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Sometimes you luck out when you are least expecting it. Last week I was on Eventbrite’s website because I had just entered an RSVP for a running-related event. By pure dumb luck I stumbled on an event called “Auschwitz Survivor Max Garcia Shares His Unique Story,” hosted by the Consulate General of The Netherlands in San Francisco. (Prior to this I did not even know The Netherlands had a Consulate General in San Francisco.) Amazingly, the tickets were free. In part because I live in the Bay Area–an embarrassingly over-full cornucopia of unique events–I have a tendency to read about a cool event, bookmark it, and completely forget about it. This time I entered my RSVP immediately. (I’m not going to lie, part of that was because I just could not believe that all I had to do to attend an event at a foreign consulate was click a website button.  Seriously, I basically invited myself.)

Frankly, the remaining Holocaust survivors are getting old. There are not that many left, and of those who are left there aren’t many who have both the desire and the ability to take on speaking engagements. Like any kid my age I studied World War II in school, and first learned about genocide in the context of the Nazi attempt to exterminate all who could be seen as Jewish by religion or culture or accident of birth. I’ve seen pictures of the grisly artifacts–lamp shades made of skin, piles of human teeth yanked for the silver in their fillings–that stand as physical evidence of otherwise unimaginable cruelty. Sure, I saw Schindler’s List (and was completely traumatized) and I’ve seen some brief videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors. But there is something very different about sharing space with a real, breathing human being and listening than there is about studying a textbook history or consuming recorded media. The main reason I put in my RSVP is that this might be my only chance to hear a concentration camp survivor speak. I feel like it is important to be a witness, especially in an era when Holocaust deniers have unlimited access to the world’s largest megaphone (the internet) and anti-semitism shows up even in my Facebook feed.

This evening I had the privilege to hear Mr. Max Rodriguez Garcia speak. I didn’t Google him. I didn’t set up any expectations beyond Wow, I can’t believe this is real. Even with the limited space available in what I assume is usually the lobby and reception area of the Consulate, I was surprised it wasn’t standing-room-only. (Did I mention the tickets were free?) But like anything else, I guess an audience is better in quality than quantity.

Mr. Garcia started out talking about his life before the war. He described the kinds of things you tend to remember from childhood, things that are ordinary and unappreciated. Then he told us about what it is like to be “in hiding” in Amsterdam as a teenager; not holed up in an attic like the Frank family, but to me more like a silent shadow-person who was forced to shun both shoes and the sunlight. When the authorities caught up with him, it wasn’t the Germans/Nazi-loyalists who beat him but the Dutch police. When he was taken from the jail to the first camp–he was in Buna, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Melk, and Ebensee–he was only 19 years old. In the train car built for animals and filled with straw and a very public, communal chamber pot, he did not know anyone. He didn’t know, but all of his family was already dead. Alone in the darkness filled with crying babies and couples making love as though it might be their last opportunity, headed to a destination unknown to him…I’m not exaggerating when I say I have absolutely no sense of how to even begin to imagine it.

But Mr. Garcia didn’t focus on the terror. He didn’t reek of bitterness and anger and resentment as he recounted being forced to strip, be shaved, and sprayed with Lysol. He didn’t silently beg the audience for pity as he told us how his sister was sent straight to a gas chamber just days after her 16th birthday. He didn’t have a demeanor that told us we should think of him as persecuted, or extraordinary. He didn’t play the role of victim or hero. He just told us parts of his story, like any man telling stories from his life, without shades of either a Shakespearean actor or an emotionless automaton.

I’m not going to share Max’s story here. It’s not my story to tell, it’s his. Trying to share what I remember would be like watching the made-for-TV-movie version of a skillfully written novel. If you want to learn his story, you can get his book, Auschwitz, Auschwitz…I Cannot Forget You As Long As I Remain Alive (ISBN 978-0-9792922-7-9) or visit his website, http://www.auschwitzmaxgarcia.com  (EDIT: as of 6/9/2015 this link leads to a bluehost ad; it appears the domain was not renewed)

photo 1 (2)

Instead, I’m going to share what I take with me from listing to Mr. Garcia.

First, the capacity of a person to WILL is limitless. One of the attendees asked if he thought there was some reasons he survived, or a purpose or destiny he lived to fulfill. Mr. Garcia said he survived because he DARED. He gave several examples of choices he made where he dared to live and to thrive, where he took what we might call “calculated risks” (but which were really, in my perception, calculated interpersonal interactions). It was difficult enough just to survive on the meager rations given to the prisoners–there are more calories in a nonfat latte than he ate daily for over a year–and yet he survived when many did not. Mr. Garcia made it very clear that he had to repeatedly make the choice to dare to live. (While he did benefit from some choices made by others, he didn’t learn about those acts until years after the war; his attitude and determination existed apart from those unknown facts.)

