Three Deceptive Food Labels That I Found in Ten Minutes

Without much difficulty, make that without any difficulty, you can find examples of stupid food labels that are nothing more than deceptive advertising, euphemisms designed to make you think you are eating better, healthier foods, when clearly you’re not.

I do not eat two of these foods but do fancy a nut or two once in a while. Sometimes questionable items end up in one’s pantry though and one has no memory of how they came to be there. When there are children around, unhealthy stuff has a way of sneaking in. One would think the way we protect our kids nowadays, we’d protect them from eating junk but, alas, I guess the protection stops at the nearest Burger King.

Triscuit Rosemary & Olive Oil Crackers – Kids would never eat these. This is grownup junk food. These crackers are so flavorful with artificial ingredients that they completely disguise the taste of the cheese, which is the only way crackers should be eaten anyway. Everyone thinks Triscuits are good for you, and contain fiber, which they do, but they also are loaded with fat, carbs and sodium. But the fun part is the claim on the front of the box: NATURAL FLAVOR WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVOR. What is the natural flavor and what is the “other” natural flavor? Sounds like a good letter to Nabisco, to ask that question.

Kirkland Extra Fancy Mixed Nuts – Nuts are good for you, a good source of protein, unless you have some digestional issues like diverticulitis. My question here is the application of the “extra fancy” description. Are nuts fancy? What exactly makes these nuts fancy? Is it their shape that makes them fancy? Their size? Their color? And once one has determined why these nuts are fancy, what exactly makes them “extra” fancy? This is a great puzzle to me.

Aunt Jemima Butter Rich Syrup – Note that the word “syrup” is in small letters and the “butter rich” is in big yellow letters. I would not eat this particular food but for those who would, there are a few issues here that need some discussion. This looks suspiciously like something that should not be consumed by anyone who is not a grizzly bear. It looks scary, even to the untrained eye, in its artificiality. But wait! Our fears are assuaged because in small letters it says “Natural Butter Flavor With Other Natural Flavors – Contains No Butter”. Yes, I know it’s hard to see that on the picture here, but it really says that. I am not making it up. This opens up a crapload of questions, so I needed to put them in a list.

  1. Are the letters yellow because that’s the color of butter?
  2. When people put syrup on pancakes, they usually also use butter, so is this extra butter?
  3. Should we not put real butter on our pancakes if we are using Aunt Jemima Butter Rich Syrup and would that be too much butter?
  4. What is Natural Butter Flavor?
  5. What are Other Natural Flavors?
  6. Is Natural Butter Flavor also an Other Natural Flavor?
  7. How can there be Natural Butter Flavor if there is No Butter?
  8. Do we really need butter in syrup anyway? Shouldn’t syrup just be, well, syrup?

These are three items I found with hardly any searching. There are others, probably even funnier than these. Yet it’s kind of sad to think consumers can be fooled by these kinds of phrases which are designed by experts in marketing and the English language (and probably psychology) to dupe the public.

Watch your labels, and better yet, try to buy things that don’t have labels. Things like fresh vegetables and fruit. And if they have labels, it’s a lot better if the ingredients are pronouncable. Stuff that ends in “acetate” or “oxide” or “phosphate” should probably be bypassed. Other questionable ingredients contain the word “gum” and anytime you see “natural flavorings” be concerned, be very concerned.

So, how about commenting about your favorite misleading food label? I’d like to hear about it.

  

The Mystery of Intersecting Events

It’s about time I start to hype my new novel (Perigee Moon) which I hope to have out by Spring, 2012. I have four weeks to work on it, then I’m committed to a babysitting gig until the end of May. I’m thinking I might not have a whole lot of time to devote to it while taking care of an 8-week-old. I’ll probably blog about that experience. It’s been a long time since I’ve changed a diaper.

In the past, people (make that one person) has said that my female characters are “mean”. I was shocked to hear that because I didn’t intend them to be considered mean, just strong women, or women who have put up with less than perfect relationships (through no fault of their own) and take a stand about what their futures will hold.

