Sunday, February 25, 2007

Peace prevails when food suffices

AGAIN (with the obligatory “Iron Chef” drumroll) I’d like to evoke my “patron saint of chow,” the honorable, incomparable inventor of ramen noodles... Momofuku Ando. “PEACE PREVAILS WHEN FOOD SUFFICES!” (More drumroll, please... Kampai!)
Indeed, there is no argument, no fight whatsover—when there’s enough food on the table. Everybody shares the blessing, no excuses. I deeply, sincerely believe that when humanity enjoys a nutritious, sumptuous meal, there should be no other unnecessary distraction – let ‘em eat! In the same way that Adolf Hitler’s Waffen-SS Troops (sorry, sorry for the bizarre comparison) respect enemies on a sexual tryst—by not engaging them in combat or shooting them to death until they’re “done”—I also respect those who’re on euphoric state of throwing down at the moment... I don’t mess with them (until they’ve heartily burped and all done). I repeat, let ‘em eat!
When I was kid, my Dad always castigated us – nine kids in the family – whenever we talked or engaged in even itsy-bitsy conversation while at the dining table. He would grumble, “In case you don’t have anything important to say, don’t say them when you’re in fr0nt of your meal! Respect God’s grace.”
I remembered those words so clearly—especially after I read this “weird” news from Rhode Island... The Catholic St Rose of Lima School in RI has recently banned students from talking during lunch after three recent incidents of choking in the cafeteria. They choked while they’re eating—because of that, the school banned kids from talking while having lunch! Uhhh, isn’t that stretching it too far? What are these kids eating anyway? I bet, not Nathan’s hotdogs—otherwise, the school will have to solicit some advice from undisputed hotdog-eating champ, Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi (another Japanese like Ando San). This average-built dude could easily gobble up three dozens of hotdogs without choking at all—smooth dude!
That’s something serious that we have to think about... How come Mr Kobayashi manage to keep a “slim” physique despite being one of the world’s most voracious eaters of junk food? We certainly don’t see a lot of these occurrences, do we?
During the past 20 years, obesity among adults has risen significantly in the US, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Thirty percent of US adults 20 years of age and older—over 60 million people—are obese. This increase is not limited to adults. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Among children and teens aged 6–19 years, 16 percent (over 9 million young people) are considered overweight.
For a time, some states tried to implement certain programs to abet obesity. I believe both North and South Carolina still offer tax exemptions to health-related activities, like gym visitations and Weightwatchers class attendance. Arkansas schools send home obesity report cards to warn parents of overweight kids’ health risks (although that may change because Little Rock is now opposing it).

Something about America that still fascinates or perplexes me is – while more and more people are sinking into a deep well of funk and blues (so many reasons to get depressed really) – the number of obesity also steadily rose to unprecedented heights! My understanding, before I decided to live in the US, was that—sadness, misery and loneliness make people’s appetite for food shot or low. I still feel that way, mind you – when I am pissed or upset, it’s hard for me to enjoy my ramens. It’s also economic – in poorer countries where poverty means grave shortage of food at the table, human beings just swallow their saliva for dinner or they drink more tap water to fill intestines up.
“So that you will get full fast, drink more water!” I always heard that ruthless admonition by parents to their kids in impoverished shanties in Philippine barrios.
But, it’s different here... Last year, one of my Candler homeys, Gwennie Twinkie, got really saddened and disheartened that Katharine McPhee lost out to Taylor Hicks in the last “American Idol” finals that she spent an entire month eating all that she could find in her fridge and pantry. As she ranted and raved and cussed and cursed—afront the boob tube, on her pitiful couch—her gargantuan mouth devoured tons and liters of krispy kremes, marshmallow peeps, mickey dees, little ceasar’s, wonka zoids, cokes, Einstein bros bagels, KFCs, booster juice, haagen-dazs, fast franks, wingstop wings etc etc etc. So, what do you expect—she shot up to 250 from 190 in just four weeks!
Meantime, my cousin Brigham The Gum who visited his in-laws in Sylva recently – and got caught up with the snowstorm scare – spent almost $300 on foodstuff to stock up in case Armageddon happens in the Appalachians. But it didn’t happen... So he and his wife, Laura The Fauna (she looks like Tinkerbell on dreadlocks) got really sad upon realizing that they just “threw away” all this money. So to appease their sorrow, they gobbled up all the food and soda (Banquet frozen chicken, Laura Lynn sweet corn, Sanderson Farms canned ham, bags and bags of Dorritos, Pepsi, 12 kinds of TV dinners, loaves of bread of all shapes, Oreos and Chips Ahoys, Reese bars, M&Ms etc etc). It’s good that they didn’t chow down pounds and pounds of Bounty toilet papers that they bought—although their dog Zsa Zsa swallowed a box of cherry-flavored condoms. Oh, man!
I mean, seriously... when are we going to learn—and do something about our eating habits? I mean, I don’t mean – don’t eat – otherwise, you’ll turn into a Nicole Richie. Just take it easy...
These increasing rates of obesity in the US of A raise concern because of their implications to our health. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including hypertension, dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides), type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).
Although one of the US government’s national health objectives for the year 2010 is to reduce the prevalence of obesity among adults to less than 15 percent, current data indicate that the situation is worsening rather than improving.
But are we listening at all?
Well, you see, I know that many people have reminded or cautioned me a lot about my ramen noodles diet. But, what should I eat? Wendy’s $2.99 burger or baked taters? I mean, the late Mr Ando has said and proven that eating is good, per se—and even though a Cup-a-Noodle could only churn out an iota of nutrient, what the hell? Right? I mean, the Japanese are still the world’s healthiest human beings. There are an approximately 28,000 citizens in Japan who are 100 years or older—up from 1,000 in the early 1980s. And the world’s oldest living person, Yone Minagawa, is 114—a Japanese woman!

