Food Traditions & the Seven Fishes

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My sister and I are basically the embodiment of “melting pot” heritage. I remember grade school discussions about ancestors and geography and having to take a deep breath before listing all the different places my family comes from (As I’ve gotten older, that list has only turned out to be longer and longer). However, at least I had a wide range of options when it came time for whatever day it was where everybody brought in a food from “their country.”

My mom loves to torture us with this picture
My mom loves to torture us with this “refugee children” picture

Growing up, we used to spend Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family. My grandparents would fly up from Florida and we would get together with my aunt and uncle and cousins. Since I didn’t see any of them very often, I always looked forward to it. As for the food, leg of lamb has often been the “Christmas Eve Meat” of choice in my parents’ house, which may or may not have anything to do with my dad’s Greek/Turkish(?) roots.

My dad is also part-Italian (my grandfather was born & raised in Queens and had the best accent ever), but we never did, like, the feast of seven fishes that a lot of my “really” Italian friends did on Christmas Eve. I think the closest we came was the assorted sushi platter my mom started putting out with the appetizers when my sister and I were teenagers. Sushi became its own little Christmas Eve tradition, and I guess if you count, you can spot seven different varieties of fish, but yeah, nothing too elaborate.

I do think the seven fishes thing is a neat tradition, though, especially if you have a lot of hungry Italians to share with.   In recent years, however, there has been some concern over how to make it more sustainable and promote kindness toward the environment. This article by Paul Greenberg and Carl Safina, which appears in this week’s New York Times Sunday Review, shares some ideas for making your feast of seven fishes more earth-and-fish-friendly.  I know it’s a little late for this Christmas Eve, but hey, if nothing else, something to keep in mind for that random “it’s the middle of March, let’s throw a big party for no reason” meal. Or next year.

Do you have any holiday food traditions in your family? Where is your family from?  

Mark Bittman’s Dream Food Label

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In this past weekend’s New York Times Sunday Review, Mark Bittman shared what his ideal food label would look like.

Under this system, packaged foods would bear a color-coded bar with a numerical score on the front, allowing the consumer to tell right away if the product’s overall rating falls between 11 and 15 (green), 6 and 10 (yellow) or 0 and 5 (red).There would also be a box to indicate whether there are any GMOs. The three factors the ratings would be based upon would be “Nutrition,” “Foodness” (how close it is to real food), and “Welfare” (related to “the treatment of workers, animals and the earth”).

I think I like it.

You can read more about Bittman’s dream label and the though process behind it here.

What do you think of this label idea? What would your dream food label have on it? 

Dudes, you matter too!

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I feel like I’ve been seeing a lot in the media lately on the role men’s health plays in children’s genetics and health. It’s about time. While I can’t say I’d bring it up on a first or third date (at least not on purpose), it’s an important conversation, and I’m glad to see it brought more prominently into the public sphere. This article from this week’s New York Times Sunday Review section by Judith Shulevitz discusses some of the current research.

For so long, the focus has been on how women can help or hurt the in-utero development of their children (Annie Murphy Paul’s Origins  is one of my favorite books on how we’re shaped before birth), while men have been free to do whatever they damn well please without the nagging concern of “Gee, I wonder how this could effect the kids I’m going to have one day.”

I’m being slightly hyperbolic, of course, but I feel it’s far more common for women in their twenties, for example, to say they’d like to have children by age 35 to reduce the risk of various birth defects than it is for a 25-year-old dude to say they want to procreate before 50 in order to reduce the risk of autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any of the other conditions being linked to older fathers.

I have plenty of female friends who aren’t even in relationships or planning to have children anytime soon who are taking prenatal vitamins, quitting smoking, and cleaning up their diets to prepare for whenever their personal “someday” becomes present-day. On the flip side, I know a lot of men who smoke and drink excessively on the regular, boasting about their copious bacon consumption and (outwardly, at least) appearing cavalier about a potentially shortened lifespan.

From an early age, women are conditioned to think of are body as not just our own vessel of existence and experience but also as a home/greenhouse/oven/whatever you want to call it for another life. There’s a sense of responsibility that comes with that. I’m not saying it’s inappropriate—on the contrary. What I find inappropriate is the way that men have not been expected to exhibit the same kind of responsibility in caring for themselves so they can eventually care for someone else.