There is a character in the book, Abby, who couldn’t be called mean by anyone. She is the kind of person many can identify with, not overly sure of herself, second-guessing herself along the way. Many years ago she had a crush on Luke (the main character) and she finds that when their paths cross again, decades later, she still pretty much feels the same as she did back then.

She’s just seen him again and she thinks about how coincidental it is. Is it coincidence or some kind of predetermination which causes events to happen the way they do? She thinks of it as intersecting events where all along the way a different path could have been chosen. But because one path led to another and another, she’s ended up here, and it’s precisely where she wants to be.

Here is an excerpt:

She thought about her Aunt Maude — who’d been dying for the last thirty of her ninety-eight years (or so she’d told anyone who would listen) — and how Aunt Maude had picked this particular time to succumb. But of course, Aunt Maude hadn’t picked the time of her death, it had just happened that way. And what if she, Abby, hadn’t come back here, for the memorial service? She would never have seen Luke Koslov again, and would never have had the chance to talk to him, and here he was asking if they could go together, to the dinner dance, tomorrow night. It made her think that somehow events are planned to coincide and intersect in such a way that it alters the course of a life, or what’s left of a life, as if the person or persons whose life might change because of a chance meeting, might be in the eye of an almighty somewhere and deemed important enough that He has designed it for the sole purpose of having them reconnect.

Interesting thought. She liked to think of it. What if. What if Aunt Maude had died last Tuesday, a week ago, instead of this Tuesday? What if she hadn’t arranged to meet up with her cousin, Anne, for lunch at Applebee’s on Thursday? What if she hadn’t run into her old friend Dorie Wester, whom she hadn’t seen in decades, just as Dorie was pushing her 90-year-old mother in a wheelchair past the table where Abby sat? What if they hadn’t recognized each other? What if Dorie hadn’t mentioned the reunion? What if Dorie hadn’t suggested she come? What if Dorie hadn’t insisted that she come? What if Abby hadn’t said she would come?

And, most important, what if Luke hadn’t been there?

I’ve thought about this, as it equates to my own life. I’m sure others have done the same. What if I’d done it differently. What if I’d done A instead of B? What if I’d gone here instead of there? It’s an interesting thought, and sometimes, unfortunately, tinged with regret. As if it might have been better if I’d gone here instead of there, or done A instead of B.

Nevertheless, we end up where we are because we choose a number of paths along the way. We come to an intersection and choose one way over another. This is what Abby thinks has happened, and for her, it’s the best outcome she could have hoped for. A little like March Madness, you have to choose correctly and keep on choosing correctly and if you do, in the end, you might be a winner.

A Novel Field Trip

Occasionally I like to write about things about which I know not much (or nothing) and when this happens a field trip becomes necessary. In my new novel, Perigee Moon, the main character, Luke, becomes very attached to a place, a park in Columbus, Ohio, called Highbanks. This park is located in the midst of urban sprawl just off US 23 between Worthington and Delaware, Ohio in the midst of suburban housing and some rather forgettable urban development, strip malls, car dealerships and the occasional abandoned home.

Luke is especially enamored of the wetlands area which can be viewed, but to which there is no access. There is a trail to an overlook deck which is built on stilts such that the park goers cannot access the land, but can only view the natural protected area.

I decided if I wanted to write about it I better not just assume it, but should go there and take a look for myself. A field trip. Unfortunately I waited until December to go but needed to get there because the book is nearly completed. I couldn’t afford to wait around for spring.

We had an unnaturally warm December this year, no white Christmas, and days that felt like late March. On December 21, 2011, the high temperature must have hit 60. It had rained earlier but the sun appeared at noon and I thought, this might be the last chance I have to do this. So I went to Highbanks in order to walk the trail to the wetlands overlook deck. I packed up my camera because I figured it might be blog material and I wanted to include some pictures.

The park has two main paths and the wetlands trail veers off from one of them and continues for .4 mile to the deck. I started down the path, got about twenty steps and thought, hmm, this might not be as easy as I had hoped. Because it had been so wet, the trail was covered with wet, soggy leaves with standing water in places.

