Hooked on Food

Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote Salt, Sugar, Fat and his latest book, Hooked, was the speaker at the American Library in Paris author event. I wrote a review of the book Hooked: How we became addicted to Processed Food a year and a half ago and encouraged all my readers interested in both Addictions and Food, to read it. I learned he was coming to Paris to be a guest speaker at a writing retreat this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for me to attend the retreat. When I learned last weekend, that he would be speaking at the Library, I was very excited. This man had thanked me on Instagram for the review and I got an image of an author that was totally approachable.

Not only did I want to hear him in person, I decided I would give him a copy of my book Saving Sara, A Memoir of Food Addiction. I could tell from his writing that he did not have addiction issues himself, at least as far as food is concerned, that his aim was to expose Nestlé, for the pimps they are (my words not his), to alert the world that these companies WANT you to get addicted to their products as it is excellent for the financial bottom line. I’ve long wanted to correspond with him but hadn’t found a way. When I met him walking in the door of the Library, after we all greeted him, I asked him if he would be willing to read my book. He said he would be honored. So I inscribed it and handed it to him.

He was interviewed by the Library’s excellent Alice McCrumb who provided an air of excitement about the book. He told us about the research presently going: on taking ‘Photos’ of people’s brains right after eating chocolate, for instance, and how the researcher can see the corresponding parts of the brain light up within seconds. Most damningly, it seems industries don’t try to hide the fact that they are working hard to find products that are convenient, cheap, and addictive. The CEOs of these industries would never eat their own food, Moss told us.

I found myself very uncomfortable during the whole talk. Looking back I realize that I had come with the intention of making his acquaintance, giving him my book to read if he was willing, and maybe forming some kind of bond with him. That didn’t happen. I appreciate the science and the research that is now going into the huge subject of food addiction. He told us that in his first book, he danced around using the ‘A’ word, In Hooked, he didn’t. He even went so far as to say that for some people this addiction is like drug addiction and that people have to look at what drug addicts do to overcome their addictions for help with food. What I finally came up with by the time I got home was that I’m so used to being with like-minded people when talking of this subject, that I’m not often in the position of learning the more scientific aspects of it. In Michael’s talk, he was talking about Big Pharma (known as the food industry), not the addicts themselves. People had come to hear the dasterdly deeds of Nestlé (which makes $63.8bn a year) and the nine other huge food companies that control the majority of what you buy from the food and beverage brands, not to hear from people like me. I was definitely the odd man out.

Near the end, one woman asked “What is the solution?’ Two days later, I’m not actually sure if she was asking about the solution to stopping production of these addictive products or the solution to helping people stay away from them. I heard it as the second. I raised my hand and outed myself as a food addict in recovery for over 17 years, and that each of us has to take some responsibility for ending the abuse on our bodies. The topic before had been that so many families couldn’t afford good food, they had to buy this cheap excuse for food in order to feed their families. I didn’t respond to that but I know plenty of food addicts who live hand to mouth who have found a way to feed their families with real food. In 12 step rooms, we’re told you have to want it bad enough. 

The thing is: I agree with every one of his findings, and I applaud him for calling this problem what it is: Food Addiction. But I don’t agree that the industry has to take 100% responsibility for our health. If I had waited until that happened, I’d probably be dead by my own hand today. I think each one of us has to take 100% responsibility for what we put in our bodies and, people like me who have lost the power to act in healthy ways, we should get ourselves surrounded by like-minded people who will hold our hands through the withdrawal part, explain to us in no uncertain terms that this disease is one of Obsession—obsessing about those foods/substances that are supposed to make us happy, find Prince Charming, etc, etc and one of Compulsion—once the substance we are allergic to, in my case sugar and grains, is in my body, I don’t know what will happen next. I’m at the mercy of my compulsion.

