Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why Burger King's Healthy "Satisfries" Will Fail

Burger King announced they're going after "lapsed" customers who eschew their fat-infused French Fries by offering a new lower-fat, lower-calorie option made with a special new batter thick enough to repel cooking oil. Nice try, but it'll fail.

The new spuds are crinkle-cut, so staff won't confuse them with the sleek regular fries they still offer. Their name, "Satisfries," while  planting a positive association, is too cutesy; NPR repeatedly called them "Satisfies," missing the pun entirely.

BK's company website says they've got 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories than MacDonald's French fries, though only 20% less fat that the regular Burger King offering. A small serving of the slimmer fries is 270 calories, while the same size of their regular recipe is 340, a saving of 70 calories, but at a cost of an additional 30 cents.

I keep kosher, so I won't do a taste test to proclaim whether the less oily style trumps or slumps compared to the classic. But even if they taste the same, as claimed by the company, it won't matter. They're sure to bomb. Here's why:

If you're happy with the fries you usually get (customers of McDonald's love their greasy, thin fries; Burger King loyalists opt for thicker sticks), you might, under burden of conscience, try a healthier alternative. But not if you have to pay thirty cents more to do it.

How do I know Satisfries won't succeed? By observing the reception of mandates designed to improve school kids' diets. Michelle Obama spearheaded as part of her anti-childhood obesity program "Let's Move!" new standards for federally-subsidized school lunches. Turns out schools are dropping out from the program because kids won't eat the healthier offerings. One New York City student, Zachary Maxwell, 11, went "undercover" taking videos of each day's lunch tray, compiling them in a 20-minute class project he called "Yuck!" that has so far won six recognitions. "What would you rather eat?" he asks. "Five fresh Delicious apples, or a yummy crispy chicken sandwich?" He's quickly answered by a visual of the sandwich. "Exactly," he nods definitively.

Zach's secret films reveal day after day of day of brownish gray, tough-to-identify options (whole grain stuff tends to be monochrome) with a pile of cut fresh celery or carrots or an apple. Some school districts are finding that it's too expensive to buy all these veggies and fruits only to watch them spurned by kids who'd rather spend the afternoon hungry, or who sample the tastier components and dump the expensive stuff into the trash. By the way, our federal Department of Agriculture pays schools $2.93 for each of those trays, for kids who qualify for free lunches.

So far only 5% of participating schools have or are considering dropping out of the federal program--but it only started this year. Just wait until schools start tallying the waste and noticing dwindling desire for their fare.

Nutrition pundits love to blame "fast food" for the increase in American obesity that started in 1980 and continued until leveling off in 2000. But Burger King and its ilk serve up what people like, at a cost consumers are willing to pay. They're not nefarious, profit-greedy conspiracies who knowingly sacrifice the health of their market for extra coins, despite Michael Moss's accusations in Salt, Sugar, Fat. He told "CBS This Morning" that BK's new fries "might give people permission to overeat."

While availability matters, in our bounteously blessed nation, the real determinant of what people eat is what people themselves put in their mouths.

Are Burger King's Satisfries more an effort to quell the food-police (who, I'd guess, seldom eat in their establishments) than the result of consumer-driven demand?  Authorities brainwash the public to feel guilty about eating what they really like, basically teaching us not to listen to our bodies because erudite-types know best. Rather than swallowing the advice whole, frugal and determined customers will politely laud the new choice, and then  save money--ordering exactly what they want.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

There's No Such Thing as a "Good Divorce"

The cover story in our local Seattle Times Sunday magazine a few weeks ago was headlined "The Good Divorce." I was pretty incredulous after reading the story about this family who now can sit around calmly with his re-marriage, her-remarriage, their kids and his new baby. Now they're just peachy, and experts agree. But my reaction to the article was mild compared to several friends'.

A 40-year-old never-married woman shook the magazine in my face, shrieking, "I am so mad about this story!" A 60-something friend whose husband unexpectedly left one night kept muttering, "No. There's no such thing as a good divorce."

Constance Ahrons, who coined the phrase “good divorce,” thinks split families should be called “binuclear” and meld seamlessly, sans stigma, into our social fabric. The message seems simple: With the right attitude, divorce can relatively soon lead to a pleasant mélange of happily combined relatives.  But that wasn’t what I saw in my years counseling divorcing couples, and after writing The Case Against Divorce.

Yet a year post-divorce, most claim they’re stronger, better, wiser, and smarter, spurred by the split to growth and new directions.  So why not “good divorce”?

Heartache, pulling away, financial loss and time detangling inevitably bring irreparable setback.  Lots of spouses simply get dumped, with no recourse; 80% of US divorces “are unilateral, rather than truly mutual decisions,” notes researcher Maggie Gallagher. Still, healthy people wade through the hurt and make the best of the situation.