I figure, one of the culprits of unhealthiness (or obesity) in most people these days is the over-availability of food choices flashed in front of our gluttonous faces, day in and day out. Food, food, food – more food, more and more food.
In most countries, you don’t have much of a choice. When you say, “sandwich” – that’s usually chicken, ham, egg, cheese... and they’re all prepared, ready-to-go. During my cousin Brigham The Gum’s first day in America, he got really nervous and stressed out—because he found it such an ordeal to buy sandwiches in fastfood stores. One time he strode in a Subway store...
The “sandwich specialist” behind the counter glared at him like an irritated Charles Barkley: “What kind of bread? Rye, wheat, white, blue, brown, Slovak, Polish, what?” / “Jalopino? How much, this much, not much?” / “Ketchup? Spicy, hot, how hot, medium hot, super hot” / “Mustard, little bit, more, less”? / “Olives, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers”?... He didn’t know what to say, what to respond—he wasn’t prepared to be interrogated like that. He just wanted to have a Subway sandwich, for Christsakes! So instead of getting one, he simply whispered to me, “Cousin, can we just get a hotdog?”
I mean, we are so pampered in America. So pampered and so privileged that we are also allowed to do whatever with our food. Like, how about make your frankfurters taste like asparagus, fish fillets look like chicken nuggets, ice cream smell like Busch beer, mozzarella pizza bloat like magic carpet... and, donuts as caffeine-spiked breakfast chow—like Dunkin’ Donut and Starbucks coffee in one! Dr Robert Bohannon, a molecular biologist, recently unveiled the world’s first caffeinated donut. By “microencapsulating” caffeine particles inside the doughnut, Bohannon says, he’s created a “buzzed” doughnut that need not be dunked in coffee. Tada!
Meantime, some people also push humankind’s “food-fancy” to the limit by doing ridiculous spectacles out of it. Recently, high-rolling food lovers flew to Bangkok from Europe, the United States and around Asia for a swashbuckling dinner, which carried a price tag of $25,000 a head, excluding tax and gratuities. Six three-star Michelin chefs from France, Italy and Germany prepared the meal’s 10 courses, each paired with a rare fine wine. Alain Soliveres, the celebrated chef of Paris’s Taillevent restaurant, for instance, was commissioned to prepare two of his signature dishes including the opening course: a creme brulee of foie gras to be washed down with a 1990 Cristal champagne — a bubbly that sells for more than $500 a bottle, but still stands out as one of the cheapest wines on the menu.
Can you beat that? I heard that the proceeds go to charity—for hungry human beings somewhere in the planet. If that’s the objective of such magnificently lavish show of “food insanity,” well—we gotta organize more of that. Summon the Iron Chefs, pronto!

