Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oh, Soy, How I Used to, uh, Pretend You Weren't in All My Food

I've been following farm and food policy fairly closely over the last few years, and I've read all the requisite food books and transformed my life, slowly and deliberately, accordingly. To add a sustainably grown, local, organic cherry to the top of my partially-hydrogenated-and-high-fructose-free sundae, I recently made arrangements to see Food, Inc. with my husband. I felt I'd come pretty far from the days of saltines and Oreos, and figured that a good deal of the information would be of the refresher variety. The thing is that it's pretty amazing how that one little piece of the puzzle that was unknown can change everything.

Up until now, we'd been eating mostly organically, no fast food, no high fructose corn syrup, nothing with hydrogenated in the ingredient list, and I'd been doing my best to switch gradually to fair trade items, particularly in the coffee and chocolate arenas. But the hold-outs were not insubstantial. I still bought M&M's with wild abandon. Ever since the word hydrogenated disappeared from the ingredient list on the back of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, I'd indulged in those frequently as well. I noted the other ingredients that might at some point cause me worry, but wasn't doing much about investigating them. Because, well, the banned ingredients were really more about personal health than anything else. Sure, buying fair trade coffee and chocolate chips was a nod to the need to eliminate poverty, but really? Most of it was still just about us, about what we were putting into our mouths, about how it would affect us and our family (as in the family we are starting ourselves--our extended families are not all big label readers). But this one point, this one thing, well, that made it personal, and it made it far reaching and it made it my responsibility to do better and be better.

The information is this: Monsanto currently has a hand in 90% of the soy production in the US.

This may not mean much to you if you don't know anything about Monsanto. Maybe you've absentmindedly noticed that Monsanto is who makes the RoundUp you've used to kill your weeds. Maybe you have heard their name on NPR as a sponsor, with the tag line that probably only makes some of us cringe. What you may not know about Monsanto is that they sue farmers and they win. That they will take a person's livelihood in their quest to dominate the market and protect the patents that have now been revoked. The basics are thus: that if Monsanto finds some of their genetically modified seed on your land (and they do go looking for it, without asking) and you have not purchased it from them for that growing season, even if you did not put it there and do not want it there, they can sue you. So if a truck drives by and some Monsanto seed blows off, or if a bird eats a Monsanto seed and poops it out on your land, they can find those plants and sue you for having them, claiming patent infringement. If their seed ends up on the land of a farmer who saves seed, and the farmer unwittingly saves seed that turns out to be Monsanto seed, they can and will sue. They have a team of 75 staffers devoted solely to investigation and litigation, and have allotted $10 million in their budget for pursuing these investigations and subsequent lawsuits. To date, they have been awarded $15,253,602.82 in judgments, not including the settlements that farmers are not allowed to discuss. And even though a farmer might eventually win a lawsuit, most farmers cannot afford the legal fees required to pursue such a case. It is hardly just.

I come from a family of farmers, and it is not lost on me that any one of them could be sued by Monsanto on grounds that are not legitimate. When I see and read the stories of farmers, just like those in my family, who have lost everything they worked so hard for, it hits home. It's personal. It matters. And so I decided to stop eating soy that is not organic. This includes almost all, if not all, the chocolates I can get at Target, as most chocolates are made with soy lecithin as an emulsifier. Good-bye to M&M's and Hershey's Kisses and so many other items I'd tossed in my cart. And good riddance, if it means even a penny less lining the pockets of Monsanto. I know that my lack of consumption will probably not even be a blip on the radar, but my hope is that I won't be the only one to send a message by what I do or do not purchase, that maybe someone out there will read what I have to say, and think about the farmers they know or the ones they don't, and will make some small stride in the same direction.

I realize that eating organic foods and avoiding those with ingredients that encourage poor food policy is not possible for everyone, and that's part of the point. If more of us who can change our habits do, if we send the message loud and clear that we want choices that won't harm our health or those who provide our food, then perhaps that can begin to change things so that everyone can have better food, so that the unhealthy foods won't be the ones that are the most affordable for those who have less to spend.

I think we've got a good start at changing things, but I also think there's a lot more that we can do. I'm encouraged by the flourishing community gardens and by the signs I see indicating that food stamps are accepted at the farmer's market. Likewise, I am discouraged by the fact that corn is made cheap by government subsidies that my tax dollars pay for, that it seems that no one in Washington has truly connected the dots to figure out that our food policy and our health policy need to go hand in hand. Until we reform the way we subsidize foods, we will continue to have a health crisis, and no amount of insurance options will change the fact that health care costs will continue to rise due to the diseases we are encouraging by making the least healthy calories the cheapest ones.

