It’s Not Easy Being Meat-Free

Some days remind you that it’s hard having special dietary needs. While I’ve overall enjoyed being meat free in 2012 (OK, nearly meat free if we include a couple of cheats and the seafood eating), it can sometimes be a pain.

Exhibit A: On Thursday, I attended a guest speaker’s talk and luncheon in our department. I was reasonably confident of veggie options since my department is actually pretty good about this. Indeed, they did order in some vegetarian sandwiches, but I was really bummed out to grab some pasta salad only to find when I bit into it that there was chicken in it. So unnecessary. I mean, in a pasta salad?

Exhibit B: I got roundly harassed by a friend on Friday at dinner for both not drinking and not eating meat. We were out for pizza but I’d already had dinner and was just out for the company, so it’s not like I was causing an inconvenience to anyone. However, it amazes me how certain male friends and relatives in my life directly associate masculinity and eating meat. How primitive can you get? Guys, veggies are food too. But, if I’m not going out of my way to hassle you about avoiding an entire food group, maybe you should lay off too.

Exhibit C: Yesterday I attended the inaugural Tucson Taco Festival, and event I had high hopes for. I got a Groupon for half-price entry, and before purchasing I went to the festival Web site to ensure the availability of tacos I could eat. The event page clearly notes that seafood tacos would be available. When I went online last week I also saw the promise of veggie tacos, though it seems that has either been removed from the Web site or is less prominently noted. At any rate, when my friend and I went yesterday (and when we made it through the traffic chaos and sloooow entrance lines), I was extremely disappointed with the selection. I found only one vendor in the entire festival selling veggie tacos, and it was a disappointment. I had to wait while they got clean tongs, because they realized they were using the same tongs for meat and veggies–ack! Then it turned out that all I got was a spoonful of stewed peppers, onions, and mushrooms plopped on a tortilla. No greens, no salsa, no option to add cheese, and not much flavor. The fact that I bit into a hunk of onion peel just rounded out the disappointment.

The seafood taco scene was equally as bad. I saw three vendors advertising seafood tacos, but only one was actually selling them. At one vendor, I waited in line 20 minutes before being told they were sold out. Another vendor told me they weren’t ready yet (three hours into the festival???) and told me twice to “come back in half an hour.” By the time I got to the third vendor and was actually able to get a shrimp taco, it seemed like the most excellent taco I’d ever had. In all, I spent my $10 worth of food tickets mostly on water, chips, and salsa. Mind you, no one really needs two orders of chips and salsa… unless you have nonrefundable food tickets and there’s nothing else you can eat. Ugh. A $5 cover for two lame tacos? Not really worth the price of admission.

Times like this can make a person question their life decisions. So why stick with the veggie lifestyle? Well, in response to that I can say that I’m down 28 pounds since last Christmas. I’m also having great runs. A sub-30 3 miler earlier this week, and a satisfying 5 miles earlier today. I’m even signed up for my next race: The Fast and the Furriest 10K in Rochester, NY in June, while I’m in town visiting family and attending a wedding. Feeling good, looking good, and helping animals have a better life. Isn’t that worth the occasional inconvenience?

Girls: A Review

Well, I finally got around to watching the premiere episode of HBO’s Girls today. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s available for your consumption on YouTube free of charge.) This is a show I really wanted to like, really. There was a lot of buzz about Lena Dunham in an amazing, brave performance, smartly written performance, the show as an updated and more gritty version of Sex and the City, and so forth. Well, I watched it… and I hated it. Here are a few ways in which Girls, in my assessment, falls short. [Spoilers follow.]

Diversity. I won’t say too much about this, because it’s been written about on other blogs. However, the show, not unlike SATC, presents a curious vision of New York City in which people of color are like furniture in the background. All of the major characters in the show are caucasian or Jewish. They are also straight and from upper- or at least upper-middle-class backgrounds (see more on this below). Dodai Stewart writes a thoughtful piece on this for Jezebel, which points to many other Internet sources that are discussing the issue. Stewart’s focus is on the lack of African-American characters, but in fact there’s a whole plethora of groups missing here. If this show is really meant to be representative of the life of today’s 20-something women, why not broaden the spectrum a bit? How many interesting and thought-provoking plot lines is the show missing out on by not including the lives and experiences of an array of “girls?” (Dunham has evidently been asked this question a lot, and has publicly recognized the weakness.)

