Friday, July 22, 2005

Prague, Czech Republic

See Ya

My Dear Blogging Faithful,

I must leave you now for the land where beer was born and Communism was recent. That's right, more hoards of people just dying to hear me talk about Irish literature. Be back soon.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Dirty Dozen

I don't want to be a Whole Foods snob any more than you do. So I have resisted, stubbornly and deliberately, over the last few years to dispense with such notions as "free range eggs taste better" and "you should avoid hormone-injected beef." I've really tried. But the thing is, food is important to me. I love a nice, juicy piece of London broil off the grill in our backyard or a crispy fried egg sandwich on a toasted English muffin with a little Swiss cheese and maybe a slice of ripe tomato. And so I have succumbed. Perhaps it was inevitable. Organic food (no surprise, I guess) tastes better.

Oh, and I read Fast Food Nation. That was a big mistake for anyone wishing to continue gobbling down good old USDA-approved meat. Not when you encounter tasty little tidbits like "current FDA regulations allow dead pigs and dead horses to be rendered into cattle feed, along with dead poultry" and "the hourly spillage rate at the gut table has run as high as 20 percent, with stomach contents splattering one out of five carcasses" (FFN, 202-203). Mmmmm.

So, yes, I buy my meat at Whole Foods, dammit. And it costs like three times as much. And I hardly ever go out to eat in order to justify spending so much money on groceries every month. But you know, no crazy cow steroids or dead horses in my dinner. So that's a plus. And my steaks taste great.

But I didn't bring you here to talk about meat. Everyone knows that eating a lot of meat is bad for you anyway. In fact, when you're feeling a little guilty about how many E.coli-laced hamburgers you've been scarfing down, you might reach for something to make you feel better. How about.... a vegetable or fruit? Those are always good for you, right? Sort of.

What? Fruits and vegetables aren't always good for me? Makes you just want to throw down that rutabaga in disgust and pick up some Fritos. Not so fast--most fruits and vegetables, organic or not, are great for you. You just need to avoid (dramatic music) The Dirty Dozen. More on that in a second.

The worst thing about the whole organic debate has to be the vast difference in price between conventionally and organic-grown produce. Sometimes I feel that the organic strawberries in my carton should come wrapped in 24k gold foil to justify their cost (although the disparity does lessen quite a bit when strawberries are actually in season, as they are now). In their defense, organic farming methods, which have been around since the dawn of time, are significantly more time-consuming and intricate than conventional ones, as well as much better for the earth. Organic farmers have to do Little-House-on-the-Prairie things like rotate crops, plant clover for ground cover, and use compost, not chemicals, as fertilizer. So, when is it worth it to give your fruits and vegetables this extra love?

Earlier this year, the EWG, a nonprofit advocacy group, released the results of a study about the levels of pesticides in United States produce. The study found that you can lower your pesticide exposure by 90% by avoiding twelve simple fruits and vegetables--items that accrete tremendous amounts of pesticide throughout their entire growing process. Eating these foods conventionally-grown exposes you to an average of 20 different pesticides a day. They are:

1. apples
2. bell peppers
3. celery
4. cherries
5. grapes (imported)
6. nectarines
7. peaches
8. pears
9. potatoes
10. red raspberries
11. spinach
12. strawberries

I know--crap! A lot of good things on there. But I've switched over to organic for most of the things on this list (except celery--who eats that away from a Bloody Mary, anyway?), and I have to admit I've enjoyed the switch. No more mealy apples or that faintly bitter aftertaste on peaches and pears. Strawberries are divinely sweet and can be eaten straight up, no sugar necessary. I've also found that organic spinach is just about the same price as regular spinach at my supermarket.

The list of twelve helps a bit with the cost issue. It's prohibitively expensive for most American families to buy organic all of the time. In a perfect world, all huge agri-business conglomerations, er, I mean, farmers, would grow organic produce and it wouldn't cost you an arm and a leg to buy it. (After all, why should only the rich people be allowed to live pesticide-free? Yeah, I don't see low-income families shopping at Whole Foods either.) In this perfect world, the government and its buddies, the chemical companies, also wouldn't pretend that pesticides are "safe." (For more on specific pesticides and their effects on humans, go make an "interactive salad" at Hokey, yes. Interesting, also yes.)

