I Hate February

I hate February. February in Michigan is an entire month of dirty black snow piled in the parking lot of Walmart- jamming shopping cart movements and soaking unsuspecting tennis shoes. February, in Old English, use to be known as “Mud Month” and I swear I read somewhere that Native Americans used to call it “Month of Hunger.” February’s only redeeming quality is that it is 28 days long and it doesn’t drag on like January. Sure February has Black History Month and Valentine’s Day but we should honestly move both those events to March which holds more hope and positivity with the advent of spring. My Mom always chirps in when I get sulky over Michigan winters…You know the winter makes you appreciate summer more!” This Michigander philosophy should be the state’s official motto.

Pure Michigan – You Need Brown Snow to have a Summer Glow

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When my Mom says things like this I smile a little because deep down I know it’s 100% true. Once you get used to the seasons there is no going back. I think the change of weather is vital to human health. Have you ever lived in a place where it was the same weather all year round? I have and it destroyed my sense of time and space. Of course, people that live in those areas say it is fine but they don’t know what they are missing. The first legitimate day of spring after a terrible winter feels like a 24-hour orgasm; stepping outside into the sunlight and not having to wear ten layers of clothes is like walking out of a prison sentence. We are designed for contrast and a little masochism.

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The worst thing for our mental and spiritual health is monotony. We need regular changes in stimulus and to look away from the proverbial “white wall” of our daily life. Try to inject various changes into your routine so that dullness and depression don’t creep into your existence. Take a vacation. Go on a day trip. Read a new book. See a play. Go workout. Try some new food. Call up an old friend. Take a walk in the cold.  Spend a day without electronics. Say hi to a stranger. Write a blog post about February. Just try to remember that contrast is the key ingredient to life and without Winter we would never have Summer. I am at the tail end and my own “white wall” in respects to researching Plato for my next installment of Tackle the Library. So in honor of change and contrast, below is a list of all the new books I will be reading starting March 12th. This is a jumbled list of classics and some non-fiction – it doesn’t include six audiobooks which I am still picking out.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
The Anatomy of Story 
by John Truby
African Game Trails 
by Theodore Roosevelt
Maigret and the Ghost 
by Georges Simenon
The Pickwick Papers 
by Charles Dickens
All Quiet on
 the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Confessions of an English Opium Eater 
by De Quincy
The 39 Steps 
by John Buchan
The Subterraneans 
by Jack Kerouac
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga 
by Hunter Thompson
Monsieur Monde Vanishes 
by Georges Simenon
The Moonstone 
by Wilkie Collins
Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” 
by William Burroughs
Another Country 
by James Baldwin

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The end of February also marks the completion of my Novella titled “We’re all Chihuahuas” which will be available in early March. I do hate February but at least the brown snow is good for getting work done. Think of some projects for yourself and start some new goals for spring. Don’t be stagnant and don’t waste your precious gift of life. February is almost over and I can see the sunlight peeking out of the clouds as I write this last sentence.

The Forgotten Genocide

I found myself last night eating a double-decker plate of apple pie with an unfortunate amount of whip-cream on top. While feasting, I thought about how thankful I was to be able to shove my face with food. Have you ever been without food before? Not like a diet or a 3 pm snack type of hunger; the kind of hunger where there is no escape and no relief to the pain of emptiness. I am thankful this holiday weekend that God has blessed my family with the polar opposite of that painful state. Unfortunately, there are individuals around the world who suffer from hunger on a daily basis – over 796 million people lack enough sustenance to lead a healthy lifestyle (foodaidfoundation.org). That statistic is doubly disheartening with the fact that the world wastes one-third of all food production each year – 1.3 billion tons (fao.org).

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I bring up hunger specifically because I just finished a book that details one of the worst genocides in our modern history – Not Even My Name: A True Story by Thea Halo. This genocide took place between 1913 and 1922 against the Christian ethnic groups of Turkey – Armenians, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks. In total, the Turkish government killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, 300,000 Assyrians, and 500,000 Greeks through blatant murder and death marches. The book pointedly tells the story of Sano Halo – a Pontic Greek – who experienced these events and actually escaped with her life to America. As you’ll read, the Turkish authorities were ruthless against Halo’s family and used hunger as their principal weapon.

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The causes of this genocide are myriad, but one of the most significant catalysts was the Ottoman Empire’s fall during World War I. The Ottoman’s were prolific during the medieval ages but slowly declined by the 19th century – their central territory located in modern-day Turkey. At the turn of the 20th century, the Turkish government began changes in their state that aimed to lift up Turks and bring down historic ethnic groups located in the country. These “reforms” mixed with defeats in WWI to form a true hatred for everything “Western”; leading to the systemic extermination of millions of people to purify the decaying Turkish state and bring it back to its once glorious Ottoman apex. The government forced these “foreigners” – who historically lived in the area for thousands of years – into work camps, deportation marches, and mass graves.

