Category Archives: Nonfiction

Is Butter the Future?

In the April issue of Elle magazine, Molly Langmuir questions the societal and dietary norms that preach ‘fat is bad.’ Langmuir spoke with Sally Fallon, who, for two decades, has preached  the health benefits of enjoying animal proteins, organ meats, and raw milk and yogurt (while avoiding all things processed), and reveals that food—like all else—isn’t binary. Enjoying fatty foods doesn’t have to just be a cheat day indulgence.

Raised in Palos Verdes, California, by parents she calls “the original foodies,” Fallon got an English degree at Stanford in 1970 and settled in Washington, DC, with her then husband (they later divorced), who worked in the aerospace industry. “I knew in my bones this low-fat thing was wrong,” she said. But she didn’t have evidence until she read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, published in 1939 by an intrepid dentist named Weston A. Price, which documented his world travels studying diets and health. His conclusion? Various diseases, cavities, even “personality disturbances,” were rare among groups who ate like their ancestors— lots of meats or seafood, plenty of fat, and, if they ate carbs, whole grains—but rampant among those who’d adopted a modern diet, with heaps of white flour and sugar.

Fallon eventually had four kids and fed them foods like liver and raw milk—she credits this with their continued good health and in 1995 she put Price’s beliefs into practical form in the self-published Nourishing Traditions. At first, Fallon stored the books in her garage and shipped out a few copies a month, but “it started to grow and grow,” she said. Even Atkins blurbed her book, gushing that the first chapter “is so right on target that I feel a little guilty for taking her ideas.” There are now 740,000 copies in print.

Over lunch—a tomato soup into which she’d stirred an entire container of crème fraîche and a dip made from cheese, butter, and cream—she said that at her farm, she does things “the old-fashioned way,” meaning it’s a multispecies realm with pigs that eat the leftover whey, cows that eat the grass, chickens that eat anything they scratch out of the ground, and cats that eat the mice. The living-history–museum vibe carries over into the 150-year-old main house, a precisely decorated three-story affair filled with antique china and Oriental rugs. (There are a few incongruous nods to the present: a swimming pool, a wine fridge.) Fallon does her writing at an enormous antique desk, on which sits a glass paperweight I mistook for a crystal ball. “I don’t see the future,” she said. Then she laughed. “Yes, I do! And it’s butter!”

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“In France, I’m a Star”

a man in an orange knit hat lights a cigarette

Tennesseean Sara Estes profiles the man behind her state’s strangest sporting event: Lazarus Lake, aka Gary Cantrell, the creator of the punishing Barkley Marathons. Estes’ piece is a fascinating profile of both the man, the land — “trees like steel bars, thickets like razor wire” — and the community where the Barkley takes place.

When I arrive at Hardee’s, the sun still hasn’t risen, and the air is chilled and dew-damp. Inside, a group of white-haired men — retired, church-going, grandpa types — are seated around a large table in the middle of the restaurant. They’ve been eating breakfast here, every morning, at this very table, since the dawn of fucking time. They can remember all the various phases of branding and décor Hardee’s has cycled through over the decades; they can recount what year the restaurant got new booths, new light fixtures, new flooring. They know the Barkley well, and can always tell its arrival by all the strange new people who flood into the small town around April Fool’s Day, the day on which Laz purposefully chose to host the race, or as near to it as possible.

When Laz arrives, he orders sausage and eggs and joins the men at their roost. Media crews from France and New York are slowly trickling in. They look like aliens from a distant land with their hi-tech AV equipment and tight-fitting athletic wear. Laz ignores them. His particular brand of grungy, mountain-man fame is generally underwhelming to locals, yet ceaselessly exhilarating to clean-cut city dwellers near and far.

“In France, I’m a star,” he tells me. “In America, I’m thought of more as a homeless person.”

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week we’re sharing stories by Jason Fagone, Betty Ann Adam, Christian H. Cooper, Clarissa Wei, and Robert Kolker.

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Hit Eject

Sari Botton | Longreads | April 2017 | 9 minutes (2,349 words)

 

Happy Adenomyosis Awareness Month! Never heard of it? Allow me to enlighten you about this painful affliction, which is similar to endometriosis, and something of a mystery to modern medicine. I know about it because it wreaked havoc on my life for 25 years before a hysterectomy at 43 — an operation I had to fight for, and almost didn’t receive — gave me the relief I needed.

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The 2017 James Beard Award Winners: A Reading List

The growth of food writing has evolved with the explosion of all the food-watching that accompanied programs like Top Chef and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and we’re way past the days of Craig Claiborne or Ruth Reichl reveling about an up-and-coming chef in an out-of-the-way corner of a yet-to-be-gentrified-neighborhood somewhere.

