Sunday, June 5, 2011

let's give 'em something to talk about (link party)

A friend of mine posted an article on facebook today about how useless a college education is, sparking a short but lively interaction between friends in the comment section.  The main point of the article is that institutions of higher education are outdated, obsolete.  They are expensive wastes-of-time and in the end, the bearer of a degree benefits little from that time and money spent.  I have my own mixed feelings toward this article.

On the one hand, I did go to college.  I even went to grad school and was 2/3 through my Masters degree before taking a leave of absence that turned into dropping out altogether.  I am still paying off my Bachelors degree but I haven't worked in "my field" since 2003.  I may still be paying off the degree I didn't get when I entered graduate education (can't differentiate that debt from leftover wedding debt with some travel/moving debt mixed in for good measure).  So, to sum it up, I am many thousands of dollars in debt for a degree and a half that I'm not using.

On the other hand, I think there is a great deal more learning that goes on in higher education than what is summarized on that nifty piece of paper you get when you wear a black robe under a hot May sun for a few hours.  Do I regret that I haven't worked in "my field" in over 8 years?  Somewhat.  Do I regret what I eventually got my degree in?  Sometimes, and more frequently lately.  Do I feel I would have gotten as far as I've gotten professionally without a degree?  No.  No, I do not.

Every time I've engaged in a job search over the last 10 years, any job I had any interest in pursuing was quite clear on the necessity of a college degree.  Some have been content with a 2-year degree, others have stated that a 4-year degree is "preferred."  Besides just having a degree to have a degree, I think I learned a lot more during my time in the classroom.

I learned how to think.
I learned how to ask questions.
I learned how to communicate to various levels of understanding.
I learned how to expand my vocabulary; I learned how to "dumb it down" for accessibility.
I learned how to juggle work, school, and social life.
I learned about a big world I didn't know existed - I was extraordinarily fortunate to go to two schools who placed a heavy emphasis on multi-culturalism and learning from "the other."
I learned how to play nice with people who weren't like me.
I learned how to reach deep inside myself and find something I held in common with "the other."
I learned how to see the world, or just my little city, through the eyes of someone completely unlike me.

I learned how to cooperate.  I learned how to love.  I learned.

So, regardless of my current profession being as far from "my field" as possible, I have always been and continue to be ineffably grateful for the 9 years I spent in institutions of higher learning.  I learned a lot from the books, but I learned a lot from the people and the experience as well.

My college and grad school were very focused on social justice, equality, and leaving the world a better place than it was when you entered.  The world around us is making it very difficult to carry out the last one, but I have no doubt that my classmates are continuing to strive toward that goal as much as I am.  By being part of that culture, surrounded by that ethos for nearly a decade of my life, my mind is irreversibly changed.  I was privileged, sheltered, and myopic as an adolescent.  Being a part of that new world helped to shape me into a pensive, globally-conscious, action-oriented adult.

My decision to give up meat had very little to do with the suffering of animals, but rather, it was focused on the degradation of our world - environmentally, nutritionally, and socially - which can be traced to the meat industry.  My husband became a vegetarian first and I thought he was crazy - life without meat, cheese, milk, etc, was absolutely foreign to me and I was not comfortable with it at all.  I asked him why he chose that route and his long, thoughtful answer appealed completely to the part of me that mourns for the exploitation rampant in poorer areas of the world, poorer areas of our own country, state, 25-mile radius.  It was the slow realization that I was contributing to the poverty and hunger of other human beings by indulging in luxuries like filet mignon on a pretty regular basis that led me to declare "Never again," as two-thirds of a perfectly good piece of meat slid off of my plate and into the waiting garbage can.

The USDA (in all their hallowed, pure-intentioned, unconflicted-interest glory) released the new My Plate, to replace the food pyramid as the new guide for how Americans should eat.  This has led to a number of editorials, blogs, and tweeted musings about the influences that shaped the Plate and whether it accomplished any good whatsoever.

Mama Pea stirred up quite a discussion with her post - I encourage you to read not only the post but also the comments.  Her readers are an insightful and generally well-educated bunch.  Someone who was interested in doing so could learn a whole lot of good information from these comments.  I know I did.

