September 18, 2011

Day 7: Closing remarks

Well, here we are, folks – last day of the Challenge. It’s been radio silence on my end for the past few days while I spent some quality time with Coop celebrating our anniversary. Food’s a huge part of our recreation together, and we went out for a decadent meal at Bar Agricole. Incidentally, Jake Gyllenhaal was also eating there that night, and I got so stupidly star-struck that I could hardly finish my entree – which felt even more wasteful than usual. Plus Coop was totally upstaged.

I knew I’d definitely be cheating the Challenge for at least our anniversary, and had planned on compensating by going back on my diet of mostly PB&J’s and spaghetti this week. But I fell off the wagon. Hard. Not on Thursday – on Wednesday. I embarrassingly only made it half way.

First there was coffee. Then dinner at Pauline’s with a close friend I hadn’t seen in a while – lots of greens and all the garden-fresh produce I’d been forgoing. On Day 1 I was determined to stick it out, but stress had other plans for me. And after a rough week trying to cram everything on my to do list into 3 days, I could justify a little treat – acknowledging that my threshold for "rough week" is totally different than that of someone who actually has no fallback, no safety net, and faces an uphill battle to meet even their most basic needs. And granted, cheating ain’t an option when money’s tight. You can’t stress-eat or binge when you have just enough to last you through the week. But I was quick to fall into my usual habits after the initial sticker shock, spending nearly a whole day’s food stamp budget on espresso and a week’s budget on a meal.

Giving up coffee affected me more than I’d anticipated, and left me fatigued on top of being a bit overwhelmed at work. That latte (yea, I know, it *had* to be that) was consolation, and I savored it, being conscious to not take it for granted like I usually do. I’d forgotten how coffee suppressed my hunger, and I didn’t need to eat lunch until later in the afternoon, unlike Monday and Tuesday when my stomach had started growling at 11. It made me think about the connection between stimulants and hunger, and how cigarettes have the same effect and must be an even more potent drug for someone who’s not getting the nutrition they need.

Even after just 3 and a half days eating super processed foods and zero fruits and vegetables, my body was (and is) pissed at me. I’ve got rashes and a cold sore – a telltale sign that my resistance is low – and I’m barely staving off a sore throat. This diet has got to be hell for anyone with food sensitivities. And forget it if you want to try loading up on leafy greens and raw veggies to detox and calm an angry digestive system – unless you grow it, have some cheap source of bulk produce, or you’re getting it from pantries supplied by the Food Bank.

In some ways, I feel like my utter failure to live on this budget is a more effective personal lesson and message than if I’d passed with flying colors. It’s damn hard, and now I have some tiny sliver of experience and concrete proof of just *how* hard it is.

Without a doubt, I’m unbelievably privileged to have the option to spend such an absurd amount on the out-of-this-world food our city has to offer. 3 days off of the Challenge, I’m still blown away by the amazing food I have the luxury of affording and marveling at checks when I eat out or shop at a high-end grocery. I don't think the feeling will wear off right away. And my hope is still that that stark, vivid contrast of inequality will be a driving force that motivates me – along with anyone who took the Challenge or knew someone who took the Challenge – to do the long-term work to change the underlying causes of hunger in our community while making sure in the short run that hungry families have access to healthy food.

September 12, 2011

Day 2: More like Hanger Challenge

I’m fading fast at 11pm on Day 2, belly full of way too many salty refried beans – huevos rancheros hit the spot but left me in a lardy fog:

I probably wouldn’t be feeling so spacey and headachey I’d had more than a couple packets of oatmeal and a PB&J that COULD NOT be contained by two airy slices of lightweight 75 calorie Safeway brand Wonderbread:

I could’ve gone the more sensible labor-intensive lentil stew route, but my logic was go with fast and easy, minimal prep since that’s probably more authentic and representative of the experience of someone who has zero leisure time and little energy for cooking. The result has been that I’ve almost always needed to double suggested serving sizes. Especially last night. Behold, the spaghetti basket:

I made the mistake of leaving the house to go see a play last night without filling up first, and had to drool over a burrito Cooper ate for dinner, though I snuck a lick. Gross, yes. He also offered to buy me a beer before catching himself and realizing it was VERBOTEN).

I was a hot mess by 10pm, hangry and lashing out on the bus ride home. I don’t cope well with fluctuating blood sugar. By the time I got some pasta in my belly, I was remorseful for the 5 minutes before I was knocked out by the carbs coursing through my veins. It was the first time I’d been full all day.

Today was mercifully more mellow, with work to preoccupy me, plenty of oatmeal, and when afternoon rolled around and I toyed with sneaking a handful of pretzels from the office stash or buying a piece of candy off a coworker for a nickel with my fellow Hunger Challenger and boss, Madeline (though she doesn’t like to be call that, too much like “the man”), at least I had someone to strategize/commiserate with. Like when I was on an elimination diet trying to isolate a food allergy, this “diet” has been all I can talk about. It was dull then, but at least there’s a deeper purpose to this than treating eczema. Hot!

Some observations I made today – and really some of these feel so petty and na├»ve given that I’m certainly not *really* hungry, and this is such a pinhole view of how it actually feels to struggle with hunger all the time. But maybe there’s some broader truth to these experiences:

  • I was really cold all morning. I mean, sure, I’m always cold, but I just couldn’t warm up.
  • My sense of smell is super heightened. Like that one time I was hiking and hungry – stopped myself from saying starving there, feels especially hyperbolic – and half panicked because I thought we might not get to camp before dark and I somehow smelled a distant fire.
  • The people I’ve talked to about the Challenge (outside my office and the Food Bank) have for the most part fallen into two camps: 1) the folks that dismiss it as routine – “oh yea, I usually don’t spend anything on food.” and 2) those who have a personal connection with it – either because they’ve taken a similar challenge, or they themselves have been on food stamps or have experienced hunger.
My parents had the former reaction initially, but now that they’re taking the Challenge, they’ve had a different experience. I’ll see if I can post my mom’s diary here. A lot of people I’m close to – family included – have revealed their own experiences with hunger and struggling to get by on a fixed income, and I’m grateful that the campaign has helped open the door to conversations that otherwise probably wouldn't have happened.

You know I initially didn’t really like the Feeding America bus stop billboard ad campaign – “Hunger takes this bus too.” I guess I saw it in a new light with McDonald's as a backdrop, as I absent-mindedly did the math of buying 20 chicken McNuggets for $4.99 and somehow making them last 5 days. Yea. SAVING THEM. And sure, I'm still not convinced it’s the best way to frame their message. But I appreciate the sentiment that it’s this silent struggle that goes completely unnoticed unless we bring it out in the open and write about it and talk about it to try and remove the stigma.

September 11, 2011

Day 1: Privilege is a headache that you don't know that you don't have.

So after months of planning with the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks and hours of writing emails to convince people to sign up, I made the last-minute decision to put my money where my mouth is and take the Hunger Challenge this week. I'm going to try to stick to a food stamp budget -- only $4.72/day -- and revive my long-dead semi-embarrassing college-era blog to write about my small glimpse into what it's like to be hungry. And hopefully I’ll raise some awareness about hunger and the need for the Food Bank along the way.

I didn’t sign up because I wanted to prove that I could survive – that seems ignorant and self-indulgent – or because I'm contractually obligated as the Food Bank's online fundraising consultant to participate (kidding!). It's that I’ve never been hungry a day in my life, and this is so far from my daily reality that I felt like it was a responsibility to educate myself and gain a fuller understanding of the experience of 1 in 5 of my neighbors who don't know where their next meal is coming from.

I have the honor of working on this cause as part of my 9-5 – and I’m a long-time donor and true-believer, not shilling here – but I hope this experience will inspire me to do more outside of work. And beyond that, I hope it’ll inspire others to give to the Food Bank out of compassion for those who don’t have enough to eat and out of outrage at the injustice of living in a place so flush with gourmet food that's out of reach for 237,000 of our neighbors.

That’s what I’m doing here. If you’re here, and you want to take the Challenge too, there’s still time to join me – sign up here:

Now, for the interesting stuff: what food I’m buying, what I’m eating, and what’s been unexpected so far – with loads of pictures.

