Majority Privilege

We came across this statement yesterday - it was part of a response from Bioware to complaints from straight male customers about male characters in the new Dragon Age game flirting with them (full response here) - and we both thought it was fantastic:

And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as “political correctness” if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.

This paragraph is referring specifically male and heterosexual privilege, but it can be easily applied to any majority segment of the population. Majority privilege is something really difficult to see when you’re actually a part of the majority, but that only makes it more important to be aware of. In the US today the White, Male, Heterosexual and Christian demographics enjoy majority status and are very resistant to minorities that challenge their privileged status. I can already hear many of the arguments against this (we’ve both made some of them before), because those in the majority don’t like being told that they have enjoyed undeserved privilege at the expense of others, or that not everything should be catered to their preferences.

This problem naturally persists when one group’s majority status is replaced by another. The former minority had to tolerate being ignored or repressed for so long, that they see it as a matter of course to act in the same manner. Right now atheists are a minority in this country and most atheists that I have talked to have a wonderful view on human equality and a philosophy that “You should be allowed to do whatever you want to, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to do whatever I want to.” If we ever become the majority, we need to be hyper-aware of how we shape society and actually implement our Humanist principles to work for equality for all instead of just making ourselves the new privileged class.

Never stop questioning in search of reason,

Valerie and Mike

Changing the Way We Eat, Part Two

Part 1 was all about how to eat, changing the way we physically ingest food. Today is a collection of tips and tricks on choosing what to eat. Starting with better ingredients makes all the difference. Again, work on changing things slowly. This list isn’t at all comprehensive, and there’s still a lot of research and debate on what, exactly, is the best to eat, but this is what Mike and I have figured out so far:

  • The most important step is to choose whole foods (ingredients) - fruits, vegetables, and especially grains - over processed/already prepared foods. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that the less processed it is the better it is for you.

    • Cooking your own food is one of the best ways to eat healthier, since you get to control exactly what goes into your meal. As a society, we’ve gotten out of practice using our kitchens, but cooking for yourself doesn’t have to be scary. If you don’t have any cooking experience, search around the internet for “Beginner cooking recipes” or go browse a local bookstore for kid’s cookbooks, which are obviously geared for beginners. Plus, you’ll get fun, bright colored pictures to look at!

    • Mike and I are doing a lot of cooking at home including cooking in bigger batches in order to have leftovers for lunches and freezing meals and ingredients for nights when we’re feeling lazy. Even when there are leftovers in the fridge, I still sometimes forget a lunch and go buy something from the freezer more than I’d like. It’s a work in progress.

  • Pay attention to ingredient labels, if you don't recognize it, don't eat it. I feel like I need to take my friend The Chemistry PhD grocery shopping with me, just so I can figure out what half of the ingredients are. Many of them may not be harmful, but since I don’t have any idea, I try to stay away. You’ll be amazed what you find when you start paying attention. Amanda will talk about this more in her guest post coming next week! (So I don’t have to! n_n)

  • Fiber is really good for you, since it’s very filling and takes the most energy to digest. For vegetables, crunchy is better than mushy (you don't have to eat raw, but you'll get more bang for your buck if it takes a little bit of work for your stomach to digest all those tasty nutrients.)

  • If you don’t like vegetables - I’ve now found several friends that don’t - there are some good ways to up your vegetable intake without eating just a plate of veggies. In no particular order:

    • Ripe avocado makes a good spread and mayo substitute.

    • Guacamole is a great way to get a bunch of tasty veggies, and so is a good salsa (read the label or make your own!). Try to watch the amount of salt that’s included.

    • Try dishes where veggies are mixed in with meat, like a stir fry.

    • If you’re brave, try raw veggies dunked in a sauce or dip. It’s not the healthiest in the long run, but if it gets you eating things you wouldn’t otherwise, go for it! You can cut down on the dip once you’ve gotten used to the taste and texture of veggies.

    • If all else fails, you can literally sneak vegetables in:
    • Pureed raw zucchini is one of my favorite tricks; it’s tasteless but nutrient rich and makes sauces creamier. It’s great in pasta sauce (even added to a jar of pasta sauce) or a stir fry, and you can often use it in place of half of the oil when baking. You can puree a bunch (just stick chunks of washed raw zucchini, skin on, in the blender and have at it) and freeze it in cubes or small Ziploc bags. Instant nutrition! This works well with other pureed vegetables too.

