Friday Fun: Labor Day

I know most of my readers/commenters are Americans, and as Monday is Labor Day, I figured what better topic for a Friday Fun post than Labor Day itself?

Practically every American “celebrates” Labor Day in some shape or form; some go to barbecue parties (usually the last one of the season!), some just chill at home, and some plan in advance to take advantage of the holiday sales (what is it with Americans and our holiday sales anyway?).  But do you actually know what Labor Day is all about?  I have to admit my own ignorance – I was never really sure.  So I did some googling and came up with this:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

I’ll save my thoughts on what that says about America and her materialism for another day (‘cuz, y’all, this is supposed to be a Friday FUN post!), but it’s definitely interesting to read all of that.

Growing up, Labor Day was always the last big family party of the summer.  Barring an unexpected special occasion (like a wedding or some such), my family probably wouldn’t get together like that again until Thanksgiving.  So for me, it was always something to look forward to.  My grandmother and I would start the day by cleaning the house and mowing the lawn if it needed it.  Then we’d get to chopping veggies and preparing dishes.  Barbecues in our family were usually quintessential American fare: burgers, hot dogs, sausages (here’s where our Polish ancestry showed through: sausages were always Polish and Bratwurst), and usually a few pieces of chicken.  Along with all the cold stuff: the potato salad, the coleslaw.  Chips and dip were on offer, of course, but so were chopped raw veggies (I was always partial to the cucumbers and sweet peppers myself).  Usually somebody would bring a dessert of some sort – maybe a fruit jello or a fruit salad.  My grandmother and I would usually make the main courses but everybody brought something to the party.  (Made it a hell of a lot easier on us, that’s for sure!)  Music would be played, children would play games in the (HUGE!!) backyard, and it would mainly be a relaxed day of food, conversation, and companionship.  I, of course, being younger, would inevitably have to field questions to the effect of: “So, you excited to be going back to school?”

Unfortunately, the older I got, the more scattered my family became (aunts and uncles moving to far corners of the country; people dying), and so the Labor Day family tradition became less and less of a tradition.  And now?  Hardly anybody in my family gets together for Labor Day anymore.  But I remember those Labor Days of my youth with a smile.

So… ya got any plans?  Parties?  Staying at home?  Shopping like mad wo/men?

Spill!  😀

Re-Educating My Children

Little Miss ChatterboxSitting in a doctor’s waiting room for two hours with three children ages 6, 7, and 11 is… interesting, to say the least. Especially when the 7 year old is a voracious reader and will read anything she can get her hands on. Books… magazines… health leaflets… bank promotions… I mean anything.

Little Miss Chatterbox must have read something about healthy eating and losing weight, because she turned to me and said:

Mommy, you cook us healthy meals so that you can get healthy and skinny, right?

Now, if she had said something like that to me a few months ago? It wouldn’t have bothered me in the least, and I would have told her that she was right. That Mommy is an ugly, huge person and would give anything to be skinny and attractive.

But I know better now. I know that I don’t have to hate myself because of my size. I know that my size is and always has been largely out of my control. I know that my size is nothing to be ashamed of, because human beings are supposed to come in all shapes and sizes (and colors, and shades of colors). And in a split-second, I saw that I needed to re-educate my children. Not just The Little Helper, whom I blogged about a while back. But all of them. Because obviously my self-loathing – as much as I’d hoped it wouldn’t have – has made an impact even on the children that I thought were immune to it.

So I looked at her and said:

No, I cook healthy meals to be healthy. Period. Skinny doesn’t always mean healthy, and healthy doesn’t always mean skinny. You can be healthy AND fat.

I hate that I’m going to have to re-educate them about what is healthy and what isn’t. They’re constantly talking about food that is “bad” for you – and because I’m trying to get out of that “good food/bad food” mindset, I’ve been correcting them as well. I tell them that no food is inherently “bad” for you, it’s eating one particular food all the time – even if it’s a universally accepted “healthy” food – is UNhealthy for you.

But I’m glad that they’re still young enough that it might work. They might not grow up believing that they’re a bad person just because they ate some junk food. They might not grow up feeling superior to those people that eat junk food if they don’t. They might not grow up hating their bodies. I’m not dumb enough to think that I’m the only influence in their lives, so I can’t be sure that my re-educating them is going to eradicate all the other messages they’re going to get in their life.

But I can hope, right?

DIY yogurt

Ever since the OMG!!1!! OBESITY EPIDEMIC!!!111!!! tripe started sweeping across the globe, more and more I see ads on television that aim to shame us into eating healthier and/or lose weight.  Jamie Oliver (on the left here) is one of the best and worst of them.

