“Let’s Move?”

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Here’s my attempt at writing a short opinions piece on a political topic. This (or a version thereof) should appear in the Sophian on Dec. 2nd.

Also, apologies that it’s been ages since I wrote a true Grub piece. My growing to-do list has kept me pretty busy, unfortunately. I look forward to getting back to some quality grubbin’ once my apps. are finished in January.


Let’s move?

While her husband has bigger issues on his plate these days, Michelle Obama struggles even within the Democratic Party to rally support for her “pet project,” better known as the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, spearheaded in the aim of stemming rising rates of childhood obesity.

Speaking on the topic, Obama has said “in the end, as First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition.”

In her campaign to change the health of American kids, Obama saw Senate approval for her Child Nutrition Bill this past August, a measure that focuses on getting “junk food” out of the nation’s schools while simultaneously allocating $4.5 billion to be disbursed over the next decade for the purpose of improving child nutrition, particularly through ensuring that national meal programs provide healthier options.

What’s the big deal, then, with working to improve the health of the nation’s youth?

As articulated by opponents of the Bill, their qualms are not with the measure itself, but rather in how Obama and its other proponents plan to provide funding for the Bill; particularly, by cutting future rises in food stamp benefits.

Supporters of the Bill in turn maintain that alternative financing for the food stamp program can be found, as indicated by Obama’s pledge to identify the source of such monies before the cutbacks would go into effect in 2013.

Yet other opponents of the Bill criticize its approach, and argue that the Bill and other “anti-obesity” measures of the First Lady et al. will serve only to reinforce and justify “fat hatred.”

Whether or not you believe that obesity and its “remedy”—weight loss—is a matter of willpower, it is not difficult to imagine the trajectory of thinking that elementary school students will make, armed with their newfound understanding that fat is to be limited and activity maximized. Kids can be harsh, and it is not unreasonable to imagine that, in the absence of some preventative teaching that campaigning against the negative health consequences associated with obesity is not the same as campaigning against obese individuals (or is it?), bullying of overweight children will become even more of an issue.

All told, what is Michelle Obama to do in the face of such criticism? Is there hope for the success of her campaign and of the Bill?

Yes, I believe, if Obama is to do two things. One, the overarching campaign targeted against obesity must be reframed as a campaign to improve the health of the American people. Adults and not just children are notoriously bad as distinguishing between a movement against an outcome and the people who experience that outcome, and her work will be more successful if those Americans for whom weight is a struggle can get behind the movement without fear of ridicule or exile.

Second, Obama must find a succinct means of financing her Bill, and stat. In this Lame Duck Congress, time is of the essence, and Obama cannot afford to let her hard work go to rot as its passage continues to be delayed.

In the interim, Obama continues her efforts to curb rising rates of obesity, one step, and one lettuce leaf, at a time.

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“I just hate health food.”

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So said Julia Child, apparently, among other fabulous things.

Ms. Child is one of the more celebrated Smith alumnae. Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan may have done wonders for American women, and Madeleine L’Engle and Cynthia Voigt for young adult lit., but no one inspires such a sense of pride and cheer in the heart of a Smithie as Julia, Class of 1934.

Tomorrow, as the campus has done for the past six years, Smith will fête Julia with “Julia Child Day,” a celebration of great food and a great life lived by our favorite Hubbard House resident (where, it is rumored, J. would often bake for friends and housemates).

Because I am tired and heading off to bed, I will let the press release for the event do the rest of the talking:

Nov. 10, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cultivating Communities Around Food

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Julia Child Day, an annual Smith College tradition that has become a favorite among students, will feature a panel discussion about cultivating communities around food on Thursday, Nov. 18.

1The panel, titled “Cultivating Communities: A Conversation on Creating and Strengthening Communities Around Food,” will begin at 4:15 p.m. in the Campus Center Carroll Room. A reception will follow in the Campus Center featuring a smorgasbord of dishes made with locally grown ingredients by Smith dining staff. The local growers and vendors who supply much of the produce and meat that the college buys will also have food tables there.