May 11, 2009

Most emailed NYT article: Women on women workplace aggression

I tend not to put too much stock in the most emailed articles from most mainstream news sources; typically it's the fluff, the cute animals and oddities (not that I don't enjoy my fair share). Case in point: the BBC's #1 most popular story of the moment: "60-foot penis painted on roof." Awesome.

The New York Times audience seems to tend toward sharing slightly more substantive articles, like the one written by an American expat loving life in the Dutch social welfare state, featuring in last week's Times Magazine (incidentally, worth checking out, if only to swoon at the provisions of the Dutch government's universal health care: ~$400 covers a family of 4, no copays, and dental included, day care is covered to the tune of $14,000/child annually, and legal barriers for midwives are lifted -- home birth is a longstanding tradition).

But getting back to promoted articles: I looked at the most emailed articles on the NYT homepage this morning, hoping readers would be pointing to an equally engrossing read, and here's what I get:

Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work

Anytime a writer invokes Susan Faludi in the title of an article that points to women as the culprits of our own oppression, you know you're in for a treat. Get this: there's more office bullying during tough times, and some of those bullies are women.

It’s probably no surprise that most of these bullies are men, as a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group, makes clear. But a good 40 percent of bullies are women. And at least the male bullies take an egalitarian approach, mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure. The women appear to prefer their own kind, choosing other women as targets more than 70 percent of the time.

In the name of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, what is going on here?

Just the mention of women treating other women badly on the job seemingly shakes the women’s movement to its core.

It is what Peggy Klaus, an executive coach in Berkeley, Calif., has called “the pink elephant” in the room. How can women break through the glass ceiling if they are ducking verbal blows from other women in cubicles, hallways and conference rooms?

Women don’t like to talk about it because it is “so antithetical to the way that we are supposed to behave to other women,” Ms. Klaus said. “We are supposed to be the nurturers and the supporters.”

So let's recap: you've got your essentialist notions of the masculine and feminine (men=aggressive, women=nurturers), and your basic feminist name dropping/attempted movement discrediting. It would be comical if so many people weren't forwarding it, some of whom probably bought into these stereotypes.

Author Mickey Meece fails to consider how stereotypes feed discrimination in the workplace, though for an instant he seems like he's on the right track. He speculates about structural inequities that could be at work and hits upon the lack of women at the top (to say nothing of the pay gap) before one moment of clarity, with the help of Catalyst research:

Leadership specialists wonder, are women being “overly aggressive” because there are too few opportunities for advancement? Or is it stereotyping and women are only perceived as being overly aggressive? Is there a double standard at work?

Research on gender stereotyping from Catalyst suggests that no matter how women choose to lead, they are perceived as “never just right.” What’s more, the group found, women must work twice as hard as men to achieve the same level of recognition and prove they can lead.

The article minimizes the gendered hurdles that women face outside the realm of office politics and instead puts the onus on us to "hug it out," with researchers lamenting the fact that women won't operate purely based on their shared identity as women, rather than as independent, ambitious, people. And since when is it news that women are competitive and strive to excel as individuals?

Now I'm all for solidarity and cooperation among women and underrepresented communities. But the reality is that women are pitted against one another from the womb by powerful media messaging from those who stand to benefit from a divide and conquer strategy. And based on the sources Meece has chosen, he seems pretty transparently bent on disregarding feminist social critiques and instead making the case that nothing stands in women's way but women themselves:

“As we get into the corporate world,” Ms. Cirocco added, “we’re taught or we’re led to believe that we don’t get ahead because of men. But, we really don’t get ahead because of ourselves. Instead of building each other up and showcasing each other, we’re constantly tearing each other down.”

Conclusion: women bear responsibility for our upward mobility, end of story. Easy to point fingers, if you're not owning your responsibility as someone with the privilege and platform to be heard and amplified by readers across the country. The most popular stories do provide some interesting insight into an audience and how narrow viewpoints seep into the discourse on equality.

UPDATE: Cross-posted on feministing!

September 28, 2008

Fwd: Off the chain

It's pretty astounding -- and a little frightening -- how much of our political discourse has been happening, unfettered and un-fact-checked through peer-to-peer channels like chain email over the last decade. You end up with whoppers like those questioning Obama's religious identity and "Americanism" that have seeped insidiously into public consciousness via deliberate plants by Republican operatives -- and have largely succeeded in otherizing an otherwise unstoppable candidate.

