What’s wrong with Coke’s calorie-washing campaign

Before watching a YouTube video about Something Very Important today (I think it might have been a cute porcupine), I was treated to an ad for Coke.

More specifically, an ad by Coke, about Coke, and for Coke… about how great Coke is.

This one really bothered me. Because it is more insidious than most. The logic is more twisted and so the message more dangerous.

I described it to the husband, trying, by describing it and raging out blindly for a bit, to pin down exactly what about it made me just so… angry.

Him: “So… basically it’s like ‘Yay! We’re beating you with a smaller stick!”

Nailed it.

Coke waxes PR and BS about all the changes they’ve voluntarily made (emphasis theirs) and about how every calorie counts — a message delivered just before they show some kids packing sandwiches in their lunches. (Careful of those sandwiches kids, they’ll rot your teeth and make you fat).

“All calories count, no matter where they come from”.

Did Coke have a teenager with an eating disorder write their campaign?

“Food companies no longer fear the calorie-counting message…the emphasis on calories allows food companies to take the focus of consumers away from the ingredients, processing methods, and the overall quality of their foods.”

“All calories count, no matter where they come from” is simplistic and dangerous nonsense.

To look only at calories is to be blind to the sweeteners and additives and deeply, deeply unfoodlike products that make up Coke’s food products.

And let’s be clear, Coke does not make any products which are good for you.

There is no message Coke can put out about how they are part of the solution. By existing, Coke is part of the problem. A big part. The best Coke can do is be less of the problem. You don’t go to a cigarette company for advice on fighting lung cancer.

Granted, adults (those who are not addicted to Coke’s many hyper-sugar saturated liquid candy crack drinks) can decide to make a time and place for eating – or drinking – garbage. But that doesn’t make it not garbage.

And that doesn’t make it not terribly suspect to suggest that swapping super sugary sugar drinks for super sugary juice drinks in vending machines in schools — a lucrative activity for Coke, those machines ain’t donated — merits a gold damn star.

“We call it ‘weight washing’. And it’s a bit of a worry when you see these large corporations get involved in public health,” she says. “They’re not public health experts. They’re in the business of making money and selling product.”

“They always focus on physical activity to draw attention away from the contribution of their products to overweight and obesity. What we’d really like to see is Coca Cola selling less sugary drinks, getting them out of schools and sports centres… and we’d like to see them not marketing to teenagers.”

I don’t buy it, Coke. The message or the product.

Thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest for cutting through Coke’s warm blanket of PR with their truth scissors:

The Sedaris Problem

Let’s call it “The Sedaris Problem”.

Can you write about your family?

What does it mean to write your story, if you cut all the family parts out? What is lost? Is it even possible? Do you wait until everyone involved is dead? Is that actually any better, or is that just like talking about them behind (or 6 feet above…) their back?

Mine is the sort of family where when you casually mention an anecdote at a dinner party, other guests sometimes drop cutlery. Something you grew up with or around (or still do) is greeted by incredulous “wait, WHAT?” Get my siblings in the room at the same time, and our joint memories and experiences get jaws a’droppin’. It’s been a hell of a ride.

It is important to me to not be a monster. I’ve never been on board with the “but if it’s a really great story” cop out. I don’t believe in religion, but I do believe in a good idea. There’s merit to the principle of “treat others as you would want to be treated”. I try not to tell stories I wouldn’t tell – the way I’m telling them – in front of the people involved. I rebuke myself (a little) when I do. But what about telling those stories on “paper”?

I’ve had the fortunately rare-ish experience of losing two of the family members and confidantes I was closest to within 2 years of each other. Both unexpected. Each tragic in a different way.

It’s a shitty club, and you don’t want to be a member.

If I can callously brush to the side what their deaths meant for them, I can consider what it has meant for me. It’s pretty simple: It messed me up.

It has led to a lot of questions. It fundamentally changed who I am, and shaken to the bedrock how I feel about life. For the past two years, it has sucked a lot of the light and hope away. Or at least blacked it out.

Kumail Nanjiani said it much funnier and about something quite different when he said  “during that movie, I’m pretty sure I lost the ability to smell rain.”

I went to the double feature.

This blog has been quiet because most of what’s preoccupied me the last couple of years has been about this “journey” (<-barf). Because the stories and experiences sometimes involve other people, I have been unsteady on how much I can write. If I had ever been successful at keeping a journal, perhaps I should have written it there. But journals have never worked for me.