    • Make a fruit smoothie and add a carrot. Blend well and you’ll forget it’s there.
    • We’ve also signed up for a CSA (Whistling Train Farm) so we’ll get a box of fresh, locally grown produce every week from June – January. If we don’t find creative ways to use up everything in the box, we’ll have wasted money. I’m really excited for the challenge. Maybe try buying a new vegetable a week and finding a way to cook with it (AllRecipes!)
  • Lower your meat intake, and up the vegetables and whole grains.

  • Try cutting your piece of meat in half and taking bigger servings of side dishes. This will leave you with leftovers for lunch too.

    • Mike and I are slowly becoming part-time vegetarians by working a lot more vegetarian recipes into our collection. I’ve been really surprised by how tasty and filling some of them are! You don’t even have to like tofu (though we do).
    • I made Asparagus Chicken and Pecan Pasta the other night and it was super tasty and plenty filling. If you're scratching your head on how this is vegetarian, I cut out the chicken and added snap peas (we had frozen asparagus and snap peas on hand, any veggies would work). I also cut down the cheese to 1/2 c, mostly because I wanted to be able to have more to use on other tasty dishes.

    • I use for almost all of my new recipes. It lets you search by what you have in the cupboard and it is popular enough that it has a really strong rating system. There are also always comments about what people changed in order to make it fit with what they had in their pantry. All of the tested recipes (which is most) have a “per serving” breakdown of Calories, Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Carbs, Fiber, and Protein. It's pretty easy to find tasty, healthy recipes.
  • Cut out fast food as much as possible. As tasty as it is in the short term, there are few things that are worse for you than the crap that comes out of fast food joints. This is a really hard one, fast food tastes good, it’s easy and available everywhere you turn. Again, take small steps.

    • Plan ahead one day/week to bring lunch instead of eating out. Once you get that down, increase it to two, and so on. Eventually, you’ll get to the point that you’re hardly eating fast food at all. Then you can have a fun experience like I did a few days ago! We haven’t eaten fast food more than once or twice in a couple of months now, but I forgot to bring lunch and Burger King had been sounding really good (I have to drive past one daily, often when I’m hungry), so I decided to treat myself. It tasted pretty good, but almost immediately afterwards I felt off. It sat really heavy in my stomach and made me feel gross for the rest of the day. Fast food just isn’t worth it anymore, and this is coming from someone who was just about addicted to Chicken McNuggets only half a year ago.

    • Now the only fast food we’ll treat ourselves to is Chipotle Mexican Grill. They use whole and smart ingredients (including non-factory farmed meat!) put together in the same way you would at home. If you aren’t going to cook for yourself, your health is worth the few extra dollars to make sure you’re getting good quality prepared food.

    I think taking control of your eating is a really big struggle for Americans. I don’t watch TV and I still feel constantly bombarded by advertisements for products and diet fads, and by information from ‘experts’ on the ‘only’ healthy way to eat. Spoilers: it generally involves their product. No wonder we can’t keep it straight. My general rule of thumb is to get back to basic ingredients and make it myself. If I’m not making it myself, I try to pay attention to what’s in it. Eating well doesn’t have to be hard, but it does take awareness and a bit of action.

    Changing your diet isn’t about racing the scale. You can lose weight and still be unhealthy about it, but if you start changing how and what you eat you will notice a difference in how you feel, and eventually you should have more energy and less weight.

    Never stop questioning,


    PS. This probably would have fit well in last week’s post, but I forgot it. I’m curious if you all have any suggestions:

    One of my biggest struggles is boredom snacking. Right now, for example, I’m stuffed but I have a very strong urge to go and find something to munch on … and Mike just offered me a cookie. Not fair. I know that this is a really important thing to cut back on, it goes right along with eating without distractions and paying attention to when your body says “I’m full!” but besides just not having anything in the apartment to snack on or sheer willpower, I don’t really know how to go about it. Help?

    Changing the Way We Eat, Part One

    I’ve been very conscious of my food intake lately, for a number of reasons: Mike and I are trying to create healthy grocery shopping, meal planning, and eating habits. Our group of friends tries to cut out the high fructose corn syrup and other unnatural/unidentifiable ingredients whenever possible. I’ve picked up a couple of really good food blogs, and I just finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. (A book review might be in the future, let me know if you’re interested in the comments!) I’ve never been this aware of my food, and it’s an interesting journey. We’re working toward eating tasty food while creating healthy eating habits now that will follow us through adulthood, and lead to a longer life with less painful medical problems. I need to work on exercise and getting enough sleep too, but one thing at a time.

    As a disclaimer, I've never been overweight, but I have had incredibly unhealthy diets and experienced the gross feeling and lack of energy that come from eating that way. Someday my metabolism is going to change and I won't be able to eat whatever I want, and it's better to be prepared than blindsided. My diet (as in overall food intake, not made up program to control weight) definitely isn't perfect, but being more aware of what I'm eating is already helping.

    We've created an amazingly unhealthy culture in America. We've forgotten where our food comes from, and often we can't even recognize half of the ingredients on the labels anymore. We have an entire diet industry that is counting on failure. If the diet fails, or more specifically, isn't sustainable and the dieter slips off the wagon, they're almost always going to blame themselves for failing and come back and try again; throwing more money at the problem to get it "right this time." The diet industry has exploded into one of the largest in the country since the 1950’s without a strong success rate. The diet industry is growing, but so is the obesity rate. Something isn't working.

    We've stopped caring about what goes into our bodies and just started inhaling food like a country of crazed Kirbys. We sit in front of TVs or computers (or even books, in my case) and eat without tasting. We don't pay attention to our bodies, even when it's screaming at us that it's full. We get up from the table with a sickened "Uuugh, I ate too much." It's no wonder that 99% of the people who need the motorized carts at Walmart are grossly obese. No one has taught them how to eat properly. It kills me when I have to help a 300+ pound man confined to a wheelchair get a dozen donuts. For himself. For that day.

    This can change, but we have to be willing to listen to someone other than the diet industry - the industry that makes money off of our failures. The industry that doles out emotional abuse to make us feel depressed when we can't follow their unsustainable guidelines (depression encourages overeating) and then waits for us to come back for more to try again because we desperately don't want to be 50, 100, 150 lbs overweight.

    I’m not an expert, but I have been hyper aware of mine and others eating habits lately, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading. So, here’s what I’ve figured out:

    The weight loss industry wants you to focus on exercise first, diet second. I think you're a lot more likely to fail if you try it this way. Your body just doesn't have the energy until you start feeding it right. Moving around in your day is really important, but if you exercise a bunch without changing how you eat, you're going to make your body sad. Ideally, you'll do both at once, but I know from experience that this doesn't happen often.

    Instead, let’s focus on eating right. The biggest block to get over is the idea of diets. Diets. Don't. Work. So, what does? Baby steps. Small attainable and sustainable goals, one or two at a time. You can’t go cold turkey with food like you can cigarettes; you can’t resolve to stop eating, but you can resolve to stop some bad habits. If you're serious about your health, you need to be in it for the long haul, not for the instant gratification of dropping 20 lbs in two weeks. Your body will thank you. So be specific with your goals: instead of saying "I'm going to eat better!" Try "I'm going to choose water over soda once per day." Water is a really important first step (if you don't like it plain, try adding lemon or drinking tea).

    Another easy first step to eating healthier is to use a smaller plate when you serve yourself. If you have a huge piece of meat, try cutting it in half and only taking half at a time. Then sit at a table without distractions. If you're eating alone and can't stand the silence, try putting on music or maybe a podcast. You'll take smaller portions, be able to focus on your food and eat slower, take in how delicious it is, and notice when you're full. You will have a more satisfying meal, and you're using portion control (shh, don't tell anyone). You are less likely to go back for seconds if you have to get up, so use the power of laziness! Learn to say "Oh man that was good, but I'm full, and I'll keep the rest for leftovers." (This is still hard for me!)

