fitness · food

The pressure of cooking

First there was food.

Produce at an open market.
Produce at an open market.

Then, there was food porn.

Soon after came food morality.

Now, there’s emergency cooking advice. Not for the kind of emergency that requires baking soda or a fire extinguisher. No, I’m talking about how cooking advice has taken on a high-stakes life-or-death tone. That is, we are told that if we don’t buy fresh/organic/local/etc and cook it in healthy (to whomever’s doling out the advice) ways, we and our families and friends will suffer the consequences. So for goodness’ sake, don’t ever fry chicken. Why not? Check this out.

Caption reading– Research: eating fried chicken increases your risk of death by 13%.

In a new book, Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It, the authors take a look at the advice we are given to grow our own food, buy it from the most local and fresh sources, cook it in specific ways with specific spices, and make sure that we and our families and others eat it the way this complex (and time-consuming and expensive) process intended it to be consumed. Here’s what one reviewer said about it:

[In the book]…the anthropologists Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott do not deny the value of healthy, home-cooked dinners. Instead, they argue that the way our food gurus talk about dinner is fundamentally disconnected from the daily lives of millions of Americans, especially but not exclusively low-income Americans.

… When Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Jamie Oliver preach their influential, well-compensated sermons about how you—yes, you!—can (and should) improve your family members’ lives by buying healthier food and preparing it at home, they implicitly frame the quality of our dinners as something over which we all wield a considerable degree of control.

If you aren’t doing dinner right, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough for your family: not shopping smartly enough, not doing the right prep work, not using the best recipes. In addition to creating a lot of angst and guilt whenever we fall short, this censorious approach shifts our collective attention away from the bigger forces shaping our lives and meals, blocking the way to more realistic solutions located beyond the kitchen.

The authors interviewed 150 women in North Carolina, most of them with low incomes. What did they find? Of course the women wanted to cook healthy meals, using fresh food. But they were constrained by:

  • food budget
  • time
  • family food preferences
  • local food traditions
  • did I mention money?
  • oh, and time– worth repeating

How do we respond to the pressure to cook, come what may?

Often, the way we talk about food makes it sound like fixing our meals will fix everything else: heal our bodies, save the environment, restore our family bonds. The proposed solutions in Pressure Cooker flip this equation on its head: Fix the big stuff—reduce poverty, recognize food as a human right—and families will figure out their own dinners just fine.

This makes sense to me. Taking the pressure off cooking to solve all the world’s problems is a good idea. Even better, taking the pressure off (mostly) women to tackle all the world’s problems by making the perfect meal and force-feeding it to their loved ones and friends is a good plan. We all have much bigger fish to fry.

Readers, do you feel pressured to cook certain foods certain ways? When? What do you do about it? I’d love to hear from you.

competition · eating · food

Competitive Eating: Is Excelling at This Good for Women? Good for Anyone? #tbt

We are in the middle of a deep freeze here and I’m drawn to this past post to totally take my mind off of it. Here, I considered the case of competitive eating and whether it’s something we should be impressed with.

I confess that I love the idea that this 120 pound woman can scarf down a 72 ounce steak and all the accompaniments in record-breaking time because it challenges stereotypes. It’s also fascinating (that’s the best word i can come up with) to watch her in action.

But my thoughts about competitive eating haven’t really changed. Of the various things we can aim to be good at, shoving down as much food as we can in as little time as possible doesn’t seem like the most worthy of pursuits. And could even be dangerous and is almost certainly bad for one’s health. Nevertheless, here you are. Draw your own conclusion. And Go, Molly!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Molly Schuyler with a 72 ounce steak dinner.Last week I saw a report of a competitive “achievement,” in which a small woman did what no one expected her to do.  Now, I’m usually pleased by this sort of thing. I like it when women, large or small, do things that defy “type.”

But this time I wasn’t so sure about the achievement. Molly Schuyler from Nebraska is a competitive eater. She weighs just 120 pounds.  What did she do?

She ate TWO 72 ounce steak dinners in less than 20 minutes at Amarillo’s Big Texan Steak Ranch. This happened in May, but it got another round of attention when it got recycled by Fox news in January.

My reservations don’t stem from my vegan convictions.  It’s nothing like that at all.

