Why Are Restaurants Trying To Kill Us?

salmonI met my mother and sister for lunch recently. They live about an hour away, but there’s a large shopping area between us. We have a choice of several restaurants, but I like one in particular because their food seems healthier. And you can ask for nutrition data, which they’ll gladly bring you. On one sheet, in teeny tiny type, but at least it’s available. Like all restaurants, you have to be careful not to overeat the bread or sop up half a cup of olive oil with it. This time they had a new menu item, Sesame Hoisin Salmon salad. Spinach, snap peas, mango, Napa cabbage, pickled ginger, and shaved carrots. Wow! Cabbage and carrots, spinach and snap peas! Just reading it made me feel healthy. Then there was the salmon, “grilled and lacquered with a sesame hoisin glaze.” Lacquered brought up images of shiny furniture, but hey, grilled fish is good! Omegas! And finally, “orange-sesame dressing.” No mention of oil there, or cheese, so that also sounded light. Sign me up! I ordered that salad and ate every bit of it. It was delicious. It didn’t come with any bread — because I’d already had a third of what they brought to the table to begin with — so I really felt like I’d done myself a favor with my choice.

Then I went home and looked up the nutrition data for my lovely salmon salad. WHAT? Eight hundred and seventy calories! How is that bleeping possible? Did they inject the salmon with straight-up FAT? And thirty-two grams of sugar? From WHAT? It was a SALAD! Oh, and that bread and oil for the table? Twelve hundred and seventy calories! Divided by three comes out to … TOO MUCH. THIS is what makes me crazy about dining out. I eat what I think are healthy items, and they’re not. I know, if it tastes that good, it’s probably not good for you.  And restaurants load up on fat and sugar because our little lizard brains adore it, and it keeps us coming back. Yes, if I’m ordering fries or a brownie sundae or a big plate of nachos, I know I’m getting a huge number of calories and fat. But a salmon salad should not be a big surprise. We spend a lot of our food dollars at restaurants, and a lot of us eat out several times a week. We’re great customers! So why are restaurants trying to kill us?


Seven Plates at the Table

denisesevenplates      When a fellow writing group member publishes a book, we don’t necessarily snatch it right up so we can read it because we basically have “read” it, some sections numerous times. And yet…we still like to see the final product, after the edits. So I leisurely started Seven Plates at the Table by Denise Waldron (also one of my Secrets of the Universe panel members) this past weekend, and ended up reading to the end before the weekend was over! This final product is a winner.

Denise creates characters we recognize instantly. And because they feel like family, we want to know what happens from the first page. We’re worried that not-good things are coming for these basically good people. Greta, the grandmother wants Thanksgiving, and every other holiday, to play out like an animated Norman Rockwell illustration. George, her husband, prefers his wife happy so he can do what he does which is take the occasional electrical job and enjoy his semi-retirement. Their children Emily and Alan can’t figure out how they could be brother and sister since they are so different. Emily’s bought an old farm cottage and is raising goats, while Alan, a stressed-out financial adviser clawing up the ladder of success, lives in a big beautiful house with his perfectly-groomed fundraiser wife Isabel and their well-managed five-year-old son Henry.But George is hiding something. And so is Alan, something his wife couldn’t even imagine. It’s Carl, Emily’s new boyfriend, who begins to shake up the status quo. As facades start to crumble, everyone wants to protect Henry.

This is a quietly seductive book about the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others, and the irreparable damage that can follow. Seven Plates at the Table is Denise Waldron’s second book, and she just gets better as she goes. I can’t wait to read her next book…


Answers Are Here: Secrets of the Universe

secretslogoTo conquer the questions that plague me, I am undertaking Secrets of the Universe, a blog series to explore some of life’s greatest conundrums like…is there a certain age beyond which a woman should not wear an unnatural shade of nail polish? Does Bernie Sanders truly believe guns and ammo in your checked luggage on a plane is the same as guns and ammo in the luggage over your head on the train? Should hospitals be nonprofit? Cracker Jacks or Fiddle Faddle?
Courageously stepping forward to take on this weighty task, the members of the Secrets of the Universe Panel (alternatively, The Four Pillars):
B – writer; mother of one favorite son; married to a coach who honorarily adopts honorary sons who play basketball; floral designer.
D – writer; mother of artistic college-aged daughter and son who just left the nest; married to a patron of the arts; organic gardner.
P – writer; mother of a stand-up comedian son; partnered with Ricky Riccardo, a rescued Lhaso Apso; realtor.
R – writer; mother of two musically-inclined college-aged boys; married to The Nicest Man in the World; tour guide.

