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September 15, 2011

The Hunger Challenge: On Being on Food Stamps For Real

Some folks are participating in the Hunger Challenge and feeding their families on a 'food stamp budget' of about 4 dollars a person a day. This event, being put on by the San Francisco Food Bank is designed to raise awareness of hunger and the overwhelming need to help Americans obtain enough food.

I have mixed feeling about the whole affair.

Awareness is good, but the type of awareness can leave a bit to be desired. People want to try the budget to identify more with the people who have no choice, but the context is so dissimilar as to make it an almost laughable comparison.

It's complicated.

I wrote some thoughts on making the Hunger Challenge a bit more challenging when it was being done in the Seattle area a while back. Those thoughts stand but I have a few more. (Amazing, huh?)

Once upon a time I was a poor single mother and I got food stamps. Not those SNAPpy little credit card things you get now, but colorful play money scrip they used back in the dark ages. It was like shopping with Monopoly money.

This is what I remember about being on food stamps:

Continue reading "The Hunger Challenge: On Being on Food Stamps For Real" »

March 31, 2011

Thoughts on Making the Hunger Challenge a Bit More Challenging

The Hunger Challenge is an annual event put on by United Way of King County (WA) in which people volunteer to live on a limited food budget of about $7 a person/day for several days in order to gain empathy with people who are living on SNAP (food stamps). Some people wrote, made videos, etc. about their experiences.

As you might imagine, this was executed with varying degrees of success. Some people wrote excellent posts with recipes, resources, strategies and tips for eating on the cheap. Others shared just how difficult the entire thing was for them, some of them before the challenge even started. Yes, really. The response also swung widely with accolades being heaped upon a few bloggers for making it through a single day to, perhaps my favorite, "Poverty isn't a f*cking writing prompt." (Thank you, Miss Britt.)

I did my share of snarky tweeting about stunts and playing at poverty while the challenge was going on and while I do regret that a few friends thought I might be talking about them (I wasn't), I stand by it. I find it offensive to have people pretend to a life that you know is extremely difficult and come away after 72 hours (or less) saying "it's easy." Whatever the intent, it seems dismissive and diminishes the experiences of people who lived it to the benefit of those who write about one small, and highly mitigated, aspect of it on the Interwebs.

However, amd importantly, I also understand that this was not the intent of the individuals who participated in, and wrote about, the Hunger Challenge. Yes, many of the issues people had with the Hunger Challenge came down to what individual bloggers wrote, but I am not calling them out. (Look ma, no links!)

 Instead, in the spirit of fighting the real enemy, and recognizing that while United Way is considering changes they are plannng on doing this again next year, I offer suggestions for structural changes in the Hunger Challenge in order to make it just a wee bit more realistic.

Continue reading "Thoughts on Making the Hunger Challenge a Bit More Challenging" »

November 04, 2010

Cooks Source: Now For Something Completely Different

Update: Cooks Source issued a statement. It needed a little cleaning up, so I did: Cooks Source Statement: Slightly Corrected (10.9.10)

If you care about food, writing, law, scandal, chicanery, hypocrisy and/or Internet drama — which may define my readers, by the way — you have no doubt heard about Cooks Source, but just in case you are none of the above, welcome and a summation:

The tl;dr version of this post: My 2005 Ice Dragon entry, called "A Tale of Two Tarts" was apparently printed without my knowledge or permission in a magazine and I am apparently the victim of copyright infringement.
             from Illadore's House o Crack - Copyright Infringement and Me

There is, of course, more.

It is the kind of 'more' from which grand Internet dramas are made: Clueless editor, arrogant responses, google reveals the magazine seems to be built on lifted content, class action suits are suggested (after someone finds Martha Stewart, NPR, and Disney amongst the victims; it's corporate money they want to use for lawyers)...and the pile-on begins.

