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FIVE THINGS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN THE SENATE’S FOOD SAFETY BILL BUT WEREN’T

1. THE COSTCO AMENDMENT

What do you do with eight gallons of stewed tomatoes? A 4-pack of 120 oz. mustard jars? 50 lbs. of rice?

If you’re like most households, you stick them on a shelf in the back of the pantry and try to ignore the fact that the giddy joy you felt because you saved so much money can’t possibly last long enough to counteract the guilt you’ll feel when you end up throwing half of it out.

This amendment would have legally prohibited club stores from selling bulk items that:

(a) the average consumer can’t possibly consume before the expiration date
(b) the average consumer doesn’t need – i.e. cashew butter, creamed spinach, dried parsley, tapioca pudding, etc.
(c) or that taste so good when sampled in the store nobody can resist their multi-ounce siren call.

2. CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR FOOD HYPOCRISY

This amendment would have made it illegal for anyone to cop a militant attitude about food – holier-than-thou vegans, organic-only food-nazis, food processing plant owners and/or executives who roll their eyes (and mobilize their lawyers) if anyone questions their quality or commitment to cleanliness, etc.

3. SPECIAL PROVISION FOR SPOKESPEOPLE AND OTHER PUBLIC RELATIONS EXECUTIVES

When it comes to outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli, listeria or other types of foodborne illnesses, it takes a special kind of flak to stand at a podium in front of a bunch of reporters and claim the company’s products are “perfectly safe” and that the media is making the situation out to be a lot worse than it really is, or that it’s not really company’s fault but the work of disgruntled employees and/or unscrupulous food activists, and that in either case, the company is “cooperating fully” with authorities to resolve the situation in a safe and timely fashion.

Since spokespeople can’t be sued for lying, this amendment would have made it mandatory for them all to attend a special private banquet where the only food they got would have been the very food they claimed everyone could “trust and continue to consume without any health and safety concerns.”

4. WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET – OR ELSE

Ever order anything online, or from the back of a magazine because the photos looked so good?

This amendment would have not only banned the use of Photoshop and other means of digital enhancement, but made it illegal for anyone selling direct-to-the-consumer food to hire a photo stylist to, for example, sort through 10,000 bushels of pears to find the one – and only one – in the lot that looked like you’d want to eat it.

It would also have made it illegal to embellish descriptions, meaning that if a wine-of-the-month club promised “world-class” bottles, they had better come from a part of the world that’s actually known for its vineyards and taste really, really good.

5. VEGETABLE JAIL

This amendment would have authorized the FDA to work with state and local law enforcement officials to create “vegetable jail,” so that instead of threatening kids who won’t eat their broccoli, carrots, green beans, etc. with no dessert or having to sit at the table until everything – “And I mean everything!” – is finished, parents could just say “Look… it’s either spinach or 18 months hard time.”

(Not that some kids wouldn’t choose jail over spinach, of course, but at least it would have helped.)

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO WOULD-BE PARENTS?

“So… what’s it like having kids?” the would-be parent asks.

“It’s great,” you say, “Having kids is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. They’re a lot of work, but when you see the way they smile and laugh and take in the world, it’s definitely worth it.”

And then maybe you chuckle and offer to let them stay over and take your kids for a weekend “test drive,” knowing they probably won’t but hoping they will so you and your spouse can get away for that “romantic weekend” you’ve been talking about since pretty much your kids were born (with the term “romantic” being parent-code for “getting some sleep and being able to watch pay-per-view movies all the way through, in one sitting, without being interrupted a dozen times because ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I had an accident’ or ‘I spilled jam on the carpet,’ etc.”).

You may suggest these would-be parents pick up a movie or two, too. But while many recommend something like “Parenthood”1 for its funny and touching insights into the ups and downs of, well, parenthood, there’s another movie that gives a fuller and more complete picture: 1970s horror classic “The Exorcist.” Here’s why:

Demonic possession is just another name for a weekday morning.

As every parent knows, at random and unpredictable intervals, your little angel will wake up snarling and nasty like a beast from Hell. Foul-mouthed? Before you even get through the door to say “Good morning, I made you breakfast,” you find yourself assaulted with “GET OUT! Can’t you see I’m sleeping? You always wake me up like this. I hate you. I hate you. I HATE YOU.”