Until you hear a former concentration camp prisoner spell out the details of daily life inside the camps, you don’t even know how wide a swath the concept of #firstworldproblems encompasses. Got a bed that has sheets or a pillow, or that you get to sleep in by yourself or only with those you choose? Are you confident that your only pair of shoes won’t be stolen in the middle of the night? Oh, you have more than one pair of shoes, do you? How about your social interactions, let’s look at those… Do you get to have friends of your own choosing? Can you move about freely without fear you’ll be shot for saying the wrong thing? Or for just some random, unknowable reason? Do you have even a tiny bit of control over where you live, the job you do, and when you move? Does your boss speak to you in a language you understand or bark at you in a foreign tongue he knows you don’t speak? Is your life at least somewhat predictable and lacking in impending death threats such as starvation, communicable diseases, and machine guns? Again, I cannot wrap my head around what it is like to live under the circumstances Mr. Garcia experienced.  Without any concrete hope that life will get better–you know, you’ll get a promotion, pay off that credit card, find true love–is it any wonder that so many people just wasted away? I’m somewhat ashamed that I’ve ever felt sorry for myself.

Second, we need to acknowledge the differences between “us” and “them” are slight and imagined and not a reasonable basis for separate treatment. (This is where the yoga lesson comes in.) There wasn’t much difference between the prisoners–who we now tend to forget were not all Jewish but also included, for example, homosexuals, criminals, and political prisoners–and those who ran the prison. The prisoners were all but starved, but at times the guards were not eating much better. They lived not in the same barracks or identical conditions, but in an isolated place away from their families. At their core, everyone was just a human being with the same human being needs. Yet the prison staff regularly tortured, abused, and killed the prisoners. Doctors conducted medical experiments on prisoners in the hospital barracks next to the ones Mr. Garcia lived in; the women there were repeatedly impregnated so the doctors could practice abortions (among other despicable things). The prison staff magnified the tiny differences between “us” and “them” until “they” were something other than human and so it didn’t matter if they were abused, tortured, killed, or left to die. But those tiny differences were really just random characteristics, most of which were not under the control of the individual to which they pertained. You don’t choose your parents (empirically unprovable metaphysical/religious beliefs aside), so it isn’t like anyone chose to be born Jewish (or Catholic or Protestant), or gay, or blonde. Yoga philosophy teaches that those differences between “us” and “them” (and even the separation of the concept of “you” and “me”) aren’t real.

Oh, just to be clear, Mr. Garcia didn’t utter the word yoga.  This is all me here.

I left the Consulate thinking about the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and the protests that shut down the Berkeley BART station (again) tonight. The racism that bubbles underneath the surface of our allegedly post-racial society isn’t any different than the race-ism that separated the “Jews and other undesirables” from the “Aryan” race. Your Black (or Asian or Latina or any other not-white) skin and my pale white skin contrast in photos, but they don’t mean anything (other than biologically, pigment concentration and all that–probably I get sunburned more). Neither your skin nor mine should entitle the bearer to special treatment positive or negative. It’s not even just about race here at home, it’s also about economics and the politics of class. There is nothing free or brave about a country where something as random as geography or how much money your parents have determines your chances of success in life. There is nothing United about a world where  nation-sponsored genocide has repeatedly resurfaced repeatedly. Just hit Google up with the word genocide. Or try the term Armenian. Or look back to 1994 in Rwanda. No people are immune, and one of the very first sites to pop up on that Google search for genocide will tell you that genocide begins with the dehumanization of the “other.”

Part of my privilege–give it any label you want–is that I had the CHOICE and the opportunity to interact on a personal level with a broad mix of people. The activities and travels I’ve chosen have let me have one-on-one interactions with other individuals.  Individuals who get labels I don’t, who are “different” in skin color, cultural identity, education, experience, religion/belief, economics, and age. The yoga idea that these “differences” are not real makes total sense to me. (By the way, I do find it thoroughly ironic that yoga in America started out populated by bored white upper-middle-class housewives and has trickled down to mostly middle-class albeit somewhat “alternative” still mostly white and still mostly women.) I’m not saying everyone I meet just wants to bliss out and sing Kumbaya with me, as I’ve certainly met people where we’d both probably say, “oh, we have nothing in common” (which is often code for something like “her political stance/religious beliefs/taste in music make me want to puke”). Chances I will personally get smacked in the face with anything other than your basic misogynistic asshattery discrimination are pretty much zero; on the other hand, chances I will exhibit anything other than an unintentional discrimination against people who are “different” is also pretty much zero.

This got much longer than I had intended it to be.

I don’t have the answers to any of the problems that fall under the banner of #blacklivesmatter (or at least I don’t have any answers that are reasonably realistic in this current time and space). The best I can do is to (1) observe that continuing to divide people into an “us” and a “them” is foolhardy and dangerous, and can easily lead to one Us dehumanizing a group of Them; and (2) encourage you to consider how those “differences” between you and me–and you and that guy over there, or you and that family on welfare, or you and that bullied kid, or you and that bully–don’t really make us all that different….and on further contemplation, you might discovery they aren’t even real.

