Sunday, March 06, 2011
Many of our friends have the mistaken impression since we like to travel that we're high flying globetrotters, dining at the finest restaurants in London and Paris.
We aren't, and we don't. When we travel, we travel like a local.
Many of us actually live in tourist towns ourselves. I've lived in Denver, Seattle and Savannah. Do you eat in your local tourist traps?
No, you don't. Not unless you have visitors from out of town who insist on going, right? You warn them its a tourist trap, but they want to go anyway.
When I visited Korea, I had the great benefit of having my family with me. We ate in hidden side markets for just a few dollars. The most expensive meals I had were near the US army base, where the prices were inflated. McDonalds, Quiznos and Pizza Hut abounded.
In the UK, I had the benefit of my fiance who is British. We were briefly fleeced in London because he didn't know where to go, either. The rest of the time we had really great local food for not much money. No suit and tie required.
In Barcelona, we wandered the markets where the locals shopped and ate. Americans kind of stick out like a sore thumb. They'll wear a Hawaiian print polo ANYWHERE. We avoided the restaurants where there was a congregation of khaki's and polos.* We looked for congregations of Spanish locals. Where did they go? What did they eat? We'll try some of that.
We drove along the Spanish coast where there are no tourists. Fortunately my Spanish was just good enough. As you get farther away from the metropolitan areas, the number of people who can speak English decreases. They were very eager to share their culture and food. The Spanish were very friendly to us, and were very polite about my poor Spanish.
Once upon a time in Mexico, we were in a grocery store looking at an overwhelming array of tequilas. This nice man came up to us, pointed to a bottle of tequila on the shelf, and gave a thumbs up. We took the local's recommendation, and were not disappointed.
This is my favorite thing about traveling. Experiencing the culture through the people and the food. We've been on vacations with family and friends who never leave the resorts or the confines of the tourist areas.
I can understand. Until I actually visited these places, if you just go by the horror stories you hear in the news, it would seem like you shouldn't go anywhere. But I'm sure you know where all the bad areas of your local city are, too.
It is true that many people in certain foreign countries may be very pushy about trying to sell you something. Have to remember that if you make over US$35K, you are in the top 1% richest people in the world. Most people in the world are very poor, and very desperate. You don't have to feel obligated to give them money. You do have to be smart about avoiding getting pick pocketed. But this is true in the metro cities I've lived in, too. Use zippered purses, and don't keep your wallet in a back pocket. I would do this while visiting LA or NY, too.
While we were in Spain, we bought a blind, old homeless woman a sandwich. She was genuinely grateful. On the other hand, we had a bellboy in a 3rd world country tell us that he thought a $20 tip for carrying our bags was appropriate because $20 didn't mean as much to us. We did not give him a $20 tip.
If you can blend in, you'll be hassled less. People in Europe and Asia are generally very well put together. Not runway models, but not running through town with a pair of Crocs. In Asia, there are tailors everywhere. Americans look very 'dumpy' in comparison with oversized t-shirts, pants that don't fit right, and athletic shoes. I am not exaggerating. You can spot the American from 100 yards. It is embarrassing. If I were a timeshare salesperson, that's who I would make a b-line for. And they do.
* I'm picking on the Americans because I'm American. My fiance is British, and he had a few facepalm moments with British compatriots as well. Apparently the British have a terrible stereotype of being loud and rowdy when they travel in the EU. About as famous as Americans with their colorful polos.
Saturday, March 05, 2011
In my last post, I gave high praises to teachers and the job they do. I don't know how they do it, day in, day out. Especially kids in grade school. I'm tearing my hair out trying to teach an adult friend about good nutrition.
She has to learn about portion sizes. We once went to a Chipotle, and she shocked me with a comment about how small the burritos were. Never heard anyone describe a Chipotle burrito as 'small'.
We went to a friend's wedding in the Bahamas. She was really uncomfortable the whole time. It made me realize how insulating fat can be. It was very hot, but it seemed to be unbearable for her.
She reminds me of me about 10 years ago.
She didn't know me when I was very overweight, but she knows that I was. She only really knows the new me. Not supermodel thin, but healthy; cycler; kayaker; snorkeler/diver.
She asked me several times questions about fitness and diet. She still holds to the archaic idea of 'diet' though, not lifestyle change. Like, how you change what you eat is what you will do for the rest of your life. Not soup and salad until you get to your bikini weight.
She says my new blog has helped inspire her to make some changes. She bought some of the pots I recommended for making single serving sizes of food. I told her to only eat half her box when she grabs teriyaki for lunch. There's actually 2-3 portions in the to-go teriyaki. Splitting in half will get her used to smaller, more normal sized portions. It's how I learned.
I keep encouraging her to join Spark. She hasn't done it yet. I hope she will. Keeping a food diary is essential. You can't change your life unless you know what you are putting in your body.
