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Pulitzer-Prize Winner, Michael Moss, On Why I Can't Eat Just One Potato Chip.

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One of the best parts of living in Brooklyn is that you can literally bump into one of your favorite Pulitzer-Prize winning writers at your local ramen shop.

Having chosen Michael Moss’ “Salt Sugar Fat” for my book club, I invited my neighbor to join us for wine and a living room chat. Michael showed in grand style, sharing his knowledge about the corporate food industry’s deliberate attempts to hook the American consumer on processed food.

As someone who studies emotional health and relationships, I often advise clients to strip processed foods from their diet. Chemicals, additives, and colorants wreak health on emotional health.

In Michael’s beautiful brownstone, we talked food and how corporations have changed the ways we eat (and not for the better):

  1. I no longer keep junk food in my house because I can eat an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting! After reading “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” I learned that my lack of self-control is not entirely my fault. Please explain how food corporations impacted the way we eat?

Well, you’re certainly not alone. In researching the book, I interviewed the former chief technical officer of the giant food manufacturer Kraft who was in charge of all things scientific for the company. He told me how he would come home from work and open a bag of chips only to find himself eating the whole thing. When he had to change his diet because of a knee injury that kept him from running, the first thing he did was banish many of his own company’s products from his house, knowing that he couldn’t restrain himself from over-eating. Or rather, knowing how these products were designed in ways that induced that kind of behavior.

The Food Giants use extraordinary science to hit the perfect amounts of salt, sugar and fat in their products that create the biggest amounts of desire in us. While the industry says it’s not intentionally trying to cause anyone to overeat, there is a very thin line between making a product that is likable and making one that causes you to want more and more.

On top of that, they became masters at marketing, finding ways through their advertising to hit the emotional buttons that cause us to eat—not because we are hungry, but because we are lonely or bored or distracted.

It’s that double whammy of food science and marketing that has made them so successful in dominating our eating habits. 

2. Your upcoming book is about addiction. Is food addictive? How is this addiction impacting us emotionally, as well as physically?

I’m still wrestling with this, but at the moment I’d say, `yes, food is addictive, but.’ And, before I get to the but, it’s important to consider the definition of addiction. I like what a CEO of Philip Morris said when pressed to define the condition and he settled on, “a repetitive behavior that some people find difficult to quit.” To which I would add, of course, that the repetitive behaviors we care about are those that in one way another cause us harm. But the key word in his definition for me is some.

Addiction is quite capricious. I’ve learned from neuroscientists and others who are studying this matter that there is compelling evidence that some foods – pizza, burgers, chocolate, French fries, potato chips – can compel us to overeat to the extent that it harms our health, in much the same way that some drugs cause people to hurt themselves. But, as with narcotics, the most addictive foods don’t compel everyone to overeat. Just some of us, and sometimes at just some moments in our life. It’s not just the food or the drug that’s at play in addiction, it’s also our own vulnerability.

The but in my answer comes from questioning whether viewing food as addictive is the way we want to go, given how the industry has preparing for that eventuality. But I’ll save that for the book.

3. Most Americans have limited time and money. What are some good rules to make healthier choices that save money?

Question the value of convenience. The industry coined that term to promote their products as time savers, but they’ve wildly exaggerated the convenience of their products, while hoping we overlook the cost to our health and pocketbooks.

Consider pasta sauce. We can buy their 32-ounce jar for $7 or $8, and it will have hefty amounts of sugar and salt because they need those as preservatives and to cover up the fact that their tomatoes weren’t good. Or we can buy a can or two of Red Pack plum tomatoes (yum, you can sip the liquid), drop them into a skillet where garlic has been sautéing in olive oil for 2 minutes. With a few sundry herbs and a pinch of sugar (just cause my mom always did) and salt (and a few minutes more on the stovetop, while we’re chatting a friend), we have sauce for the ages, for much less money. If convenience is co-opting, adding just a little bit of cooking from scratch to our lives is empowering.

Now, whisking a thin stream of olive oil into an egg yolk to make mayo is a bit trickier, but wow, what a thing that is when you pull that off.

4. I teach about relationships, especially the concept of “mutuality”—where all parties are getting their needs met in a manner that is equal and fair. Corporations and consumers are in a relationship with one another. Big food corporations (and shareholders) are satisfying their needs monetarily (with annual sales of $1 trillion dollars). Are consumers getting their needs me? If so, how?

Needs met? We’ve been robbed, flat out.