Sexuality. In spite of the apparent lack of diversity of sexual preferences, the show is highly sexualized. I suppose that’s almost a pre-requisite to get on HBO these days, but a number of things bothered me about how these women’s sexuality is portrayed. Hannah, the main character played by Dunham, has a deeply unfulfilling and ick-inducing FWB relationship with a character named Adam, who is clearly less interested in her than she is in him. Their sex scene in the premiere is about as awkward as you’d imagine watching two people having sex in real life might be. This isn’t what bothered me, though. I’m more annoyed by the show’s perpetuation of the absolute myth that young adults can and should be having sex all the time. Hannah has a fuck buddy. Roommate Marnie has a boyfriend who she can’t stand, but keeps around anyway, their friend Jessa is knocked up. Not only that, but Hannah and Marnie sleep together spooning and shower together. I’ve had a lot of roommates in my life, and not once have I platonically slept with one or showered with one. Why are these scenes in the show? They only seem to serve to cram as much sexual content as possible into the episode, but by doing so they also take away the realism. By the end of the premiere episode, we know more about each character’s sex life than we do about their hobbies, careers, or hopes and dreams (aside from Hannah’s). Why? Because there’s clearly something wrong with you if you aren’t having sex with someone all the time.

This oversexualized version of the lives of 20-somethings was off-putting to me. While I share the frustrations of being with the guy who doesn’t want to be in a relationship, I can tell you that the life of a young woman starting out in a new profession is not all sex, all the time. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I regularly go months without sex, without even a date, and sometimes years between relationships. Surely I can’t be alone in this, but I kept wondering where my character–the hardworking, ambitious woman with little time for love–is in this show. Which brings me to my next point…

Privilege. What really angered me about this show was its failure to live up to all its promises of realism and authenticity. A lot of that failure comes from how the show revolves around privilege. Didn’t this show promise to be a more realistic Sex and the City? Much criticism of SATC revolved around the high-end lifestyle of its female leads. Before Carrie makes it big with her book and her marriage to land baron Mr. Big, we spent years wondering how she could afford all those Manolos. (Though some of that criticism is unfair, because the show did make a plot point of Carrie finding a second job and struggling to pay bills.) Girls may show some financial struggle, but it’s no more realistic. The first episode rotates around Hannah’s struggle after her parents announce that she’s getting cut off, immediately. Among her circle of friends, this is tantamount to a human rights abuse. Why? Because none of these people appear to have any sort of job whatsoever. Jessa seems to be a world traveller who, its implied by her designer luggage, is getting a hand from someone. Marnie, I have no clue about. She only seems to hang around to make faces at her boyfriend and be an all-around wet blanket. Hannah’s boy-toy gets an allowance from his grandma, which he supplements. Who are these people? Seriously? I felt at times like I was watching a show about rich college undergraduates. I doubt that it’s typical of the lives of most 24- and 25-year-olds that their parents or grandparents bankroll cell phones, meals, and apartments in New York City. I do believe that a lot of young adults get help from their parents after college, but a lot of that is young adults moving back in with their parents directly after finishing school, not receiving cash payments. And certainly in a year or two these young adults have found some sort of job and are off the teet. Of course, that would make for a much less interesting character setup, wouldn’t it. The privileged, entitled world of these characters could not have seemed much more ridiculous to me if they wore designer shoes. And here’s my final point…

...And not a job between them.

General Unlikability. I could not find a single character on this show that I liked. Not a one. The girls are spoiled, pretentious, and at times kind of nasty. The men are either spoiled (Hannah’s FWB) or emasculated and underdeveloped as characters (Marnie’s boyfriend, Hannah’s father). Hannah’s mom, the only adult female character, is a missed opportunity in my opinion. While she could be the older, wiser version of the life of girls, she’s instead just another entitled bitch. (It’s revealed at the end that she’s cutting off her daughter from all funds with no notice because she feels she deserves a lake house. Her final act–or we assume it’s hers–is to run out on her daughter in a hotel and leave a $20 on the dresser in an envelope. Classy.)