Participants include Melissa Krueger, a 2003 alumna, and owner of the Elbow Room Coffee Company; Angela Oliverio and Dylan Farrell, Smith juniors and members of the Smith Community Garden; Christina Maxwell of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts; Ana Jaramillo, Jesus Espinosa and Rafael Rodriguez of Nuestras Raices; and Phil Korman of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA).

The annual occasion celebrates the passion of late alumna Julia Child ’34, author of a dozen cookbooks and host of the long-running PBS television series “The French Chef,” which is credited with changing the way we think about food in America.

Child donated her house in Cambridge, Mass., to Smith, which she had lived in from 1956 to 2001. In 2002, proceeds from the sale of the property supported construction of the Campus Center.

Child died on August 12, 2004. An etching on a window of the Campus Center Café honors her generosity to Smith. This is the sixth annual day of celebration in her memory and is sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the College and Dining Services.

In case you want some menu inspiration, or just want to see what kinds of yummy food my chère friends and I will be partaking in tomorrow, check out the offerings here.

In closing?

“Find something you’re passionate about,” Ms. Child is to have said, “and keep tremendously interested in it.”

The personal statement: Take two

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A second crack at that dratted essay… comments/critiques very welcome!

On another note, I’m leaving tomorrow morning for the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports’ Medicine’s fall conference, titled “Confronting the Obesity Epidemic.” I’m driving down with my boss/unofficial advisor/nutrition prof. and taking full advantage of all of the wonderful lectures on obesity, Type 2 diabetes, etc., etc. So excited! I’ll be sure to share some conference happenings next week.

I grew up in a household devoid of television, potato chips and soda, and consequently learned to love reading and the copious soy and whole-grain products pressed upon me by my idealistic parents. Although I graciously partook in MTV, white bread and Fluffernutter when it was offered to me at friends’ houses, a largely media- and “junk food”-free diet left me open to possibilities and alternate pastimes that passed my classmates by, including learning by way of osmosis about a field that I now plan to pursue as a career—nutrition.

The goal of the practicum course that was my young study of nutrition was to soak up as much information as I could about the fascinating science of how the foods I was ingesting affected my body, and my textbooks the many Nutrition Action and Eating Well magazines littered around the house.

In biology class my senior year of high school, I delighted in learning the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. The tangible connections to the information I had gleaned from years of reading about nutrition enthused me in a way that the chemistry I had learned two years prior had not. I might have succeeded at memorizing the disparate properties of protons, neutrons and electrons, but their intrigue held no candle to that of these food molecules staring back at me on the page.

Entering college a year later, I was cognizant of academic passions but had no succinct idea of what I wanted to major in. Nutrition remained an interest, but was not an option of study at my liberal arts college, beyond that is the survey course I enthusiastically enrolled in the spring of my first-year.

Studying nutrition for the first time in a classroom setting, I felt a passion for the material that I had never experienced for French or history. I needed no reminder to read the assigned textbook, reading ahead as I did for enjoyment when I had a spare moment. And while some of the information we were learning was not new to me, there seemed endless dimensions of knowledge to be explored within the broader topic of nutrition and health. The field was constantly evolving, the body of work constantly supplementing itself with new empirical studies that had the power to influence the health of myself and others around me.

I took the next year as a gap year, spending half of it working various jobs to save money for the rest of the year, which I planned to spend improving my French in Switzerland. During that first half of the year, I worked for the New England Grassroots Environment Fund as an intern investigating the topic of food security in my native Vermont, an opportunity that afforded me the chance to learn about a different aspect of food and wellness. Also during that time, I volunteered for local non-profit Food Works, helping teach nutrition in a community setting to low-income elementary school students.

Later that year, as I adjusted to life in Switzerland, I found myself drawn time and time again to the subject of nutrition. I visited the Nestle Museum of Alimentation in Vevey, enthralled by the images and artifacts of food products of yore. I read books in French and English about different philosophies of health and nutrition, my language skills growing alongside my understanding of human nutrition.

