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For a short time, I had a humorous/observational column in a local magazine called Upstate Women. Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer being published. I enjoyed the experience of writing a column so much, that I would like to continue writing in that vein. So once a month, I will offer a new column about something that bugs me in some way that may strike a chord with you, too.

Several of the columns you will see have already been published; the others were written after the demise of the magazine. The column will be called "Inanities" because I feel that is the word which aptly describes the things that make us want to smack our heads in frustration. Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at


by Nancy Rechtman

Remember that singsong phrase from the children's game that we used to play? And if you have young kids you might still hear it when you play with them outside. That is, when you can tear them away from the TV, computer and video games. Anyway, the game was about having to stop, then go and stop again before you got caught. Which bears a strange resemblance to the modus operandi of a number of CEO's caught with their hands in the cookie jar, don't you think?

Speaking of red light, green light, I was thinking about the way health and dietary guidelines are constantly shifting these days - what now get the red light and what gets the green. Or vice versa. For example, one minute we are told we should eat fish. The next minute we're told that if we do eat fish, the mercury count in our bodies will shoot high enough to start a thermometer factory. Then we're told to keep eating fish anyway. Just eat it in moderation. Tuna and salmon - red light. Well, no, not necessarily. Albacore tuna, red light. Chunk light which basically should be labeled as cat food, green light. Yippee. Farmed salmon, red light. Well, yellow light depending on which farm we're talking about. Wild salmon green light. But of course they don't behave very well.

Fats and carbs. How sick are we of those two words? Up until Dr. A. came along, we were told fats equal FAT. Avoid it at all costs. So food manufacturers started coming up with cardboard versions of our favorite foods and plastered the words LOW FAT on the labels, large enough and bold enough to make us forget that the cookies/crackers/cakes inside the packages had no resemblance whatsoever to the foods we loved and had long-standing relationships with. They poured buckets of sugar into these pretenders in hope that the sugar rush we got upon consuming one of these impostors would zap our brains, causing short term memory loss and convincing us that we actually liked this stuff and, in addition, would have no problem paying twice the normal price of this food each time we bought it.

Now, suddenly fat means thin! Green light! Bacon, eggs, butter - for years all red light foods. But now we're told, eat - the greasier the better! You'll lose weight, lots of it, we promise! Forget that the inside of your arteries is probably looking a lot like the pipes under your house after you've accidentally spilled several gallons of oil down the drain. Thin is in! Fat is the new media darling. And what gets the red light? Bread, pasta, rice. All the foods that we've been told until recently would keep us healthy and fit (read: thin). Because they were generally considered LOW FAT. Now we've done a one eighty and the food police will sound the sirens if they see you eating a sandwich or a baked potato in public. My heart goes out to the poor bakeries and sandwich shops that now have glaring red lights flashing across their doorways, warning consumers to stay away.

Another red light - HRT. Hormone replacement therapy. For years, this was a major green light for women. Doctors extolled the positive effects of adding hormones to our rapidly accumulating years. Not only did HRT prevent hot flashes and night sweats, but we were cajoled into believing that hormones were some sort of magic elixir that would help us retain our youth in every way including our hearts, our minds and our primal urges. The green light stayed on until a study done several years ago said, no, none of this was true. And just like the magic elixirs of old which promised miracle cures to one and all for whatever ailed you, there was little basis in fact. There was no all-powerful wizard, only the little man frantically working behind the curtain. In fact, the new study said that HRT could actually hurt our hearts and had absolutely no effect on our ability to remember where we put the keys or what word to fill in for 24 Down in the Sunday crossword puzzle. Red light, red light, red light!

There are many other examples of basic beliefs that were ingrained into our psyches like commandments etched in stone until someone went and did a study that smashed it all to bits. Think of when you were a kid and you got sick. You had a fever - you took baby aspirin. Red light. If you continued burning up, you got a back rub from mom with rubbing alcohol. Red light. You ate something that mom thought looked mildly poisonous - you got Ipecac. Red light. It's amazing any of us actually survived our childhoods.

And furthermore, there are divergent opinions on whether we really need to drink the metric equivalent of a lake full of water every day in order to stay healthy. My question is, if so, why aren't there more ladies' rooms in public places? Also, they've changed the food pyramid so many times, what does it actually look like anymore and has the original really been discovered in Egypt? And, while I'm asking here, do blondes really have more fun or does it just seem that way?

If our basic belief systems have been found to be faulty, then why should we believe the new stuff? How many more years until further studies show that these "experts" don't know what they're talking about either? We'll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I'm going to have myself a baked potato slathered in butter and sour cream. That way, no matter who is right, I've covered all of my bases. Green light.

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Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail