I came across two rather sobering articles about food this week. The first was a post from Marion Nestle at Food Politics about factory farming, and how it isn't likely to go away, so perhaps we should think about how it could be done better. It is a very reasonable post, I think. I wish someone would put her in charge of food policy in this country- I think we'd get some good policy. I don't always agree with her 100%, but I never think she is a raving lunatic- which is more than I can say for a lot of the people involved in the food debate (on all sides- something about food brings out the loonies).
The second was an article in the New York Times Magazine about sugar. I came across the article on slashdot, of all places, and I clicked over with a fair amount of skepticism. I've had the Robert Lestig lecture that sparks the article suggested to me many times by people who think that high fructose corn syrup is much worse for us than sucrose (a.k.a table sugar or cane sugar). Each time, I try to explain that the person is misunderstanding the lecture- Dr. Lestig is concerned about BOTH sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Basically, he's concerned about the amount of fructose (a component of both sucrose and HFCS) in our diets. It never works. I am either ignored or told that I don't understand biochemistry (which is sort of a funny charge for someone to level at me, since I have a PhD in biochemistry). I have concluded that some people see "fructose" in the name of HFCS and not in the name "sucrose" and just can't get past that. I was afraid that the same misunderstanding was going to propagated by the NY Times. But it wasn't.
The article is actually well-written and a fairly even-handed discussion of what the science suggests (but does not yet prove, as the article is careful to state)- namely, that the large amount of refined sugar in our diets may be worse for us than just empty calories. It also touches on the concern I have with the whole HFCS hoopla- that consumers will start demanding HFCS-free foods (they have), and food companies will respond, but by simply switching to sucrose rather than by reducing the amount of sugar in the foods (they have), which will leave us as fat and unhealthy as we were when we started (if anything, we're getting worse).
I have written before about my views on HFCS and refined sugar, so I won't belabor them here. I don't think of myself as an alarmist on this issue. I still eat cakes, cookies, and ice cream (three of my favorite foods!) but I do so in moderation, and I try to limit their intake by my kids, as well. This is dead simple for Petunia- she has yet to find a sweet she's much interested in eating. But Pumpkin loves candy, and she seems to always be getting some in birthday party treat bags or what not. So we ration it, and yes, some of it just disappears. So far, she hasn't caught on. I'm hoping that by the time she does, she'll be old enough to understand my reasons for limiting it. We'll see.
I also think there is a genetic component to this story, and I actually suspect that my girls are in pretty good shape in that regard, given what I know about the medical histories of my family and my husband's family. In another context (about which I cannot blog) I've been hearing (and thinking) a lot about the idea that some substances are only toxic in combination with a certain genetic background. This makes a lot of sense, given the fact that what makes substances toxic is often how they interact with specific proteins in our bodies, and there is genetic variation in most proteins (there are actually some proteins that are so essential that no variation is tolerated- basically, if you have a fetus with that variation, it does not survive... but I digress). I suspect sugar is a substance like this. Some people can eat a lot and have no problem. Other people will end up with metabolic syndrome, and eventually diabetes. The problem is that right now, we have no way to know which group any one person is in, so I think we should all try to limit our intake.
This sounds so reasonable, but it is hard- and not just because we're programmed to like sweets (throughout most of history calories were scarce, so our bodies are built to reward us when we eat something with lots of energy, like sugar). I can limit cookies and candy. But I also have to watch out for the sugar that is added to so many of our foods. There is more sugar in most breads than is necessary. My yogurt is waaaay sweeter than it needs to be, but I don't like plain yogurt. I am seriously considering making my own lightly sweetened, flavored yogurt, starting from the plain stuff. I have to check the label of everything I buy to make sure that there isn't more sugar than I think is necessary- which adds time I'd rather be spending in some other way to my shopping trips. Given this, I think there is a role for some policy changes in solving this problem. I'm not sure what those changes should be, though, and musing on that is more than I want to do right now.
So I'll move on to two non-food related posts that I think you should read. I've come across two more posts about being a working mother that made me nod in recognition and agreement. First, my blog friend Melba has a post up about why she works, prompted by a clueless/insensitive comment on some other post she read. She makes the excellent point, often lost in these sorts of posts, that we are all different, so different things will bring fulfillment and happiness to different women. I think that 90% of the "mommy wars" nonsense would go away if we could all really remember that. (I think the remaining 10% is generated by various interest groups to further their own interests, and will not go away until "family values" means something about supporting families, and not about opposing gay marriage. But I digress.)
Then, via Anne Peattie's #scimom post, I came across a post from Nicole and Maggie (whose blog I think will now be a regular stop for me) entitled "Why I'm not a guilt-stricken mother and why I have it all and why the patriarchy sucks". It is as awesome as the title, and makes the point that we are certainly not the first generation of mothers to work. As I like to point out, anyone who thinks that mothers whose work involves more than raising their children are a new thing brought about by feminism should go look up the instructions for how to make soap, being sure to find a recipe that starts at the very beginning, with "render animal fat...."
Now, I know that Dr. Isis didn't much like this post. From her response, I think she was a bit offended by the suggestion that she is somehow partially responsible for the guilt she feels on the housecleaning/home-cooking front, and I can understand that. I suspect that I have some readers who feel the same way. I've written about my thoughts on guilt before, but I want to elaborate a little more here and explain my thoughts on this: I think the guilt issue is one of the few issues facing working mothers where we can essentially fix it ourselves. Think about it- it might be hard, particularly for women who come from cultural backgrounds that place a great deal of emphasis on a mother staying home with her kids, but we can decide to stop feeling guilty about things that don't really matter. We can't just decide to start getting equal pay for equal work, or stop hearing the nonsense about women being biologically inferior at math and science, but we can decide to stop feeling guilty. I'm not letting the rest of society of the hook, and I'm not pretending that the cultural messages we get don't make letting go of the guilt harder than it needs to be. But ultimately, this little bit of liberation is in our own hands.