When it came time to return to the U.S. and to Smith that fall, I fell into line as a psychology major. I had always enjoyed the subject and it seemed in the absence of any formal nutrition program the “next best thing.” Still, I managed to tailor my projects in various classes to my passion for nutrition, completing for example a presentation on Binge-Eating Disorder for my Introductory Psychology class. And I of course continued to devour all the information I could about nutrition, grateful for the morsals I could find.

The summer after that second year, I again volunteered with Food Works, this time working with a program that helped teach single mothers to cook with local, seasonal ingredients. By the following fall, however, I had decided to pursue my academic interest in nutrition at full-force, and so began taking classes as pre-requisites for graduate study in the field. Again, while it was the rare lesson on lipid structures or on ghrelin and leptin that intrigued me, I was able to enjoy learning chemistry and biology for their own sake as well, knowing full well that mastery of such subjects would be necessary for my later study of nutrition.

It is also to be noted that I have throughout my years at Smith participated in several extracurricular activities that greatly informed and benefited from my interest in nutrition. As a staff writer, assistant features editor and later features editor at the school paper, I often pitched and continue to pitch pieces on nutrition and health-related topics simply because such topics interest me most. Whether it was interviewing my peers on their opinions of “pop nutrition” or writing a food piece on the cultural and culinary significance of apples, I loved every minute of it.

Also relevant to my passion for nutrition and health was my involvement since my first year at Smith in Active Minds, a chapter of the national student-led mental health advocacy and education group. In my work as Chair of the group, I felt particularly drawn to the subject of eating disorder awareness and education, and led an annual weeklong campaign on the topic. More recently in this same capacity, I organized a training for student facilitators to launch peer support groups at Smith, serving myself as a facilitator for the eating disorder support group. Such work allowed me to sample a clinical aspect of nutrition—the many psychological complications that can stem from the “simple” act of eating.

Now in my senior year, my interests within the field of nutrition remain varied. It is only in the past two years or so, however, that I have decided to meld a lifelong passion for writing with nutrition itself. I began a website this past June entitled “Grub first” that discusses my speculations as to what “good nutrition” is, as well as more personal thoughts on the often-conflicted relationship between women and hunger.

I also began this past summer writing for Examiner.com, a site that consists entirely of articles written by freelancers. As an “Examiner,” I have written on the subject of ever-compelling fad diets, nutritional philosophies like ayurveda and macrobiotics, as well as pieces examining approaches countries like Finland have used to reverse high obesity and heart disease mortality rates.

As for my professional aspirations, I have no doubt that I will use my writing skills to communicate on the subject of nutrition. I have dreams of working for a publication like Eating Well or Nutrition Action, but also of working for a company like Whole Foods or Nestle within their communications team. With an understanding of clinical nutrition thanks to my R.D. credentials, I will serve as an invaluable asset to such an organization.

Tufts’ Nutrition Communications degree is the only one in the country to offer such a specific focus, and will provide me with what I believe is the best preparation for a career of making the often incomprehensible (what is vitamin B12? Why do we need it in our diet?) comprehensible.

As my parents taught me so many years ago, the gift of good health is one that is often within our individual control, and it is my goal to share that lesson with others.

The personal statment

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Très busy this week, so I’m just going to share something I’ve already written. Below is a draft of my personal statement for graduate school. Note: this draft has been deemed “too personal” by two profs. I’ve shown it to, so it’ll be hacked to pieces and rewritten before I send it off anywhere. Enjoy, though. I kind of like it.

My parents, bless their leftist souls, never kept any soda in the house. Likewise for potato chips, frozen French fries and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. You see, both Mom and Dad had caught the burgeoning health food bug of the seventies, and had vowed never to let a sugary Twinkie infiltrate our wholesome diet.

This plan worked wonderfully for a while, until my younger sister and I discovered the saccharine goodness of bubble gum, and of my great-grandmother’s buttery sugar cookies. Not to mention how delicious a slice of greasy pizza fresh from the neighborhood franchise could be.

