Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Juice in Advertising

My daughter doesn't like carbonated drinks. I always viewed this as a plus. When we're out at a restaurant, she'll have m
ilk, lemonade, or water. With your average can of soda containing 10 teaspoons of sugar, any alternative has to be better.

Not so, says
the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In its report Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks Are Harming Americans' Health, the Center claims that "fruit drinks... are basically noncarbonated soft drinks." And we know how bad soft drinks are. The Center provides a long list of ills:
The empty calories of soft drinks are likely contributing to health problems, particularly overweight and obesity.... [studies show that] soft drinks are directly related to weight gain. That weight gain, in turn, is a prime risk factor for type 2 diabetes... Frequent consumption of soft drinks may also increase the risk of osteoporosis—especially in people who drink soft drinks instead of calcium-rich milk. Dental experts continue to urge that people drink less soda pop, especially between meals, to prevent tooth decay (due to the sugars) and dental erosion (due to the acids). Frequent consumers of soft drinks may also be at a higher risk of kidney stones and a slightly higher risk of heart disease.
Not to mention caffeine, artificial colorings, etc. But fruit juice doesn't have those ugly additives, right?

Well, juice certainly has the sugar and the calories. A revealing chart on hookedonjuice.com
(a site that dispels the myth that "juice is good for you") compares a can of Coke to a similar 12-ounce serving of orange juice (8 teaspoons of sugar), apple juice (10 teaspoons), and grape juice (a whopping 15 teaspoons). And, for each of the three juices, the calorie content is higher than what you'll find in that can of Coke.

As a stay-at-home dad, I'm often the one doing the grocery shopping. Recently, I was looking at a bottle of cranberry juice... well, what I thought was cranberry juice. On the front, the label proclaims "100% juice." But, take a closer look, and you'll see this is a "cranberry flavored" drink. A peek at the ingredients tells us that there is actually more grape than cranberry juice in the bottle (with apple juice added for good measure).

We all want healthy foods for our families. We're all aware of the bane of processed foods -- salt saturated and packed with fats. But juice? What we give to babies?

According to fruitjuicefacts.org, a web site of the Juice Products Association (an industry lobbying group):
100% fruit juices are nutritious beverages that have been enjoyed by adults and children for decades. 100% fruit juices can play an important role in a healthy diet because they offer great taste and a variety of nutrients found naturally in fruits.
First, note the emphasis on "100% fruit juices" (so much of what's sold -- all those juice boxes, bottles, and cartons -- can't make that 100% claim). Second, as Hooked On Juice makes clear, even the 100% variety is "loaded with sugar and calories." Third, I've learned to always be wary of an entity (especially if it's a lobbying group) that professes to openly and magnanimously deliver the "facts."

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to dis juice or
rail against juice consumption. I don't think there's some kind of Great Juice Conspiracy. My concern is with consumers making informed choices, understanding that certain interests may be propagating a glowing, as-good-as-fruit image of juice. Case in point: the following VNR (video news release). Although it looks like a legitimate news story, it was produced by the Juice Products Association.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ode to Ben

I have a cat,
His name is Ben.
He is a beast
(I won't pretend).

Sway-gut. Sharp-tooth.
Lumbering mass.
More like Godzilla
Than a cat.

He picks on Bell.
He picks on Frey.
No pet is safe
In his domain.

He shreds the TP
On the roll.
He wants more kibbles
In his bowl.

He's rude, vindictive,
Often cranky.
My daughter even says
He's stanky.

With all of that
You'll wonder why
Ben's the apple
Of my eye.

He broke his tail
When just a tyke.
Touch him wrong,
He'll howl and swipe.

He'll prance and gnaw
With string unfurled,
The biggest kitten
In the world.

A can of tuna
And he's set.
Breast of chicken
Better yet.

He's been with me
Through thick and thin.
I click my tongue
To summon him.

He lays on me,
This sack of fur.
He has the very
Loudest purr.

At end of day
I feel at peace
With Ben stretched out
Right next to me.

"Orange behemoth?"
"Worthless lout?"
He's "Uncle Boo-boo"
In my book.

I have a cat,
His name is Ben.
But more than that,
He is a friend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Right Foot

Peripheral neuropathy. Sound impressive? Not if you're living with it.

First, a quick anatomy lesson, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:
Your nervous system is divided into two broad categories. Your central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord. All the other nerves in your body are part of your peripheral nervous system.
Now the Clinic's definition:
Peripheral neuropathy, in its most common form, causes pain and numbness in your hands and feet. The pain typically is described as tingling or burning, while the loss of sensation often is compared to the feeling of wearing a thin stocking or glove.
The condition "can result from such problems as traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems and exposure to toxins." What they don't tell you is that "traumatic injuries" can include the surgery a doctor performs in order to correct another condition (in my case, a broken right ankle requiring pins and screws... or "hardware" in medical parlance).