The James Beard awards—otherwise known as the Oscars of food—were announced earlier this week, and befitting the honor’s nearly 30-year history, let’s toast sparkling rosé and caviar-topped amuse-bouches to the best food writing published in 2016 (here is the full list of winners).

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How the Canadian Government Tried to “Remove the Indian From the Child”

Betty Ann Adam was three years old when she was taken from her mother in what is known as the “’60s Scoop,” a period spanning 30 years in which indigenous children in Canada were removed from their homes to be placed with white families as church-run residential schools were closing. “The government’s stated intention with the residential schools was to ‘remove the Indian from the child,’ by removing them from their parents and having them educated by white Christians” — another horrific, government-endorsed attempt at cultural genocide.

At the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Betty Ann Adam recounts her abduction, her trials fitting into white society, and her trepidation — and eventual joy — at being reunited with her blood relatives.

I’m in a police car. It’s a hot summer day and the seat is burning my legs. The woman puts me on her lap. Next, I’m in an airplane looking down at tiny cars on the road. Finally, I’m at the farm where I find myself, without knowing why, living a new life.

I was part of the Sixties Scoop. I’m an indigenous woman who was raised as a foster child in a non-native home. My birth mother, Mary Jane Adam, attended Holy Angels Indian Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. She left the school in her teens but never returned to the reserve to live.

I realized my indigenous identity had felt like a shadow that followed me and that I had feared all my life. When I stopped running and turned to meet it, I saw a friend. I saw my family. I saw myself.

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The Tears and Tenacity of the Mothers of the Disappeared

During the ’70s and early ’80s, 30,000 people “disappeared” during Argentina’s Dirty War — some of them pregnant women who gave birth in detention centers, had their babies stolen, and were then killed. Delia’s daughter Stella was one of those women. Aided by other mothers and grandmothers, Delia never stopped looking for her lost grandson. Bridget Huber tells the story of Delia’s search in California Sunday magazine.

Delia counted the days until Stella’s due date. Then she started looking for Martín, too. A neighbor whose own son was missing told her that searching mothers were meeting in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. The first time Delia went, there were just a handful of mothers, but their numbers multiplied each week. The women made head scarves from cloth diapers they’d saved from their children’s infancy and embroidered them with their missing sons’ and daughters’ names; their white kerchiefs would come to symbolize the search. Public assemblies were forbidden, so the women would make counter­clockwise laps around the plaza, sometimes prodded along by soldiers’ gun barrels. (Within a year, three of the mothers would disappear.) In the plaza, Delia met other women who were looking for pregnant daughters or daughters-in-law. Soon they were meeting in parks and coffee shops. They’d bring props like knitting or birthday gifts to pass themselves off as harmless grandmothers on a social call. But really they were plotting investigations. The women made the rounds at candy stores and orphanages and spied on families that might have acquired a child under murky circumstances. They gathered evidence and stuck it in tin cans that they buried in their gardens.

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Carol Blevins: The Confidential Informant Who is Now A Target for Murder

In this epic, seven-part feature from the Dallas Morning News, Scott Farwell tells the story of Carol Blevins, a heroin addict and “Aryan Princess featherwood” (property of a gang member) who became the FBI’s most important confidential informant during a massive, six-year investigation into the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas — an organized crime syndicate responsible for over 100 murders and a huge drug trade. Blevins’ keen eye for detail helped take down 13 members of the gang. Not only does she suffer post-traumatic stress from her undercover work, the gang has signaled the “green light” on her assassination in a bid for revenge.

She lived with the ABT, gathering information the Cold War way – by sleuthing, connecting dots, memorizing detail.

Her spy work offered broad views (the ABT’s strategy for moving meth with Mexican cartels) and small insights (serial numbers on stolen guns).

In covert text messages, she pre-empted murders and interrupted robberies. She led police to drug drop houses, snapped photos connecting criminals to unsolved crimes, and prepped police when it came time to arrest men predisposed to violence.

Carol’s work sealed 13 convictions, contributed key information to at least 16 others, and juiced the careers of her government handlers.

The feds use most spies like matches – to strike fast, burn hot and flame out. Others fill disposable roles in sting operations, as drug buyers or middlemen who fence stolen property.

But agents say the most valuable CIs augur deep inside, where they learn to live in another skin, to lie and believe the lie, to infiltrate silently and investigate invisibly – like a colorless gas filling an empty vessel.

Carol was like that. She would do or say or risk anything to gain favor with the feds.

Then they cut her loose.

