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Book Reviews: Sandra Steingraber

September 30th, 2011

I just started reading Steingraber; she’s a great writer. Don’t know how it is that I haven’t found her before now. Thanks, Anne, for the recommendation. She’ll be speaking in Portland next month. Looking forward to her visit.

— wm

Friday BlogHer Book Review: Amy Kalafa’s Lunch Wars

September 30th, 2011

Oh, yeah, I’m tagging this one six ways ’til Sunday. Because when it comes to food? There’s a war on in this world. (This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own, by the by.)

I just finished reading Amy Kalafa’s book, “Lunch Wars” (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011, 370 pages, $17.95). Kalafa is producer/director of “Two Angry Moms,” a documentary about kids and school lunches. Kalafa is also a holistic health and nutrition counselor and a Lyme disease consultant.

I like the way she set up the book. It’s a handbook and how-to guide, thus the book’s subtitle: “How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health.” She wrote the book in response to the questions she was asked as follow-up to the documentary, which was a joint effort with Susan P. Rubin, mom and activist, as well as director of A Better Way Holistic Health, a private health counseling practice in New York. Kalafa lays out the numbers, the descriptions, the basic facts, the stats and everything else you need to know to be convinced that our kids are having health problems in this nation, and that some of that stems to their diet. (If you weren’t convinced of that already.)

She also addresses food and poverty, health problems and lack of exercise, PTA wars, school gardens, and pretty much everything under the sun. She’s good, and I found this book to be useful and well-written. She casts a wide net, but she also gets really specific about the issues. She brings up pretty much everyone involved in food politics — from Jamie Oliver to Martha Stewart to Eric Schlosser to Michael Pollan. (Yes, Martha is a political person. She might not be out lobbying, but every time she discusses gardening and talks about organic food, yes, that’s political.) Kalafa sprinkles profiles with other food activists and notables throughout the book — it was a nice touch and makes the book even more credible than it already was.

What I can’t get around is this: You can slap down an Uncrustables sandwich on the counter, wet, soggy, stale and grim, in its crinkly plastic wrapping. Next to it, how about a fresh loaf of whole wheat bread, a jar of peanut butter and the jam jar? You can make a sandwich — a lovely, fresh sandwich, perhaps even one that includes organic peanut butter, jam and bread — and you can ask your guest, “Which looks better?”

The just-made one, of course.

“This is crap” (pointing to the Uncrustables); “This is not crap” (pointing to the fresh sandwich). “Do we really want the kids eating crap?” No, of course not. But you know who’s in bed with the school districts and their money? Smucker’s (Uncrustables), Tyson (crappy chicken pieces). the dairy industry. Then everyone shrugs.

Those of us who have been fighting this battle for years are feeling, right now, empowered and helpless at the same time.

School food = big money for companies. Oh, the dairy industry? Why am I going after them? Because of the chocolate and strawberry milk, that’s why. Rot those teeth, kids, we’re not paying the bills. Whoops! Your parents lost their job(s) and dental insurance? No dentist for you, baby. Maybe if you work rilly rilly hard, and are smart like Tyson and Smucker’s, you can afford insurance! Maybe you should start saving for dentures, though, just in case.

My posts are always too long, my apologies, but here are some fast thoughts:

1) Why can’t kids get water during lunch? (I mean pitchers and cups on the table, not a shared drinking fountain across the room, that, by the way, is broken)
2) Is it that much trouble to offer more vegetarian food? It’s cheaper, and healthier…
3) Why not let the kids get seconds instead of tossing the leftovers in the dumpster?
4) When I see someone using a dirty rag to wipe down a table, then wiping the floor with it, then wiping another table, it makes me want to hurt that person. Gah.
5) We have enough food in this world to go around. So why are so many people going hungry?
6) I still hate war. Food, not bombs. Books, not bombs. Love, not killing…
7) When my daughter was a newborn, the first thing another mom said to me was, Once she’s in school, you won’t want her to eat school lunch. (My thought, “What am I getting into here?”)
8) Growing up, the schools I attended were considered middle-range for poverty, probably. Lots of families with no money, lots of kids eating free or reduced lunch. We had the best cafeteria ladies ever, and everything was homemade and delicious. The parents used to eat with us all the time cuz the food was so good. So when I would read in books about the “horrible” school lunches, Tuna Surprise or Mystery Meat or whatever, it always baffled me.

