then see what there was to be seen at the Catacombs of San Sebastian. The ice cream was, by this point, a needful thing. Everyone got something containing sugar at cold temperatures while we waited in the shade on the not-as-cool-as-you’d-think marble steps.

Son 2 knows where it’s at on a hot day after some hard work.

One of the folks working the snack bar had a tip jar out for a very charming reason so I dropped them a Euro in support.

A tip jar in a snack bar at the Catacombs of San Sebastian reads “Help I need Money for Techno Party”

The catacombs of San Sebastian were well worth the few Euros for a tour down into the coolness below the earth, out of the hot and the sun, our hair already caked with dried sweat. The history was only half the draw, but such history! No pictures allowed, alas, below ground. The catacombs themselves were the Ur catacombs, as it were: the first below-grown burial chambers to be called “catacomb.” When Christianity first spread to Rome, its adherents did not follow Roman cremation traditions. Instead, they needed a place to put their dead that would not leave them prone to being eaten by wild animals or destroyed by their persecutors. The abandoned quarry beyond the city walls that became the catacombs of San Sebastian was perfect for these purposes. But the church above ground was magnificent, with a ceiling decorated in a style not unlike the Sistine Chapel but in much bolder colors and textures, with trays demarcating one piece of art from another but covering the entire surface in a riot of gilt and jewel tones. No inch of that ceiling was left unattended.

We left the church of San Sebastian and sat for a moment in the shaded courtyard behind the cafe under flowering vines until everyone was feeling up for pedaling on through the hotness. We had, in what would have been clever if it hadn’t been so fortuitous, spent the brightest part of the blazingly sunny day underground and inside or sitting in the shade with cold drinks/food.

The Via Appia Antica recedes into the distance, lined with tall narrow evergreen trees. To the left, we see a ruined segment of wall, and behind it a modern home with a bright green garage door and a small white car parked in front of it. To the right, we see a low wall and a black sign reading, in both Italian and English, “The Ancient Via Appia, with its monuments and trees, is an indivisible and unique complex, recognizes as a monument of significant national interest. It symbolizes a monumental historical landmark of everyone’s heritage. You have to respect and protect it for future generations.” There are also some QR codes which we could presumably have used to pull up further information, in different languages.

We carried on and began to reach the old parts of the road, a combination of more recent tiny even cobbles and old giant square-foot cobbles worn by thousands of years of traffic in which one could sometimes see what might have been wagon wheel ruts.

On the left, you see a close up of the worn, giant cobbles. This part was very uncomfortable to ride on and we hopped up onto more recent even cobbles along the side or, farther down the road, up onto worn tracks in the soft arid dirt on either side of the road. The cobbles shine in the sun, pitted by the years. On the right, Randi pushes on ahead of me, riding on the more recent even cobbles with the oldest part of the road to the side. The kids are way in front. Behind the walls are residences.

We did reach a point where we just couldn’t go any farther having decided we were about halfway done. The road surface and the heat had taken its toll. Before we turned around and headed back, though, we took a group selfie. We weren’t out of good, yet!

Left to Right: Me, then taller Son 1 and shorter Son 2, then Randi’s Son, then Randi. We are all smiling, having decide to just sweat and not worry about it. You can see the soft dirt paths alongside the ancient cobbles and, in the distance, ruined walls soft with erosion as well as Italy’s distinctive stone pine AKA “umbrella pines” whose lower branches self-prune as they grow to great heights.

Along the way back, we stopped at a sandwich shop. It was delicious, but a lot of the flavor came from hunger which is, as they say, the best sauce. The cold beer Randi had was, she attested, perhaps more necessary than any cold beer that came before it.

It was a footsore, butt bouncing delight to walk to the Via Appia Antica, ride it, walk around, ride back, and return on foot. I confess that for the last mile or so of the ride, I was up on my pedals cause ain’t no way my butt was going to sit that seat another second. Up on pedals, wind in your hair through the slats in the helmet, on a good surface after a hard day’s work in the hot sun with an ancient city laid out before you kinda can’t be beat.

I took two videos for y’all if you want a sense of it, at different points on the ride, first farther out on the road where the trees and the fields open up (well outside what would have been the city walls of old Rome) and then on our way back in to return the bikes passing through the residential area. You can hear the cicadas hard at work, and the bicycle bell on my bike gently tinging from the bumps.

When we got back to our place, replete and exhausted, I noticed the literal mark of a good day riding.

The author’s leg, taken from above. There is a big dirty tire mark up the middle of her shin.

Next up in Part 2 of There and Back Again: we flee the heat and crowds of the city of Rome for an afternoon in the hills kayaking and swimming in a volcanic crater lake.


Scorn and Fetishization of Food: Gender Norms, Bacon (mmm… bacon), and Pumpkin Spice Lattes (like, yum!)

AUTHOR’s NOTE: This blog entry includes image captions that are rich image descriptions to convey the most relevant content to readers who don’t perceive the same content in the images as does the author, for whatever reason. As they do contain content, I recommend reading them where you might otherwise skip captions.

Feminist philosopher Sandra Bartky has written that femininity is a disciplinary regime that not only subjects women to the judgment of the male gaze but also, in a modernization of patriarchal power, causes them to internalize those judgments and recast them on both other women and upon themselves whenever they turn their mind’s eye upon their own bodies and behaviors.  Masculinity also functions in this way, preventing men from being their full selves and penalizing them for deviating from gender norms. However, as Marilyn Frye has observed, men who restrict themselves in order to conform to gender norms gain social power (taking up more space, dominating discussions, exerting power, etc.) by doing so while women lose social power (becoming smaller, giving way in discourse, attaching themselves to those in power, etc.). In this blog entry, I am going to take these ideas about the power of gender norms, which includes food behaviors, and apply them to a bit of internet culture that has come across my radar recently in the form of a meme.


CAPTION: The image shows a screenshot of a discussion forum in which a user says “the social acceptability of bacon culture vs. the hatred of pumpkin spice culture” and “this is an example of misogyny. because male interests are always cool and female interests are always shameful.”

Now, it is certainly possible that the simple fact that many women like bacon and many men like pumpkin spice is a counterexample for this argument. However, almost none of the images and text I have found in internet culture associate bacon with femininity and pumpkin spice lattes with masculinity, while many do the reverse.  I believe there is something to this claim however simple it’s presentation here.  It is not simply who has the interests. Rather, it is that the interests pertain to food. And food is highly gendered. Indeed, the positive valence of bacon in internet culture, combined with the negative valence of pumpkin spice in internet culture, indicates that something else is likely at work.

Consider the following series of images which illustrate these valences and some of their content.


CAPTION: There are 4 memes in a 2×2 grid.  One shows actor and action movie star Liam Neeson looking very serious with the text “If you try to pass off turkey bacon as real bacon one more time I WILL FIND YOU AND KILL YOU.”  A second shows celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey yelling at an Asian woman in the kitchen and saying “This bacon is so undercooked it’s trying to pull me over for speeding.” A third shows a picture of rapper Xzibit smiling and laughing with the text “You dawg I heard you like bacon. So I put bacon on your bacon so you can eat bacon with your bacon.”  The fourth and final image shows the Dos Equis beer brand’s spokesman (The Most Interesting Man In The World) with the text “I don’t always eat bacon. But when I do, I put extra bacon on my bacon.”

Note how the visual and textual content is masculine: not only are men overwhelmingly pictured, but many are aggressive, as in the Liam Neeson image in which he delivers a bacon-related threat while maintaining a stoic face, and the image of a celebrity chef yelling at kitchen staff for improperly preparing bacon. Note also that the Neeson meme specifically not only lauds bacon from pigs, but demeans the lower salt, lower fat bacon made from turkeys. I doubt it is a coincidence that lower salt and lower fat turkey bacon has a connotation of being better for dieting, and dieting in turn has a feminine connotation. Consider the experiments conducted by Luke Zhu and his colleagues on priming—how culture imprints concepts in our minds—and food.  Zhu’s team asked 93 adults to consider the following foods and say whether they were masculine or feminine: baked chicken vs. fried chicken, baked potatoes vs. French fries, light potato chips versus regular potato chips, and baked fish versus fried fish.  People tended to see healthier options as feminine and unhealthier ones as masculine.

The images above also involve excessive consumption, itself a kind of unhealthy risk-taking: would you like bacon on your bacon? Xzibit is ready to offer you some and the Most Interesting Man In The World always has extra!  Compare this with the classic image of women eating small salads alone with apparently great joy.


CAPTION: This image, a screen shot of Google search results for the term “women eating salad”, shows many women eating small bowls of salad smiling and laughing, alone, while they move food towards their mouths, but never actually chewing. Most appear to be white, though there is one who may be racialized as Asian. None would be deemed black, and few could be racialized latina on appearance alone.

Both aggression and excessive consumption are traits associated with what RW Connell calls hegemonic masculinity. This form of masculinity is the one that is dominant in a given culture, and generally promotes the dominant social position of men while subordinating the social position of even gender-conforming women and of other people with subordinate or non-conforming gender identities. In US culture, it tends to be characterized by violence/aggression, emotional restraint except with respect to anger displays, dominance displays, risk-taking, and competitiveness.  All of this helps to make sense of why eating fatty, salty meat in large quantities lines up with hegemonic masculinity quite so well.  As writer Juliana Roth has said,

Embedded into our very cultural fabric is a connection between meat and the stereotypical masculine realms of American life: sports, weight lifting, bar culture, cars, running a family. Imagine the Super Bowl without buffalo wings, or watching March Madness over salads instead of burgers and beer.

Now consider the scrutiny that women fall under when they eat in public, where women’s eating is too often seen as shameful.  Indeed, the constant notion that one’s behavior, like one’s body, is subject to the gaze of others—and the internalization of this gaze—is classic Bartky-style disciplinary regime. Such regimes are meant to control, not to benefit the one who is disciplined.