It’s just that in the realm of things that it’s a good thing for women to be good at, competitive eating doesn’t make my…

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addiction · advertising · alcohol · fitness · food · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings

Canada’s New Food Guide

By MarthaFitat55

Health Canada released its long awaited update to its food guide this week and the response has been swift. Overall I quite like it, and I wrote about it here in my bi-weekly column. The old food guide was prescriptive (eat something from these four food groups and here’s how much). The new food guide is much more aspirational and as I wrote, it reflects diversity in food choice and food culture.

I thought I would pull together a bunch of responses to the guide in this post. The Globe and Mail has several pieces I liked, with the first from one from Andre Picard, the Globe’s health reporter, in which he looks at food insecurity and the food guide’s recommendations. Leslie Beck, the Globe’s dietitian commentator, offers up her thanks for Health Canada’s building a guide on science while Ann Hui also of the Globe and Mail, provides a good overview of the key changes here.

Cassandra Lszklarski from the Canadian Press focuses on the guide’s position on alcohol. Health Canada has stepped away from recommending milk as the preferred beverage and tells us to drink more water. At the same time, it is also came out strongly against alcohol consumption (non drinkers shouldn’t start for example). Previous guides highlighted the sugar and calories in alcohol, but this version talks about the links between alcohol and obesity, cancer, and addiction.

Yoni Freedhoff looks at the implications for institutional change. On Weighty Matters, Freedhoff’s blog, he wrote how the new food guide is a radical departure from previous more modest iterations:

“Whether it was consequent to past criticisms, or the insulation of the revision process from the food industry, or a change in leadership, or some combination of those and more factors, the 2019 Food Guide is incredibly different from all of its predecessors. Gone is dairy as its own food group (that doesn’t mean the guide is recommending against dairy consumption), gone is wishy-washy language that excused refined grains, gone are explicit recommendations to consume 2 glasses of milk and 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oils daily, gone is overarching fat-phobia, gone is juice being a fruit and vegetable equivalent, gone is the notion that sugar-sweetened milk is a health food, and gone is an antiquated nutrient-focused approach.”

Freedhoff also talks about what to do next, now that the food guide is out without its dependence on food-based marketing recommendations. In this post, he looks at what needs to change for good healthy food policy to happen. Freedhoff describes them as hills but they include removal of fast food from schools, a national school food policy, a ban on food marketing to children, implementation of a soda tax, removal of front of package claims, and an overhaul of supplement regulation.

The food insecurity issue is one that I will be looking at in the future, but in the meantime, I am excited by the new food guide and what it means for reflecting diversity and health on my plate.

What do you think? How important has the food guide been in managing your nutritional needs? What do you like or dislike about Health Canada’s guide?

— Martha Muzychka is a writer living in St. John’s who swims, lifts and walks as much as she can.

diets · eating · fitness · food · holiday fitness · holidays · Martha's Musings · nutrition · season transitions

T’is the season to detox yourself from cleanses, diets and weird wellness claims

By MarthaFitat55

It’s not even December 1 and I have been seeing a non-stop stream of ads, posts and recommended links on all manner of cleanses. Some are short, some are long, some are liquid, and some are minimal. All are useless.

Timothey Caulfield at the University of Alberta debunks the latest holiday cleanses in this article. Caulfield writes:

The idea that we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies seems to have become a culturally accepted fact. This feels especially true around the holidays which are associated with heavy foods and even heavier shame about what that turkey and gravy and wine might be doing to our insides. After a weekend of indulgence, wellness gurus cry, your body is begging for a detox. But is it?

 While there is something to be said for countering a week (or two) of indulgence with lighter fare, unless you were born liver-less or you lost your liver along the way, the human body has its own detox system right inside you: the aforementioned liver and kidneys.

 There’s a huge market out there and if you build it, make it, sell it, they will come. The promises are endless but the long and short of it is simple: today’s cleanses and detox programs are primarily designed to relieve you of your money.

The sellers of these cleanses rely on fear and vanity, and also on society’s preoccupation on thinness. The messages are often wrapped upin social beliefs about health and wellness.

 We empower people to take charge of their health, especially women who are often responsible for managing their well being along with those of their families. Who wants to be known as someone who does not care about their health? Not me.