Why aren’t more people making calls about this? Sending e-mails? Having lunch with their kids, if possible? (Brown bagging, obviously.) Telling the school districts and the USDA that the food lunch program, as it exists now, is unacceptable, especially for kids who are in poverty? For many kids, school breakfasts and lunches comprise most of what they subside on. If you are what you eat, then they are a sausage biscuit, chased with chicken nuggets, tater tots, and as much ketchup, ranch dressing and chocolate milk as they can wolf down and guzzle. There are also a whole lot of kids in the world who can’t digest milk, are allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts, who are vegetarian, or celiac, who just plain don’t like milk and would prefer water, who don’t need the sugar from juice… on and on.

They are not being served.

It doesn’t take much to offer beans and brown rice instead of a peanut butter sandwich (I’m thinking of kids with allergies). And beans and rice instead of chicken nuggets? Always a good idea. The costs are lower, too. In the cafeterias, they’re giving our kids meat that is not even acceptable animal feed, the grade and quality are that abysmal. I could just throw something right now. How about a box of stale, nasty, frozen pizzas?

I’m remembering an evening many years ago. A friend had dropped by, and brought a friend with her. I didn’t know this person. She started interrogating me about my baby’s diet, Well, we’re vegetarians. If she wants to eat meat when she’s older, she can, but this is how we cook (beans and rice, whole grains, greens, vegetables and fruit. She didn’t like cow’s milk, once we were done nursing — at age 2 — so she drank soy milk, fortified with calcium and iron).

This woman, who was in my space, in my kitchen, started screaming at me that I had to give my daughter meat (we tried, actually, on a number of occasions — neither of my kids has ever cared for meat. But the woman never heard this, because she just kept screaming at me). “You could give her a hot dog! You could give her a hamburger!”

Oh, my Lord. It was awful. I had to stop her, so she would leave. My friend? She just stood there, silent.

I was a new mom — I used to second-guess myself constantly. So I finally came up with, “Why is it OK to take a kid to Jack in the Box, expose them to e coli and they can die from it, but there’s something wrong with what I’m doing?”

She left.

All these years later, it still pisses me off.

Ah, the Lunch Wars and the Food Wars. I’ll keep fighting until you lose.

— wm

thoughts on the future of newspapers

September 29th, 2011

This column from (the now dearly departed) Molly Ivins is from 2006, but needs a re-run. We just canceled our subscription to the Oregonian — this time, the break-up is final.

We were only subscribing to it so the kids could read the funny papers. Then one of the kids decided that the funny papers weren’t so funny, and stopped reading them. So we were subscribing so one of the kids could read the funnies. It’s not worth 38 bucks every two months, sorry, kid. I can read the obits on line; that’s all I was using it for. They went back to the smeary (less-expensive) ink, so I can’t even use it to wrap dishes and breakables when we move.

And we don’t have birds over here.

No more Dulcy Mahar, gardening goddess at large. Miss you, sweet girl.

No more Sunday TV guide.

No more, uh, news. Or news staff.

No more, no more. So we’re done.

— 30 —

reviews: toys/books/goodies, rock it, rock it, and Tavern on the Green = food trucks???

September 27th, 2011

Hello to my friends at BzzAgent and VocalPoint, thanks for the goodies!

Here’s a little story about when I used to clerk for a newspaper. (It was this one. Yeah, it was weird, thanks for asking.) We used to get so much swag, you would not even have believed it.

Also, performers! They’d send by bagpipers to woo us out to the Highland Scottish Games, and a mariachi band would stop by every May for Cinco de Mayo. Kooky in the lobby!

One time they sent us about a dozen Cabbage Patch dolls. That was creepy, but the manufacturer was real excited because they were hoping Cabbage Patch dolls (and the dance! maybe the dance, too!) would become “hep” again.

Uh, yeah.

So one day, around Cabbage Patch Redux Time, I was cursing my existence and tearing into a pile of mail that was about as tall as I am (that means: tall). Wasn’t even happy about that, but it kept me busy and off the crack cocaine. I got fed up and said, There had better be a chocolate bar in here for me somewhere.


I tore open two more press kits (I remember it like it was yesterday, it was such cosmic timing) and the very next one I opened had (that’s right) not one, but two candy bars inside! Haha! Seriously, this is a true story. It was from Tavern on the Green, in Manhattan. Tavern on the Green used to be cool any time of year, but was especially pretty and festive during the holiday season. So I think they were sending the chocolate to try to lure me to NYC for the holidays, who knows.

Another time a belly dancer brought by an enormous block of chocolate, maybe 5 pounds of chocolate or so, but that’s a tale for another day.

Now, however, Tavern on the Green appears to have been taken over by… food trucks? Where the hell do they think they are, podunk Portland, Oregon?

My 9-year-old says to that, People are stupid. And I must say, I concur. I never go to New York anymore, cuz I don’t fly. Tell me, those of you who would know… is this true? Say it ain’t so, Joe. Please?