And their appearance? Definitely something unholy (though, to be fair, not because they’re suddenly sporting horns, scales and some grotesque demon pig-nose, but because nobody looks good when they don’t shower for three days – why is personal hygiene such a difficult concept for kids to get, anyway?).

As for being able to crawl across the ceiling? Well… maybe not the ceiling, but when you consider the gravity-defying ways kids flip around in their beds while they sleep, it’s not such a stretch to think they might some- how end up on the ceiling.

Green puke? How about orange puke, yellow puke and blue puke, too?

It’s not called “The Technicolor Yawn” for nothing, something parents usually find out fast. Often, these multi-colored hues can be traced back to two types of foods: foods consumed in excess, like artificially-flavored fruit punch, Halloween candy and birthday cake; and foods consumed under protest such as salad, non-breaded fish, and brussels sprouts (with the eventual volume of puke increasing exponentially if you happen to say something like “I don’t care if you don’t like it. Nobody ever threw up eating brussels sprouts, so finish your plate!” first).

You know a child’s head can’t spin completely around… but a 5-year-old doesn’t.

And no matter how quickly the parent dashes into the other room to get the phone or answer the door or shut the oven off before dinner burns, it’s five seconds more than the 5-year-old needs to twist the 2-year-old’s head around to the point where it’s about to snap. “But we were just playing owl,” the child protests.

You don’t need an exorcist, but a child psychologist might be a good idea.

What parent hasn’t thrown up their hands at some point and said “I can’t do this anymore!” before turning to an expert for help?

Whether it’s the therapist, the math tutor, the reading coach, the college placement counselor or even the pitching specialist, all these experts are trying to do is exactly what Father Merrin was trying to do to Linda Blair’s Regan: make the kid “normal” again.

There can always be a sequel because evil – like parenting – goes on forever.

Which means the moment parents think they’re done and their kids are on their own, they move back home. Or go into therapy. Or just stop calling. This can happen at any time, for any reason (though it’s often financial), and it’s generally a lot worse than the original, just like “Exorcist 2 – The Heretic,” “The Exorcist 3,” and both versions of “Exorcist – The Beginning.”

And if that isn’t scary, nothing is.

From “Why Chicken Nuggets are Better Than Prozac.”

1Is the TV version of this movie a reasonable substitute? Clearly the show has plenty of fans –  here, here, here and here, for example – but what if it gets cancelled? Imagine devoting hour after hour to something, getting attached and becoming emotionally invested in its well-being, only to have it suddenly just grow up and move go away? On second thought… maybe that’s even more like parenthood than the movie “Parenthood.”

WHEN KIDS ASK UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS

What’s sex? Did you take drugs in college? Why did you vote for George W. Bush* the second time?

Kids ask questions all the time, but there’s a difference between the ones parents can’t answer — “Does God need to shower?” — and the ones (some) parents don’t want to. The solution? Perhaps we can take a cue from politicians, their press secretaries and the so-called “bipartisan” pundits we see on TV and use the same simple strategies for answering without answering.

1. Give a detailed, thoughtful response, just not to the question they ask.

Campaigning politicians are particularly good at this, and the trick is to remember that your answer can be anything, just as long as you can loosely relate it to the original question.

For example, if asked about drugs, begin by saying “I’m glad you asked me about smoking pot in college…,” which makes it sound like you’re going to admit that for most of your sophomore year your best friend was your bong, but then say “…because I think it’s important that we be open and honest with each other, especially now that you’re older and starting to ask hard questions. It seems like only yesterday when the most important thing on your mind was which Power Ranger you wanted to dress up as, or if a certain Pokemon could beat a certain other kind of Pokemon. I have to admit that watching you grow up has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, and I look forward to helping you continue on that journey towards adult- hood by providing you with the information and insight I myself have gained over the years…”

If you haven’t lost them by then, just keep talking.

2. Focus on “the larger issue.”

Which can be pretty much anything you want it to be.

3. Ask your kids what they think the answer is.

Also known as the therapist approach.

This works well for things you don’t really know how to explain, but not-so- well for things you’re just not comfortable talking about.

4. Lie.

Time was that people who didn’t tell the truth were called liars and they were looked down upon, but thanks to all the CEO’s, athletes, politicians and ce- lebrities who’ve been caught with their pants down (or off, or filled with drugs, etc.) those days seem to be over.

The best thing about this approach is that if your lie is later exposed, you can claim you just “misspoke.” As in “Yes, I can see how my response to the ques- tion ‘Did I vote for George W. Bush?’ might have been confusing, because when I said ‘No,’ I actually misspoke. In point of fact – and because it’s im- portant to me that the record accurately reflect my views – I didn’t mean ‘No’ in the traditional sense of the word, and I can see now how my incorrect use of that word might have been somewhat misleading, because what I, in fact, meant was that I felt that in light of the specific challenges facing the Presi- dent at that time, it was important for me – and really, all of us as a nation – to remain united and strong, and because of that, I did my duty as an American by going to the polls and casting a ballot so my voice could be heard, and even though that ballot was nominally in the affirmative, it was really more a show of support for the country as a whole than a specific endorsement of any one candidate. I voted because it’s the duty of every citizen to vote, and for that I will never apologize.”

5. Use a spokesperson.

Either a hired professional or your spouse, if he or she has the BS skills required.

This has the added benefit of distancing you from your answer, whatever that might be.

Plus, if you are later confronted about the answer your spokesperson gave on your behalf, you can say you didn’t actually mean whatever it was they said and that you must have been “quoted out of context.”

*Or, increasingly for many, Barack Obama the first time.

LOAD OF CRAP?

Rumors are swirling around that Pampers new, reformulated Swaddlers and Cruisers lines of diapers are causing rashes and chemical burns. But is this true? Has anyone come forward with conclusive proof that this is actually happening? Has anyone come forward with conclusive proof it’s not?

According to P&G, these allegations are “completely false.”

This response makes sense because we live in an age where misinformation gets passed off as gospel, and large, multi-national corporations like P&G have to act decisively.

On the other hand, we also live in an age where large, multi-national corporations spin just about everything, so who’s to say that 25 years from now, after some kind of “Jane Doe v. Pampers” class action lawsuit has been filed, all appeals have been exhausted and 150,000+ boxes of research, focus-group results and internal memos have been subpoenaed, cataloged and read in search of a smoking gun, P&G won’t pay a nominal fine and admit that while they didn’t lie, intentionally ignore some data, or make a critical error in judgement, they are sorry their long-since-reformulated product might have caused a limited number of cases of diaper rash all those years ago.

What strikes me as really silly is that P&G didn’t stop at denying the rumors were true, but went on to claim they were actually part of some giant conspiracy.

“These [diaper rash] rumors are being perpetuated by a small number of parents, some of whom are unhappy that we replaced our older Cruisers and Swaddlers products while others support competitive products and the use of cloth diapers,” said Pampers Vice President Jodi Allen in a statement.

A cabal of disgruntled former customers, Huggies families and the cloth diaper mafia?

Seriously?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that we are Huggies family and have been for 10 years.1 That said, I don’t personally have anything against Pampers, and can’t honestly remember why we chose Huggies over Pampers in the first place, though I suspect it was because the supply of newborn diapers the hospital gave us ran out at 2:40 am some night, and when I went to the nearest all-night drug store to find more, I grabbed the first box of diapers I could find, which happened to be Huggies.)

While it’s possible that P&G is right, and eventually some hidden camera footage of the secret meeting where the plot was first hatched between the aforementioned groups will emerge, but until then, do they really want to handle the concern parents have for the health and well-being of their offspring this way?

CONCERNED PARENT: Your diapers gave my pride and joy a rash.
FICTIONAL P&G SPOKESPERSON: That’s a lie.
CONCERNED PARENT: Then why was my little angel, whose life I care more about than even my own, crying in pain?
FICTIONAL P&G SPOKESPERSON: We don’t know. But let us ask you a question: Are you now, or have you ever been a member of an anti-Pampers organization?
CONCERNED PARENT: No — but I guarantee that I will be in the future.

However this all shakes out, one thing seems clear clear: just because Pampers is in the diaper business doesn’t mean they can handle a big mess.

1Yes, we should be using green diapers, or at least cloth diapers, but we don’t and to the extent we are ruining the planet, we are sorry.

BETTER TO BEND THAN (SPRING) BREAK

Time was, Spring Break was a blurry haze of non-stop adventure where the goal was to cram in as much fun as possible before returning to class – usually more tired than before we left.

But now we have kids, which means Spring Break is still a blurry haze of non-stop adventure, but the fun we try to cram is for our kids’, not for ourselves.

And while we still end the week far more tired than we were before it even started – Why is there no absolute limit to sleep deprivation, anyway? – at least we can take comfort in the fact that we’ll actually remember the memories we’re making now, and be able to look back on them forever and smile.

(Except for the ones involving the flight, which was delayed 2 hours.)

RULES FOR FUTURE HOUSEGUESTS

  1. Don’t make yourself at home.
  2. If you stay longer than invited, you will not be asked to come back.
  3. Ever.
  4. There is no maid.
  5. Seriously — NO MAID, which means whichever host you are related to, or knew first, will end up cleaning up after you (though probably not until after a long, ugly argument).
  6. If you bring a pet, make sure your pet is housebroken.
  7. On second thought, no pets.
  8. When we say “if you need anything, just ask,” we don’t expect you to take us up on it.
  9. But if you really do need something, we’d prefer if you would let us find it for you rather than snooping looking for it in our drawers, closets, cabinets, etc. yourself.
  10. Pottery Barn rules apply: you break it, you buy it.
  11. This rule applies to kids, too.
  12. If you forget your toothbrush, razor, underwear or prescription anti-depressants, please don’t borrow ours.
  13. Just because you walk around naked at home doesn’t mean you should do that here, if for no other reason than seeing you naked will forever change our impression of you, and probably not for the better.
  14. Please refrain from discussing politics, religion or anything else unless you are certain your views are in line with ours, or that we like to argue.
  15. You know that ugly piece of art we have on the wall in the living room? We don’t think it’s ugly.
  16. On a related note, you know the voice you use when you don’t want anyone to hear you? We can still hear you.
  17. Please keep in mind that we invited you, not members of your extended family.
  18. Flush.
  19. And knock.
  20. If you don’t think you can abide by these rules, stay home.
  21. Unless you are family.
  22. And then only come during the holidays, when we are more likely to be forgiving.
  23. And which only come once a year.

FAMILY GAME NIGHT… OR NIGHTMARE?

Gathering around the table. √

Spending some quality time together. √

Taking a break from DVDs, movies, video games and other passive forms of entertainment. √

Reliving fond memories of playing Monopoly as a kid. √

Trying to figure out which version of Monopoly to play. √

Watching the kids fight over who gets to be the racecar. √

Watching the kids fight over who gets to roll first. √

Watching the kids fight over who who the bowl of popcorn gets to be set down in front of. √

Threatening to send everyone to bed if they don’t behave. √

Enjoying five minutes of stress-free game play. √

Trying to explain to a younger sibling why they have to give their older sibling money just because they landed on Marvin Gardens. √

Wiping away the younger sibling’s tears. √

Using the parent voice to tell the older sibling not to be a sore winner. √

Getting competitive. √

Mentally adding up the cost of therapy if you decide to just completely bankrupt your kids. √

Reminding yourself the point is to have fun. √

Letting your kids win. √

Hoping Family Game Night will be better next week. √

Fearing that it won’t. √

Wondering if Family Movie Night would be a better idea instead. √

POLL: GOBBLE VS. GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE

How much did you overeat on Thanksgiving?

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HOW TO NOT OVEREAT ON THANKSGIVING

With a single Thanksgiving meal packing a full day-and-half’s worth of calories, it’s easy to see why so many of us find ourselves slumped on the sofa in front of the TV after everyone has gone home, groaning, bloated, unable to move and wondering why we feel so bad.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to prevent this kind of excess on Thanksgiving: go vegan.

While many can’t imagine Thanksgiving without turkey, gravy and sausage-based stuffing, that’s the whole point: if you fill your table with stuff you don’t like and normally wouldn’t ever eat, you can’t possibly eat too much.

True, nut roll, tempeh and all-the-vegetables-you-can-eat might not sound very appealing to some, but keep in mind that you can still booze it up.

(And while that, too, may leave you slumped on the sofa in front of the TV after everyone has gone home, you won’t be groaning, bloated, unable to move and wondering why you feel so bad, you’ll just be passed out).

Gobble. Gobble. Gobble.

Editor’s note: What if you’re already vegan? Do just the opposite: go un-vegan. Not only will the shock of all that animal flesh make you instantly sick — and therefore unable to overeat — throwing up at the table will also help your friends and family because the sight, sound and smell of your vomit will likely cause them to vomit, too, and then nobody will be able to eat, let alone overeat.