While the social imperative to diet, to cleanse, to eat clean is present year-round, there seems to be special pressure in December to do any number of things to ensure we have the perfect body.

 All the ads I have seen lead me to believe that we must cleanse the body the same way we cleanse our homes for special occasions this time of year. In January, when the new year has begun and we barely have had time to vacuum the pine needles and expunge the last piece of glitter from our homes, we get a different chorus but still with the same tune.

I suggest, if we are to cleanse anything, it is these sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy approaches to wellness.

So if you are confused and challenged by all that you see, remember this: everything in moderation. Your body will do what it needs to do. Fuel it appropriately.  Move lots (preferably outside if it isn’t blowing a gale). Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Have fun.

MarthaFitat55 lives and writes in St. John’s.

body image · eating · fitness · food · inclusiveness · media

Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” redefines cooking shows in the best way

Cooking shows… some are great and some less so, but many of them – at least until recently – have had one thing in common: if they were about high-level cuisine, they were mostly male (and white). If they were about everyday home cooking, they were mostly female (and also white). In the past couple of years or so, this has slowly begun to change. Netflix has been at the forefront of this development with its original productions. Ugly Delicious was still mostly male, but at least less white. Chef’s Table still explores a lot of male, Western white chefs, but also really interesting women and people from countries outside of the traditional Michelin star circuit (Ana Roš from Slovenia, for instance, Musa Dağdeviren from Turkey, or Cristina Martínez, a Mexican chef living in the US undocumented).

But BAM, up shows Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and with her Netflix-produced show of the same name, changes everything we know to be true about cooking shows. Nosrat, an American of Iranian descent, explores these four key elements of great cooking through the lenses of different countries. The Salt episode takes place mostly in Japan. For Fat, she goes to Italy. Acid is set in Mexico, and finally Heat focuses on her own kitchen. She is genuinely curious and appreciative of everything the locals she interviews for her show tell her, and constantly relates it back to her own culinary upbringing, but without overpowering the stories of her interview partners.

Mussakhan.JPG
No direct connection to Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this is a meal that’s been a favourite in our household lately: Mussakhan, a Middle Eastern dish that involves chicken marinated with red onions, lemon juice, and sumac. In Samin Nosrat’s words: “It’s so good!”. Make it, you won’t be sorry (recipe here).

She’s unapologetic about her own enjoyment of food. Samin Nosrat’s relationship to eating seems so healthy and natural. It’s so good! she exclaims again and again, and you can’t not start salivating as you watch. I mean, imagine – a whole episode about fat without one single remark along the lines of ‘guilty pleasures’, ‘I shouldn’t really’, ‘just this once’…?! In a cooking show presented by a woman? This is unheard of. She even asks for more. This is how it should be, but too many times sadly it’s not.

In a world where women are constantly shamed for enjoying food, where exercise is frequently framed in terms of dieting and weight loss (women must work out so they can eat), and where talking about food in public is still defined by gender and racial stereotypes, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is huge. It’s refreshing, genuine, and heartwarming. Highly recommended! Also, you can get some of the recipes from the show on its website. A-ma-zing.

(Other people have written much more eloquently than I ever could about the impact of this show, see e.g. here, and here.)

fit at mid-life · fitness · food · health · nutrition · training

Visit Tracy at the NJ VegFest 2018 this weekend

Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading "Speakers" on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and "Chef Demos" on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.
Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading “Speakers” on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and “Chef Demos” on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.

Hey everyone! Exciting times. I’m going to be one of the speakers at the New Jersey VegFest at Meadowlands Expo Centre this weekend. My talk, “Feminist Fitness Is for Everyone, including Vegans,” is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 6th. I’ll talk about what feminist fitness is, how Sam and I took that approach for our Fittest by 50 Challenge, the blog, the book, and being a vegan athlete at mid-life.  They’ll be selling copies of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (Greystone Books, 2018) and I’ll be sticking around after my talk to chat, sign books (whether you buy it there or bring it with you), and of course eat!  [I might also talk a little bit about my next book project, which is about ethical veganism and the expectation of moral perfection that vegans and non-vegans alike seem to adopt]

Marisa Sweeney and Kendra Arnold are the two main organizers and ever since they asked me to do this I’ve been following the NJ VegFest scene with envy. It’s not limited to this event — there was an Atlantic City VegFest in the summer (with a 10K run) where Scott Jurek spoke. Marisa and Kendra do an outstanding job and I can’t wait to experience one of their events first hand and to meet them.

