Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tom, My Food Hero

Thanks to Marjorie Ingall for pointing me in the direction of this post about school lunches by Tom Colicchio on the Top Chef blog.

Here are two paragraphs from it that I liked:

"Currently, the government subsidizes schools to provide free lunches for some, reduced-price lunches for others, and lunches at “full price” for the rest (“full price” is in quotes because these lunches are also government-subsidized). A writer I greatly admire, Janet Poppendieck, argues in her book, Free for All, that lunches should be free for all children. Why? We make desks and textbooks free to all children in this country – not just the poor ones – because we recognize that without them, kids can’t learn. The current system stigmatizes the kids who can’t afford lunch, leading many who qualify to turn it down and go hungry (one kid I know explained that she’d rather be hungry than labeled and teased). We spend a fortune under the current system on the paperwork and labor to figure out who should get a free or reduced lunch – enough to cover the cost of a universally-available program. And just imagine the purchasing power schools would have if they were feeding all children, and the economies of scale they could employ in buying healthy ingredients; think of the systems for buying from local farms and producers that could be put into place, en masse, which would be a huge jolt to an agricultural sector that desperately needs it. Imagine the stimulus to the economy in training tens of thousands of workers to actually cook in schools, rather than simply heat up or reconstitute the processed food public schools currently serve. Some years ago, schools began treating lunchrooms like fast food restaurants by installing vending machines to sell branded products and soft drinks, as a way to raise more money for lunches. If universal school lunch was funded adequately, and nutritious and delicious food was actually being cooked and served to everyone, the schools could get rid of the junk food and the vending machines once and for all.

And by the way, not only do I feel free lunch should be universal; I think breakfasts should be, too, and served right in the classroom – not in a separate (stigmatized) cafeteria. Studies of a pilot program here in NYC that provides breakfasts during homeroom showed a statistically significant increase in academic performance and good behavior among the children who received it. The teachers were over the moon about it. Sure, in an ideal world all kids would get healthy, nutritious breakfast at home, but we are deep in a recession, and many families – even those with working adults – need help making sure their kids get what they need."

Oh the Mailers

Last week, I read a piece in The Observer called "Where Have All the Mailers Gone?" In it, Lee Siegel argues that The New Yorker Twenty under Forty fiction writer list was not only annoying, but revealed just how culturally irrelevant fiction writing has become. Why? It's too safe. Too professional. Siegel writes:

"The carefulness, the cautiousness, the professionalism that keeps contemporary fiction from being meaningful to the most intellectually engaged people is also what is stifling any kind of response to The New Yorker. After all, kick against The New Yorker's conventional taste and you might tread on some powerful person's overlapping interest."

This may be true, but it also may be overstated. Not bothering to put up any dukes to The New Yorker at a time when the Gulf of Mexico is filling up with oil every day, generals are dismissing presidents, refugees are fleeing from Kyrgyzstan with small children and elaborate tapestries in tow, and things in general seem hot and bad might be a sign of exhaustion, but irrelevance?

Siegel lays out a reasonable argument for the demise of fiction's place in the cultural theater. He pines for the good old days when commercial fiction was better and Mailer was there to mix things up. Yet I can't help but wonder a little bit at people saying it was so much better when Mary McCarthy and Phillip Rahv and Mr. Mailer were smoking their way through downtown bringing urgency to the literary endeavor. I mean, OK, it was different, and people as in the general public probably read more fiction than they do now. And?

Siegel goes on to argue that these days, non-fiction writing is so good, it's taken over the place of fiction among people who think and write big thoughts.

I don't know. Honestly, I don't even know what it means for fiction to be culturally irrelevant. People don't read like they used to; it's a truism of our time. The relevance of fiction, and non-fiction, for that matter, is so personal, so private. Even when great ideas of life and power are being discussed, the impact they might have happens one by one, one page, one reader at a time.

So, yes, maybe fiction writing programs tell people to drown too many of their kittenish sentences. (For a perfect description of this problem, read The Possessed by Elif Batuman.) Yes, people can and should argue about books and ideas in a public forum. OK, maybe there's not enough of that in the bigger writerly venues -- I wouldn't really know since I don't have time to read all of those venues and also read books.