Pushing the big thoughts and discussions into secret books and locked drawers seems to miss out on learning from each other. Humans struggle each by themselves, and whatever they learned from their struggle is inadvertently hoarded and lost — with the best of intentions, but with unfortunate results. Why don’t we talk about the things that really matter? So perhaps I should try. Mostly for myself, but if someone reads something they’ve felt or experienced, so much the better. We read to know we are not alone. We write to remind ourselves of what we’ve learned. (Or at least I do, as I have the long-term memory of a mole rat).

I strongly regret not having captured more of how everything went as it happened. If you grow up with some messed up things, instant repression can be a powerful instinct. But fortunately(?), when the hurt is this big, it stays with you for a while.

Loss and death are big inescapable truths, which happen to absolutely everyone. And which we barely talk about. Despite its perfect inevitability, in our lockstep cultural balking at death, we still treat death as an “if” not a “when”. We are all of us mortal. We all have our time. We all lose people. We all end.

If we don’t explore the big things, the big questions that we/I wrestle with in our head, doesn’t that leave us just talking about so much nothing? All the world is a polite dinner party with strangers. We never move forward. We don’t learn from each other. The discussable world is cut away until we talk about nothing that matters. But I want to move forward. I want to learn. I want to figure it out. That seems rather the whole point of existence.

(Not all the time mind you. Sometimes, you just need to watch cat .gifs.)

I think it is possible to do both — to respect the cast of characters, but also to dig into some of the big hurts and joys and look around. I hope to try. If I’m wrong, well… I’ve been wrong before.

A few principles I think serve as guides along the way of tackling the “Sedaris” challenge: Don’t write other people without empathy. Most people most of the time are not acting out of malice. You don’t have to excuse callous behaviour, but it’s worth trying to understand. Don’t write out of spite. Don’t betray confidences. Be cognizant of your own motivations. Write nothing you wouldn’t say in front of the people involved. Have a sense of humour about yourself and others. Be forgiving, but not complacent.

And remember that, in someone else’s story, it might be you who is the villain.

Facebook Ads: “We can make it look like an accident”

I really enjoy watching Facebook ads flounder with my relatively anonymous “incomplete” account.

Why would anyone not complete their Facebook profile? Why don’t I want people to reach me? People could be trying to reach you right now. Why won’t you reach back? Why are you such a cold monster?!

What possible reason could I have? WHERE ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING OH GOD IT BURNS!!

Here’s today’s best guess:

Nailed it.

Or… wait. Do they need to be more specific?

Always be specific kids. Also don’t do, or sell, drugs.

But…

…if you do…

Facebook knows a guy.

Are you calling me fat?

Lemme tell you a little about a game we play in my house.

It’s called “are you saying I’m fat?”

And the more I have to stretch to make it work, the better.

Him: “Could you please pass me the ketchup?”

Me: “Why? OH I SEE. You’re calling me fat? Can you not get your arm past my enormous girth to get it yourself?”

The trick is for him to confirm, and then one-up it.

Him: “Yes. Your gelatinous mass is obscuring my reach to the ketchup bottle. I can barely see it around your lardosity. Now please pass it over, your ginormitude.”

We also play this game in reverse.

Why do we do this?

Because it is funny. As it should be. Because women supposedly (according to The Braindead Megaphone) live in constant fear that people will think or say they’re fat, and men/husbands supposedly live in constant fear that their wife will think they’ve called them fat.

And that is ridiculous.

Because THIS DOES NOT MATTER.

Your spouse is your partner. You are a team. And being fat or not is not the most important part of that. If your partner says “I’m not happy”, or “I’m having trouble at work”… that shit matters. But “those pants are a bit tight”? That belongs right down there with “we’re out of pickles”.*

Being called fat has been ludicrously awarded special status as “the worst thing ever that your partner can say about you”. Cartoonish over-the-top Chaplin-esque backpedalling of husbands desperately trying to be 100% clear they didn’t just call their wives fat.

And how many things are more important than this? All the things. ALL the things are more important than this.

All. The. Things.

They said (or *gasp* implied) that you are “fat”. What is the absolute worst case? That… you… are…. fat? Okay. So? So what?

OH MY GOD HE CALLED ME FAT.

So?