You see, food are simply overflowing in our midst that we are simply having fun modifying, reinventing, rehashing or reinventing them. This happens while more than half of the world’s population remain super-starving.
Ten years ago, the World Food Summit (WFS) in Rome promised to reduce the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. Will that ever happen, when there are more hungry people in the developing countries today – 820 million – than there were in 1996? The total number of undernourished in developing countries in 2015 was projected at 582 million. This would fall 170 million short of the WFO’s target of 412 million. Most of earth’s hungry are concentrated in South Asia and East Asia, with 203 million and 123 million respectively.
The signs and proofs are upon us like a cat’s blank stare. Not many people want to cook anymore, we all run to the nearest restaurant or burger joint. Find a town or city – big or small – in America without a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Waffle House, IHOP, Burger King, KFC, there’s none.
The latest data says that more than 47 percent of the money Americans spend on food – and astounding $476 billion – are wasted away at restaurants. Hamburgers were the most popular menu item ordered by men at restaurants last year; French fries came in second. For women, French fries ranked first, followed by burgers. Pizza ranked third for both genders.
Clearly, even in a society where people are aware of the need for healthy habits, most consumers still appear to have one major goal when they eat out: indulgence, or overindulgence that is.
And the fast-food joints can’t complain either. Burger King’s breakfast sales jumped 20 percent thanks to its introduction of the Enormous Omelet Sandwich — despite its 730 calories and 47 grams of fat. The new triple-cheese Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza at Pizza Hut was such a success that it took in 20 percent of the chain’s business within four days of its debut. KFC is testing plans to bring back the Kentucky Fried Chicken name (a.k.a. fried foods), along with new menu items linked to its Southern roots.
But then, let’s ditch all these horrendous facts and figures, okay? Food isn’t bad at all... Peace prevails when food suffices. In the Philippines, we eat three meals a day, excluding meriendas at 10am and 4pm, and if you’re awake at midnight—just cook, eat more. Eating is a religious ritual—a devotion, a way of life. We love eating, I love eating, it’s great to eat. If we don’t eat, we die—period.
You see, I am almost sure, 114-year-old Grandma Minagawa – plus 28,000 more Japanese – know how to eat and still be healthy and live past 100. I mean, even my ramen noodle homey, Mr Ando died at age 95. I would love to live till 90, at least – well, unless I spike my Cup-a-Noodle with a Maker’s Mark or a Jose Cuervo. Of course, I will not do that, are you crazy?
Meantime, love good, live good—and eat good food!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous (or, money-money-money)

“Just walk, don’t ever glance at your left as you cross streets!” My dadaistic roomie of long-ago, Minnie The Ripper, glumly reminded me as I stepped out of the loft to hang out down East Village on a hot spring afternoon in New York City. “When a freakin’ car hit `ya, let ‘em hit, OK? I tell `ya, baby—just like that, get hit by some rich and famous SOB, you’re fine,” she flicked two fingers, like a magician’s castanets, spewing a dope dealer’s gunslinger zeal. “Just like that, baby!” Of course, you know what Minnie The Rip meant, right? You see, it was really difficult not to take the feisty young lady seriously. She seemed unavoidably dead-serious as Rosie O’Donnell after a parking lot brawl, y’know what I mean? You just gotta take ladies of that kind seriously, or else... “And, by the way, go Central Park West,” she added, spitting her Nuyorican twang out like three-day-old gum, “One bump equals three grand, broken neck is, uhh, twelve-grand minimum as long as you get a darn good attorney... Just don’t get killed, man. Be careful not to get hit too bad. No mo’ good s—t in heaven, my man!”
Believe it or not, Minnie The Rip’s Brazilian bro-in-law Paulinho de Souza – in cahoots with a Joe Pantoliano-looking lawyer in Corona, Queens – managed to rack up almost half a million in settlement dough after a series of freak (albeit, scripted) accidents in 1999. Paulinho didn’t care whether he broke this ankle, that jaw, both knees, lost a leg – or whatever – as long as he gets mucho dollares, on a snap of a, well, limb crashing-on-concrete. The color of money, I guess, heals all physiological wounds, whatsoever...
When desperation sets in, crazy shit inhabits one’s brain faculties... You see, there were times when I felt like standing four hours straight a-front Battery Park’s huge condo – waiting for a Weinstein piano to fly out of the penthouse window onto my poor, pitiful head – from an irate wealthy tenant up there. (You know by now that they get pretty pissed with some “voodoo” drumming down Pritchard Park, right?) Then, I’ll sue, then I’ll settle – I am sure, I’ll be able to raise more easy dollars to publish more cheapie newsprint magazines that way? I mean, Paulinho got a cold $5,000 cash after a high roller dude, a scion of a Jewish grocery chain clan in Bayside LI, broke his ribs at a Ceasar’s Palace bar in Atlantic City one July midnight. Just like that! (Don’t ask me how Paulinho pissed the dude off though...)
OK, forget about scums like Paulinho. And, okay, I’m just kidding about doing a vigil-for-an-induced-accident-for-settlement in downtown Asheville... I’m not that Desperate desperate.
Alright now—I don’t intend to consume my two pages this time out talking about the above subject. I didn’t plan to talk about Paulinho de Souza or Minnie The Ripper – although Minnie has already reformed her hustler-ways... she now works a legit job at an uptown Slovak delicatessen, and on weekends, at home, she diligently crafts handmade jewelry that she supplies to gypsies and bellydancers in Pittsburgh and New London CT. Instead I planned to talk/write about The Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous – but whenever thoughts of these bluebloods cross my acerbic brain cells, I can’t help think about everyday people, I mean—the honest souls kind of breed. Most often than not, these ordinary human beings get the tail end of mishaps, “accidents,” and brat-venoms inflicted by the more privileged, more endowed...
Heard about the maid who got it from “supermodel” Naomi Campbell – in the form of a cellphone running berserk onto the nanny’s face? Well, a judge ordered Ms Campbell to pay her erstwhile slave a measly $363.32! (plus two days at an anger management class).
Geez, how much do supermodels earn for few minutes to strut and heave at a sequined runway, anyway? Five figures, more? So, would $300+ and two days of lecture make them behave—and would that be enough to compensate for the maid’s bruised face and person? I don’t think so—but I’d be so willing to offer my ugly face to Ms Campbell’s cellphone for the same amount. (That’s almost an issue’s printing budget of The Indie.) At least, it’s less riskier than Paulinho’s perilous gig, right? (Or, a lot more manageable than a Weinstein piano plummeting down my skull...)