Need I say more? Stay tuned for the first installment…


Sex v. Gore

Recently a friend said that she was disturbed because an
episode of The Walking Dead had a
steamy sex scene, and she wasn’t forewarned. She watches the show with her
teenage son and she thought a heads-up would have been nice. (If you watch The Walking Dead and don’t want any
spoilers, stop reading.) Although you didn’t see any body parts that aren’t
otherwise covered by bathing suits, it was clear during the scene that two
people were having sex. They were consenting adults, in love, and their
relationship was accepted and encouraged by everyone they knew. I thought it
was a sweet moment in a show that is mostly unrelenting horror and misery.


There is a huge amount of violence in the The Walking Dead. A lot of the violence
is directed at zombies, who admittedly are no longer human but still like to
eat them. But their decapitations, stabbings through the eye, and gunshots to
the head still bother me. Then there’s the 12-year-old kid who shoots a
father-figure-turned-zombie, witnesses his mother’s uterus getting sliced open
to save her baby, and then shoots his dead mother in the head to prevent her
from becoming a zombie. A man cuts off his own hand and cauterizes the wound. Humans
are eviscerated alive. All this and we’re objecting to a little sex?


We rate movies so that viewers can have guidance
about what’s appropriate for their children and themselves. But our ratings
system is heavily skewed toward violence. Years ago I watched I Capture The Castle with my preteen daughter.
It’s based on a charming novel written in the 1940’s. There are two incredibly
brief scenes of female nudity, one from a distance, both no longer than a few
seconds. For this the movie earned an R rating. My daughter was delighted and
went to school the next day bragging that she’d seen an R-rated movie.
Meanwhile if we’d watched any number of PG-13 movies we could have seen a lot
of murder, maiming, and mayhem. I think I’d rather my kids saw a bit of the
human body or two people expressing their love for each other, even if that
means explaining what sex is.


Special for Women? Not Always…

Marketers figured out decades ago that women tend to make many major household purchasing decisions, so they started marketing to them.  Now we have a plethora of products aimed not only toward women (witness the new VW Beetle) but specifically designed for women.  If you’re a woman, maybe you’re thinking it’s about time someone said vive la différence.  Our bodies are different, so let’s have some specificity.  A women-only gym has machines set for people closer to 5’ than 6’, weights closer to ten pounds than fifty.  Women don’t process alcohol (or calories, it seems) as efficiently as men, so give us light beer.  We need more calcium and iron, so put more of those in our vitamins, thanks. 

Here’s a little secret, though.  A lot of those women’s-only products cost us a lot of extra money, and since we’re still only getting paid $.75 on the dollar for what men get paid, we can ill afford to get ripped off thanks to some marketing genius.  For instance, I recently needed some multivitamins.  At the grocery store I noticed a new “Women’s Multi” version, same size bottle, next to the regular multivitamins I usually buy.  “With iron and calcium” it said on the front of the bottle.  Great!  I picked up a bottle of each and flipped them over to compare the nutrition labels.  There were only two ingredient differences, neither of them dramatic.  Instead of 100% of my daily folic acid, I’d be getting 150%.  Instead of 16% of my calcium, 25%.  And iron?  The same in either capsule.  But the price difference?  The women’s multivitamin was $9.99 for 90, the regular multi, $10.99 for 130.  The perfectly adequate regular multivitamins were 28% cheaper!  So what are we paying for?  We’re paying for the fact that the label says “women” on it somewhere.  The same goes for shampoo, shaving cream, soap, and I’m sure you could name a bunch of other products if you thought about it. What we’re paying for is our lack of knowledge.  Knowledge is power.  Let’s start using it.


