Completely unrelated to Grub

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I’ve added a new link, to my friend Liz’s brand-spankin’-new blog “Seminary Dreams.” Liz is graduating with me from Smith in May and will be heading in the fall to Princeton Theological Seminary. She has been a wonderful friend and will undoubtedly make a wonderful minister. Go Liz!

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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.”

A Surgeon General “of size”: Liability or asset?

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Read all about it on the Examiner!

And to Smithies and co., happy Mountain Day! For those of you not familiar with the Smith holiday, here’s what the college website has to say:

Mountain Day is a surprise break from classes. The president chooses a beautiful fall day and announces the holiday by ringing the college bells. A picnic lunch can be provided by the college to be carried to the students’ various outdoor activities on campus or to nearby parks.

Classes and academic appointments scheduled before 7 p.m. are canceled. Evening classes, films, lectures and other events will be held as planned.

The first Mountain Day was held in 1877.

As published in today’s Sophian…

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… minus the fekakte editing. Hope you like it!

Exercise sheds its heavy, punitive connotations

Exercise. It’s a dirty word, invoking punishing routines at the gym, sweat rags and Spandex-clad aerobics instructors urging patrons to “step it up, people!”

That needn’t be the case, according to University of Colorado at Boulder Professor of Integrative Physiology Monika Fleshner, who is also affiliated with the university’s Center for Neuroscience.

Fleshner, who gave a lecture at Smith Monday titled “The Stress Buffering Effects of Exercise: Immune Consequences & Sympathetic Nervous System Mechanisms,” has made it her life’s work to study the effects of physical fitness on stress and depression.

Using animal models, Fleshner and her lab have established time and time again the protective capacity of physical activity against mental distress.

In the lab, rats exposed to a stressor will exhibit what is known as a “depressive response,” commonly refusing food and sex and choosing to lie dormant in their cages instead. If given a running wheel, however, the same rats will choose to run throughout their waking hours and will no longer show signs of behavioral depression, even when exposed to simulated stressors.

Fleshner has also noted that forcing rats to run (i.e. forcing the animals to run on her, rather than their own, schedule) does not confer the same decrease in depressive symptoms. Rather, the forced exercise-condition rats exhibit the same aversion to food and sex seen in their “depressed” counterparts.

Fleshner extrapolates from such findings, arguing that human beings must develop ways to make exercise a “natural” part of our lives, rather than yet another item to check off each day. Furthermore, Fleshner believes that exercise “makes evolutionary sense,” as humans evolved to live in environments in which physical activity was the norm.

Smith students, faculty and staff also struggle to make exercise normative and enjoyable, rather than something that they “should” do. Director of Athletics Lynn Oberbillig exercises to “feel better, [for] weight control… [to] feel strong” and to help her injured back heal. Oberbilling greatly enjoys her regular workouts, which alternately comprise pilates, strength training and walking. She also golfs on a regular basis. For Oberbillig, “working out” is enjoyable only if it requires mental, as well as physical, dedication.

Jessica Wignall ’13, who is pre-med, quantifies exercise as “anything that makes me sweat. Running, spinning, lifting weights, etc.” Wignall also enjoys her workouts, and considers her primary motivation for maintaining a regular fitness routine to be stress reduction, a true necessity as she navigates a challenging and unyielding course load.

Anna Burke ’12 put it in more dire terms. “If I don’t exercise, I am absolutely miserable. Ideally, when I have time, I go for about a half-hour run and do some ab exercises,” but said that she sometimes only has time for a 20-minute run. Burke runs outside if the weather allows, and occasionally alternates her running with a swim. Time, she said, sometimes “gets in the way.”

Burke enjoys being active “most days. On a really good day, I’ll do it [exercise] because I enjoy it, but otherwise I know that if I do it, I’ll be happier and have more energy.” Burke also mentioned that her attitude towards exercise has evolved over the years, and has come to be as of late more of an “enjoyment thing.”

The question then becomes of course how to inspire Smith students to adopt regular fitness routines that renew and reinvigorate, rather than eliciting that forced feeling that is all too common.

Oberbillig has some ideas. While she would “love it” if every student visited the gym regularly, Oberbillig places a premium on providing a variety of physical activities for students to choose from, and hopes that “each person can find something to do, whether it is working out alone, taking a class with others, attending Get Fit [Smith, the college-sponsored not-for-credit fitness classes], learning a new skill or sport, [or] climbing a wall.”

Said Oberbillig, “exercising is a lifetime commitment to good health and a strong heart. If students develop a good pattern, then they are more likely to continue as adults. Even if you stop exercising for a period of time, you will come back to it eventually, and that is what we hope students learn.”

Indeed, Fleshner maintains that one need not “be an athlete to get a lot of the mental health benefits” of exercise.

Move thyself, it seems, and good health will follow.