We’ve gotten physically sick from their products. Obesity alone now besets one in three people and has a health-consequence price tag in the hundreds of billions of dollars that we have to pay, not the companies.

We’ve gotten emotionally sick, as well, trading the sterile microwaved product for the love-infused homemade meal. And we’ve gotten an economy where mothers eat at McDonald’s only because it’s the one place they can afford where their family is willing to sit down together for a meal. They’re bargaining with the devil that the emotional quotient of a family meal is worth the price they pay in harm to their health. 

5. I worked for NYC government under the Bloomberg Administration. He saw government as a vital player in matters of public health. (During his tenure, he banned trans fats, required food establishments to post calorie counts, encouraged green markets and produce carts, and started the country's first large-scale registry of people with diabetes.) How is government regulating the food industry now? What policies would have a positive impact on public health? 

I was so surprised to learn through my research how the Food Giants in some ways are even more powerful than the government agencies that supposedly regulate them on our behalf.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that they were even required to tell us what they put into their packaged goods. And, it’s not until now that they’re pressed to say how much sugar they add. They’re allowed to put most any lie on the front of their packages, hoping to deceive us into overlooking the fine print on the back.

More critically, the government watchdogs have let them turn the conversation about food into conversation about nutritionist (i.e., How many grams of saturated fat does that box have?) versus “Is this real food made with real ingredients?” The companies will always win in that framework because they can adjust their ingredients to play up or down whatever nutrition thing we’re most concerned with at the moment (e.g., sugar or fat).

I loved the work Bloomberg did and the conversation that Michelle Obama started, but because of the industry’s power, even she ended up having to focus more on physical exercise as the solution to our food trouble than finding more ways to excise the Food Giants from our lives. And, they were the best of elected officials. So, no, I’m not looking much to government for change, but rather to us the people, and in this there is very good news. Just a little shift in our buying habits is enough to cause panic in the Food Giants, and we already see them scrambling to find ways (or acquire other companies that know how) to reinvent processed food so that it’s convenient, affordable, yummy but also good for us. Which is a great step in the right direction.

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Santa Fe--A Southwestern Adventure of Sunshine, Art & Food.

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Grey and rainy days blanketed New York City in melancholy. My soul yearned for freedom, adventure and sunshine. Santa Fe, New Mexico beckoned me westward bound.

Santa Fe is a small town with the cosmopolitan culture of a large city. Pedestrian-friendly streets, a thriving art scene and world-renown cuisine reminded me of New York City. Open skies, adobe architecture and mountainous terrain told me I was firmly planted in the Southwest. 

I stayed at the Santa Fe Motel & Inn, which allowed easy walkability to so many great areas. A dog-friendly town, Freddy Mercury (my beloved pooch) came along for the adventure. 

Here are some favorite takeaways from my November 2018 trip:

1.   The Plaza.

The Historic Plaza is an open-air park in the center of downtown Santa Fe. It’s a hub of activity--people chatting, vendors selling tamales and Native American artisans displaying crafts alongside the Palace of Governors. No better place to sit and people-watch for a while. 

2.   Ten Thousand Waves.

Vacations are all about relaxation. Where better to wash away your worries than a Japanese-inspired spa on a mountaintop? The healing communal baths are outdoors, so you can gaze upon pine trees while being cocooned in healing waters. The onsite restaurant, Izanami, is modeled after a traditional izakaya—serving small plates and alcohol in a casual atmosphere.

3.   Canyon Road.

Santa Fe has the second largest art market in the USA after New York City. Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road has over 100 galleries, boutiques and restaurants in a half-mile walk and is worthy of a full-day of exploration. Freddy and I ambled slowly from gallery to gallery (the majority of which are dog-friendly), enjoying everything from modern, contemporary, and abstract art to Native American turquoise jewelry. Gallery owners were beyond friendly—one even beckoned me to sit and share a pot of tea. 

4.    The Railyard & Railyard Arts District.

A stone’s throw from my motel, The Santa Fe Railyard houses a cornucopia of good things—a weekly farmer’s market, contemporary art galleries, restaurants, a brewery, and the Violet Crown Cinema (where you can watch a movie and eat dinner). My favorite galleries were Tai Modern (featuring intricate, Japanese-inspired bamboo baskets) and Evoke (showcasing the work of the talented graphic novelist Kent Williams). 

