Feel Good Friday: Food as Art

19th March 2010

Feel Good Friday: Food as Art

by Rachel

The Art of Food

The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center here in town is winding down its The Art of Food exhibit next month.  Brandon and I haven’t had a chance yet to attend, but I’m hoping to make it before its April 2 close date.  This is the fourth year for the exhibit, which showcases food as art, art about food, and food as the inspiration for art — and the works are as eclectic as the medium.  Artist Eric Bass, for instance, has recreated famous paintings with candy and junk food.  This year, he recreated Van Gogh’s “Potato Eater” using — what else? — potato chips.  Photographer Bruce Frank manipulates the colors and forms of food in works such as “Fruit salad mandala” (pictured), while other artists such as Pam Kravetz chose to make her 8-foot tall food-themed puppets and towers of cupcakes artwork about food and our relation to it.

As a photographer and digital artist myself, I’ve been drawn to golden fields of swaying wheat and corn, but never have I made food itself the subject of my art — unless, that is, you consider cake-decorating to be an art, in which case I am a total food artist.  The Art of Food exhibit pays homage to the days of early modern Europe, when orate edible creations and sculpture were often created for celebrations in cities and courts as both a feast for the eyes and a taste experience — read more on that here.  Now food art is enjoying a resurgence again among the creative class looking for new and unique ways to express their vision and creativity.  Just check out some of the amazing works featured here, here or here.   Among my favorites are the eye-catching “foodscapes” of photographer Carl Warner, who uses fruits, vegetables anything else he can scrounge up in his kitchen to make his fantastical landscapes made entire of food (well, and glue and pins).   Simply amazing!

Carl Warren foodscape

Do you have a favorite food artist?  Have you made food art?  If so, show off some of your creations!

posted in Arts and Music, Food Culture, Food History, Food News, Rachel | 4 Comments

7th January 2010

If we are what we eat, what do the contents of our refrigerators say about us?

by Rachel

You’ve heard the aphorism, “You are what you eat,” right?  Well, here’s an interesting project that seeks to expose our innermost selves.  In a creative exploration of hunger, photographer Mark Menjivar photographed the contents of strangers’ refrigerators and posted them to his website along with a brief description of the contents’ owner.  From the virtually empty refrigerator of a person living on a meager fixed income (image 2) to the refrigerator of a female short order cook who can bench press 300 pounds with a coiled snake resting on the top shelf (really! it’s image 15), it’s certainly an interesting peek into the lives of diverse people from different regions and backgrounds.  In his artist’s statement, Menjivar explains:

For three years I traveled around the country exploring food issues. The more time I spent speaking and listening to individual stories, the more I began to think about the foods we consume and the effects they have on us as individuals and communities. An intense curiosity and questions about stewardship led me to begin to make these unconventional portraits.

A refrigerator is both a private and a shared space. One person likened the question, “May I photograph the interior of your fridge?” to asking someone to pose nude for the camera. Each fridge is photographed “as is.” Nothing added, nothing taken away.   These are portraits of the rich and the poor. Vegetarians, Republicans, members of the NRA, those left out, the under appreciated, former soldiers in Hitler’s SS, dreamers, and so much more. We never know the full story of one’s life.

My hope is that we will think deeply about how we care. How we care for our bodies. How we care for others. And how we care for the land.

So, what would the refrigerator of a eating disorder-recovered, vegetarian, health-conscious 30-year-old journalist from the Midwest look like?  Here’s a peek into my own fridge.

If we are what we eat, what does your fridge say about you?

posted in Class & Poverty, Food Culture, Food News, Rachel, Vegetarianism | 26 Comments

2nd December 2009

The Digest: New ED memoirs, fitness DVD swaps, and why we can’t eat just one

by Rachel

So, I had just dozed off again yesterday morning when my cat, who usually sleeps next to me each morning, tried to jump up on the bed.  Sweet, right?  Not so much… I was hugging the side of the bed and she nailed me instead above my eye.  Three inner stitches, five outer ones and a tetanus shot later, I’m sporting the Frankenstein look this week.  There were seven people ahead of me in line at the Urgent Care office, so I had lots of time to peruse through their fine selection of health magazines and found these snippets to share.

Can I get an amen?: Abby Sher, who used to perform with the comedy troupe The Second City, takes a comedic look at her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia in her new memoir, Amen, Amen, Amen.