Calorie counts in college dining halls?

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Below is a fabulous Letter-to-the-Editor from fellow Smithie and student blogger Jackie, published this past Thursday in the Sophian, our student newspaper.

Jackie’s letter addresses Smith’s recent decision to post nutrition information (calories, grams of fat, protein, etc.) on the dining menus available online.

To the Editor:

As a senior at Smith, I’ve seen many unfortunate changes take place within our campus and community, many as a result of recent budget cuts. Despite this, I adore Smith College, and it pains me when the administration or offices on campus make choices that are out of touch with the needs and desires of the students. Dining Services’ recent decision to provide nutritional information alongside the online menus strikes me as a choice that, while surely well-intentioned, reflects an ignorance of the type of student body we have.

I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for nine years, and though recovered now, know many other Smithies who also deal with eating disorders and disordered eating. Although I have no hard facts, my personal estimate is that at least 20% of our campus has had some struggles with this, if not more. It is nearly epidemic.

While attempting to fight a mental illness and maintain a real concept of what healthy eating looks like, easy access to calorie counts can be devastating and a real setback. I have no doubt that many of the students dealing with EDs on campus can estimate the calories in their food with startling accuracy, but I see no legitimate reason to provide us with the cold hard facts to further enable eating disorders. Even for students who may be trying to lose weight for legitimate health reasons, given Smith’s style of dining services, it’s hard to make healthy choices if you realize the mac n’ cheese has a bazillion calories, but there’s no other real option presented except the salad bar, which does not a dinner make.

I fully support Dining Services in publishing allergy information, ingredient lists, sodium, and the like, and even macronutrients like carbohydrates and protein. Providing this information gives individuals with health conditions the ability to eat with confidence that they won’t be adversely affected by their food, and that’s great. But to put the fat grams and calorie counts for foods I’ve eaten, blissfully ignorant of their caloric values over the past three years, seems to be a decision out of touch with the needs of Smith’s unique student body. Women already fight an uphill battle in trying to treat their bodies with love and respect, and Smith shouldn’t make this any harder than it has to be.

Sincerely,
J.S.

First off, I applaud Jackie for making her voice heard. Like she says, Smith has made quite a few decisions in recent years (phasing out college chaplains, for example) that have angered the student body. Yes, cuts must be made to maintain a viable college budget, but many such cost-saving measures seem to have gone too far. Similarly, with Dining Services’ decision to publish the nutritional and caloric break-down of our beloved vegan Caesar salad, chocolate chip brownies and cheddar-broccoli bake, we students have once again a chance to make our opposition heard.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jackie on this issue. Smith College is home to 2,500-some young women who regularly push themselves for excellence in the classroom, on the soccer field and in all aspects of their lives. As a result of our collective tendency towards perfectionism, it is unsurprising that many Smithies have struggled or struggle with disordered eating and eating disorders. As Jackie points out, providing such students with yet another reminder of the ways in which food (that which is meant to nourish and sustain) can ohmygod! make you fat! is unnecessary and in fact harmful.

Because I am often at UMass for Anatomy & Physiology and Biochem., I eat most lunches in the university dining halls. Beyond providing far greater variety (and soft-serve!), UMass also adorns its many eating options with nutrition tags. Brown rice, I read today, contains 107 calories per serving, and 1.4 grams of fiber. Couscous, on the other hand, contains only 100 calories per serving, but less fiber. Interesting for a future nutritionist, yes, but dangerous information in the hands of someone who has struggled with disordered eating.

I understand as Jackie does that such nutrition tags can help students avoid allergic reactions, and influence a student to pick a protein-rich item over one that has comparatively little protein, but, especially on a campus where so many of us attach undue meaning and importance to food, publishing such information can be quite damaging.

If Sally Smithie reads that her favorite pasta dish contains 200 calories more than another entrée, she may decide to forgo the pasta. It is Sally’s right as owner of her body to choose what goes into said body, but what if Sally is a recovering anorexic? The dining halls then becomes a minefield for S.S. and similar students for whom eating is no second-nature affair.

I understand that Dining Services’ intentions are good, but I must, like Jackie, remind the administration that such a decision should not be undertaken without consideration of the myriad ways in which making calorie- and fat-counts part of the dining experience can endanger the health of the student body.

The times, they are a changin’

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I head back to school Monday. Classes begin Tuesday. Cue excitement and (equal parts) reluctance.

I’m excited to see friends I haven’t seen in months, decorate my new room (inherited from dear friend Janan) and be in beautiful Western Massachusetts again.

I’m reluctant to miss out on fall foliage in Vermont, as I have for the past three years, and to miss the annual Brin-B. Rosh Hashanah gathering.

