Friday, March 27, 2009

Whole Paycheck - A Note on the Class Implications of Food

Last year, during my yearly facilitation of an event planning and cooking workshop for adolescent girls as part of an organization in which I’m involved, we ended up in a discussion about which organic food store would be closest so we could quickly shop, pay and get back to my house to prepare an appreciation dinner for their mothers. Aside from using my exposure to these girls as a barometer for my tolerance of adolescent estrogen in preparation for my own daughter’s transformation from girl to woman, it’s also an immensely fun activity to which I look forward every year because kids really DO say the darndest things.

One of the girls suggested that we head over to Whole Foods to do shopping. I didn’t get a chance to disengage from my mental debate over feeding the 15-passenger van for the day or my children for the week before I overheard another of the girls say “You mean Whole PAYCHECK?? That's what my mother calls it.” I laughed, because it was one of those laugh to keep from crying moments. Her mother was right. Eating right is expensive.

Let’s take bread and water, for example. They used to be universal diet basics. Prisoners and bad children were fed a diet of bread and water. Both are referenced over and over in the “big 3” holy books. Yet both bread and water have become woefully expensive commodities and class markers! People line up at specialty stores for loaves of "rustic" bread at more than $5.00/loaf. The labels and shapes of the plastic bottles of water people carry around say a lot about how much expendable income they have.

Not just that, but there’s this stigma that one is more “cultured and well-rounded and refined and all that good stuff” when one shops at Whole Foods or the other uber-expensive, upscale markets. I know you see them, crowded around the displays of lopsided, funny-colored “heirloom" tomatoes and gingerly nestling glass bottles of milk between the Greek yogurt and the multi-grain, non-GMO, gluten free item of the week.

Now please understand that I am not anti-eating well. I prefer to feed my family the good stuff. What I don’t like is the fact that according to our capitalist society, one must be a damn-near trillionaire to be able to afford a healthy diet.
I was recently reading the caloric breakdown of organic foods vs. high fat, simple carbohydrate, fast foods and found that it costs approximately 400% more per 100 calories to eat well than not! Our underserved communities are not organic food oases, but one can find a McDonalds, Wendy’s, or KFC in any given one of them that is able to feed a family of 4 from the Extra Value Menu for about $15. What will $15 get you at Whole Foods? Not much.

Farmers market you said? HA!! The farmers markets in my quickly gentrifying community still sell organic and locally grown items at a premium. I don’t blame them. Farmers gotta eat, too.

Gardening, you say? Really? And where? In my quickly gentrifying community, condos are replacing areas where vegetable gardens COULD have gone, and I’m not sure how much time the average single parent has to compost, and weed and seed between working two jobs to try to put food on the table.

Back in the day, I remember having loads of different fruits and vegetables at the ready. My mother fed me a primarily vegetarian, whole grain and legume- based diet because along with being healthier, it was also less expensive to NOT eat meat or fast food. She wasn’t a member of PETA (my mother loves very nice leather items) nor did I feel any more special because we belonged to a food co-op and ate organic produce.

Fast forward to 2009 and the other day, I purchased fruit for my children and balked at the price of oranges at $1.00 each. Non-organic cherries (YES EVEN IN SEASON) are rarely less than $4.99 a pound. The cost of my children’s daily packed lunches is approximately $5.00. I have two children who go to school every day. That’s $50/week for ONE MEAL A DAY. It’s not a game.

And our communities continue to be plagued by illnesses and ailments that can easily be reversed by simple dietary changes. Yet most don't have enough change to make the change.

Go figure.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Colors of My Letters and Numbers are Flyer than Yours

So, today I found a name for the condition that has plagued me all my life.

Perhaps "plagued" is not the best word, for the condition hasn't been unpleasant, itchy or putrid or anything like that. I've never needed a cream or liniment for it, and it is pretty much unseen by the public eye. For all intents and purposes, unless you really, really know me, you probably never even knew that I had the "condition".

It's called synesthesia.

I was listening to NPR tonight while washing dishes after a nutritious dinner of curried quinoa, collard and kale greens and salmon cakes when this segment of Soundprint came on. Seemingly otherwise normal people were talking about how they literally see the colors of numbers, letters and words. For some, there are even smells and textures associated with them, too.

All my life, I've seen my numbers and letters and words in colors. For example, the number three is always, always a deep navy blue. The word three, however is a mixture of colors, starting with a black t, and then slowly lightening from black to deep purple to blue to light blue.....

The number 1999 is yellow - bright, blinding, neon yellow. But the number 2000 is a very vivid red. However, the number 1 is not yellow, but a lime'ish green. The number 2 is red, but the zeros have no color.