5.   Gastronomic Pleasures.

I never discriminate when it comes to food. The street-side tamale is just as worthy as a Michelin-starred meal. Santa Fe is a foodie’s dream. I wish I could have stayed longer and eaten more. But, here are some favorite spots from my weeklong trip: 

  • The Hotel St. Francis has a great bar called Secreto. Their welcoming staff offered me a free smoked sage margarita. When I shared that I was a Japanophile, they insisted I try a specialty cocktail featuring sake and homemade mushroom bitters. One of my favorite drinks of 2018, it perfectly captured umami. 

  • Vinaigrette is a bright, vegetarian-friendly restaurant with an extensive list of yummy salads. I veered away from the standards, opting for an Ethiopian-inspired stew and it was hearty and delicious, especially paired with a fragrant white wine. Their neighboring sister restaurant, Modern General, would be Martha Stewart’s dream—filled with wooden tools, books and organic, sustainable eats. 

  • Want to rest your weary feet after all that walking? No better place to lounge than Rosewood Inn at Anasazi’s—a modern, upscale version of the pueblo.  Their lounge features light bites and classic cocktails in a peaceful, unpretentious setting.

  • Santa Fe Spirits is a friendly bar where bonding with locals is easy. Chase away the evening chill with an apple hot toddy. I didn’t try the distillery’s $10 tasting flight, but it had everyone buzzing.

In a week, Santa Fe worked its magic. I returned home refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. 

My trip cost $1300 through Expedia for both hotel and flights from NYC.

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#8. A History Unexamined Always Repeats Itself.

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Our sixth session marks a dramatic change in Tara. 

“You look great,” I say, welcoming her into my home with a hug.
 
“I feel a lot better,” Tara begins. “I’ve been sleeping more. And, writing in my journal. I take long walks in the Central Park. I am not going out with friends as much. Honestly, I am enjoying the process of getting to know myself.”
 
"Today, I want you to tell me about your relationship history. Start from the beginning.” 
 
For the next hour, Tara recounts her boyfriends.

Since 14, she has jumped from one relationship to the next. She never spent a year in solitude or reflection. 
 
Her suitors included:
 

  • Marcus: She dated her high school boyfriend for four years. For the last two, they barely spoke. 

  • Theo: She did everything a ‘perfect’ girlfriend does—cooking, social planning, and counseling. When Tara’s father had colon cancer, Theo told her that she “wasn’t fun anymore” and cheated with a coworker.

  • Terence: From their first date, he said didn’t want a relationship. But, Tara kept chasing (and having sex with Terence) in hopes he would change his mind. Three years later, the relationship was in the same place where it started—nowhere.

  • Jordan: Tara and Jordan had an on-again, off-again relationship. Despite clear red flags—including alcohol and money problems--she could not let go. By the end, she said her self-esteem was in “tatters.”

  • Matt: She met her former fiancé on vacation. She gave up her job and apartment to relocate closer to him. Despite numerous promises and a proposal, the relationship felt unbalanced and stuck.

Through my business, School of Love NYC (www.schooloflovenyc.com), I teach my clients the importance of self-analysis.

It’s easy to default into familiar patterns of behavior. But, once a client understands that certain behaviors prevent her from reaching her goals, she makes empowering choices.  

These behavioral changes have a ripple effect—healthier love lives, more uplifting and balanced friendships, and careers in alignment with their talents. (My clients begin to make more money, too.) 
 
As we analyzed Tara’s relationships, I noticed a few troubling patterns: 

  • She invested in a fantasy, instead of getting to know the “real” person slowly and organically.

  • She had sex early and then acted “needy” and “desperate” when her partner lost interest.

  • She over-stayed in relationships “going nowhere.”

  • She over-gave and attracted selfish partners. 

  • She ratcheted down her expectations, accepting treatment that was humiliating, degrading and demeaning.

  • She ignored her powerful intuition.

Tara is not alone. The vast bulk of my clients—doctors, lawyers, mothers, CEOs, teachers, and Superwomen—suffer from a type of blindness:
 
They don’t see their own beauty, power and divinity as feminine Goddesses. 
 
My job is to shine a light on their greatness. Small changes in their behaviors and beliefs can produce dramatic results. 
 
We all crave intimacy and closeness. But, relationship skills are not intuitive.  

Real relationships—like real food—take time. 
 
Mature relationships require becoming empathic, learning boundaries, practicing forgiveness and learning to fight fair. These are not intuitive; they are skills that require education and practice.

  1. Why is self-care integral to emotional health?

  2. What is the problem with serial monogamy?

  3. What does it mean to “lose power due to fear and insecurity”?

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#7A. We Are Undergoing an Evolutionary Upgrade (Answers).

