Bullying, Body Image, and Pandora’s Lunchbox

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After reading many blog posts and comments about how bullying has affected many of us in the RA fandom, the theme of body image and low self esteem rears its ugly head more than once. This is something I am intimately acquainted with. Being “less than” the popular media image went hand in hand with my “screw you” attitude towards those who pointed it out to me: well intentioned friends, parents, doctors, not so well intentioned random strangers. Truly. I can stubbornly dig in my heels and refuse to face reality with the best of them. I am also, apparently, a more fluent user of “colorful metaphors” than RA. After 25 years of teaching, I am a swear word polyglot. But I digress.

Sometimes reality creeps in on little cat feet.

Several years ago I was teaching in a small rural school in the Big Empty of Nevada. “Big” and “empty” truly describes the interior of this state. Once you get outside of Las Vegas, Reno, or Tahoe, there is only a smattering of mostly dusty desert towns, most with very small schools. Think Hinkley, California from “Erin Brockovitch”, only smaller and more remote. This particular school had a single kindergarten class that was hatching chickens. When you teach in a school that small, all classroom projects become a form of entertainment. Besides, fluffy chicks are cute- at least they start out that way.

Half of the eggs were from the breed of chicken commonly used in the poultry industry for meat-producing birds (I don’t remember the breed. Some of you might). The other half were older “heritage” breeds of birds. “Heritage” means breeds of chickens that have been around for a long time and have not been genetically manipulated to produce larger breast meat portions. The class was doing this project as a fun learning experience to teach science, but very quickly it had unintended consequences. First, amazement, then later, a sort of fascinating revulsion set in among the adults.

Most of the chicks hatched within the same two days. All of them received the same diet. Almost immediately, there was a difference: the “meat” chicks were twice as big as the heritage chicks, and as they grew, they stayed that way. The effect of genetic modification was playing out before our eyes. The heritage birds were the “normal” birds. The “meat” chickens looked like they were on steroids. Anyone who has ever been to a gym knows that one weightlifting guy who is so over-muscled that he looks like a mutant. Those were our meat industry chickens. What began as a simple “let’s raise chickens from eggs” classroom project had become – to the adults- an unintended lesson in genetic modification. It gave me pause.

Two years later, I was teaching at a large inner-city high school with over 3,000 students. The library came with a budget of more than $1,000.00 (yay !!), which let me order faculty and student requests. One of the books requested was a book called “Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal”  by Melanie Warner. Reading it also gave me pause.

This book is a thoughtful, but also frequently funny, examination of the food production industry in this country. Who knew that long discussions about the additives and preservatives that go into most packaged food could be interesting? It was. Could all of those chemicals be contributing to my IBS flare-ups? Maybe. I have noticed that eating even fresh corn-on-the-cob often coincides with a flare-up, and I had begin to wonder if GMO corn was a trigger. If it was, could other industry manipulations of my food also be effecting me? It was on my mind. The issues brought up in the book combined with memories of those mutant chickens, made me change the way I eat.

A year ago this week I gave up – for the most part – eating processed food, and in the process have lost 55 pounds. IBS is still an issue, but a better controlled issue.

I also gave up – for the most part – fast food. Although my soda consumption had been dwindling over the years, I completely gave up what remained. I even gave up caffeine. That was hard! Most teachers worship at “Our Lady of the Perpetual Coffee Cup”. If caffeine came in IVs, many of us would have needles in our arms. (If Starbucks only knew how much money it could make by driving mobile latte trucks and parking them outside schools! They are truly missing a financial opportunity). But I digress once again.

My food changed. If I didn’t fix it myself (with the exception of a few things like rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, or broccoli slaw salad kits), I didn’t eat it. Omelets (made with organic eggs from “normal” chickens that a friend raises) and spinach salads became a staple. I gave up eating during the day at work (the IBS thing). Water and a wonderful smoothie called a “green ginger limeade” (spinach, green grapes, a slice of ginger, a quarter of a lime, and ice) became beverages of choice. A new appreciation of wine came at Christmas (Yes, I’ll admit to trying a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir).