Until this perfect world comes to pass (don't hold your breath-- former chemical company CEOs currently staff many of this administration's "environmental" agency positions), at least you can cut your losses by staying away from the list. In the simple words of Marion Nestle, Ph.D, and professor of public health at New York University: "Organic foods have fewer pesticides, and the people who eat them have fewer pesticides in their bodies." Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Six Degrees

I don't think anyone has actually seen the movie "Six Degrees of Separation," but everyone understands the premise: that you are somehow connected to everyone in the country (the world?) through the people that you know, and the people they know, and the people those people know, and so on, within only six levels of people. Proof of this engaging concept is above. If you are reading this post because you know me (and other than "Keith C." I think that describes all of you), it turns out you are only four people away from Christina Aguilera (pictured, with my friend Jessica). This may seem of no use to you at present, but what if you someday give birth to a child who has a burning desire to receive Christina's autograph for their sixth birthday lest they burst into the pitiful tears of six-year-old despair? (well, then, they're spoiled, and you should do something about that. But also, we could probably get you that autograph.)

Through a short but complicated chain involving a friend, a cousin, and a best man, it turns out only three peeps stand between me and the premier Miss Mickey Mouse Club herself, a talent who, let's face it, is going to last way longer than Britney Spears (that pop culture reference is for you, Keith C.) This picture was taken at a wedding last weekend where all three of the aforesaid people in my chain were hanging out and dancing to "Celebrate." A normal wedding, in other words, except for the part where Christina sang "I Will Always Love You" (or similar) to the bride and groom after the band went home.

This got me thinking about other chains of connection. Could it really be true that we are somehow interlinked with all of the 250 million people in this country? What about rednecks in the bayou who have never left the trailer-park compound? Or the mousy school librarian from the tiny Protestant high school in Orange County whose only friends are Shakespeare and the heroines of Christian romance novels (yes, such novels do exist). Or my grandpa's fishing buddies up in Frankfort, Michigan, pop. 891? Maybe it seems unlikely that these cats could have many connections, but consider the fact that those fishing buddies are only five people away from, for example, Christina Aguilera, and therefore only six degrees of separation from every average joe and celebrity she knows.

I am only one person removed from Nomar Garciaparra (which would be more impressive were he actually playing in the major leagues right now. Sorry about the groin, Nomie!) I'm one person away from George Bush Sr., which means I'm two people away from all the other presidents that he knows (well, except Ronnie of course), which means I'm only three people away from every head of state and luminary known by every president since Nixon. That doesn't help me down in redneck city, no. But that's where being only two people away from George W. Bush comes in handy.

Unfortunately I am facing the biggest deadline of my dissertation this coming Friday, so I don't have time to tease this all out a little more. If I did, I would probably figure out how many degrees of separation lie between me and Eden Riegel so I could convince her to come back and make All My Children worth watching again. (Oh, the power.)

And, finally, speaking of celebrities from New York to LA, I leave you with some irresistibly cute shots of the newest stars in the Demmon and Quintanar households, below:

Sammie Demmon

Charlotte Quintanar

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Day Off

I've been cursed with tonsilitis (no you don't have to be seven years old) and, to make things worse, it's raining outside with Apocalypse-Now like force. Coupled with the humidity, Boston feels more like Laos than New England. So I'm stuck inside my dark house gargling with salt water and drinking broth.

To pass the time away until my tonsils de-swell, I'm laying on the couch and watching movies. Right now it's Fahrenheit 9/11, which believe it or not I hadn't seen yet. I'm about halfway through; I needed a little break. The parts with people who lost their husbands and children on September 11th are just too fucking real, and heartbreaking.

I just saw the part where they visit my old workplace in DC (The Carlyle Group) and talk about how the Saudis and the Bushes are all mixed up in this mess together. I've known that since 1998 when my job was to help plan George H.W. Bush's trips to Riyadh and Jeddah, making sure he had time for a daily massage in between visits to Saudi heads-of-state. (Hey, he has a bad back.) Like I've said before, I sort of like the old Bush, probably only because I got cool gifts from the Middle East for planning these trips, like little gold elephants and stuff.

But man, is that George W. Bush an idiot. I know Fahrenheit 9/11 is propaganda at its shiny best, but videotape like that of George shooting clay pigeons and turning around to ask petulantly why no one said "Nice shot" requires no sensationalism. He's just a rotten guy. A spoiled, weak, manipulative, rotten guy who has done yeoman's work to screw up this country.

Anyway, I'm off to finish the second half of the movie. Better late than never.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Happy 4th of July people! (well, yesterday) It didn't quite seem like a real fourth, possibly because I saw no fireworks and hung out almost exclusively with British people all weekend. It was a whole, in your face for the Revolution kind of thing. No it wasn't.

I know at least four of you were busy learning how to change 10 diapers a day and waiting for that little belly raisin to fall off so you probably missed the fireworks as well. What did everybody else do? Did anyone actually see fireworks? I mean, in person, not on a wobbly t.v. screen with bunny ears like I did?

Also, I'd like to stop incessantly saying "on line," "quite" and "a bit," so perhaps a little injection of Americanism is needed. I mean maybe a little injection is needed...aww, screw it. God Save the Queen.