Hello, body; goodbye, loathing: Body image expert Sarah Maria is the author of the new book, Love Your Body, Love Your Life.   The self-help guide gives readers five steps to help end negative body image obsession and start living a confident and empowered life.  Bonus: Check out an interview with Maria at the blog Weightless.

Goodbye workout ruts!: Score fresh fitness DVDs for free when you trade in old ones at

Down dog with eating disorders: A pilot study, recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health,  found that yoga was effective in treating adolescents with anorexia, bulimia, and ED-NOS

Why you can’t eat just one: A group of neuroscientists have discovered a reason for why we (or rats, at least) can’t seem to get enough candy or junk food: we’re addicted.  Their study found that pleasure centers in the brains of rats on high-fat and calorie diets became less responsive as the bingeing wore on, making the rats consume more and more food.

Sink your teeth into this: Market research firm Mintel predicts the top five dining trends for 2010 will include healthier dishes, seasonal ingredients, lesser-known ethnic cuisines and a back-to-basics approach to old-fashioned foods such as burgers.

posted in Anorexia, Bulimia, ED-NOS, Eating Disorders, Food News, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Rachel, Recovery | 9 Comments

11th November 2009

Calorie counts: Coming soon to a restaurant near you?

by Rachel

We’ve discussed the pros and cons of posting calorie counts on restaurant menus before.  Now Politico’s Glenn Thrush points out a little known provision in the House health care bill that would mandate such conspicuous calorie-counting.  He writes:

Buried deep in the House health care bill is a provision, likely to raise nanny-state hackles, requiring fast-food chains and vending machine owners to notify customers of calorie counts — by conspicuously posting nutritional information on menus or machines.

The provision — Section 2572 — requires retail food establishments “part of a chain with 20 or more locations” to list calorie counts “on the menu board including a drive-through board,” as is currently required in New York City and other localities.

A “vending machine operator shall provide a sign in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button” that includes similar data.

The idea is popular among progressives and public health types who think it could reduce obesity, hypertension and diabetes rates — particularly among inner-city folks whose diets are disproportionately composed of cheap, tasty, calorie-loaded Big Macs, Whoppers and Chalupas.

But conservatives and libertarians see it as a major encroachment of the nanny state that has no place in a bill that’s supposed to address affordability, insurance industry abuses and expanding coverage.

The provision basically merges the language in the LEAN act, which I endorsed because it makes nutrition information — and not just calories –  available upon request, and the more stringent, in-your-face MEAL act, which robs consumers of the choice of ignorance and is limited solely to the posting of calories.  Studies show that since posting calorie counts on menus in New York, patrons consumed about 106 fewer calories per purchase.  At that rate, it will only take the average consumer, oh, one month to lose a single, solitary pound — and that’s assuming that they’re not overindulging their bodies’ energy needs at other times through the day.  Frankly, I doubt that anyone chomping down on a 1,500-calorie, double-cheese-with-bacon Angus burger is all that concerned about caloric intake or how healthy what they’re eating is.  Your thoughts on the provision or its place in the health bill?

posted in Food News, Legal Issues, Rachel | 34 Comments

4th September 2009

The forbidden (sugar-coated, chocolate-covered, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden) fruit

by Rachel

A few months ago the New York Times published a story on the legions of parents who are becoming hyper-vigilant about their children’s consumption of sugar, processed foods and trans fats.  MSNBC has a similar, albeit less in-depth, story out this week on the increasing numbers of food cop parents.

Driven by concern about childhood obesity or other food anxieties, more nutrition-focused parents are turning into food cops, monitoring every morsel their children eat. They not only refuse to allow sugary snacks in their own homes but also fight to ban fattening foods from school lunches or childhood parties. For them, every cupcake becomes a potential future health crisis.

MSNBC paints it as kind of an epidemic of PTO groups being overrun by rabid MeMe Roth clones, but it’s hard to know just how widespread the issue really is.  Still, it’s enough of an issue for groups to obtain funding for studies on the often counterproductive consequences of patrolling your kid’s lunchbox.  The story references one recent study from the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University, which tracked 200 girls for 10 years from age 5.  It found the highest weight gain among girls who considered their parents most restrictive about eating certain foods.

Anyone who has ever dieted or struggled with disordered eating knows all too well that the food you categorize as public enemy number one is usually the same food that you obsess about until you usually overindulge.  The same goes for kids.  As nutritionist Andrea Giancoli explains, banning “bad” foods usually only inflames kids’ desires for the forbidden (sugar-coated, chocolate-covered, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden) fruit.