Money is simply maliciously, ferociously overflowing in America that the Rich and Famous can’t seem to figure out how to spend (or throw) them away. What more to buy, what more to spend on... I guess, unmitigated boredom and flabbergasting stupidity set in upon knowing that everything has already been “handled” by financial managers and accounts advisers. Or maybe because their wealth is so unstoppably overflowing off their diamond-studded sleeves, they actually believe that “money changes everything.” They can do anything, everything, under the blue sky—who cares whether it’s unacceptable or nauseating or revolting, or simply not good, or even illegal...
Remember those insane thousands that eccentric ex-basketball star Dennis Rodman paid the NBA in fines as a result of his on-court antics (headbutting a ref, fighting, pushing a photographer etc)? Maybe he got really sick and tired of his sick and tiring off-court stunts (cross-dressing, bar brawls, dating equally notoriously “bad” girls) that the only way to battle hubris is to stay badder and badder. The only “significant” plug, though temporary, to his badness, anyway, is monetary sanctions, plus few days at a slammer. Meantime, let the dollars do the talking.
So while fashion world and sports’ millionaires bombard our impoverished senses with magnificent tantrums that can easily be had or forgiven by an issuance of a check after the fact, Hollywood’s brat packers don’t fail to feed the tabloids for fodder for wholesale wastelessness. Britney Spears and new boyfriend Isaac Cohen recently dropped $40,000 for just one night at Palms hotel in Las Vegas. Ah, $40,000! I believe that almost 97% of my friends only earn below $20,000 (or lower) a year! Not fair!
Many years ago, I thought the rich man/poor man discrepancy was at its widest in societies like India, Nigeria, Mexico, or the Philippines. And since US of A is the bastion of equality (by way of democracy), citizens in this country somehow have more chance to be a bit at par with the rich. Can we park our 70s beat-up Sedan beside P Diddy’s Hummus at a Manhattan parking lot, or maybe position our inherited trailer home a-front a mansion up in The Cliffs, or maybe enjoy a lobster dinner beside Derek Jeter’s table at Smith & Wollensky? I am sure that in the event that a minimum wage-earning dude accidentally hits the sidemirror of Paris Hilton’s BMW, the poor dude gets aggravated assault or reckless endangerment rap. That can never be settled by Ms Campbell’s $363.32 spare change at all.
What is the use of law if the super-endowed makes fun of them? How many celebrities marry after an orgasm, divorce after a fight over who hugs the remote control, reconcile after another orgasm, divorce again following an argument over a toilet seat that wasn’t taken care of?