 

Thoughtful commentary and exchange of ideas welcome here.

(Read: personal attacks and blatent hate speech will be deleted.)

Although it was not at all evident during the Dumbo Double Dare runs at Disneyland over Labor Day weekend (so much humidity that I might never need a sauna again), we’re entering the last few weeks of summer.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to stop wearing white (seriously, you’d be a fool to take my fashion advice anyway) and summer is not over until it is over (that would be the fall equinox, which isn’t quite here yet).

Instead of wasting these last few weeks of summer by lamenting that it is ending, I’m slurping the last juicy bits of summer out of these weeks.  Here’s how:

Making good on the #PainFreePledge. Back pain affects 8 out of 10 people–including me. I’ve been rear-ended twice, and had a doozie of a car accident. I’ve been fascinated with pain and the body since I started studying yoga. BackJoy is sending me their signature product, designed to help you sit with good alignment, so I can review it. Anyone can take the #PainFreePledge on the BackJoy Facebook Page. For my pledge, I chose to pay extra attention to my daily body habits–how I sit at work, how often I break to move and look away from the monitor, etc. Go take the pledge, keep your body supple, and maybe win prizes!

Channeling my inner “Frozen.”  As fall nears, it is time for spring cleaning’s better half: the fall purge. Ratty underwear? Clothes I haven’t worn in two years? That makeup I bought in law school? The self-imposed stress that comes from having spring race review posts unfinished?  LET IT GO, Let it goooo! Time to take advantage of the many ways that the resources I no longer need can help others, and quit being so hard on myself.

Gambling on DietBet. Fitness magazine is hosting a DietBet 4 that starts September 9, and it isn’t too late to join.  The game works like this: you gamble $30, betting that you can lose 4% of your body weight over the course of the game. Weight-loss is verified with two mandatory weigh-ins (confidential!); everyone who loses 4% “wins” and splits the pot–currently over $47,000!  Interested?  Click here to join: Fitness Magazine Diet Bet.

Play-testing The Fitness Games. I met the two guys who started this app at IDEA World last month, and immediately downloaded it. This month, I’m testing it for Sweat Pink! It takes social fitness apps from merely reporting to directly challenging your friends to workouts–available in real time! New to working out? The included workouts have photos, descriptions, and video. Read more at The Fitness Games then go download the iPhone app here: The Fitness Games on iTunes Let me know you’re playing by inviting me to a challenge (or send me a friend request, and I’ll send you my class plan for this week).

Studio hopping an Francisco with Class Pass. Class Pass is so flippin’ brilliant that I wish I had thought of it! I pay $99 for a month, and in exchange I can attend 10 classes at a wide variety of studios, boot camps, and boutique gyms. Options go from aerial silks to Zumba. Last month I discovered Barry’s Bootcamp and BodyFi, and tried Laughing Lotus for the first time. I’ll be writing about my adventures in the blog. While you can only take 3 classes per month at a single place, most have an intro package or other great offer for newbies. Class Pass is currently available in Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. You can learn more on their facebook page, or head to Class Pass (Tell them I sent you!)

Preparing for Run 10 Feed 10. Hunger is a “first world problem.” It exists all around you–even my affluent Alameda home needs a food bank–and many American children go hungry. We have the power to help feed the hungry. Sign up to Run 10k, and your registration fee pays to feed 10 meals in the community where you run. You can choose from organized events, or a “run your own” option.  Register at Run 10 Feed 10 and use code WHBAIN to save a few bucks (but still feed 10 meals!). Not interested in running?  Click to donate to my fundraiser instead: Action Hero Elizabeth’s Run 10 Feed 10 Fundraiser

Gearing up for the Berkeley Half Marathon. Have I mentioned I’m one of the lucky Ambassadors for the Berkeley Half? After the inaugural race, organizers listened to runner feedback and made a number of changes, including a change to the route.  Come run through the UC Berkeley campus with me! Also, as an Ambassador, I get a free entry to the race–but I signed up to run before I was picked as an Ambassador!  (Oh no! What should I do?)  Watch this space for a very special giveaway later this week! (Hint: you might also want to follow me on twitter and facebook.)

Tell me, how do you celebrate the end of summer?

I’ve found the ultimate in non-slip head bands: Bani Bands!  Read on and learn how you can score some of the best headbands out there for yourself.

Confident I’ve tried pretty much every brand of headband out there, Bani Bands are THE headband for me.  These are the only ones that really stay put on my head because they are adjustable–you can make them longer or shorter to accommodate the size of your melon (and apparently I’ve got a big head, who knew?).