But, for me, fiction or non-fiction, either way, a writer is telling a story. People like to read stories. They need to read them, and they can engage with big ideas about life and power and justice and love and all that through both fiction and non-fiction writing. (Plus, non-fiction writers may not fictionalize, but they must construct a narrative which must be much more streamlined than any situation fully lived.) As long as we keep reading, and as long as we don't only turn to The New Yorker for guidance on fiction writers, I think the question of the relevance of one form of writing versus another may just be irrelevant.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bogged Down

Sorry I've been checked out, the kids haven't had a regular schedule and nothing's gone smoothly. I've what to blog about, and I'll be back soon - Monday, maybe even sooner! Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Terrible Day

Today was one of those days when everyone woke up and was kind of tired of one another and while I had very grand plans (that great water park downtown!), they vanished, just like that, how, I don't even know. Then, some guy said to me about my sobbing son (yes, we were on the street), "What is he crying about like that? What kind of mother are you?" Now, why can't people just ask themselves questions like that very, very quietly? It's not like they don't already have an answer for themselves anyway, right?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Summer

School's out, summer's on, the well's still gushing, the first sunburns are at hand, and tonight I remembered, twice, how great Campari and soda is. Really, I could drink it all night.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Book Binge

Maybe in anticipation of the spate of recent articles (here's one) on electonrica and what it does to your attention span, I've found myself in the grips of a book buying fever. Truthfully, it all started with this Op-Ed that concluded the greenest way to get a book is to go to the library. I read it and vowed to get all my books from the library, except for the ones I can get from the guys on Broadway selling them for a dollar or four a throw. From them, I've bought a book by Lee Child because I heard Child on the radio, or someone talking about Child, and I got curious. I got To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf because why haven't I read it? I bought The House of Fortune Street by Margot Livesy because I liked Eva Moves the Furniture so much. I could go on, but I won't.

Then there were the books that I didn't get on the street. There's Hungry, because it's just out in paperback and I've wanted to read it for a long while, and The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, because I liked the Babel essay in The Possessed so much and a Babel story comes up in The Ask. I also bought The Death and Life of The Great American School System, which I've just finished and mean to blog about. It's the serious relative to Mother on Fire. Way more serious. Then there's a book of poems: Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker. I've read two of them, the poems. They're amazing.

I am now reading a book I actually got out of the library: The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich. So far so good, five pages in. I'm also reading the galleys of Melissa's new cookbook In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, which is the cookbook you dream about when you dream about reading a cookbook in bed. I recommend putting it on your wish list. It comes out in September. God I love a wish list of books.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Body Issue

A few weeks ago, I saw an applied kinesiologist for the first time. I have this stuff in my hip and my low back and I've seen lots of body workers (rolfers, acupuncturists, cranio-scaral therapists) but never an applied kinesiologist. It seems like he's identified and is addressing so real honest-to-goodness stuff going on in my body. But the work, it wears me out. I have a lot less stamina now, and my kids are out of school, which is to say, I find myself blogging in my head, but by the time I get a chance to sit down and type, my back's too sore and all I want to do is lie down and rest. So tomorrow I'll blog earlier about how men who don't want to have any more babies should just get vasectomies. (Did anyone else read that story in Elle about the guy who didn't want more children, his girlfriend got pregnant once, "they" ended the pregnancy? She got pregnant again, she had the baby. He was all "I'm the victim" when she pursued financial support. I mean, has the guy heard of urology and what it can do?)

I digress. I'll explore all that further soon, for now; Good night and good backs.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fried Cheese or The Vegetarian Option

Today after my son's last day of school we went with some friends to Shake Shack, a Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe)-owned New York hot spot serving up burgers, dogs, fries and custards. Today, I chose the menu's "vegetarian option." As you can guess from this post's title, there was fried cheese involved. Specifically, the option includes two portabello mushrooms stuffed with cheese and deep fried. Light vegetarian fare it's not. After you eat it, all you want to do is lie down and let the grease work its way through your body. I better let it get to work.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Few Good Rules

With an election coming and the exuberance of the Tea Party, we're about to hear a lot about how government needs to stop taking so much of our money and doing so much nothing. It will be annoying to hear all this noise in the wake of catastrophic government withdrawal from the financial sector and the work of environmental protection.
Matt Steinglass (a link I got to via Sullivan) makes this point about the current stream of really big problems:

If the lesson of the catastrophes of the noughties is to pay attention to tail-end risk, then we should all be running around building nuclear fallout shelters and working out deflection strategies for massive asteroid strikes. And that’s not going to happen. (Though in the case of climate change, one of Leonhardt’s examples, it is useful: we should be paying more attention to the risk that global temperature rise by 2100 will be near the catastrophic 6-degree-celsius high-end estimate, not the merely awful 2-degree median estimate.) But I don’t think that is the main lesson. The main lesson is simpler and more concrete: government regulations need to be more restrictive, regulators need to be more aggressive, better-paid, and more powerful, and they need to stop people and corporations more often from doing things that may be profitable but pose unacceptable risks to the public. We had this theory for a while that economic self-interest would prove sufficient disincentive to foolish risk-taking. But now the Gulf of Mexico is on fire, so I’m afraid we need to go back to the old-fashioned system with the rules and the monitors carrying sticks. Sorry.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cars: Not so fun

Apparently, kids today aren't getting licenses in droves. Here's the breakdown on Sullivan. By the way, my knee-jerk reaction to Sullivan's suggestion of a dollar gas tax and a cut in FICA is "Yes!" But I'm always for a gas tax, even if it's regressive, and it's easy for me to be for a tax like that because I've always lived in places where I don't have to drive.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who's in the Labor Room?

