Erin Zammett Ruddy - Author. Writer. Blogger. Survivor.
  • April 10th, 2013

    My friend who lives in Tennessee shared this with me. Not a bad reminder for some of the crazier youth sports parents, huh?

    I wrote a big piece for the April issue of Parenting called “The Risks and Rewards of Youth Sports.” In it I covered everything from the massive benefits sports offer our kids (better grades, more social, more confidence, less likely to do drugs, get pregnant, etc.), to injury prevention and the latest trends. But also something called “the professionalization of youth sports” which frightens me and fascinates me. You can read the whole piece here. I absolutely loved reporting this story because I’m living it right now (read the lede for a great example). The best part of my job is that I get to research and write about the things that are relevant to my life. I have learned so much about so many things as a freelance writer and I feel extremely lucky that I get paid to do this. But knowing so much also gets me a tad obsessed with things (see antibiotics), which can be an occupational hazard. And this is one story I can’t stop thinking about—or talking about with anyone who will listen.

    I live in an area where youth sports are huge. And competitive. And they start young. Certainly things get competitive and kids specialize in one sport much earlier than we did in my day. I have a five- and three-year-old so we’re not in the thick of things yet, but we’re close. My five-year-old son, Alex, loves sports and, so far, seems to excel. He’s currently soccer obsessed (he wants to be Lionel Messi when he grows up) and he’s quite good…for a five year old, anyway. Nick and I adore his passion and love watching him play. But we are constantly tempering his athletic pursuits with other stuff: Playing in the backyard, fishing with his grandfather, family vacations, art, homework, down time—all of which he also loves. Sure, we could find him a travel team or get him a trainer or put him in winter camps or spend hours after school every day playing goalie for him but man if I don’t have more important things to do with my time. And I want my kid to be a kid for as long as possible which, these days, ain’t very long. I also don’t want to burn him out on a sport he loves. What would be the point, anyway? So he can get be The Best? To what end?

    As any of you who are currently in the youth sports world know, my attitude is not necessarily the norm. There are people who hold their kids back from starting kindergarten just so they’ll be bigger and faster and more coordinated than their peers for sports (it’s called redshirting—read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, it’s fascinating). Why? So you can brag to your friends that he scored the most/made the travel team/gets a college scholarship? And then what? You think he’s gonna make the Mets? Or the Knicks? Or the Giants? Don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to play sports. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want them to excel in whatever they do. But mostly I want them to love it. And to be well-rounded humans and to try lots of things and learn a lot and choose their own path. So that when the sports thing is over (and eventually it comes to an end—for many kids much sooner than you think), they have some life skills and other interests to fall back on.

    And then there’s the selfish part of all this. I don’t want to spend my entire life schlepping to practices and games. At least not yet. I have friends who don’t go away for family vacations anymore because they’re at lacrosse or baseball tournaments…for their seven-year-olds. My sister is at baseball games all weekend during season and her son practices Friday and Saturday nights in the off-season. What the what?! I am just so not ready for that. Again, maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe once my kids are really in it to win it I will have no choice. They will beg me to be on these teams and they will love it and I will support them. I don’t know anyone—in my own circle, at least—who is pushing their kids to play against their will. The kids love this stuff. It’s their normal. But is it normal? Is it good? Are we setting them up to get burnt out? To suffer overuse injuries? To miss out on all the other good stuff childhood has to offer? These are the questions I think about as I begin signing up Alex for more and more sports. And I know Nora will be right behind him.

    As I mentioned in my post for parenting, I had a bad college athletics experience and my career ended after only one year, which has definitely influenced me here but I’m not bitter, I swear (not anymore…). You might think I’m nuts talking about college already when my kids are so young, but trust me this is in the air for youth sports parents way sooner than you’d think. My quick takeaway: After many, many years of being sports obsessed, once I stopped playing and started doing other things (working for the school paper, spending more time in the art studio, doing magazine internships, making non-athlete friends, learning how to really live on my own), I realized how much of college life (and real life) there was to be lived outside of the train-train-train, win-win-win world of college athletics. And I felt very prepared for the real world, which, for most of us, doesn’t involve playing sports for a living. I was at a big program and it was intense; I know not everyone has this kind of experience, but mine has shaped me as a human and a mom in a way that I can’t deny. It’s not that I don’t want my kids to play sports in college if that’s the path they choose but trust me, I would be very happy if they opted to play club or went to a Division III school. I know a lot of my athlete friends would completely disagree with me here. And I think a lot of the more intense youth sports parents (you know the ones I’m talking about) are truly gunning for college scholarships for their kids. Check out the sidebar of the Parenting piece for the chances of that happening….

    I realize that it’s easy for me to make lofty declarations since my kids are still young and we’re not in the throes of this stuff yet. Maybe I’ll be eating my words the way I did with the “I would never let my kids act like that on an airplane” thing. D’oh! I know I will eventually be sacrificing plenty of weekends to drive them to games and cheer them on and I look forward to it. Lord knows my parents were on the road constantly with me between soccer and volleyball so I’ll have no right to complain. And as long as my kids are enjoying it, I’m willing to do it. Who knows maybe one day we’ll be watching one of them on ESPN. (Nick and I have jokingly fantasized about Alex being QB for Michigan…even though we don’t plan on him playing football…nor are we Tom Brady fans, just had to clear that up).