I told her to make a few changes at a time. I thought I was getting through to her, making progress. Then she said, "Ok, I can do that. I can make a few changes at a time. Like, no beer with fried foods."
Arg. Not quite what I meant...but...ok...sure. That will save 140 calories.
Well. It's a start.
Friday, March 04, 2011
I don't often engage in political discussions here. Not that aren't about food or fitness debate, anyway. This one is a bit off topic, but I am deeply passionate about it.
It's about public education. I'm absolutely appalled by what is happening in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states that are stripping rights and pay from teachers.
This article really enraged me. Lazy teachers? No. Lazy students.
I went to public school, and didn't get the best education money could buy. But I read books, did my homework, graduated in the top 10% of my class (for whatever that is worth in my underachieving district), and made a good life for myself. My teachers did their very best to reach problem students who just didn't care. They had the same opportunities as me to learn, but thought it was cool to be a 'C' student. I spent my entire school career being made fun of for getting the gold star, or tripped in the hall for being the nerd. Half of the girls I started 1st grade with either became a teen mom or a high school dropout.
Without a public education and teachers who were brave enough to teach at one of the worst schools in my state, I wouldn't have got an education at all. Gang thugs ruled the hallways. There was an incident almost every month where someone was caught with a knife or gun in the locker.
And that was NOT the teachers fault. The teachers can't make those kids go home and do their homework. That was their parents job. I am all to familiar with the kids who had single moms who barely had time for them. Myself and all of my friends were in a similar situation.
My parents both worked blue collar, full time jobs. My dad worked an assembly line and my mom was a housekeeper for a hotel. They barely saw each other. We spent 1 hour a night together as a family as my mom came home from work, I got home from school, and my dad got up to leave for the night shift at work. We had dinner together, then my dad left for work.
And I was expected to get my homework done before I watched TV or played on the computer. Getting a B on my homework was a discussion about what I could do better. A 'C' was completely unacceptable. Did my parents blame my teacher if I got a bad grade on my essay? No. *I* was responsible.
One of my best friends lived on welfare in a trailer park, raised by a single mom. She graduated high school, college, and is now a very well paid graphic designer in San Francisco. I am a professional computer programmer that has worked for a couple of Fortune 100 companies. We both went to the exact same, lowest ranked, gang ridden, poorest school in the county.
And we have public education, state teachers and our parents to thank for who we are today. Our parents would not have been able to afford private school or charter schools. Tax payer money paid for teachers' modest salaries and our public education.
I want the politicians to cut their own salaries before they even think of cutting a teacher, fire fighter, or police man.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Today's blog is going to be a bit of a rant.
There's couple of phrases that has been raising my shackles lately. They are the number of people who say, "I don't have time to cook" or, "It's too expensive to cook at home."
If it was a priority, they'd do it.
There are some people to whom this may be harder than others. Single moms with 3 part time jobs are understandably stretched beyond belief. I'm talking about young, relatively affluent 'yuppie' types.
10 years ago, I didn't know how to cook anything but ramen noodles and scrambled eggs. My reasons were rather silly. I work in IT, which is known for long hours. I said that I 'didn't have time' and 'eating out is less expensive'. Both were complete crap. They were excuses.
I'm also going to admit something else embarrassing. I thought that if I learned to cook, I would somehow be setting back the feminist movement. My friends and I laughed about not being able to cook as some kind of badge of pride.
Stupid. And insecure.
I have a career, I am a feminist, and I can cook. I've grown up.
A friend of mine recently said she doesn't cook because cookware is so expensive. I'm looking at her iPhone that she paid $300, and pays $130 every month for a data plan. I could have bought her a starter line of professional cookware and knives for that.
Buying high grade cookware is not like buying the cheap knife at the supermarket. With a little care, it should be a one time investment that will last forever. I bought All-Clad stainless steel cookware and Wusthof knives when I was badly in debt. I put aside money for it, saved a little out of my checks until I had enough. I've had them almost 9 years now, and they are still good as new. They have paid for themselves, and then some.
I lost weight and got out of debt. A good deal of credit to this is from learning to cook. Eating at home is certainly less expensive than dining out. Even when buying organic vegetables and meat, I spent a whole lot less than dining out with friends. Most of those savings probably came from drinking a lot less alcohol. At home, I'd prepare a nice meal with grass fed steak, potatoes, roast veggies, and a glass of wine. All for about $13. I could make a plate of spaghetti and side salad for about $2. Make it $3.50 if I added a glass of wine. There's no restaurant where I could get the same quality for that price.
Watching Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals" on the Food Network changed my life. I learned how to prepare meals fast within 45 minutes (I'm a little slower than Rachael). 30-45 minutes is about the same as takeout or sit in dining. It is certainly doable with a full time 8-10 hour a day job. It just takes a little planning ahead.