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Sano Halo was 10 around the time the Turks came to her village and told her family to prepare to leave the next day. With guns pointed at their heads, they abandoned all their possessions, their livelihood, and their history. They were forced to march all day without breaks for food or water. The Turkish guards would beat them if they took a break or begged for food from local villages. Sano would end up marching 6 months straight – her younger siblings all died from hunger during that time. Eventually, even her mother died of exhaustion and Sano was forced to live with a Turkish family as a maid so she could have regular food.

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Sano was poorly treated by this family and eventually ran away. She was ultimately taken in by a family friend who arranged her marriage to an Assyrian man from America. She was able to reach Ellis Island and eventually had a happy family of 10 children. Sano was the unfortunate exception to this horrific story, and the Turkish government did their best to cover up its despicable deeds. In the aftermath of the genocide, textbook producers were paid by the Turkish government to exclude their actions and paint the country as a modernized beacon of the middle-east. This cover-up is one of the reasons Hitler felt so empowered to begin his own genocide…

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
-Adolf Hitler 1939

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Sadly, this Holocaust is still seldom recognized, and the Turkish government refuses to officially refer to it as a “genocide.” However, the genocide and death march was crystal clear for Sano, and thankfully her story was recorded so we can honor her family by spreading this knowledge. I challenge you this Thanksgiving weekend to think about how hunger can destroy and think about how blessed you are have not only food but a place to call “home.” Spread this message and help others learn this history. Not only will it help us prevent another genocide but it will help us be more thankful for the blessings we take for granted each and every day.

Further movies and books on this period in history…

Aghet: A Genocide (Documentary)

Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction (Documentary)

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (Book)

McDonald’s as a Registered Dietitian

People are funny when it comes to eating. Food is arguably the most important thing in life. Without food, there would be no sex, religion, culture, love, or even laughter. Do you remember the last time your hunger got to ridiculous levels? I can remember a time when my wife and I went on a hike in Maine; we got lost and were 6 hours deep into the mountains without any idea where we were. Christina was tired, sore, and on top of that she was ravenously hungry. It began to rain and immediately she transformed from a cute gizmo to a scary gremlin. Having to endure a hike with a starving Asian woman is something that few men have survived – if there was video of that day it would be a hybrid of the The Blair Witch Project and The Last Samurai. The only way I came out alive was realizing that our map was upside down and the car was only five minutes away. I floored it to the nearest grease pit and we indulged in every type of unhealthy food that side of the Appalachian.

I am a  Registered Dietitian and usually only eat meats, fruits, vegetables, and peanuts. After some years of giving out dietary advice, I have come to one big realization – people hate being told what to eat. Eating is a very personal thing and there is nothing worse then some emaciated dietitian telling you not to eat something. However, there is one major caveat to this truth. Society as a whole, believes it is fair game to degrade McDonald’s food, McDonald’s customers, and McDonald’s as a whole without one thought of wrong doing. This relentless bashing is so universal that it doesn’t matter if you are a skinny-vegan-white-woman or a fat-coreitarian-black-man. Everyone does it. Walk into a McDonald’s and even the fattest guy is rationalizing his choice, “I know McDonald’s is bad but they put additives in the food that make me buy 10 McChickens.” Everyone nods and begins rehearsing their own defense lines.

Here’s the thing; For the majority of Americans, McDonald’s is probably the healthier option compared to what is purchased at the grocery store. I judge people’s shopping carts and I can tell you they make McDonald’s look like a Panera Bread. Pop is usually hanging over the sides. The only vegetables are frozen potatoes. The staple foods consist of processed meat and processed carbs: bagged chips, cookies, frozen pizza, instant rice, boxed noodles. The carts get worse if there are kids tagging alongside- hovering like some parasitic fish on an obese shark. Kid foods are usually sugary and contain a bunch of weird colors that make everything look like the depressed Circus Circus in Las Vegas. I honestly think that kids are a “get out of healthy eating” free pass for adults; “Oh I buy Lucky Charms for little Susie but usually she only eats a little so I polish off the rest of the bowl when she isn’t looking.”

So what is my point in bashing everyone’s food? My point is to help everyone realize that the food you buy at the grocery store is often times worse then fast food. McDonald’s shouldn’t be the linchpin of all hate when it comes to unhealthy eating in America. McDonald’s is no different than any other burger establishment – they serve greasy food that people want and they should be frequented only on occasion. I say all these things because the unwarranted blaming of McDonald’s distracts us from the unhealthy foods that are eaten everywhere else. Is McDonald’s a saint? No. But, let’s understand that we need to clean up our eating at home before sending the clown to the gallows. I recently watched The Founder and was inspired by the amount McDonald’s has positively impacted American society: affordable food to the masses,  a safe place for kids to play,  a livelihood for many struggling workers; McDonald’s arguably is one of the biggest forces for democracy in the entire world. In the end, I write this blog to remind everybody that fast food has benefited us just as much as it has hurt us. What we need to realize is that our homes should be sanctuaries of healthy eating and not rationalizations for crappy food…”well at least these store bought french fries and chicken fingers are healthier than McDonalds’s.” Good luck on everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions.