Image is an extraordinary thing!

Image is powerful.  Look at a picture of Sophia Vergara without makeup and she transforms from funny bombshell to my next-door neighbor with a fancy bag.  Search for images of Lady Gaga without her layers of makeup and gone is the kook, leaving behind a fresh girl-next-door who would easily be overlooked in a thin crowd.  Finally talk to that well-dressed person that you’ve always admired from afar, and once you find that their social manners are wildly crass, the classy image quickly breaks apart into a million fragments.  Image is truly such a powerful thing.

On the flight from Austin to San Francisco yesterday, I watched a Ted MidAtlantic talk by model Cameron Russell.  Her subject was the same, “image is powerful”.  In walked a gorgeous, leggy model in the quintessential short black dress and high heels, and out walked a tall, well-groomed woman in a floral skirt and flat shoes.  Cameron demonstrated the power of “image” by fearlessly transforming herself right on stage (with a wrap-around skirt and pull over top).  Her talk was an act of courage on her part, even presenting pictures of herself as a regular girl without the make-up and as she called it, “construction” of fashion editors, photographers, make-up artists and photoshop wizards.  It is this very power of “image” that many celebrities love to harness and are then either a victim of their own constructions, or spiral into the role-that-lasts-a-lifetime – that of their constructed images, losing their real selves somewhere within!

Image is an extraordinary thing even in real life. The interviewer views a nervous youth, sweating, incoherent and try as he or she does, image overtakes the potential for substance.  The patient meets a badly-groomed doctor and loses faith in their capabilities.  Traveling by cab in San Francisco yesterday, I met a taxi driver from Afghanistan who was chatty from the get-go. I tried ignoring him initially, but his one statement grabbed my attention, “I used to be a reporter for the United Nations, reporting from the rural areas of Pakistan and all over Afghanistan.”  Here was a perfectly articulate man, who probably had a wealth of knowledge that was sadly just slowly scattering away with every new cab ride he undertook.  His story was compelling, his chattiness was annoying especially when it took us down the wrong path.  However, his image stuck in my mind and I even went back to google the veracity of his claims.  Indeed Jermaine Jackson’s current wife is an Afghani lady (who the taxi driver claimed was his cousin.)  I will never know the truth behind his stories, but the image he constructed was powerful and poignant.  Enough to leave an impression on my mind.

Professionals worry about their image all the time.  At my previous company, I was taught to dress for the next level/one position higher.  At a fast-growing silicon valley company where I currently work, “dressing for the part” matters in a different way.  It is about conforming to the culture under the guise of “being yourself”.  No matter the company, though, other aspects of your image do matter.  It takes knowing a person, and being perceptive as an observers yourself, to know the real person under each constructed image.  What’s scary is that marriages may break, jobs can be lost, and lives can be flipped over completely when illusions are shattered.The reality of this world is that image is powerful and that image is the truth. But a truly extraordinary individual is one who can let her or his real personality shine through the constructed image, allowing perceptions to marry reality and hopefully reinforce positive stereotypes for those around them.

How does the world view Cameron Russell now? Swimsuit model with blessed genes or beauty with brains? After all, she carefully allowed the layers of her constructed image peel apart to reveal a new image with her TED Talk! And therein lies the beauty of re-constructing your image!

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January 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Farm-to-table

Eating at a local restaurant recently, I was overjoyed to learn that the delicious spinach leaves I was sinking my teeth into and the bright orange yolk of the little egg on my plate was actually fresh from the restaurant’s backyard.  Watching the happy hens mill about and graze on anything from corn to pieces of bread, made me happy that I had actually tasted their happiness and freedom in the lovely eggs.  Which begs the question; for a food-focused, organically-inclined city like Austin, how much is truly farm-to-table?

I have been researching this for a while now and I am impressed with the progress Austin as a city has made in this direction.  We ourselves switched to ordering a lot of our produce from Greenling.com and love their service, attitude and the quality of the deliveries.  With online ordering though, I do miss the joy of roaming around in grocery store aisles, holding a red-ripe tomato or gorgeous yellow bell pepper in my own hands, smelling it (for what it’s worth), prodding at it and then deciding to leave it behind or take it home.    So I also end up at the Sunset Valley farmer’s market from time to time, trying to not forget that the smaller, wizened look bell peppers are better, fresher, gifts from the earth!

Of course, the best thing I could do to reduce farm-to-table times is plant unmodified seeds in my own huge backyard.  It would take a while to fertilize using compost though, rather than chemical fertilizers. Thanks to my lovely labrador Poppy though, venturng down that path is a hazardous idea.  I first started with a lemongrass plant years ago and by the next day she had chewed through it and was hysterically snorting and sneezing in an attempt to push it out!

Back to hip, urban, yuppie, weird, but all-things-cool Austin. Austin hosts farm tours, veg fests, and what-not for like-minded individuals.  But two movements/businesses in Austin that I was especially impressed with are UP and Farm-to-Table.

UP: http://www.urbanpatchwork.org/

UP works with unused yard space and helps turn it into farmland that provides fresh, organically grown produce and eggs to the nearby residents of each neighborhood farm.  They don’t just provide volunteers, but also provide farm start-up programs; workshops for residents on nutrition, home food production and storage; training etc.

Per UP’s website: “Neighborhood residents and businesses host farm plots in their yards in exchange for fresh veggies and other opportunities that reduce cost of living and increase the quality and value of their land and lives. Neighborhood farmers and volunteers prepare the soil, plant, harvest and deliver.”

Farm-to-table Austin: http://www.farmtotabletx.com/

They bring in produce from local farms based on a pre-set weekly schedule and sell to local restaurants, caterers, etc.

In the meanwhile, Boggy Creek Farm which was instrumental and a key part of the East Austin far tour in April 2012, boasts of local chefs who shop there weekly for produce. http://www.boggycreekfarm.com/

I have had pasta sauce made with home-grown tomatoes and eggs from free-range chickens from a co-workers backyard and it makes a world of difference to the taste of food, not to mention reducing carbon footprints and eating seasonal produce as opposed to food that is genetically modified, chemically fertilized and artificially preserved (for months).

Enter mid-year’s resolution: Hit that farmer’s market religiously and figure out how to get produce from local farms through other methods as well!

June 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm Leave a comment

It struck me at the airport!

I hadn’t traveled in over a year because of my pregnancy, but traveling today was a whole new experience.  For starters, I still have my A-List card from Southwest.  Standing in the premium passengers’ lane at Austin airport security, I suddenly noticed something that I should’ve noticed a long time ago – the lack of women in my line!  As a new mom, it struck me that we still live in a society where women are primary care-givers and there are very few stay-at-home Dads.  Blame it on genetic programming, or blame it on the way nature intended it to be; either ways, try as much as we have, society has barely come a small way when it comes to reversing some of these traditional roles.  So women in the age groups of 28-42 barely travel regularly for work, most quit the workforce and many find it tough getting back into it tough, leave alone getting back into a comparable or higher position after quitting the workforce temporarily! 

For the number of women who get MBAs and other higher level degrees from fantastic schools, we are doing dismally as a society in managing to retain women in the workforce.  While it may be part instinct, I do think for the most part, it is the lack of help in managing your family.  We Indians in the US understand how truly tough life can be because it’s expensive to have a nanny, a cleaning lady, a cooking lady and a driver here – you basically need to be a multi-millionaire to be able to afford that on a daily basis; it’s a real luxury.  But many middle-class families in India can now do so due to inexpensive labor costs; yet women in India don’t seem to be doing that well at higher positions in the workforce either.  I wonder who is to blame for that in India – the employers or the women, who I honestly think are living a better life than we do here!   Indian HR and employment laws have never been that conducive to women until the recent past when multi-nationals sweeped over the country in it’s globalization wake.  It’s about time Indian women take advantage of changing laws in India and available, inexpensive labor, as well as the comfort of proximity to family and friends who can care for a child, while they work and progress in their careers.

 But I digressed and how.

