Critical Readability

My critical readings of the best and worst of online media

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

On the Farmers Market Frontier, It’s Not Just About Profit : The Salt : NPR

Love this article! It just goes to show that people will buy healthier food if they have access to it, both geographically and financially. Here’s something that stuck out to me: “Amy Sahalu is waiting in line to pay for some of Harsh’s vegetables. She grew up in Ethiopia, and she comes here [farmer’s market] partly because it feels a little bit like open-air markets back home. There’s only one drawback: “A little bit expensive here,” she says. “But it tastes good for me.” via On the Farmers Market Frontier, It’s Not Just About Profit : The Salt : NPR.

This line reminded me of my time living in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota and an unspoken kinship I had with my fellow bus-route grocery shoppers.

Seward is an interesting place – part working class, part biker, part gentrified yuppie, part college student, and part Somali and Ethiopian immigrants. When I lived in Seward there were very few viable options for grocery shopping if you were not fortunate enough to own a car: an upscale and independently owned co-op with fresh produce that was outside of financial reality for four of the five communities I mentioned, but was across the street from the largest housing complexes; a Somali grocery store that carried primarily dry and packaged food; a Holiday gas station/convenience store that carried packaged food, junk food, and some staples like milk, eggs, and sugar at inflated prices; a 15 minute bus ride to a grocery store on a route that only ran every 30 minutes on weekdays (don’t get me started on weekends); or a 10 minute light rail ride with 5-10 minutes of walking on each side to get to the closest farmer’s market (this option required buying the rest of your groceries from Target or CVS).

Those that could afford to shop at the co-op across the street generally drove there in their cars. Of those of us who do not drive, the most determined walked the mere 5 blocks to the bus stop where we would catch the #7 Southbound bus. In my experience, this was the fastest way to get the most groceries in the fewest number of trips. Given the infrequency of the bus route, we all timed our departures hoping to not have to be outside for long (especially in sub-zero temperatures). Joining me were generally 6 or 7 parties, mostly Somali women, and the majority with children. After the 15 minute bus ride, we would exit the bus about two blocks north of our grocery store.

While we generally did not speak to each other, we shared similar tactics and experiences as bus-route grocery shoppers. In my mind, I imagine an unspoken kinship with these women and think of them often. Here are some of those shared tactics and experiences:

Only buy what you can carry home. Never take a cart and limit yourself to what fits into one basket. If the basket starts to get heavy in the store, you know it will be even more difficult to carry on the walk home. Don’t buy canned food or liquids, large quantities, flour/sugar, or anything that will spoil and/or melt (this is the one thing that makes bus-route grocery shopping easier in the winter than in the summer). Know what products will get demolished on the ride home and avoid them so as to not waste money. Learn how to pack a cloth bag to protect your produce with cardboard box barricades, and learn how much weight those bags can hold before they break.

In the winter especially, know how to time your grocery shopping according to the 30 minute between buses, slowing down just enough to not have to wait outside in the bitter temperatures for more than a few minutes. Gauge how many cashiers are on duty and how many people are waiting in line, and budget 4-8 minutes to get through the line and to the bus stop across the parking lot. Luckily, the bus stop is closer going Northbound than it is on the Southbound route so the walk home will be slightly shorter. Don’t  underestimate the time it will take to get through the line. If you do, you can either go outside and freeze, or sit on the benches in the entry way and freeze a little less. On days when you have a lot on your list, run through the grocery store, speed through the checkout line, and know that you might still get to the bus stop just in time to see it drive away. When this happens, go inside the shelter to dodge the wind, huddle near the one heat lamp, and wait the 30 minutes until the next bus.

Nothing builds kinship more than running to a bus with a group of women, arms full of groceries, only to see the bus pull away from the stop. Luckily, more bodies in the bus stop is better than fewer. On one such trips, I heard someone say there was a severe cold weather advisory, and officials were warning people not to be outside for more than 5 minutes at a time. 30 minutes later we boarded the bus.

While it sounds too exaggerated to be true, sadly it’s not. I remember one such trip in which I actually feared for my safety. I was two blocks into my walk home from the bus stop with groceries in hand. Stopping every few feet to sit down to keep myself from fainting, I remembered a news article I had recently read about a man who had frozen to the sidewalk and later died (yes, seriously). When I finally made it to my controlled-access doorway, my hands were frozen around the handles of my grocery bags and it had taken me more than 20 minutes to walk the five blocks. After managing to get one free, I realized it was still too numb to feel my keys and waited outside until another resident walked up 5 minutes later and let me in. As extreme as it sounds, I know I’m not the only one who has had this experience bus-route grocery shopping in Minnesota.

