The Right To Face Value

I’m sure you’ve all heard the expression “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Basically, it’s a caution against over-analysis, a reminder that sometimes, things really are simple and they really are as they seem. No one likes to be thought of as simple, and we tend to not like it when people make assumptions about us and think about us in stereotype. In a sense, we like to be complicated and be seen as such. I know I do, and I have no shame about that. Sometimes, though, it can be a gift to be taken at face value, and it’s something that I took for granted.

If you are mentally ill, you may know what I’m talking about.

Let’s look at depression and anxiety, common mental health diagnoses that complicate your life and the way people interact with you. Depression and anxiety can be biochemical or situational. Regardless of the cause, anxiety and depression add layers to your life that aren’t immediately visible. That bitter, sarcastic unwillingness to go out with friends could be disguising agoraphobia. That laziness you see in your co-worker could be depression. Mention depression or anxiety and your mind teems with possibilities as to what’s REALLY going on in that crazy ass, mysterious head of yours.

That said, sometimes…a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes, there’s no trick, no hidden motive, no mystery to be solved to the mentally healthy. People with mental health conditions, learning or mental disabilities have the same struggles, emotions, bad days and hissy fits that you do. That seems to get lost in discussions about normalization. There’s this push to destigmatize mental illness and to treat mental patients like any other segment of a population and yet…we are still treated like patients and like less than full adults in every area of our lives.

Some examples:

  • If you want to spend some time alone, someone will always ask what’s wrong in your life to make you want to isolate yourself. Someone else might take it a step further and force you to interact. If you resist, it’s a sign of your advanced state of mental disease. The idea that you might just really want some “me” time, or that you are an introvert who really does prefer being alone, is not entertained.
  • If you express any negative emotion at all, it will be written off as a sign of your illness and instability, a biochemical curiosity, nothing that you need to understand or respect or take seriously.
  • If you do things that aren’t typical for you, or socialize with a different crowd than you normally do, people will assume that it’s because you are lonely or insecure, desperate to fit in, or to not feel. No one will think you have a genuine interest in self-improvement or self-exploration.
  • If you take strong philosophical or political stands, especially as they relate to your condition or life experience, people will view them as attempts at self-justification and rationalization, not as genuine self-expression. They will psycho-mumble-jumble their way out of having to think about what you’re saying. If you challenge them on it, you are being defensive and/or projecting.
  • If you are non-autistic and/or don’t have OCD, you are allowed to have intense, quirky, unusual, or childlike interests. People might even think it’s cute. If you have autism, OCD, or mental retardation, people will assume that your interests are symptoms of your disease, that they’re a detriment to your life and that they must be “managed.” People will force you out of your interests or into interests you don’t like or don’t agree with, and they will use the excuse that they’re trying to mainstream you, normalize you, “help” you to be more age-appropriate and “integrate” into the community better.

Normal people are allowed to have crappy days, to have alone time, to be politically active, to express themselves freely and stand by what they say, even when they’re not pleasant doing so. Normal people are allowed to play with action figures, watch cartoons, read horror novels obsessively, practice the religion (or no religion) of their choice, and make whatever decisions they please without interference or interrogation, and will often be respected or appreciated for it.

People with MI, MR, or other mental disabilities are not allowed any of this. Everything we do is part of a deeper narrative, and a negative one, about our disabilities, our deficits, and what’s wrong with us. We’re not entitled to face value. We’re not entitled to be mundane OR to be special. We’re not entitled to an identity outside of our condition OR to a positive, empowering identity that comes from disability.

Nope. You have to earn it, and you earn it by being something that you’re not, something that you will never able to be.

As for me, I say, “Pass the cigar.”

No, I don’t care about gay marriage.

Notice: Frank use of heterosexist language to make a point.

Excuse the title, but this is the most succinct reply I can think of when hassled by conservative Christians why I can’t be bothered to participate in their culture wars. “Don’t you care about gay marriage?” they ask me.

Because I have a life, I tend to use the simply reply of, “No, I don’t care about gay marriage.”

More specifically, I don’t care about the hype that surrounds gay marriage or the political action taken against it. I don’t care about, nor do I care for, government interference with consensual adult relationships, living arrangements, or sharing of assets. I don’t care about gay marriage. I don’t care about polygamous or polyamorous marriage. I don’t care about straight domestic partnerships. I don’t care about common law marriage or cohabitation or any of these lifestyle choices. More importantly, the government shouldn’t either.