I felt very alone at the end of his talk. I think I brought it on myself. I know what he writes about and I’m a huge cheerleader. But I forgot what it’s like to be in the company of people just learning what is going on in the food industry and how people like me are already dying from addiction. Here is the kicker: It is easy to think “well this happened in the tobacco industry, maybe things will change.” Guess who owns some of the largest industry companies?? The tobacco companies. Tobacco stopped making the billions it was making, so they found the next best thing. Philip Morris owns Kraft. RJ Reynolds owns Nabisco. Does the average person have a chance?

Michael Moss is an investigative journalist and author. In 2010, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on contaminated hamburgers. His previous book Salt, Sugar, Fat, was a New York Times best seller.  Hooked (2021) explores our complex relationship with processed food. It explains why certain foods leave us wanting more, and reveals how our brain chemistry and our evolutionary biology are exploited by the fast-food industry.

Sara Somers is an author, blogger, and retired Psychotherapist living in Paris, France. Saving Sara: For nearly fifty years, Sara Somers suffered from untreated food addiction. In this brutally honest and intimate memoir, Somers offers readers an inside view of a food addict’s mind, showcasing her experiences of obsessive cravings, compulsivity, and powerlessness regarding food.

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For those of you following the growth of my peacocks’ tails, here are the latest photos. The feathers of the tail are at least two inches longer than last week and I could see an eye or two. On his back, the brown and white feathers are beginning to turn into blue and green shell-shaped feathers that will eventually take up most of his back.

A bientôt

Sara

When Writers Come to Paris

Because I live in Paris and because I love the American Library in Paris, I get to meet some great writers. I’m fairly sure this wouldn’t happen to me anywhere else. Paris is small for a world class city. Everyone comes to Paris. When Audrey Chapuis, Director of the American Library, introduced Ann Patchett at the Yearly ALP Gala last Thursday evening, she told us that Ann had sworn off traveling after the pandemic. Wasn’t going to do much anymore. But when offered the opportunity to speak at the largest fund raiser the Library has every year, she was easily persuaded. And I got to meet her. When I told her I was a budding author at 74 years old, she looked at me and said “Good for you!” Then she wrote ‘Write often, read everything, love in Paris’ on the title page of her latest book of essays These Precious Days.

Anne Patchett

Maybe it doesn’t mean much to the average person but it certainly does to me. I got to meet Ann Patchett! She wrote to me personally in my book. I’ve read the inscription every day. It makes me smile. Then comes the problem: when one’s favorite writers are people like Ann Patchett and George Saunders, it is hard not to compare my written words to their written words. They are great writers (in my humble opinion). Not only that, they are great speakers. It is not every author who is also someone who can captivate an audience. You can hear Ann’s talk on YouTube on the Library Channel. And if you haven’t already done so, listen to Saunders’ commencement speech on Kindness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruJWd_m-LgY

I’ve been writing creative non-fiction for over six years and a journal forever. I write this blog. I wrote a memoir of my eating disorder Saving Sara My Memoir of Food Addiction. I wrote another book with five women on the practicalities of abstaining from addictive binge foods. I’ve definitely honed my skills and learned the craft of writing non-fiction. Now I want to try my hand at fiction. I am a beginner. I love words. It shouldn’t be so hard to put a sentence together. Right? Wrong. With fiction, I first have to choose a Point of View (POV). In non-fiction, that’s a done deal, it’s my POV. Choosing the POV in novel writing is huge. Is it one of the main characters with all their baggage flavoring their thoughts? Is it a distant third person and the story is told from some unnamed observer?

I have an idea for a novel. I’ve had it for awhile now. It’s why I felt able to entertain the possibility of applying to the Stanford Writing Certificate program in novel writing. But to get into the program, as part of the application process, I have to submit 3000-6000 words of fiction. The application letter kindly says that it is ok to send in published work. They just want to know how the applicant writes. I not only don’t have published work, I don’t even have finished works. I have had to hire an editor to help me so that I don’t completely embarrass myself. She is the one who has stressed my need to pick a POV. I am a quick learner and I’m smart enough to know that if I were actually to write this novel, I need a structured environment with teaching and feedback to proceed. I just have to get in to the program.

