On Feeding Beatrix

 

If you’ve followed my work for the past few years, you know that feeding our first baby was…fraught. Also terrifying, heartbreaking, and ultimately, rewarding. But never simple. I spent last year thinking a lot about how we learned to feed Violet, mostly because I was writing my book at the same time. But also because I was pregnant and quietly dreading the fact that I was going to have to do it again.

I wanted to breastfeed again. But I don’t think I had the greatest reasons. It wasn’t really about the baby’s health: I’ve been through the scientific literature enough times to know that as long as you have access to safe drinking water, breast is not necessarily best or even all that much better than formula. (It offers some immune system-boosting advantages, but that’s something of a wash with the fact that formula is a more reliable source of iron and vitamin D. All the stuff about its ability to boost IQs and prevent obesity is pure correlation. Hanna Rosin’s 2009 article reviewing the evidence is still my favorite if you need more details.) It also wasn’t a feminist thing. I get that breastfeeding is, for many mothers, a profound way to celebrate womanhood. I also see how much it complicates a couple’s ability to equally share parenting responsibilities. And it doesn’t save money because my time has value.

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Filing Under Terrible: Weight Watchers for Teens and Blue Apron for Poor People

Potluck Buffet

I’ve got two seemingly unrelated food things on my mind this week: Earlier this month, Weight Watchers announced plans to offer free memberships to teenagers this summer. And then last week, the Trump administration announced a proposal to replace half of a family’s food stamps budget with an “American Harvest Box,” of USA-grown food. White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney described the new plan as “a Blue Apron-type program,” which was immediately mocked as an obvious reach. (Somehow I don’t see the USDA springing for full-color recipe cards — plus, what gourmet delicacy can you whip up with shelf stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruit and cereal?)

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On #MeToo and Food Shaming


Hello and happy February!

I realize seeing this post pop up may come as a bit of a surprise, since the last time I did this was, oh, May 2017. It turns out that maintaining an active newsletter while also finishing a book manuscript (and then, having a baby!) was a bit ambitious. But it’s a new year, and the book, while still several steps away away from publication, is written. So I’m excited to get back to newslettering, both so I can continue to share my thoughts on food, culture and writing, and so I can tell you more about the book as we get closer to its release into the wild… which should happen mid-November.

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Talking Jimmy Kimmel, Heart Kids and Saving the ACA on CNN’s Don Lemon

I had a quick appearance on CNN with Don Lemon last night (watch it here). Pretty much everyone has been talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s beautiful monologue about his son Billy, who was born a few weeks ago with complex congenital heart defects. It’s thoughtful and eloquent (and still funny!), all the more so because he delivered it so soon after Billy’s first open heart surgery. Their family is just beginning to process this diagnosis and the traumatic journey they’re now on. But he recognized the importance of using his platform to raise awareness about protecting the Affordable Care Act, as the Republicans try once again to take it down.

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The Healthy Size Debate

Some Thoughts on What Makes a “Healthy Size.”I’ve been writing about the Health At Every Size movement for several years now. (Pictured above is a feature I wrote for Marie Claire in 2014; here are the archives of the body image blog I wrote for the now-defunct iVillage back in 2011.) And I’m revisiting it again this month because I’m writing the book’s chapter on obesity, and what it’s like to eat when you live in a larger body. So I thought I’d talk about it a little here, in case you’re not familiar with it. Health At Every Size (HAES for short, and I’ve heard it pronounced “hace” or “has”) is part public health strategy and part social justice movement. Proponents argue that we should let go of our national obesity obsession and focus on healthy habits (like eating well and moving more) to pursue improved health directly, regardless of whether we lose any weight in the process.

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On Lunchboxes.

