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Archive for October 28th, 2010

Sometimes, there are foods that I am aware of but I have never had the opportunity to try or have not made myself. Last night, those two forces combined into one fantastic dinner. For a long time now, I have known about tempeh: a soy product that is related to tofu but contains grains in addition to the soy protein. I had never had it and didn’t know what to do with it. Then, I saw a recipe for tempeh bacon. Needless to say, this intrigued me. I bought a block of tempeh, got out my cutting board and my sharpest knife and sliced the tempeh as thinly as I could. I then covered the tempeh with liquid smoke and seasoning for flavor. I proceeded to fry the tempeh slices in some hot olive oil and they came out crispy, brown and DELICIOUS.

I really liked the flavor of the tempeh. It is a bit earthier than tofu and it’s a lot easier to work with. You don’t need to press it or worry about getting the liquid out of it. Plus, it’s really versatile for cooking. You can bake it, saute it, fry it or steam it just to name a few preparation methods. I took my tempeh “bacon” and I put it on top of a salad. It took an otherwise standard salad to a whole new level. My daughter came out as I was making it, saw the tempeh sitting on my plate and asked me, “Is that BACON?” I explained to her that it wasn’t and offered to let her try some but she politely declined. I think her words were something along the lines of rather having her teeth pulled out than have to try something that gross but she’s only 10 so I can’t blame her for not being as adventurous as I am when it comes to trying new foods. If you are looking for new ways to expand your vegetarian arsenal, I would really suggest checking out this great ingredient. It looks a little weird but it works great in just about anything I’ve seen it in.

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Believe it or not, I’m not an avid reader of Marie Claire magazine. I know: shocking. Last night, it came to my attention that there is a TV show called Mike & Molly. I’d never heard of it before and still don’t plan on watching it. Apparently, someone from Marie Claire wrote an op-ed piece making some disparaging remarks about obesity and people who are obese in response to this new show. Believe it or not, this didn’t go over very well with a lot of people. The writer then tried to apologize and retract some of her statements but this backfired on her too. It looks like her small post has gotten about 2000 comments so far and a ton of media coverage. That’s not a bad number when you consider I’m happy if a post ever gets 5 comments (including my own replies to others). Needless to say, I have a few opinions on this myself. Some quite strong. There are a lot of really good phrases going through my head that I really want to use to describe my reaction to this piece and some of the comments about it. However, I will refrain because I don’t think adding my rant to this “discussion” will do anyone any good.

Believe me, I could unleash a torrent of words about this subject that could burn your eyes if I allowed myself to let loose. Instead, I will attempt to state my thoughts on this issue as rationally as I can considering the vast emotional issues wrapped up in this topic.

First of all, as someone who is now just obese and not morbidly obese, I fully know the pain of being seen the way that this author views “fatties” as she so graciously refered to us in the title of her article. If you think it’s uncomfortable to have to see someone like me, think about how much more uncomfortable it can be at times to actually be me. I used to despise those plastic outdoor chairs that were always too narrow and somehow  magically buckled when I sat on them for too long. When a room of people turns to look and see what just happened as you pick yourself up off the ground and try to find a new chair to sit in, you feel every single one of those eyes and you don’t have to be a mind reader to know what they’re thinking. They very well may not be thinking what you assume but the perception of judgement is something you can never escape. When you are obese, you don’t need to read an article like this to know that you’re considered a second class person by others. However, articles like this do serve to put words behind the negative emotions that those of us who are obese feel.

The author makes a rather poor analogy between viewing the obese the same way she would a drunk or a heroin addict. While her analogy fails, she does hit on an important issue that needs to be discussed more: food is a drug. Especially the way that we eat food today. When was the last time you looked at a package of prepared food and actually knew what all of those chemicals were and knew what those long words meant. When food becomes more chemistry than cookery it’s an indicator that something is wrong. The food industry today does everything in its power to keep consumers consuming. It is in their financial interest to make these foods as appealing as possible. That means upping the fat, sugar and salt contents in a case of junk-food one-upmanship that has continued to spiral out of control. The largest drink offered at 7-11 actually holds more liquid than the human bladder can physically contain. Fried and salty fast foods assault our eyes and nose and mouth whenever we go out in public. Drive down a street in just about any town in the country and I’m sure you’ll see the same stuff offered by the same companies with the same negative impact on the health of the people in that town. Junk food is everywhere. It’s easier to get than drugs or alcohol and the unhealthy stuff often has the same hold on the brains of the obese as heroin or crack has on those who are addicted to them.