Post October 31, 2014, (the day I first really “saw” Richard Armitage), I began dragging myself to my least favorite place: the gym. Who knew that following a guy with really great arms would get me to go to the much hated gym? I actually like the gym now. There are people there who are in much worse shape than I am, so I no longer feel all that self conscious . I especially like the weight room, the pool, and the all important hot-tub. Still, I am not a professional gym rat. The change happened because of the food. The processed food.

There has been a bit of back sliding. Starbucks came back on the menu the last eight weeks of the school year. I know I should give it up again now that school is out, but iced chai lattes are really nice when it is 112F (44C) and the temperature outside is somewhere between OMG and WTF! Once in a while chocolate ice cream with chipotle pepper or vanilla ice cream with fresh gated ginger appears in my freezer. On National Donut Day I was in line at Krispy Kreme for my free one., and just yesterday had a frozen Ho Ho. A girl has to occasionally live.

The slog toward more healthy eating (and a better body image) continues. Twenty more pounds and I will be at my London weight. I was shy and quiet when I studied history in London and didn’t go out dancing or pub crawling with my friends very much because I thought I was too fat.  Truly – I wish I could go back in time and slap my younger self upside the head.  I can’t wait to be that fat again.

An article on “Pandora’s Lunchbox” here. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/26/pandoras-lunchbox-processed-food_n_2741231.html


6 thoughts on “Bullying, Body Image, and Pandora’s Lunchbox

  1. Great post. I don’t think we are quite so bad in terms of processed food in the UK but I could be fooling myself. It always amazes me when I read an American recipe that half the ingredients are branded items – that doesn’t really happen in the UK. One of the things that really freaks me out is the amount of sugar in processed food, especially in those that are “low fat”! And your chicken story reminds me of a Margaret Atwood novel…

    I’m jealous that you have got yourself back to the gym. Having moved from a job where I had a gym at work, I have yet to kick myself into finding a local one near enough home to make it practical.

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  2. Which Margaret Atwood novel? I am so far behind on my reading.

    The one thing I wish they would do here is to require food that contains genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. I want to know if that corn I’m looking at in the grocery store is GMO corn, but they won’t change the laws because Monsanto and the food industry lobby against it. I’m not asking them to ban GMOs. I just want to have the choice to buy it – or not.

    And the gym- I find I go more often in the wintertime. Right now dragging myself there more than twice a week is a good week.

    When I lived in London 30 years ago I thought the produce was beautiful. I couldn’t understand why they took that beautiful produce and cooked it to death! Lol. It seemed like everything was either boiled or fried to within an inch of its life. It reminded me of my grandma’s cooking. I hear the food – and the coffee- has really improved.

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  3. Oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that! I think it was Oryx and Crake, which is a dystopian novel, but I could be wrong. Mind you, any Margaret Atwood is worth reading…

    Once a week at the gym would be a good start for me right now -)

    Yes, you will be relieved to hear that we can *almost* be trusted to cook veg in the UK now… Even spinach 😉 And you can get a decent cup of coffee. Mind you, I despair of ever getting a proper cup of tea in the USA 😉

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  4. Lol about the tea. I WISH one of the many hotels here in Vegas would do a proper high tea! That was one of the most delightful things about living in London. Even ordinary tea was good. The water wasn’t too hot or too cold. The tea had been steeped just long enough – but not so long that it became bitter. Truly- someone needs to come over here and teach Americans how to do tea properly. I’d pay for those kinds of lessons. Maybe pair up with the lady in Washington state who runs “Pie Camp”, which teaches people how to make a proper pie crust and to bake pies. 🙂

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  5. Americans just don’t realise that the water has to be *boiling* when it’s poured on the tea! Being presented with a little insulated jug of hot water is just not good enough 😉

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