A while back, I wrote a pregnancy book with Joel Evans, an Ob/Gyn with a holistic practice. (It's called The Whole Pregnancy Handbook) When we got to the birth section, Joel and I had a few conversations about what happens in a labor room. I myself was pregnant at the time and I remember Joel saying something along the lines of, "Couples should try to be honest with themselves about whether or not the dad needs to be at the birth because for a lot of men and a lot of women, it'd be better if he weren't there." Joel said this because of what he'd witnessed at births, including those of his own two sons, but it still felt like he was speaking a truth that dared not be named.

Well, over at Babble, my friend Ceridwen Morris speaks this truth and puts a few names on it. A childbirth educator and author (From the Hips), Morris asks whether or not it's time to acknowledge that when it comes to pregnancy, the experiences of men and women are not equal. After all, as Ceridwen notes, it's not "we" who's pregnant, but "she." This doesn't mean a dad-to-be should opt out of all pregnancy and birth information-gathering, but that the differences between a man becoming a dad and a woman becoming a mom need to be aired out. Ceridwen writes:

So, instead of keeping dad away, maybe the answer is as simple as acknowledging that the period of pregnancy and birth can be weird and awkward and alienating for him. We can talk more about the differences between men and women’s experiences. We can give mom permission to go though a distinctly female experience without feeling like she’s a sell-out to women’s rights. We should look harder at why dad is feeling so passive in the delivery room. And give him better tools to help his pregnant/birthing/lactating partner in a way that bolsters confidence. I spend much of my time in birth classes showing men precisely how not to be passive. I don’t talk about how he can go through labor, but how he can support it. And I do see an up-swing of confidence.

This makes perfect sense. Nothing is as empowering as talking about what freaks you out. When it comes to having a child, there's a lot to freak out about, so you might as well start talking sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Who Speaks Feminism?

Rebecca Traister has a very interesting piece on Sarah Palin and her co-opting of the language of feminism.

She writes:

"Harking back to (an imagined version of) first-wave feminism, Palin has been distorting second-wave ideology with a dastardly Opposite Day formulation in which those who support reproductive rights do not believe women capable of mothering and working simultaneously....."

Traister continues:
"If the people most interested in owning "feminism" are Republicans, women and men who don't believe in a woman's right to control her health, or to receive the healthcare and economic support she needs, or to benefit from labor policies and protections that would enable her to work and earn to her full capacity, then I fear -- as I feared back in 2008 -- that feminism will be theirs."

The problem for the Left is one of perception: Can we find language that can be used to demand feminism stand for creating opportunities, acknowledging difference, establishing standards for health, workplace security, day care, and general equality and escape the dreaded label of "Political Correctness"?

Traister asks:

"But more than those of us who are already declared feminists need to think about how we feel about women's social progress, its place in history and on the political spectrum; and those of us who have already thought about it a lot need to decide whether we're ready to express ourselves in aggressive ways, to act sure when we aren't sure, curt when we'd rather be considered, and mean when we'd prefer to be kind. Because though feminists rightly like to say that we don't draw prohibitive lines, that we don't have membership checklists, we are about to be called upon to draw a stark, crude line."

This is an important question. We've seen the Right hijak the language of the progressive movement, to claim the interests of the working man as their own. Traister rightly wonders if we'll just sit quietly and watch as Sarah Palin does the same with the language of feminism.

Traister hopes not:
"There has to be a move toward ownership from other Democrats, from those women and men who have perhaps not yet named themselves feminists -- and perhaps who don't want to for very good reasons -- but who also do not want to see "women's rights" come to mean the exaltation of fetal life over female life and religion over science, who don't want to see "women's liberation" divorced from notions of equal opportunity and instead reframed as Ayn Rand-ian survival of the richest or most privileged."

Is there a way to use public language in a way that doesn't banish all difference but demands attention and draws clear unequivocal lines? If Traister is right, Palin is throwing down the gauntlet to many of us who consider ourselves feminists. I hope those of us on the left find a way to answer her back and say, "You wanna have this fight? We'll have this fight. Oh, you betcha." And when someone someone says someone on the left is "just being PC," I hope the publis debaters have the balls to say, "Puh-lease" and move on.

BP: Safety violations are nothing new

Read a little bit about it here. This from the company that worked to rebrand itself as greener and "Beyond Petroleum."