Typically, when confronted with arguments against gay marriage, its proponents argue that gays and lesbians are regular people, with loving partners and children that they care for. They argue that gays and lesbians are born that way. They argue that gays and lesbians aren’t a danger to children. They argue that gays and lesbians pay taxes. They argue that gays and lesbians have good morals and often are religious (not that being religious is a prerequisite for good morals, and that all religious people possess good morals). They argue that gays and lesbians aren’t asking for special rights, just equal rights, and to be left alone. Gays and lesbians have straight family and friends. They are committed and monogamous. Gays and lesbians aren’t going to Hell (which not everyone believes in anyway) and aren’t trying to recruit children. All of these points could be validly argued and I could add plenty more. I won’t be focusing on those. To me, they do not address the heart of the issue.

For me, the heart of the issue is this: Let us assume that all of the accusations ever leveled at the QUILTBAG community are 100% true. Let’s assume that every argument ever leveled against gay marriage was verified, unassailable fact.

So what?

I don’t care if gays and lesbians are diseased. I don’t care if they hate children. I don’t care if they chose to be that way. I don’t care if they pay taxes, attend religious services, have children, are monogamous, or volunteer. I don’t care if they’re morally upstanding. I don’t care if they all have AIDS and harbor secret and perverse sexual fantasies. I don’t care if they identify with mainstream society, want special rights, or wish for the death of heterosexuals. I don’t care if they advocate the destruction of heterosexual marriage. I don’t care if they’re headed for an early grave. I don’t care if they’re headed straight and irreversibly for Hell.

None of the above means that government should interfere with the right of homosexuals to live together, share assets, or engage in a consensual relationship. The government should not interfere with their free speech, free assembly, or free exercise of religion. The government should not promote activities that foster “good moral character”, nor should they promote a particular version of family life. The government should protect rights, maintain law and order, provide for the common welfare and the common defense.  Anything beyond that is beyond the purpose of the government.

Whether you like it or not, a government that controls your assets, living arrangements, and sexual relationships can control whether, when, and how many children you have. This means, for example, that if you don’t want to use birth control and aspire to a large family, the government could take away your right to pursue those choices. A government that controls marriage can control marriage rights. This means that religious political powers can deny marriage benefits and recognition to those outside of the religious majority. A government that controls marriage can take it upon themselves to enforce those controls through violations of privacy and constitutional rights.

I don’t want to live in a country like that.

But what about Christian marriage?

What about Christian marriage? Let’s assume that we all agree that gay marriages by definition cannot be Christian marriages. Again, I ask, “what about Christian marriage?”

Gay marriage is not a threat to Christian marriage. Gay marriage does not cause Christian marriages to end in separation or divorce (another area of life that I don’t want government interference with). Gay marriage doesn’t cause the young, inexperienced, or otherwise unprepared to enter into unions they aren’t able to maintain. Gay marriage doesn’t cause domestic violence or exploitation in Christian marriages. Gay marriage doesn’t cause Christian marriages to suffer economic hardship or to have more children than they can afford. It doesn’t cause Christians to not be able to have the desired children. It doesn’t cause adultery, betrayal, or neglect in Christian marriages. It doesn’t cause Christians to enter into marriage for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t cause immaturity or unrealistic expectations in Christian marriages. None of these marital problems have anything to do with gay marriage and everything to do with the attitudes and behavior of married Christians. If they want to bolster Christian marriage, they themselves need to learn what it is and set an example. They need to create a vision, argue it with facts and reason, and promote it. That’s not the state’s job.

Some people will probably accuse me of being a coward for not publicly standing in favor of Christian values (whatever that means). And that’s just silliness on spades.

I am not the one wielding the power of the state to harass powerless minorities. I am not the one spending large sums of money and manpower undermining civil liberties for my own gain. I’m not the taking the easy way out by begging and bullying the state to do what should be my job as an individual Christian. I actually expect Christians to compete in the marketplace of ideas just like everyone else. I have enough respect and enough faith in the intellect of Christians to believe that they can present a case worthy of public consideration. That they can take the criticism and handle the consequences if they’re wrong.

You could use a lot of words to describe me, but for the time being, coward isn’t one of them.

Hypocrisy: It Burns

While Benedict is no longer our pope, any bishop or cardinal, and apparently our newest pope, Francis, will likely have views similar to his. As such, any one of our current leaders could end up in memes such as the one posted below, which is why I post it here now.

Discostick

I found this on Facebook fairly recently, and it was posted by someone that calls herself a queer diversity and social justice activist.

Hmmm…

A queer activist using homophobic and transphobic language to make a political point?

A diversity activist attacking a minority religion, as well as the national religion of many cultures, including non-Western, non-white cultures like Mexico and the Philippines?

Sounds legit.

