Coming soon: grass-fed fast food

Well, now. Colour me very pleasantly surprised by this wonderful bit of Carl’s Jr news .

On Dec. 17, the California-based chain will roll out the All-Natural Burger at all of its 1,150 stores, most of them on the West Coast. It contains no hormones, no antibiotics, no steroids—and it’s sourced from free-range, grass-fed cows for the affordable price of $4.69 for a single patty and $6.99 for a double. Carl’s Jr. will be the first major fast-food chain to feature a “natural” burger on its menu, according to USA Today.

CKE Restaurants, the chain’s parent company, made the decision after the burgers proved popular at a trial run in Los Angeles last summer. Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr.’s sister brand, plans to test the menu item in the Midwest market soon.

As much as foodies or animal rights advocates might like to take credit, the company says the move wasn’t at all political.

“Our objective has never been to tell people what to eat, but to serve them what they want to eat,” CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder told USA Today.

If fast-food chains start exploring options that don’t involve meat that’s jacked up with growth hormones, antibiotics and other related crud, that means there’s a growing demand for it. I applaud, verily.

I mean, yay.

h/t the inestimable Michael Pollan

Where does your fat go?

No, it doesn’t turn into muscle. It also doesn’t escape your body as heat or sweat, which is probably just as well, since converting fat into energy would, I gather, make you explode. Eeeeew.

So where does it go when you start losing it? The answer is here. Mostly it gets converted into CO2 and some water. Neat, huh? You didn’t know? That’s OK. Most people didn’t either, including an awful lot of family doctors.

This is where people think fat goes when it’s “lost”:


Wanna help? Give cash

Thank you, Slate, for a splendidly well-times piece on the extraordinarily inefficient habit of dropping a few odd cans of beans in the food-bank bin at the supermarket. Just yesterday I went to the store and the bin, which usually sits three-quarters empty, was overflowing with food. If you’re the kind of person who likes to help, especially around Christmas time, please read this:

‘Tis the season for food drives. It’s a holiday tradition as storied as Christmas trees, awkward conversations with the in-laws, and embarrassing drunken moments at the office holiday party. Your employer, your church, and your kids’ school put out the boxes and ask everyone to drop off excess canned goods for the needy. Then the boxes are collected, sorted, and handed out to the poor. Everyone feels better about themselves, the hungry get fed, and you get to free up some much needed shelf space. It’s win-win-win.

The problem is that, economically speaking, it’s totally insane.

America, after all, is not a country stricken with famine. There’s no objective shortage of food, in other words, that makes it vitally important for you to draw down the stockpile in your kitchen cabinet. Indeed, many of us don’t even have that much food socked away, which leads to us going out to buy extra food in order to give it away. But having 100 different people go out and pay retail prices for a few cans of green beans is extraordinarily inefficient relative to pooling those funds to buy the beans in bulk.

But it’s even worse than that. All across America, charitable organizations and the food industry have set up mechanisms through which emergency food providers can get their hands on surplus food for a nominal handling charge. Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food providers can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost you $2 per pound retail. You’d be doing dramatically more good, in basic dollars and cents terms, by eating that tuna yourself and forking over a check for half the price of a single can of Chicken of the Sea.

Beyond the economies of scale are the overhead costs. Charities are naturally reluctant to turn down donations for fear of alienating supporters or demoralizing well-wishers, but the reality is that dealing with sporadic surges of cans is a logistical headache. A nationwide network of food banks called Feeding America gingerly notes on its website that “a hastily organized local food drive can actually put more strain on your local food bank than you imagine.” Food dropped off by well-meaning citizens needs to be carefully inspected and sorted. A personal check, by contrast, can be used to order what’s needed without placing extra burdens on the staff.

In Ottawa, there are plenty of good organizations doing fantastic work helping those in need, such as the Ottawa Mission and Harvest House. There’s also the food bank, of course. If you want to do your part to help those in need, please forget about the can of beef-a-roni and give money instead. Your help will be a lot more helpful that way.

The high cost of cheap beef

Let’s count the number of vegetarians these satellite pictures of cattle feedlots will make, shall we? Personally, I have not let industrially-raised beef pass my lips since reading The Omnivore Dilemma, which I highly recommend. Here’s hoping you’ll do the same… For the costs of cheap beef are tremendously high, from the misery endured by the animals to the crazy use of hormones and antibiotics to the dangers faced by feedlot and slaughterhouse workers to environmental devastation and just plain old disgust at the thought of those thousands of beasts ankle deep in manure (imagine the smell, and faint). Just remember that when you buy the cheap beef, you’re using your dollars to encourage this kind of destruction. I submit to you that you should not.

Watch the clock, lose weight?

Fascinating theory:

Dieters hoping to shed the pounds should watch the clock as much as their calories after scientists discovered that limiting the hours we eat stops weight gain.

Confining meals to a 12 hour window, such as 8am to 8pm, and fasting for the remaining day, appears to make a huge difference to whether fat is stored, or burned up by the body.

Researchers at The Salk Institute in the US, said it adds more evidence to studies which show that eating late at night causes weight gain.

They suggest restricting eating hours could help fight high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

There are more details in the story, so if you’re interested about the fine print by all means go check it out. I find the concept, generally speaking, very promising. I have been very careful never to indulge late at night, except for the occasional dark chocolate, which is good for me, right? (Right?) I also delay breakfast for a while; typically I get up, have a bit of orange juice, then go run 5K, then drink lots of water and at least one cup of tea before having my protein shake, often not much before 9 (I usually get up by 6, sometimes earlier). I try to be in bed by 9 pm most nights, which means I typically get my “late-night” snack around 8 pm. (Yeah, go ahead, make fun of me… I’m OK with it. I did my partying back when I was young and crazy; now I need my sleep.)

I find that the right diet, the right amount of exercise (personally I train on average twice a day, so I’m not exactly typical, but still), lots of water, and a solid 8 hours of beauty sleep do wonders, weight-maintenance-wise. I always tell people to start with eating well (limit carbs, eat good proteins, stay off refine sugars, limit alcohol), getting enough sleep, and doing whatever exercise is practical (even if it’s just a 20-minute walk). Now maybe I’ll add this 12-hour rule thing. Not much to lose except excess flab, so why not, eh.

A great post on how to stay sane while homeschooling

My friend Véronique has a long and pretty exhaustive post on the challenges of homeschooling, here. If you are struggling with homeschooling or thinking about giving it a try but aren’t sure about your abilities to pull it off, I strongly encourage you to read it.

I would add two very important things:

1) If you’re homeschooling many people will automatically assume you’re not sane to begin with, and they do have a point, so don’t overstress yourself. You do what’s best for your family and that’s just that. You do not need to conform to other people’s expectations of what your life ought to be like. The decision to homeschool, like the decision to stop eating meat pumped with hormones, is a deliberate act of opting out of mainstream society. Don’t expect mainstream society to feel all pleased to be abandoned like that. You’re effectively thumbing your nose at it so it will often reply in kind. That’s why there’s so much hostility to homeschooling, but also real genuine bewilderment. Answer questions politely and otherwise ignore the bile.

2) Always remember this: No matter how bad you think you’re doing, the school would do worse. You are nowhere near as bad as the school system, not even on your worst days. I know, I’ve spent nearly 20 years in that system, on the receiving end of some thoroughly and consistently bad teaching. That was a while ago and I hear it’s only gotten worse in the (gasp) two decades since. So there. You don’t suck, the system does. Chill.

(One more thing: There are no homeschooling problems so big that can’t be solved by an afternoon of running around for the kids followed by dark chocolate and wine for the mom. Try it, you’ll see.)

Something to chew on: the plotless life

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and just happened upon this passage:

In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.

You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer – my answer, anyway – is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. […] my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course).

And I wonder… I wonder… Evidently it worked for him, but would that work for me? Mmmm.

Go ahead and nap. Seriously.

I love this post, about how we need to add more “white space” to our lives. I used to be always on. Always always always rushing. Always always always trying to do more. And I sure accomplished a lot. I also got four burnouts.

Now that I’m serious about having more of a normal life (I like to say I’m addicted to normal), I sleep my 8 hours, take time to read, take time to do nothing sometimes (still working on that one), take time to cook real food, and to just stop and smell the slush (roses are all dead, it’s November). Just this morning I was out running on the farm like usual but today my timing was awesome – the sun was coming out from behind the Carleton U building and hitting me square in the face, small snowflakes were dancing in the emerging sunlight, it was the prettiest light I’d seen all week. It was so pretty, in fact, that for a few moments I couldn’t feel the stiffness in my legs from the last few days’ training (I’m having a rather intense week, workout-wise).

So, anyway, yes. Sleep matters, and so does white space. Make sure to get your own.