Thursday, April 28, 2011

A little rant about language and use of "pro-life"

A post mentions that Indiana is posed to become "the most pro-life state".


I'm not sure how interfering in the doctor-patient relationship to the point that politicians instead of people with medical degrees decide what "facts" are given to women really affirms the value of life.

I'm also not sure how denying poor women the ability to access resources for safer sex and birth control affirms the value of life either.

Is Indiana making a concerted effort to improve comprehensive sex education using methods that have been proven to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies?

Are they giving real options to women who are considering abortion? Are they improving resources for women experiencing domestic violence? Are they improving economic assistance to pregnant women with serious financial difficulties? Are they improving job protection for pregnant workers or giving better parental leave? Are they improving the quality and accessibility of prenatal care and providing a variety of birth options? Are they ensuring that parents facing a prenatal diagnosis of a condition like Down Syndrome will be able to know that their child's medical and social needs will be looked after for life?

This report card on pregnancy and parental leave provisions gave the state of Indiana a D-.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

For a break: cool Passover video

type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="500" height="400">

Monday, April 11, 2011

Debating class for angry misogynists

After 11 years online, I got my first f-bomb. Read all about it here.

Mandatory school lunches and nutrition promotion

This article discusses how a Chicago school has banned lunches from home, except for students with medical issues. It's also discussed here.

A few thoughts come to mind:

1. I guess they don't have any Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Jain or vegetarian students, since there is no mention of exceptions for religious or moral reasons.

2. I understand some restrictions on food from home. My kids have gone to schools and camps that either limit food from home in some way (no peanuts, no nuts, no [insert other allergen], kosher food only, no meat), or have a "no outside food allowed" policy. In those cases, though, we were dealing with private institutions, not public schools, and the "no outside food" places had a logical reason for the policy (namely, that they had to be careful of food allergies and needed to maintain a strictly kosher facility when not of the kids came from families that kept strictly kosher).

3. From a public health perspective, this is totally counter-productive. Not only does the food on the tray look gross, but there doesn't seem to be any educational component. Kids aren't learning to make healthy choices - they are learning that lunch gets provided so you don't need to think about it. Wouldn't it make more sense to educate kids about what a healthy lunch from home looks like, and put some real effort into teaching families as well? You can prepare healthy food at home for less than $2.25 per meal, and the kids would develop healthy habits for life. Teachers can give out stickers for kids who bring fruit and veggies for snacks, and families in need can be given free or subsidized fresh foods.

The Yahoo article mentions that 85% of the kids come from families living near or below the poverty line and that the poor kids have higher rates of obesity - but the policy is defended on the basis that kids would bring Coke and chips from home. Either this doesn't make sense, or there are far larger issues at work. Why would a child who is eligible for a free or highly subsidized school lunch take food from home? Why would a family that is struggling to pay for basic needs be spending money on Coke?

How much of the problems that people have with keeping a healthy diet is related to lack of knowledge and skills? In other words - how many people simply don't know how to make quick, economical and healthy meals for themselves, and feel that they have to rely on junk instead? What would happen if people had simple and basic training in nutrition and easy-to-make meals? It seems to be that there is tons of marketing by the food industry telling us that fast food and highly processed foods are quick and convenient, and there is also marketing from the "Martha Stewart and organic" sector, which makes it seem that cooking is all about gourmet kitchens and difficult recipes, and that healthy eating is all about super-expensive and exotic organic specialty foods.

I wrote here about my personal new "fast foods", like eggs/egg whites and healthy boxed soups. Here are some other ideas that I used when I was a broke newlywed working insane hours:

1. Canned diced tomatoes

Dirt cheap ($.88 on sale) and nutritious, it's easily transformed into a base for stew, soup, curries, pasta, chili, etc.

2. Canned beans

Throw chick peas into a mini-chopper ($10, you don't need a full-size food processor) with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and some spices, and you have instant hummus - great as a veggie dip or sandwich filling. Do the same with black beans with some sundried tomatoes and extra hot pepper.

3. Slow cooker

I bought my little slow cooker for $12, and it makes cheap stuff taste great with almost no effort. Instead of a busy mom microwaving crap, how about a commercial with someone throwing in a can of diced tomatoes, can of black beans, scoop of whole wheat cousous, some sundried tomatoes, a chopped onion and some cumin and cayenne into a crock pot in less than 5 min in the morning, and coming home to find a hot, yummy soup ready to eat and filled with nutrition? Or showing how throwing a package of cheap stewing beef, a chopped onion, a handful of baby carrots, some chick peas, a splash of cooking wine, some spices and a drained can of tomatoes into a crock pot on Friday evening gets you an awesome hot beef stew for lunch on Saturday? As an added bonus, leftovers go in the fridge or freezer for convenient lunches.

4. Rice cooker

A basic model is also around $12, and it makes effortless, idiot-proof rice and grains. White rice has minimal nutrition, but the same technique works for quinoa, brown rice and other grains. Makes a good base for whatever you've cooked in the slow cooker with your canned tomatoes and beans.

5. Ice water

Yes, you can drink plain tap water, especially if it's cold. Add some lemon for a bit of extra flavor. A while back, I did an impromptu label reading-and-math lesson with the kids, and we figured out that the amount of sugar in just one cup of Coke was equal to 92 chocolate chips.

6. Frozen fruit smoothies

Fresh can go bad, but frozen fruit (as low as $3/bag on sale) is nutritious and effortless and makes a quick morning smoothie with protein powder.

7. Pre-made pancake mixes

On a Sunday, we measure whole-grain flour, oats and baking powder into labelled containers. Then, when the kids want pancakes, we don't end up with flour all over the kitchen, because I can dump the mix into the blender with eggs and milk, and have awesome homemade pancakes. Since they have a hot, fried treat, they don't notice that it's dirt cheap to make, or that they are eating whole grains and no crap.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My approach Sex Ed with my kids

Two easy steps:

1. See what they do in the United States - particularly the more conservative states.
2. Do the opposite.

I was thinking about this tonight while watching TLC, which had a program comparing American abstinence-only education with the approach taking in the Netherlands.

This article also describes the divide within the U.S., and the way that abstinence -only education doesn't seem to make anything delay sex but does seem to make teens less likely to approach it with any sort of responsibility.

Now, I've argued that there are examples of effective abstinence-only education - but they don't come from American public schools. You will find the abstinence approach to be fairly successful in insular, conservative religious communities, because they don't just say "don't do it", but actually gear every aspect of a teens life toward making sure that it doesn't happen. There's no dating, no social contact with the opposite sex, no TV, no movies, no unmonitored internet access, no secular music, no books depicting boy-girl relationships, and no immodest clothes. As if that weren't enough, you also have kids attending private religious schools, so the home, the school and the religious leaders are all giving the same message. Early marriage (often arranged) is encouraged. It's a total lifestyle, and it's completely at odds with the way that most teens outside of these communities live. If there's any weak link in this system, it doesn't work and kids are vulnerable.

So, back to my approach.....

First, we challenge the dominant cultural messages about sex. The kids know that sex is fine for consenting adults - preferably married ones - but that it's not ok for until you are at least 18, it's not ok if anyone is being forced and relationships must be committed, non-violent and loving. I'm not remotely scary, but we do have rules and I'm not afraid to say "this is not appropriate". I don't care if the radio plays that S&M Rihanna song non-stop or if all the other kids get to wear mini-dresses.

Second, I don't think that teaching somewhat conservative values is any reason to avoid teaching essential information. In fact, I don't shut up about it. I want my kids to have information way before they need it, to have all of the accurate information, and to know that mom and dad are more than willing to talk and answer any questions. Of course, I also know that the idea of talking to my parents would have horrified me, so they will also have the number of their family doctor and local clinics as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kiddush Cup Finals

My son's hockey team just won the Kiddush Cup (the Jewish league's answer to the Stanley Cup)!

The league allows Jewish kids to participate without having to worry about having games on Saturdays like the regular leagues. I get a kick out of the blend of Jewish and Canadian culture. The kippot and sheitels and hockey helmets. The little things, like asking if we'd have enough kids coming out to practice on Purim.

Of course, there is always the tension between teaching good sportsmanship and ahavat yisroel (love of one's fellow Jew), and really getting into the game with some fierce cheering! At this level, though, the kids are adorable. The pads seem bigger than they are, and its a challenge for them to avoid tripping over their feet. Their excitement, though, is precious, and I caught my son doing a little dance on ice to "We are the Champions".

Mazel tov!