    If you eat out, ask for a box at the beginning and put half of your meal away so you're not tempted to overeat. Eat the rest of it slowly and enjoy the company of whoever you’re eating with or just enjoy people watching.

    Eat slow! You aren't a vacuum and it takes time for your body to process food and to let you know when you're full. This is definitely one of the things I struggle with the most, it tastes so good and I want it all now! Ultimately, I end up unsatisfied when I get to the end of the meal. I can hardly remember what it tasted like and all I'm left with is this sickeningly full feeling. When I eat slower, I enjoy myself more and I eat healthier. As an added bonus, I often end up with leftovers.

    This post has been all about changing the way we eat by changing how we eat, making small changes like: drinking water over soda, choosing smaller plates for portion control, and eating slower. Personally, I’ve gotten down drinking water and only have soda occasionally when I’m out at a friend’s or sometimes in a restaurant, but I’m still working on starting with smaller portions and I’m still struggling with eating slower. As long as I stay aware of my goals and keep working to achieve them, it’s completely okay to struggle. In Part Two I’ll share more tips about how to change the way we eat by changing what we eat.

    Never stop questioning,


    Guest Post: Magical Thinking

    Faith is viewed dramatically differently by the many different types of nontheists. There’s no one philosophy of thought held by nontheists in a group – we’re a disparate bunch – since we are largely unified merely by lack of belief in a god or gods. Some see faith and religion as not being such a bad thing at all. On message boards and blogs, you will often hear cries for moderation in our discourse, saying that we can all coexist with our many and myriad beliefs, and we should all live and let live. What’s the harm in that?

    The harm is in what James Randi calls “magical thinking”. This is a product of faith, as I see it. Magical thinking is, at its most basic, allowing one’s self to accept arguments without any logic, evidence, or reasoning. Religious people accept that their god exists, miracles occurred, and any number of extraordinary things. The more educated theists will put forth arguments born of their faith-based logic, but when these are torn down by competent nontheists, all that is left is faith. “I just know.”

    When asked if religion does any harm, therefore, I must emphatically say "yes." Even the most moderate of religions require, by their very definition, magical thinking. It is bad enough to see this in adults who refuse strong evidence which conflicts with their beliefs. I find it more abhorrent still that this magical thinking is then taught to their children. This can only stymie their intellectual growth, by providing logical dead-ends to their questions. Worse, the parents would then go on to glorify that same willful ignorance - faith is a virtue, after all.
    A person who cites faith as a reason for believing something is proudly claiming they hold their belief with no supporting evidence asked for or given.

    Again and again through history we've seen that sort of magical thinking be harmful. Consider the anti-vaccination movement: A group of people led by a vocal spokesperson, Jenny McCarthy, whose claims are dubious at best. However, they've "seen" it happen, or they know someone who has had it happen to them - their child or their friend's child or their aunt's first cousin twice removed had a friend who definitely caught autism from their MMR shots. A facetious example, to be sure, but this is how the “evidence” is presented. As an example, take one of Jenny McCarthy’s own blog posts. “I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son.”

    Prior to this statement, McCarthy quoted the parent of one of the 12 patients in Andrew Wakefield’s original study (more on this in a moment), who makes the other side of this claim.
    “To hear that my son's gastrointestinal condition has been extensively refuted, by unqualified and ill-informed individuals who have never laid eyes on him, looking at and mis-interpreting scanty medical notes without the courtesy to ask for our version of our son's early childhood, flies in the face of everything that the medical community and its professional bodies seek to represent.”
    This person may have legitimate issues with the studies done that concluded, of course, that there was no link between her child’s gastrointestinal disorder and autism. However, she is attempting to reach a hypothesis from an already defined conclusion, which flies in the face of the scientific method. In other words, she has seen this happen, and “knows” what must have caused it; therefore it must be shoddy science that refutes her particular claim.

    The research, the evidence, and the scientific community is overwhelmingly against them. The first one to propose a vaccine-autism link was Andrew Wakefield, and his work was recently (finally!) discredited by prominent UK medical journalist Brian Deer. It was proven that Wakefield accepted upwards of $800,000 from lawyers who wanted him to prove that the vaccine was unsafe. The scientific journal that originally published Wakefield’s work has since retracted it, publically and finally refuting the pseudoscience once and for all.

    In response to all this, of course, Jenny McCarthy was not deterred. Here’s a rebuttal to this blog post by “Orac” of, which contains citations, links, and a lot more science than I’m capable of producing.

    This is nothing short of willful, deliberate ignorance, despite overwhelming evidence against this vaccination-autism link. The original promoter of the idea has been debunked as a fraud. Not a single shred of evidence has ever turned up in favor of the idea. But still the idea persists, because McCarthy and those who follow her “believe” it to be true. They “know” that their child is afflicted by autism because of vaccines, and it seems like nothing will change their minds.

    Children are dying because
    people trust her more than
    medical professionals
    This brings me back to my original point. What’s the harm? They’re welcome to their own crazy ideas, so why get so worked up about it? As of 2008, measles have become endemic in the UK. The reason? Low MMR coverage – the same vaccine that McCarthy and other anti-vax types rail against the hardest. Whether this was caused directly by anti-vax efforts is irrelevant. It shows us that there is a pressing need for vaccinating our children, and it’s not to line pharmaceutical company’s pockets. It’s to maintain immunity as a species to diseases that should have been wiped out. A compendium of other examples from right here in the USA, check out the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website, which catalogues death and hospital reports from the CDC concerning illnesses in people who were never immunized, and more on Jenny McCarthy’s role in the anti-vax movement.

    Religion is not the root cause of this sort of willful ignorance that can lead to serious harm. Religion is just a symptom of magical thinking; taking things on faith, or anecdotal evidence, or just “feeling” something to be so. Religion does, however, reinforce that faith is a good thing, to be prized and rewarded.

    Instead, I say, question everything. Check your sources and cross your references; be a skeptic. Read up on What’s the Harm to hear sobering stories about the specific dangers of neglecting critical thinking. Only when we all think critically can we surmount the dangers posed by magical thinking.

    Living in reality,


    Intro to the Documentary Hypothesis

    Ever wonder how and when the Christian Old Testament / Jewish Bible (divided into the Torah "Law," Neviim "Prophets," and Ketuvim "Writings") were written? There is a large body of scholarly work on the subject, and it's all pretty fascinating. Especially if you like studying history and culture. The first thing I would recommend is this brief introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis. This covers the very basics behind scholarly understanding of the Torah.

    Thanks to heterodoxism and his hard work making these abridged lectures a visually interesting jumping off point.

    If you enjoy this short playlist and want to delve deeper, OpenYale Courses has this entire lecture series from Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) available online.

    I share this because there are two ways to read holy books.

    The first way is to assume that you are the intended audience, and to assume that the theology of the authors is the same as what you were taught.

    The second is to take a critical approach to the text and to the history and culture of the authors. In the Five Books of Moses alone we have evidence for the four distinct cosmologies/theologies of J, E, D, and P; each so old that modern Judaism and modern Christianity are closer to each other than they are to their ancient source material.

    When I studied the Torah in college I entered the class committed to truth and hoping to strengthen my religious faith by delving into Christianity's origins. I saw several students that would rationalize away or simply ignore the historic and archaeological evidence and continue to argue the "truth" of their churches explanation for the text. They couldn't defend their positions, but they wouldn't budge. This bothered me greatly. If my fellow Christians were honestly opening themselves up to the truth of God's word, why did they feel threatened by long documented and well understood facts about the Hebrew history? Interestingly, their faith in their particular church's doctrine led them to disagree with each other almost as often as with the professor.

    On the other hand, I understood and accepted my ignorance of the subject and approached the class with an open mind. When I saw that my position didn't match the evidence I accepted that I was wrong. I abandoned the assumptions that I had been taught by volunteer Sunday School teachers with no scholarly background, and accepted the position that was supported by verifiable historic facts. Ironically, this eager commitment that I made to learning the true roots of my religion was also my first step to seeing it as it really is: a human construct that stands in contradiction to the natural world.

    "The bible must be seen in a cultural context. It didn't just happen. These stories are retreads. But, tell a Christian that -- No, No!
    What makes it doubly sad is that they hardly know the book, much less its origins."
    ~ Isaac Asimov

    In search of reason,