That doesn’t ameliorate the damage done. Divorce necessitates selfishness, hardening  one’s character. Children never have a say in their parents’ parting, becoming collateral damage dismissed with the dubious phrase, “kids are resilient.”  Judith Wallerstein, whose landmark 25-year study of divorced families convinced her of its ongoing harm, found that “by necessity, many of these so-called resilient children forfeited their own childhoods as they took responsibility for themselves, their troubled, overworked parents; and their siblings.” Trauma peaks in adulthood, she cautions, retarding love, sexual intimacy and commitment. Though some kids see why their parents split, all of them wish Mom and Dad could once again love each other and stay together.

Divorce mars the lives of loving in-laws, and unsettles otherwise content bystanders; it unsteadies society, de-stabilizes neighborhoods, and brings awkwardness and discomfort in social encounters.

Sure, they’ll survive, but everyone affected would rather dodge the agony.

 A “culture of divorce” grew as new technologies gave us feel-good instant gratification, demoting the virtues of duty and obligation. Americans’ attention span shrank from reading tomes to watching TV shows to three-minute YouTube videos—and now to 10 seconds of disappearing SnapChat.

 Our notion of commitment  became shorter, too. Marriage pledges are now really “hopes,” easily revised by a Facebook status change. The New York Times’ “Vows” page recently began a new column called “Unhitched,” each week highlighting one couple’s estrangement and divorce.

 Stripped of connection to gender or paternity, marriage becomes optional. Latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control reveal that 48% of women cohabited with a partner as a first union; the overall out-of-wedlock birth rate topped 40% in 2011. With men’s age at first marriage up to 27, and divorce devoid of stigma, we now joke that the only people enthusiastic about legalizing their relationships are homosexuals and priests.

Years ago, tempted cartoon characters paused to consider the coaxing of an angel perched on their right shoulder and a devil on their left. The conscience angel urged "Do your duty!  Do what is moral and right! Defer gratification; you know what you ought to do" and the self-centric devil whispered "Do what feels good! Follow your heart! Get what you want, right now!"

 Granted, not all marriages can survive, like the hopeless cases where an abusive or addicted spouse won't get help, or when one partner decamps. Ongoing cruelty, anger or restriction can force their target out. To overcome problems, both partners must want to stay married, and see some potential for good; the hitch is that our non-judgmental culture greases their paths out the door.

 I learned two lessons counseling countless divorcing couples. First, a rejected mate usually requires at least half as long as the marriage to recover. Second, recovery occurs not when a spouse “feels good" about the former mate, but when she’s indifferent—a difficult goal if you’re entwined with new partners, shared children and ongoing “good divorce” accoutrements.

 Our accept-it-all milieu grants so much leeway for individual happiness that relationships have no backbone with which to stand. Friends think they’re helping by standing back when they fall. Religious and social communities refuse to shame jerks who behave badly. The little devil perched on society's slumping shoulder gloats, “You can have a good divorce! Do what you want, and do it now!” That angel guy’s so old-school he can’t even text his apologies to the kids.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What We Learn From the Convergence of 9-11, the Syria Decision, and the Jewish Days of Repentance

My photo at Seattle's Safeco Field taken 9-11-05
It's a Jewish principle that when things come in threes, they're symbols for past, present and future.

Today is the convergence of three emotionally-charged events, and the "principle of threes" seems to hold.

With the twelfth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and United Flight 93, we recall the shock of our vulnerability, and continue to mourn the horrendous losses perpetrated by al-Qaeda suicide bombers. This is our reminder of the past, even as it influences our lives daily via ongoing security precautions and suspicion.

In the present, politicians and pundits mull the best response to Syria's use of poison gas on its populace. Secretary of State John Kerry says he'll meet with Russia to work out an agreement in which Syria would surrender its gas stores. This after his urging a "limited air strike" that Pres. Obama pushed as recently as last night: "The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use," the President broadcast.

Pres. Obama justifying 'limited air strike' on Syria, 9-10-13
Meanwhile, both Republicans and Democrats remain divided on whether an expensive gesture so long after Assad's Aug. 21 chemical attack would accomplish anything other than repeat the displeasure Pres. Obama has already expressed. However, now that Russia has Syria's acquiescence on the possibility of relinquishing its chemical weapons, the President's argument for his "limited air strike" seems wimpy and even irrelevant.

The present includes tension and potential for frightening--or peaceful--consequences.

The third simultaneous occurrence is the Jewish "Ten Days of Repentance," in which we search our souls, redress our wrongs and beg God and those we harmed for forgiveness. We hold that certain times of year are imbued with spiritual characteristics, and these days just before Yom Kippur, the most fateful in our calendar, brim with intensity, not only because of our personal evaluation and correction, but because our sincerity and effort will determine events in the coming year. In other words, our contrition and resolve to do better now will influence what happens to us in the coming months: the future.