Empirically, it’s pretty close to a statement of fact (unless you’re married to one of those a-holes who tells super slender people that they’re overweight. In which case, you have bigger fish to fry.) You are fat or you are not. And saying or not saying it out loud would not make it any more or less true.

OH MY GOD HE SAID I HAVE GREEN EYES.

(Unless you don’t have green eyes, in which case, see above: re: the big fish fry-up).

If you are genuinely concerned that your partner isn’t physically healthy, that is a conversation you have because you care about them and you want them to stick around. You work on it together.

Weight comes and goes. Fatness comes and goes. It is a part of who you are, but it’s a changing part. My hair grows. My food and exercise changes. My body changes. It’s bigger, it’s smaller, it’s older, it’s doughier, it’s more muscular. One thing my body definitely is not is static. Because no one’s body is static.

It is fascinating and incredibly useful, but it is not the totality of things that make up me. It’s importance is in how it makes me feel (healthy, strong, capable, soggy, slothy), and what it enables me to do with the precious sliver of time that is my life.

I care a quintillion percent more about character. If you are the biggest ass in the world, it matters a helluva lot more than if you have the biggest ass in the world.

*What am I saying? Being out of pickles is a serious fucking deal. Wait… am I out of pickles right now? BRB.

Snot for sharing

I hate being sick.

Hate it.

Hate it hate it hate it. Double stamped it. BAH.

I’m sick right now. GAAAABLLLUUUURGGHHHHHWHEEEZEANGRYFACE!

I am bad at being sick. Worse even, as I get older. Because I enjoy autonomy. And decision-making. And choices. And doing things. And being sick is the opposite of that.

Being sick is boring. As a not-7 year old, I know what happens. There is no novelty in a sick day. In gingerale or jello. (Which I didn’t actually get when I was 7 and sick. I got raw garlic and salt water and vinegar. Hold your jealous applause.) No novelty in being on the couch or not being able to breath properly. I don’t want soup, I want to be healthy.

I am lucky. I don’t get sick often. I don’t have any little disease vectors (<-children) and I mostly don’t work in offices (<-contagion cesspools). And I fight it. Hard.

But at some point, by the sling and arrow of some outrageous bug, I fall. Like a giant mammoth, stuck up pincushion-style with wounds of phlegm and fatigue and ache.

So, finally, I lie here, on my mammoth side, with my mammoth trunk full of mammoth snot and I wait for extinction. Drip. Drip. Drip.

I get it from my father.

My father was terrible at being sick. Terrible.

Terrible.

How terrible? Well, when they went to do his heart surgery, scar tissue showed that he’d had not one, not two, but probably a few minor heart attacks. That he had just… powered through.

He was pretty sure he remembered at least one of these happening. At a work function. But it was a work function with many doctors in attendance, so he basically decided to ignore it.

Role. Model.

He was sick more often than he would have admitted (like, all the time), and he was working too hard (like, all the time), and incredibly overextended (like, all the time).

He took all the drugs and none of the rest. In one “great” story, while the participants were doing an exercise, he went to an empty conference room and lay down under a table for awhile.

I submit that if you are lying down, under a table, in a hotel conference room, to try and get 5 minutes of sleep in your work day, when you are already on the maximum dosages of extra strength drugs, then you should go. the. fuck. home. This is not a grey area. As my lovely husband says (and I throw this back at him when he (often) pushes himself too hard):

“It’s just not that important. It’s not like you’re maintaining life support machines by hand.”

But… but… but… the meeting! due dates! reports! emails!

“NO.”

Don’t go and infect other people. Stupid snotty jerkfaces do that. Push through it? PFFFT! If science has taught us anything (I love you science!), there is no pushing through it. There is, however, prolonging it by wearing yourself out. Oooooooo… dumb.

I am finally (<-why the frack does this take so long) learning that I am at no risk of developing sloth. It is just not in me to cop out too early or drag it out too long. Hit the sick panic button too soon. Choose less life over more. Embrace and revel in lethargy and weakness. But it’s the fear of this that keeps me ignoring the runny eye. The hacking cough. The snot. (Oh god so much snot).

But no. I will learn this lesson from my dad. If you’re sick, be sick. Be sick, and then get better. If you find you’re getting sick a lot, look at it. What is broken? What can I fix? But don’t ignore it, and don’t pretend I’m not sick this time.

Don’t be a mammoth.