Redefining Convenience

Champions Cup tennis was coming to Boston and I wanted to see it.  So did most of my tennis team, my parents, and my son.  My tennis team wanted to see the first match, which guaranteed us Bjorn Borg on the court.  My parents and son wanted to see the Championship Final, no matter who was playing.  I volunteered to get tickets for both events.  To get tickets for the Final, I had to use Ticketmaster.  I went online, selected the event and the price range per ticket, and Ticketmaster chose the seating location.  If you don’t like the location, you can try again, but you’ll get the same tickets.  Oh, and they’re going to tack on a $9.35 convenience fee and a $2 processing fee.  To each ticket.  I didn’t like the location so I decided to take an extra step and call instead.  This way I could talk to a human.  Wrong!  I got an automated voice menu with the same procedure:  when do you want to go, how much do you want to spend, here are your tickets.  If you don’t like them you can reject them, go through the entire selection process again, and get offered the same tickets.  If you reject them twice, you are notified that if you reject the third offer you will be disconnected.  I hoped the third time I would be offered different tickets.  I wasn’t.  I was disconnected.  Back online to take what I could get, unhappy with the seat location and the price.  Thanks, Ticketmaster!

A week later I had a final headcount for my teammates and went online again to order more tickets.  I was prepared for the lousy experience and obnoxious fees, but this time I needed 11 tickets, and Ticketmaster has a limit of 8 per transaction.  And if you go in again to order more they’ll cancel everything, even the order you already placed.  I understand this is to thwart scalpers, but an alternative suggestion would have been helpful.  Luckily I had received a brochure in the mail and I noticed a number to call for Group Discounts of 10 or more.  Good thing I wasn’t ordering 9 tickets!  I spoke to Sarah, a real human.  She was friendly, helpful, and thorough.  She called me back when I had questions.  She told me how to view the seating chart online so I could pick the seat location before buying the tickets.  I didn’t have to pay the $9.35 processing fee because I offered to pick them up at the box office and she said that was fine but she would be happy to mail them.

To sum up:  Box Office:  real human, participated in selection process, positive experience.  Ticketmaster:  no human interaction, no options, no fun.  And I got to pay Ticketmaster a total of $36 in “convenience” fees.  I guess it’s convenient for them to charge customers for nothing.


Black and White

Interracial couple denied marriage license, Associated Press , October 16, 2009

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

“I’m not a racist,’’ Bardwell said. “I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way. I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them like everyone else.’’

Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed-race couple. If they are, he does not marry them, he said. He said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages.

“It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009,’’ said American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzmann.

It’s crazy, right?  Insane.  This isn’t 1909, it’s 2009!  What is this guy thinking?  Okay, now let’s try something.  Let’s say we’re in Massachusetts, substitute “gay” for “black” and see how that sounds:

Gay couple denied marriage license, Associated Press , October 16, 2009

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Suffolk County, says it is his experience that most gay marriages do not last long.

“I’m not homophobic,’’ Bardwell said. “I just don’t believe in gay marriage that way. I have piles and piles of gay friends. They come to my home, they use my bathroom. I treat them like everyone else.’’

Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a same-sex couple. If they are, he does not marry them, he said. He said he has discussed the topic with gay and straight people, along with witnessing some gay marriages.

“It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009,’’ said American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts attorney Katie Schwartzmann.

Still sound crazy to you?  It should.




Men in Miniskirts

I’ve finally figured out the appeal to boys and young men of wearing their pants slung so low on their body that only a tight belt will keep them up.  It’s their secret desire to achieve clothing equality.  Women have been cross-dressing for over a century now, so long that we forget it used to be cross-dressing for women to wear pants.  Now women can wear whatever they want and no one cares.  Women have equal clothing rights.  But men?  They are still suffering under antiquated and sexist clothing rules that dictate they are not allowed to wear skirts or dresses.  On the surface, most men disdain women’s clothes.  But subconsciously?  They see that they are oppressed and they do the only thing they can:  they lower their belt to exactly the same spot where a woman’s mini-skirt would end.  Now they’re as restricted as women are!  No long strides for them, mincing steps only, and a constant readjustment to keep things just so.  So the next time you see a male with his pants slung perilously low, remember, he’s only doing it because secretly he wants to be in a miniskirt. 


How To Spend $34,865

I don’t remember how much the Chanel suit was.  Five thousand?  Eight thousand?  The prices were so unreal that they didn’t matter to me.  But I remember holding the arm of a little Chanel suit, feeling the soft thick fabric, in the hushed confines of the Chanel enclosure on an upper floor of Saks, the original one, on Fifth Avenue.  My sister-in-law was gaping at the prices with me, and my thirteen-year-old daughter was looking around, probably wondering how anyone could find these matronly suits attractive.  Off to the side I saw two women looking at the clothes, and they were not gawking, they were shopping.  Jokingly I said to my sister-in-law, “This is really not my style,” as if that were the only reason I wouldn’t be making a purchase.  Turning, I saw a dress, a shift really, in shades of gray and white, with beads and sequins and feathers all over it.  “Now that’s something I would wear,” I said, walking over to it.  I lifted it up gently, admiring the workmanship, the pattern, the whimsical design.  Saying “I wonder how much it is,” I reached inside the neckline and glanced at the price tag.  “Thirty-five hundred dollars,” I said, showing it to my sister-in-law and rolling my eyes.  Then I looked again.  What I thought had said “3485”actually read “34865”.  Thirty-five thousand dollars.  For a dress.

I acknowledge that I’m no fashion plate.  I don’t buy fashion magazines, I don’t follow the trends, I have no interest in it.  I understand that some people are fascinated with fashion, in the same way that some people are fascinated with bacteria or genetics research.  To each her own.  But when I saw the price tag, I wondered what kind of a culture we live in where it’s acceptable to charge thirty-five thousand dollars for a dress, and acceptable to pay that much for one.  In the end, it’s just clothing.  This dress was beautiful; in fact, I would say it was a work of art.  But I think it belongs in a museum, not a clothing store.  And the person who’s trying to figure out how to get bacteria to digest plastic, or how to cure an inherited disease, should be getting paid as much as the designer of a dress.  Otherwise what do we value in this society?


Sick of the Fees

Like most people in America, I know there’s something wrong with the health care system.  (The only people who don’t know seem to be our members of Congress, who get some of the best medical care in the country.  More on them in a minute.)  I recently switched health care plans and thought it would be a good time to switch doctors, and reduce a thirty-minute drive to a five-minute trip.   In order to get my medical records (to which everyone has a right), I was required to send a letter to my doctor stating my request.  The first letter I sent was to my gynecologist, who in my case was a midwife.  The midwifery practice operates out of a small office in a strip mall, their walls are covered with simple health care posters, and their magazines are out of date.  They do no marketing, no fundraising, no direct mailing.  Within a week I received a copy of my records, mailed to me at their expense (roughly $4).  The second letter I sent was to my physician.  My physician is part of a large hospital with more than one location, well-decorated interiors, newly-constructed parking garages, artwork on the walls, and the latest magazines.  I receive monthly full-color mailings of brochures from this hospital requesting donations, because golly, I guess health care is expensive.  After three weeks of waiting I received a letter from this apparently cash-poor hospital, stating that they had received my request and that they would be charging me almost $30 for fees, including the cost of copying and mailing the forms.  (The hospital charged the maximum cost of a copy, which was set at 61¢ by, yes, Congress.  When’s the last time one of them was in Staples?)   Unlike Congress or the hospital, I know it doesn’t’t cost that much to copy and mail the forms; so where’s the rest of that money going?  A new couch?  A subscription to People Magazine?  A framed photo of the last ten presidents of the hospital?  I don’t know, but I know I’d trade a waiting room and a month-old magazine for universal health care.  If you want answers to our health care problems, follow the money.