Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Living & The Dead

I am sick of and sickened by the Terri Schiavo case. Imagine your spouse, same sex or opposite, in what doctor after doctor has pronounced a persistent vegetative state. Imagine numerous brain scans showing no activity, or little activity in areas that made them who they were; the way they move, the timbre of their voice, their laugh, their smile, their opinions. Would you want to keep someone alive just to be able to say they're alive and without anything that makes them truly alive?

This isn't about judgement; i.e. I'm not suggesting we dispose of low-functioning people like they used to drown kittens in the river. I'm also not suggesting that measures shouldn't be taken to save someone's life. I'm suggesting that when life is no longer life as we know it, then we should consider very strongly the possibility that life should end. I have a friend who is a neonatal nurse who has witnessed babies born missing half a brain, all of their limbs, one eye, one kidney, children who wouldn't live for another 24 hours whose birth was only miraculous. Do we ask doctors to go to extraodinary lengths to save these children who will never experience life as we define life? Is it right to keep alive via electric stimulation a baby who won't live to see childhood just so we can say we did the right thing? When is the right thing not really the right thing?

I realize this is a sticky wicket. I am a Christian and I believe that God creates life and God ends life in His/Her time. I also believe, very strongly, that God lets us know when something should happen. That voice that says turn right instead of left. The third bout of bronchitis and you're still smoking. Those are signs that a change needs to happen. Terri Schiavo's brain scans show massive damage in areas of her brain that control speech, movement, thought, and the ability to feed oneself. Lesser damage, but damage nonetheless, has affected brain areas that control breathing. Are these not signs that after 15 years of no progress, that there is nothing more than a heart beating in a shell? What kind of life can one experience if the only response is to painful stimuli?

I feel for her parents. Western society never talks about the parent's experience on a child's wedding day. Even when you like the man or woman they end up with, you've spent more than 20 years molding and shaping them, wanting them to live the life you did, wanting them to be little versions of you, or better. You have to let go, and you don't really want to. And then what happens if you don't like your child's spouse, and a situation arises where you have to entrust your child's life to someone you don't care for, for whatever the reasons. But you still have to let go. Traditional societies in Africa feature final rites of passage from boy to man upon leaving their parents' hut and moving into their own. Western society hasn't mastered this. We must learn how and when to let go.

I've seen parents of gay men come in and totally shut out the longtime partner of their son who succumbed to AIDS, seizing assets, personal belongings, mementos of their relationship. I've seen funerals turn into virulent anti-gay, anti-AIDS crusades. I've seen swishy-in-life men turned uber-masculine in death; the bright colors and flowing fabrics that once adorned replaced by a somber gray suit for burial. I've read obituaries that never mentioned a 20-year partner, or worse, described him as a "friend" or "roommate." Just last year, I went to a funeral for a lesbian whose partner sat not with the grieving family, but several rows behind. All this cruelty in the name of God's will.

And so, Bob and Mary Schindler, desperately trying to assure themselves that they are doing God's will, are fighting desperately to keep her alive, even alleging that Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, abused her. Where are the police reports? The medical reports indicating abuse? Even if Michael did abuse his wife, how does that explain away the eating disorder that caused a heart attack in a 20-something-year-old woman? Supposedly (just because I haven't seen the reports), Terri had healed fractures. Doesn't malnourishment cause brittle bones which would break easily? Wouldn't a loss of muscle mass, caused by excessive weight loss and improper nutrition affect bone density? Or even compromise the body's ability to protect the bones from breaking?

Jack Aiello, a Rutgers University psychology professor said it best: "The more strongly one side's beliefs are held, the more likely it is to perceive the other side as an exaggeration of all that is wrong." In other words, if you say it loudly enough, people will eventually think you're right. But this case, reaching the White House, for pete's sake, is an all-too-clear example said all too well in a James Brown lyric: talkin' loud and sayin' nothin'. This case should never have reached Florida governor Jeb Bush's desk, nor should it have gone all the way to the White House. Thankfully, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

I am sorry that Terri has to experience the effects of the removal of her feeding tube. I am sorry that her parents will choose to witness her demise, and I'm sorry that Michael has become the devil incarnate, depending on who you ask. But, I'm most sorry that people ignored the signs that God sent that it's time to let Terri go.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Food, Glorious Food

Another birthday has come, and the celebration has ended. I'm 39, the last year of the "last of the fun" decade. 40 is supposed to be the "wisdom" decade, although I think I've learned quite a bit in the last few years alone. Good heavens -- what's next?

I have figured out there are 5 subjects that I can go on endlessly about: sexuality & relationships, religion & spirituality, politics & public policy, race & ethnicity, and food. Yes, food.