 

 

Iceberg lettuce: The honey badger of produce

Iceberg lettuce is junk food. If you’re about to eat iceberg lettuce, you might as well reach for a candy bar instead. Comparably low nutritional value. In Dante’s food pyramid, they’re both in the ninth circle of sinner foods. Dinner for thieves and unbaptized babies.

This is how I thought of iceberg lettuce. This is how I was raised to think of iceberg lettuce. Kind of like eating garbage. Its delightful crunchiness belied its wanton and hedonistic provenance. You’re eating iceberg lettuce when you could be eating spinach leaves? Or red leaf lettuce? Or even a Boston bib or Romaine?

Slut.

Only here’s what I have discovered: Iceberg lettuce is aaaamazing. Not for its own caloric or health (non)value, but as a conduit. An enabler of vegetables. The wheels on the mass transit of bounty. A vehicle for other, more healthful vegetables.

Where I would have zero salads, because gorramit I just can’t keep up with the stupid short life cycles and high maintenance needs of organic leafy munchables, iceberg lettuce understands me. It understands that I need to chuck it in the fridge and kinda forget about it until I need it. Iceberg lettuce doesn’t mind neglect. Iceberg lettuce don’t give a damn.

And then, when it’s lunch or peckish time, BAM! you just pull out your iceberg lettuce and add all your actually good vegetables to it. Maybe even some of those higher maintenance greens if they’re still alive (and not limply draped about your fridge like so many delicate ladies on their fainting couches). Load that shit up. Chop up 5 different kinds of veggies, slap ’em in with the iceberg (which is still clean and crunchy and ready for service… because it is undead), and voila! Salad.

And guess what? You just ate 5 more veggies than zero. All thanks to iceberg lettuce. Iceberg lettuce giving you a locker room slap on the butt and saying: “I got this one Hon. You just go grab some bell peppers and dressing.”

In conclusion: Question everything, and take allies wherever you can find them.

 

My (great) aunt, Kim Herbener

My aunt Kim Herbener passed away early last Thursday morning. She was 57.

She lived only a few blocks away from me, and was the first of my mum’s siblings that I had a separate adult relationship with. Meeting for lunch or coffee or brunch just to get together and talk about… all the things. There is already a dull ache of missing her. A Kim-sized hole beside my dad-sized one.

In November 2011, over a bowl of oatmeal at my dining room table, she told me that her cancer was back, and had metastasized to her liver. We knew it was terminal. As much as you never know exactly how much time you have left, we knew there was not much of it.

Kim Herbener

Kim, in China after high school graduation

This past year were trips to the hospital for a port and for chemo, the healthiest lunches I could find, and many cups of tea. Early on we had a few really interesting discussions about life and death. Closer to the end, when she was finding comfort in religion and spirituality, I lost the thread a bit. But we still made the time to be together. And just about everyone likes getting flowers, whether you pray or not.

This is the speech I gave at the Monday evening visitation — just one of three speeches from the 11 nieces and nephews who are left behind, and will miss her.

::::Auntie Kim::::

Now I say this with a tonne of love. And also respect: Kim was weird. I say and mean it with love and respect because it’s Kim’s weirdness that made her a cool aunt and person.

For the Hayday nieces and nephew, Kim was the one who — at Christmas and birthdays — could be counted on to never give you the “straight” gift. (And as our proudly out aunt we were proud of for being out, that was just not her purview anyways.) As kids, we’d often receive ROM gift shop replicas and… things. Things that would need explanation. So you’d open your present, and then you’d open the accompanying note that talked you through it. Replica scarab beetles from an Egyptian tomb (on every 7 year old’s wish list). Music makers (if in doubt, assume whatever gift you’ve opened is something that makes music). But we also always kept them, for years and years, surviving many toy purges — because nothing fascinates little kids like the totally unknown. Well played Auntie Kim.

But the gifts always had a story that connected you to it in her mind. Always thought out and thoughtful. There was a reason behind whatever she chose. And they were gifts that were intended to encourage you, to show you that she sees you or some part of you. That she thinks you’re musical, artistic, insightful, thoughtful or kind and she thinks that’s great.

I think of gifts because she was always giving. Not only things. But support and love and an ear and hugs. Hug first, talk second. There and ready with the love and support when her niece and her nephew were coming out themselves. Or leaving the last bloom off her tree on my patio for me when my dad died.