Regardless, the missionary zeal with which Mom and Dad pressed broccoli and soy upon us did leave a lasting impression, and we clamored unselfconsciously for tofu triangles and thick slices of homemade whole-wheat bread.

My grandmother, an avid subscriber to Nutrition Action and Tufts’ Health and Nutrition Letter, was also an active player in the familial efforts to keep my sister and I as healthy as possible. It was she who had swapped lean chicken breast for fatty cuts of beef when my grandfather had triple-bypass surgery, silencing his complaints with growing portions of kale and arugula. And it was she who designed an 8 1/2 x 11 grid intended for adornment with a glossy sticker whenever my sister and I ate a serving of grains (6-11), dairy (2-3) and so on.

Grandma’s sticker chart too had a limited run, as Sesame Street reruns and children’s books eventually proved more interesting than the momentary elation of earning a Bugs Bunny sticker. Still, the seed had been planted, and my sister and I grew up with an understanding that attaining good nutrition and health was within our power.

Fast-forward eight years. I am a naïve and ambitious 16, months away from embarking on a yearlong study abroad program in the Netherlands. Skimming through the welcome manual for soon-to-be exchange students, I am drawn to one bit of information in particular. I should not be alarmed, the guide reads, if I am to gain 5-10 pounds throughout my year abroad. Such an insignificant and temporary gain is to be expected, the manual continues, as I try new foods and new ways of living.

Single-minded and cognizant as a woman of a body that needs to be contained and monitored, I decide with the utmost certainty that this will never happen. I will not, I promise myself, gain any weight while abroad, no matter how much buttered bread and fatty sausage is shoved upon me.

At orientation camp months later in what would become my home for the next 11 months, I relied on a narrow and selective understanding of nutrition when selecting food from the buffet. Butter and margarine were out, I had decided, but chocolate was not. Cheese was to be used in moderation, but I was free to indulge in all the vegetables and fruits I desired.

Although I was at the time of normal weight, an irrational fear of succeeding control of my weight and body followed me throughout that year, and would unfortunately for years to come. It would take alternating bouts of compulsive overeating and anorexia to find my way back to the sticker chart my grandmother had lovingly created for me, and to understand that the power to alter my eating habits for “the better” could easily go too far.

Despite the pain I experienced as I struggled with various incarnations of disordered eating and eating disorders, it is perhaps in part to their credit that I developed so great an appreciation for the power of food to help or to alternately harm. My own experience as a patient of a nutrition counselor also afforded me a glimpse into what exactly a career in clinical nutrition could look like.

My interests within the field of nutrition are varied, but it is only in the past year or so that I have decided to meld a lifelong passion for writing with nutrition itself. I began a website this past June entitled “Grub first” that discusses my speculations as to what “good nutrition” is, as well as more personal thoughts on the often-conflicted relationship between women and hunger.

I also began this past summer writing for Examiner.com, a site that hires freelance writers to write on a variety of subjects, from construction to health and fitness. As an “Examiner,” I have written on the subject of ever-compelling fad diets, nutritional philosophies like ayurveda and macrobiotics, as well as pieces examining public health approaches countries like Finland have used to reverse high obesity and heart disease mortality rates.

My writing for “Grub first” and for the Examiner is also informed by earlier work I have done for my college newspaper. As a Staff Writer, Assistant Features Editor and later Features Editor, I have frequently covered issues of health and nutrition simply because they are the topics that interest me most.

As for my professional aspirations, I have no doubt that I will use my writing skills to communicate on the subject of nutrition. I have dreams of working for a publication like Eating Well or Nutrition Action, both of which I am a longtime reader, but also of working for a company like Whole Foods within their communications team. With an understanding of clinical nutrition thanks to my R.D. credentials, I will serve as an invaluable asset to WF or a similar organization.

Tufts’ Nutrition Communications degree is the only one in the country to offer such a specific focus, and will provide me with what I believe is the best preparation for a career of making the often incomprehensible (what is vitamin B12? Why do we need it in our diet?) comprehensible.

As my grandmother taught me so many years ago, the gift of good health is one that is often within our individual control, and it is my goal to share that gift with others.