If everything goes well and you time your trip perfectly, it might only take 1.5 or 2 hours from start to finish.  It’s more likely, however, to take 2-3 hours. When you get home, you have enough food to last for 2 or 3 days – more if you’re single, less if you have a family. Next comes a trip to the convenience store for all those heavy items you did not get – milk, flour, and canned goods.

Especially in bad weather, bus-route grocery shopping is limited to the healthy and able-bodied. In reality, more likely is a trip to the convenience store for a frozen pizza or box of macaroni and cheese at inflated prices. Those living in food deserts often pay high prices for junk food at convenience stores because they are hungry and cannot afford 2 hours every other day to get to the grocery store, nor can they afford a taxi to take them there.  Like this article shows, I think many would rather spend the $5 they spent on mac and cheese at a farmer’s market where they can get fresh produce, even if it means paying a little more than at the grocery store.


Ryan’s Speech Contained a Litany of Falsehoods –


This reminds me of what a teenager would say after knowingly bending or omitting the truth:  I wasn’t lying, I just didn’t tell you the whole truth.

I might also add, that this article is itself falling into the same trap. If the author (or editor) truly believed the punchline of this story (that the whole truth needs to be presented rather than lies by omission), they would be better served to say “Republican & Democratic election campaigns both twist the truth.” After all, this article references both campaigns. And I’m not sure falsehood is the right word either.

“The growing number of misrepresentations appear to reflect a calculation in both parties that shame is overrated, and that no independent arbiters command the stature or the platform to hold the campaigns to account in the increasingly polarized and balkanized media firmament. Any unmasking of the lies or distortions, the thinking goes, rarely seeps into the public consciousness.: via Ryan’s Speech Contained a Litany of Falsehoods –

There’s a Cat Video Exhibit at a Minneapolis Art Museum and It Sounds Glorious


There’s a Cat Video Exhibit at a Minneapolis Art Museum and It Sounds Glorious.

This makes me miss my adopted homeland of Minneapolis! Wish I could join Mpls St. Paul friends at the Walker this evening.

Food allergy: Tests and diagnosis –

This isn’t a news article or a blog post, but I’m posting it here because I learned this week that there are no standard tests for most food allergies. This boggles my mind! While certain food allergies can be tested through skin scratching, blood tests, or trial & error, I had both an allergist and a gastroenterologist tell me that modern medicine has not yet come up with a way to test for allergies to the majority of food additives and preservatives.  Seriously? Shouldn’t our understanding of these additives be advanced enough at the time of their approval that we could at least find standard methods for testing potential allergies/intolerance? That’s easy for me to say, but in reality I imagine quite difficult to accomplish.

I should pause momentarily and tell you that I’ve recently tried to approach my own preventative or diagnostic medical appointments through more of an academic lens.  I don’t know about other Ph.D.s, but I am certainly guilty of turning off that logical part of my brain when it comes to my own body and things that may or may not freak-me-the-hell-out. Although my sister works in a major children’s hospital on the east coast as a post-doctoral researcher, sometimes I forget that medicine functions in the same way as other scholarly pursuits. For example, I recently came to the startling, yet completely obvious, realization that I don’t always clearly communicate a medical condition that I have dealt with my entire life partly because the scientists studying it had a very different understanding in the early 1980s as they do today (and appear to have used different terminology).

When I went to the allergist this week I was hoping for a simple answer to a puzzle that has perplexed me for years – why do certain foods, restaurants, preparations make me feel terrible when others don’t? While I did not receive an answer to that question, I was reminded of the reality of modern medicine and its dependency on academic research. Again, sounds obvious, but it’s crazy what we take for granted when living in a relatively healthy, able, body. So many other people are not so lucky.


“There’s no standard test used to confirm or rule out a food allergy. Your doctor will consider a number of things before making a diagnosis. The following may help determine if you’re allergic to a food or if your symptoms are caused by something else”via Food allergy: Tests and diagnosis –

Lonely Men on Campus: Student Veterans Struggle to Fit In – Alex Horton – The Atlantic

“Though the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the number of veterans enrolled in college will hit a three-year high, they still aren’t a sizable presence. (In sharp contrast with the 1946 numbers, veterans accounted for just one percent of the undergraduate population at Urbana-Champaign in 2011.) Not surprisingly, two long, unpopular wars fought by an all-volunteer force, on behalf of a thankful yet unburdened public, have produced second-order effects. Civilian students are often unaware of their peers who have wartime experience, and veterans often conceal their pasts from those who might not understand them.”

via Lonely Men on Campus: Student Veterans Struggle to Fit In – Alex Horton – The Atlantic.