It’s been suggested by reviewers that perhaps the unlikability of the characters–and all the other factors noted here that inspire such dislike–is the point. These young women are inexperienced, their growth has been stunted, they’ve failed to develop meaningful careers or relationships in part because of the society in which they’ve been raised. OK, fair enough. There’s nothing stopping Girls from being a show that winks at itself by portraying the meaningless lives of its shallow characters, but that’s not what I’m going to tune in for– and I resent the characterization of that as “realism.” Where are the girls I know? The ambitious young women like Hannah’s co-worker, who gets hired as Hannah gets fired–because the co-worker has practical skills. Where are the young professionals? The grad students living off loans and pulling all-nighters so that they don’t end up on their parents’ dime? Where are the girls working two or three jobs to get by? Oh, right. Their lives aren’t sexy or cool or fun to watch. But, come to think of it, this show isn’t fun to watch, either.

Vegetarians Eat Junk, Too.

Cruelty free, if you don't include what you're doing to yourself!

Not much to report lately. This has been a really work-intense week, which means I’ve been on the run a lot and partaking of lots of fast meals and junk food. In the interest of confession, here’s a brief summary of my consumption over the past few days:

  • Tuesday: Was exhausted after class, had half a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese for dinner.
  • Wednesday: Chowed down on greasy veggie pizza at a student government event.
  • Thursday: Another student government event at lunch; this time I had a veggie burger paired with cookies and lots of potato chips.
  • Friday: I had to teach and attend two campus events back-to-back, which meant that “lunch” was overpriced Pinkberry frozen yogurt with brownie bites and “dinner” was as many vegetarian-friendly appetizers as I could pack on a plate at the awards reception I attended. Cheese and ranch dip were plentiful.
  • Saturday: Had a cinnamon bun for breakfast and a late lunch/early dinner with a date consisting of a portobello mushroom sandwich with cheese and a side of fries.

This has all got me feeling run-down, though that could be from the frantic schedule as much as the terrible food. If anyone ever tells you grad students are “half-time” workers, don’t you believe them. What’s strange, though, is that I did have a good week of running. I did a 9:38 mile yesterday on my run, and ran just over 11 miles total this week. Let’s see what I can do next week, when I cut out some of the greasy, fried, and fat foods. Any tips out there for how to eat healthy on the run?

Online Dating: Eight Tips for Guys

If only it were so easy...

I’ve been actively online dating over the past month but, more importantly (or shamefully) I’ve been on and off of various online dating sites for years. While I’ve met a few decent guys this time around, it seems that guys change very little over the years. I’ve been seeing/experiencing the same annoying behaviors for a long time and I’d like to share some tips. This isn’t to say that women don’t make mistakes too, and I may make my own “lessons learned” the subject of a future posting, but I’m sharing things from my perspective–and I hear these complaints from a lot of other women, too!

