Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why Does the Easter Bunny Exist?

Ever wondered how the Easter Bunny came to be? Seems kinda far removed from the whole "savior of the world being resurrected" thing, doesn't it?

On Good Friday (possibly the least accurately titled holiday ever), Jesus was brutally executed. On the Sunday after his execution, the tomb that held his body was discovered to be empty, and it was determined that he had risen from Earth to heaven to be with God. That's the reason Easter exists to begin with.

It's not called "Easter" because this all happened far east of the United States. The word is derived from the ancient German month Eostur-monath (what is now known as April) which was named for the pagan goddess Ä’ostre. 8th century pagan Anglo-Saxons held feasts in her honor during this time of year to celebrate the blooming of Spring.

It just so happens that Jesus was offed right around the same time that this traditional festival came to be celebrated. When Christianity made its way to the highly pagan realms of Europe, the festival was replaced by Paschal month (known to Jews as Passover) and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. The original festival's name came along and evolved into the word Easter.

Christmas and Easter are two very similar holidays. They both celebrate the birth (or re-birth) of Jesus. They both have mascots that overshadow the whole Jesus thing. They both have traditions that seem wildly random.

Christmas has Santa, stockings, decorated trees, and seizure-inducing light shows. Easter has a bunny, eggs, candy, and baskets. Analyzing Christmas is for a different time, but why do we have such bizarre Easter traditions if it's all about Christ?

Remember that the resurrection celebration was rolled into an already-existing Springtime party celebrated by nature-happy pagans. Right around the month of April, stuff is growing. Flowers are blooming. Animals are coming out of hibernation to freely copulate with vigor. It just so happens that Jesus' re-birth is an excellent metaphor for fertility.

And what other symbol of fertility do we have? Eggs. Just about every animal comes from an egg of some sort, and chicken eggs are abundant and edible even after serving as holiday decorations. The tradition of adorning them most likely comes from ancient times in which eggs were boiled with fresh Spring flowers to create colorfully dyed hard-boiled eggs.

Rabbits, as well, have long been symbols of fertility. They're superfetative, which means that they can get pregnant with another set of babies before even giving birth to the first, and they hump like crazy when all the flowers are in bloom in the Spring. Maybe they find it romantic. (Also, they're cute. Frogs can lay 10,000 eggs at a time, but we don't have an Easter Frog.)

So, much like Christmas and Santa and the gift-giving frenzy that now defines it, Easter is marketed using a somewhat non-denominational symbol: The Easter Bunny. Businesses want to make money, and holidays are good times to catch people when they're willing to be less thrifty than usual because "it's a special occasion." Appealing to as wide a demographic as possible is generally more profitable, so rather than using Jesus to sell candy, the Easter Bunny became the official spokesperson of the season.

And that's how we got from this:

To this:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Diet Mission: No Whites

Fad diets don't always work, but they sure are popular. It seems like everyone's looking for an easy way to lose weight without sacrificing too much, so when a new one pops up claiming to be the easy weight loss solution, people jump on them.

I struggled to consider which one I should try first. Atkins? Guinness? And then a friend suggested one to me, championed by none other than Oprah Winfrey herself: No Whites.

No, this isn't a timewarping segregationist restaurant. It's a diet founded on the principle that things lacking in color aren't especially good for you and fill you up with empty calories, complex carbohydrates, and glue. Avoid white foods and you're probably eating pretty healthy.

The rules: Don't touch anything white. This means giving up:
  • Milk
  • Flour
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Happiness

But hey, it's only a week. The literature on the topic suggests that dieters could lose as much as 5–6 pounds in one month with this diet. And with endorsements from Oprah and Cameron Diaz, I couldn't go wrong, right?

No Whites Philosophy

To abstain from eating foods that are white in color in order to avoid unhealthy habits and focus more heavily on natural, unprocessed foods.

Day 1: Oh God, What Have I Done?

I woke up motivated to cook a non-white breakfast and was suddenly slapped in the face by reality. I couldn't make eggs. I couldn't make hash browns. I couldn't make toast, or eat cereal with milk, or have a bagel. I ended up just eating a bunch of bacon even though it's got those white stripes of fat in it.

Thinking about the rest of the day, I realized I was pretty screwed. This wasn't just going to be a restriction on what to eat, it was going to be a puzzle of figuring out what to eat. I began to panic, randomly exclaiming such inane things as "Butter's not white! Ha ha ha!" My wife gave up mid-morning when she realized she'd have to drink her coffee black.

I made it through the rest of the day without cracking, making a cheeseburger with no bun for lunch. I understood that I wasn't eating especially healthy, but I was clearly following the rules, so I didn't care. (Beer isn't white! I'll have 15 of them.)

Day 2: Solving the Puzzle

I wasn't about to cook bacon before work because I didn't have the time. With cereal and bagels out of the question, I decided to eat a handful of strawberries and a piece of cheese for breakfast.

For lunch, normally I'd just eat ramen noodles or get a sandwich and eat a bunch of potato chips, but every one of those things was off-limits. I began to think about what was left over. My stomach was accusing me of being a traitor for feeding it strawberries for breakfast. My brain was suffering endorphin withdrawal. I had to figure out something fast.