It looks as if it’s going to be an amazing time, quite apart from my talk. There are going to be chef demos, other speakers, and loads of vendors serving up delicious vegan food. If you want to get a preview, I suggest following @njvegfest on Instagram.

One of the things Sam and I love most about the blog is the community that has sprung up around us. If you do decide to come, please please please say “hi.” I would love that.

I also have a favour to ask of people who live in the Manhattan area. Anita and I will be looking for a good running route on Sunday morning to do about 15K. If you have any recommendations for where we might do that distance without encountering too many traffic lights we’d love to hear from you.

Here’s the Sunday line-up for the VegFest:

Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. "Food Justice Panel," with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; "Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel," with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; "Chef Demos" with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.
Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. “Food Justice Panel,” with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; “Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel,” with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; “Chef Demos” with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.

 

fitness · food

Popular food researcher discredited– what to think now about our eating?

Food researcher and Cornell Professor Brian Wansink, author of the popular book Mindless Eating, has been in the news lately. 13 of his published articles have been retracted by peer-reviewed journals, including 6 articles retracted by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). They were retracted because several researchers found inconsistencies and major methodological flaws in the work.

What does this mean? Things like using the same data to test multiple research questions (also called p-hacking), not keeping track of original data, and using the same results across multiple papers, mixing them in with other data and offering inconsistent reports on them.  All in pursuit of a statistically significant result that confirms the researcher’s intuition about what’s going on.

After detailed investigation by researchers, the journals, and also by Cornell, Brian Wansink resigned from the university.

You may have read or seen his work on how we can eat less by doing some of the following:

  • use smaller bowls and plates
  • use lighter-colored bowls and plates
  • don’t eat while watching action shows on TV
  • don’t buy large-sized containers of food (like those sold at warehouse stores)
  • put apples on the kitchen counter
  • put snacks into 100-calorie portions for eating

Wansink is perhaps most famous for his “Bottomless soup bowl” experiment. His group set up 4-person tables with soup bowls for people to come in and eat the soup. Secretly, they rigged one of the bowls with a tube that made that soup bowl keep from emptying (up to about a liter). They noted how much soup everyone ate.  Their result: people who ate from the rigged soup bowl consumed 73% more soup than the other people. You can find more about the study here.

I’m very disheartened by Wansink’s academic misconduct for a lot of reasons. First, I was really impressed by his research more than 10 years ago; it confirmed what I thought, namely that our food environment influences what and how and when and how much we eat.  This is still broadly true, by the way. However, the specific results Wansink provided (like that people eat more chicken wings in restaurants when you take away the bones as they are eating) may not be true.

I’ve cited Wansink’s articles dozens of times in my own published research. I’m going to have to rethink how to respond to their invalidation. Also, I’ve spent some time at Wansink’s Food and Brand Lab at Cornell, and talked with him about our overlapping research interests. He’s enthusiastic about his work, ambitious about getting his message out to the public, and has been very effective in publicity.

But the biggest problem is this: what to do with all his advice about portion sizes, plate sizes, moving foods around in my eating world to highlight carrots and hide cookies?

What can we know now? What can we rely on now?

Now, you might be thinking:  Catherine, get a grip. One researcher goes down in flames, and you’re saying we don’t know anything anymore. How about try this:

Keep calm and eat mindfully
Keep calm and eat mindfully

 

Yes, yes, you’re right.  I’m calming down now.

A woman breathing into a paper bag.
A woman breathing into a paper bag.

 

Doing good research is hard, requiring rigorous adherence to methodological standards, a high tolerance for failure, and the stamina to keep going.

For us, the food eaters, we don’t need rigor in order to eat successfully.  We’ve written about eating mindfully, following plans, discarding plans, considering the ethical import of what we eat, and we’ve come to the conclusion that one plan doesn’t fit all.

But I really really wanted some plans that did fit all.  Just saying. And I’m not happy.

child pouting spectacularly.
child pouting spectacularly.

Well, like it or not, it’s back to the kitchen, with an open mind.

What about you, dear readers? Did any of you know about or use Wansink’s work?  What do you think now? I’d love to hear from you.