Medical records suggest Carol suffers from a range of mental illnesses — bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder — as a result of her work as a confidential informant.

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Snow, Death and Politics

Frances Badalamenti | Longreads | April 2017 | 19 minutes (4,741 words)

 

Late on a Tuesday afternoon in January, while I was at my therapist’s home office in Portland dissecting and disseminating a recent holiday visit with family, my elderly father was sitting in his Lazy Boy in New Jersey watching television, his brain slowly bleeding into his skull. I was anxious, unsettled. We were expecting a snowstorm and I now had to make the trek across the Willamette River from the Southwest Hills and back to my Northeast enclave. Right before I left my house, I had received an urgent phone call from my older brother: our father had taken a spill earlier in the day.

“I just spoke to Dad and he said that he fell today,” my brother told me. “He’s upset with himself and doesn’t sound right.”

“What do you mean he doesn’t sound right?’ I asked.

“He said he hit his fed, not his head,” my brother said. “And he hurt his hand,” he said.

A hot wave of energy ripped through the core of my body. The same sensation like when you almost get into a car accident. My father was in his mid-eighties, but had only recently begun showing signs of frailty.

“Have you spoken with Lee and John yet?” I asked my brother.

“Not yet. I’ll call them right now.”

My three older siblings all live within driving distance of our extended family back in Jersey.

“Listen, I have an appointment for the next few hours, but I’ll check in after,” I said. We hung up. But then I phoned him right back. “Someone needs to go over there and check on him right away!” I yelled. “And why the fuck is he not at the hospital?”

“I have no idea, Frances,” my brother said. “I’ll get on it right now.”

“And what the hell does Barbara think?” I asked.

“She thinks he’s fine,” my brother said. “Dad said she iced his wrist and gave him soup.”

My brother and I did not trust our stepmother to take proper care of our father. They had not been on the best of terms during the past few months. They hardly spoke to one another. And if there was a transaction, it was most likely her yelling at him about leaving something out of place in the house, and then him firing back. I had to go to my therapy appointment. There was so much on my mind, mostly around my recent visit to Jersey. I hadn’t been this concerned about the state of my family since our mother underwent cancer treatment almost ten years ago. Now it was our father; he was having a hard time of life.

There was already a benign layer of snow carpeting the ground when the session ended and my therapist, a sturdy woman in her fifties who I have been seeing for over two-and-a-half years–and whom I would describe as tough and unconventional and kind (a Mack truck filled with marshmallows)–walked me out her back door. She lives and works out of a cozy Keebler Elf-type bungalow in a hilly, leafy Portland enclave. “It’s so pretty,” I said looking up at the dark sky, letting the thick wet flakes fall onto my face. I could tell she was concerned about me. Of course I’d shared with her that my father had fallen earlier in the day, and she knew he was having a difficult time in his marriage.

“You okay driving in this?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I’ll just take it slow.”

She knew I did not feel safe, that I was scared not only about driving through a snowstorm, but that I was worried about my dad. And she was right. I wanted to be alone, with nobody there to witness the distress.

When I got into the car, I found a thirty-something deep text message conversation between my siblings. Ambulances, hospitals, MRI’s, confused speech, unrecognized faces. It felt as if my whole body had been wired with electrodes.

“Sorry, I’ll be home in about an hour,” I wrote back. “It’s snowing hard here.” Then I found my way out of the now hardly recognizable neighborhood, then crawled through the white-out storm in the relative safety bubble of my Subaru wagon. Read more…

The Gun Barrel and the Damage Done: A Profile of Trauma Surgeon Amy Goldberg

What exactly does a bullet do to flesh as it careens through the body? At Highline, Jason Fagone profiles Philadelphia trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg, a woman on the front lines of gun violence as she attempts to repair the broken bodies that arrive daily at Temple University Hospital. Dr. Goldberg doesn’t only fix the damage, she’s also working to prevent it. After a patient died the third time he was shot, she worked with friend and coworker Scott Charles to create a social program, Turning Point, which has been instrumental in stopping gun violence before it starts.

More than 30,000 people die of gunshot wounds each year in America, around 75,000 more are injured, and we have no visceral sense of what physically happens inside a person when he’s shot. (Dr. Amy) Goldberg does.

“The creation of a person, you know. It’s the heart beating and the lungs bringing air. It is so miraculous.” Surgery, for Goldberg, was a way of honoring the miracle. And trauma surgery was the ultimate form of appreciation, because a surgeon in trauma experienced so much variety. She might be operating on the carotid artery in the neck, or the heart in the chest, or the large bowel or small bowel in the abdomen, or the femoral artery in the thigh, at any given moment, on any given night.

“As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.”

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