When I was in first grade, having long hair was really cool, because if you were a girl with long hair, then one of your friends could sit behind you during show and tell and play with your hair.  No, I’m not kidding.  (Hey, it was the 70s, cut me some slack, okay?) Up to that point Mom–a wise woman!–had kept my hair cut short, realizing she’d likely be responsible for long-hair-care, and with two kids in diapers who can blame her for not being interested?  We already knew my hair was unruly, since every time Mom tried to curl it under at the ends (you know, school concerts, photo day, etc.) it rebelled by uncurling, either going totally flat or reversing the curl at whim. Anyway, one day I came home from school and BEGGED my parents to let me have long hair. Like any self-respecting first grader I bugged them and bugged them and BUGGED them until they finally relented.

Aside from a the unfortunate era of the spiral perm, and the subsequent uber-short boy-cut to deal with the aftermath, I’ve had long hair ever since.  Adamantly stick-straight, incorrigible, long hair. It refuses to do anything at all whatsoever, other than get in my face while I’m running, or turn into one giant dreadlock if I ponytail it and then go swimming. No joke. When I was a competitive Irish dancer we used to curl our hair. I’d wash it with no conditioner, blow dry it, put a tiny bit of mousse on the roots, put it in rollers, spray it, sleep on it, spray it, unroll it, recurl the end bits, spray it, and add the headband; when my competitions were over, I’d run a brush through it and it would be back to straighter than ever.  THAT straight.

At one of  my first running expos I saw some beautifully sparkling headbands by Sparkly Soul: 360 degrees of sparkle, backed with a velvet ribbon.  Since it was the Divas Half Marathon, I carefully selected a stretchy dark aqua blue band, intending to run with it.  Unfortunately, during the day it very slowly slid off of my head.  While the velvet ribbon tried as hard as any ribbon could to make that headband stay put, the baby-hair-like texture would not permit it to stay on my head. Non-slip for most, I guess, but not for me.

Later on at the Detroit Marathon expo, I was very excited to discover Sweaty Bands: adorable headbands in hundreds of patterns both sparkly and no, and backed with a similar velvet ribbon.  “Guaranteed not to slip!” Yes! I thought I’d found Nirvana (the place, not the band). I decided the Sparkly Soul headband must have slipped because it had velvet ribbon all the way around, and since the Sweaty Bands had elastic around the back (the part that would fall under my hair), surely THIS was the solution.  Sadly no, instead the elastic around the back gradually crept up the back of my head, and the headband wiggled its way off.  (I’ve since learned that Sweaty Bands does offer an adjustment service to make the elastic longer or shorter, for $3 per headband.  The cost is reasonable, given that the work has to be done by hand, and I’ll likely have them extend the elastic on my Disney Wine & Dine headband . But it nixes my ability to buy it and wear it at the same time.)

 

It's magic!
It’s magic!

Things continued like this–me trying on headbands all the time, all the headbands deathgripping my head or shooting right off–until the Nike Women’s Half Marathon.  My gift bag had this beautiful purple sparkly headband in it with an ADJUSTABLE back!  I slid it out to almost all the way and put it on my head…where it stayed ALL DAY.  I could cinch the elastic down super small so that the same band could fit on a toddler’s head too. Brilliant!

Adjustable slider on the elastic
Adjustable slider on the elastic (just right of tag)

I had to learn more about the company, so I hopped over to the website, http://www.banibands.com where I learned that not only do I love the headbands, I love this company. It was founded by two sisters (one of whom apparently also has a larger melon). Bani Bands are sewn by home sewers in the U.S. and China, supervised by the founders and a close family friend. This production method lets moms choose to stay home with their kids, and grandmas supplement a fixed income, and college kids help pay their way.  You can read about some of the women who make your headbands right on the website. Seriously, how cool is that?

Even better, Bani Bands is licensed to make headbands for major league baseball teams and some sororities.  When I was offered the chance to try out some Bani Bands, of course I had to represent my home team.  (Go, Tigers!) The MLB headbands come with the same kind of “this is the genuine article” tag that you’ll find on an officially licensed jersey or ballcap, too. As you can see from the picture, mine came with a tag that also told me who made my headband.

Bless You Boys! This is the Year!
Bless You Boys! This is the Year!

 

Officially licensed MLB product
Officially licensed MLB product

 

Another clever innovation: the braided headband.  These are made from sparkly ribbons, literally braided.  Instead of the soft velvet-like ribbon underside, these rely on the texture of the sparkly material to stick to your head.  I was doubtful, so I asked to try one.  True story, it stayed put!

The Braid stays put, even in slippery hair
The Braid stays put, even in slippery hair

As if all of this wonderfulness was not enough, there are two other really great things to love about Bani Bands.  First, they offer a selection of headbands at discounted rates for use in fundraisers.  There is a color for your team (and your opponents’!) or organization.  Second, there is an ambassador program (and you bet I’ll be applying as soon as I’ve got this giveaway posted and live).

You can order from the website, or use the site to find a retail partner.  Better yet, how about you win some right here?