As Republican convention emphasizes diversity, racial incidents intrude – The Washington Post

While Harper Magazine calls the Republican outbursts “nativism,” I am far more inclined to agree with The Washington Post’s accurate assessment that recent outbursts at the Republican convention constitute pure vitriolic racism:

“On Tuesday, convention organizers ejected two attendees after they reportedly threw peanuts at a black CNN camerawoman and told her, “This is how we feed animals.” Organizers called the conduct “inexcusable and unacceptable.”

via As Republican convention emphasizes diversity, racial incidents intrude – The Washington Post.

A Troubling Chant on the Convention Floor—By Jack Hitt (Harper’s Magazine)

I guess the convention organizers forgot to tell some of their attendees that they’re trying to perform “diversity.” I’ve noticed Puerto Rican delegates mentioned two times during this year’s Republican convention : 1.)  when noting that organizers filled the first few rows with minorities to show how diverse and accepting they are; and 2.) when attendees heckled a Puerto Rican speaker for her accent:

The Puerto Rican correspondent turned to me and asked, “Is this happening?” I said I honestly didn’t know what was happening—it was astonishing to see all the brittle work of narrative construction that is a modern political convention suddenly crack before our eyes. None of us could quite believe what we were seeing: A sea of twentysomething bowties and cowboy hats morphing into frat bros apparently shrieking over (or at) a Latina. RNC chairman Reince Priebus quickly stepped up and asked for order and respect for the speaker, suggesting that, yeah, what we had just seen might well have been an ugly outburst of nativism.”

via A Troubling Chant on the Convention Floor—By Jack Hitt (Harper’s Magazine).

Romney gaining buzz among women on Facebook – CNN Political Ticker – Blogs

Wait, maybe I’m missing something? Just because facebook women are talking about Romney, why are we supposed to think they’re saying good things? Or that they accurately indicated their gender when signing up for an account? That they’re not being sarcastic?

I think that there is a lot of potential in analyzing socio-cultural trends vis-a-vis facebook, but it’s going to take significantly more nuance than was used here.

Romney gaining buzz among women on Facebook – CNN Political Ticker – Blogs.

Why Is Iran Curtailing Female Education? – WorldWise – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Restrictions on women in education and reversal of family planning under Ahmadinejad. What I love about this article is the disparity it paints between how women in Iran since the 1979 revolution are represented by the U.S. media vs. the reality of their lives (especially under the reformist presidency of Khatami). I had no idea that leading up to the 1990s, 60% of university students in Iran were women, and that it was within the top 10 countries with regard to closing the gender gap.

That being said, the changes being enacted by Ahmadinejad are devastating for women in Iran – where, as the anonymous author mentions, the legal age for women to marry is 13 but among women with education, the mean is 23.

I also would like to emphasize some similarities between the move to limit women’s education in Iran and the proposed de-funding of higher education in the United States by Romney, et al.: “Worldwide, levels of education and activism often overlap” Want to limit political dissidence – restrict access to education.

Here is an excerpt from the article and a link to read more:

“What are the politics behind these sweeping new restrictions? Why now? Is it related to the role that women played in the 2009 protests against the disputed presidential election?

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government is chauvinist about women generally. Barring women from certain fields of study comes hand-in-hand with the reversal of Iran’s family-planning program—one of the most successful in the world. Iran’s supreme leader recently described the family-planning program as misguided and called on women to have larger families.

But politics may also be a factor in the education restrictions, partly because young educated women were at the forefront of street protests after his contested reelection in 2009. Worldwide, levels of education and activism often overlap. Education can also affect the national social structure. In Iran, for example, the legal age of marriage for girls is 13, but the mean age of marriage is 23. A woman of 23 is likely to have experienced some level of higher education and be less prepared to agree to marry a man less educated than she is.”  Read more here: Why Is Iran Curtailing Female Education? – WorldWise – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Poll: 0 percent of blacks for Mitt Romney – Mackenzie Weinger –

This surprises no one:

“President Barack Obama continues to beat Mitt Romney among African American voters with a staggering 94 percent to 0 percent lead, according to a poll released Tuesday.”

via Poll: 0 percent of blacks for Mitt Romney – Mackenzie Weinger –

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