Then my boss brought in a huge plate of ribs for lunch, which would have been really bad timing if this was vegetarian week. All red meat and barbecue sauce was exactly what I needed, and I ate thirty pounds of baked beans to make up for any weight loss that might have happened in the preceding four hours. I ate a bag of almonds for dinner.

Day 3: A Moment of Clarity

I determined that lunch for the rest of the week would be non-breaded hot wings and a fruit cup from the grocery store. Strawberries for breakfast, strawberries for lunch.

While joking with someone that dinner would be "nuts and berries I found in the woods," I had a sudden realization: This diet is basically all fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meat. It is closely analogous to the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who'd look for edible berries if they couldn't find a woodland creature to spear with a sharpened tree branch, except with less accidental poisoning. Aside from the slices of cheese I'd been eating, it was a pretty natural, primitive diet.

Sure, the meat is cooked, but it's not breaded or prepared in any fancy way. It's just basic, stripped-down, and hopefully good for you. As good as hormone-drenched flesh can be.

I weighed myself. I had gained 3 pounds.

Day 4: Taking a Closer Look

Day four's mission was to find a soup I could eat, since so many of them contain cream, onions, potatoes, salty broths, and all that stuff that tastes really great that I was obligated to shun. I decided on a broccoli cheddar soup from Panera. After all, it's just steamed broccoli with melted cheddar cheese, right?

I researched the ingredients to make sure. There were 48 of them, including added cream, onions, potato, and tons of salty broth. Five of the ingredients contained sugar—in a soup that's not even sweet!

I looked closer at the black bean soup and determined that the small amount of potato flour in it would be negligible, but that had me thinking about what was in all those baked beans I ate for lunch on day two. As it turns out, baked beans are navy beans, which are entirely white. In fact, they're in a category of bean called "white beans." Oops!

I'd have to be more careful throughout the week. Yes, broccoli cheddar soup and baked beans are both non-white, but after my breakthrough on day three, I was motivated to cut the smart ass approach and really try to avoid those white foods.

Scouring the ingredients in the low-fat vegetarian black bean soup and deeming it legal, I checked the nutrition facts: 1270mg of sodium.

I never found my soup.

Day 5: Now Explain Yourself

As if free ribs wasn't enough on Monday, the office ordered pizza on Thursday. And while non-stop meat turned out to be the absolute perfect lunch for my diet, pizza was something that was completely out of the question. I had to politely decline to eat it.

"You're on a what diet?" someone asked me. I tried to explain how my color-biased diet would ultimately benefit me, but ended up sounded like an ass.

"Really, it just means that I can't eat anything made with flour," I lied. That would exclude pizza. I was off the hook—for now.

So continued my daily excursion to the grocery store to eat hot wings and fruit. As I passed a Taco Bell on the way into the parking lot, I suddenly had an idea. Tacos = corn tortillas, meat, lettuce, and cheese. I was quickly the owner of three of them.

Returning to the office, I passed by the open pizza boxes while toting my Taco Bell bag. Everyone laughed at me.

Day 6: Making it Work

My family was going to go to dinner at a mexican restaurant, which would have been perfect considering the abundance of tacos to be had. At the last minute, we switched to a sushi place where everything is made out of rice. Should I break my diet? I asked myself. No. I had come so far and had begun to embrace the diet as viable and effective. I made it work.

Instead, I fulfilled the "gatherer" part of my diet by eating edamame, steamed soybeans. Then the "hunter" in me ordered the tiger steak, eating rare beef in a lemongrass broth. Turns out you can find non-white food everywhere but Waffle House.

Day 7 & Beyond: Holy Crap, I Learned Something

On the last day of the diet, I was actually a little bit sad to give it up. I felt like I was eating better and actually making progress. If I really needed to lose weight, I probably would have continued with it. Instead, I woke up the next morning and ate every possible white item on planet Earth.

The rules were easy, yet not always simple to remember. At one point I ate a wintergreen mint out of habit and then realized it was white and filled with sugar. I nearly salted my food 100 times before catching myself. I had to give up garlic. Sweet, sweet garlic! That blasphemy alone was enough to slap me back into reality and welcome the end of the experiment.

I came to realize that potatoes are like a bad friend. You think they're cool and that they even help you out sometimes, but it turns out that they're pretty much just bringing you down and have an endless supply of bad advice. There's almost no nutritional value there. When I ate french fries the next Monday, my body reacted as if I hadn't eaten anything at all. I had to let the potatoes' phone calls go to voice mail and stop going to the bar where I might run into them.

Yet despite all this, I could keep it up for an entire month. I was promised 5–6 pounds of weight loss over that amount of time, so I had expected a fraction of that considering my regular workout routine. In the end, I lost 3 pounds—6 below the high point on Wednesday.

Verdict: Positive Results

I never felt sick despite actually losing weight, and I learned to hate some of the foods I previously loved that are bad for me. I'd say that you could sustain this diet indefinitely (if you can give up garlic).