 Coming back to my airport observations; I was at Houston Hobby and remembered (or maybe observed from a renewed perspective) how unhealthily overweight people are here.   People milling around, people walking, some rushing to their gates and so many of them were truly overweight men and women!  Even as I walked down to the gate area in the airport, I saw signs put up by the city to attract businesses and investors.  The series of pictures was called “Houston is…” and it ranged from “Houston is cozy” to “Houston is quirky…” accompanied by a suitably relevant picture in each case.  I was mentally snickering over how “wannabe-Austin” Houston was trying to be with its “Houston is quirky” comment.  And then it struck me that they needed desperately to come up with a series which said, “Houston is BIG” and proceed to educate and help people to eat right, exercise and lose weight. (This from a mom whose scale is stubbornly stuck at 12 pounds over her pre-pregnancy weight and who is not doing anything about it ;)).

Butt seriously, the abundance of flab walking around me makes me want to drown in a flesh of agony over mankind’s (or maybe the southern kind’s) morbid obsession with BIG food, BIG eats, BIG calories and their surprising lack of appreciation for the serious impact this has on their health. 

I guess I got too accustomed to Austin in the last one year 😉 

September 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm 1 comment

#Oversharing on social media

I woke up from a nice Saturday afternoon snooze, cried over Federer losing to Djokovic (end of an era?) in the US Open semi-finals and slowly logged into Facebook.  The first status update on Facebook was from a co-worker who is also a new mom. It said: “XYZ is donating milk today to another new mother with blah blah blah:)”

Whaaaaa? I rubbed my crusty-with-sleep eyes several times.  The status update was still there.  As much as I appreciate her generous err, gesture, I do NOT want to know about her breast milk being donated!!!  Just like I don’t want to know about someone’s half-formed thought processes that emanate themselves in the form of single word or punctuation status updates: “ABC is????”.  ABC is what? Mid-life crisis? Post-coital crisis?

I have also promptly un-followed people on twitter whose updates look something like this for minutes in a row:

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:36 via twitterfeed
“I am walking”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:38 via twitterfeed
“Feet dragging, still walking”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:39 via twitterfeed
“Towards McDonald’s”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:42 via twitterfeed
“Kids screaming”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:43 via twitterfeed
“Five more steps”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:44 via twitterfeed
“Entering McDonald’s”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:48 via twitterfeed
“The husband buying food”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:53 via twitterfeed
“I hate McDonald’s”

abcd_efgh [+]Sat 11 Sep 16:56 via twitterfeed
“I hate my life and maybe I should end it”

(Okay I made the last part up, but not the entire chain.)  Maybe if you paid less attention to your Twitter updates and more to your kids, they wouldn’t be screaming, woman!

Other status updates and tweets ranging from the hilarious to annoying to plain disgusting include the likes of:

“Nice potty session.  Where’s the f***ing room freshener?”  (Don’t stand there updating your status, clear the air first you idiot! Wait, did you even wash your hands?)

“Broke out into a weird rash today…” (the rest was too gross to mention here).

I’ve read Harry Potter spoilers (mercifully after finishing the last book) and watched nasty divorce wars ranging on Facebook. What is it that drives people to over-share on social media platforms?  My previous article on “Why do we Tweet” delves into the idea of reverse voyeurism and how man is a narcissistic animal.  But along with being a narcissistic, self-promoting, self-absorbed race, are we losing a grip on the basic tenets of social etiquette just because it’s “online”?

PS: If you are bored and want to have a good laugh (that you cannot get on your own Facebook page), refer to this blog I found:

http://facebookovershare.wordpress.com/

PPS: The donated breast-milk status update inspired me to immediately write this blog post.  Oh wait, I cannot promote this post on Facebook now;)

September 11, 2010 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

A foodie’s fight against fat

As most of you are aware, I am passionate about promoting how we can eat and enjoy vegetarian food in the US.   To that extent, I have a blog and converted it into a more professional avenue at examiner.com with the title of Austin Vegetarian Food examiner.  The vast majority of my tweets are about food and my foodie experiences.  So you’re probably wondering if I am a stick thin, extremely healthy vegetarian or a well-rounded, teetering-on-the-edge plump foodie.   Fortunately or unfortunately, I am neither.  I fall in the average-and-could-lose-10-pounds category that I just made up.  Through this blog post, I am attempting to chronicle my fight to stay fit, even if it is just about losing those 10 pounds.