It's rare that I'm included in one of these forwards, but (shocking!) I find it hard to resist responding when I am, and I try to do so in a way that's inclusive and doesn't alienate the sender -- not always an easy task when you're faced with Islamophobic or anti-immigrant blather.

Last week, I had the pleasure of getting an entirely grassroots email forward generated by pro-choice progressives who were soliciting donations for Planned Parenthood "in honor of" Sarah Palin. It was a pretty welcome change from the standard stuff I usually get from the gun-toting conservative uncle/spooked former music teacher from Alabama conting. Then this morning I got this one:

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, right? .....

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....

If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're 'exotic,

Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first
black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration
drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a
Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator
representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the
state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spe nd 4 years in the
United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while
sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the
Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs
committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.

If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council
and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months
as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified
to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2
beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real

If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your
disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a

If you teach responsible , age appropriate sex education, including the
proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

If , while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other
option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen
daughter ends up pregnant , you're very responsible.

If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a
prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city
community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values
don't represent America's.

If you're husband is nicknamed 'First Dude', with at least one DWI
conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age
25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska
from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

OK, much clearer now.

It was surprisingly well-informed (suprising not because of the sender, but because of the fact that typically these things lack any substance and are just vessels for fear-mongering), and it laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican ticket's talking points.

I wouldn't gone on with my day at that point, but then I saw this response attached:

You already know how I feel about politics and therefore politicians. You know I don't consider myself Liberal or Conservative. I hate labels, so I define myself a Constitutional Protectionist. Neither side seems to concern themselves with that or what's really wrong with this country. They spend too much time worrying about the personal lives of the opposition. While some of the things that go on, or have gone on, in ones live may be considered a window into their lives, we've all seen that it does not necessarily effect one's ability to lead though it obviously affects our opinion of them as human beings. The problem is both sides lie long enough to get your vote, then do what they want anyway. So, folks please forgive me if I choose place my focus on other things regarding these people and their ability to lead us out of the mess all the previous "leaders" regardless of party, have gotten us into. But, having said all that, I do vote, always have and will, and have never advocated not voting despite seemingly always having to deal with the lesser of two evils. That responsibility as an American citizen is the only thing that gives any of us the right to complain. In all honesty I am not really enamored with any of these people, finding some good and some not so good in all of them. I'm not confused, just annoyed. I don't get caught up in what the media says because I have the same opinion of talking heads that I do of most all politicians. Thanks for the opportunity to read and respond to this but I won't be spending any more time reading or responding. I really do hate politics and the media.

...and I thought, alright, I'll bite, because if no one responds, the debate is DOA. And then why not use it as an excuse to post, since it's been a while since I've written something that was purely for the sake of politicking and intellectual masturbation:

The response to this forward was a bit disturbing to me...especially since I think many Americans share this disillusioned, disenfranchised attitude. Not that there isn't plenty to feel disillusioned about, but a less than surface examination of the candidates' policy positions would reveal that the decision isn't between two very similar candidates or the lesser of two evils. Neither are perfect in my book, but there are very clear cut differences here, ones that you'd discover upon circumventing mainstream network news media, instead of withdrawing from the dialogue.

Pat's forward is exposing the distortions we're getting from talking heads and from campaign spin -- it's essentially affirming those cynical frustrations that many express about opportunistic politicians and sensationalist talking heads. Only the response misses the key point that the distortions are originating from one side in particular.

Rather than just writing off "politics and the media" -- without which, we wouldn't have a democracy or a Constitution -- if you're a self-described Constitutional Protectionist, you'd want to be certain that the next adminstration we elect isn't of the same ilk as one that's shredded the Constitution as gleefully and with as much reckless abandon as the current one.

It's this kind of misplaced -- though understandable -- apathy and surrender to the worst elements in American politics that landed us with the last 8 years. The more that intelligent members of the reality-based community throw up their hands, the easier it will be for these forces of distortion to capture the minds of the more impressionable folks who are more susceptible to the kind of fringe viewpoints that seek to priviledge the very few at the expense of the rest of us. It's our civic duty to prevent that from happening again.