Does that even make sense? To be an advocate for sexual minorities, and then use their presentation as a weapon to smear their enemies? Does it make sense to insult a religion and culture that includes hundreds of thousands of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals? Because believe it or not, there ARE gays, bisexuals, and queers that are active in the Catholic Church and I doubt they see you as allies at this point.

Now let’s take a look at the next image, a favorite of many allegedly tolerant people when it comes to sexuality:

virgin shaming

Hypocrisy: It burns.

Yes, let’s us celebrate every form of (consentual, adult) sex imaginable and display our tolerant colors. Unless that person is a virgin by choice. Then they obviously as rabidly gay-hating, old fart religious fanatics and fair game for ridicule.

Supposedly educated, sensitive, intelligent adults should be able to discuss destructive stigmata against sexual minorities, discuss sexuality, discuss a political issue without resorting to juvenile (and prejudiced) cheap shots like this. The people who designed these images, and the people that repost them, could have made their point using humor, satire, or any number of ways without resorting to this. But alas, they did this. And these are the same people that are wagging their fingers at everyone else about tolerance.

Nope. Not buyin’ it.

The Fictional Fr. Makarewicz on Abortion

For no reason in particular, I am writing a work of fiction on my blog because I don’t really know where else to put it and I’m in a writing mood. It is a fake blog post written by a fictional character in one of my stories, a conservative Catholic priest named Dobry Makarewicz. This is NOT how I think, but my vision of what a conservative Catholic man would think.

Standing in the Light

Hosted by: Fr. Dobry

Catholics in the Clinic: A Silent Killer

My heart breaks for the Catholic community.

I guess 27% (approximately) of all women who obtain abortions identify as Catholic. The Catholic Church, one of the most staunchly pro-life faith groups there is, has produced thousands-millions, maybe-of women who think nothing of taking the life of an innocent child (their own!) and desecrating their own bodies in the process.

And for the most part, the reaction of the Catholic community has been one of denial, especially of the “No True Scotsman” variety. We tell ourselves, “No real, practicing Catholic girl would do such a thing! These women must all be Chreasters…you know, the ones that might come to Mass on Christmas and Easter and who think ‘immaculate conception’ means ‘virgin birth.’ All I know is it’s not something you’ll find in my family!”

Of course, we have no way of knowing how devout these women were, so it’s wishful thinking to think that none of these women was a “real” Catholic. But even if we could know, and we knew that every last one of these women was a Chreaster, what difference would that make?

Seriously. What difference would it make?

Even if all of these women are Catholic in name only, the fact that they identify as Catholic at all tells me that they had a Catholic upbringing. Many of them likely had a strong, pious Catholic upbringing and fell away later in life. Chances are, they went to Catholic school or CCD. They were baptized and confirmed. Yet these same women, in large numbers, are willing to commit a sin so serious that it warrants automatic excommunication.

What happened to us?

I know that today’s children lack a solid Catholic identity. Like most families and communities today, Catholic families, parishes, and schools are breaking down. As a result, children no longer are educated, disciplined, or supported in the quest to lead a Catholic life. At one point, most Catholics took for granted that:

  • The body is a temple and that chastity honors this temple
  • That all human life is created by God and is a gift
  • That strong families, designed in accordance with natural law, build strong societies
  • That true love is found and expressed in holy matrimony

Children are no longer receiving these messages from the adults in their lives, so they learn instead from their peers and the secular media. What are they learning?

  • Marriage and family are not important
  • There is no proper order to family life
  • The false intimacy and temporary pleasure of casual sex is an adequate substitute for faith and family
  • When worse comes to worse, drop in at the clinic, spend a few hundred bucks, and you don’t have a problem tomorrow

Two other factors that I implicate are individualism and feminism. In our society, the individual is a god unto himself. We are in control and we are here to do not God’s will, not the will of the community, but our will. As a society, we have also bought wholesale into feminist ideology. This obviously has benefits for the rights and well-being of women (education, being able to vote, etc.) but the feminism of today is a perversion of what it should be. Modern feminism dictates that the unique gifts of each gender, including the uniquely female gift of bearing and nurturing life, are not  to be celebrated, but denied. On top of that, women are taught that men are not relevant to their lives and that men might hinder or even harm them. The desire not to be seen as sexist often prevents fathers, brothers, lovers, etc. from stepping in and protecting the women in their lives as they should.

Every unborn child of a Catholic woman is a gift and every abortion death a tragedy, but the impact is most deeply felt in minority communities. When I see fellow Poles or Romanis in the clinic, it breaks my heart. A people that, for years, have been so hunted down, discriminated against, and even slaughtered are now doing what our enemies have tried and failed to do-destroying ourselves from within. Those communities that are most vulnerable, that most need to welcome new life and revitalize their cultures are committing slow suicide.