 

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Think of “Eat More Kale”

When you see the phrase “Eat More Kale,” what is the very first thing that pops into your mind?  If you went to the website with that name, www.eatmorekale.com what would you expect to find?

kale shirt

Clearly, You Think of Chicken

Chick-fil-A, the $4 billion chicken sandwich specialists with over 1,700 stores across the United States, is certain you will be convinced that “Eat More Kale” has something to do with them.  You read that right, Chick-fil-A believes you will think of Chick-fil-A when you read “Eat More Kale” and be confused because, well, Chick-fil-A doesn’t actually serve kale.

My Love Affair With Chick-fil-A

Before I explain, here’s a little background on my relationship with Chick-fil-A.  As you probably know, I am a vegetarian and have been since 2001.  What you might not know is that before then, I was an ardent Chick-fil-A supporter.  The Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich is far superior to any other chicken sandwich out there.  I liked it so much that when my parents came to visit me in Austin, TX I took them to Chick-fil-A to experience chicken sandwich perfection and some waffle fries.  (I actually felt bad for them, because in Michigan they didn’t have any Chick-fil-A.)  Despite its religious origins, I liked that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday, guaranteeing that every employee has at least one consistent full day off to spend with family every week.  The sandwiches are so good that back when Chick-fil-A was only available in shopping malls, I used to say that the path to being a millionaire was clearly in opening a free-standing Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A sponsors an NFL bowl game.  They’re that big. They give away sandwiches to people dressed up like cows on Halloween. More recently, despite the company’s anti-gay marriage stance, I’ve found something else to admire about Chick-fil-A.  (Regarding the company’s view on gay marriage, briefly: I no longer eat chicken, so I don’t have to take any action.  As corporation, Chick-fil-A can choose to what to support; as a consumer, you can vote with your dollars too.)   First, Chick-fil-A has been slowly phasing out artificial colors and trans fats.  Second, Chick-fil-a is testing out new buns without high fructose corn syrup for a future roll-out nationwide, and is also testing out healthier alternatives to other ingredients.  I admire this because I’m in favor of healthier, less-processed food with fewer artificial ingredients.  I also admire this because Chick-fil-A invited a well-known food blogger who had criticized the chicken sandwich contents to address the company’s management and help educate them on what consumers wanted gone and why.

Chick-fil-A: clearly all about the chicken sandwiches.  So much about the chicken sandwiches that their famous advertisements on TV and billboards feature spotted cows holding signs that say “Eat Mor Chikin.”

This Vermont Guy? Not About Chicken.

Enter a Vermonter named Bo.  Bo Muller-Moore, aka “the ‘Eat More Kale’ guy.”  Bo is an artist who makes t-shirts, by hand, with a tiny staff.  He runs what you’d call a micro-business.  Two farmers, Paul and Kate of High-Ledge Farm, asked Bo to make them some shirts, and so in 2001, Bo started to print shirts that simply say “Eat More Kale.”  For a long time you could only get one at a farmer’s market or music festival.  Then Bo paid a friend to make him a website, and people all over the place started ordering “Eat More Kale” shirts (and sweatshirts, and aprons).  Why?  It’s a great idea, and kale is the current media vegetable starlet, with as many articles on kale as on the latest Kardashain escapades.  Kale is trendy.  So trendy, in fact, the other people started to copy Bo’s shirts.

Like any smart businessman, Bo wanted to protect his interests and his business, and filed for a trademark on “Eat More Kale.”  When someone files for a trademark, there is a period of time when anyone can challenge it for certain reasons, and ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to NOT issue the trademark.  One of the reasons you can object to a trademark application is that the requested trademark—the name, short phrase, or slogan—is too similar to an existing trademark and would confuse consumers.  For example, if I wanted to file a trademark for my store named “Wall-mart,” you can bet Wal-Mart is going to object.  The proposed name sounds just like Wal-Mart and is likely to confuse people into thinking there is a connection.  Similarly, I wouldn’t be able to trademark the phrase “all the news that’s fit to print” because the New York Times has been using it for decades, and people might be misled into thinking I have some connection to the New York Times.  (Confession: I do not, but I’d like to!)

Chick-fil-A Wants To Stop Him.

When Bo filed for a trademark on “Eat More Kale,” Chick-fil-A stepped in to fight it on confusion grounds.  To be fair, this isn’t Chick-fil-A’s first attempt to stomp out Bo’s kale shirts.  When you own a trademark, you have to protect it, so trademark owners are obligated to ask you to stop when you either use their trademark (hence I’m not opening a vegan chicken sandwich shop called Chick-fil-A) or when you use a mark that is confusingly similar (such as Chickin-fil-A).  A few years ago—five years after the first kale shirts–Chick-fil-A wrote what us lawyers call a “cease and desist” letter, telling Bo that he’d better stop making those kale shirts or Chick-fil-A would sue him.  Bo got his own lawyer to write a letter back, basically explaining that no one who bought his kale shirts could possibly be confused into thinking they were affiliated in any way with Chick-fil-A.  Because, you know, when YOU first read “Eat More Kale,” what did YOU think of?