    That said, I will never, not ever, let them think that playing sports is the end-all, be-all. Or that being an athlete in any way absolves you from also being a well-rounded person, a good student and a contributing member of our family. We all knew the athletes who thought their shit didn’t stink just because they walked around in a team jersey carrying, say, a lacrosse stick. Full disclosure: I’m sure I thought my shit didn’t stink when I was playing for our high school soccer team (we were state champs and ranked No. 1 in the nation my junior year, I mean can you blame me?!). Being an athlete—and being on a winning team—is a whole lot of fun and I wouldn’t want to deny my kids that. But I want to keep it all in perspective. I know this post is a little all over the place but it’s the stuff I’ve been thinking about lately. I just worry a little. For my kids. For myself. For my sanity. I see how easy it is to get swept up in the culture of the day and I just hope I can keep one eye on land. Is this a good problem to have? Sure. My kid is healthy and athletic, cry me a river. Could my kid quit sports tomorrow and pick up the trumpet? Absolutely. Am I losing sleep over any of it? No. I just don’t ever want to lose sight of what, to me and Nick, is most important for our children. And it ain’t accumulating the most sports trophies.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do your kids play sports? Are they on travel teams? Did they start young? Do you want them to play in college? Did you play in college? Has that influenced you as a youth sports parent? Have you seen the crazy competitive stuff start yet? Let’s discuss. And don’t forget to read the Parenting piece.

  • April 2nd, 2013
    With Mr. Met!

    With Mr. Met!


    Monday night I was given the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Relentless for a Cure” Award at the Mets Welcome Home Dinner. It’s a gala/fundraiser the organization has every year on opening day. Half of the proceeds go to LLS and half to Katz Women’s Hospital out here on Long Island. I was being honored for my work with LLS over the past 10 years and it couldn’t have been more perfect considering what big Mets fans we all are. I still remember the thrill of being able to stay up way past our bedtime (and seeing the Mets win, of course) during the ’86 World Series. I also remember my dad’s friend Bob, a die-hard Red Sox fan, nearly having a stroke in our living room when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs.



    With Doc Gooden, one of our all-time faves (that's my sister's best friend, Sherry, on the left--the biggest Mets fan I know).

    With Doc Gooden, one of our all-time faves (that’s my sister’s best friend, Sherry, on the left–the biggest Mets fan I know).

    The event was amazing, full of Mets old (we met Mookie Wilson, John Franco, Dwight Goodin and Ron Darling) and new. The 2013 Mets sat up on a dais and our table was directly in front of David Wright. I’m pretty sure Melissa stared at him the whole night. He was so nice and adorable and all the guys seemed really happy to be there. Melissa got up on stage to introduce me and she was nervous (she said so in her speech several times) but she did great. She said lots of nice things about me too—mentioning my Glamour column, my book, my work as a patient advocate and, of course, the big Woman of the Year win last year that so many of you helped me earn. When I got up, I thanked Melissa and then explained to everyone just how big a fan she is—her son Gregory’s middle name is Shea and, as I told Ron Darling who was right next to me, her childhood bedroom was full of his posters. Then I got into the real stuff. Here’s my speech:

    11 years ago, when I was 23, I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Without effective treatment I would have had as little as five years to live. But just before I was diagnosed the FDA approved a targeted drug therapy—a little pill that was putting people’s CML into remission without making them sick. It was being called a miracle drug and, for me, it was exactly that. Within a year of starting treatment, my leukemia was in remission. Unfortunately, just a year after my diagnosis, my sister, Melissa, who you just heard from, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was 27 and seven months pregnant at the time. There was no miracle drug for Melissa so she endured months of chemotherapy and radiation and then, a year later, she relapsed and had to go through it all over again, this time leaving her then 10-month-old son for a month so she could move into Sloan Kettering for a stem-cell transplant.

    Our family has been through a lot, but we have so much to be grateful for. Today, thanks to groundbreaking and life-saving treatments, Melissa and I are both doing incredibly well. We are healthy, happy and we have five beautiful children between us children we never thought possible when we first heard the words “you have cancer.” (The baby Melissa was pregnant with when she was diagnosed, who got chemo before he was born, is now a whip-smart 4th-grader and star of his baseball team—he wants to play for the METS, naturally).

    And despite what we’ve been through, we feel incredibly lucky. We are incredibly lucky. We are not only surviving, we are thriving. And that’s why I’ll never stop raising awareness and funds and giving back to LLS, the organization that has given us so much. LLS funds research for groundbreaking cancer drugs but it also takes care of patients and their families with incredible support services. Melissa and I have benefitted tremendously from LLS’s work and we want to say thank you. And, more importantly, we want to help others. We need to keep fighting for a cure and for new and better treatment options because we all know that not everyone is as lucky as my family has been. But I also know that it’s possible…

    Gleevec, the drug I still take every day that keeps my cancer in remission, was approved by the FDA just six months before I was diagnosed. Before Gleevec, the survival rate for my type of leukemia was 55 %. Today, thanks to Gleevec, the survival rate is 95 %. The drug was developed with funds from LLS, funds that came from generous people like you. My sister and I are living proof that your dollars really will save lives. So on behalf of our parents and husbands, who are sitting right there, and our beloved children who are home with sitters so we could have a good time tonight, thank you. Thank you to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for this amazing award, to the entire Mets organization and to all of you for being here tonight. And let’s go mets!