What’s painfully ironic about all this is that so many young girls see this as the solution to the problem of prejudice. If I just get rid of my little ‘problem,’ I can go to school, get a job, and do what society expects of me, I will no longer be confronted with bigotry. I will finally be equal. In reality, that problem of prejudice is not solved that way and, in fact, reinforces it because it reinforces the idea that our people and culture don’t have a right to exist and that they can be destroyed with impunity and without fanfare.

Well, I won’t stand for it. I refuse to allow my little sister, or my mother, or any of the women in my life buy into the lies. Our children don’t choose, or deserve to die, nor do our women deserve to suffer permanent physical and psychological damage. Why do we call a gruesome medical procedure, involving poking, prodding, and then butchering a woman’s intimate parts with metal instruments, empowering? It’s not.

See, that’s the sort of question we should be asking.

Not,” But how many of them were real Catholics?”

Comment below. Moderation required for all first-time commenters.

Candy Wakeham aka CrunchyCathMum says:

I think you have it pretty much right except for the first question. I doubt most of these women were really Catholic. Any abortion is a tragedy, like you said, but we have millions of Catholics that claim the label out of habit but don’t practice at all. To me, that’s encouraging, because that tells me that we can change this with better catechesis. More and and clearer catechesis, at younger ages, from Catholics in GOOD standing might make the Catholic community turn around. Right now, we have people who are not in good standing telling people that authority and theology aren’t important and that you should just follow your conscience, regardless of how well-formed it is.

Also, I noticed that your link is from the National Abortion Federation. No offense, but is that the most reliable source? Of course they would say that lots of women having abortions are Catholic. If more Catholic women felt at home in the abortion mill, that means more customers and more $$$. Plus, those that hate the Church (which most pro-aborts do) can use a high incidence of abortion in our community to attack us and undermine our credibility in the world.

Anyway, thank you SO much for this. It’s nice to see a different perspective that’s still Catholic! 

Fr. Dobry says:

Thank you for the feedback, Candy. Everything you’ve said is true, but I still think the NAF is right on this one. If they really wanted to lie, I would think they would use a much higher number than 27%. The fact that ANY Catholic woman would have an abortion and then admit it is a huge accomplishment for them, and it’s something they would brag about. They don’t have any real reason to lie about that number. I agree that using a more reliable, Catholic source would be better, but they all pretty much say the same thing. These women weren’t really Catholic, blah blah blah. They’re in denial, and that was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to avoid.

Jeanette says:

I’m glad someone finally brought up the whole feminism thing. The Bible says that man and woman are complimentary and that man protects and provides for woman. When we remove this understanding from our culture, we get women trying to fill the void with promiscuity and then getting in trouble with pregnancy and disease. Since female gifts are no longer valued, abortion is a logical solution to this problem. Well, I’m traditional. I like men who are men, and if men were more willing to BE men, so many women would not fall pray to these types.

Thank you!

Abram says:

Another Pole here! Your writing always makes my day, but your paragraph about eugenics is spot on. The whole birth control/family planning culture is based on controlling the undesirables and people don’t realize that they are literally killing themselves. Maybe if we pointed this out, people would be more receptive to that.

Fr. Dobry says:

Everyone’s support is much appreciated. It’s good to know I’m not alone in this. I don’t know where you guys are from, but where I am, an election is coming up. Do your research, vote your values, and don’t forget to pray!!!

My Thinking on Freethinking

I am not a member of the atheist/agnostic/Freethinking community, so it’s not my place to police how they identify themselves or how they use language. That said, anyone who participates in religious discussions will hear the term ‘Freethinker.’ I have heard this term many times and have a lot of mixed feelings about it. My original position on the term was negative, and I will spend the first half of the post discussing those feelings. My position now is more positive, and I’ll cover that shift in the second half.

I have to confess: My visceral reaction to the term is negative, and part of me wants to cringe. The implication is that all religious or spiritual people, as well as all believers in all things unconventional or unproven (such as the paranormal) are gullible morons. I reject the idea that the forgotten queens of Islam, Catholic scientists, and other ‘believers’ were all dolts that swallowed everything that came down the pipe. Meanwhile, I can think of any number of reasons why some ‘Freethinkers’ aren’t as freethinking as they think they are. If you join the Freethought movement because it is popular in your circle, then are you really thinking freely? If you base your opinions of religions or religious people on stereotypes, myths, or lack of information, are you really thinking freely? If you are a Freethinker when it comes to religion, but a conformist when it comes to science, cultural ideals, or behavior, are you really thinking freely?