We are now at less than 20 hours and there are dozens of posts, a Facebook pileon, thousands of tweets, fake twitter and Facebook accounts, the Cooks Source site has been up and down and there's just a whole lot of poo being flung around by the flying monkeys. It's only going to get messier - there's apparently a Travel Source magazine which seems to also be full of infringing material (check for your stuff here).

Illadore's article has the full story, which has now been rehashed all over the Internet, it is well worth the read it if you are interested in what is going on.

I want to talk about what is not...

Continue reading "Cooks Source: Now For Something Completely Different" »

June 07, 2010

Cook's Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knife Roll

As I said on twitter: Dudes, if a post says "I" at the start of almost any sentence, it's about ME owning my privilege. We are all Spartacook.

Meaning: this post is not about Shauna, who wrote the original tweet. That's why I didn't name her. There were others discussing the topic at the time, some of them saying similar things and others disagreeing. That particular tweet, however, is the one I saw and commented on, so it's linked(added 6.11.10)  

This post was going to be something else entirely – trust me, there is a great half-written rant – but I got hungry along the way. Hungry enough to want to cook, which I haven't really since I got out of the hospital last week, so I took a break to make a quick late night meal. One of my two chest freezers yielded some lovely Italian sausage made by a friend, which we paired with fresh eggs from a local farm and some fried potatoes with thyme from the herb garden. I scrambled the eggs with just a bit of Parmesan and some fresh chives. Then I came back to write a bit about the intersection of food and privilege and it somehow demanded to be a bit more personal.

This all started with a couple of people on twitter – twits, right? – who were essentially saying, "If I can cook, anyone can." Actually, to be exact, it started with a full-time stay-at-home professional writer and cookbook author who is married to a professional chef saying, "I cook three meals a day, plus bake every afternoon, with a toddler. if I can cook, other people can too."

I literally called bullshit on the very idea that one of us (professional food people who work from home) could say such a thing. Called it privilege. Because it is, uh, privilege. But that just led to me being seen as the bad guy and being unfollowed by some people who then dissed me for being hostile. Um, yeah, whatever…but the issue was left by the wayside in the dust from that kerfluffle. Not my plan at all.

Continue reading "Cook's Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knife Roll" »

May 04, 2010

Dear Northern Star Natural Gas: Go FERC Yourselves!

For those of you who have not been following along, the bones of a backstory:

Northern Star Natural Gas was formed for the purpose of trying to build a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in a fairly remote spot on the Oregon side of the lower Columbia River. The closest thing? Just a couple of miles away sits Puget Island and Wahkaikum county. My county. Which has little say because the project is in Oregon.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is in control of siting these little nightmares. This process has been going on for what seems like forever, but is actually only 5 years or so during which it's been a serious fight. How did it go? Let's just say that when a small town in Washington goes up against energy speculators and George Bush's energy agency makes the call...it's been tough.

You came here for food, so why should you care about this bit of self-indulgence? Well, the LNG site is in a fragile estuary that is the nursery of the wee little salmon babies that eventually grow into that amazing Columbia River Spring Chinook that's hitting the market about now and we...well, read the letter.

Dear Northern Star Natural Gas,

I like to think that the residents of evenTinierTown and environs are open, welcoming, friendly people.

Seriously, have you met these folks? They wave when they drive by, they say "hi" to people they pass on the street -- one day an old guy sighed and thanked me because my long, loose hair reminded him of his youthful first love. How sweet is that? -- and I swear I can't get through a trip to the grocery store without hugging someone I haven't seen in a while.

You came to town right around the same time we did, so I sort of feel like we're newcomers together. I know you had a hard time fitting in; it's easy to make missteps in a small county like this. But it was also pretty darned easy for me to make friends and lord knows I am not the most diplomatic person you've met so it can't be all that hard, now can it? There are lots of good folks here, you just have to let them warm up to you.

Puget Island says NO to LNG! When you first showed up in town, we -- see? I am a 'we' even though we have been here similar lengths of time. Are you a 'we'? -- were willing to give you a fair hearing. Even the dread red-shirts would often tell you that if you just built off-shore, we just might be fine with that.

Did you listen? No way!

No, you showed up talking smack about eminent domain and bypassing state controls on other people's land. Refused to answer our questions under some guise of 'national security' without noting that, for us, this was local security. (I remember talking to a NS guy who explained that a leak would disperse on the river unless it met with a source of combustion. He assured me there were no such things for miles. I told him he was mistaken, I had friends a mile or so away. He changed the subject.) What the hell?

Those closed door meetings with politicians and people who pretended to be important. Not cool. Extremely not cool.

You totally blew off our little county because, even though we are closest to the estuary you want to industrialize, we aren't in Oregon. Even though the little charts of where the pool fire would go included our friend's houses. Houses you put numbers on and then refused to tell the residents what they meant because nothing could go wrong. (See also, Deepwater Horizon)

"Oh no," you said, "that part of the river belongs to Oregon!" You weren't going to listen to us no matter what.

Seriously?

We tried to tell you. Tried to talk to you. Tried to find middle ground. Hell, we said "offshore it!" We almost never say that! But you didn't listen, and you missed your chance.

Here's another things you missed about local folk. They love their river. That river does not divide Washington from Oregon, it unites us into one thing: the people of the river. Denizens of the lower Columbia.

The cute little ferry that runs across within range of your proposed LNG site, is a critical bit of what makes this area special. People traverse the river for work, family, entertainment, or simply to enjoy a beautiful day on the river. I think you missed that.

Then again, you missed many things.

We, on the other hand, don't miss much.

One of my new friends, a quiet, unassuming older guy who shares a wicked sense of humor with his charming wife, sent me mail recently asking why he couldn't get to your web site. I poked around and noticed that the site was pretty much gone, links to nowhere, nothing but a splashy splash page. I replied that it looked like you might be on your way out.

See? We pay attention.

I believe I even said, "Let the mocking begin." My friend, who is more polite than I, has refrained. Lucky for you. I have heard his mockage and would hate to be on the wrong side of his tongue.

Now today brings news. You're leaving town.

Wish I could say I was sorry to see you go but really I am just thrilled to see your carpetbagging, good old boy schmoozing, estuary-trashing, salmonid-killing, river-dredging, industrial polluting, environment destroying, whining to the government, pipeline-dragging, story-changing, sorry asses getting the fuc...er, FERC off of our river.

But before you go, I have one more thing to say...

Continue reading "Dear Northern Star Natural Gas: Go FERC Yourselves!" »

November 07, 2007

What the Hell's Kitchen?

When one examines the pantheon of cooking video games, from BurgerTime to Cooking Mama and the almost inevitable sequel Cooking Mama: Cook Off, to Happy Cooking...well, one discovers it's a very small pantheon indeed.

The next thing one discovers is that there is much fun to made. (disclosure: I have not played any of these games...mostly because I have a real kitchen if I want to play with food. Also, no dragons to slay or tame so what kind of game is it?) Anyway, on to the digression: Happy Cooking, which is described thusly:

Lisa, a little girl, is having a hard time trying to cook dinner before her father comes back home. Hopefully, an unexpected angel from the Moon will make her meet a famous chef who will help her.

There are so many things wrong with this. Like: Do they have angels on the moon? Really?

But let's start at the beginning with Lisa, the little girl whose adventure we share. There's a picture of Lisa on the box and I kind of like her look. Attractive, but not overly so (if you know what I mean), kind of spunky looking, she's cradling that mixing bowl like she knows what to do with it (although the grip on the whisk is iffy),

Have you looked at that box cover yet? No? And you are waiting for what? Geez! Go look already, I'll wait.

Continue reading "What the Hell's Kitchen?" »

October 22, 2007

Dear PETA, women are animals too...

Dear PETA,

What is it with the soft porny commercials and naked women? Are you truly so blinded by your desire to save furry critters with faces that you forget women are critters with faces too? Those women were even somewhat furry too, before you made them get all waxed and shaved so they could get nekkid for your tacky ad campaigns. (Apparently natural is good for sheep but not for girls.)

The women in your ads all too often appear to be the victims of some sort of strange fetishized sexualized violence. Naked, vulnerable, marked up like exotic animals, chained and caged. And yet, lovely. Thin, yet curvy. Beautiful, beaten and bound. Sometimes dead.

The gap between this and many a movie you can't see without mom and dad is skimpier than that piece of lettuce that you, PETA, think passes as clothes.

For a group that can work up a head of steam over a goldfish, you sure don't seem to get that women are people too. Seriously, the women of PETA (that sounds like a Playboy layout doesn't it?) are starved, shaved, waxed and laid out for someone's 'viewing pleasure' (surely not mine) like...what am I looking for...oh yeah, a piece of meat. Irony much?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is more of the same old PETA tripe. You have been exploiting naked women in what they say is an effort to stop the exploitation of animals for decades now. But someone sent me a link to this Alicia Silverstone video and asked me if I thought it would help animal rights.

Um, yeah, not so much.

Continue reading "Dear PETA, women are animals too..." »

February 19, 2007

TV, training wheels, teaching and trashing...

I think I figured out what's up with those two food tv shows that many of us don't understand. It's all a matter of framing. This is cooking for beginners. Just maybe not the beginners you are thinking of.

What do you think of when you think "beginning cook"? For me at least, I think of children (and adults too, but always children) who are not only unskilled in the kitchen but too young to do many basic things on their own. No sharp things. Limited use of appliances: microwave instead of range, toaster oven instead of standard oven, etc. There is often a focus on assembly of ingredients rather than actual cooking.

You can see this clearly in old cookbooks. I learned to cook as a young child, and while I didn't use many children's cookbooks, I did have a few. Having not done too much shopping for such books in the last decade, I'm not sure if they have changed all that much since then. (other than having TV personalities on the covers) While there have been some notable additions since I was a kid, I bet that the books that have been in print for decades (and many of the newer ones) still use their tried-and-true approach. Duh. Tried and true sells.

Continue reading "TV, training wheels, teaching and trashing..." »

December 11, 2006

But EVOO isn't even a word!

The brand that is Rachael Ray strikes again, and this time I really must object. The next edition of the Oxford American College Dictionary will include EVOO as a word and they are crediting RR for the term.

Um, no and no.

First, EVOO isn't a word, it's an acronym and I am concerned that the people associated with Oxford (whom many of us think of as "the dictionary people") don't seem to know the difference.

Next, read this quote from Erin McKean, Editor-in-Chief of American Dictionaries

"In order for a word to get into the dictionary it has to be useful to people. It’s not just enough to be a fabulous celebrity to get your word in. You have to make a word that people like to use. There are words that are connected with celebrities that are not going to make it in the dictionary anytime soon; we’re not going to put in "Brangelina." "EVOO" we see people using. We have a big database of about a billion and a half English words. In that database we found evidence of "EVOO" being used and in more than half of the examples, "Rachael" is also in the same sentence."

I googled "EVOO" and got ~181k hits, while "EVOO -Ray" gets ~127k, which means that ,in the wild, she's only mentioned in a third of the pages with EVOO on them. (it must make it tough to read the page when it has EVOO on it). And Brangelina, a word that is as cringeworthy as EVOO, gets 1.6 million hits, more than ten times as many hits as EVOO, so the argument about people liking to use the word is clearly not true.

EVOO may be a useful acronym for some folks, but it isn't as practiced by RR. For it to be useful, it would have to be a shorter replacement for a longer term. Every time I have heard RR use the term, however, she has said "EVOO, extra-virgin olive oil" proving that it's not only not useful, it simply clutters up the sentence. (Maybe I am just hyper-aware of this because I'm at the author's review stage of a couple of books, which is when the copy editors send everything back with corrections. Corrections like "say 'extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)' once and then just say EVOO." Perhaps RR just needs a good editor. I've got several excellent ones to recommend.)