Steven King started writing when he was nine years old. He started submitting his fiction to many different places when he was fourteen. Ann Patchett wrote as a teenager, published her first book when she was twenty-seven. George Saunders‘ story is more like mine. He wandered around doing many things in many different countries. I think he majored in a science in university. Since he started writing, he has won many awards including the Man Booker prize for his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. And these are the people I find myself, hopelessly, comparing myself to. I told my editor. She said “That’s good. It means you will keep improving yourself.” I didn’t expect that.

A Class in a book for both writers and lovers of short stories.

So who else have I had the great good fortune to listen to while residing in Paris. Colsen Whitehead before he won the Pulitzer Prize; Richard Russo; Ta-Nehesi Coates was a visiting fellow and wrote most of his award winning book, Between the World and Me, down in a small cubicle reserved for Fellows; Lauren Collins, who writes for the New Yorker, married a frenchman and lives in Paris. She comes to the Library often to interview other writers. I subscribe to her newsletter and wonder if I ever could put together a sentence as she does.

Lauren Collins writes wonderful essays about France

Just a few days, I went to hear Colm Tóibín talk on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve not yet been able to get through more than a few pages of Ulysses at a time. I went because it was Colm Tóibín. He wrote Brooklyn, made into a wonderful movie; The Magician about Thomas Mann another writer I tried to read but couldn’t get more than a few pages. (Colm told me to read Buddenbrooks. He said that was an easy book to read). Maybe it’s because he’s Irish! Mr. Tóibín makes anything sound fascinating. I loved The Magician and am now part way into The Master, his 2004 book on Henry James.

Colm Tóibín speaking at the American Library in Paris

I think you get the idea. I’m in Writing Mecca. If I can restrain the part of me that loves to say “You aren’t good enough,” I can listen and learn. I can say “Pay attention. Maybe one day you will be good enough.”

A bientôt,

Sara

Food Junkies

Welcome to all who listened to my interview on the food junkies podcast. You were given the wrong website address. I write another blog and you can find it at: http://www.saving-sara.com.

To all the rest of you, May is my one year anniversary of the publication of my book Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction. I have been writing that other blog as a companion: to help people know that food addiction is a real disease, to learn something about it, and to let them know where to get more information. I was interviewed recently on the Food Junkies podcast: https://foodjunkies.libsyn.com/episode-18

So if you know someone who seems to have a problem with food–either overeating or undereating, and you suspect it’s a bigger problem than just losing a few pounds, send them over to the other blog. They will be able to tell for themselves if they identify or not.

If anyone lives in Europe, would like to buy the book, but does not want to support Amazon, please write to me with your address and I will send you a copy. I’m told that The Red Wheelbarrow in Paris also carries it. In the United States, support independent bookstores by buying it at: http://www.bookshop.org.

More about Paris and vaccines and déconfinement soon!

A bientot,

Sara

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Another Sunday. The end of five weeks of confinement. For me–seven weeks, almost 1/6th of the year. The weeks fly by, there is a sameness about everything which, in many ways, is comforting. Yet, early March, when I first had my cold (definitely not the virus) seems like an eternity ago. President Macron came on national TV last Monday to tell us that the confinement would last through May 11. Then he outlined a plan that would start on May 12, assuming the curve had flattened and France’s deaths were declining. It would begin with primary school students going back to school, a few stores opening up and some services that had been shut down re-opening slowly. There was an implication that the eldest, the frailist and the most vulnerable would be asked to stay indoors. That was confirmed on Wednesday when the government’s chief scientific adviser, Jean-François Delfraissy, said that people over 65 years of age would stay confined the longest. On Friday, he reversed what he said and promised that all ages would have restricitons lifted at the same time.