I once knew a Freethinker who was deeply opposed to religious dogma, but who was also a strict scientific materialist. Only conventional, materialistic explanations for the world’s happenings were possible, and anything else was tossed in the New Age Bunk Bin, which seems out of character for someone that truly thinks freely. She also was very much steeped in traditional cultural ideals and behavioral norms. I remember that she refused to watch any movies or read any books that she felt made her look stupid or immature to her peers. Basically, she was very concerned with impressing other people, which, to me, seems like a blind spot for someone that identifies as a Freethinker. Oh, and she is very much a healthist and a fat bigot, which indicates cultural prejudice and cognitive bias.

But ‘Freethinker’ is a religious/philosophical term. It means you think freely in the fields of philosophy or religion and that you are a member of the Freethought movement. The definition does not require you to literally think freely in every area of life (although ideally, a Freethinking orientation should leak into other areas of life). Plus, Freethinkers are people like everyone else. They are not perfect. They have biases and blind spots too, as much as they try not to. They get things wrong too. I’m not out to point out every instance in which a self-identified Freethinker gets something wrong and use that to attack the Freethought tradition. I’m pointing out that the term has limitations, and those limitations are part of the reason I have a negative reaction to the word sometimes.

On the other hand, I understand the original, intended meaning of the term. It is said that the modern Freethought movement began in 1600 with the execution of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican monk and heterodox philosopher. This was a time when the Church ruled society and people blamed all their problems on witches, demons, and the devil with horrifying and deadly results. A literal belief in the Bible stifled academic and scientific inquiry, and this often cost people’s lives, as in the case of medicine. To propose an alternative, non-religious, rationalist worldview was a true act of free thought and really, a revolution in our culture that actually incurred a good deal of risk for those that were part of it. The people that spurred this movement (and those that continued it) deserved to call themselves Freethinkers, and to be proud of it, even if I don’t agree with all of the freely thought thoughts.

I guess I view ‘Freethinker’ in the same light as ‘Universalist.’ Unitarian Universalists who describe themselves as the latter are not saying that everyone else is anti-universalist. Many people, from various religious traditions or no tradition, hold universalist beliefs. The definition of ‘catholic,’ with a small ‘c,’ means ‘diverse’ or ‘universal.’ Catholics believe that they are the one, universal church. However, we are not Universalists with a capital ‘u.’ A Unitarian Universalist believes that all religious and philosophical traditions have some truth to them and that it is up to you to learn from these traditions and chart your own course (I’m simplifying, of course). Those who do not hold those beliefs are not Universalists, but that does not mean that everyone else is narrow-minded or an advocate for discord.  The term is simply a term UUs use to describe themselves because they feel that is the most appropriate word for them.

‘Orthodox’ is another example of a pesky term that is context-dependent. Some religious traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church or Orthodox Judaism, have co-opted the term to describe themselves. But the lowercase ‘o’ definition of the word means, basically, that one is traditional or conventional in their thinking. You can be an ultra-traditional Roman Catholic, a fundamentalist Mormon, or you can be a strict devotee of orthodox scientific theories or traditional behavioral norms. Just because are you not orthodox with a capital ‘O’ does not mean you are a New Age, pot-smoking hippie.

Likewise, people who describe themselves as Freethinkers aren’t necessarily saying that those who don’t identify as such are, as I said earlier, gullible morons. They might wonder why so many people, that are otherwise intelligent and rational, believe in things that seem ridiculous to Freethinkers, but that doesn’t mean they have a negative opinion of you personally. ‘Freethinker’ has a specific meaning that arises from a cultural/historical subtext. A ‘Freethinker’ is, quite simply, a member of the Freethought movement. If a Freethinker chooses to identify as such, it is to declare themselves as a member of that movement. It is because they feel the term is an accurate descriptor of themselves.

In conclusion, the term ‘Freethinker’ is not always used accurately and it does have the aforementioned limitations, as do all terms. Still, I don’t feel there is anything inherently wrong with the term and anyone who feels drawn to it should feel free to use it. I have no problem using the term in religious discourse and using the term to describe people that prefer it.

What do you guys think?

