Category: "Nutrition"

The Most Real Post You'll Ever Read

June 13th, 2014

This past Saturday I walked into a Taco Bell for possibly the first time in my life. (Don't tell my doctor.) Such mainstream places are not ones I venture into often, but when I do, I usually return consumed with thoughts of what I noticed while I was there. Filled with first impressions, this hyper-awareness isn't always easy, but when taken in the right light, it can be comical.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the crunchy taco I had ordered. Not bad for $1.19. As I was chewing though, I read the taco's paper wrapper that touted its ingredients: "100% real beef."

A short time ago I wrote a post about critics who love to slam an author's use of adjectives. I was countering their resistance by standing up for the noun modifier. Not this time. I think I would have been better able to blissfully enjoy my bad choice of food had I not been subjected to the word "real?" That was one adjective they should have left out.

Did they mean it was 100% real (as opposed to partly fake) or 100% beef (as opposed to partly chicken or pork)? If the beef was real, what else wasn't? Who was serving stuff that was 99% or less? And what was in the fake stuff?

Real as an adjective raises doubt at the exact moment it is meant to build trust. For example, if someone said to you, "This is a real Rolex watch," wouldn't you wonder a bit? Why wouldn't they just say, "This is a Rolex watch" and leave it at that?

Real also tends to indicate surprise, like when someone says, "Are you really going to eat that?"

When my husband uses the word "really," it's often an expression of surprise AND frustration.

If I tell him, "I forgot to pay the mortgage last month,"

he will respond, "Really?"

Or if "the sign says the place is closed,"

he might complain, "Really?"

Authentic is another word for real, one that still seems to have held on to some credibility. I suppose it isn't as overused by advertisers since they tend to steer away from those tedious extra syllables. Whatever the reason, if you really want to express real truthfulness, you have a better shot with authentic, at least for now. Remember when epic used to mean unusually great?

As I chewed, happy to know my beef was real, uncertain about the lettuce, cheese, and taco shell, I crumpled up the paper in preparation to leave the rushing mainstream waters and return to a place where I make my own tacos. When I do, I always use really real ingredients. Honest.


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Control in Advertising

October 12th, 2012

Buy. Sell. Buy. Sell. It's the gear that seems to turns the globe, a mechanism that is oiled with advertising, for without promotion, we wouldn't know what's for sale, and thus, wouldn't know what to buy. In September, I began searching for the reasons how greed (a root that feeds many of the things we despise) so easily advances its selfish agenda throughout an unselfish population, and I found control as its primary tool. I also found that greed loves the advertising industry.

We too love the ads. We even use them to start conversations at parties. They make us feel important, telling us how we deserve what they have to sell.

Click here for larger view of this mailer sent to my grandparents in 1960.

My first career was in the field. I worked at a small agency in the Philadelphia suburbs where I enjoyed watching campaigns move from proposal and strategy to graphic development and copy writing. It was thrilling to watch our clients find success after we gave them the tools to tell their target audience about a product or service. I loved the creativity, the cunning, the cutting edge, and even the glitz. It also gave me a backstage view into the well-tuned techniques of public manipulation.

Back when I started, a little icon would smile at me as my Macintosh computer booted up. I remember the meeting a few years later when my bosses asked me -- I being the youngest member of the team -- to figure out how and why to use the Internet.

After I logged on to the World Wide Web for the first time, my computer having finally screeched and scratched its way to a successful connection, I reported, "You sure can find stuff that people want to sell."

It was clear that the people who were willing invest in the building of a Website were those who would profit from the public's knowledge of what was on the Site. Furthermore, the second time I logged on, I did so with a handwritten list of goals by my side, knowing that once inside the maze, my focus would be lost to the links, each one leading me on, possibly to a place I never intended to go.

Click here for larger view of this ad from "LIFE" magazine in 1969.

It exemplified the story of human weakness: the ease with which we are distracted from our own intentions. And it was exactly these intentions that we at the agency studied and discussed in the common course of our job. We figured out what people wanted most, and then interrupted their day to show how they could get it from our clients.

