Category Archives: Government Watch

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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Thinking About Food in Trump’s America

I’m still finding it pretty impossible to concentrate on anything other than the election. To be honest, I woke up on Wednesday morning thinking, “why on earth am I writing a book about learning to eat? It should be about paid family leave! Or rape culture!” Or any of the five million other problems that are about to get even more toxic.

But before my agent and editor get too nervous, let me say that I’m still excited to be writing this book. If we’re going to have a President who refers to women who gain weight as ”eating machines,” then it’s important to keep trying to untangle health and nutrition from misogynistic beauty standards. If we’re going to have a Republican Congress who wants to cut funding for food stamps and decimate school lunch programs, then we also need to understand, more than ever, what it’s like to grow up hungry. The choices we make around food are often our most overt and consistent political statement. Shared meals and food traditions unite our families and cultures, but food is also divisive. Ask any vegetarian — and also ask any overweight person who has had their restaurant order picked apart by “well-meaning” dining companions, or any busy mom who has felt the sanctimonious sneer of liberal judgment after buying her kids a Happy Meal. From where I’m sitting, liberals (myself included) lost this election by not taking the threat of Trump seriously, and worse, by not trying hard enough to understand and address the fears of his supporters, even when we disagree with them.

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The Legacy of Campus Rape [More, February 2015]

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming (aka, the things you’d expect me to write about): Campus rape!

I’ve been following the current campaign to address this issue for quite awhile now. Emma Sulkowicz, Ariel Koren and the other women leading the fight on this are doing such brave, important work. They’re dealing with the immediate aftermath: What to do about frat parties, and less-than-proactive university administrators and all of the other factors that contribute to rape culture on our college campuses, right now. But I’ve also wondered: What about the (far too many) women who were raped in college a decade ago? Or four decades ago? What are the ripple effects of this experience on their adult lives, especially since these attacks happened long before colleges were prepared to protect and empower victims?

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The Giving Season [Parents, December 2013]

One in five American children lives in poverty.

Every time I type that statistic, I feel stunned all over again.

For the past two years, I’ve been reporting one of those endless labor-of-love stories where I’m following several mothers of those children and trying to understand the constant onslaught of impossible decisions they are forced to make. That piece will hopefully be out early next year and I’ll tell you lots more about it then.

But in the meantime, I was delighted when Parents Magazine asked me to write a feature called “The Giving Season” for their December issue. My editor’s idea was pretty simple: Make sure their 2.2 million readers know just how common childhood poverty has become — and encourage us all to do something to fight it this holiday season.

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Wonder Drug [ELLE, November 2013]

This is one of those very tricky stories that made me think very hard about stuff that I’ve long taken as gospel. Specifically: That The Pill is the best thing that ever happened to women’s healthcare and maybe to women, period.

I know. As a good feminist and generally responsible human being, I have long assumed that being on the Pill was more or less my civic duty. I thought I had to be on it the same way I have to vote because, you know, Susan B. Anthony and Seneca Falls.

But you guys already know a lot of my back story here: Migrainesendometriosis, what have you.* And at some point along my merry way, I started wondering about the Pill. It was clear that all of my health issues were hormonal. And the Pill — which I had been taking faithfully since the age of 14 — is nothing but (synthetic) hormones. I tried lots of different kinds and ultimately got to this catch-22 situation where I couldn’t stay healthy off the Pill but I also couldn’t find one that worked for one problem without making the other one worse. In talking casually with girlfriends and many readers of this blog, I realized that lots of women struggle to find a good fit with the Pill… yet we also all take it for granted that it’s The Best Thing Ever For Women’s Health. Because choice and responsibility and empowerment, right? 

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Who Makes Less Than $10.10 per Hour? Women.

Just a quick one because I wanted to share this compelling infographic designed by the National Women’s Law Center. Per the email they sent around:

[Last week] Senator Harkin and Representative Miller introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. This bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, then provide for automatic adjustments linked to changes in the cost of living. The bill would also gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at just $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. And let’s not forget President Obama’s words of support for increasing the minimum wage in his most recent State of the Union address. 

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Look For The Helpers.

I know this has already made the rounds on Facebook, but I think it’s worth sharing here, too.

I don’t have to tell you that the story of Sandy Hook is a tragedy beyond comprehension.

But Sandy Hook is also a story of helpers.

And now it is time for all of us to be helpers, too.

Liza Lang was helping when she wrote “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” to show how poorly our country misunderstands, mistreats and ignores people with mental illness.

Mayor Bloomberg and the Campaign of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (and many other activists) are helping by demanding that President Obama and Congress come up with a plan to end gun violence. 

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There Might Have Been A Little Dancing. [Vote Rocked, 2012]

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Let’s Do This! [Obama 2012]

Four years ago, we danced in the streets. Literally. I lived in Harlem in 2008 and when Obama won, you didn’t have a choice — everybody flooded out of their buildings and ran to 125th Street to watch his acceptance speech on the Jumbotron. Black, white, old, young. Strangers were hugging. City bus drivers honked their horns in time to the cheering. I called my dad (who is a professor of civil rights and constitutional law) in Philadelphia and held the phone up to the roaring crowd so we could both hear what history being made sounded like.

Here we are street dancing.

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Who Owns America’s Lighthouses? [Coastal Living, August 2012]

This is a fun one and seems rather apropos for your end-of-summer-enjoyment. Although I’d like to state for the record that I’m blogging this from the back porch because we still have a little summer left so stop rushing me, all you pro-Labor Day/back to school types. We’ll get to your pumpkin lattes and what not soon.

But #endrant — since I’m actually here to tell you about a new article, Who Owns America’s Lighthouses? by moi, coming out in the September 2012 issue of Coastal Living Magazine. I didn’t know, until the CL editors put me on this story, that American lighthouses are in rough shape. At least one-third of our 600-odd collection are no longer active and the Coast Guard can’t afford to keep ‘em up. Enter lighthouse auctions — yep, you can basically buy them on eBay.

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