Mostly, though, I’m not quite ready to leap back into the chaos and stress of the school year. This semester, I’ll be taking organic chemistry, a psychology course and biochemistry at nearby UMass. I’ll be taking the GRE’s in October and applying to graduate school. In addition, I’ll be working approximately eight hours a week for a nutrition professor, helping her do research and write a textbook on health and fitness psychology. I’m excited for all of the above, but know that I will be quite nostalgic for the relative ease of summer come a week from now.

The point of this post, however, is not to bemoan the hard work that is to come, but to warn y’all that I won’t be Grubbin’ it up nearly as often as I have been. I’ve decided to set my sights low and pledge to post once a week on here, and once on the Examiner. I’m not sure at this point if I’ll post on a designated day of the week, or if I’ll wait until the spirit moves me each week.

In any case, I hope that the transition into fall is going well for you all. I know they say spring is the season of rebirth, but I’ve always felt there’s something special about fall.

On the road again…

Heady, nervy and gastronomically exciting?

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“Heady, nervy and intellectually exciting,” boast a series of banners hanging from John M. Greene Hall, on my college’s Northampton, Massachusetts campus.

Now gearing up for my fourth and final year at Smith, I can attest to the heady, nervy and intellectually exciting nature of the place and the young women who call it home. Brains and ambition are a given at Smith, but, as any anxious prospective student will tell you, there is more to a college than academics and leadership opportunities. Housing, facilities and, yes, the food; these too must be considered when shopping for colleges.

Sixty years ago, when my grandmother and two great-aunts attended Smith, each of the college’s 30-some residence houses had their own kitchen and dining staff. This practice, which resulted in the sort of tight-knit camaraderie that might stereotypically be expected of a women’s college, represented much of what made Smith a unique and empowering environment for young women.

The Haven House dining hall at Smith in 1904. Linens and candlelight every night, y’all!

Photo credit: the Smith College Archives

Decidedly more casual in 2005 in the Wilder House dining hall.

Photo credit: boston.com

Enter the late nineties, an era of budget cuts at colleges and universities across the country. The hugely popular Ruth Simmons left her post as president of Smith to fill the same position at Brown, and Carol Christ (rhymes with ‘twist,’ folks), former provost at UC Berkeley, came on board.

It is no secret that many students dislike President Christ. According to past and present Smithies, Christ is to blame for everything from the Gulf oil spill (kidding about that one) to hacking away at precious Smith traditions, one of which being individual house dining and the strong “house community” that it yielded.

In a drastic cost-saving measure beginning in 2004, Christ closed the dining halls of more than half of the college’s residence houses and implemented a system of “theme” dining. In place of 36 houses serving the same meal on any given night, each of the remaining 15 dining halls became known for a particular style of dining.

Comstock and Wilder serve “Asian” food. Northrop and Gillett serve vegan and vegetarian cuisine, an option that is, in my highly unscientific estimation, one of the most popular on campus. Kosher and Halal food can be found seven days a week in Cutter-Ziskind, while Lamott serves Mediterranean-style food. The variety of dining options is a major draw for prospective students, yet it seems that nearly everyone on campus has something disparaging to say about Smith dining.

Some bemoan a loss of quality over the course of their four years; others criticize an overabundance of carbohydrate-rich foods. The food is too greasy, too bland, too unlike Mom’s home cooking. The complaints go on.

As for myself, I try not to complain about the state of dining services. While it is easy to point a finger, many students’ complaints do not take into consideration the universality of these tough times. Fewer still realize that we Smithies are much better off food-wise than the majority of American college students.

I recall eating dinner with a friend and a high school acquaintance of her’s my first year at Smith. Katie went to nearby Westfield State, where all six thousand undergraduates ate in a central dining hall. Students were not allowed to take food out of the dining hall, and, as Katie noted, the quality of the food was edible at best.

At Smith, students are free to take leftovers in tupperware or other such containers we supply ourselves. Kind dining staffers are often willing to lend students some eggs or butter in the event that an urge to bake a batch of cookies strikes. While it would be difficult for the staff at each of our 15 dining halls to memorize the names of every student they serve, it is not at all uncommon for students and staff to be on a first-name basis.

True, it is unlikely that we will ever again see Cornish Hens on a dinner menu (an occasional treat up until a year or so ago), but Smith students would do well to count our many blessings.

Between classes and friendships with students at the other colleges in the Five College Consortium, I have eaten at Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke and UMass Amherst. There are positive and negative aspects of the dining experience at each of these four very different campuses, but there is something to be said for returning to my own campus, where I know exactly where to dispose of my leftovers and recycling, and where I can look forward to favorites like vegan Caesar salad at least once a month.

When I graduate Smith, I will be more than happy to trade the noise and chaos of the dining halls for a home-cooked meal, but I do not doubt that I might occasionally wax nostalgic for breakfast, lunch and dinners available when and where I desire them.

Haters be damned, I’m not afraid to admit it– I’ll miss that vegan slop.