“They’ll go to a friend’s house and pig out on junk,” she says.  Giancoli also objects to making little Johnny eat all his carrots and peas before he can have a cookie. “What research finds,” she says, “is that the reward food becomes more desirable in the child’s mind, and certain ‘good foods’ become increasingly despised.”

For all the effusive weight-loss gushing usually seen in MSNBC health stories, the tips they provide at the end of the story are actually good ones: Banish the clean-plate club; educate children about nutrition; and perhaps most importantly, be a role model.

How about you?  What kinds of food habits did you learn from your parents?  If you’re a parent, what kinds of messages are you sending your kids about food?

posted in Family Issues, Fat Bias, Food Culture, Food News, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, New Research | 38 Comments

9th March 2009

Tell Michael Pollan your food rules

by Rachel

Author Michael Pollan wants to hear your food rules. No, not the kinds of disordered rules created by people with eating disorders, but “rules” that come by way of culture, ethnicity or family tradition that influence the way and what we eat. As he explains in the New York Times:

I’ve also found that many ethnic traditions have their own memorable expressions for what amounts to the same recommendation. Many cultures, for example, have grappled with the problem of food abundance and come up with different ways of suggesting you should stop eating before you’re completely full. The Japanese say “hara hachi bu” (“eat until you are four-fifths full”). Germans advise eaters to “tie off the sack before it’s full.” And the Prophet Muhammad recommended that a full belly should contain one-third food, one-third drink and one-third air. My own Russian-Jewish grandfather used to say at the end of every meal, “I always like to leave the table a little bit hungry.”

I want to create a compendium of such rules, across cultures and also time. Some of the rules readers have sent me so far are specifically about navigating the modern food landscape: “It’s not food if it comes to you through the window of a car.” “Don’t eat at any restaurant of which there is more than just one.” “A snack is not the same thing as a treat.” “If a bug won’t eat it, why would you?” and so on.

I’m a big fan of Pollan, but I know that he is not without his naysayers. Regardless if you love him or hate him, here’s your chance to tell him some hard and fast rules of your own. Pollan says he will post reader suggestions on his Web site and will include the best in a collection of food rules he is now compiling. I don’t have any clever catchisms for the foods I eat and as someone who is eating disorder recovered, I dislike the choice of “rules” for the rigidity it confers — perhaps a better term to use would be “guidelines” or “suggestions”? Here are a few of my own food “rules,” a term I use loosely.

  • I don’t eat anything that once had a face.
  • You are what you eat — in the sense that I try to eat foods that promote environmental health and sustainability and do not promote a culture of violence (see above)
  • If a recipe has more than five ingredients and/or steps, toss it (this is more of a personal ADD issue for me)
  • We are not “good” if we order the salad, nor are we “bad” if we order the pizza.
  • Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry — this has resulted in many a skyrocket high food bill for us.
  • Don’t deny food cravings, but indulge them in moderation
  • And above all… Food is something to be savored and enjoyed with friends and family.

What are some of yours?

posted in Eating Disorders, Food Culture, Food News, Personal, Vegetarianism | 54 Comments

10th February 2009

Online dinner party for a cause

by Rachel

Brandon and I attended our first dinner party as a couple last Friday and it was lots of fun. Most of our friends now have kids (dreamkillers, as one of our friends calls them), so we don’t see them often. The couple who invited us and the other couple who attended are childless like us. The two guys are friends of my husband from when they all used to play jazz gigs at local Cincinnati clubs (long before we met and back when my husband still had hair), so they all brought their instruments to play after dinner. I had met the hostess briefly before and knew that we shared a love of animals and Ikea, but neither Brandon nor I had ever met the other woman. I was a little apprehensive — I have never felt entirely comfortable in a roomful of estrogen — but as it turns out, we had a lot to talk about, namely food. I’m not a big foodie person, but I am interested in eating locally and in healthy eating and so were they.

The hostess is reading “Skinny Bitch” (a book I especially abhor as an ethical vegetarian and body acceptance activist) although I’m not quite sure why, as she is already very petite and of an average weight. At one point she mentioned that although it’s been years since she and her husband were on Weight Watchers, she can’t forget the point system. The other woman commiserated, saying that the calculations are embedded in her subconscious. “I have no idea how the WW point system works,” I said proudly, which the host wife took as an invitation to explain. “Oh, well, you just calculate this and subtract that and divide by…” she started. I interrupted her. “And I don’t want to know how it works.” As they say, ignorance is bliss.