On another angle... Tell me honestly, are you touched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s billion-d0llar donation to funding agencies – purportedly for the poor people of the world? Big deal, isn’t it? So the richest human beings have finally agreed to share their astronomical wealth to poor, pitiful humanity?
I’m not impressed. If the world’s richest dudes could easily “share” their billions just like that... why didn’t they just raise the salaries of their employees and workers? Simple. The labor workforce – especially those toiling in sweatshops in faraway communities – should be the first batch of souls who deserve a piece of Gates/Buffett’s magnificently impossible fortune.
This moolah to nonprofit organizations is downright, straight-up PR.
Give the working class their just due, so there’ll be lesser poor on Earth. Mr Gates’ 12-month earnings is easily higher than the annual budget of a dozen or more countries in Africa, we all know that... So if he’ll just make ways to justly pay wages that assure a “decent” living in poor countries where his microchip factories abound, then—there’s not much need for grant foundations to supposedly facilitate aid assistance to the needy anymore.
Or, how about the millionaires who supposedly rendered their time and talent – through live concerts attended by thousands and thousands of taxpaying, paycheck-to-paycheck citizens – to help Hurricane Katrina victims? Who paid for the “aid” money and goods for the displaced families? The people.
The people pay/paid for the tickets, buy CDs, download songs, purchase merchandise etc so the Rich and Famous could “help” those who most need help. But PR makes us believe that the benefit money or relief help came out of these glitterdome gods/goddesses’ willing hearts and hands.
Is it so hard for them to just sign a check, like $5 million or so, the minute that they learned of the calamity, right there right at that moment? They didn’t have to go out of their mansions to be able to help, just a phone call to their assistants—that’s it!
Ah, so they performed for free for the poor – so they should be exalted as Good Souls – or is it plain and simple marketing strategy to sell you more merchandise?

The unrealism of materialism in America has grown so unfathomable and unreachable that we don’t know anymore how to deal with what we have and what we don’t have. For instance, we sometimes love our pets more than our fellow human beings – that we also seem to get confused about what’s a human being and what’s an animal.
Like this one – saddened horseracing fans, sane human beings, sent CDs, flower bouquets, and books to then ailing Barbaro, the “famous” Kentucky Derby winner to cheer her up. Makes me wonder—what’d happen when the time comes when these animals start getting pissed because of this amazing, unrealistic attention heaped on them... sometimes, I believe, they just wanna be left alone to live and enjoy their being animals, not human beings. Who “killed” Barbaro, anyway? We “love” these horses because they entertain us on the racetrack when they should be running in joyful freedom somewhere in the prairie... We love our pet dogs and cats because we fall short of tolerating our fellow human beings and, yes, these animals are such swell playthings and baubles.
A 5 foot, 100 lb pitbull in Portland, Oregon got upset with his owner that he viciously attacked the poor fellow. I guess, the solution of most people when animals act this way is to find them a shrink or maybe take them to Disneyland or buy them an iPod nano.
Oh well, of course, it’s not an “extraordinary” occurrence that a Naomi Campbell exhibits or displays real love and affection to her poodle than to her maid – I know of so many people, ordinary people, who’d rather buy their dogs and cats jewelries and NHL jerseys than share $5 to their poor relatives. I mean, I know of a dude who got jailed because it was uncovered that he was receiving food stamps and all kinds of social security benefit for his coterie of 15 dogs! But then, that’s not a far-fetched reality! A survey came out few years ago that said something like, more than 50% of Americans maintain that owning a pet is part of the US Constitution.
Now, hear this – a Dutch pet-shop owner has recently came up with Kwispelbier, a beef-flavored beer created for dogs. She figured she wanted to have drinks with her Weimaraners after a hunt, so... It cost $2.14 a bottle, by the way. Geez, that’s even a dollar more expensive than my favorite PBR! Not fair!
So expect this at a bar in a not so distant future: “Hey, Mister Doberman, show me your ID. No ID, no Kwispelbier, sorry! Want a soda, instead?”

When people have money, they just gotta spend them. Money, money, money. Some 200 fans of Michael Jackson have reportedly agreed to pay him $3,300 for an hour – to just hang out with him. I mean, if a baseball fan could easily churn out few thousands to purchase a glob of gum that Diamondbacks slugger Luis Gonzalez spat out, then what really is weird these days?
I rant and rave about the Rich and Famous who juggle their moolah like balls of fire, or voided beer cans... but then, we Ordinary People are also guilty of the same oblique extravagance, am I right? I wonder what would Naomi Campbell’s victim do with the $363.32? Ah, don’t tell me she’s so thankful now that she could pay her late Verizon cellphone bill?
Think about this – while we perpetually whine about unpaid cable TV bills and late rent, we also “threw away” close to $5 billion to watch “Spider-Man,” “Shrek,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” – and the sequels (not including DVD rental). Well, I am guilty—VERY guilty. I treat DVDs, my “other” food. Like we all gulp in gasoline like alcohol, caffeine, or sugar – I chow down movies like ramen noodles!
And, wait up—let me remind one and all. Americans spend $36,000,000 every hour of every day – at Wal-Mart. This year alone, 7.2 billion different purchasing experiences will occur at a Wal-Mart store (Earth’s population is approximately 6.5 billion).
Okay, okay. Money changes everything. So the US government is spending approximately $60 billion a year in Iraq – so that we could teach the Iraqi people how to live their own lives.
Oh man, I am so confused forever! When it comes to money, sometimes it’s easier to understand Paulinho and Minnie The Rip.