    My job for the night was not just to accept the award but to share LLS’s mission and why it’s so important to keep fighting for a cure. After the speeches, we ate, mingled, bid on silent auction stuff and met the Mets. They are all so nice and were so appreciative and supportive and, um, hot. I’ve got to say it, those boys are handsome. Full disclosure: I’ve always had a thing for baseball players (just ask my college roommates). At the end of the night, Nick and I “won” a David Wright-signed bat and a Lauren Merkin bag, respectively—and by “win” I mean be paid good money, but it all went to a good cause (my cause!) and now we have an awesome sixth birthday present for Alex (the bat; the bag is mine).

    It was a great night and I’m so honored and excited about my award. And so pumped for the Mets season! We could really use a good one this year, right? I’m hopeful as always. Here are a few more pictures (and there are more good ones coming so check back later!)…

    Melissa and David Wright. LOVE this picture, love this guy.

    Melissa and David Wright. LOVE this picture, love this guy.









    Such a great night for us!

    Such a great night for us!


    I wonder what I was saying...And, how cute is Jonathan Niese?

    I wonder what I was saying…And, how cute is Jonathan Niese?


    They got him to sign balls for all the kids, which was awesome. I missed all the fun because I was chatting it up with some new friends....

    They got him to sign balls for all the kids, which was awesome. I missed all the fun because I was chatting it up with some new friends….



    The whole table. Not a bad looking crew, right? What a night!

    The whole table. Not a bad looking crew, right? What a night!

    I was more nervous for this speech than I've been in a while. Probably had something to do with all those baseball players sitting behind me!

    I was more nervous for this speech than I’ve been in a while. Probably had something to do with all those baseball players sitting behind me (not in this picture–this was my practice run!)!

  • March 29th, 2013

    The temperature has finally been above freezing this week in New York, which means many awesome things including the start of spring cleanup. As you probably heard—or experienced—we in the northeast were the recipients of apocalyptic-type weather last fall/winter. From Sandy to Nemo and plenty of fun in between, we—and our yards—took a serious beating. And now it’s time to pick up the pieces. Nick and I have been spending some time outside accessing the damage. We were lucky to only have lost a few trees and bushes but there’s still a lot of crap to be picked up and some sad-looking spruces to be put out of their misery. But in the midst of all this death and destruction, I found some life. Leafy green, delicious life…

    I had already poached the kale before snapping this pic (also still cooking: onions and garlic!)

    I had already poached the kale before snapping this pic (also still cooking: onions and garlic!)

    Sitting in my garden, among the twisted dead vines and crunched up leaves, was a big bunch of kale and three bunches of spinach—I guess I had never harvested them in the craziness of fall (um, Sandy) and the fearless greens managed to grow and survive during some of the worse weather we’ve ever seen in these parts. At one point my garden was under nearly three feet of snow! My garden guru and friend Elizabeth came by to check things out a few days ago and talk about expanding (we’re adding another box!) and she explained how when crops like these live through the winter (“over-wintered greens”) they actually get sweeter—and they’re still edible. And so I ate them! We had two delicious salads this week courtesy of my backyard and nothing gets me more pumped for spring than that. And so in honor of the season and warmer weather and Easter weekend and celebrating new life, I wanted to share these two quick and easy, healthy and yummy superfood salad recipes. I made these with just the stuff I had in my house but you could add more or get more elaborate depending on what you love. These definitely kick-started my salad fetish, which I needed. It’s been a looooong winter but it seems like spring is here to stay. Enjoy!

    Quick Spinach Salad with Bacon and Mushrooms 

    I'm having this again for lunch today. Minus the bacon, plus some feta since it's Good Friday....

    I’m having this again for lunch today. Minus the bacon, plus some feta since it’s Good Friday….

    Wash and dry the spinach, tear into pieces. Top with thinly-sliced mushrooms (white or baby bella work well), thinly-sliced red onion, chopped bacon and a simple vinaigrette (I didn’t use the bacon drippings to make a proper spinach salad dressing because, well, I had already eaten bacon for breakfast and enough is enough). Dressing (there will be leftovers): whisk together one teaspoon dijon mustard (or more depending on your preference), about a quarter cup red wine vinegar, a pinch of kosher salt and cracked black pepper then whisk in  about half a cup (or less depending on how vinegary you like your dressing) extra virgin olive oil. I don’t measure when I make dressing–you can always add more of something to balance it out if needed.




    Quick Kale Caesar Salad

    This salad was one of the best things I've eaten in a while. And I literally felt my body getting healthier with every bite.

    This salad was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while. And I literally felt my body getting healthier with every bite.

    Wash and dry the kale, remove the hard ribs, then chop into thin strips, almost like you’re shredding it. Toss with a quick Caesar dressing (or a more elaborate one if you have time) and anything else you have around–grilled chicken, homemade croutons, roasted squash, apples, whatever. My dressing, which served one: whisk together about half a chopped garlic clove (fine), freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used about an eighth of a cup because it’s all I had), juice from half a small lemon, a pinch of Kosher salt, cracked black pepper and about an eighth of a cup of extra virgin olive oil. I topped with a few shaves of the remaining parm which, PS, is quite possibly my favorite thing in the world.




    Happy eating, happy holidays, happy weekend, happy spring!

    Bonus: Alex devoured the spinach salad too (I think it had something to do with the bacon but I'm not complaining...).