The “I-don’t-need-to-lose-weight” phase: Oh yes, I was narcissistic and stupid enough to go through this phase during most of my twenties.  My husband told me I was blessed with good genes and how lucky I was that I could eat what I want and it wouldn’t show.  I fit into a size 4 before we got married and eventually moved up in the world to a size 6.  Not that it bothered me.  But at one New Year’s eve party that I can never forget, when my friend’s svelte and slim mother touched my flabby arms and tummy and said, “you’re so beautiful, but you need to lose weight,” that reality struck me.  The mirror was not my best friend anymore.  In fact it was the harbinger of all things evil that would daunt and plague me for the rest of my life!  The little seed that was planted in my otherwise full head was growing like a weed and it wasn’t pleasant either.

The “Oh-God-I-should-hit-the-gym-sometimes” phase:  That led me to the gym.  I spent an hour thrice a week on the elliptical and doing some basic weight training.  To my profound joy, I lost some fat (even though my weight increased), my arms and legs toned up and I fit into a Size 4 again!  I felt good, looked good and moved about with confidence.  But my full head was always wary and realized that I needed to keep up with the exercising for good!  At some point I stopped losing weight, stopped feeling extra-hungry and basically didn’t realize that my body was getting too used to my routine.

The “I-am-going-to-Hawaii” phase: That’s when we planned our big trip to Maui! First time at such a gorgeous beach side place with my husband of two years meant w-a-t-c-h  t-h-o-s-e  c-a-l-o-r-i-e-s!  So the husband and I motivated each other.  My daily calorific intake was restricted to a paltry 1200 calories and I continued my exercise regimen as well.  Not very healthy but hey, we all learn our lessons right?  The pictures from Hawaii turned out to be fabulous – I looked the way I wanted to and wore the skinniest clothes comfortably.  Happiness can be short-lived just like calorie-starved diets can be. I ballooned up just as quickly as I had slimmed down.

The “I-need-a-trainer” phase:  Late 2007 and early 2008 brought with it the “visible belly” phase, in other words the “I can’t do this on my own, I need a trainer” phase!  With my eating habits stuck in a rut of Taco Bell, pizzas and limited home-cooked meals, I needed help.  And help came in the form of two different trainers I worked with at the gym we moved to.  Suddenly in a few months, I was stronger, more flexible, more toned and had dropped body fat at the rate of 1% a month!  But the weighing scales never tilted! In fact, they kept rising and the trainers kept consoling me that one day the fat-loss, muscle-gain ratio would reach a plateau and I would see a reversal on my weight chart.  (I even bought the book “Skinny Bitch in the Kitch”, but somehow couldn’t bring myself to make that kind of food!)

The “Trainers-suck-I-can-manage-on-my-own” phase: Trainers come and trainers go.  But they are all expensive as hell.  So when we decided to join a third different gym (this one with even more facilities and amenities than the second one), we realized we couldn’t afford a trainer at this fancy gym any more.  I was left to my own devices and started back on the cardio routine – this time incorporating the stair stepper and rowing machines as well.  (This time I had bought an autographed copy of “French Women Don’t Get Fat”… mildly interesting read and that’s about it.) The weight gain increased due to other lifestyle factors as well.  The conscious attempts to eat healthier continued but to no avail.

The “Paleo-diet” phase: Then we discovered the “paleo” diet through a die-hard fan who is a friend of ours.  But the one thing I realized about this non-processed food, gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, lentil-free, this-free and that-free diet is that it’s tough as hell for a vegetarian to do.  And that I love food too much to cut out most of my major food groups completely.  In the meanwhile I started jogging/running more and then some more.  I lost four pounds.  For the first time in years, the scale was moving backwards and not forwards! Just running twice or thrice a week combined with the stair stepper on a fourth day of the week had started working for me.