My point is, we used to get so much free stuff at The O. Meanie that I was (am), I used to gather as much of it as I could, after the reviews ran (or didn’t). Then I would either:

1) take it home
2) sell it at Powell’s books (grocery money)
3) give it to the shelter for women and children (domestic violence)

(That 3rd one is the one reporters and editors considered “mean.”) Although you know I ate those candy bars and didn’t share, I didn’t actually take much home. Not because I’m better than you or anything — I was a Lowly Clerk and didn’t score much stuff. Reporters and editors? Yeah. They scored, baby. They ferreted away as much as they could. One of the snootier ones once told me not to send any more goodies to the women & children’s shelter.

“You know how much free stuff they’ve got over there? They’re loaded!” (my response: “R u yankin’ my chain?”) Seriously. I used to call our courier service and have them deliver the boxes for me. Ha. Take that, you over-privileged victims of domestic violence and drug abuse!

Wait. Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. Swag. Here is my disclaimer, plz give it a read, thank you.

I think it is ridiculous that newspapers and news channels can get all kinds of goodies from every-damn-body, and be in bed with whoever, whenever, and do all kinds of product endorsements without owning up to, Oh yeah, the belly dancer stopped by…

That sentence is too long I’ll start over. This whole dang post is too long. for that matter, but this has been bugging me for awhile. Meanwhile, for us lowly bloggers — no one’s rolling in the cash, let’s just say that. Not unless they get a TV deal, yeah, I’m looking at you, sexy Ree ;) (as if I could resent anything the Pioneer Woman does, I love that gal.) So why do I feel like I’m selling my soul, because I run ads? Thanks, BlogHer. Kisses. I am going to continue to hold myself to much, much higher standards than those of USA Today and Fox News. Please make a note of it.

Most of the products/books/restaurants/toys and other products that I review, I pay for out of my own pocket. This week: bonanza. The books, CDS and DVDs the kids and I ordered showed up all at once. A publishing house sent me a load of little kids’ books (which I will pass along to my girlfriends’ who have littles). And BzzAgent? Oh, BzzAgent. Today, my kid had not the best day at school. Why? It was picture day, that’s why. And someone else’s mom tried to comb his hair and hello? Have you met me, Other Mom? I don’t even let my own mom comb my hair, back off, honk honk.

He probably thought it was like “Coraline” and she was going to sew buttons onto his eyes next.

But when he got home, it wasn’t just books galore, oh no. We got a brand-new Tonka XT Richochet Tricksters R/C “remote control stunt vehicle.” That one? It’s staying right here. He likes it, and invited his buddies over tomorrow so they can all test-drive it together.

My favorite feature so far: You can run it around all over the house and it doesn’t wreck the furniture. It flips and isn’t super-loud. A mom’s dream come true. Thank you, Tonka, and thank you, BzzAgent for sending it. (Free, so we could try it out.) (It’s a hit.)

Yes, we’ll be posting reviews all week, stay tuned.

(Maybe they’ll send Cabbage Patch dolls next week?)

— wm

my new favorite song

September 27th, 2011

that’s what i’m sayin’

September 26th, 2011

I really didn’t realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them. You know, they’ve had their budgets cut. They’re paid nothing. Books are falling apart. The libraries are just like the ass end of everything, right? Michael Moore

praying for Troy Davis

September 21st, 2011

“But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.” — Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)

He is gone now. — wm

final galleys on book

September 20th, 2011

proofing all week.

i could drink the hell out of a pot of coffee.



“How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.” — Coco Chanel

updated at 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday to say, DONE with first 142 pages of edit; 229 pages more to go. Why did I write such a cussin’ long book, anyway? It started as a short story. Also, I could use some encouragement at this point, FYI.

Grace Paley poem for rainy Sunday evening

September 18th, 2011

“The Sad Children’s Song”
by Grace Paley

This house is a wreck said the children
when they came home with their children
Your papers are all over the place
The chairs are covered with books
and look brown leaves are piled on the floor
under the wandering Jews

Your face is a wreck said the children
when they came home with their children
There are lines all over your face
your neck’s like a curious turtle’s
Why did you let yourself go?
Where are you going without us?

This world is a wreck said the children
When they came home with their children
There are bombs all over the place
There’s no water The fields are all poisoned
Why did you leave things like this?
Where can we go said the children
What can we say to our children?


September 18th, 2011

A.A. Thoughts For The Day:


“Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint.
This carries a top priority rating.
When we speak or act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant evaporates on the spot.
One unkind tirade or one willful snap judgment can ruin or relation with another person for a whole day, or maybe a whole year.
Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen.”

c. 1952AAWS, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 91

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