Advertising remains a necessity for anyone who wants to reach an audience outside their immediate network. Don't advertise, and you may likely go out of business. Whether honest, half-truth, or all-out lie, an ad campaign is an act of pretentious public display. Like a peacock, it uses feathers and colors and shine, without which it gains no attention. Successful campaigns tickle with the appropriate feather, flash with the right color, and reflect with the proper shine. Too much is a turnoff some times just as much as is too little in others. The key to knowing the difference is to study, and then get a reaction from, the humans you want to target.

It really doesn't matter what is being sold or what era it's being sold in, the principles remain:

  • Dig until you find the pain, then tell how you'll bring relief.
  • Make it personal; show how you'll make life better.
  • Be simple to the point of single-mindedness.
  • Stand out; strive for bold and brave over tried and true.
  • Be persuasive and predict response.

Meanwhile, I think it might be safe to say that our kids are subjected to more advertising than they are education. I have to believe such is true for the average adult. Therefore, as the ones with real money in our pockets, we adults must to be conscious of this, controlling our response to it, remembering that it is designed to control our behavior.

Consider this: to what extent is today's knowledge obtained through advertisements? Even if you threw away your television and radio and never glanced at a newspaper, you would still be subjected to multiple messages each day. As the Internet has gone from a novelty to a necessity, the bombardment increases. Messages fly at us as we try to carry out administrative tasks or communicate with friends. The latest information, such as a study funded by a company digging for human pain, is framed as news and blasted across the pages, showing how we are hurting and pointing out that our fears will be quelled when we spend money.

Click here for a larger view of this old ad from "The Family Handyman" magazine.

For example, do remember the first time you saw a pharmaceutical advertisement on television? I do. I couldn't believe my eyes. I had always thought pushing drugs was illegal. Now those same marketing principles once use to promote a kitchen appliance are being applied to our personal health, our bodies an equation in a profit strategy. They've gotten around the ethics by listing the worst side effects at the end of each ad, like the rules for a contest or a car sale. While it is helpful for a patient to understand her medicinal options, options are not being sold. They don't tell how symptoms could indicate an allergy or signal more trouble ahead. We aren't told about how nutrition, stress reduction, acupuncture, or exercise might bring positive relief, without side affects or potential addiction.

There are always alternatives.

It's up to us to find the alternatives.

This old advertisement from Good Housekeeping magazine touts this lunch as an "Excellent Source of Protein." A similar product is still on the market, still being sold as a "good" protein source. It's got turkey and cheese, fair enough, but that's not all. Ingredients include: WHEAT, SOY. ROAST WHITE TURKEY--CURED--SMOKE FLAVOR ADDED: WHITE TURKEY, WATER, POTASSIUM LACTATE (flavor enhancer), MODIFIED CORNSTARCH (starch for texture/binding -- no nutritional value), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF DEXTROSE (sugar), CARRAGEENAN (additive), SALT, SODIUM PHOSPHATES (additive/the info. I could find talked about its use in laxatives and colonoscopy prep drugs), POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, SODIUM DIACETATE (a fungicide and bactericide registered to control molds and bacteria, and thus prevent spoilage, in stored grains), FLAVOR, SODIUM ASCORBATE (Vitamin C), SMOKE FLAVOR, SODIUM NITRITE (salty preservative), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR. PASTEURIZED PREPARED AMERICAN CHEESE all wrapped in a ton of senseless packaging. All in all this isn't the worst food your kid could eat, but while it may be convenient, I wouldn't call it nutritious.

Yes, we need to advertise, to spread the word about our product. But we must also be conscious -- we the target audience -- of our reaction to this strategical plan. We must also seek out CREDIBLE information from CREDIBLE sources. We must be weary of every message behind which comes money in someone's pocket, not because every profit-minded message is bad (good people do great things with money), but because nowhere else does greed feed more hungrily than on society's pocketbook, and little has greater influence over decisions related to the pocketbook than advertising.

Greed thrives when it influences the behavior of the general population. We think bleach should smell like daisies. We think brand new cars make appropriate Christmas gifts. We think a body needs coffee to get started. We think speed will bring us happiness, faster. We forget how fresh the laundry smells after it's been hung outside to dry. We need reminding that handmade gifts mean more, how a nutritional breakfast gives us energy and stamina, or how one trick to finding happiness is by simply slowing down.

