Archive for Fitness

You’ve Gotta Keep Moving

They say Sunday’s supposed to be a day of rest, but that’s not been true for me for a long time. It’s the only day of the week I have no work obligations at either of my jobs, so it’s become a day I get my longer workouts done.

My family is gone in the morning, so that’s when I hit the dojo for practice. I always work kata or other elements of my style (Shuri-ryu), practice some kobudo, and sometimes work in some calisthenics or makiwara work. I do more teaching than practicing these days, so it’s become an important time to get my own practice in and work on corrections and advice from my instructors. In general, though, I’m aiming to get a good sweat.

Later in the evening, when there’s nothing going on at the school I work for, my eldest son and I to sneak into their weight room for squats and related leg exercises. My middle son and I have karate together, so this has the added bonus of spending time with his brother.

Legs: "This all you got?" Knees: "ARE YOU CRAZY!?" #legday #squats #bodybuilding #fitness #gym

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I’ve been lifting consistently for about five years, and now that he’s old enough, my son’s caught the bug. I have an Olympic bench and barbell set in my office, and we use that at home for separate workouts. We can do leg curls and extensions on my bench, but nothing beats squats, and I don’t have space at home for a power rack or squat stands.

I’ve thought about hitting the school gym on my own for some time now, but for safety’s sake I waited until I had a partner available. My son’s still a bit small to spot me, but now he’s there to call for help if I have an accident and go down.

Funny thing is, most people still tell me, “You’re too old for that stuff.”

I don’t claim to be a paragon of health, but I’ve seen results. I move better than most people my age. I can lift more than most guys half my age. My heart’s strong, and my doctor doesn’t ride me about my weight. My gut doctor remarked on how much muscle I’m carrying, and even my friends have noticed a difference.

My goal isn’t to get down to 5% body fat and compete in fitness competitions, nor do I intend to step into a cage and fight. I just want to stay healthy. Some of the martial arts instructors I train with are in their 60s and 70s, and when I get to be their age, I want to be active and moving like they are. They may have slowed down a bit, but they’re in far better shape than most of their peers. When people say “move it or lose it,” those are the men and women I picture. They stayed active and it’s paid off for them.

Meanwhile, the naysayers are all trying fad diets or cleanses. They don’t look for the shortcuts because they’re lazy, they just buy into the “you’re too old for that” bullshit and are looking for another solution.

 

A big part of cutting fat is exercise. It’s not just common sense, it’s proven science:

The other part of it is diet. My own diet can still use a few tweaks, and it doesn’t help that I’ve got a bum thyroid. However, fad diets and cleanses are unsustainable. What’s more is some of them prompt the body to tear down muscle, because muscle is expensive to maintain (calorically speaking). So while those weird shakes might result in temporary weight loss, they can also leave people in worse physical shape.

Most of us think about fat and muscle when we’re talking about fitness, but as we age we should also be thinking about bone health. I’ve seen several older folks with shattered wrists and hips after simple falls. Even moderate activity helps keep bones strong. It’s called Wolff’s Law, and the most obvious example of it I’ve witnessed is in the protruding knuckles of a karate practitioner who has spent a lot of time punching things.

You feel the difference when they punch you, too.

“Too old for this stuff?” Not by a long shot.

Find whatever makes you move and do it! Run. Hit a gym. Join a softball or soccer team. Play racquetball or tennis. Take yoga or spin classes. Ride a bike. Do you. The martial arts just happen to work for me, and it inspires me to dabble in other things like yoga and running so I can be better at karate and judo. There’s bound to be an art that fits your interests, and a good martial arts instructor can often double as a personal trainer.

You’re not too old. My oldest student is 69 years young and trains alongside his grandson. And yes, you have time.

Get to work.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Nature Has Selected Me to Die

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad.

Here’s the deal: I have several friends who get all choked up when the plants start having sex. The trees and grass start spraying their loads in the air, and these poor bastards start coughing and wheezing and sneezing. I often tell them, “Nature has selected you to die.”

Now it’s my turn. A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with a handful of food allergies. Actually, the nurse’s exact words, “I’ve never seen this many positive reactions before.” Broccoli is on the list, which made happy (never could stand the stuff), but so are things I’d been eating most of my life, like tuna, salmon, soy, and even tomatoes.

Understand, I was raised on pasta twice a week and pizza at least once a week. When we moved out of the Chicago ‘burbs and couldn’t get good pizza, my mom drove the good stuff an hour home after work. When the pizza joint found out what she was doing, they gave us one of their delivery warmer bags, free. If there’s anything I’m immune to, its should be any member of the nightshade family.

Yet here we are. The short version is when I eat stuff I’m allergic to, my esophagus has the same reaction as my friends’ windpipes when they inhale pollen: white blood cells rush to defend our body from the wicked invaders and everything swells up. I’ll get heartburn, and if I keep exposing myself to these things, my esophagus can swell up to the point food gets stuck. Too much swelling, and I’ll have to hit an ER to have it extracted.

Fun, right? Oh, and if it goes on too long and goes untreated, there’s always the possibility it could turn into esophageal cancer. Metal. \m/

The treatment after my initial diagnosis was to avoid all the allergens, take Omeprazole, and to use the same inhaler as the pollen-allergic crowd. Instead of inhaling it, though, I swallow it. Within a few weeks the swelling was gone and I had no trouble eating. The follow-up endoscopy a couple of months later showed a clear, healthy esophagus. Score.