He’s both because while he seems to be absolutely everywhere talking about eating healthier, he does it with such enthusiasm that it’s hard to be annoyed with him.  He seems to be the kind of person that truly loves food, he just wants people to be more in touch with healthy food and how it can truly taste (these are just my personal observations; in no way am I claiming to be an expert on the man).

But at the same time, he’s definitely got a foot in the OMG!!1! OBESITY EPIDEMIC!!!11!!1 camp.  He single-handedly initiated the revolution of school lunches out here in the UK.  At first, honestly, it sounded like a good idea.  Especially when I heard reports that over half of school-aged children here couldn’t identify a vegetable when they had it right in front of them.  But they’ve gone way over to the other extreme, making school lunches cardboard-like and completely tasteless (The Little Helper is always complaining about what she’s being served at school – and she was actually excited when she found out that they were making the school lunches healthier.  Go figure.)  I can’t say that’s all Jamie Oliver’s fault, but he started the whole thing, so….

Even when he’s not making television shows or overseeing his chain of restaurants, he’s appearing in ads for one of the supermarket chains out here, Sainsbury’s.  I actually kind of like these commercials, because they seem to be more about trying new and healthier things than about shaming people about their size and/or eating habits.  Again, it’s his excitement surrounding food that seems to come through.  And the stuff he’s pushing on you looks really tasty, too – always a plus when pushing “healthy eating” on people.  If it looks good, people are more likely to try it, regardless of whether it’s healthy or not (a la Marks & Spencer’s ads).

One particular ad that stuck in my head was one regarding yogurt.  And as we fatties know, yogurt isn’t necessarily a diet food.  Definitely out here, it’s not marketed as strictly a diet food (which I found extremely refreshing, I must say).  In the ad, Jamie suggests taking plain yogurt, and adding some dried fruit and some honey.  And of course, as with any food advertisement, it looks absolutely divine (those food ad-people can make cardboard with ketchup look good, I swear).

So this morning, I had just dropped my kids off at school and I realized I was hungry… and we didn’t really have anything in the house for me to eat for breakfast.  So what’s a girl to do?  Go to the shop, of course!  There’s a little supermarket right on the corner of my street, and I’m in there practically every day.  So I go in.  I go over to the little fridge-thing where they keep the yogurt, and I can’t get that post from Shapely prose (linked to above) out of my head.  Guess what?  Not a single full-fat yogurt to be found on any of the shelves.  NOT. A. ONE.  But then that commercial with Jamie Oliver pops into my head.  Plain yogurt?  Check.  Dried fruit?  Next aisle over… check.  Honey?  Check.  There was one “gourmet” yogurt that was honey and walnut flavor… but it was over £0.70 a pot.  I could get a huge tub of plain yogurt for just £0.59.  But it gave me an idea.  So when I went to the next aisle over to get the dried fruit, I got some walnuts too.

I just finished eating my plain yogurt with dates, walnuts, and honey, and let me tell you… this stuff is absolutely divine!  The honey adds a richness to it that I wouldn’t want to be eating every day of my life, but as an occasional breakfast?  Delish.  I would have taken a picture of it, but The Hubster walked off with the camera and I don’t know where he put it (and he’s asleep right now, so I’m not going to bother him for it).  I just found it so surprisingly delicious that I just had to share that with you all.  After all, a lot (if not most) of you are in the U.S., so you may not have even heard of this particular idea.  I just might be doing a public service by telling you all about my wonderful breakfast.  😉

For lunch, I’m planning a tomato and cheese salad.  I’m going to chop up some plum tomatoes, add some cubed Wensleydale cheese, and drizzle some Italian salad dressing on top.  Even though I just ate, my mouth is watering at the prospect of some yummy lunch later. 🙂

Grandma’s Fried Cabbage

I made my mom/grandma’s fried cabbage Saturday night from memory!  😀

I must say, I’m pretty proud of myself for that.  I’ve NEVER made it before, but I helped and/or watched her make it enough times that I’m pretty sure I remembered everything.  I did try to call her to ask her if I was doing it right, but she wasn’t home.  😦 

For some reason, I’ve been craving this stuff for a couple of weeks now.  I haven’t had it for years – I’ve been living here in the UK for almost 5 years now, and I can’t remember how long it was before I moved that I had it last.  I don’t know why I’ve been craving it, but hey – maybe there’s some vitamin in cabbage that my body was craving or something.  Who knows?

I’m sure there’s some Polish name for this stuff, but I’ll be damned if I remember mom/grandma telling it to me.  I do know that it’s a Polish dish, though, because I remember her telling me that her mother taught her to make it, and Great-Grandma got off The Estonia from Poland at Ellis Island back in 1922 (I looked her up and found her).