    Bonus: Alex devoured the spinach salad too (I think it had something to do with the bacon but I’m not complaining…).







  • March 27th, 2013

    Back in October, Nick and I took a four-night trip to Sonoma, California for some wine tasting, relaxation and, quite honestly, much-needed time away from our beloved children. I wrote about the mini vacay for the March issue of Parenting (check out that story here), but I didn’t get to share pictures or too many nitty-gritty travel details and I think that’s important to showing people just how doable/important/fun something like this is. And so…

    We spent our first day at SIMI Winery, which makes some of our favorite California wines (full disclosure: I buy the chard by the case). We got to meet the winemakers, Susan Lueker and Megan Schofield, who both happen to be super-cool women, which was a huge highlight for me (kinda like if Alex and Nora got to meet Twist and Marina—which, bummer for them, will never happen because I can’t stand The Fresh Beat Band). I’d arranged a tour with a wine educator, who gave us the history of the winery and the region and so many fascinating morsels of info about the process of making wine. I now know what brix are (the level of sugar in the grape) and that the rubber stopper that goes into the hole of an oak barrel is called a bung (yes, we giggled). Another reason I’m so in love with Simi: They had the first female head winemaker in the United States back in the early 1900s when 18-year-old Isabelle Simi took over after her father Giuseppe and Uncle Pietro died in the flu epidemic (she ran the winery successfully until 1970 when she sold it—but kept working in the tasting room as a greeter until she was in her late 80s). Perhaps the most practical bit of wisdom: Simi is pronounced “See Me,” which means we’d been saying it wrong for years. Whoops! Having a preplanned “activity” like this gave our trip a little structure, which I liked (you can take the girl out of her routine but….). And don’t they say you’re supposed to learn something new together to keep things alive in your marriage? Or is it that you’re supposed to drink a lot of wine? Either way we were covered.

    We also met up with our friends, Jamie Kutch and Kristen Green, who left Wall Street to start their own wine label and now put out the delicious and high-end Kutch pinot noir (read that incredible story here and learn about Kutch wines here). We dined with them at Fremont Diner, which is super laid back (we brought our own wine—Kutch, naturally—and drank it out of little mason-jar type glasses with our local ribs and pork butt). Yum. Here are some of the photo highlights (warning: they all involve food and wine).

    Having a few days to really soak each other in without the ticking clock of a sitter was truly rejuvenating. I mean it’s not like we morphed into some sickening Kay Jewelers version of ourselves or anything. In fact at one point when we were crossing the street in the adorable town of Healdsburg, we grabbed each other’s hands as we sometimes do (not because we’re romantic but because Nick thinks I don’t pay enough attention and will get killed), and we kept walking hand in hand…for about five paces until we looked at each other and simultaneously said, “eh, let’s not.” We were still us, just the version of us we don’t always get to be when there are lunches to be made and deadlines to be met and Dora the Explorer toothpaste to get out just-washed and blown dried hair. We ate, we drank, we talked, we laughed. It was awesome. On the last day we drove down the coast and stopped for lunch on Tomales Bay at a place called Nick’s Cove, where I could eat every meal for my remaining days on earth. I’m still dreaming about the BBQ’d oysters and the just-picked local peppers with fried cilantro. Salivating! Then we stopped in Sausalito (beautiful!) before reluctantly hitting SFO. It had been six years since we’d gotten away just for us without any obligation on the other end (a wedding, a work conference, etc) and it came at the perfect time. As you know by now, we’ve always made our marriage a priority—if Nick and I don’t work, none of it works—and this trip boosted our healthy-relationship points for sure.  And for foodies and wineies (winos?) Sonoma was the perfect spot to be. Gorgeous, laid back, fun and way cheaper than couples counseling. I couldn’t recommend it more. And I can’t wait to go back! When was the last time you got away sans kids? Have a trip on the calendar? Even a night away can work wonders. Here are my road-tested tips for maximizing whatever time it is you find to get away:

    • Have a wheels-up kid-talk rule. You don’t want to spend too much time talking about the minutiae of raising children (talk about how cute they are, sure, but not whether you should get her in dance this year or how to handle the bus driver’s birthday gift). Get it all out of your system en route to the airport/train station. Once you’re in the air, try to catch yourself if you feel a parenting comment coming on. Part of the point of the trip is to remind yourselves that you’re more than just parents. Talking about something other than child rearing is a good way to do that!
    • Don’t bring a book. Well, bring a book for the airplane maybe (remember, there is no kid-wrangling to occupy your time) but not a good one. You don’t want to spend the trip with your nose in, say, Gone Girl, which I was so obsessed with on our family vacation last summer that I actually read it for an hour in the car while ignoring my nausea and my wild children in the backseat. For a couple’s getaway, stick to magazines and non page-turners.
    • Rest up before your trip. It will be tempting to spend much of the getaway getting caught up on sleep, particularly if you’re staying in a hotel with one of those featherbeds (heaven!). But unless you’re in bed not sleeping, don’t waste too much time in there. Get up and out, explore, adventure, laugh—or just go sit somewhere together and drink wine as we did most days.
    • Agree to not worry about the kids. Check in once a day or whatever works for you but in between that, don’t allow your mind to wander home. An important step to enabling this to happen: Leave them with someone you trust implicitly (my MIL flew in for us) and stock the house with plenty of instructions, food, entertainment and bribes (in our case, Rio and Gnomeo and Juliet). Then let it go.
    • Don’t forget to snack up. You know how with kids you always travel with a stash of chips and cheese sticks and granola bars? Well, parents can have low blood sugar moments, too. On our way to Sonoma from the airport, Nick and I were starving and snackless and had to make a late-night emergency stop at an In and Out Burger (which is a bit of misnomer since it took 40 minutes to get said burger) to prevent meltdowns. Man, was that tasty.
    • Pack a GPS. Or at least download a navigation app. Nothing will undermine your bonding experience more than a where-the-$^#!-are-we? why-did-you-tell-me-to-go-this-way? episode. Trust me on this one.
    • Get some mileage out of it. I surprised Nick with the trip a few days before we left as a big birthday present (the ticket was tucked into a Patagonia fleece that he had both picked out and paid for himself). We are not big on creative gift giving (see Patagonia fleece) so it was a big thrill to do this. And the fact that I’d already booked everything meant he couldn’t say no to the trip.
    • Be prepared to go with the flow. Just because kids aren’t onboard doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road-trip. We had to end our fab getaway a day early to fly home before Superstorm Sandy but we didn’t let it ruin the fun we still had left to have. Well, I did whine a lot but in retrospect I’m glad we got home to prepare since it turned out we lost power, heat and phones for two whole weeks. Thankfully, we had our wine. Lots and lots of wine.