She was and went ahead of her time. She was biking everywhere when Toronto had even fewer bike lanes than today. Doing yoga well before every twenty year old was an “instructor”. She was an unselfconscious off to the side trailblazer — because she was open and interested in life.  And game to give just about anything a try.

She was in love with the world. Even or especially the most mundane details. All the “hows” and the “whys” — that’s where Kim lived. She thought things over, considered the angles and gave you space to do the same. Every young little niece or nephew black and white mind can use a bit more grey in it, and an aunt who gives you a replica scarab beetle sure is bringing the grey.

She was the aunt with the whale bones. “Benedict” the giant scary painting of a head (who will live on forever in my brother Matt’s nightmares). The “Watch your head!” sign in her basement. The gypsy kings. The jangley bracelets. The somewhat unnerving colour shifting transitions lenses. A mug with a duck figure baked into the bottom. Sprouts. Pack lunches. A particularly angular way of writing the letter K. The ROM. The street she lived on.

It is sad to live on past someone you love. When they go and you are now in a world where they are not. They leave, and you love them even more. I will never walk past her street without thinking of Kim. True when she was alive, and truer now that she’s gone. Only now I won’t send her a quick message to see how she’s doing, or try to arrange for last minute cup of tea. Though I will raise a glass of tea to her in mind. And living only a couple of blocks over from her place, I’m going to burn through a lot of mental tea.

There were so many ways that we were nothing like each other. (How I tried to explain just what exactly I don’t see in interpretative … anything). But what was fantastic and a big cosmic score for all of her many nieces and nephews was that she made space for each of us to be us, and to know that whatever that was, she wanted to be a part of it. For each of us to have a different relationship with her (Erica, for instance, to cover the arty things that sail right past my analytic brain. Sarah to go shoot pool in the village.). She loved hearing when you were doing something new, and always wanted to hear updates on the things that were old.

When you die, there are beautiful things in the world that you have to leave. And sometimes some of the beautiful things leave before you do. Kim was a tall beautiful passionate enthusiastic darkly funny woman with a usually calm demeanor but also a fire in her belly, a sharp mind, kind words, and an open door.

But by the end, Kim was ready. She was calm and felt peace and she had a denser richer life than many people who get twice as many years to work with.

What would Kim have wanted for her nieces and nephews? I think, probably, something like what Maurice Sendak said before he died: “I wish you all good things. Live your life live your life live your life.”

Kim Herbener

Kim Herbener

Ladies and gentlemen, my pipes.

(Like, the ABS kind, not the locomoting kind.)

You know when you’re living in downtown Toronto, and you hear a couple walk past a new condo tower, and they’re sipping their peppermint Starbucks lattes and they’re like “that went up so fast! It’s probably held together with gum and toothpicks!” and they laugh and stroll off down the street. And you watch them go, pressed up against the glass window of your condo, where you are busy disentangling the grocery store shopping bag that the builders used to shore up your drain pipe?

Yeah.

Exhibit A:

(Note: That shit on the floor? Yeah, that was just already there. That’s not from us or anything. Without exception, every nook of our place that was hidden by a surface or bit of drywall has been harbouring random construction shit like this. Thanks Urbancorp!)

Why a grocery store bag? Weeelllll the lazy fucktards who built our place, using only glue and their (sparse) wits, apparently couldn’t be assed to find a hole saw, so they just bashed out an opening roughly the size of the pipes plus a bit… declared that It Was Good, then shimmed the bejebeers out of it with bits of particleboard and leftover plastic bits.

Re-enactment:

Fucktard #1: “Hey, Fucktard #2, are you almost done with your lunch? I need a manky plastic bag to finish up this plumbing work?”

Fucktard #2: “Sure thing boss! Do you want some of these french fries for insulation?*”

*The fry thing is probably not true. Probably.

Exhibit B:

See that little shiny thing poking out from the bottom of the detritus? That, folks, is a junction box. Within (and by “within” I mean exposed) are some spliced wires. Where does this sit? Oh, y’know. On the floor. Under the drain pipe and water lines.

This is why whenever I go to do something simple like, I don’t know, hang a picture, I end up having to do light drywall and plumbing work as prep. On the plus side, my tool collection is getting impressive.

I even have a hole saw.

Move in ready! Just steps from Starbucks, trendy neighbourhoods and electrocution!*

*Disclaimer: “Trendy neighbourhoods” include but are not limited to barf-covered sidewalks on Sunday mornings.