  1. Cell Phone Self-Portraits Are Soooooo 2003. Back in the days of MySpace, I understand that holding your cellphone at arm’s length or using it to snap your pic in the mirror might have been your best chance at a good shot. But there are options now. Look at your laptop. It probably has a camera. If you have an iPhone, the front-facing camera will let you take a picture of yourself without being obvious. Or, here’s a novel idea–find a friend and actually have them take a picture of you doing something. It appeals to women when you look like you have a job, or a hobby, or friends and you don’t spend all your time trying to make your best Jersey face for the ladies on OK Cupid. A plus if the picture is well-lit enough for me to: a) be able to pick you out of a line-up and b) determine definitively that the photo wasn’t taken inside of a jail cell.
  2. Shirtless Pics–Also a Bad Move. Women are not men. I’m sure some of us are looking for a casual connection, but those ladies are probably in the minority. If you’re taking your shirt off for me before we’ve even met, it makes me wary that you’ll be expecting me to do the same on our first date. Not into it.
  3. Read My Profile Before You Contact Me. There’s a reason we have a profile and not just a picture. Though it may seem unfair at times, photos are undoubtedly important on a personals site–that goes for all genders and preferences. However, they’re not the only thing. Even if you picked me out because I’m a pretty face and have a nice body, I don’t want to know about it. Take the time to learn something about me. This will also help both of us not to waste our time if one of us violates a deal breaker. If I’m not interested in guys over 40 and you’re 55, if you only want a Christian girl, if I don’t want to date a guy with kids and you have seven, know that I’m not going to write you back if you message me. Save us both some time and move on.
  4. Give Me Something to Read, Too. In case it’s not clear from items 1-3, women are not purely visual. A great photo might grab our attention but it’s often not the only reason we’ll write to you or write back. Say something, anything on your profile. And try to do so in relatively clear English. A profile with one or two typos can be overlooked. A profile with seventeen is a hot mess. Also, one-word answers imply poor first-date conversations down the road.
  5. You’re Not Looking For a Girl From Your Past, So Don’t Put Her in Your Profile. This is one women are definitely guilty of, too. It’s likely anyone over 25 has had a bad relationship and carries some baggage, but no one likes to be reminded of that. No reference to or bitterness about past relationships should appear anywhere on your profile. If you’re talking about women who aren’t “real,” your painful divorce, etc., it tells me that at best that you’re not fully over someone else and worst you have some potentially dangerous feelings about women and relationships. As I said, women often complain about men, too, but women are especially on-guard about who they meet online and about the potential for violence. Any woman with sense will see this and run, not walk, in the other direction.
  6. Be Prepared to Convince Me. Let’s be honest. Any woman on a dating site who is even moderately attractive is going to get a lot of visitors and a lot of messages from guys. That means you need to stand out. This isn’t as hard as it sounds–since at least 80% of guys who contact a girl are probably making one of the mistakes listed here. You significantly up your chances of a girl writing you back by doing a few simple things. In addition to heeding notes 1-4, when you message me you should tell me why we’re a good match. Why are you contacting me in the first place? Is there a hobby we share? Did something on my profile make you smile? What do you want to know more about? If you can’t talk to me in your first message, I’m going to wonder what we’ll talk about on our first date. Fill me in. And, unless you’re under 18 (in which case, why are you writing me anyway?), don’t message me and tell me “let’s text.”
  7. Never, Ever Send a Form Letter. This should go without saying, but a lot of guys do this and the vast majority are not smart enough to pull it off. Form letters have a distinct and unsavory flavor, and they will end up where the rest of my spam goes.
  8. Understand That I Received Your Message and if I Don’t Write Back, Just Move On. As the saying goes, there’s a lot of fish in the sea. If you take the time to follow these steps, odds are you’ll stand out from the crowd. But if a girl who strikes your fancy doesn’t write you back, cut your losses and move on. This practice may seem unfair or rude, but think about it: Do you respond to every unsolicited piece of e-mail or junk mail you receive? The guy who sends me a rapid-fire string of increasingly insistent/hostile messages gets blocked. Then the party’s really over.

A Bad Date and a Decent Hike

Yesterday I had a lousy date, but a decent hike. Bachelor A. is someone I’d been out with once before, but it seemed we were in that awful space where we had a good rapport online but no chemistry in person. I wanted to give him another chance because we seemed compatible, had common interests, and he generally seemed like a nice guy, but the cracks were showing. It took us a long time to plan this second date, both because I was in California for a week and because his repeated attempts to get me to agree to a second date at his place–which I made it clear I was not comfortable with–rubbed me the wrong way.

We eventually settled on a hike, but we had to go earlier than I would have liked and I just ended up tired, annoyed, and wondering why I was spending time with this guy who kept peppering me with questions the entire two or so miles we walked. It didn’t help that he showed up in a sweater, jeans, and wearing 10 tons of cologne. Did he think we were going to brunch? Ugh. Rarely do I feel like I’ve ever been a “bad date,” but yesterday around 8AM I just didn’t care about being fake nice to a guy who, two minutes into the date, I had decided I never intended to see again. In fact, I was such a bad date that after our two-mile hike I returned to the parking lot, said my good-byes to him, and then went out hiking again on my own. Ah, well. At least I brought back some pictures. I also saw a cardinal, quail, hummingbirds, and some other fun desert creatures.

Let’s Talk About Soaps

I have a major guilty pleasure, and it’s watching soap operas. I started watching The Young and the Restless nearly 20 years ago (!) when I was a pre-teen, drawn in by the summertime teen-centered story lines that used to be a mainstay on these shows. Over the years I have started and stopped watching at various points, but I still tune in a couple times a week. Heck, I’ve even been a guest blogger at YR Critic.

Soaps, however, are an endangered species. This week, General Hospital was renewed–a victory for the show’s fans and a move that was all-but-certain from a network that canceled two beloved daytime dramas in the past year. There are only about four soaps left on broadcast TV. Networks have seemed eager to axe these expensive, scripted dailies in recent years and replace them with talk/reality shows. Soaps are expensive to produce, and audiences are declining. This is true. But can they be saved? Here are a few of my thoughts on soaps, and suggestions for the future.

  • Soaps need an updated view on gender issues if they are to survive. The Young and the Restless is particularly awful about this, but it’s not the only one. Victor Newman, the sometime-villan, often-times-hero of the show exhibits behavior towards his wives, children, and others that is clearly abusive, yet we are supposed to find that untroubling. He assaulted his wife Diane by pushing her out of an ambulance, but that was supposedly excusable because she faked a pregnancy. When his beloved Nikki was suffering from alcoholism, he was horribly abusive to her physically and emotionally. Then again, she had an affair with a bartender (who she eventually married), so that supposedly excused his behavior. He also continually meddles in the life of his eldest daughter Victoria, interfering with her relationships with at least three men who he didn’t approve of, and costing her custody of her own son when he tried to kidnap the child! In the year 2012, there’s no reason that this behavior should be acceptable and that a show should paint it as a victory when Nikki and Victor get back together or when Victor and his daughter reconcile. It’s not a feel-good story, it’s sick. Especially when so many young women are in the audience, the messaging of the show should clearly reflect that this is domestic abuse. Other shows are guilty of this, too. A recent story line on The Bold and the Beautiful (YR’s sister soap on CBS) featured the character Thomas attempting to seduce his step-sister Hope (ick)… by getting her drunk in Mexico. Hey, news flash: When you sleep with a girl after getting her so drunk she can’t say no, it’s not consentual sex. It’s rape. That this story even made it to the airwaves is inexcusable and irresponsible. Anyone need further proof that rape culture exists?
  • Soaps are not so great about race or sexuality, either. Interracial relationships have been problematic for Y&R. While Cane and Lily are an interracial couple and have a large fan following, Lily’s African-American father Neil has had a very different track record. An engagement between Neil and Victoria, who is white, was allegedly scuttled by writers several years back after viewers complained about the interracial pairing. More recently, he was engaged to Ashley, who is also white, but that was broken off as well. The generational dynamic is interesting–on Y&R, interracial romances occur among the younger characters, but happen only rarely/briefly among older characters. The minority cast is also very small. Y&R has one Latino character, who was only introduced fairly recently, and even more ridiculously The Bold and the Beautiful–which is set in freaking Los Angeles–has no regular Latino cast members. As for sexuality, having one gay character who appears mostly in party scenes does not amount to diversity. It’s surprising that with so many young characters we would not see story lines that deal realistically with characters exploring their sexuality, coming out, etc.
  • Writing can be insultingly bad. Crazy, outrageous plot lines sometimes make these shows fun, and have been a staple of soaps for years. However, in this day and age soap writers need to know that viewers expect more. We know more about the world now than viewers did 30 or 50 years ago. In the past year, Y&R has asked us to believe: 1) That a bone marrow transplant can be faked; 2) That you can get a restraining order against someone just because you don’t like them, without showing any evidence of actual harassment; 3) That you can be tried in Wisconsin for a murder that happened in Hawaii; 4) That Myanmar is totally safe and free and full of surfing Western tourists, and that you can enter and leave the country at will. No visa issues here! I could go on. It’s one thing to write in a way that is campy and outrageous and winks at the viewers; it’s another thing to just write stupidly and act as if the viewers won’t notice. I’m just saying, five minutes on Google and the writers should have figured out Myanmar was not the place to set a surf cantina. The same goes for the practice of retconning, or changing the story lines after the fact. It alienates long-time viewers especially and it should be used sparingly, if at all.
  • Production values need to improve. Soaps have obviously been struggling to cut costs in an attempt to remain relevant, but there’s a limit. Cheap sets or sets that are obviously re-used become tedious. And there’s only so many shots from rooftop gardens and outdoor cafes that are tolerable. Riddle me this–why would billionaires hang out at the local coffee shop?