We cannot turn it off. It's not going away. It's OK to laugh at the comical content or smile at the cute animals. It's wonderful that advertisers show us the latest invention, bringing competition to the marketplace, even funding our community baseball games. When my book is published, you bet I'm going to advertise. What is not OK is us believing everything we hear, accepting it as common knowledge, getting complacent about seeking out the broader truth, because it is our buying decisions that determine how smoothly those gears turn the world.

We can buy what they're selling, but just because they're sellin' it, doesn't mean we're buyin' it.

This Week's Small Step: Let the Sun Brew It

August 3rd, 2012

I owe my sister for showing me this one years ago. During a summertime visit to her rural home in the hills, she offered me some just-brewed, homemade, iced tea. However, instead of retrieving a pot from the stove, she walked out the back door. She returned with a glass pitcher in her hand, one that I soon learned had been sitting on her picnic table for an hour or so.

After all these years, I still employ her simple trick so often I decided to make it this week's One Small Thing:

Let the Sun Brew It

In the pitcher were five tea bags floating in water that was heated purely by the sun. "I love my sun tea," she said as she squeezed the last drops from the spent tea bags before pouring the brew over ice.

"You don't have to boil it?" I asked.


I was hooked.

Sun tea does not get as dark or strong as boiled tea, but it still has a wonderfully refreshing flavor. I find it delicious without sugar or sweetener. Sometimes I do add a few leaves of mint to the brew or a slice of lemon to the glass. And different herb blends can yield a variety of flavors just like hot tea.

I serve it from the same pitcher in which it was brewed, no additional dishes to wash. And I never have to heat up the kitchen with a hot burner or unnecessary steam.

Plus, unlike boiled tea, sun tea for me comes with two pleasant thoughts: a memory of warm day spent with my favorite sister, and a dose of appreciation for the power of my favorite star.

How to Make Sun Tea

Fill a glass pitcher or jar with tap water and add a quantity of tea bags that suits your taste.

Set it in the sun and wait.

Remove the tea bags, pour, and enjoy.

The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings.

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One Thing a Week: Pick One Substitute

July 20th, 2012

I'm a firm believer in the power of good nutrition. We ask so much from our bodies: seeing, hearing, feeling, stretching, pulling, pushing, reaching, thinking, smelling, tasting, breathing, dancing...

And, in return, our bodies need fuel – high octane ingredients for a machine that is forever being pushed to its limits.

Yet, no matter how knowledgeable I am about the food choices I SHOULD make, I still fall victim to temptation and gulp down the ones I shouldn't. Plus, as soon as you tell me I can't have something, I usually just want it more than before.

So for this week's One Small Thing – as we all struggle to improve our diets – I suggest we:

Pick One Substitute

I probably don't have to tell you which foods you should avoid.

You already know what they are. Plus, one diet does not fit all. Your "problem" food may be different from your spouse's or your neighbor's or your coworker's. In a perfect world, there would be no bad-for-you foods on any grocery store shelf, but the real world is filled with indulgent freedoms that our minds love, but our bodies do not.

The key is recognizing and stopping when we've ventured too far, moving from permitting a little gratification to forgetting which is more important to satisfy, the taste bud or the need.

I once kept a food diary per a holistic doctor's instructions. She reviewed all that I had eaten in a month, and then gave me orders to eat defined amounts of nutritious "healthy" foods. She identified things that I was to consume every day, foods that were otherwise lacking in my diet, leaving gaps that were negatively effecting my health. My initial reaction to her list was, "I don't eat that much!" She responded, "That's why every calorie you put in your mouth has to count." I couldn't argue with her there.

Even though I generally ate well, it was clear that I could do better, and her goal was achievable because it wasn't about avoidance, it was about pursuit.

Like the quitting smoker who chews on celery sticks, I find it easier to stop a bad habit when a good one is around to fill its place. So instead of focusing on all the things you shouldn't have, focus on one thing this week that you know you should have.

What is it that you know you need more of in your diet? It can be in a broad category such as a vegetable, or it can be a specific item such as spinach. Then, add it while subtracting (a.k.a replacing) an empty or harmful food, one that a fine-tuned body cannot figure out how to use, one that strains the system as it is purged, or worse, stored for future processing instead of put to immediate use.

Here are a few substitutions I made. These all began as simple steps, as trials, and have now become commonplace:

  • A dish of berries, yogurt, and granola versus a convenience-store breakfast sandwich.
  • A tomato-and-cheese sandwich versus a bologna-and-cheese sandwich.
  • Rye bread versus white bread.
  • Organic milk versus conventional milk.
  • Over-the-stove or air popped corn versus microwave popped corn.
  • Water versus soda.

One food item. One substitute. For the one body you're going to get.

What's your one thing going to be?

The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings.

This Week's Small Step: Consider a CSA

February 24th, 2012

As winter drags on, I grow tired of frozen vegetables. My tastebuds long for the farm-to-table produce that is still weeks away. They remind me that now is the time to plan for this year's supply.

That's why this week I suggest you...

Investigate Your Local

Community Supported Agriculture

(CSA) Options

What is a CSA?

CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture, and it's a brilliant alternative to America's grocery-chain-food-supply system. If you're like me, you've often wondered why stores stock produce from faraway lands while perfectly good vegetables are growing nearby. The CSA concept opens the gate to your farmer's yield and makes the task of buying food much more meaningful than sliding it down a checkout counter.

As the name implies, the CSA farm is supported by the community; however, it's not a one-way street. The benefits come back to the community it serves instead of the pocketbook of some conglomerate grocer. CSA members purchase shares, and the return on investment is paid in vegis...and community...and vitality...and health...and...

The share price is based on the farmer's cost (seeds, tractors, land taxes), so shareholders essentially fund the operation. They also share the risks, which can yield some great rewards. As the year's crop is harvested, each investor receives a portion equal to his or her share.

The Risks

Bad weather. Hungry pests. Poor seed stock. Ineffective farming techniques. Broken tractors. All the things that can go wrong on a real, old-fashioned farm.

The Rewards

• Increased vegetable consumption (I eat whatever is in the house)

• Increased vegetable variety (I otherwise buy the same old thing)

• Increased health

• Decreased pesticide exposure (depending on your CSA's practices)

• Decreased traffic and emissions (from long-haul food distribution)

• Decreased warehousing and refrigeration needs

• Decreased temptation for bad food (no candy isles here)

• Increased connection to source

• Protection of farmland open space without government involvement

• Messaging that you care about your food and your farmer

• Strengthened community (know your farmer; know your neighbor)

• Reduced exposure to terrorism

And finally, you might decrease your overall food bill, especially when you factor in the senseless buying that won't occur when you take fewer trips to the advertisement-filled grocery store.

Doing the Research

Now that I've got you interested, I must be honest: you might be too late to get a share for the 2012 season. Typically shares are sold in the early winter, when farmers are planning instead of planting. However, it's still worth doing some homework now so that you are prepared for the future. 

Quite a few questions need to be answered before you choose your CSA, and while you're doing your research, you'll likely find a farmer's market that will get you by for this year ... one that might include produce from a prospective CSA farm that you can taste test.

It took me a few years before I finally tried my first CSA in 2009. (See the post from the Back to Basics Archives). I had known about the concept for awhile, but since CSAs don't put up billboards or mail weekly flyers, it took initiative to find one.

Using the Internet, I researched the farm's practices, what kind of foods were grown, if shareholders could visit or work on the farm, or if extra curricular community-building events were held. A full share was too much food for my family, so I looked for one that offered split shares or friends to partner with.

I also needed to pay advanced attention to the produce portion of my weekly food bill in order to know what was an affordable share price. It helped to ask the cashier to give me a subtotal once in a while.

Probably the biggest question, though, pertained to delivery or pickup. How does one get the food? You might be surprised to learn that city dwellers actually have better access to CSAs than country folks. That is because the farmers can make one delivery to a convenient city distribution point. Out in the country, each shareholder must drive to the farm once a week.

There are other ways to get fresh produce, however I encourage you to investigate the CSA option. Now is the time, while you're stuck inside, dreaming about fresh salsa and cucumber salad. Stop eating asparagus from Peru; use the links below to find a CSA that works for you.

Here are few links to get you started:

Also, search for a "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign in your state.

The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings.