Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"But I wanted a table on the patio."

(A fictional story, although stuff like this happens all the time.)

Bob the restaurant manager checked the weather one more time. It was 8:00 a.m. and while Chicago was tricky, he tried his best to predict the temperatures each day.

"Warm and sunny. Great!" Bob said as he stood up from the office computer and strode out into the main dining room. He gave the word to set up the patio tables and made sure he had five servers to staff the deck. This was in addition to the four servers he had scheduled to work the inside tables that day. He knew that when the weather was nice, he'd better have those outside tables ready to go or his guests would be mad.

Four hours later, his enthusiasm was gone. His outdoor servers huddled in the dining room, glaring at him for making them work on a gray, chilly patio that no guests wanted to sit on.

"Hi, folks. How are you today?" Bob asked of a group of four business people who had just walked in for lunch.

"We're good," a stout man replied, "though it's a bit windier than I expected."

Bob tried to keep a cheerful front as he seated the foursome at the last table he dared to seat. With only four servers inside, he couldn't allow any more customers to sit down until some left. Meanwhile, the patio sat empty and cold.

At 1:00 p.m. the temperature still hadn't hit 65 degrees, with no sunshine in sight. "What the hell are our weather forecasters good for?" he muttered. "They were completely wrong about today." Glumly, Bob joined some staff in breaking down the patio, bringing in tableware and glasses and pushing all the tables and chairs up against the building. He told four servers that they didn't need to stay for the dinner shift and prepared for an evening inside.

Then the Chicago weather changed. By 4:30 p.m. Bob was facing his third irritated guest.

"Your patio isn't open? But it's beautiful outside!" a woman in a red blazer insisted. She gestured toward the calm, bright afternoon.

"I'm sorry, but I can give you a nice table in the window, overlooking the river," Bob said.

"Ridiculous! It's seventy degrees out there!" the woman said to her companion as they followed Bob to the best table he had available.

For the next two sunny, warm hours Bob did his best to handle countless people who wanted a patio table, including people who said they'd only come to his restaurant because of its beautiful patio. In private moments, Bob cursed the skies for tricking him. "God damned Chicago weather!"

The moral of the story: please have mercy on restaurants when they can't give you the table you want. They are truly doing their best, but when circumstances conspire against them, getting mad won't help. Please keep in mind that they aren't idiots or lazy, but the Chicago weather in spring and summer make it even harder to run a restaurant.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Watch a special on face blindness

This past weekend 60 Minutes aired a segment onprosopagnosia, which is face blindness, which I definitely struggle with. Prosopagnosia can manifest in different degrees. Some people don't recognize their own faces in a mirror or photograph.

For me, it means I don't recognize people easily. It can take weeks or months for me to memorize a new face, depending on how often I see the new acquaintance or co-worker. I've introduced myself more than once to the same person at a party. I've failed to recognize people I work with every day. I've started telling people upon meeting them, "I have prosopagnosia which is face blindness and it means I do not remember faces. So if I see you at the supermarket tomorrow and I totally ignore you, please don't be offended. It's just that I'll have no memory of what you look like."

People have usually never heard of this brain dysfunction, but they're nice about it, lucky for me. If I see a face over and over again, it eventually sinks in, but it can take a quite a while. There are countless people I've seen only once who I'll never remember.

The 60 Minutes segment was very well done and was about half an hour long. I’m very grateful for this show because the more people know about face blindness, the easier my life is. My dream is that one day people will have this information in mind every time someone appears to snub them. I want them to think, “Why didn’t she say hello? Did I make her mad? Doesn’t she like me? Or does she have face blindness?”

That would be so helpful for people like me!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dog owner now meaner

Although it was rough at first -- very rough -- I have come to accept and feel affection for our shelter pitbull mix, Ozzie. He's cute and has turned out to be a great learner. Combine this with a woman who tends to be a diligent student and strict master and we've got a pretty good owner-pet dynamic.

We're taking a beginner's class at Bark Bark Club that is going very well. Ozzie and I are solidifying commands like "sit," "stay," "leave it" and "down" (as in "lie down"). Kim, the instructor is great and I really like the class. Having just finished week four, Ozzie is showing signs of boredom with it, but too bad! This is the new order.

Thus, even though I'm now more affectionate with Ozzie, giving him long hugs, allowing him to lick my face and curling up with him to read a book, I'm also stricter than ever with treats and going for walks. He gets no food from me at all without paying for it. He must either sit or follow one of the many commands we now know. We're also becoming a better walking unit, with Ozzie staying at my side, not pulling, not running ahead and not stopping the show because he's rather go in a different direction. Now The Woman decides where we're going and how fast. The Woman decides when we stop and go. The Woman even gives him permission to relieve himself only when we've reached an appropriate spot, like a public park or the front of the property we rent. No more leaving his mark wherever he wants.

Right now sunlight splashes into our front room, hitting the futon sofa and the hardwood floor. When we got back from training class, the furry one spread himself out in the square of light on the floor. A few minutes later he switched to the futon, which is the one piece of furniture he's allowed on because it's easy to wash. A few minutes after that, I decided I wanted to lie on the futon sofa, but I found a dog on my usual end. When we're on the sofa together, there's my end and his end.

Did I take my place on the opposite end, since they're identical anyway? Nope. Ozzie knew exactly what to do when I said "quítate" and waved my hand. He's now where he belongs.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nutrition is my new religion

Photo of the last huge bowl of corn masa I'll ever eat.
When you open a newspaper or find a new news website, what category is your favorite? What do you like to turn to first? Some say they're most interested in sports or world news or politics. You know what my category is? Health.

This is the subject I read about on the Wall Street Journal and New York Times websites. Health articles are what get me to The Huffington Post or motivate me to buy a copy of Harper's Magazine. I just want the health news. I've been this way for years, but it might be getting more fixated in my middle age. It's not that I want to live forever. It's just that as I head toward my 50s, I'm increasingly concerned with living without pain. I devour any information that might help me reduce or avoid the aches and pains of aging.

Items with titles like Effects of High Cholesterol blah-blah-blah or Diabetes Linked to you-name-it are irresistable to me. I have to know whether Body Mass Index or Waist-to-Hip Ratio is a more reliable health indicator. I must know what causes arthritis or what can best treat eczema. I can't stop.

These days I'm obsessed with nutrition. Like a woman who's had an experience of God that makes her seek others to support her beliefs, my experiences with digestion have me seeking health articles and books that support mine. Years ago dairy products started giving me problems, so now I avoid them. In the past couple of years I've noticed that wheat and grains also cause me pain and discomfort so I've reduced those. Sugar completely screws with my energy levels and makes me hungrier. Alcohol and coffee might occasionally taste good to me, but they don't make me feel good.

These experiences make me very open to articles and books that criticize the nutritional value of dairy, wheat, alcohol and coffee. It's easy for me to believe that dairy was never meant to be consumed past infancy and that tofu endangers your hormone levels and that cutting carbs improves health because these are foods that have not worked for me. I'm wide open to anyone who says the human digestive system evolved to thrive on meat because that's what my body thrives on. I fully agree that everyone is better off without sugar and wheat because I know I am.

We like to think a subject like human nutrition has been scientifically researched with hard data that has led to inarguable conclusions, but it hasn't. At this point, you can find data to support anything you want to believe. Need support for your belief that meat is killing us? Or that high cholesterol is caused by eggs ? Or that grains harm the liver? Or that humans can thrive on an all-meat diet with no vegetables or other foods at all? The research is out there for any of those assertions and more. As with religion, people have strong nutritional beliefs and are drawn to others who agree. I can argue a vegan all night about whether wheat or meat is good for us and neither of us will run out of published evidence to make our points.

When people use their own experiences as the basis for what they believe, it leads to extreme closed-mindedness as often as it leads to the truth. My experience might teach me that skin rashes are caused by what I eat. Your experience might teach you that they're caused by external factors like detergents. Maybe we're both right or maybe there's a more all-encompassing reason that no one has figured out yet.

Thus is nutrition my religion. Despite decades of research, little about diet has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt and we take most of our food information on faith. What's the healthiest way to eat? The expert-backed answer changes each decade. I am certain about what I know about my body, but I realize there's no point in trying to change someone's mind if they're committed to their bread or brandy.

I'm still an atheist, but my fervor about diet might rival the passion someone else has about Jesus. Go ahead. Just try to tell me that humans are meant to eat daily amounts of wheat, grains, soy or sugar. Just try to convince me that meat is worse for me than tofu. I'll argue all day, wild-eyed and full of zeal.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Regina the Food Grinch

This is what I'm studying this weekend: The Dark Side of Wheat. It details evidence that people with celiac's disease, which causes the inability to digest wheat, are not the only ones who are harmed by eating wheat. According to the author, wheat harms everyone because cereal grains were never among the plant foods the human body evolved to digest.

I've also been reading articles like "The Truth About Unfermented Soy and Its Harmful Effects," which dispels the myth that soy products like tofu and soy milk are good for you, at least in the daily quantities that American vegetarians and vegans tend to eat them.

And I've ordered my copy of a new film called In Search of the Perfect Human Diet, which documents the history of human nutrition, including the millions of years our ancestors spent living on what they could hunt and gather. I believe the film shows that our digestive systems developed to eat animal protein and plants, not the wheat and other grains we began cultivating in the last 20,000 years (and certainly not the cow's milk that Americans consume all day long). I'll confirm this after I've watched the film.

All this means that I'm about to become the most obnoxious dining companion ever. Before long I'll have memorized the addictive qualities of dairy, sugar, wheat, corn and other grains. I'll irritate vegans and vegetarians alike, criticizing soy products and cow's milk and arguing that all grains are destructive to the human body. I'll antagonize anyone who avoids animal protein by insisting that humans were born to eat animals and their eggs, backing it up with the evidence of the experts I'm reading.

Up until now, I've open-mindedly maintained that maybe cow's milk and wheat work well for others, but just not for me. I figured dairy products and grains caused me stomach aches, but were good foods for others. But now I'm learning that milk, wheat, corn, soy, etc. aren't actually doing anyone much good. This puts me at risk for hovering over other people's lunches and saying things like, "We're the only species on the planet that consumes the milk of another species," and "You know, that pasta is slowly destroying your liver," and maybe even, "Recommending a balanced diet with a healthy amount of grains is like recommending a balanced diet with a healthy amount of cigarettes."

What appeals to me about all these awful truths is that they confirm my experience with digestive troubles. I had to cut out dairy a while ago and have been gradually reducing my wheat and grain consumption as they cause me more and more pain. I feel much better without these things in my diet, and also without coffee, alcohol, carbonated drinks and processed food in general. I'm becoming the dullest consumer ever, preparing most of my own food which is mostly grilled, steamed or boiled animal protein, vegetables and nuts. What's disturbing is that finding the science to back up my nutritional choices arms me with an arsenal of holier-than-thou, know-it-all food knowledge. Soon I'll be intolerable.

Someone recently asked me, "So what the heck are we supposed to eat? Nothing but boring food?" My answer was, "Yes. The human body is meant to eat only the simplest, unprocessed foods and to drink nothing but water."

Sorry everyone, but we're eventually going to have to realize that there's no pill to make us healthy and the only way to turn around the declining state of American health is to stop eating crap. And by "crap," I mean everything you currently enjoy eating and swilling.

Just call me the Food Grinch.