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In in the last installment, I discussed with my client, Tara, how dynamics from childhood set the template for how we relate to others. This can be good and bad.

I also asked a series of questions:

1. Why is it important to know yourself before choosing a marital partner?


Emotional maturity means understanding your values, desires, and non-negotiables in a relationship. 

Dating is a process of experimentation and growth. Through trial and error, you learn what you want and need from a partner. Far too many people erroneously believe that a relationship’s success is defined by longevity. On the contrary, it may be healthier for a relationship to end—once both people learn that they are ill-suited for one another. 

This “failure” provides important information—that brings you one step closer to finding the right partner.  

2. What does this statement mean: “It’s each generation’s obligation to do better than the one that came before.

Each generation has a moral imperative--to carry forward positive traits and shed negative ones. Positive traits may include: kindness, honesty, hard work and trustworthiness. Negative traits include: addiction, untreated mental health issues, co-dependency, dishonesty, laziness or infidelity.

All families have both good and bad traits. As you engage in rigorous self-examination, your partnership has a better chance at prospering. You stop replaying familiar scripts. You can choose a different and healthier path—for the love of your partner and children.
 
3. How do traditional gender roles cause problems within a marriage?

In many relationships, the "feminine-energy" partner is often overwhelmingly responsible for childcare and domestic duties (i.e., cooking, cleaning, care-taking, errand-running, and shopping). This person may work full-time, while also balancing the lion’s share of domestic duties. 

The feminine partner is left tired, depleted and resentful. 

Masculine-energy partners may similarly feel overburdened by the responsibilities of providing for a family. They often feel at a loss as to how to “succeed" as leaders, parents and partners, especially if they never had role models growing up.

Common dynamics left unexamined often translate into emotional estrangement within a marriage. 

Relationships take work—including learning how to meet the needs of your partner. 

This generation has the opportunity to forge a new path—shedding outdated notions of “gender” roles. Women and men can work side-by-side together, especially as all work is valued equally.

The relationship prospers and children are given a model for healthy love.

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#7. We Are Undergoing an Evolutionary Upgrade.

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By our fifth session, Tara’s voice has changed. She is talking more slowly. There is a noticeable calm about her.

“Tell me about Matt’s parents,” I begin.

“They have been married for 38 years. But, their marriage is weird,” Tina replies.

“How so?”

“They don’t seem happy. They never hug or kiss. They are more like roommates than lovers,” Tara says.

“How does Matt feel about that?”

“I think it makes him doubt the institution of marriage altogether,” Tara replies. “Honestly, Matt’s Dad has an anger problem. Matt’s mother checked out of her marriage and made Matt her mini-husband instead.”

“What about your parents? Is their marriage healthier?” I ask.

“My parents have a different type of dysfunction.”

“Tell me.”

“My Mom went to Yale—quite an accomplishment for a woman of that generation. But, she got married, had children and never worked.”

“Do you think she is happy about that decision?”

Tara laughed. “No. My Mom is angry. She would have been much more successful than my father--if she hadn’t been saddled by domestic responsibility.”

“What about your Dad?”

“He’s a good guy. But, he’s emotionally removed. My Mom seems really lonely in her marriage,” Tara replied. “My Dad was always traveling on business. When he was home, he was either playing golf or watching television. They never do anything fun together.”

Many of my clients do not want to repeat their parents’ mistakes.

In prior generations, men and women married early—before they had an opportunity to know themselves. They may have picked incompatible partners, but remained married out of a sense of obligation and duty. Children witnessed partnerships that lacked true intimacy.

Through my business, School of Love NYC (www.schooloflovenyc.com), I teach my clients the importance of a psychological process called “individuation.” Once they understand the good and bad traits of their family of origin, they make healthy choices that may be a dramatic departure from what they learned growing up. These clients become their authentic selves, setting a healthy course for future generations.

Each generation has an obligation to do better than the one that came before.

My clients yearn for an expanded conception of traditional gender roles. Women want the freedom to succeed intellectually and professionally. Men want to learn how to be more attentive and empathetic as lovers, partners and parents.

Women and men are moving towards a new conception of partnership—one in which all work is valued and shared equally. As partners share work, it is halved. A new type of partnership is emerging—one based on equality—which leaves more time for fun, laughter and sex.

  1. Why is it important to know yourself before choosing a marital partner?

  2. What does this statement mean: “Each generation has an obligation to do better than the one that came before.”

  3. How do traditional gender roles cause problems within a marriage?

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