It’s insanely easy to make, though.  Just shredded cabbage (or sliced, whatever), pan-fried in butter or margarine (I used Flora), and some caraway seeds thrown in.  What I couldn’t remember was whether or not I was supposed to do something to the caraway seeds (I seem to remember Mom/Grandma bashing them with a meat cleaver).  When I looked at the bottle the seeds came in, it had a recipe that called for cracking the seeds… so I threw them on my cutting board and crushed them with my rolling pin.

I served it with a cottage pie, and while the Two Littlest Monsters were kind of ho-hum about it, my Two Biggest Monsters liked it, and The Hubster loved it.  Considering that The Hubster still lusts after my mom/grandma’s cooking (what can I say?  I come from good cooking talents!), that’s about the best compliment I can get.  😀

BBC: What’s Really in our Food?

The BBC has started a week-long series of shows entitled “What’s Really in our Food?”  Ironically, they have been shown from 9:15-10 a.m., the time I usually have my breakfast, after walking the girls to school.

On the one hand, it’s been a bit of a learning experience.  Even though I’ve lived out here for nearly 5 years, I still can’t quite get a grip on the whole food labelling practices out here.  Until I moved here, I was used to having easy labels to read: everything you could possibly want to know about a particular food product, broken up into serving size portions.  X calories per X gram/ounce serving.  I always knew what I was eating.  Here?  They either break it up into 100 g portions or they just tell you how much is in the whole damned thing – if they even tell you at all.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve bought something to find out that there’s no nutritional information whatsoever on the packaging.  Just a list of ingredients, and that’s it.

Recently, there’s been a bit of a political movement to get the labels changed – into what is considered a ‘traffic light’ type label.  What they want to do is put the label on the front of the food package, with color-coded segments (green = ‘good’ for you, eat it all you want; red = ‘bad’ for you, only eat it sometimes, etc.).  A lot of stores, like Sainsbury’s and ASDA have already done this, but yesterday they showed an exec from Tesco saying that they had surveyed their customers and found that they didn’t want them.  However, the producers of the show randomly surveyed customers in a particular Tesco store and found that over 80% of them actually did want the ‘traffic light’ labels.  So I truly have to wonder: who’s lying?  It’s got to be ONE of them.  And as much as I really distrust MSM when it comes to all things related to obesity, weight, and food, it just seems odd that people who shop at practically every other supermarket in the UK would want the ‘traffic light’ labels but the people who shop at Tesco wouldn’t. 

The one thing that I have to say I DO like about this whole series, though, is the host (presenter) – Gregg Wallace.  He starts out the whole thing admitting to a love of ‘junk food.’  And you can actually tell in his attitude – he approaches the whole thing with an air of curiosity, not one of disdain.  He’s got this whole ‘Oh wow, you’ll never guess what I found out!’ attitude, and considering the way people view food nowadays, I find it really refreshing.

What I don’t like, however, is the fact that it’s yet another way to perpetuate the myths surrounding this whole ‘obesity crisis’ bullshit.  Today’s show, for example, showed a fitness instructor go on a 9-day long diet change, going from eating primarily healthy food to all junk, all the time.  Chocolate cereal for breakfast, kebabs for lunch, chinese takeaways for dinner, etc.  She gained 5 lbs. during that time (and she continued to exercise, obviously, since it was actually her job) and her fitness level went down a bit – she had done a fitness test beforehand, and lasted 12 minutes; afterwards she only lasted 10.  Okay, I can believe all of that – after all, it was a very drastic change she went through.

But then they get this ‘expert in sports medicine’ to say that if she continued like that, she would get fatter and fatter and fatter and her fitness level would go down and down and down.  Those weren’t her exact words, obviously, but that was the general idea.

And there was that thinly veiled undertone of ‘all you fatties, listen up: you’re just going to get fatter and fatter until you die.’  And as we all know, just because a person is fat doesn’t mean they eat like that.  Hell, just because a person is thin doesn’t mean they don’t.  Take my husband, for example.  He COULD eat like that and he’d never gain a pound.  Me?  I swear, I so much as LOOK at food and I could gain weight.  (But then again, before I got my tubes tied, he so much as looked at me and I got pregnant, too! 😆 )  I must be the embodiment of osmosis or something.  😉

And Mr. Wallace went into great detail, trying to figure out whether we could trust the labels to be accurate.

I don’t know… I guess it all evens out, really.  There are good points to this series, but there are bad points too.  But I do think it was a good idea to make the show, regardless.  It was really eye opening to find out that by Gregg Wallace reading the list of ingredients out to people, they couldn’t tell if he was talking about a Lime-based soap or Lemon & Lime squash (American readers: squash is kind of like concentrated liquid kool-aid – you add water to it and !voila! you have drinkage).  Education is always a good thing — I guess I just wish they were a little more objective about it.

Edit Update: edited because I found a better link for the show, and I realized that one of my sentences just looked really out of place where I had it, so I moved it.  That is all.