Do I still dine out? Sure. It is a social event with friends or my fiance. But it is not a daily event like it used to be.
I am and always will be a highly independent lady. I am a feminist, and I am not ashamed of the word. Maybe in the old days "Cooking is the way to a man's heart", but these days it goes both ways. I can cook, and my fiance can cook. It sure is nice being able to trade and share the cooking responsibility with our busy lives.
Monday, February 28, 2011
I am a compulsive overeater. It's not an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. It's more similar to a drug addiction like cocaine.
I have come a long way in being able to manage it. I've lost 30 lbs and have maintained it pretty stably for about 7 years. However, I have struggled with the last 10-15. I've lost and regained that additional 10 for about 7 years, also.
I was in LA for a working vacation last week, and boy did I struggle. When I am in my home environment, I can control what I eat pretty well. Learning to cook is the reason why I lost 30 pounds, and how I have maintained it. Getting out of the kitchen and into the horrific world of American restaurants for every meal sent it all into a tailspin. I was reminded how I became 40 pounds overweight.
It is much easier to find healthy food choices in California than Georgia. In Georgia, I avoid the food scene altogether for the most part, with a few exceptions. It is near impossible to find a healthy food option. Everything is breaded and deep fried - even the vegetables. Portion sizes are 4 times the size they should be.
In California, this is somewhat easier to manage. There are numerous places that serve 'California fresh' food. Lots of avocados, fish, vegetables and fruit. I passed by a fruit truck on the highway and bought a big box of strawberries that were naturally sweet.
While the food balance was better in LA, there was still too much. I ordered eggs benedict for breakfast. It came with two muffin halves and two eggs with hollandaise. Nothing bad here, except it was two portions. The whole plate was most likely 600-800 calories. When I make eggs benedict at home, I use one muffin half, and one poached egg. A perfect 300-400 calorie breakfast.
Even knowing this, I still ate the whole plate. I have plate cleaning disorder. If you put it in front of me, I will eat it. All of it. Whether I am hungry or not.
We didn't have a fridge at our hotel, so take out box was not possible. I spent the rest of my trip trying to find lunches and dinners that were single portion only. This was impossible...except at fine dining establishments, or fast food. High end restaurants served highly delicious food, in exactly right sized portions. I ate lunch at these restaurants, as the lunch menu is more reasonably priced than dinner.
Boy did I wish we got a suite with a kitchenette. I ended up buying fruit and breakfast pastries from a local grocery store to offset the cost/calories of breakfast. I found a Japanese bento box restaurant for lunch, and a fish grill. While more economical than the fancy restaurant, I was still dismayed that McDonald's was the cheapest option for a 'dining out only' menu.
It struck me as what's very wrong with American food culture. There I was in California, known for the healthiest people and freshest food in the country. Not everyone who lives there is a movie star, though, and the cheapest food is still McDonald's. It made me angry.
At the airport on the way home, the book "The End of Overeating" by David A. Kessler caught my eye. Dr. Kessler made quite a few enemies taking on the tobacco industry as the FDA commissioner for both Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton. He seems to be targeting America's food industry next.
The book is quite different then most diet or self help guides. It goes into the behavioral science behind overeating. He said he started off intending to write the book about nutrition and macro nutrients, but ended up finding himself in brain chemistry and behavioral science instead.
There's quite a few things in there that resonated with me. American food is designed to be highly addictive. The main components of American food is sugar, salt and fat. All of these components when fed to laboratory rats, in exactly the right ratios, rated just below cocaine use in its addictive qualities.
The most popular chains in America - Applebee's, Chili's, McDonalds - have food laboratories designed to make food crack. It doesn't really taste that good, but you can't stop eating it anyway. Sugar, salt, and fat. Even the bun at McDonald's has sugar in it. You don't notice it, but it's part of the formula that makes your brain crave it.
One of the passages that stuck most with me was a Japanese businessman who said American food isn't satisfying. You have to eat more of it than Japanese food. From my travels, I agree with him. I never gained weight after visiting Asia or Europe.
In college, I had a roommate from Texas. She said her favorite food was her mother's Frito pie. When I visited Spain, a classic Spanish comfort food is paella. Paella is often made in American 'fine dining' establishments. But it is a pauper food. Highly nutritious, low cost, and popping with flavors.
Frito pie is classic American 'cuisine' excess. It is a monstrosity, but geez. Is it ever tasty. You can't eat just a bite.
That is what's wrong with American food. It is engineered to make you eat lots. The food industry as a whole makes more money if you eat more food. Nutrition and your well being are not their motivators.
I went to the grocery store after I got home and filled my fridge with fresh vegetables and fruit. I won't be eating out for at least a couple of weeks as I detox from all the sugar, salt and fat.
"The End of Overeating" is a great book. I highly recommend it. It is up to us to change American food culture and tell the food industry we want right sized portions, and nutritious food.
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