Caution: May Contain Science

By Patsy Nevins

***************************************

Once Upon a Time…
There was a meat factory. A filthy meat factory that inspired Upton Sinclair’s 1906 classic The Jungle. Because of him, companies are required by law to ensure some level of cleanliness and quality in their products. I almost can’t blame him for the lifestyle choices he ended up making. I suspect that Mr. Sinclair didn’t approve of such things as mac & cheese or Spam. He didn’t drink, smoke and would not even touch coffee or tea, played tennis into his 70’s, and lived largely on brown rice, vegetables, and fruits. Basically, he promoted vegetarianism. Anyway, whatever Sinclair’s personal choices, he was realistic. He knew that most people would eat meat, and he wanted them to do so safely. People nowadays use The Jungle as their justification to protest any modern convenience in food as poison (how plausible it is that companies make billions of dollars off of REPEAT customers by selling toxic foods, I’m not sure). And rather than fight for safe alternatives as Sinclair didtheir solution IS the alternative. I was not living when Sinclair wrote his classic, but I was alive during part of his life and I saw first hand what industrial food production, post-Jungle, has brought us.
*************************************
Well, Back in My Day!
I’m sure you’ve all heard someone utter this phrase: Back in my day, we walked fifteen miles in the snow with no shoes! What’s remarkable about my story is not what I was wearing or how far I walked, but for what. There was no food activism back in my day, no talk of food deserts, and no taking back our boxes of foods to protest a lack of fresh greens. Back in the days before food stamps (which is NOT a lot of money, certainly not enough for ‘snob’ food), the government would give you boxes full of food. When I was a child and we needed help, the boxes of food we were given at our town hall did not include fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, etc.
You wan to know what we got?
  • Peanut butter
  • Five-pound bricks of cheap American cheese (think Velveeta)
  • Rice and pasta (WHITE pasta)
  • Dried beans,eggs and milk
  • Oatmeal and cornmeal
  • Canned vegetables
  • Large cans of what people now refer to as mystery meat, which are ham/pork products like Spam
We also got:
  • Some real butter and vegetable shortening (call the health department!)
  • A bag of enriched white flour
  • A lot of bologna
  • Macaroni & cheese loaf
  • Jello pudding mixes
  • Biscuits and cornbread
  • Beans
  • The old standby of canned soups and pastas
So what did we make with these ingredients?
We lived largely on the cheapest ground beef, chicken, hot dogs, fried bologna and mashed potatoes (one of my all-time favorites). Sometimes dinner was pancakes with the cheap artificial syrup or molasses. There was nothing fancy there, nothing with snob appeal, but those foods, those same processed foods which are these days so vilified, often played a large role in keeping us not just alive, but healthy. In these 4 or 5 generations since the widespread use of convenience foods, Americans have gained a great deal in life expectancy and in health. On average, Americans are healthier than at any time in history and average life expectancy increases every year. You can always tell which foods are the real health foods, the ones most necessary for life and health, by what the government gives to the very poor and needy. Ideally, we all will have access to enough food and preferably a variety of foods. If that’s not possible, we need to focus on providing nutritious, cheap, filling foods with plenty of calories (the most important part) and foods that will last a while. You can’t stretch out your food supply if it’s made of foods without preservatives of some kind. It should NOT be a priority to provide the poor with foods that, if you were to give someone a 2-quart bowl full of them, you would get 100 calories or less.
*************************************
The Sun Also Rises and the Poor Also Cook
One of the most commonly touted causes of obesity and ill health is, basically, modern life. People are too overworked to cook and just don’t have the money for real food. The image conjured is that of a Norman Rockwell painting. A cheerful mom in an apron is serving up a home-cooked, fresh, and unprocessed meal to a big happy family. If Dad just came home from work, he might still be in his suit. This was back in the day when you could afford to live on one income, see?
Shaking your head? So am I.
My mother did bake and I have been cooking since the age of eight. Our idea of a big treat was to go to the next town to buy sub sandwiches once in a great while. Or maybe once a month we would leave our small town and go to the ‘big city’ of 35,000 people to do some shopping and get some burgers and fries at McDonalds. We had some fresh vegetables when we lived where there was land enough or while my father was physically able to grow a garden, and my mother did a lot of home canning. But we weren’t exactly angels, even in the good ol’ days of cooking from scratch. We were not afraid of full-fat dairy product and used plenty of whole milk, cheese, and butter. We were no strangers to things such as Spam, potted meat, vienna sausages, and deviled ham. We ate candy when we could find it on sale. We loved our decadence and our shortcuts. This is largely how we ate, how my grandmother (who lived to be 90) ate, how our other relatives, friends and neighbors ate. Cooking was something you did out of necessity and because you enjoyed it. It was not, and need not be, a big project, a source of anxiety, or, for that matter, an excuse to hire government nannies. My husband, who is nearing 70, has always eaten even more processed foods than I have. His mother, who is 90 and who was as far as you could be from the 1950s ideal, was of what is probably the first generation able to live largely on processed and/or convenience foods. She is a poor cook, hates to cook, and her mother was the same. They both ate a lot of canned foods, foods made from mixes, things like TV dinners and frozen pot pies. His mother threw together ground beef, onions, and chopped potatoes and called it hash. They always ate white breads in the days before white breads became white whole wheat and were as enriched and fortified as they are now.