  • March 20th, 2013
    The sidebar from the REDBOOK piece. See below for the whole story.

    The sidebar from the REDBOOK piece. See below for the whole story.

    Did you know that the cows, chicken and pigs we eat are routinely given our antibiotics to help them grow faster and to compensate for unsanitary conditions? Before you hit the supermarket, read this post. I promise I’m not being alarmist and there is something you can do!

    Last week, U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2013 (PAMTA). Under the bill, eight classes of antibiotics critical for curing infections in humans would be available for use on industrial farms only to treat sick animals. I spoke with Representative Slaughter (a super-cool woman and the only microbiologist in Congress) while I was reporting my antibiotic story for REDBOOK and I learned all about the antibiotic crisis we are facing—both in human medicine and in agriculture. Since I did so much reporting that ultimately got cut (that’s how it works in magazines), I thought I’d share some of the farm story here. Because it’s fascinating/appalling/enraging and because there’s something we as consumers and humans can do. The news of this bill being introduced is huge and I want to do whatever I can to help it gain momentum and get passed. Because, well, when it comes down to it superbugs scare the shit out of me (read about my ordeal with MRSA) and I would really, really like antibiotics to stick around and keep working. Call me crazy.

    So here’s the back story: According to nearly every respectable medical agency out there, there is a definitive link between the use of antibiotics in food animal production and the crisis of drug-resistant infections in humans. Every time we use an antibiotic—correctly or incorrectly—we chip away at its efficacy because the bacteria are given the chance to adapt and outsmart the medicine. They develop and share resistance so the next time the bacteria see the antibiotic, they’re not as susceptible. Meanwhile, all those resistant bacteria—which can be more virulent—are passed around the community. Each year, antibiotic-resistant infections are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and up to $26 billion in extra health care costs. Crazy, right? How about this: The FDA recently reported record-high sales of antibiotics for use on industrial farms in 2011 (29.9 million pounds); over 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States were intended for food animals.

    “If animals get sick with something antibiotics can fix, we should treat them,” says Gail Hansen, DVM, a D.C-based public health advocate who works with the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, a non-profit effort to save antibiotics. “What doesn’t compute is feeding them to animals just to get them to grow faster—to get chickens to market in 45 days instead of 49, for example—or to compensate for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.” But that’s exactly what’s happening on our farms. In many cases the animals haven’t even been exposed to disease, they’re just given antibiotics as a preventative measure (on factory farms, chickens ingest small doses of antibiotics in their feed every day). “This would be like if your kids were going to daycare and you said ‘let’s give them some antibiotics just in case,’” says Hansen, who served as the chief epidemiologist and public health veterinarian for the state of Kansas for 12 years. “We would never conceive of that for people but it’s done routinely for animals.” And because these doses are so low, they do not kill the bacteria. Instead, they create the perfect environment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to proliferate, bacteria that are then passed to humans in a number of unsavory ways.

    When you think superbug, MRSA probably comes to mind but there are many more out there. There’s even a resistant strain of e-coli causing hard-to-treat urinary tract infections. And when a UTI isn’t stopped by an antibiotic it can progress to a kidney infection and then to a blood infection, says Lance Price, Ph.D., a microbiologist and professor at The George Washington University who studies the sources and spread of antibiotic resistant bacterial diseases. Price and his colleagues traced the resistant bacteria back to poultry farms. “We noticed there were “outbreaks” of the resistant UTIs, much like you’d see with e-coli on ground turkey or spinach,” he says. “And we were able to link them back to resistant e-coli found in poultry.” (They believe women are getting the bacteria into their systems from either handling or eating infected meat.) I’m sorry, but that one just skeeves me out. Ick. “Why are we still doing this? I have no idea. I think it’s literally insane,” says Price. More insanity: Unlike with human medicine, most antibiotics on the farm are OTC—if a farmer wants to use them to speed up the growth of his animals or to prevent illness from the jam-packed, stressful conditions, he doesn’t need a prescription or a veterinarian, he just picks up the drugs at the feed store. Still, no one is doing anything illegal. These uses are FDA approved. But, says Hansen, they were OK’d 60 years ago when the only concern was that the antibiotics not be in the meat (producers are supposed to stop feeding antibiotics to animals at a certain point before they’re killed to give them time to excrete out all the antibiotics in their system). “That was long before anyone had a clue what it might be doing to the community of bacteria as a whole—and what it meant for human health.”

    But a lot of these farmers don’t even know they’re using antibiotics. “95 percent of the meat we get in this country has been contracted out by large food production companies,” says Hansen. That means cows may be raised on a family farm but a big company (think Tyson or Perdue) is dictating what and how they’re fed. In many cases, the antibiotics are already mixed into the feed that comes from the larger companies. “Even if the farmer knows about the antibiotics, he or she doesn’t have a choice,” says Hansen. “If they tell the contractor they’re not going to give the animals their feed, they won’t have a contract anymore.”  One of the reasons the industry will give in defense of this practice is the need to raise more product for less money to keep up with demand. But, says Hansen, there are ways to do that without antibiotics. “In the European Union non-therapeutic use of antibiotics is banned and they are raising animals just as intensively and just as efficiently as we are in this country,” she says. It would mean a little more space for the animals, better air circulation, possibly a different feed, watching them closely and keeping their premises clean and dry. (For pigs, specifically, it may mean weaning them from their mother’s milk a little later in life.) “I don’t want to negate the fact that there will be a cost to the farmer,” says Hansen. “Farmers work on very thin margins. We get that. But the increase in cost isn’t huge, particularly if the farmers pass it on the consumer, as they should.” The most recent data from the National Research Council suggests that it would cost a family of four between $4 and $10 more per year to have animals that were grown without the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. That’s nothing compared to the endless antibiotic co-pays if you get a resistant bug. Trust me.

    So why is it such a tough sell? Companies—and farmers—have been doing it like this for 50 or 60 years. “It’s hard to tell them, ‘Oops, this is no longer a good idea,’” says Hansen. The FDA has tried to place regulations on antibiotic use on farms over the years but they are continuously thwarted by Congress. “The science is strong but the agriculture lobby is stronger,” says says Margaret Mellon, a senior scientist with the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Folks in agriculture are not going to be told they cannot use drugs that they’ve used for years as part of their operation.” And they have the power to block legislation, even legislation that’s supported by almost every major medical organization out there. But now with PAMTA making its way around Congress, there is something we can do. Something you can do. Write to your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. Pew has an action alert that makes it easy. Take a look.  Hansen has heard farmers and industry insiders say that consumers aren’t asking for it so why should they change what they’re doing. “Consumers aren’t asking for it because they don’t know it’s an issue they should be concerned about!” she says. “Most people have no idea how much antibiotics are used in our food animals. Unless you grew up on a farm or work on one now, why would you know that?” Well, now you know.

    For more on what you can do as a consumer (e.g. only buying meat that says “raised without antibiotics” or getting your grocer to stock more options) check out Pew’s Campaign.  

    For more on human misuse of antibiotics (because we’re certainly not innocent here!), read my REDBOOK piece Antibiotics Are Not Candy.

    I realize this isn’t my usual light and lively blog post but I am absolutely obsessed with this topic and really wanted to share everything I’ve learned. Let me know if you have any questions!

  • March 12th, 2013


    See the giant poster board in the photo? That’s what I did today instead of working. And I’m still not finished. It was a task given to me by my son’s school’s PTA and one I took seriously. Because I don’t know any other way to take tasks I’m given, especially by other moms (who may potentially judge me). In the PTA info meeting back in September, I volunteered for “Teddy Bear Clinic”—it’s an assembly where the kindergarteners take teddy bears to different stations to learn about health and safety. Cute, right? Other moms said it was a good one to volunteer for because it involves interaction with our kids. Last week was the pre-event meeting and we perused all the stations and their corresponding materials. I immediately volunteered for water safety—I was a lifeguard, I’m a boater and pool/beach safety is a passion of mine (i.e., kids + bodies of water scare the shit out of me and I basically spend May through September having drowning nightmares), so I felt like I could talk about all of it with some authority.  Anyway, the old poster board was a bit outdated and dilapidated and the PTA leader woman asked if the other station volunteer (a dad) or I felt compelled to re-do the poster or if we just wanted to leave it. Again, I immediately volunteered (after asking the dad if he minded, which he didn’t). First, the poster needed help in a major way. Second, if I’m expected to give a presentation, I want to be the one preparing the materials because, well, I’m anal like that. If I’m involved in something I want that something to be good. (Full disclosure: I want it to be great.) Even if it’s for a bunch of five-year-olds.

    Fast forward to today. Nick came home for lunch and saw me down in my office not typing away on my deadline but covered in glue with bits of paper everywhere wielding a giant paper-cutter (I ran to my parents’ to borrow theirs—nothing I hate more than uneven edges). I had already spent $30 on supplies last week (the little scrapbooking beachy/boaty stickers I couldn’t resist) and reworked the text to include sun safety, first aid and biking (over the years, those were added to the water safety station to save time—lucky me!). I had to hold myself back at every turn from going seriously overboard. For example, the construction paper I used to mount the safety tips is probably from the 90s (I found it in my parents’ basement) and it’s faded. And I used it anyway. Also, you may notice there are no biking stickers. This is because they didn’t have any at Michael’s and I told myself I was not allowed to go searching for biking stickers. And yet…I’m still tempted. I did make sure there were no widows on any of the tips (that’s when one word spills over to its own line and makes everything look off–like in the paragraph above), which brought me back to my days at Glamour when we’d be shipping a piece and I’d be sitting in the production department trying to figure out how to say “he just wasn’t my type” in one word instead of five (the answer: “next!”).  And I made the language a little more playful while still sounding life-or-death serious, which is not an easy feat. The writer in me wanted to call my CDC contacts for quotes, I kid you not, but the I-don’t-have-time-for-this mom in me thought better of it.  I’m not gonna lie, it’s been fun to do this and I’m happy with the result (if you find a mistake, don’t tell me—I can’t handle that!), but man what a time suck. I think I am way too much of a perfectionist for projects like this. Or maybe I just like to waste time (ding! ding! ding!) and so I took what should have been a couple hours of printing and pasting and turned it into a day-long song and dance. Also,  I could have assembled the poster last night instead of lying in bed watching three episodes of House of Lies (still can’t tell if I love that show or hate it—stay tuned), but, as a freelance writer who works from home without anyone monitoring my productivity, I have the ability to occasionally do non-work things during the day. And today was that day in a major way. I literally spent an hour just deciding which “kid with sunscreen” image to use (see “likes to waste time,” above). Unfortunately making this poster isn’t going to pay the mortgage if you know what I mean. And mama has deadlines. I worry that my all-in, color-coordinated, gotta-be-perfect attitude is a little dangerous considering my kid is only in kindergarten. What happens when he asks me to help him on a school project for credit? Ack! Which is why I don’t think I should volunteer to do something like this for a while. Or maybe ever. Unless they ask. And then I can’t say no. (I’m a lethal combo for the PTA, huh?). So, are you in the PTA? Do you ever volunteer for your kid’s class? Are you tempted to go overboard? Do you? Is not going overboard even acceptable in the PTA? This is my first real foray so I’ll let you know how it plays out! In the meantime, I’m off to find some bike stickers!



  • March 7th, 2013
    Kale chips! (so easy--just toss with a little olive oil and Kosher salt and pop in a 350 oven for a few minutes)

    Kale chips! (Just toss with a little olive oil and Kosher salt and pop in a 350-degree oven for five to 10 minutes.)


    Despite the weather in the northeast (I’m currently watching the snow fall outside my window) spring is definitely in the air. Or at least it should be. Or will be. Soon, one would think. And that means it’s almost time to resurrect our beloved vegetable garden. Those of you who follow me on facebook know I’m a little obsessed with my homegrown veggies. I think it’s because I’m still in awe of how easy and fun and downright amazing it is to plant some seeds and see real, delicious food grow from them (embarrassing confession: I get equally wide-eyed and impressed about cross-country air travel when it all goes well—isn’t it amazing, we were just on the east coast and now we’re on the west coast?!). Anyway, I think it’s pretty cool to have food in my backyard, food I don’t have to pay for (a box of organic greens is $5 in my market and I go through several a week when my garden isn’t up and running). And I don’t have to worry about whether the labels are telling me the truth. I know exactly where this food came from and I know what’s gone into it—water and sunshine and, yes, maybe some caterpillar poop, but we can wash that off.

    My friend, Elizabeth, started her own business installing raised-bed kitchen gardens and teaching people how to grow, care for and harvest organic veggies. I was one of her first clients—a badge of honor I wear proudly—and we are now entering our third year (follow Earl’s Kitchen Gardens on facebook for tons of great info and how-tos). I have officially drank the Kool-aid (or the beet juice I should say, though I have actually never had beet juice) and I’m not ashamed to say it. Other than the pure joy of plucking a vegetable from the garden and seeing it on my table that night, there is the parenting plus as well. My kids are as pumped about the garden as I am. When Elizabeth stops by occasionally to check on things, the kids act like Santa himself has made an appearance. They help plant and water and harvest and clean the veggies and, the best part, they eat them, too. We’ve grown tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, kale, green beans, yellow beans, burgundy beans, peas, scallions, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, carrots, arugula and every other kind of lettuce you can imagine. Plus herbs of all varieties. Alex eats all of it and Nora is all in except for lettuce, but she’ll come around. They say kids are more likely to eat vegetables if they’re part of the growing process and preparation and I can say that’s 100 percent true in my house.

    Naturally, I think the best part is the eating. I love to cook and since this stuff is so fresh and flavorful it doesn’t need much. But we’ve done some really fun things with our backyard bounty over the past two years and I wanted to share the highlights with you today. Hopefully it will get you pumped for spring and inspire you to grow something. Even a pot of fresh herbs in your windowsill can make you feel like a rockstar (being able to grab a few sprigs of cilantro for your guac is way better than having to buy a big bundle from the market that winds up getting wasted). OK, here is my little photo collage (bear with me, I’m new to all of this!) of super-local, backyard-to-table eating. Enjoy! If you want more detail on any of these dishes, let me know and if you have any great recipes to share, please do!


    Gazpacho! Made with our tomatoes, peppers, cukes and served with a dollop of homemade tzatziki (made with more cukes, which grow like weeds).


    We grow boatloads of basil, which is awesome because pesto is probably my favorite pasta sauce ever. It’s also good as a dip (mixed into cream cheese, served with carrots!).