If you need an excuse to host your own soiree, here’s a great one ( h/t Feministing Community). Whether you host a real-life get together or an online dinner party, it’s a great way to round up your friends while supporting a great cause.

Mama Cash is an international women’s fund known for its daring support of women’s human rights initiatives worldwide. Right now, Mama Cash is hosting the first-ever global dinner party for women’s rights, and you are invited.

You can help women’s rights groups all over the world “Cook Up a Revolution” by hosting a real-life or a fun virtual dinner party right on Mama Cash’s Campaign 88 Day’s website. On your virtual dinner party page, you can upload recipes, pictures, video and audio. Then invite all your friends to talk about women’s rights at your virtual dinner table.

The party for women’s rights is happening now at Please join us!

posted in Feminist Topics, Food News, Fundraisers, Non-profits | 4 Comments

23rd January 2009

The Digest: F-words in the news

by Rachel

Here’s a sampling of F-words related headlines making the news. Many have been taken from the-F-word’s Twitter feed, which if you haven’t noticed in the new sidebar to the right, lists links and articles that don’t make the blog.

By the Numbers

In a truly horrifying story coming from Las Vegas, a father chained his 15-year-old daughter to her bed to stop her from eating and beat her all because he felt that she was overweight. He’s since been arrested and the girl is undergoing hospital care.

More evidence has surfaced supporting the overall ineffectiveness of dieting in healthy weight management. A two-year study of 225 overweight women conducted by a New Zealand university found that people who had followed a program of yoga and meditation lost more weight and kept it off more successfully than did people who followed a program of diet and exercise.

Most diet plans are ineffective in general, but Newsweek takes a look at the six worst diet scams and fads to hit the market this year.

We all seem to know one — someone who can frustratingly eat whatever and how much they want and never seem to gain weight. Inspired by a 1967 study of prison inmates, a group of researchers from the UK set to find out the degree to which fatness is genetically-determined. Their results may surprise you or at the very least, challenge some of your thinking about how our bodies metabolize and store fat.

Body Acceptance

The Florida Marlins are looking again for plus-sized male cheerleaders to join its Marlins Manatees squad. Is this fat-positive or just exploitive? You decide.

PsychCentral takes a look at magazines for teen girls and finds dangerously mixed messages about weight and body image. Read and be outraged and then subscribe to New Moon magazine instead.

British mom Julie Lou Weston overcame her struggles with bulimia and negative body image and says she now embraces her (British) size 22 curves. Last year, she started her own company, Goddess Photography, aimed at giving women more confidence about their bodies, regardless of their size and shape. She’s also set up an organization called Curvaceous to help women love their figures. Read Julie’s story and watch a video with her here.

Eating Disorders

New research shows that medication and psychotherapy might be beneficial for people with body dysmorphic disorder. The study, published in the Cochrane Review, found both approaches to have positive results, but says that more research is needed given the dearth of research on this condition.

Do foodies have a form of an eating disorder? Some Swiss doctors insist “gourmand syndrome” to be very real indeed.

Cutting goes hand-in-hand with an eating disorder for many sufferers, but despite accounts of self-harm appearing centuries ago, not much is known about this baffling condition. Newsweek takes a look at the history of self-harm and shares new medical research into the condition.

Arts & Culture

Among many of the things lost to Hurricane Katrina are treasured regional and family recipes. Judy Walker, the food editor of The Times-Picayune, set to collecting those recipes again and has now released them in “Cooking Up a Storm.” Another Louisiana native, Dale Curry, has also released a cookbook called “New Orleans Home Cooking,” with recipes she’d gathered during her more than 20 years of editing the same section before Walker — read more about each here. Both cookbooks reveal a heartwarming look at how food very much reflects our culture and identities.

Time magazine reviews Gilbert Cruz’s new book “America: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life” and finds it a skim read, but they also laud his attempts to expand the definition of addiction and change how we think about them.

Discuss any of the above in the comments below or share other headlines in the news.

posted in Arts & Culture, Arts and Music, Body Image, Body-Affirming, Diets, Eating Disorders, Fat Bias, Food History, Food News, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Mental Health, New Research, Non-profits, Pop Culture, Recipes, Recovery | 8 Comments

16th December 2008

NY governor proposes “obesity tax” on non-diet sodas

by Rachel

New York Governor David Paterson wants to pass an “obesity tax” on non-diet soft drinks to help close the state’s $15 billion budget gap, reports the Daily News. Diet drinks would be exempt, so a Diet Coke could end up costing 15 cents less than a regular Coke. Milk, juice and bottled water would also be exempt. The so-called obesity tax would generate an estimated $404 million a year and comes as part of a $121 billion budget to be unveiled today.