Another common thread I’m seeing is logistics: The poor can’t buy groceries because they can’t get them home! And if they CAN get them home, they can’t get them in the kitchen. The poor don’t have cars. The poor live in upstairs apartments. The poor, the narrative goes, are just too dumb to figure these things out for themselves. At 63, I have spent 31 years living in apartments which were on the second floor and another twelve years living in houses where there were bedrooms on the second floor. So despite having cerebral palsy and serious balance issues, I have climbed many thousands of stairs. I spent 31 years living entirely on a second floor in old houses with steep stairs and rickety railings much of the time, and we had to carry bags of groceries up those stairs. Much of the time, my husband carried them in later, and as they grew older, with help from our sons, but I have carried a lot of bags upstairs myself, usually plastic or cloth bags with handles. Maybe I only carried 1 or 2 at a time, but I did it. For several years, after both our sons were grown and while my husband was still working, I would walk to the supermarket, do the shopping alone, take a cab home, then make maybe seven or eight trips up and down those stairs to carry our groceries into our apartment. The groceries always got upstairs, the shopping always got done and done at least partially by a disabled woman with weak muscles and balance problems who had access to neither a vehicle nor an elevator. What do you expect? Do you really think poor people starve themselves to death, scratching their heads, standing at the foot of the stairs wondering how to get groceries up there? And even if we could not buy ‘real’ groceries, what difference would it have made? It is any easier to carry ‘fake’ groceries? After all, that’s a lot of cans and boxes, and those can be heavy. Poor and working class people still manage, if they can scrape together enough money, food stamps, WIC vouchers, or whatever, to pay for food, to get food into their houses, even if they don’t live on the first floor and even if they do not own a car.
**************************************
The Label Says WHAT?!
I like Rachael Ray sometimes. She can relax me when she is doing a fun comfort food menu or some of her Halloween/Christmas/Thanksgiving episodes, but I have found myself grinding my teeth at her as I watched what for me is SUPPOSED to mindless entertainment.This woman, a multimillionaire while having no training of any kind or special talent, is constantly passing along totally inaccurate ‘nutrition’ information on her show. She started about how she was often using whole wheat pasta these days instead of enriched white pasta, which is certainly her right, but she got the facts a bit muddled. She claimed that whole wheat was more nutritious because it has a lot more fiber, protein, and vitamins. WRONG. It has more fiber than white pasta unless you use Ronzoni’s Smart Taste white pasta, but not more more protein, and it has FEWER vitamins than enriched white pasta. The Ronzoni Smart Taste white pasta even has 200 milligrams of calcium in a 2-ounce serving. It used to have 300 mgs, but in addition to the calcium, it contains 5 grams of fiber and other nutrients in the same serving size. But even your regular Prince or store brand white pasta is enriched with a lot of different vitamins and therefore is more nutritious than the same amount of whole wheat pasta, unless you buy a whole wheat pasta which has also been enriched.
I read a lot of labels, mostly out of curiosity. I am the kind of reader who will read the toilet paper package for amusement while I am in the bathroom. I have noticed, over the past 10 or 15 years in particular, how many more nutrients most of the processed and convenience foods contain than they did when I was a child, or even when my boys were children. I love Spaghetti-Os, not just for the taste, but the nutrients. They contain at least one serving of vegetables, more calcium and vitamins than when they were first invented. Then there are Chef Boyarde pastas and Manwich sloppy Joe sauces, which all contain a full serving of vegetables. Swiss Miss cocoa now comes with mutli-colored marshmellows and fourteen essential vitamins and minerals. How on Earth can that be junk food?
Anyone who has read my blog posts or comments knows that I just don’t get the blinding hatred some people have for food processing. I am not sure about anyone else, but I am not fond of eating raw meats or fish. When we chop up these meats and fish, season them, and cook them, we are ‘processing’ them. When I peel and chop potatoes and boil them to mash them, or wash and prick them to bake, I am also ‘processing’ them. I love potatoes, which are an extremely nutritious vegetable, but they are not so great raw. Tomatoes are even more nutritious cooked than they are raw, and you get a real bang for your buck using canned tomatoes and prepared pasta or pizza sauces. I like whole grain breads, but they are making a lot of very nutritious white breads these days. My granddaughter has toast in the morning made of a white bread which has a decent amount of fiber and protein in 2 slices, significant amounts of about 12 vitamins and minerals, and more calcium than a glass of milk. And the cereals so many are trying to turn into villains now are made with less sugar, most are made with whole grains, and also fortified with a lot of vitamins and minerals.
