Sunday, May 26, 2013

Going to the dog's (food)

Sometimes I think when we feed our dogs, we are feeding ourselves. It can be so difficult to control our relationship with animals. Food is the one thing we do have control over, versus sitting, staying, jumping, barking, and pooping. We feed our need for control.  And maybe over our own diets, too. It's hard to resist a craving for food, but with a dog or cat you can actually try to craft the 'perfect diet.' for the animal. Of course, some people go the opposite way and overfeed, desperately trying to prove that eating junk food isn't terrible because "my dog eats it all the time and she is fine."

I recently decided to change my dog's food.  She's been eating the Wegmans generic version of Beneful (same ingredients, just the store label) for many years, but then I noticed that Wegmans recently added high-fructose corn syrup to their formula.  Since I consider high-fructose corn syrup to be THE NUTRITIONAL EMBODIMENT OF EVIL (i.e., my Moriarty/ Lord Voldemort/ Lex Luther) I knew I had to find her some new food. She obviously had no say in the matter.

I once read an article by a woman who tried various kinds of dog food, just out of curiosity. I love my dog, but I'm not willing to go that far for blogging.

There is quite a bit of evidence out there (most of it contradictory) about what to feed your dog. I think part of the problem is that dogs are omnivores--like us--and there are some parallels between how and what humans eat and what dogs eat. There has been a recent explosion of gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, corn-free, and soy-free dog food and a corresponding explosion of interest in human diets that meet all of these conditions. There is even vegan dog food. You know all of the micro-managed dogs are drinking from puddles and toilet water and lusting after road kill when their owners aren't looking.  And it bugs me when people call their dogs vegan or gluten-free.  You may feed it vegan or gluten-free food, but if there is a squashed Big Mac on the road, it's not going to call PETA  or eat the burger and not the bun to avoid the wheat, it's going to try to eat the whole damned thing.  Dogs don't make their diets part of their internalized 'identities' like humans. 

I haven't found the secret to the optimal diet for all dogs.  My first dog was a stray and very, very picky.  She would eat a bite of Mighty Dog, cover her nose, retreat to the back of the room, then take another bite. Despite not being a 'dog person' my mother insisted on feeding her people food because she felt guilty, kind of like how she would nag me about eating sweets and my weight and then give in when I begged for those waxy chocolate-covered doughnuts in the supermarket or sugary McDonald's.  When I was in college, my mom cooked more for Lucky than she did for herself.

My current dog eats dog food. My mother passed away when Asta was two, and I am sure Asta thinks of those years as the Golden Age when my mother fed her steak, Swiss cheese, and peanut butter when I was at work during the day.  However, she weighs about three pounds less than she did when mom was still with us.

Still, I haven't been using a 'healthy' dog food. So I have felt a little bit guilty all these years, buying my broccoli and Greek yogurt while getting her the dog food equivalent of, if not sugary cereal, than one of those kinda fake 'good for you but not good for you cereals' like Raisin Bran. As a puppy, I tried to get her to eat numerous high-end foods but she seemed very unenthusiastic about eating the brown, lumpy homogenous grain versus the brightly-colored kibble.  Also, the high-end food made her very, er, constipated, because it was so high in protein and low in fiber.

I couldn't blame her for hating the healthy dog food. It looked exactly like the terrible dehydrated rice meals I used to buy in graduate school when I felt guilty about getting takeout every night.  I'd try cooking that stuff, watch it adhere to the bottom of a pot, and then spoon the muck into the garbage.

Since she has been healthy and flourished on the food I was giving her, I never really looked into brands until now. I nearly had a meltdown in PetSmart. It seemed terribly ironic after dealing with so many people who avoid gluten in my yoga classes that I was now faced with an entire aisle of such products.   But then again, I'm really neurotic about carbohydrates and all of the formulas promising giving a dog an 'ancestral' diet cut a bit close to home. Perhaps I should just buy an organic, grass-fed cow for both of us and call it a day?

I looked into home-cooked meals and raw food, but was terrified to read about dogs getting broken bones from not enough calcium from homemade dog food and pancreatitis and intestinal parasites from 'going raw.' Besides, even the homemade formulas had added supplements to make them 'balanced,' which seemed to kind of defeat the point of going 'all natural.' And I kinda resented any recipe that was called 'easy cooked dog food' that began with 10 pounds of ground beef. There is nothing easy about cooking with 10 pounds of ground beef.

I found a new, healthier food she seems to like, but I still feel guilt. She cannot choose what she eats and also that whatever bag I buy makes up the bulk of her  nutrition, versus the varied diet that I eat. And I feel if I can find her the 'perfect' food, she will live longer, be happier, and I will be a 'good owner,' whatever that means.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I (don't care about) girls who boycott Abercombie & Fitch

Flickr: Six Steps

Dear Mike Jeffries:

I feel sorry for you.  I really do. I feel as sorry as I can for anyone who owns an incredibly successful fashion company and who is sixty-one years old and says "dude" a lot.  I mean, you gave an interview to Salon in 2006 and now your words are totally blowing up over all of social media.  I mean, I'm much younger than you (although older than your target demographic group) and I don't even remember 2006.