My favorite words have colors, too - and sometimes textures, smells and animations. The word cacophony is a series of patterned letters - stripes, polka dots, checkers, herringbones, all stuck together with no clear logic, blinking individually -rhythmless and indistinct from its neighbor.

Pessimistic is slimy green, oozing from the double-s's and smelling badly.

Caustic is like an oil spill. In a sentence it sits above the other letters, undulating as if on an ocean, creating swirly rainbows on its surface.

Sychophant is red - actually crimson. It has the texture of the peel-able wax pencils that elementary school teachers used to check papers. It is equally indelible.

You can imagine that reading for me is a multi-sensory experience. It's not just the act of stringing letters together to make words to make sentences that make paragraphs, that weave chapters into stories. For me, reading is a seriously tactile act. Some authors are able to make word combinations that cause actual physical reactions in me. I remember the first time I read Song of Solomon and got so moved upon reading about Pilates lack of a navel that I had to put the book down and walk away. Reading that passage caused my body to flush from my hair follicles down to the pit of my abdomen.

Other writers, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (if you don't know her, this is your chance to google her and buy a book) are able to make words tell tragic tales with a level of humor and everydayness that is both heartbreaking and completely hilarious just by the combinations of words she uses.

I am currently reading Inside Inside by James Lipton. For the past few days, I've been trying to figure out why it's taking me so long to get through the book. Today I realized why. The words that he uses are so dense and strung together so tightly that they don't flow. The colors don't match and meld together properly in my mind. It's like eating a meal that gives really, really bad heartburn.

I get the same reaction to accents. Some accents sound like broken glass being poured slowly onto a tile floor in the middle of a quiet museum. Other accents sound like the clanging of cowbells. Still other sound like the tuning of an orchestra before a's just that the concert never gets started and it just sounds like the endless tuning of various instruments.

So, I am not crazy - just different (which is yellow-green like a forsythia plant). And different is okay, I guess, even though neither green nor yellow are favorite colors of mine!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It’s Our Reunion! (The Sandy Effect)

So….my 20th high school reunion is coming up. Twenty years, I still can’t believe it. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday that we were in Ms. Benson’s microbiology class, listening to Haydn as we smeared agar-agar with staphylococcus aureus and watched it grow in the incubator!

For the 2.5 followers who aren’t somehow related to me or otherwise financially obligated to read my blog posts, you’ve probably already surmised that I am a nerd of first class standing.

During high school, I was never one of the cool girls. I didn’t dress cool, didn’t have cool hair, didn’t drive a cool (read any) car, didn’t have a cool (read ANY) boyfriend. Basically, I was just about as lukewarm as one could get! Talk about socially awkward, kinda chubby, and basically unnoticeable and you’ve got me as the high school prototype. My extra-curricular activities were limited to the French Club, the Pre-Med Club and the National Honor Society! The guy I sat next to at graduation hadn’t ever even heard of me. Much to MY credit, I’d never even heard of HIM, either –so TAKE THAT Solomon Irby (though if you happen to show up at the 20th, I’ll have a big hug for you)!!

But let’s get back to the subject at hand – the REUNION!! And we all know that class reunions are about one thing. REVENGE!! They’re about finding the person who taunted you the most about being unpopular, uncute, unshapely and watching them eat crow with a side of humble pie as you explain with vim and vigor what a successful business owner you are with your trophy spouse on your well-toned, South of France-tanned arm!

They’re about finding that one girl/guy who really liked you, but didn’t want to date you because they were afraid of what their friends would say and introducing them to your supermodel girlfriend, and watching them stand there struggling to breathe in their 18-hour girdle/manssiere.

Reunions are all about the phenomenon I like to call “The Sandy Effect”. Derived from the motion picture “Grease”, “The Sandy Effect” is the transformation of a young, totally square, saddle-shoe wearing lame-O into a stilettoed, hot-pants and red lipstick wearing vixen who leaves the likes of a slim, 70’s John Travolta tongue-tied!

So, for all you similarly nerdy folk whose reunions are coming up, it’s time to be a living, breathing example of the “Sandy Effect”! Come ON!! You’ve no doubt used all of those nerdy characteristics to launch a great career or a successful business! The Coke-bottomed glasses you used to sport back in the day have been replaced by contact lenses or Lasik surgery! Hell, if the reunion is in the summer, you’ve still got plenty of time to shed those few extra pounds and melt yourself into that size (whatever you were in 11th grade or MUCH, MUCH smaller in all the right places) dress!

DO IT! Your inner Sandy will thank you for many years to come!