Unfortunately, the USPTO took Chick-fil-A’s side, and is convinced that you and other consumers are too stupid to understand that “Eat More Kale” is not a Chick-fil-A slogan, and that you will be confused by seeing an “Eat More Kale” shirt.  The USPTO has issued a “preliminary rejection” which means Bo is about to lose “Eat More Kale” as a trademark forever.  This means two things for Bo.  First, anyone can ride on the coattails of his work and make and sell “Eat More Kale” shirts.  Second, Chick-fil-A can shut them ALL down.  With the USPTO ruling that yes, consumers will see “Eat More Kale” and think it is related to Chick-fil-A,  Chick-fil-A can claim consumer confusion and sue Bo (and anyone else making a t-shirt that says “Eat More Kale”).  Most t-shirt guys are like Bo, small micro-businesses run by individuals and families, and many don’t have the means or support to fight Chick-fil-A.  By claiming consumer confusion, Chick-fil-A’s lawsuit could force Bo to destroy all of his kale shirt inventory, pay Chick-fil-A a fat stack of cash (literally all of his profits for every kale shirt he’s sold in the last 12 years), and never make another kale shirt; Chick-fil-A can force Bo to take down his website.

Eat More Bacon?

Funny how Chick-fil-A hasn’t gone after the “Eat More Bacon” t-shirts, isn’t it?

bacon1 bacon4

What you can do

  1. Go to www.eatmorekale.com and buy an Eat More Kale shirt, donate to Bo’s legal fund, and sign up for the Eat More Kale e-newsletter.  Join the community page on Facebook.
  2. Go to Sum of Us and sign the petition to ask Chick-fil-A to get a life and stop harassing Bo, because “Eat More Kale” does NOT confuse YOU. http://action.sumofus.org/a/chick-fil-A-eat-more-kale/2/5/?akid=3200.527922.s9fzcx&rd=1&sub=fwd&t=2
  3. Then go read more at Care2 (the petition closed, sadly with few signatures): http://www.care2.com/causes/eat-more-kale-guy-fights-on-against-corporate-bullying.html
  4. Go to Take Part and read more: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/04/30/chick-fil-doesnt-want-you-eat-more-kale
  5. Or read about it on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pete-mason/eat-more-kale_b_1469661.html
  6. Or the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/us/eat-more-kale-t-shirts-challenged-by-chick-fil-a.html?_r=0
  7. Tell your friends.

Just label it.  It’s not that hard.  What is hard is believing that over 100 years after the creation of the Food and Drug Administration, I still don’t have the right to know what is in my food.  (Melanie Warner’s book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, has a fascinating overview of the origins of the FDA, processed food, and food additives.  Highly recommended, fast read.)  The problem isn’t limited to genetically modified organisms, but it irks me that I can go into a store and buy some food without any right to know about literally hundreds of things that could be in it.

As a preliminary matter, educate yourself.  You can read the entire text of the Washington state bill here: http://yeson522.com/about/read/  True, this is the “yes on 522” campaign page, but the entire text of the bill is on the website and there is a link to a .pdf version. This bill is different from the California bill that failed last year, in time frame, definitions, and requirements.  If you live in Washington and get to vote on this issue, reading the actual text of the bill will inform you more than any ad or speech and you will not fall prey to misinformation.  You can see the reasons for the bill, which are part of the preamble; you can also see the lengthy list of items that are exempt from the labeling requirement.

Why am I for labeling genetically modified food?

1. I don’t trust the opposition based on past bad behavior.

The loudest voice against the labeling law is a coalition led by seed producer Monsanto.  Monsanto, in case you are unfamiliar, owns the patents to most of the genetically modified crops in the United States.  According to the Associated Press, “five corporations and a trade group representing food manufacturers have largely financed efforts to defeat the measure, raising $17.2 million so far.” (See “Big money shapes WA GMO food label fight” at www.kgw.com, for example.)  It is no secret that I am do not like Monsanto.  I’m offended by their legal actions in the past decade.  These include suing farmers who save seeds from crops grown from Monsanto seeds (seed-saving is a custom that dates back to the beginning of agriculture), and suing organic farmers whose crops were contaminated by Monsanto’s crops growing across the street (Mother Nature does not recognize property boundaries).  As an attorney I understand the need to protect your intellectual property and contract rights, which arguable justifies suing the seed-savers, but suing the organic farmers is just rubbing salt into fresh wounds: first ruin their livelihood (GMO crops cannot be sold as organic, and after the organic farmers’ wheat was found to be contaminated several countries cancelled their contracts), then make them pay you for doing it.