So, this is the quote that has been getting you all the hate:

"Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

Again, this was said in 2006. This is news?  That fashion companies favor thin people over fat people? That your company isn't warm and fuzzy? Abercrombie has had lawsuits dogging it for YEARS about its racist and exclusionary hiring policies. Its sizing chart isn't a secret.

And now there is this manufactured 'love your body' rage against Abercrombie? I'd be tempted to say that it was all orchestrated by Lane Bryant, but you know what?  Even Lane Bryant, just like Abercrombie, uses aspirational marketing--that's why 'plus size' models are size 6s and 8s, so women who are size 16 and 18 can aspire to look like them, just like theoretically size 2s and 4s can aspire to fill the 00 jeans at Abercrombie & Fitch.

I also feel sorry for you because, as a decidedly uncool and overweight teen back in the day, I totally get your awkwardness when talking with the press. Because being really cool is like Fight Club.  No one who is cool needs to say they are cool.  I knew the cool kids in my school: everyone did. The cheerleaders and the football players wearing the latest clothes from the Gap and Express (back in the late 80s and early 90s, those were cool brands). They had perfect fake tans and nails and their lip liner was never smeared.  They had nice cars and their families went on vacations together to the Caribbean. They were in honors classes but never seemed to study or worry about grades.  And although they could be incredibly bitchy behind people's backs, they rarely openly mocked or targeted the most vulnerable members of the student body.  They didn't need to, unlike the desperate, sweaty, socially aspiring types with funny noses and no-name brand jeans.   In other words, the uncool kids like you, Mike (can I call you Mike), who thought that making fun of fat people was 'in.' Because you were secretly afraid that if you didn't pick on the fat kids, you were 'next.'

All of the really cool thin kids knew that the right attitude to take to fat people was a slightly patronizing attitude of tolerance: of course, we support your right to be yourself, but our natural skinniness is so powerful your fatness cannot possibly touch us.   That is why, more so than anything YOU said, this response from a supposedly ordinary mom that went viral really annoyed me:

Dear Mr. Jeffries:
Thank you for clarifying the reason you do not carry sizes larger than a 10 at Abercrombie. Your customer is an "attractive, all-American kid with a great attitude and lots of friends." I am a mom of 3 daughters, ages 17, 13, and 10. They are all thin, attractive, all-American kids with great attitudes and lots of friends. They shop at Abercrombie. I believe they are your target audience.
Please find the enclosed clothing, purchased at our local Abercrombie/Abercrombie and Fitch stores. My thin, popular, cool kids will not need them anymore.
Not only will I not let my kids shop at Abercrombie again, I will not let them wear what they already have in their closets. Normally I donate our unwanted clothes, but in this case, I wouldn't want any unsuspecting thin, cool person to send the message that being exclusionary is OK.
Andrea Neusner

'Kay, Andrea--could you say how cute and skinny your kids are ANY MORE?  In fact, I secretly think that you wrote this letter just to proclaim to the world how skinny and perfect your kids are--you know that is the ultimate standard of coolness, to perfectly embody the American ideal and then say that you do so without even trying very hard, that you can throw it all away like last year's jeans.

It's far harder and riskier to say that you hate Abercrombie & Fitch if you're too black, too poor, and too overweight to hope to embody that ideal.

And don't even get me started on the people handing out Abercrombie the homeless as a way of 'tainting' the brand image.  That's unbelievably offensive, to suggest that if a homeless person is seen wearing a particular item of clothing that it will 'hurt sales.' 

I hate to say it but the real problem isn't Abercrombie--it is the idea that somehow if we can find an item of clothing in a particular size that means we have to be that size. And that cuts both ways--truthfully, although I am certainly against self-flagellation, I can't agree with the idea that making larger clothing somehow makes the health consequences of America's obesity epidemic less troubling or the consequences of obesity less life-destroying.  It's just as bad as thinking that there is something wrong with you because you can't get into the smallest size of skinny jeans.  It's like deciding on what you should eat based upon the fact you just saw an advertisement for a brownie or a Lean Cuisine.

Every person had to decide what state of being is right for him or her (not just weight but activity and other aspects of physical health).  People can't rely upon companies trying to sell stuff to justify their weight or their diet.

So I get you, Mike, you're just a guy trying to sell stuff. Overpriced stuff in stinky mall stores, but if that is what works for you, go for it.  Just like L.L. Bean sells stuff to a target audience of slightly podgy, middle-aged outdoorsy and WASP-y baby boomers and Forever 21 targets teenage girls who watched Pretty Woman a few too many times (although weirdly enough, the company is owned by devout Christians).

So go ahead, continuing to promote images of skinny kids once this controversy blows over (as I am sure it will) and people go back to posting pictures of Grumpy Cat on Facebook.  Between you and me, we both know that the fat, rich chicks will just buy a men's XXL sweatshirt that says Abercrombie.  The main people excluded from Abercrombie are poor people, even if they are skinny. But then again, the obesity epidemic disproportionately affects the poor and non-white, so I guess that all jives with your company image, eh?