Since I am a bit of a little old lady when it comes to slippery stuff, I was not a little apprehensive. But I really, really wanted to see it so I trudged on, thinking all the way, this is dumb, what if I fall down here and break something (and around my house we joke about falling down and breaking a hip, but really, that seems as if it could be more of a reality these days), and there I’d be on a trail where sane people are nowhere in sight. I figured I could always call someone as I lay bleeding on the ground but it would be a case of hindsight at that point and a realization that I had just done a really dumb thing.

With every step I thought, I have to do this all again on the way back, but for some reason I kept on with it. At points I had to stop and figure out my strategy for the next step. How do I get over this little stream of water which is surrounded on both sides by roots of trees that are slimy with moss and other miscellaneous park debris? Each step was a new hazard.

Finally I reached my destination. It was worth the trip. Here is what I saw there:

 

The wind kicked up and I thought I really need to get back and not get stuck in a rainstorm which would only add to my precarious situation, so I picked my way back the .4 miles of slime to the main trail. Once safely back to the main (much more civilized) trail, I notched up the pace because the changeable weather was now kicking in to windy, going-to-rain-any-minute mode. I was a little disappointed in how this picture turned out, that it didn’t capture the drama of the day. While overhead the sky was still blue, I could see ominous black clouds at the horizon through the trees.

 

Sure enough, it rained and the wind became very gusty and those trees, so tall because they have been there since the beginning of time and denuded of their leaves, swayed and cracked. I could hear the occasional limb let go in the distance and a new worry surfaced. What if I get clocked with a piece of a tree?

I made it back okay without breaking anything and nothing breaking me, but not in time to avoid the downpour. After I was pretty thoroughly soaked it didn’t seem to matter much any longer. You can only get so wet but a bad hair day for sure.

It might not make a bit of difference, but I feel by being there and seeing what Luke saw I can write about it with a little more confidence.

Here are a couple more nice remembrances of my outing.

Up through the trees:

The wetlands:

10 Opening Lines From a Random Bookshelf

This blog has been active for one year!

A few posts about opening lines have been coming my way, that I happened on in Facebook from someone I don’t know personally but somehow ended up being a Facebook friend of mine. Can’t remember how that happened.

The best opening lines were determined, from all genres of books, the idea being that you should hook the reader on the first line, go on to further hook with the first paragraph, first page, first chapter. And no backstory until at least the second chapter, after you’ve sufficiently hooked the reader.

I thought I’d do the opposite and take ten books from my bookshelf, all of which I have read, and examine their first lines and dissect them, whether they are bad or good and issue them a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

 1.       Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

This is pretty good, I think. There is enough detail that I am intrigued. I know that Sauniere is a curator, and the fact that he is “renowned” probably puts him at middle age or beyond. The fact that he “staggered” is a curiosity, and it puts me in a museum, probably a section of which is devoted to fine arts, (the “Grand” Gallery). I am most interested in why he staggered. Something has happened to this old guy, let’s find out what. Thumbs up on this one, although I found the rest of the book tedious.

 2.      The day Shelley told me she was pregnant, I laughed.

Back to Me Again by Gretchen Hirsch

I think laughter as a response to someone announcing a pregnancy might not be appropriate, so I would like to know why that happened. But other than that, I’m not sure I liked the opening line. It sounded flippant. This book was self-published by a woman who gave an interesting time management talk to aspiring writers. As part of the deal, she wanted to read a portion of her manuscript to the audience and get their feedback. I liked what she wrote, so I bought her book. It was good, I’d say it was really good women’s fiction. The author is an accomplished writer of non-fiction and this was her first attempt at fiction. I thought she did a really good job of it, but her publisher wanted nothing to do with fiction, which is why she self-published. Liked the book, not the opening line. Thumbs down.

3.      The day was too beautiful to take a cab.

A Trip to the Inn by Dave Cunningham

This book was written by the son of a friend of mine. I believe it was his first, and there were parts of it that I liked a lot and found very thought provoking. Most of the characters were evil; there were almost no good characters in the story, they were all out to get each other. Which is fine, I don’t believe you have to identify with, or like, characters, but not everyone agrees with that by any means. The premise of the book was excellent, in the way of the movie, Fargo, where one bad event happens and it gets covered up, and more characters get involved, so the cover ups go on and escalate until it’s a real mess of a situation. But the opening line didn’t do it for me. Thumbs down.

4.      Reece Gilmore smoked through the tough knuckles of Angel’s Fist in an overheating Chevy Cavalier.

Angels Fall by Nora Roberts

This tome was left behind by someone, and wouldn’t have ended up on my bookshelf otherwise. But in the spirit of diverse genres, I read it. I wasn’t disappointed, in that, I got just what I expected. I did like part of it, but mostly it’s formulaic in content. The opening line tells me nothing much except she is probably in some sort of financial trouble, but by the sound of her name, I would guess it is a temporary situation. This author is a bazillionaire, has written hundreds of books and has fans that will probably do themselves in if anything ever happens to Ms. Roberts. I thought “smoked through” and “tough knuckles” were iffy in their credibility, but I guess this author can now say whatever she wants and no one will dare to suggest she do it otherwise. Luckily she won’t happen upon this post, so I can be safe in saying, thumbs down.

5.      I was six years old the first time I disappeared.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

Good. This is a great hook, at least for me. I have no idea what is going on here, but that line seems poetic to me. A lot of Ms. Picoult’s sentences are poetic, and I always start one of her novels so hooked I can’t put the thing down. Unfortunately it doesn’t carry me to the end. She does a great job of hooking, but not a great job of sustaining. By the end of the book, I didn’t really care much what happened to the characters and there were events included that I thought should be cut, that they did very little to add to the story, if anything. But the first sentence is definitely a thumbs up.

6.        For the weekly docket the court jester wore his standard garb of well-used and deeply faded maroon pajamas and lavender terry-cloth shower shoes with no socks.

 The Brethren by John Grisham

Ah, John Grisham. His books are well-written, exciting, entertaining. He is also a bazillionaire. And getting what you expected, in this case, is a good thing. Not literary by any means, kind of like going to a movie of this same genre, it’s fun while you’re there but you don’t take anything away from it other than the fact that you had two very pleasant hours watching it and the popcorn was delicious. I can’t say I know anything about what the book will be about with the first sentence but it seems like he spent a lot of time on it, and while it piques my curiosity, I can’t say it hooks me. Thumbs down.

7.       When I telephoned Thomassy that morning in March of 1974 and asked him to lunch, I counseled myself to muster a casual voice.

 Other People by Sol Stein

Mr. Stein writes fiction and also how-to-write books for amateur authors. In On Writing, he says that he wrote this novel using first person POV. That’s not unusual except that he skipped from person to person and there were several characters, each with a chapter headed with his or her name so you knew whose head you’d be inside at any particular time. He said this was hard to do, and wouldn’t recommend it to us newbies. I was curious and read it. I liked it, and I liked the first line, which tells me in what time frame the story takes place, and that the caller is very anxious, or nervous, or upset and wills himself to be calm when speaking to Thomassy. I liked it, thumbs up.

 8.       I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Apart from the punctuation, what’s not to like about this? It sets the time and place and the idea of being born twice – what’s that all about? I want to know, and maybe I have an inkling, but it sounds like it will be an interesting unraveling of the facts. And it was. This was an Oprah Pick, and I like this first line and give it the thumbs up but could do without the colons and semis.

 9.      All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

This is on everyone’s list as one of the greatest first lines of all time. It is one of the best books ever written about nineteenth-century Russia, and social scandal. Men are allowed a certain freedom to dally, but not so with women. The men might have to deal with irate wives. The women throw themselves under trains. The beauty of this book is the translation. (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). I have seen other versions that do not compare to this one. It made me wonder, is it the writing that is wonderful, or the translation? Guess we won’t know for sure, but this first line is naturally a thumbs up.

 10.     After dark the rain began to fall again, but he had already made up his mind to go and anyway it had been raining for weeks.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wrobleski

I did like this first line but I’m not sure if I can explain why I do. It’s conversational, as if the author is about to tell me a story. And I do want to know where he is going. The style makes me think this book will be beautifully written in an understated way. Of course I don’t know that to be true after reading just this first line, but it did turn out to be true. Thumbs up.