The “Just-eating-at-home” phase: My parents arrived from India.  I started eating home-made food.  Of course that included sweets, fried foods (Indian style) and rice with the starch drained out(again traditional Indian style).  After 2 weeks of not working out, and a month of eating 80% of my meals at home, I decided to check my weight.  To my immense pleasure, I had lost another four pounds!!

FINALLY! The weight loss was starting to happen.  I could count the pounds I was losing on the scale!  This despite my lack of exercise for 2 weeks! I started exercising again for a week while continuing to eat at home.   I managed to keep my weight steady (after the loss of 8 pounds) despite working on building muscle.  And I plan to keep up with eating a vast majority of my meals at home.

Moral of the story? The skinny bitch, French women, calorie-counters, food pyramid-ers and different diet espousers can go to hell!  All I need for my weight loss are regular home-made meals and I can eat anything (in moderation of course).

September 7, 2010 at 10:32 pm 3 comments

#FIFA

As I write this, Ghana is beating the US in the World Cup Round of 16 match and I can imagine a collective sigh of sadness around me.  I myself have never been that much into football (or soccer as it is better know here in the US), but my husband is.  So this World Cup, I did allow myself to get pleasantly sucked into watching the sport along with him.  And as I watched and looked around me, a realization was slowly dawning one me; people in the US were suddenly really, really into World Cup football.  Something was changing and it was a welcome change.

I remember, when years ago the Beckhams moved to LA, my husband had pointed out how desperate the US was to change the face of soccer here.  For a country that refuses to call it football (because football here is after all a different game), it was important to propel soccer back into the limelight.  Years later, come 2010, and ESPN was offering amazing coverage of the World Cup matches… a win-win situation for viewers and the network alike.

I was at LAX airport when the US was playing it’s final group game against Algeria and it was a do-or-die game that would determine who went into the next Round of 16.  As I dumped my stuff and sat at the gate flicking through the pages of some magazine, I saw a  bunch of people gathered somewhere and yells going up.  Curious, I walked around the airport and found that every available television set in every restaurant, bar, and gate area, was crowded with followers watching the crucial US-Algeria game.  Mostly a younger population (people in their 20s, 30s, teens, etc) and an equal mix of men and women made up the crowds watching TV all over LAX.

It was refreshing to see people in the US so into something other than American football and basketball. Even as I started walking up the ramp to board the aircraft, I heard shrieks and screams of joy going up from inside and outside – ringing through the airport. Landon Donovan had made the US proud with a last minute, overtime goal kick that sealed the US’ fate and propelled them into the next round.  And just like that he had also sealed his entire country’s interest in soccer.

A lot of factors went into this renewed interest; ESPN’s sudden hyping and complete coverage of the matches, unfair refreeing decisions against the US in a previous game that had everyone from Hollywood celebrities to Andy Roddick riled up, celebrities like Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas performing at the opening ceremonies in South Africa, and other celebrities like Matthew Matthew Mcconaughey snapped regularly in soccer jerseys… and most importantly, the exciting prowess shown by the US team on the football fields of South Africa. At every client I’ve been to and in all my friends’ offices, the TV set has gained new importance – seem even using projectors and large screen displays for entire key matches!  I am not sure if the World Cup hype and US team performance can result in a sustaining interest in the game from Americans, but it’s a start nevertheless…

Personally, I am supporting Argentina (Messi is God and the Brazilians and Italians play like thugs), but it’s very nice to go to work and discuss football with the team and not have to listen to American football stories and school rivalries.    Now if only we could get the Americans to love Formula One…. 🙂

June 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm Leave a comment

New Facebook privacy settings

Pretty detailed and good explanation of their new, simplified privacy controls:

http://www.facebook.com/privacy/explanation.php

Screenshot of FB privacy settings info page

If people still don’t take the time to read through this and work on their settings, they can’t blame Facebook anymore IMHO!

May 28, 2010 at 7:32 pm Leave a comment

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