There’s a story making the rounds right now about a mom in Australia who packed a slice of chocolate cake in her three-year-old’s lunch — and received a firm note back from the teacher: “Please choose healthier options for Kindy.” And while this particular incident is news, the phenomenon is not. Teachers grading lunchboxes make the rounds about once every year or two and that’s probably because it happens way more often than that. See this 2015 story from the Today Show about the Colorado mom who packed Oreos and received a note in response detailing a rather arbitrary set of school food rules. “All children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable, and a healthy snack from home, along with a milk.” Okay, fair enough. But there’s also this: ”If they have potatoes, the child will also need bread to go along with it.” What?

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[On Reading]

This week, I’ve been reading Bee Wilson’s First Bite, which is the fairly masterful book everybody asks “have you read…?” when I say I’m writing a book about how we learn to eat. This is actually a reread and I am once again dazzled by how poetically Wilson writes about scientific findings. Anyone who has to read medical journals on a regular basis knows that scientific studies are mostly written in the least exciting language possible, but Wilson has a real talent for turning those dense nuggets of research into accessible stories. She also tracks down some of the most incredible early research, like a 1926 study by Dr. Clara Davis, a pediatrician from Chicago, who “borrowed a number of infants” (mostly orphans) and fed them in controlled laboratory conditions for six years, in order to understand how our appetites and food preferences develop.

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It Cost $2.5 Million to Keep My Child Alive (Slate.com)

I’ve got a new piece up on Slate on how repealing the Affordable Care Act could impact families like mine (yes, even with employer-sponsored insurance). And it will do even more damage to poor families relying on Medicaid to pay for their children’s complex healthcare needs. A little background there: As part of their ACA repeal goals, Republicans want to convert Medicaid and Medicare entitlement funds into block grants, which means that the amount of money a state receives will no longer depend on how many of its citizens need coverage. When that happened to welfare, we saw states tighten up eligibility requirements so much that 74 percent of American families with children living in poverty are now no longer able to get cash assistance when they need it.

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Learning to eat on food stamps.

By now, you may have read about last week’s USDA report on what low-income families buy with their food stamps (officially known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits). Or more accurately, you may have read the initial media coverage which wrung hands over the amount of soda poor people are buying. (Not actually grocery carts full, as the photo suggested, but 5 percent of their food dollars!)

Hopefully that means you’ve now also read responses from various reputable corners (including the NYT’s own public editor) pointing out how that was a blatant mischaracterization of the report, which found virtually no difference in the soda spending habits of SNAP and non-SNAP households (who put, um, 4 percent of their food dollars towards soda). In both kinds of households, about 40 cents of every food purchase dollar was spent on kitchen staples like meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread. In both households, another 20 cents was spent on soda, juice, candy, salty snacks and sugar. (The rest was frittered away on rice, beans, and other cooking ingredients.) It’s not the sexiest graphic, but I’m including the chart below straight from the USDA’s report summary because I think it’s really worth parsing. (Click the image to enlarge it in your browser.) If you do, you’ll notice the only significant difference in how poor people and rich people buy groceries is that poor people buy a lot more baby food. They do persist in feeding their children.

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What I’m Reading (And Writing. And Eating.)

Work In Progress

First, a little book update: Last week, I reached that stage of research where you (or at least I) start to despair that none of it is making any sense and everything I thought I knew was wrong. I’ve been exploring lots of disparate threads, having conversations with all kinds of eaters, and was not yet seeing the connections I need to find. I sent a panicked email to a wise writer friend, who immediately called me up and said, “Start writing. 500 words. Go.” And she was right. 500 words turned into 1000 words the next day, and 1000 the day after, and now here we are a week later and I have almost 7,000 words, 5,000 of which are maybe okay and the start of a chapter.

That mess on the big board above is my first stab at said chapter’s outline. Don’t zoom in! None of it is ready for primetime. But I promised behind-the-scenes peeks in this newsletter, so welcome to the inside of my brain. I like to map things out visually, so after I do a bunch of writing, I like to print it all out, cut it apart and puzzle piece it back together with Scotch tape and markers. (The metal board is a recent upgrade, to protect our walls from the creative process.) For some reason, my arguments make more sense when I can see them this way. And it’s just satisfying because suddenly it looks like I have a lot of work done.

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