I’m wary of government acting in loco parentis as a rule, but considering the correlations between unsweetened soda* and health issues, including diabetes (problems all ignored by designating it solely as an “obesity” issue), I have no problems with the proposed tax itself, especially since unlike food, soda isn’t essential for life (caffeine addicts may beg to differ). What I have a problem with is in calling it an “obesity” tax, as if fat people, both current and future, are the only consumers of sweetened soda. Most fat people I know drink diet soda out of self-consciousness and/or because they’re forever dieting. And drinking diet soda might help reduce one’s sugar intake and consumption of empty calories, but it remains to be seen if it will actually result in weight loss. In fact, one recent study claims that drinking diet soft drinks does just the opposite — it encourages weight gain.

Luckily, the governor does want to expand services that might actually help address the health of New Yorkers in in any meaningful way. He plans to expand the state’s social services net, including a 30 percent increase in welfare payments over three years starting Jan. 2010, increased money for food banks and expanded access to the state’s Family Health Plus program. Usually social services programs are among the first to get the axe when a state needs to cut costs, so kudos to the governor for recognizing the importance of them.

If the goal of the “obesity” tax is to improve health, government subsidies of fruits and vegetables make for better public policy than taxing a cheap source of calories. If the goal of the tax is to generate funds for a state in a spiraling financial deficit, then call it as it is and don’t scapegoat fat people in the process. Here’s a novel idea: How about calling it a “soda” tax? Yes, yes… crazy, I know.

Contact the governor with your own radical suggestions here.

* In much of the Midwest, we call it “pop”; personally, I think “soda” sounds matronly and “soda pop” downright geriatric. I don’t quite understand the Southern tradition of calling all soft drinks “Coke,” either. For a map breakdown of soft drink colloquialisms, see here.

posted in Arts and Music, Fat Bias, Food News, Legal Issues | 22 Comments

6th November 2008

The One Dollar Diet Project

by Rachel

The depressing economy has many tightening their belts, but public health officials warn that those belts may need a few extra notches. As more Americans struggle with falling incomes, rising food costs and dwindling savings, they’re realizing what poor people have known all along: On a per calorie basis, diets composed of healthy whole grains, fish and fresh vegetables and fruit are far more expensive than less-healthy refined grains, added sugars and fats, which provide empty calories.

Links between poverty and obesity are no new phenomenon — see here, here and here. It’s often not about ignorance, poor character or a lack of willpower; it’s about being limited to those foods you can afford and access to safe areas in which to exercise and recreate. Readers here who took the “healthy food on a food stamp budget” challenge a couple months ago found it a difficult one indeed. But what would you eat if you had just $1 a day to spend on food? One California couple decided to find out.

High school social studies teachers Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard embarked on a dollar-a-day budget for one month, raising $1,500 for a local community center in the process. They continue to blog about their experiences here and are preparing a book proposal. Tara Parker Pope of the New York Times followed up with a larger look at the project and the economy holds for the increasing numbers of cash-strapped Americans.

Greenslate and Leonard quickly found their energy levels sapped even as their budget required far more of their time and efforts than ever before. After working 10 – 12 hours a day, the couple would come home and have to spend several more hours preparing foods they used to buy prepared from scratch. The experiment required them to count, calculate, measure and weigh every ingredient. While Greenslate did lose weight in the process, he says the accompanying lack of energy left him unable to work out at the gym. Many foods they consumed contained chemicals like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, foods the couple normally avoid. Their social life also suffered, as they had to turn down dinner dates and even meet-ups with friends over coffee. But the couple also learned important lessons about poverty and people affected by poverty and the assumptions and stereotypes associated with both. Concludes Greenslate:

Yet even I must acknowledge that this month has been a time of personal growth and reflection that has been transformative at some level. This has been a time when I have examined the way I live and come to better know myself. I will look back at this month and remember it for the rest of my life, and I know that I will live each day differently as a result.

I hope their book proposal is accepted. I’d be highly interested in reading it.

posted in Class & Poverty, Food News, Health, Nutrition & Fitness | 5 Comments

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