As I have written elsewhere: “There is some pretty good evidence that dieting and food surveillance do indeed result in disordered eating and in unhealthful weight-control behaviors.  Emphasis on food control and shaming as a means of meeting social expectations has serious pitfalls…”  With this in mind, let us return to the subject of the original comment that sparked this reflection, and consider how pumpkin spice latte consumption is often—not always, but illuminatingly frequently—framed.  Consider the following illustrative memes, how they interpolate the consumer of pumpkin spice latte as female, and what attitudes or behaviors or dress or other characteristics are associated with that consumer.


CAPTION: These four images are common internet memes about pumpkin spice latte consumption. The first image shows Ryan Gosling, whose “hey, girl…” has amusingly been adopted for feminist Ryan Gosling memes. This, however, is not perhaps so feminist. Over Ryan Gosling’s image, stoic-faced in a plain white t-shirt with his arm muscles showing, are the words “Hey girl, I got you a pumpkin spice latte, let’s stay home and talk about our favorite parts of fall.”  In the second image, a background of an autumn tree has upon it the words “If you look in the mirror and say ‘pumpkin spice latte’ three times, a white suburban girl in yoga pants will appear and tell you everything she loves about fall.”  In the third image, there is only an orange background and the words “I spilled my Pumpkin Spice Latte, and now a bunch of ants are making brunch plans and doing yoga.”  In the fourth image, we have a version of the “first world problems” meme type which always uses the same image of a white woman crying; the overlying text says “I want a pumpkin spice latte. But Starbucks doesn’t sell them until September.”  In the final image, a Tampax box is pictured with an orange stripe across it, orange wrappers seen through the transparent portion of the box, and the words “pumpkin spice” across the orange stripe.

As we can see, all four of these portrayals of pumpkin spice are heavily gendered—is there anything more gendered than feminine hygiene products? They also tend to conceive of the pumpkin spice latte not just as female, but as a “girl” rather than a woman, thus implying immaturity.

However, the above images are also raced and classed: “white suburban girl” in “yoga pants”, and the implicit “first world problems” nature of the fact that these beverages cannot be consumed at Starbucks until September.  This complicates matters somewhat. I would be interested to hear the reader’s thoughts on the role of race and class, as well as gender, in social judgments on food.  I am sure we can think of types of food or ways of consuming food that are raced, classed, and gendered.  One of the most distressing stereotypes of black southern folks is the “fried chicken and watermelon” allusion, which is also associated with inarticulate, lazy, easily frightened, useless buffoons. This racialized food imagery has been used in the media by some people to re-center President Obama’s and Michelle Obama’s blackness (search “Obama” in the previous link) and was used by a private girls’ school in Northern California to incorporate Black History Month into lunch time with a lunch of these items and cornbread.

But for the moment, let’s leave what I believe to be the clear fact that pumpkin spice latte is a food that is raced, gendered, and classed.  Let’s look at some of the demeaning responses to pumpkin spice latte consumption.


CAPTION: There are four images. The first image is a modified cell from a Batman and Robin comic book. It shows a costumed Batman slapping Robin across the face as though to snap him out of some delusional state. Robin is saying “Pumpkin Spice Latte, Pumpkin Spice Cookies, Pumpkin Spice…” and Batman, while hitting him, is saying “PUMPKINS ARE FOR CARVING!” in much bigger text as though yelling. In the second image, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey is seen leaning forward, bent at the waist, face fully forward, yelling “PUMPKING SPICE?!? The only ‘flavor’ I want in my coffee is whisky!”  In the third image, a deliberately stereotypically dorky looking man is smiling and laughing in self-mockery.  The words overlayed on the image say “I like pumpkin spice. F*ck me, right?” In the final image, we see a light-skinned woman with long dark hair, smiling with her chin resting on her hand. The superimposed words say “If liking pumpkin spice lattes & wearing uggs makes me a basic white girl, than [sic] please, just call me Becky.” This latter is a reference to a line from a Beyonce song in which the narrator tells her lover that if he is going to treat her badly he can just call “Becky with the good hair,” whereas Urban Dictionary defines a “basic girl” as “your run of the mill white girl that has no identity of her own… like a cracker-jack house in a middle class neighborhood.”

Like the bacon responses to turkey bacon, these demeaning responses to consumption of pumpkin spice latte are masculinized, aggressive and sometimes even violent, in one case valuing alcohol consumption over flavoring in a clear kind of risk-taking, and even in one case self-directed (for failing to meet masculinity norms). Note the reoccurrence of a certain celebrity chef who seems to crop up in masculine food memes. Disliking pumpkin spice latte is strongly associated with masculine ways of expressing dislike, as in these popular memes. And like the images of pumpkin spice latte consumption more generally, they are not only gendered but also classed (Uggs) and raced (“basic white girl”; “call me Becky”).

I’ve tried to show how gender, class, and race are working in reinforcing ways to frame our thinking about pumpkin spice latte consumption, but I think that bacon is framed almost exclusively in terms of gender.  Agree or disagree with respect to my claims about these particular foods, it is clear that there is some loaded rhetoric here, carrying a heavy cargo of gendered fetishization and scorn. And even when bacon and pumpkin spice lattes are long gone, some foods will continue to carry such cargo.

Now, I am off to eat bacon with my hands and drink me a pumpkin spice latte while wearing trousers and a good bra.