I really think it's important to engage these folks and meet them where they're at, so I 'spose if if this conversation happens to be via email forwards, then I'm game.

May 27, 2008

Harvey comes home.

San Francisco paid a long overdue - though never more appropriate - tribute to one of its unsung heroes last Thursday with the unveiling of a bronze bust of Supervisor Harvey Milk . The Hall was regaled in rainbow balloon anemone chandeliers. Old Glory was dressed in her best tie-dye, draped over the balcony of the second story, The Sisters in white, veiled and bejeweled. It had all the pomp and circumstance of a corporate sponsored gala, State Senators stumping. Sure Milk was a visionary, sometimes prophetic - portending his martyrdom - but could he have imagined the movement he was part of being mainstreamed to the point where (to put it as Cleve Jones did) Smirnoff and American Airlines targeted his community as "just another marketing demographic"?

Milk's voice was echoing in the rotunda, booming ominous and ethereal and indecipherable with the acoustics of those coffers, as if he were speaking from some great beyond - though I doubt that'd be his style, because he couldn't have banked on the afterlife if he gave so much of himself to the living. He predicted his own murder, his sacrifice to the movement, giving his life so we - all those queer and questioning and fluid and anything but mainstream - could be public and live openly and with dignity, without fear from the tyranny of regression.

There were other voices - Newsom's was hoarse, and maybe I imagined it, or some part of me wanted to hear it, but I thought I heard him say something about San Francisco values and "eat your heart out, middle America." Tom Ammiano's soprano soared in sharp relief - a pointed "SHUT UP" for anyone who ever wanted to stamp out equality.

Going alone, I thought I'd just play casual observer - mostly to soak up inspiration for writing - but people are drawn to distance. Two women asked if I knew whether Sean Penn was making an appearance, another assumed I was a reporter and thought I was old enough (gasp) to have been around when Dianne Feinstein made the shell-shocked announcement on TV that Milk and Moscone had been killed. He lamented the lack of direct action, the complacency that capitulated, "it's enough to build a website." I bristled a little, said the lack of media coverage made it a losing tactic, and that people had turned to making media of their own. He himself had given up on mainstream media, the tenant of objectivity that "gave voice to crazies".

There was one man that made the decision to get off at the Civic Center station worthwhile on his own. He announced himself by gently teasing me about my back - too young to be aching from standing. A self-described San Francisco native, a man swilling a celebratory bourbon, he sidled up next to me while I was doing my best self-composed fly on the wall. He told me about the Milk he knew - a man he wouldn't have known but for the grace of PBS and "The Times of Harvey Milk" when he was "just a kid in the Bronx". We shot the shit - talking about the fight in November, how 2008 is it - finally it - and how insular San Francisco is, and how somehow short of moving inland, we've got to channel our political energies there. I couldn't help but feel proud to see Victory Fund's logo in the sponsor slideshow. He told me how Milk cut his hair, but he didn't conform - he just simulated the mainstream, and worked from the inside - never losing his principles.

Then there was the grand finale - GSA kids, out at 14, 15 - climbing the marble stairs, pulling back the silk drape, all flashbulbs and a chorus of happy birthday that moved me to tears. Home at last, to ordain the marriages of same-sex couples.

On the way home, a woman wielding a petition outside pleading for 30 sec of my day made me a little sheepish - my profession, but done outside the comfortable confines of an office, the anonymity of ghostwriting behind a screen. It had seemed hard enough to turn out after the 9 to 5 for this event and it made me wonder guiltily whether I still had the fortitude to do the canvassing thing. Made me even more grateful for the hard won victories of our forebears.

April 21, 2008

Oy gevalt, no matzo?!

It's true, there definitely was a shortage in SF over the weekend. My housemates and I had to resort to eating our haroset on whole wheat table water crackers.

On an unrelated, totally unkosher note, I indulged in some other types of deliciousness over the weekend, including a burger and fritto misto at Magnolia Brewery, spaghetti and meatballs at Emmy's, and poached eggs with buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy at Universal Cafe. Light, I know.

(If this is starting to look like a food blog, that's probably because eeting is my primary form of recreation. And if it looks like a photo blog, it's because I'm too lethargic from all the eeting to write.)

Photo creds to virgined , rsun78, and eirecubdc.