I regularly buy 4-packs of Hunt’s Snack Pack chocolate pudding. First, they no longer put HFCS in it, and second, one little cup of pudding contains 300 milligrams of calcium and 2 grams of fiber. I see the same things on the labels of all the foods I buy. I love baked beans, canned chili with beans, bean with bacon soup…every one processed, yet also foods brimming with nutrition. The same is true of common foods many of us eat regularly, like the frozen peas, the can or jar or pouch of peanuts, peanut butter, cheeses, enriched breads, and the canned soups. If people read labels, they would learn that a frozen chicken dinner or chicken pot pie has at least as much nutrition as a meal made by hand from fresh ingredients. They might learn that some ‘healthy’ vegetables such as cauliflower and eggplant are virtually devoid of any real nutrients aside from water and some fiber. The fact that a food tastes good, kids like it, and it is easy to fix does not make it a bad food.
***************************************
Constant! Vigilance!
It used to be that sweets were okay, but they were a ‘sometimes’ food (may God’s peace be upon the poor Cookie Monster, who can no longer eat cookies)! Now, healthy eating is a 24/7/365 endeavor. Over Halloween, I had to delete an email from Purewow telling me to go to Target and buy myself some ‘healthy’ versions of Snickers, Reese’s, peanut M&M’s, made by a company started by a 13-year-old kid and his parents two years ago. Why? Because they were so shocked and worried about the ‘unhealthy’ candy kids consume at Halloween. So they claim that these candies are as good as the originals, with 40% less sugar, and oh, watch for it! NO GMOs or HFCS. All at a price of between $1.30 and $5. I guess they didn’t get the message that 1) if you eat too much of ANY food at one time, you may not feel great and 2) that chocolate is already nutritious and has some well-demonstrated health benefits. They…and a great many other people…are also apparently missing the point that eating is a pleasurable part of life and of celebrations. We are supposed to eat what we like and relax and have fun, especially at times such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
**************************************
Rewind and Freeze
All the research I do convinces me more every day that not only is not practical or sustainable for everyone to eat all local foods, all organic, all freshly cooked, and no processed foods. It is not necessary and trying to do so will cause damage to people’s health. For many poor people, it would indeed result in malnutrition, if not starvation. Poverty is a real problem, as is good health care for everyone. However, cheap processed foods are not part of the problem. If anything, they are a large part of the survival of a great many lower income people, as well as part of our culture. It is not practically possible to feed 7 billion people organically and locally, using no processed foods. By definition, local, organic foods are labor-intensive and scarce (not mass produced), so they have to be expensive. Furthermore, since everyone needs food in large quantities on a regular basis, the demand will send costs sky high, higher than they are now, if organic is the only brand available. Also, unlike products like mp3 players or cell phones, demand for food is inelastic, which provides no incentive to lower costs. The first law of economics is that everything has trade-offs. The necessary trade-off of local, organic food is high cost, and it’s a cost that not everyone will be able to pay. Of course, those that will suffer most are those that are already poor, many of whom will be minorities and those who are ill or disabled.
Exerting ridiculous control over everyone’s diets and lifestyles is NOT just fine as long as they do it to thin, as well as fat, people. These measures smack of fascism to me. Labeling foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’, taxing some foods to keep people from eating them, pushing people to live in certain ways, is not only not a practical possibility, it is not anything which will, in the long run, result in EITHER thinner OR healthier bodies. There have been fat people as long as there have been humans, and I am so damn sick of our culture behaving as if fat people were unknown until 50 or 60 years ago. Even some fat activists seem to think, on some level, that we are uniquely fat, that there is a cause, that this is a bad thing and that it must be fixed. The human race is basically only still in existence because of the fat people who could survive and pass on their survivor’s genes. As people have gotten fatter on average, and as we have eaten more processed foods, our survival has gotten better. We are surviving longer.
Every now and then, I hear something from some dickhead fatphobe that this is what they are trying to avoid. If our Earth is being depleted of resources, and part of the reason is unsustainable food production, then it makes sense to induce starvation with a non-industrial food system. However, it could backfire on them because, in the event of widespread starvation for ANY reason, we fat people will be the last to die. I am not religious and I could not say if the meek will inherit the earth, but I have a strong suspicion that the fat may.
************************************
Reminder: Any comments and questions should be directed at my partner, Patsy, as she is the author of this post. -JoannaDW

Dead of Winter Still Rules

If only I didn’t have that setback over Thanksgiving, I would have done a lot better, I’m sure. Oh, well.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 14,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.