Today is an opportunity to mourn and learn from 9-11; to discern carefully and ask for guidance as law-makers make the decision about Syria; and to right our personal courses in anticipation and preparation for consequences in the future.

Here in the Northwest, summer's heat lingers, even as the leaves on maples burnish. The beauty of God's physical world is vibrant and apparent. His influence on non-material events is easy to dismiss, but just as pertinent. Perhaps some sensitivity to the confluence of the physical and the spiritual can improve the chances that these three coalesce for the best.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What the Jewish New Year says about the Cheneys' Disagreement on Gay Marriage

Tonight Jews around the world welcome in the year 5774, using a lunar calendar, counted from the time Adam spoke. Language is the defining characteristic of humans; though physical evolution is compatible with Judaism, the underlying concept of undirected randomness leading to our complex creation is not.

Liz Cheney, candidate; Mary Cheney, pro-gay marriage
So on the eve of our celebration, Rosh Hashana, while I should be busily baking round challah breads, I find myself distracted by a news item over language, a disagreement between the two daughters of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Liz Cheney is a candidate for the Senate from Wyoming, and does not support (nor oppose, actually) legal gay marriage, saying voters in each state should decide. Her openly-gay sister Mary said Liz is "dead wrong," and that re-defining marriage "is not something that should be decided by a show of hands."

No, Leonardo, you're not King of the World.
On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, we reaffirm that God is the King of the World, the movie Titanic aside. Kingship is a major theme, and our willingness to be His subjects is repeated throughout our two-day celebration.

Of course, since language is the basis of our humanity, and the bible the basis of Jews' link to God, its language, the words in the bible, are extremely significant. In fact, when we celebrate the next major Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, probably the most-highlighted errors for which we apologize involve the words we've said.

Redefining marriage from its thousands-of-years, cross-cultural purpose of permanently linking man and woman (granted, in some cultures one man and several women) certainly isn't something done with a show of hands. It's something not done at all, if the bible continues to be the source of one's beliefs.

Here in America, of course, a "show of hands" by marking ballots is how we decide our leaders. It's how we resolve issues, and often how we impose taxes. A "show of hands" reminds us that accomplishment is by those who show up, and who make a difference using their hands.

Marriage in our secular society has always been our foundational institution because of its beneficial function: the binding of male and female gives offspring their best chance of health and success, and offers a format for harmonizing feminine and masculine differences. Also, because our founders were guided by the bible.

The important change that Mary Cheney demands and Liz Cheney steps back from is government's endorsement of a redefinition of the institution. Without laws transforming marriage from "one man, one woman" to "any two adults," gay marriage advocates remain dissatisfied.

That brings us back to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, when we affirm the One whose words we obey. It's no coincidence that kingship is the concept with which we enter the year. Without designating who is the authority, there's chaos, each person with equal claim to follow his inclinations. In America, our legislators gain their authority via election by a "show of hands," assigned to represent their constituents by making laws to their benefit.

Jews on Rosh Hashana every year choose the authority God, and accept His laws, because we believe the King knows what He's doing. The language in His lawbook is unequivocal that marriage unites man and woman. It's not approving of male homosexuality.

To some, that's homophobic and antiquated. They can't believe that a loving God would create people whose aversion to the opposite sex is sin. Certainly each individual's religious beliefs must be respected. But on Rosh Hashana, we affirm the Source of our beliefs, and accept there's a wider view, beyond what we can fathom, that they express.

Happy New Year to all my Jewish friends. May 5774 be a year of health, accomplishment and love for you and your families. May we all use language to uplift and inspire, carefully, remembering its role in elevating humanity and its potential to do the opposite.

On Rosh Hashana, it's traditional to shape challah in a circle, representing the circular nature of the year. Between now and the conclusion of the major Jewish holidays, culminating with Sukkot, we dip slices in honey, representing our hope for a "sweet year."

Jews wish our friends "L'Shana tovah u'metuka!" (May you have a good and sweet year!)
And that is what I wish for you. Here's my challah recipe (back by popular demand), but instead of braids, shape rounds.

Diane Medved's Challah

2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
2 cups warm water
8 1/2 cups King Arthur bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2/3 to 3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 beaten egg, room temperature, for glaze

Sprinkle yeast on warm water in measuring cup; set aside for about 10 minutes. In large food processor with dough blade, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add oil and eggs but don't mix. Return to yeast/water and gently make sure all yeast is combined in water and starting to bubble. Flash blend while slowly adding yeast mixture, then process until dough moves in one clump around processor bowl. Remove the clump to a trash bag-sized plastic bag; knead a little and then seal the bag with a twist-tie, leaving room for dough to expand. Place in a warm place several hours until risen. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Punch down and divide dough into four large pieces. Divide one of the large pieces into three strands and braid onto the baking sheet; repeat so there are two long loaves per baking sheet. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush beaten egg on loaves and bake for 16 minutes, til golden. Say a blessing, and enjoy.