Letters for the week of January 7-13, 2004 

Get to know your local fat person. Get to know your local bookseller. Get to know your local clown. Get to know your local mycologist.

"How to Stop Obesity: Advertising," City of Warts, 12/17

How to stop obesity: Eat unprocessed foods
Kudos to Chris Thompson for calling on the federal government to launch a massive public-relations campaign to get people to wise up and eat right. While matching the food industry's $33 billion annual marketing budget would be a good start, the rest lies in undoing the food industry's stranglehold over government nutrition policies.

Massive subsidies to big agribusiness include daily buyouts of fat-laden meat and dairy products (dumped on the poor as chicken nuggets and Cheez Whiz in school lunches) and overproduced corn (turned into corn syrup for Super Big Gulps). Then there's the pathetic Food Guide Pyramid that purports to tell Americans how to eat right. But with the majority of the current government advisory committee members having extensive ties to the meat, dairy, egg, sugar, and processed-food industries, Americans are unlikely to ever learn the truth: that eating more whole, unprocessed plant-based foods is the key to good health.

So yes, government should shift our precious tax dollars from researching more pill-popping solutions to better education. But don't expect that to happen unless and until that same government finds its way out of the pockets of industry.
Michele Simon, founder and director, Center for Informed Food Choices, Oakland

How to stop obesity: Avoid hydrogenated fats
Okay, Chris, I think you do great investigative work. That said, what's up with your obesity story? Despite covering some important issues, there's this flippant, judgmental tone that infuses the whole thing. I'm not talking about the sarcasm; I'm all for sarcasm. But you make it sound so deliberate; that the American public is "seemingly bent on gorging itself to death in front of the boob tube ..." Uhh, yeah, sure. Every fat person is an agoraphobic, TV-addicted major depressive. I am getting the feeling that you don't interact with too many fat people on a regular basis, Chris, because this viewpoint is just plain ignorant. You seem to desperately want fat people to be and act a certain way, so that you can hold onto your misguided notions of them. Granted, no one with an ounce of gray matter can deny that obesity is a significant problem in this country, or that sedentary lifestyles and bad eating habits are major contributors to it. Duh. It's also obvious that we are a nation that loves to abdicate responsibility; one that pursues the quick-fix miracle drug that lets us eat what we want while still maintaining our svelte figures. But playing the tired old game of berating fat people for being lazy, stupid, and irresponsible? C'mon, Thompson, you should know better.

I found it quite surprising that your story did not mention the close association between the consumption of hydrogenated fats and the increase in obesity. Hydrogenation was invented by our military during WWII to delay spoilage in foods provided to the troops, and the majority of our prepackaged foods now contain a partially hydrogenated fat (even some drinks, like certain flavors of Gatorade, have it). Obesity really became epidemic once this process took hold in the food industry. The body cannot use or process fat cells that are comprised of hydrogenated fat, which contributes greatly to heart disease and other serious health problems. (Acne also became epidemic after these types of altered fats became widely consumed in our culture.) I will step down off my soapbox now, but I am disappointed that a good investigative reporter like yourself did not take the time to consider all of the angles that influence this issue. There is a case in the courts right now where a man is suing Nabisco, the makers of Oreo cookies, demanding that they disclose the quantity of hydrogenated fat in the product because of the negative health implications. This is a rather loaded political topic fully immersed in money and politics; just the sort of thing that usually makes an investigative reporter's mouth water. How about it, Chris? Wanna take on the lawmakers and food manufacturers? In the meantime, get to know your local area fat person. That is, if you can drag them away from the television and their econo-sized bag of Cheesy Poofs.
Kaylin Greene, Oakland

"Chain Stores Beat Retreat from Berkeley," City of Warts, 12/10

The weakest link
Chris Thompson paints a rosy picture of independent bookstore survival, and argues that we need not worry about chain stores (and newspapers?). It's true that in havens such as Berkeley, independent bookstores have survived (even as online retailing continues to grow as a threat). This is good news and is a testament to the good sense of the much-maligned people of Berkeley.

However, elsewhere in the region the picture is not so rosy. After Central Park Books closed, San Mateo (a city of some 60,000 people) has been left without a general-purpose bookstore for years. A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books was forced to close its Cupertino and Larkspur stores, though its San Francisco store survived (that haven effect again). Even in Palo Alto, Printers Inc. came within weeks of closing and was only rescued by a last-minute angel. Independent bookselling remains a precarious business.
Nathan Landau, Berkeley

"Queer Eye for the East Bay," Cityside, 11/26

My fashion has a pedigree (and I'm gracious, too)
HEY NOW (as the militant horses demanded). About that article concerning my wardrobe.

As a certified flower-geezer hippy icon, I have a special dispensation for tie-dye when representing the Woodstock Nation. I emceed all three Woodstocks. The first one made me famous -- the second two got me paid.

My giant shoes are an exact replica of those fifty-year-old wingtips, given to me by Ringling Bros. and eaten by squirrels at Camp Winnarainbow. My clown suit pictured in a photo you published of me and Jerry Brown is green hemp with gold-trim satin stars, and was a gift designed by Stella of Two Star Dog. Mr. Gravy's nose is from Barcelona, a gift of Clowns Without Borders. My chapeau is an antique by Knox, with beaded rainbow hatband by my wife of 38 years, Jahanara Romney. My reverse Mohawk Bozo haircut is a gift by Peter Thomas, which your readers picked as Best Hair Salon. And your reporter so vilified, go figure. At the big Seva concert on Saturday, December 13 at the BCT, I will change costumes maybe six times.

I do not mean to be mean-spirited as I did not take my dressing-down by the fashion police to be such.

All the best,
W. Gravy, at large, Berkeley

"Searching for Wood Folk at 'Shroom Fest," Food Fetish, 12/17

The wood folk were not amused
I guess that as long as one is being talked about, there's the hope that someone will get it right in the end. But it's too late to do so for the 34th Annual Mushroom Fair. Having spent the entire two days sitting at the front door of the museum answering all sorts of questions, the suggestion that the visitors were largely weirdos is far from the truth despite the influence of the full moon those days. Some folks seem more affected by this condition. Perhaps you are one of them.

Allow me to invite you to hear our lecturer at the Randall Museum in San Francisco on Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. Gary Lincoff of New York is the author of several field guides generally found in many bookstores today. His lectures are light-hearted, amusing, and well-grounded scientifically.

Myco-cordially yours,
Larry Stickney, Hayward

An accurate, if incomplete, picture
The article about the MSSF fair in the Oakland Museum was a bit unfair, don't you think? Your focus on weirdos left a lot out for folks reading to get a real feel for the event.

I was one of the "chefs from a Napa restaurant" doing the demo you mention. I was the guy doing the talking. I write about cooking and finding mushrooms for a magazine called Mushroom, the Journal of Wild Mushrooming. (Catchy title, huh?) And I write the Foragers' Report for the MSSF's Mycena News.

Anyhow, all in all you did a pretty good, accurate job. We mushroom folks are touchy about others writing about our goings-on because often major mistakes are communicated to those who really need to get the correct information.
Patrick Hamilton, Cotati

CORRECTION
An item in the December 24 Bottom Feeder column ("Dental Damnation") incorrectly implied that rap executive Irv Gotti was accompanied by an eighteen-year-old woman when he was stopped recently at an Oakland Coliseum security checkpoint. The woman was actually working with event security and had no association with Gotti. We regret the error.

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