I know several people who've had lower back surgery, then suffered through a bout of peripheral neuropathy (a.k.a. nerve damage). They tell about numb or tingling toes, a feeling of heaviness in their feet "like wearing Frankenstein shoes."

The quandary, the worry, is in how long it takes for the condition to subside. Go ahead, ask your surgeon or physical therapist "When does this wear off? When will it improve?" You're likely to get an unnervingly vague and noncommittal response: "Depends. Few weeks. Several months. Up to a year." Because, to be fair, they don't want to cultivate false hopes about a quick recovery. Because it depends.

Look at it this way -- it's a trade-off. You're spared one, permanently disabling condition for another (cross your fingers) temporary one. And it's better than leaving the original ailment or injury unchecked and being wracked with interminable, excruciating, incapacitating pain.

Consider the discomfort and numbness the "cost of repair" -- part of the recovery process, the post-surgical malaise. An annoying, transient (if you're lucky) after-effect that they conveniently failed to mention before you went under the knife.

Note: You can visit the Neuropathy Association's website for information, resources, and support.

Bus Fare

When I'm downtown with my daughter and we see a homeless person, she always wants to give the person money. I'm more reluctant (jaded urbanite that I am).

Hesitant, skeptical, I tend to assume the person will misuse the money. That my contribution will be self-defeating -- merely contribute to the person indulging in his/her vice, the vice that keeps him/her on the street.

The other day, I went to the grocery store (huge store, aisle after aisle overflowing with food). A young, homeless man was sitting, back against the wall, by the front door. As a woman passed, the man asked if she could spare some change. "I'm trying to buy a bus pass." He could've been a ghost -- insubstantial, invisible. The woman kept walking.

As I neared, the man glanced at me. "Can you...?" and stopped, realizing I'd already heard his pitch. I kept walking.

I got my groceries. Left the store. Saw the man still sitting there. Put my groceries in the car. Stopped.


Pulled a couple dollars out of my wallet. Walked back across the lot.

Handed the man the money, telling him "I'm out of work, too."

"Thanks," he said. "This'll help."

As I returned to my car, I felt better. It wasn't just an indulgent, back-patting high (self-flattering kudos for "helping a homeless guy"). It was the glow of knowing -- I did something decent.

Sure, soon as I drove away, the man could've gone into the store, bought himself a fifth. That's the caustic, cynical view. The reality is, in tough times like these, more and more folks are being put out on the street. And for people without a home, a bus pass means the difference between spending the night in a shelter or huddled in an alley.

In times like these -- especially in times like these -- humanity matters. Because, face it: our problems pale in comparison to others. Because, at the end of the day, the man at the grocery store, the woman under the El: what are they? Vagrants? Bums? Panhandlers? No. They're people.

As a great thinker once said: "By giving value to others, I give value to myself." It wasn't the thinker who taught me that. It was my daughter.

A(nother) Blog Is Born

We are a nation of over 20 million bloggers.
So proclaims a Wall Street Journal article from April 21, 2009. But when you talk about Internet competition, that's only part of the picture. Royal Pingdom reports that, in 2008, there were 133 million blogs worldwide. Add to that over 186 million websites and you have the clamor of 300 million "voices," all plying for a surfer's attention.

With those crushing numbers, what's the likelihood of a single, small voice being heard?

Well, dwell on that and you'll probably never create (or maintain) a blog. Best you can do is steel yourself, strap yourself to the mast, hold fast to an against-all-odds attitude. Because, as the day darkens and the waters rise, your blog won't survive unless it's buoyed by a sense of purpose. The unshakable, unwavering conviction that you have a story worth telling.

Admittedly, I'm a lot like your average blogger. As the Journal article notes:
Demographically, bloggers are extremely well educated: three out of every four are college graduates. Most are white males reporting above-average incomes.
College educated? Yep. White male? Yep.

So what sets me apart? In short, a bad year. Day after Christmas, I slipped, fell, and shattered my ankle (ah, Chicago winters). Lost my job a couple months later (large-scale layoff -- what else is new?). Couple months after that, my cat almost died (eight lives to go...).

A bad year, but in this economy, many people have it worse... much worse. I have plenty to be thankful for -- for starters, without the support of my wife and daughter, I'd be an absolute wreck. I have a home. I have my health (though that rebuilt ankle's still on the mend). I have my cat.

My problems aren't more pronounced, my perceptions more profound than anyone else's. But I have a voice. A voice that asks, "What keeps me going? What keeps anyone going?" That's the purpose of this blog. My take on the ephemera, as well as the larger issues, we all confront. Appreciating the little things. Contending with the challenges. Hardships. Victories. Epiphanies. My notes on the journey.

One day you're navigating the shoals. The next day it's smooth sailing. Every day is a step forward. (Just watch out for the ice.)