Well, also according to the 2006 article, your 'branding' has very little to do with chicks at all, fat or otherwise:

A&F aged the masculine ideal downward, celebrating young men in their teens and early 20s with smooth, gym-toned bodies and perfectly coifed hair... (A&F has had less of a cultural impact on women’s fashion. Its girls’ line is preppy, sexy and popular, but the company has mostly remained focused on pleasing the all-American college boy.)For many young men, to wear Abercrombie is to broadcast masculinity, athleticism and inclusion,,, (that may be why the brand is so popular among some gay men who want desperately to announce their non-effeminacy). But because A&F’s vision is so constructed and commodified (and because what A&F sells is not so much manhood but perennial boyhood), there is also something oddly emasculating about it.

I think this is kind of Salon magazine-speak for saying Abercrombie & Fitch uses gay soft porn to sell its clothing, but in a way that doesn't make the moms and dads who pay for the clothing uncomfortable, so perhaps there is some 'social good' in your company's image, however unintentional...

But for me, the ultimate takeaway is that regardless of what your boycotters say, the larger problem won't go away, that people expect fashion companies to define themselves and their bodies rather than the other way around. 

But I guess that is what 'fashion' is--letting society rather than your internal voice tell you what is correct?


The least coolest girl in high school

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mom versus food

Flickr: lePhotography
My first food memory--and one of my first memories, period--is of my mother feeding me scrambled eggs from a china bowl that was illustrated with pictures of nursery rhymes on the bottom, designed to encourage kids to clean their plates. I remember consuming the eggs passively, willingly and also how my mother would say, many years afterward "you always loved eggs when you were a baby," when I would eat buttered toast and bacon, but refuse eggs.

She said I was picky.  She'd serve me pasta with butter, which I said was yucky, then she'd put some of the red sauce on it that I refused before and I'd say I wanted it with butter. I really just hated pasta and I'm a grown-up now so I don't eat it.

Some of the things my mother served me seem really weird in retrospect. She made me creamed spinach for an after-school snack. When she made pancakes (always from a mix), she'd pour the whole bowl of batter into a big skillet and make a really big, thick, eggy pancake because it was too much trouble to make small pancakes. With butter in the center (always real butter) and pancake syrup (which we had no idea was not real maple syrup), I'd eat it but once I had those skinny, fluffy pancakes at McDonald's I was ruined for my mom's uni-pancake.  Ditto with eating her hot dogs and hamburgers once I ate them at the Windmill (a local gourmet food joint in Jersey).

My mom claimed to not care about food, and truthfully, it did kind of show in her cooking.  She'd throw a piece of meat under the broiler with salt (or garlic salt, depending on her mood); teriyaki  or paprika on chicken breasts. The foods she was good at cooking were things that most 'real' cooks can't cook because they over-think them.  For example, meatloaf--my mother would slather in Italian breadcrumbs, ketchup, garlic salt, egg, ample lashings of Worcestershire sauce and the results would be fantastic.  Good cooks say their meatloaf is nothing special because they try to put fancy cheeses and herbs and such in them.  My mother would throw together Russian dressing with mayo and ketchup, toss it with spinach leaves, tomato, and leftover grilled steak...I liked steak salad better than regular steak, of which I was always a pretty unenthusiastic consumer.

My mother hated the way I ate. And told me so. Again and again. As I kid, I mainlined birthday cake icing, M&Ms, and sugary Chicken McNugget sauce and fries they were going out of style. When I dieted, I counted calories and I subsided on Lean Cuisine pizza and low fat ice cream while she begged me to eat meat and vegetables.   I never lost a single pound eating that crap.  Then I went vegetarian and loved Chinese food; the only foods she was openly passionate about were steak and pizza.

However, even when she opposed what I ate, she always provided it for me. 

She said that I ate the way I did out of rebellion against her abstemiousness, and oddly enough, after her death, I find that I do feel much better when I eat more like my mother--not shying away from a little bit of fat, eggs, or even red meat and avoiding sugar--but plenty of green vegetables. Some of her obsessions--like drinking a big glass of orange juice every morning, her fear of spicy food, and her belief in the powers of Special K cereal and rye bread--I haven't adopted. She hated whole wheat and white bread, so maybe she was a bit ahead of her time food-wise that way as well. 

I used to be afraid I'd become my mother, but now I realize that is impossible for a childless person.

Anyway, my mother wasn't a stereotype--she cared too much about health to be one of those 'convenience food' moms, despite her hatred of cooking, and although she liked to be thin (and I like to be thin as well, so I can't complain about that) she was never one of those crazy 'diet moms' who encouraged her kid to live on Tic Tacs and Diet Coke (again, the hatred of processed food).

My mother doesn't have a 'food legacy' of any sort--no historic cookie recipe, no famed celebration meal--although after all of those years of fighting I guess we did have the same goal: for my body to be healthy.  And really, other than your mother and yourself, who cares about that?