    Zucchini fritters! So easy, so delish, such a crowd pleaser. I usually serve these with a little sour cream/feta/black pepper mixture. Mouth watering!


    One of our beauties. The flavor on these suckers is insane.


    We grow green beans and burgundy beans and yellow beans. They are amazing just sauteed in a little olive oil with Kosher salt and pepper. Or with sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds for an Asian feel. Or raw!


    Whole wheat pizza with zucchini, feta, lemon zest and dollops of pesto over half (recipe modified from Dinner: A Love Story)


    Orzo tossed with pesto, toasted pine nuts, fresh peas, shaved parmesan. A perfect summer BBQ side dish.


    Fried zucchini blossoms with a side salad made entirely from our garden (except the feta, we’re not that cool!). Edible flowers are about the coolest party trick around for kids. And they devoured them.


    Pickles! So easy, so delish and Alex is obsessed.

    Pickles! So easy, so delish and Alex is obsessed. We made these by boiling water, vinegar and sugar then adding garlic, mustard seed and fresh dill to the sliced cukes.

    BLTs with our giant heirlooms and our Boston lettuce. Mouth-watering!

    BLTs with our giant heirlooms and our Boston lettuce. Mouth-watering!


    All of this came out of our garden--and it all went in my kid's mouth. Score!

    All of this came out of our garden–and it all went in my kid’s mouth. The best part: I didn’t feel guilty giving him a frozen Amy’s pizza on the side. Veggies are the antidote to summer mom guilt.


    We get tons of zucchini. They are so versatile and so delish—and they make great baseball bats.

    Thinly sliced and grilled zucchini with pignoli nuts, parmesan, mint and a lemon vinaigrette.

    Thinly sliced and grilled zucchini with toasted pine nuts, parmesan, mint (also from the garden!) and a lemon vinaigrette. My all-time fave.

    A vegetable you can bake into a sweet bread? Bonus! (zucchini bread with orange zest, walnuts, chocolate chips and more)

    A vegetable you can bake into a bread? Bonus! (Zucchini bread with orange zest, walnuts, chocolate chips—it’s a Paula Deen recipe so it ain’t light but it rocks.) I made a bunch this summer and froze one that we ate during Hurricane Sandy with some whipped cream cheese spread on top. Gluttonous!


    Nora and her cucumber. One of our favorite ways to eat these is just sliced thin with a little red wine vinegar and Kosher salt.


    This never gets old! And I can’t wait to get started again. As soon as the snow stops falling.


    White bean dip with arugula. I make this ALL THE TIME, just ask my book club. Super easy and the kids love it. (Also goes great with a glass of wine, just ask my book club!) 1 can of cannelini beans, a few handfuls of arugula, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, Kosher salt. In the food processor and voila! I got the recipe while working on Glamour’s cookbook and have made it a bajillion times since. Also tastes great with roasted eggplant instead of arugula.


    Peas, please! (Nora also loves frozen peas—while they’re still frozen). Oh, and full disclosure: While my kids do love and eat a lot of vegetables, they also eat a lot of cookies and other crap (I try to control it but the stuff comes from everywhere). Just wanted to make that clear!


    Roasted beets and feta on top of sauteed beet greens with mushroom and shallot—not the best photo but this was one of my favorite dishes.

    Roasted beets and feta on top of sauteed beet greens with mushroom and shallot—not the best photo but this was one of my favorite dishes.

  • February 25th, 2013
    This photo (of Alex and me in New Hampshire over the summer) doesn't go with this post per se, but the colors work with my design so here it is!

    This photo (of Alex and me in New Hampshire over the summer) doesn’t go with this post per se, but the colors work with my design so here it is!

    This is my first blog post for my new site and I’m super excited about it. And a little nervous. I’ve been blogging for over six years (first about cancer for; then about pregnancy and motherhood for, but I have never written a post just for myself. And this site is mine all mine (made pretty by my amazing friend, Chris, with all the nuts-and-bolts, super-smart techy stuff done by my equally amazing friend, Jon).

    Having my own site means A. I am not getting paid to write this blog (bummer), B. No one will edit me or turn shit to sh*t (I may need to stop cursing so much) and C. I can write anything I want about whatever I want, whenever I want. Yipes! All that freedom is a little daunting, you know what I mean? I plan to post as often as I can about the things that interest me most and the things I think may interest you, my loyal readers (thank you so much for following me here!). The topics will be similar to the stuff I already cover for magazines and on my parenting blog (i.e., I’m not going to start posting pictures of cats in hats or, worse, political rants) so you should feel right at home.

    I want to talk about motherhood and parenting, of course, but also about the other relationships in our lives—marriage, family, friends—and you can count on plenty of cooking, eating and vegetable garden posts, especially with spring in the air. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you guys on what you want to read about, know about, talk about, etc. As you know, nothing is off limits and overshare is my middle name (I don’t think poor Nick realized this when he married me since, technically, my middle name is Elizabeth…). Anyway, thanks again for stopping by. Please take a look around the site and let me know what you think. It’s still a work in progress. Most of my major magazine pieces are here and all of the “Life With Cancer” columns I wrote for Glamour, plus lots more. And lots more to come. I’m so excited to be doing this and can’t wait to get started. Here goes!

    A garden shot from last season--be prepared for many more of these!

    A garden shot from last season (because it’s also green and fits my theme)–be prepared for many more of these, I’m kind of obsessed with my veggies!

  • Newer Entries »