The article also makes the often-heard but grossly wrong statement that the obese could change if only they put their minds to it. We know this isn’t true of smokers, alcoholics or drug addicts and for the reasons I’ve stated above, this is true for those addicted to food as well. My weight was a symptom of a bigger issue in my life: depression and anxiety. No amount of will power would ever change my brain chemistry to allow me to no longer use food as a drug to self-medicate. There were times when all I wanted to do was stop eating but I couldn’t. I knew that eating all the chips or ice cream or candy or soda was wrong and bad for me but I had as much chance of stopping myself as I would stopping myself from falling if I trip down the steps. Many of us are obese because we no longer have the ability to make the choices that would allow us to make these changes on our own. For me, it took hitting an emotional wall where I was considering suicide and had chest pains and was suffering from such severe sleep apnea that I couldn’t even take a short nap without a CPAP to keep me breathing. Only then did I seek professional help from a doctor who helped me to see the underlying factors behind my weight and emotional state that I was able to begin to make changes.

The changes I made weren’t small either. I radically threw away my old lifestyle and embraced a new one in order to develop the habits I would need to break my cycle of eating and weight gain. I happen to be blessed with the Aspergers-like intensity that only a hard-core geek could have to make those changes. I used the same things that contributed to my situation to fight the effects that it had on me. Fortunately, most people aren’t like me. They don’t have something weird in their brain that gives them the ability to focus on one particular thing and learn everything possible about it to the level of obsessiveness that borders on madness. I’m one of the few lucky ones who just so happens to be able to throw myself into the deep end and learn pretty quickly how to float. I would never be so arrogant as to think that anyone else would be able to do what I have done the way that I have done it. Still even with that intensity, I would have failed without a lot of external support and assistance. Needless to say, it is very hard to make long-term lasting changes that will start to reduce ones weight. Having support and compassion from others is critical. Judgemental articles like this one do not help.

To answer the final question the author poses in her post, I do think she is being an insensitive jerk (her words not mine). However, she is also ignorant of a lot of facts about obesity and is lacking the understanding about what it takes to fight it. Having to look at a person who is obese should not be revolting. However, given the way that society does judge those who have been sucked into the obesity vortex our society has created, her attitude is in no way unique. What we need to do, as a society, is recognize how our choices have impacted not only ourselves, but everyone else in the world. We need to become more compassionate to those who have been labeled as “different” or “other” or “defective” regardless of what character trait, physical trait, preference or emotional issue may be causing them to be labeled that way.

Once upon a time, illness was pretty easy to understand. Germs and bacteria and viruses were the things that caused people to become sick and to die. Today, medical advances have made these issues much less severe. That has not made illness go away. Rather, it has made room for a whole new set of sicknesses to become the leading killers of people in the U.S. Depression, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. are all modern problems that should be treated with the same response that once fought tuberculosis, mumps, polio, measles, diphtheria, dysentery and cholera. Obesity is a sickness that has its own set of challenges and problems and if left untreated will cause an early death. Instead of turning a blind eye to this problem, I ask the author of the Marie Claire post and others who feel like her to rethink your own opinions of obesity and learn about ways to change our society for the betterment of all instead of pointing fingers and calling names. We know we’re fat. We do care. We are trying to change. We’re not the sole holders of responsibility for our present state: everyone is responsible. Just like the cost of treating obesity will fall on everyone, the challenge to make changes that will end it will also be the responsibility of everyone. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to lock myself in a small room and rant at the walls and then go eat a salad.

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