To sum up:

  • not a word
  • neither created or used most by the person getting the credit
  • not useful as implemented by the person they are crediting with the word
  • far less used than Brangelina which isn't in the dictionary because people don't "like to use it"

This would be easier to explain if the dictionary publisher was also RR's publisher, but unless it's part of an upcoming and as yet undisclosed deal they aren't. Which means I should probably file this under "America, dumbing down of via celebrity worship" and get back to writing that other thing. Which will be done any day now. In a computer minute.

October 12, 2006

Think before you pink

Pinkdogwood Like many of you, I have friends and family who have died from cancer (or the treatment for cancer, but that's another rant) and wish that 'they' would find a cure. If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we cure... (...what's that? We've not put a man on the moon since way back when I was in a child? Well, maybe that's the problem, let's put some more folks on the moon! I've got a list we could start with...)

But I digress, let's get back to cancer and the pinking of marketing. October is apparently "Buy overpriced pink crap for cancer" month. Largely driven by the Susan Komen foundation, and flogged all over the Internet (which is neither plural "Internets" nor tubes) seemingly by everyone with the exception of a few nay-sayers like me, this month brings us all things pink. Pink kitchenaid mixers, pink knives, pink M&Ms, even pink hard drives to complete the Barbiefication (ouch, that word is gonna cost me!) of your life.

Why does this marketing of cancer bug me? Let me count the ways:

Percentage of profits that goes to actually fighting cancer, and specifics on where that money goes, is often vague. Most companies don't bother to say how much they give, leaving one to wonder exactly how much of their money is being funneled into research v. going into corporate coffers.

When you can find the data, donation per item is generally miserable. Other than Avon, which seems to actually donate a significant chunk of the income (sometimes 100% of net) from pink products, if you can find someone giving 10%, that's a lot. (Avon balances the large % of pink sales donated with this oh-so-tacky 'anti-domestic violence' bracelet...a blue hospital-style bracelet...is it to remind us that some 'blue' people put some 'pink' people in the hospital because they beat them?) As the wonderful site "Think Before You Pink" points out, you would have to eat three containers of Yoplait yogurt every day (10 cents per returned container lid) of the promotion to donate $36 to the cause. And that yogurt might be made from the milk of rBGH "enhanced" cows. That would be the same rBGH that might cause cancer, breast cancer no less. (as a fan of irony I should like this, but I'm less than amused...go figure) American Express gives a penny a purchase, regardless of the amount of the purchase. A penny. How. Appallingly. Cheap.

While we're on the subject of tax-deductible corporate largesse being used to disguise corporate malfeasance — we weren't talking about that? well, now we are — can we talk about the number of cancer-causing (or suspected cancer-causing) agents in the stuff that's being wrapped in pink? Cosmetics companies, like Estee Lauder, wrap pink ribbons around products containing parabens (chemical preservatives) and phthalates, both of which disrupt normal hormone function when absorbed into the body; hormone disruption has been suggestively linked with increased breast cancer risk. (suggestively linked sounds an awful lot like a Foley thing, doesn't it?)

But the big thing for me is that this is just another excuse to tell us to go shopping. Just like after September 11th, when the Dubya told us to act normal and go shopping, it seems that searching for 'the cure' is simply another angle in a world gone marketing mad. Plus it is all designed to reinforce the notion that women shop, cook, and play dress-up. Because that's what the overwhelming majority of the pinkStuff is: traditional girly things.

If you really want to help the search for better treatment, and perhaps even a cure, for cancer, write a check to a group that's doing the work. There are many such groups out there, pick one that relates to the sort of cancer you care about. If you want to do more, get a degree in a field that will allow you to go do the work yourself.

On the other hand, if you want an all-pink kitchen, go buy it now. Because now is the time to be pink. And you would be amazed at how pink you could be.

Just don't buy an all pink kitchen because you think it's helping find a cure for cancer. Because it's really not.

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