I encourage each of you to see Food, Inc. I'd love it if you would read this book, or this one, or this one, or this one. I'd be thrilled if you'd start with what's free and watch The Future of Food on hulu. The way we eat doesn't affect just us and our own health and well-being. The reach of our choices is far and wide and even global. Do something about it, and you'll be my hero.

(Source of the numbers above.)

Monday, July 27, 2009


I should be in bed by now, but I'm busy looking at last year's vacation photos. I could use a vacation right about now. Today I was thinking about how fast the weekend always seems to fly by, and then it occurred to me that that's natural if your weekend only has one day in it. I think it's only right that I should daydream about the vacation we've already paid for; the nice thing is that I only have to show up with my passport and my really cute suitcase and all is set to go.

Another thing I've been daydreaming about is my trousers not being a wee bit tight. Traveling so much plus being super busy in the meantime has left me with less time to get in solid workouts and a lot more delicious yet trouser-tightening food within my reach. So tonight I pretty much made myself sick on candy so that I won't feel at all tempted as I dive back into weekday healthy eating. I always get into it and feel soooo much better that I swear I won't go back to my old ways, but who am I kidding? I anticipate another Fitting Room Come to Jesus Moment (TM) in about six months. (Fitting Room Moment of Summer '09 provided by Old Navy and a couple of knit skirts.)

For now, though, I'm hoping my night dreams bring me closer to vacation, even though I know that the only thing they bring me closer to for now is the morning alarm.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beggars, Choosers, Something-or-Others

When I was in Grand Central on my way home from Connecticut, I popped into Posman Books to pick up a couple of greeting cards and post cards. While looking for items for others, I saw a postcard that had my name written all over it.

Okay, well, not exactly. But it did say I NEED MONEY BAD. So even though it's true that I need money bad, I still paid the 95 cents for the postcard so that I could stick it on my fridge.

I don't need money bad for anything trivial, and I don't even necessarily need to keep it forever. But I, well, we, do need some funds for our adoption. The dilemma we are in right now is that some of the money we were planning on using is from our Apple stock, which appears to be growing quite well right now. We could still sell some, of course we could, but it seems foolish to sell now and not let it grow more. However, we need that money in fairly short order so that we can send in an important form. So what I'm asking is if you or anyone you know might be willing to give us a hand, either giftwise or via interest-free loan. This will allow us to continue to grow our funds so that we'll have more for the long run, as the bulk of the adoption expenses come due.

Let me know if you need details. I will gladly provide them, but for now would just like to trust that admitting that we have a need, that by bowing my very proud head and saying, "Hey, this would help us a lot," that somehow something will work out.


Thanks a million.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I stayed up late last night getting things done, and I'm paying for it today in yawns. My estimate so far is 1,348 yawns, but that might be conservative. If yawning could make money, I'd have our adoption paid for by now.

Jarod and I spent the weekend with family in St. Louis, having Christmas in July. It was the last trip in my summer parade of trips, and I am more than happy to have my feet firmly on the ground at home now. Traveling can be good and wonderful, but this succession of trips has left me with a lot of loose ends to tie up, plus the ill effects of too much rich food and not enough exercise straining at the waist of my trousers. Last night I figured I could either lie in bed thinking of all the things I need to get done or actually do some of them, and my choice led to the workout ending at 11:30pm and the cleanup ending at 1:30am. Between then and the 8am wakeup, I got a lot of love from the cats; I guess I was behind on kitty snuggling, too. But one night short of sleep doesn't ruin anything, and I am grateful today to be slipping back into routine, with my stack of adoption paperwork looking at me kindly instead of staring, and the plants out back yielding all sorts of tasty things I can pick for our dinner.

Happy Monday, everyone.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last Week in Connecticut

On Sunday I flew out to Connecticut by way of LaGuardia, and I should have known it would be a good trip judging by how smoothly the flights went and the fact that we landed on my favorite runway. What? You don't have a favorite runway at a particular airport? What's wrong with you?

The purpose of the trip was to catch up and hang out with the kids I took care of way back when I lived and worked in Connecticut. They're still as busy as ever, but they're also older and can do more things for themselves, so even though I helped out a bit by driving them some places and getting dinner together one evening (reheating leftovers--complicated), the time I spent with them felt relaxed and easy. The only thing I didn't get to do was sleep in, and even that didn't trouble me too much, thanks to the copious amounts of coffee (glorious coffee!) I was able to ingest. I didn't take as many photos as I have in the past, and this year, thanks to an unexpected financial issue, I was only able to go into New York City for one day, but both of these things turned out to be for the best. Not being tied to my camera allowed me to get a ton of reading done in between the kids' events at swim meets and not going into the city for a second day allowed me to spend more leisure hours with the kids. Win-win, right? And I did get a few good photos anyway.

First we have Grand Central Terminal, also known as Possibly My Favorite Place in NYC. This may seem odd, as I generally do not love crowds, but I do love watching people, and there's just something about the combination of bustle and quiet observation that gets me every time.

this is how i think of grand central

Also, they have a Pylones right there inside. If you haven't ever been to a Pylones, you might be missing out; this all depends on how strong your feelings are about whimsical French tchotchkes. For example, I went in to get an Eiffel Tower cheese grater, but ended up with the following instead:

don't be jealous

Yes, that is a chicken tape dispenser. It looks fantastic on my desk, just two shelves below my jackelope bank. Stop laughing and/or rolling your eyes. My tchotchkes could beat up your tchotchkes any day of the week.

On the last night I was in Connecticut, we went to a little carnival. At the carnival, you could win things:

win something

Or ride things:

rode it while unsure of motion sickness medication status

Or even try to take photos of nothing while riding those things:

while on the cobra

What can I say? I was trying not to vomit, thanks to the fact that my motion sickness medication most definitely did not kick in.

And I didn't vomit, by the way. Otherwise, I would not have given Connecticut such high marks.

See you next year, Nutmeg State.

Friday, July 03, 2009

All the Introverts Will Pick Up What I'm Putting Down Here

It had been too long since I had a day to myself. So I got up at 6:30am and headed out to pick blueberries before my husband even woke up. It started raining just as I pulled up to the berry patch, but I didn't go all the way out there just to turn around. So I pulled out my ridiculously large umbrella and picked for two and a half hours. When a friend phoned in the middle of it all and expressed sympathy when I said that, yes, I was indeed alone, I had to refrain from expressing all-too-exuberantly that I didn't really care. Because, in fact, I might have smacked someone if I'd had company. Okay, maybe not literally, but in my mind I would have been smacking someone, and I believe there's a verse in the Holy Bible about committing sin in your heart being just as bad as doing the thing for real. And so: I was alone, and no one got smacked literally or by my thoughts. Everybody wins!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Lost and Found

Guess what? I have a dining room table. I know--shocking! I found it under all the unopened mail and various articles we've bought for our hypothetical child. And by "we," I mean "me." Jarod hasn't bought anything for our hypothetical child yet; it's probably because I love her more than he does.

Or maybe because he would rather learn Amharic online than go shopping, but whatevs. Details.

I'm trying to cut back on buying things, though, because I've been traveling a lot (never as cheap as I think it will be) (you'd think I'd adjust my expectations, but no) and I've had a loss of a bit of work this week. I'm trying not to make a big deal out of this, as it could be worse, and also: traveling! I pretty much usually love it!

This past weekend I spent in Vancouver with my dear friend Sharon mostly and somewhat with her famous photographer husband (I got the book FOR FREE, SUCKAHS), sleeping on their sofa and drinking lots of coffee. Vancouver also decided to pull out all the stops when it came to weather, and the days were sunny and in the upper 70s. Sharon was so kind to fly me up there using her air miles, so the expenses were limited to sucky airport food and the coffee and tchotchkes I felt it necessary to obtain while visiting our northern neighbor. As a bonus, I only whined a tiny bit about being unable to afford the perfect shoes I shouldn't have even looked at, much less tried on. I came back with a handmade cat doll for our hypothetical child, paper for a curb score furniture project, a Chewbacca Pez dispenser for Jarod, and Canadian candy bars that I actually shared with my husband. I am such a giver.

In order to keep the airport from being lonely for me, I fly out for yet another trip on Sunday, this time to visit my Connecticut kids. I anticipate a good deal of hangout time, some iced coffee near the water, and possibly a boat ride on the sound if I'm lucky. I'm also hoping to spend a couple of days in NYC, though due to financial concerns, that's up in the air. I'll certainly spend one day in the city, but two is questionable. And if it's between an extra day in the city and a perfect pedicure at my favorite pedicure spot in the whole US of A, I have a feeling it will be a gut-wrenching decision.

As much as I know I'll enjoy the trip, I will be more than happy to arrive home Friday afternoon. Two long weekends plus a nearly a week away, all in rapid succession, is on its way to making me a bit batty, and it will be a relief to find my footing after so much packing and unpacking. I love the trips, but hate the mayhem. I'm just looking forward to a little bit of peace in the end.