It may be true that soaps are a dying genre, and as a feminist perhaps I shouldn’t be defending them. Yet, there’s something sentimental about stories and characters that have been around for generations. Soaps are a part of the pop culture and can represent a time capsule of changing fashions, social issues, views on gender and race, etc. They are also fun escapism. Likewise, the success of primetime dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, etc. shows that TV dramas do have an audience, can be somewhat progressive, and can be successful. It may be true that fewer and fewer individuals are home during the day to tune in to soaps, but nighttime rebroadcasts on cable, DVR usage, and online streaming still make it possible for these shows to have an audience. But, if daytime dramas are going to be saved, someone has to make them worth watching into the future.

Envy

Envy is one of the ugliest of all emotions, and I often feel like I’ve got it bad. What’s awful about envy is that it seems to affect us most just when we should be most happy for people around us. We should be happy for those around us when they do well, even if our own lives happen to suck at the time. If we do feel deeply jealous, if their misfortunes just make us feel worse about ourselves and if, God forbid, we kind of wish that some people wouldn’t have such happy, perfect lives, it means you are a terrible person.

There's something they're not telling us!

Last year, I was unhappily single and no less than thirteen of my friends got married at a time when I couldn’t even afford to give all of them wedding gifts. (Yeah, I still haven’t done that.) Two of my friends had babies. Meanwhile, I was living on grad student money, working three jobs to make under $20K/year, 20 pounds overweight, and crazy for a man who didn’t want to be in a relationship with me. I deeply empathized with Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids. If one more of my friends announced an engagement, I would genuinely have gone bat-shit, cookie-smashing, colonial-woman-on-the-wing crazy. I was happy for some of my friends in their success, but I have to admit to not being happy for all of them and that made me feel a bit sick about myself.

This year was supposed to be the year things turned around. If I’m honest with myself, things have gotten a little better. I’m in the very nascent stages of going out with a couple of nice guys who I consider “prospects,” my dissertation has been progressing, I’ve stuck with some healthy resolutions and lost a lot of weight. And yet, the envy is still there. It was there today when I got a fancy invitation (sans butterflies) to a very dear friend’s June wedding. It was there yesterday when I found out that I’d been rejected, without further explanation, from receiving a major work-related opportunity that my friends were accepted for. It’s there every time my friends post pictures of their new houses and new babies on Facebook.

I’m not sure what to do with envy, but I’d at least like to talk about it. The Buddhists would say that my envy stems from attachments, and of course they are right. It’s my attachment to wanting love, to wanting a home, to wanting financial security that creates these negative emotions. It’s the pressure I put on myself to live a very idealized life. I think Buddhism would say we are not supposed to judge ourselves or those around us for being envious, because it is a natural emotion and it’s one that brings suffering and inner conflict to the person who has it. But can envy and its attendant attachments ever be overcome? When I look at my future, the ideal outcome is to get the things I want. To have an “enlightened” future where I don’t have a home, a significant other, a successful career, or a child and I’m just going to be content with that? It seems unrealistic and unfulfilling. It runs to a basic question of human nature: What do we live for? Do we live to pursue progress, success, to love one another and create something for the next generation? Or do we live for personal growth, to see beyond lesser qualities that always leave us sad and confused and mired in the mud? I’ve been stuck on these questions a lot lately. It bothers me tremendously that I can’t come up with the answers.