Nutrition and healthy eating are nearly constantly on my mind.  I work for one of the top three weight loss programs in the nation as one of the people who train incoming new hires as well as "uptraining" the present corps of employees on new policies, guidelines, or other relevant information.  This can be, on limited occasion, extremely rewarding.  Most of the time, it is heart-rendingly frustrating.  Because I have put so much time into understanding my own relationship with food and the way that it fuels my body and propels my life, I take for granted that other people also think of these things.  I am guilty of crawling back into my own little world and neglecting the evidence of the much larger world out there.  It is astonishing how little people know about food, nutrition, and how to not kill themselves.

A few times, I have thought it would be humorous to devote an entire post or two to some of the bizarre things my new hires or present employees say to me in trainings.  While these things are kind of funny in retrospect, as a "I can't wait to tell Mister about this one" kind of thing, they are horrifying when they actually occur because they remind me how much I take for granted in my own life.  Here are some highlights:

There was the employee who was truly surprised that chicken would not be included on our vegetarian program. [click here for the full story]

There was the hot dog vendor who was personally offended by my tofu pups.

There was the woman who explained that vegetarians have to eat a lot of food that's been enriched with protein to help them "fight the cravings."  I was too busy being horror-stricken to ask her what vegetarians were craving that they needed protein in large quantities to ward off.

That same employee, only minutes later also explained that vegetarians don't get enough nutrients, which is why "they all have that weird skin color."  Mister and I had a field day with this one.  That weird skin color?  We weren't sure whether she meant that healthy glow that comes from eating foods that are good for you or the absence of red-flushed cheeks/face that indicate hypertension.

Another new hire nearly laughed himself into a coma trying to figure out why we would even need a vegetarian weight loss program since "those people" don't eat anything.  On the one hand, I'm glad he was able to recognize that eating animals contributes to the obesity rampant in our nation.  On the other hand, I explained to him that there are a great many things that are vegetarian-safe but will make you fat: potato chips, cake, french fries (not from McDonalds), most candy; I finished by pointing out that Alec Baldwin is a vegetarian.  I didn't need to say the rest.

I don't share these stories to make fun of the "stars," rather, to show what I believe is a relatively common ignorance about healthy eating.  It's so much more convenient to eat whatever McDonald's tells you is healthy or pick the lowest calorie treat in Starbucks' pastry case than it is to think of balance.  Pizza and drive-thru burgers are so much easier than working all day and then cooking a meal from scratch.  I totally get that and there are times I feel the same way.

So, although I feel the USDA is hopelessly corrupt and has been bought out by Big Meat/Dairy, I do think the Plate is a babystep in the right direction - at least it shows that half the plate should be taken up by fresh whole foods like fruit and vegetables.  Even though protein represented by meat and dairy are considered an essential part of your daily meals, at least the protein portion is smaller than the rest.  People don't know enough, generally, about nutrition or the corruption of those who feed us (so to speak) to make an educated decision, so if this will give them a little tap in the right direction (portion control, anyone?), I'm all for it.  Paradigms are not shifted overnight and the veg movement is definitely gaining ground.  We'll get there.

In the meantime, may I suggest two in-depth articles for your reading pleasure?

On the Huffington Post, Nil Zacharias explores The Inconvenience of Being Vegan.  He provides a lot of really good information in a completely accessible and readable format.  He incorporates humor but knows when to turn more serious to make his point.  He also includes a ton of links so interested readers can get more information.

At ZenHabits, the writer explores the myth that soy is bad for you in some way.  I was fortunate to find this post immediately after one of my new hires expressed concerns his son had raised to him about soy, resulting in the young man's refusal to eat anything with soy.  When I say "anything," I mean this young man is reading labels as closely as a vegan looking for casein.  This is a well-written and comprehensive answer to him buying into the anti-soy propaganda circulated, not surprisingly, by Big Meat and Big Dairy....

I meant to tell you how much I enjoyed the Rice Island Casserole from Vegan on the Cheap tonight, but I think too much.


  1. Fantastic post. I like that you think too much; it makes for excellent reading!

    I dig what you're saying about being so caught up in your own relationship with food that you can't help but be a little shocked by the realization that most people are terribly ignorant about nutrition. So yeah - the USDA is a far cry from the ideal food-related governing body, but baby steps steps nonetheless, and I guess you have to start somewhere!

    Looking forward to reading the articles; thanks for sharing.

  2. One of your best posts ever. :) I really like how you made the connection between what you learned as a result of higher education and the "new" USDA plate.

  3. aww...thanks, ladies! I appreciate your kind words. I was afraid of going too deep and I wondered if anyone would like a post with no pictures :)