Sign on the street saying “Stay in your home”

It is one thing to be in lockdown and know that all my friends and neighbors were in the same boat as me. Friday morning, before the reversal, I thought of people going out and walking along the Seine, crossing the Pont Neuf and Pont Alexander III, going to the American Library, and I had to stay at home. Some friends said ‘it’s unconstitutional. They can’t age discriminate.’ I didn’t feel picked on at all. All along I have felt as safe as one can feel during a crisis like this. I have felt that France is looking after me. So if the wisdom said “You are over 65. We think it’s a good idea that you use extreme caution and stay inside,” ok, I would follow it. But I knew it would be harder. I would feel more alone, that I’m saying I’m vulnerable.

All the prime channels say the same thing in the corner: “Stay at home”

I thought of the Serenity Prayer which I say a lot. Sometimes I say it without really thinking about what it actually says. But Friday, I said it to myself many times as a way to pray for acceptance. What are the things I cannot change? This virus, how others respond to the restrictions, when it will all end if it does ever actually completely end, my age among other things.

Wisteria-it never lasts long enough. A real sign of Spring.

What can I change? and do I have the courage to act on my own behalf? I can always change my attitude if I get lonely or too tired or grumpy, I can do as much exercise indoors and use my hour outside to walk – they say the stronger a person is the better they can fight off the virus, I can keep working and writing which feels very good – and when I feel good, I feel more positive and stronger, I can keep connected with as many people as I can so that the world feels very small right now. Stephen Colbert, in talking about the virus and the One World Concert that was held last night, showed us a T-shirt he was selling to raise money for healthcare workers and food for people who are going hungry. The front of the T-shirt said “United we stand, Divided. we fall” He was urging social distancing for as long as we can and how these things are actually bringing us together.

Sign on the door of Picard (one of my favorite stores): Everyone United–Check out priority-healthcare workers, pregnant women, older people and handicapped people. Thanks for your understanding.

Maybe… It seems there are two camps. There is the one camp that has turned some yucky lemons into wonderful lemonade–feeling closer to their friends and neighbors, not being self-destructive with food (Colbert said “order two of these T-shirts. One in the size you wear and one in the size you’ll be after we get out of lockdown and you’ve eaten everything available.”), allowing the slow-down of time to give birth to creativity, to meditate more, to rest more, to read more and learn more. Then there is the other camp. The ones who are scared and anxious, who listen to news that riles them up, makes them angry and provoked, who assume everyone is having as hard a time as they are, are basically miserable.

Sent to me by a friend in California.

The wisdom to know the difference. When I was a young woman, I kept repeating some stupid behaviors over and over again. I ran into brick walls, bloodied my nose then did it all over again. I had some older women friends and I would go crying to them each time I hurt myself. Finally one of them, in total frustration, said to me “Sara, has it ever occurred to you, when you are headed for that wall, to turn left?” Intellectually, I knew what she meant. I got the metaphor. But I didn’t have the wisdom, or self-knowledge to know when to turn. I guess wisdom comes from making mistakes, sometimes years of mistakes. This extraordinary time has allowed me to show myself the wisdom that I have picked up over six decades of life. I will say “Amazingly, I’m finding that lockdown isn’t difficult.” Perhaps it isn’t all that amazing. Perhaps it’s years of saying the Serenity Prayer and, to the very best of my ability, putting it into action. Meditators will call what they do “a practice”. They keep practicing every day. I tell people a lot younger than me who are trying to change some behaviors to “consider it a muscle you haven’t used in a long time or maybe ever. Strengthen that muscle a little at a time every day, keep practicing” Then comes a time in one’s lifetime when all the practice pays off. For my parents, it was the Depression and WWII. For us, it’s the Covid-19 virus of 2020. Extraordinary times brings out the best in many of us and the worst in many of us. Thanks to the Serenity Prayer and a lot of love, I’m being a person I quite like these days. So, I’m not wild about May 11 being the possible end of lockdown but it is what it is. I’m prepared.

May 12, also happens to be the launch date of my book Saving Sara A memoir of food addiction. I have a radio interview that day and will celebrate with as many people as I can.

Just a little chuckle

A bientot,

Sara

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