1a. I don’t find the opposition’s arguments credible or persuasive. Personally, I’m not sure what real argument they have for NOT labeling genetically engineered foods.  They openly state GMO food is safe to eat and has no health effects, and they are proud of their many products, so I’m not sure why Monsanto doesn’t want you to know which of your foods might have their technology in them.  If the Monsanto argument is that a label is “fear mongering,” I’m not impressed.  For one, foods are already required to state their ingredients on the label, including most food additives (many of which are already known to be dangerous).  Those labels have not dissuaded people from buying foods with those labels.  Second, Monsanto certainly has enough resources at their disposal to stage an education campaign to teach us just why we should not be afraid of genetic engineering in food.  (Just look at how much they have spent opposing this campaign.)  I would love to see widespread publication of all of the independent, peer-reviewed, third-party studies of genetically modified foods, so that we can all have easy access to the science.

As a final note on this topic, not all food manufacturers oppose this bill.  Multiple food manufacturers, brands, and suppliers already support labeling genetically modified food.  (A list of supporters for the Washington bill can be found on the Yes on 522 website.)  Whole Foods has already adopted its own timetable to require all GMO-containing food to be labeled, and Chiptole has voluntarily undertaken to label any GMO food they use.  I have not seen any information that indicates they are suffering, financially or otherwise.

2. It’s easy.

Food companies are constantly changing and updating their labels for all sorts of reasons—such as a change in the recipe of the product, or the addition of a new item to the  mandatory allergens disclosures, or a change in status from non-Kosher to Kosher—this won’t be any different from any other label change.  The bill doesn’t require companies to change labels the day it is passed, they will have plenty of time to make plans.

 3. We want it.

Most Americans want a label.  According to the New York Times poll taken in summer 2013, 93% of people surveyed want to know which foods are genetically modified.

 4. Information wants to be free and available.

4a. These labels could literally save lives.  One of my parents’ close friends is violently allergic to eggs.  He is so allergic that when he once ate a sandwich that (unbeknownst to him) had been prepared on a grill that previously had an egg on it (but had been wiped down), he had such a severe reaction that he had to be hospitalized.  Now the Washington law would not require disclosure of which ingredients are genetically modified or how, but if I had a severe food allergy I wouldn’t want to eat any product that might contain any element of the food to which I was allergic.

4b. These labels will allow people to make their own choices. Let me give you a concrete example: I don’t eat Twinkies.  Why?  Reading the label indicates that Twinkies may contain beef fat.  I am a vegetarian.  The information on the label allows me to make an informed decision on this point. A GMO label would allow me to make educated choices about my food.

5. I want to reduce pesticide usage.

Personally, I do not want to support the increased use of pesticides.  Genetically engineered crops use more pesticides than other crops.  As a result, there are more pesticide residues on those crops, and more pesticides pumped into the soil, water, and air.  Part of why I choose organic when I can is to limit my personal consumption/usage of pesticides.

5a. Pesticides are bad for people who eat. Yes, pesticides are very helpful inventions that have allowed us to develop agriculture to the point where the earth grows enough food to feed everyone.  In today’s world, there is no reason anyone has to starve.  It wasn’t that long ago that people in the United States were literally dying of starvation.  But even the most pro-pesticide person has to concede that pesticides are meant to kill pests, and are not intended to be a condiment for people’s food.  Consumers have a right to know which produce is GMO so they can wash that produce extra carefully.  (Not everyone can afford to choose organic, and organic produce is not universally available.)  I’ll generally just rinse an organic crop with water, but I try to avoid eating pesticide residue on conventional crops.

5b. Pesticides are bad for soil, water, and bees.  Consumers have a right to know so they can choose conventional crops (or even organic ones) that are in line with their personal environmental policies too.Pesticides end up on and I the soil and ground water.  When it rains, pesticides from one farm wash into another farm, or even into my backyard.  Just as the increased use of antibiotics has led to “superbug” infections that are antibiotic resistant and difficult or impossible to treat, use of pesticides leads to “superweeds” that are resistant to pesticides—requiring even more pesticides (either in quantity or variety) to control.  Even if there are no additional pesticide residues on the resulting produce, pesticides applied to the crops end up in the soil and ground water.  There is evidence that pesticides play a role in colony collapse disorder (the recent phenomenon of bees dying off in large numbers).

5c. Pesticides are bad for people who pick your food.  More important, heavier applications of pesticides have a huge impact on the health of farm workers.  I don’t know how many farm workers you have met, but every one I had met works very hard for long hours at this manual labor.  Farm workers are generally paid a piece-work rate, which means they are paid for the amount of produce they harvest, not for the number of hours worked.  Farm workers are unlikely to have access to health care for themselves and their families, many of whom live in farm-owned housing that is secluded from the nearest community.  Farm workers are also frequently unable to afford child care, and as a result many bring their pre-school-aged children into the fields and orchards to work with them.  Those children are already exposed to high levels of pesticides and fungicides, and don’t need an increased dose.  You can go to www.ufw.org, the official home  page of the United Farmworkers (which isn’t a union, because farmworkers do not have the legal right unionize), for links to information on farmworkers and pesticides.

What do you think?  Why not just label it? Is this a health issue?

If you’ve found this post interesting or informative, please forward it to your friends (especially those in Washington State).  I’d love to hear how many “no on 522” ads Washington residents are subject to on TV, radio, billboards, etc. and which organizations are sponsoring them.

Comments are welcome (even those opposed to the Washington bill)  and are moderated.  Civil discourse only, logic is encouraged, and please go read the text of the bill first.

 

Selected Resources

2011 lawsuit by organic farmers against Monsanto

http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/monsanto-wins-appeal-tossing-patent-suit-by-organic-farmers/article_9f7a9fdf-9e7c-5030-a14e-1d913e1ef3b6.html  (St. Louis Post Dispatch, story by Bloomberg News)

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/06/11/2133121/appeals-court-monsanto-not-sue-farmers/ (Think Progress, a political news source, but with links to other sources)

NYT survey results

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/science/strong-support-for-labeling-modified-foods.html?ref=science

NYT topic on GMO food, opinion, science, and food policy

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/g/genetically_modified_food/index.html

Google Scholar is a great resource for scholarly articles, studies, research, and papers.  A search for “pesticide bees collapse” produced 13,000 results.)

 

 

Dear Kristin,

I’m your Betty.  (Or at least one of them—I did spread the word to my ninja posse of badass women, so I hope you’ll pick some of them too.)

Mom died last year.  (When she was first diagnosed with cancer I signed up to walk the 3-Day on the grounds that all cancer sucks and it didn’t matter she didn’t have breast cancer, and raised $5,000.  The next year I did it again.)   She wanted to die at home with her family and her dog, and that’s how she did it.  When she started on hospice, I went home to hang out with her.  Even though she was busy dying, we laughed a lot, and told bad jokes, and even when she couldn’t get out of bed she insisted I help brush her hair and put a little blush on her so she didn’t look “too scary.”  It is royally unfair that Mom died before I got married, before my brother’s kid was born, before she reached her goal of 50 years of marriage to Dad (she made it to 46).  I don’t get mad and refuse to be defeated.  My response to Mom’s death was to run my fastest half marathon (which wasn’t very fast, and Dad beat me by over half an hour) and raise $24,500 for the American Cancer Society.  (I would have raised more, but I only had July to mid-November to do it.)

I’m an instigator.  I’m the one encouraging my co-workers to get out from behind their desks and sign up for the Warrior Dash or take a trapeze lesson.  Last year I pushed the Detroit office of my firm to run the half marathon relay, which inspired one partner to keep running so she could run the entire half this year.  This is my second year as an Action Hero for Women’s Health magazine, promoting the Run 10 Feed 10 events and raising money to feed the hungry through partnerships with the FEED Foundation.  This summr I not only got Dad to run the Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Chicago, I also convinced him to don an Elvis wig and pose with me–here’s the photographic evidence:

Chicago2

I’m versatile.   My day job is lawyering; I know more about the linings of your bodily cavities, the proper way to post-tension a tennis court slab, and how to tap a sewer pipe than you have any need to know.  My Monday-at-6-am-job is teaching yoga.  (I’m not a morning person but I can reliably predict I won’t be in court or a deposition at 6 a.m. on Monday.)  I’ve translated for a volunteer group building stoves in rural Guatemala and appeared on stage with the Italian National Opera Company, unpacked clothing at Macy’s and supervised the children’s wardrobe for the Oregon Ballet Theatre (both of those after law school).  When I met my Brazilian mother-in-law for the first time, we conversed in French because it is the one language we have in common.

I’m tenacious.  As of today, I’ve run 15 half marathons this year.  (There are another 11 on calendar.)  I started a blog at www.trainwithbain.com (I fought WordPress and won!).  At age 15 I chaperoned myself on a trip to the national Scout jamboree in Finland, and at age 23 I chaperoned a group of eight Girl Scouts on the same trip.  I’ve bagged a Munro, sang onstage with the band at Isolde’s Tower in Dublin, and drove on the isle of Harris.  Next year I think I’ll learn SUP (better! SUP yoga!), try a long bike ride, maybe do a sprint triathlon?  I’m also going to apply to join Race Guards.

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I’m opinionated.  I’m a vegetarian who will tell you how to poach salmon and marinate a turkey.  I love to engage in a good debate, hear your experiences, and learn something new.

I love to cross the streams (and I’m really good at it).  I work in a suit-wearing profession while cultivating a community of Mensa members, runners, Burning Man attendees,  hackers, authors, PhDs, and yoga practitioners.  I’ve lived in six states.  My real purpose in life seems to be introducing people who need to meet each other but wouldn’t otherwise have a way to meet.  My secret superhero power is to accidentally meet the most interesting person at the party.  I’m licensed to teach PiYo, Zumba, RealRyde, TurboKick, and Piloxing.

So call me Betty.  Or Elizabeth.  (Just not Lizzie—I don’t want to have to kick your ass.)

xoxo,

Bain