I’m not saying we should all become sober vegetarians or anything, but what we should do is use the information we have to help us make decisions that will benefit our own health and—if it’s in the cards/part of the bigger picture—the health of our children. It’s never too early or too late to adopt a healthy habit.

What are some healthy habits you’d like to see more men (or women) pick up? Any guy commenters out there—how does the idea of children factor in to your health? 


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Apparently, the hospital used to have spell-check on the computer system we use for writing notes in patients’ charts. Since I never had it, I don’t mind having to rely on my brain to remember how to spell “hyperlipidemia” or “cholecystectomy,” though I’ll bet there’s a little muscle memory involved there. My fingers know how to type out some crazy stuff.

On my phone, however, the autocorrect feature comes up with all the crazy. Reading this piece by James Gleik in the New York Times Sunday Review had me laughing out loud.  I really hope autocorrect doesn’t come to hospital programs. While I’m sure it could lead to some serious giggles, it could also lead to some seriously uncool mistakes.

Do you have spell-check at work? What do you think of autocorrect? 

Do You Need Milk?

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Working in a hospital has made me so thankful I don’t have any lactose issues. This sounds nerdy, but every time I enjoy some yogurt or a smoothie made with cow’s milk, I feel grateful. I meet people every day who have to be really careful.

In this week’s New York Times Sunday Review section, there was an opinion piece by Mark Bittman on the fact that, although milk is touted as an important, healthy food, millions of people are unable to digest it properly.

Bittman details some of the conditions that may be aggravated by consumption of dairy and shares his own  experience giving up up milk products to see if his chronic heartburn went away. Surprise, surprise—it worked.

As with most of his work, I found this piece to be engaging and thought-provoking. However, I did cringe a little when Bittman declared, “Osteoporosis? You don’t need milk, or large amounts of calcium, for bone integrity. ” I’m not saying I disagree per se—it’s true, there is a good amount of research supporting the notion that other factors like vitamin D and exercise habits have a big impact on bone health. There are even some established links between high intake of dairy products and certain cancers and other ailments. All the same, I just felt, like, “Dude, that’s a big statement to make when you don’t have any health credentials.”

That said, somehing I like about Mark Bittman is the lengths to which he goes to support his views, and I think he did that in this article. It just seemed a bold statement to make. Granted, it was an opinion piece, and I do think it’s an opinion that needs to be thrown out there against the “Got Milk” powers that be. Drinking milk or eating dairy products doesn’t work for everyone, and though the government has expanded its nutrition guidelines to provide some example of ways in which those who can’t or don’t consume dairy can meet their needs, more resources are definitely needed.

I’ll also say that I agree with Bittman on another point: water is totally nature’s perfect beverage.

Haha how about an “eat your kale” campaign? It’s one of many plant-based sources of calcium (I wrote a piece about this a couple years ago), among other good-for-you nutrients.

What do you think about milk? Do you drink it? Why or why not? How would you  try to get folks to eat more kale? 

Some good news for Tuesday

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Happy Tuesday! Want to read some good news about chocolate? Of course you do…

I wish I had some Dove dark chocolate right about now...

New research discussed in this New York Times Well blog post shows that chocoholism may be associated with lower body mass index, among other good things. In moderation, of course…

What’s your favorite chocolate treat?

Tiny Treats

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It seems like everywhere you look now, you find mini-cupcakes, quarter-sized cookies and two-bite brownies along with diminutive pastries and other desserts meant to satisfy your sweet tooth by providing that little bit of something sweet you crave. This week, the New York Times ran a great piece on the trend.

Photo by Tony Cenicola/NY Times

In my own day-to-day life, I’d rather have a piece of fruit or some yogurt for the 100 calories found in a micro-macaron, but I’m happy to see this trend taking hold, as it emphasizes quality over quantity. When it comes to sugary treats, a little really does go a long way, and I love that the people creating these desserts are showing how possible it is to be satisfied with less—not an easy feat in a more-is-better environment.

Are you a fan of miniature desserts? If you are, what’s your favorite?