I've been fat for most of my life. I've lost a lot of weight, though not as much as I would like, and I've managed to keep most of it off, with fluctuations on either side of 5 pounds. I can now run a 13-minute mile. And, I no longer care about dieting.

I simply refuse to fight with it anymore. I don't give a rat's ass about counting calories, fat, sugars, or carbs. I've always eaten what I've wanted and have learned to not eat anything not worth eating. Twinkies, Devil Dogs and anything with a whipped creme (as opposed to whipped cream) filling are vile. Dubious sauces are gross. Food that has a color not found in nature isn't worth the trouble. And fried food that becomes leaden once cold is out of the question. I'm tired of reading article after article on how Americans should eat, and how they aren't eating. Yes, I did support "Why French Women Don't Get Fat" because the main tenets are simple and make sense: don't eat a lot, enjoy what you do eat, and don't take it all so seriously. I'm just tired of reading labels and having internal dialogue about what's heading for my mouth.

The government has revised dietary guidelines (these are the same people that thought hydrogenated fats were good for you, mind you) to suggest increasing fruit and vegetable servings, as well as dietary fiber. Okay, that's reasonable. Most mass-market fruit is twice the size of regular fruit (buy an apple at a greenmarket and compare it with an apple from a supermarket), so you've got 2 servings there. Add a salad on to dinner with a serving of vegetables, and you've made an increase. Eat a whole-wheat English muffin instead of a white one. Cheerios instead of corn flakes. Seems reasonable enough. However, what they don't tell you is what happens as a result. I'm constantly apologizing to my poor wife because I've got as much gas as a Macy's balloon. I won't share what elimination is like -- let's just say I've never been more regular in my life, emphasis on more. And, how the hell am I supposed to get really good fruit in the middle of winter? You shouldn't have too much dried fruit because it's high in sugar. And, fruit juice, even 100% orange juice, is high in calories if you drink too much.

I just want to be a happy fat chick. I want to eat and not think about how fast this potato wedge will go to my hips. I don't care if the fat-free glaze on my low-fat orange scone is a fast-acting carb that I'll need to spend 10 minutes on the bike in penance for. I'm no longer interested in asking myself if I should be eating at 10:45 because I had breakfast at 7:30. I went to the freakin' gym at 6am, I was home by 7:15, I ate, I had coffee at my desk at 9:45 and I was hungry at 10. Leave me alone, dammit, I'm hungry.


However, I did finally see "Supersize Me." Whoa. Anyone with a clue knows that fast food eaten regularly is bad for you. Anyone who has heard the media hype about the documentary knows the filmmaker put his health in jeopardy thanks to his McShenanigans. And anyone who struggles with their weight knows first hand the power of sugar, fat, and salt. Morgan Spurlock's film was eye-opening, but not news. It will be at least a few months before I can eat at McDonald's again, but that's okay. I'd rather spend my calories on really good stuff.

So, I'm going to close this ramble with fantasies of my favorite consumables, in no particular order.

1. A really good diner cheeseburger -- my 2 favorites are from Manatus in the West Village, and the New Purity Diner in Park Slope
2. Tie for fries -- the chips from Chip Shop in Park Slope, Belgian frites with sweet chili sauce or the frites from F&B in Chelsea with the garlic mayo. Ohhh...
3. Cod & chips at Chip Shop. I draw the line at the fried Twinkie, Snickers, Mars, or other psychotic batter-dipped freakshow.
4. Chateaubriand (essentially grilled steak, served medium rare with bearnaise sauce, a mayo made with butter instead of oil) washed down with a house red in the restaurant across from the other medieval church in Paris (not Sacre-Coeur or Notre Dame) Jesus, Mary & Joseph...
5. Tie for brownies -- the Moosewood Cookbook and How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. You HAVE to use really good chocolate for these -- we like Scharffen Berger in my house
6. Jacques Torres' chocolates, especially Love Potion #9 and Wicked (spices and chilis). He's also a nice guy and a runner.
7. Veuve Cliquot Champagne -- everything else is secondary.
8. The foie gras as served at Taillevent in Paris. Perfectly tempered, just the right amount, served with a sheet of jellied jus across the top, a crostini with fig jam (and I don't particularly care for figs), and a glass of gewurtztraminer or Sauternes. Sex on a plate. I haven't enjoyed foie gras like it since, and believe me, while in Paris, I ate it every chance I could.
9. Cheese from Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut, especially the Brigid's Abbey, Myfanwy, and Dutch Farmstead
10. My own roast chicken, marinated London broil, and seafood stew.

Excuse me while I wipe away the drool.