Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fat in America

I'm fat. Here's the proof:
“Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia ) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.” Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “U.S. Obesity Trends

In my blog, you’ll see a lot of mentions about food. I love food. How things are made, what ingredients are used, how the chemistry works. I make no bones about it. What I fail to mention is that I am, by medical standards, borderline obese. Couple that with a pack a day smoking habit plus a fairly sedentary lifestyle, and you get one pale, overweight, borderline diabetic, middle-aged guy who doesn’t know when to say no to dessert.

I work in a pharmaceutical advertising agency. In addition to getting to delve deeply into details about various drugs, I have to know a little about what we have to disclose. It’s called fair balance. In pharma television commercials, that’s when you see pictures of people wondering around gardening, or running on the beach while a voice off camera says charming things like: “may cause itching, swelling and diarrhea…”. It’s required by the FDA to give consumers a better understanding of the risk involved with taking a medication. And it’s a good idea. One that I’m taking to heart especially now when I’m waxing poetic about seared steaks, heavy sauces and rich desserts.

For people who knew me many years ago in high school and college, I weighed in at 165 lbs. At 6’ 1”, that put me at a total BMI of 22. Today that has shifted to a BMI of 31-32. (My weight is between the milestones stated in the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Guideline as shown in the Body Mass Index Table)

Most of what’s happening to me and my body IS the result of bad habits accumulated when I was younger, and my body could take anything that was thrown at it. 3 Cheeseburgers all the way? No problem. Double dessert? No problem. All of that changed when I hit my late 30’s. My blood pressure started going up, my metabolism started slowing down. But my appetite didn’t decrease. 165 lbs. became 185 lbs. Then 190 lbs. In my early 40’s, I went on a regimen of blood pressure meds. In the course of one year, my weight went from 195 to 245 lbs. That’s 50 lbs., in one year.

Many years ago, on the plains of the Serengeti, we humans had to hunt for our food. Simple sugars in the form of fruit were sources of quick energy supplies that our bodies could quickly metabolize. If we didn’t use it, our bodies began to find ways to store it in adipose cells. Lipoproteins were even harder to come by. These were the rich fats that we needed for survival. Because of their scarcity, our bodies became extremely efficient at storing these fats. Too good. Now we have vast quantities of fats and sugars at our disposal. What’s more, our bodies are designed to crave these. So it becomes a vicious cycle. As the old saying goes, “all things in moderation”. The problem is we Americans don’t know when to say when.

Case in point, I challenge you to go into any mega-mart. Take a look and see how many people are riding those shopping scooters. It’s staggering. Look further and you’ll start noticing scads of people that you can be pretty sure will be riding those same scooters in a few years. When I looked around, I didn’t like what I saw. Especially since I saw reflections of myself in those carts.

So what am I doing about it? This past Friday, I put on running shoes and shorts, strapped on my iPhone, and started running. It wasn’t pretty. One training program said you should start with a 5 minute run. I ran exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds-badly. Not exactly Boston marathon material-but it’s a start. Yesterday, I ran in multiple bursts for a total of about 2:50. Again, not much of an improvement, but it’s better than nothing. Today? Who knows how far I’ll get, but the point is I’m getting somewhere.

Tonight, I’ll be putting on a nicotine patch. This will be my fourth attempt this year to kick what is truly a disgusting, nasty habit. What’s more, in a recent discussion with a medical colleague of mine, I found out that when one smokes, it cause the liver in to release fat compounds into our blood stream. Our brain receives the signal that we have ingested fats and reduces our cravings for food. So, there really is a scientific reason behind why people who quit smoking gain weight. It’s not that the food tastes better, it’s that our brains think we are starving. I know that food tastes the same regardless of when I am smoking or when I was not smoking for over a year. So that’s going to be working against me as well.

So why am I telling you all this? It’s simple, I don’t want to die as the result of my own stupidity. They say the difference between ignorance and apathy is “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”. The first is forgivable, the latter is reprehensible. I’ve got grand kids. And, at the rate my family reproduces, I have a good chance of seeing my great-grand kids, but I have to take a responsible role in making sure that happens. So, despite the protesting that is coming from my legs, and the 90+ heat outside, I’m taking charge. This blog is called “All consuming life”. It’s my task to make sure that I have as much life left to consume as possible. I’ll still cook and I’ll still eat and love doing them both. It’s up to me to take charge of where, when and how much I do the same. I’ll keep you posted.

If you’ve taken steps to take control of your life habits, or to start an exercise program, share your thoughts by commenting below. -marty

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Connecting the dots.

So what's a guy to do? Given my company's recent scale back on pay, they were decent enough to trade out the pay reduction with a comparable amount of time off. So, between "furlough" time and accrued vacation time, I have about 140 hours of time off between now and the end of the year. That's 3 weeks and 2 days of time that came my way.

Granted, laying around and "kickin' back" is appealing. But, I've decided to take another route. First order of business, this blog.

While blogging isn't new or revolutionary, it is part and parcel of a much larger picture: redefining the skill set(s) that each of us need, in order to stay relevant. Especially in the world of communication.

As of this afternoon, my iPhone connects to my blog through BlogPost. I connected my blog to my Twitter feed, which is in turn connected to my Facebook account. So, to my friends, I apologize. For the multiple posts about my ham sandwich at lunch, but I was working out the kinks.

Now the next steps are coming together. Focusing on a subject I'm passionate about, and form a point of view. In my case, it's consumption of life. Food, my walk home, music-whatever. Everything is fair game, but you'll notice a heavy bias toward food and cooking. Not because I feel the world is burning to hear my perspective, but to create compelling content to keep them coming back. Part writing, part promotion-I'm trying to "crack the code".

What else am I going to do with this opportunity? A lot of intense training in software packages that should be relevant to my career. Apple Motion, Flash, Dreamweaver, Blender 3D, Director and a few other obscure programs that will give me a competitive advantage regardless of what changes may occur. Given the depth of the challenge, I'm hoping that 3 weeks and 2 days will be enough time. But then again, this was just the first 4 hours of day one.

- a mobile post from mjhardin.

(If you've suddenly found yourself in an "unexpected situation" with your job or life, what are you doing to take advantage of the "opportunity"? Share your story by commenting below.)

Love it.

Mrs. London's warm ham croque monsieur, salad and chocolate pecan cookie. Yes!

- a mobile post from mjhardin.

The art and science of building a *sweeet* bike

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The feeding of the soul.

Flour, water, salt and yeast, the simple ingredients at the heart of bread, have made me re-examine the very nature of food itself. Despite technique and artistry, food is, at its very core, elemental and designed to serve a simple purpose: to be consumed to fuel our bodies. That's it.

At several points in my career, I worked as an art director on multiple food accounts. We’d spend hours on a single hamburger, or a slice of cake, in an effort to achieve an image of perceived perfection. What I failed to grasp was that the beauty wasn't in the forced image, it was in the nature of the food itself.

Don't misunderstand me. I love and appreciate the artistry of a skilled chef. I'm guilty of standing over a stove, and destroying 5 batches of BĂ©arnaise sauce, working to get that 6th batch right. The balance of heat and protein matrixes that take practice and will to perfect, and scant seconds to destroy.

In the fire of the kitchen, proteins, simple sugars and salts undergo miraculous transformations. Emulsions of fats and water transform humble ingredients like butter and egg yolks into sensual waves of pleasure that causes our LDL’s (low-density lipoproteins (i.e., bad cholesterol)) to sky rocket. But bad health be damned, because the “moment on the lips” seems worth the “lifetime on the hips” as the old saw goes, when that velvety liquid hits your tongue. The true sensual responses: smell, taste, feel are at the heart of the beauty of food.

Granted, many will tell you that we first experience food with our eyes. But honestly, when have you ordered a dish just to bask in its beauty, then move away from the table to let your vision centers process what they have just seen? Not this diner. No, it’s all of the other senses that immerse us in the ecstasy that unites our senses in the force of the pleasure of all things culinary. But that places too much emphasis on the partaker of the food. What about the food itself?

The re-examination I mentioned at the start of this article, began as the result of a simple quest. To make bread.

Thanks to a birthday gift certificate from my daughter, I recently purchased Michael Rhulman’s “Ratio, The Simple Codes Behinds the Craft of Everyday Cooking” (©2009, Simon and Schuster). While I could write about 20 articles on the merits of the book itself, it was the freedom from the recipe itself that allowed me to explore the world of cooking from a new perspective.

As usual, I spent a couple of weeks reading the book before reaching for the first ingredient. I scanned the bread section over and over. I visualized making the bread. Loaves of perfection trotted their way through my imagination. When the planned course realized, I set about to accomplish perfect bread.

Flour, water, salt and yeast went into the bowl. Mixing, rising, kneading, resting-the bread went through its paces as I went through mine. But as the time came to put the loaf into the oven, it resisted my attempts to shape it. No matter how I tried to force my will on that pale mass, it quietly returned to where it damn well pleased. Over and again, my imagined loaves of perfect bread were resisting the perfected form I had carefully envisioned. The skin was leathery and wrinkled. A misshapen mass of gastronomic futility.

Fearful of overworking the dough, I gave up, put it on an oven tray and vengefully slashed the dough so that it could rise. Defeated, I brushed on olive oil and sprinkled salt over the open wound of the bread. I had failed. The oven was no longer a tool, it was a crematorium for the failed offspring of my hands. Now it was down to cooking this sucker and getting it over with.

At the right point, I dropped the oven temperature. At the halfway mark I added an egg wash. My enthusiasm was spent. I went into another room and waited for the kitchen timer to chirp the end of the process.

If this were a movie script, this would be page 70. That’s the point where all hope is lost. But like all points were things seem hopeless, there is a transition. This one came in the form of the rich smell of the bread filling the house. That moment when the Maillard Reaction occurs, and unlike carmelization in sugars, this involves the displacement of molecules in the carbohydrates-giving the crust a rich, meaty flavor as it turns brown. It’s what makes bread smell and look like bread. It’s a powerful force.

When I opened the oven door, I recognized the loaf, but it had taken on its own identity. It had taken the strands of gluten, pockets of air and had risen against the adversity of the heat to be formed into an object of beauty. This thing I could not control was now permanently set in the shape that was its own. Every wrinkle and crease told a story that only the bread and I knew.

Men and women have been making bread for thousands of years. Yeast occurs naturally in nature, flour came from the grinding of wheat against stones. Water seeped into the flour store. It’s easy to see how the first loaves of bread “happened” against an open fire in a shelter that protected its inhabitants from the cold. A misshapen mass of what possibly seemed like ruined items miraculously became bread. And unlike us, the benefactors weren’t in search of perfection, they sought only sustenance. Over time, the craft became perfected. Or so it seemed. We just got better at working toward the results.

In the Lord’s prayer, there is only one physical request, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” But, I think the request goes much deeper than going to the store and buying a loaf of white bread in a plastic bag. It’s about the process. A process that’s fraught with peril. The ingredients we are given don’t always yield to our desires. There is work on the part of the baker to knead and be attentive to the process of the dough doing things beyond our control. It is a lesson in humility, faith and trust. That feeds us more richly than mere bread ever could. And, it’s absolutely beyond our control.

5 Guys-Saratoga

Evidently burgers were on everyone's mind tonight.

- a mobile post from mjhardin.