But I’m stubborn. I eventually strayed back to old habits. I still avoid tuna and salmon, and might have a little soy at a Chinese restaurant or sushi joint, but like I said, I was weaned on pizza and pasta. Avoiding tomatoes is a tough ask for me, even when most of the pizza around here is garbage. So here I am, two years later, getting food stuck from time to time.

Stupid natural selection.

Last week, I decided it’s time to get disciplined again. I’m gonna avoid all the stuff that triggers my allergies. For reals this time.

I’ve already blown it twice.

First, we had fish (tilapia) on Wednesday. I was working out after dinner, trying to figure out why I had such bad heartburn. Then it hit me: the tartar sauce is made with soybean oil. I checked the label and sure enough, mystery solved. The second time I screwed up, I had ketchup with a meal, and I just didn’t think about tomatoes. (Visiting Mexican joints is also fun when you’re avoiding tomatoes.)

Which leads me to my next point: If you don’t already have food allergies or sensitivities, you have no idea what a pain in the ass it is to shop around this stuff. I got a small sense of it when we scaled back on our sugar intake and avoided high-fructose corn syrup, but man, soy is in a ton of stuff. Mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and salad dressings are largely made with soybean oil because it’s cheap and it’s stable (it won’t spoil on the shelf).

Try it sometime. Pick something to avoid like soy, wheat, or high-fructose corn syrup, and start reading labels in your kitchen. Good luck! I even tried to make gluten-free chili for a potluck, and only found out after the fact that chili beans have wheat in them.

Beans, man! It’s a good thing I pulled the can out of the garbage before taking the crockpot to the event. Two people attending have gluten-free diets, one by choice and one by doctor’s orders.

Which leads to another problem: the food crazies. I went surfing for a mayonnaise recipe, and while there are several, I had to suffer through a couple tirades about the evils of soybean oil to get through them. I’m all about exploring the flavors of the original tartar sauce and mayonnaise recipes, or making something cheaper than packaged goods, but holy hell, I don’t need a tirade about subjecting my kids to the nefarious soy and gluten agendas of Monsanto and Conagra, especially when it’s attached to some shady pseudo-science even the recipe writer doesn’t understand.

For example, one said, gluten is “like glue for your intestines.” Um, no. You want to go paleo, keto, vegan, whatever, knock yourself out. There’s nothing wrong with making choices out of fitness or morality, or even with making a statement against some conglomerate’s marketing and/or competitive practices. Just spare us the junk science and bullshit conspiracy theories.

Anyway. I have to avoid pizza for a while again. And tonight I learned the hard way that extra-virgin olive oil does not make good mayo (too strong), so I need something lighter. Props to Boar’s Head for not putting soybean oil in their Pub Style Horseradish Sauce, giving me an alternative for sandwich at lunch.

Here’s to not letting food kill me any time soon.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

2015 in the Rearview

You know, 2015 wasn’t half bad. I didn’t get any new writing projects out there, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve been tied up with so many other things that I’m not going to sweat it right now.

Cheers, 2015!

A photo posted by Mike Oliveri (@mikeoliveri) on

Most of my time went into my karate training and my students. I took over as instructor of my old dojo (one of three dojo with my karate school) a year ago this weekend, and I’ve grown my enrollment quite a bit.

I enjoy teaching a lot more than I thought I would. Watching students grow in their karate and make connections is amazing, and I get a lot of good feedback from their families. If I’ve had a rough day at the day gig, or I’m just in a bad mood, that fades as soon as the first students walk in the door.

I put a lot into training for my own test in August, which consumed my otherwise free time through the first half of the year and into late Summer. The test itself was a long day, but I passed and earned my second degree black belt and my instructors were happy with my performance.

Fitness-wise, I sorted a few things and lost some weight, which is always a good thing. Progression on the weight lifting is slower than I’d like, but I’m also not quite eating the best way to build muscle because I’m trying to control the weight gain. This Summer, I ran non-stop for 5K (three miles) for the first time.

Ever.

This New Year, I’m not even going to look back at the goals I set last year. I had a lot going on, and a lot of good things went down. The direction probably changed, but I’m calling the year a win and I’m looking forward to 2016.

Let’s do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Being Skinny Is Weird

Okay, so “skinny” isn’t exactly correct, but I’m lighter now than when I got married so I’ll take it. I’m a lot lighter now than I was ten years ago; I’ve lost just over a fifth of my body weight.

A few weeks ago, I went shopping at a Men’s Wearhouse. The salesperson put me in an XL to fit my shoulders and chest, but then she told me it was a slim. I’ve never worn a slim anything in my life. I’m generally down to size large for most clothing, where I used to shop for XXL.

It’s weird finding clothes on the rack that actually fit. I’m used to sleeves and pant legs being too long, or shirts that are too long and droop around the shoulders. And that’s all assuming some stores even stocked the stuff. Now? Shoulder seams hang where they belong, and while some sleeves are still a bit long for my T-rex arms, the hem is where it belongs.

Now being skinny is expensive because I’m tempted to buy a couple shirts instead of just one.

Then there’s the whole temperature thing. The weather’s already started to change around here, and over the weekend I enjoyed a cigar with some friends on the enclosed patio of our favorite watering hole. I had to ask the waitress to fire up the heater above us. They never did, and by the end of the night I was shivering. My friends laughed, said I lost all my insulation.

Is this what being skinny is like? Being cold all the time?

People are friendlier, too. Maybe it’s social acceptance, maybe it’s just that I carry myself differently, but reactions from others are definitely different. People are warmer, chattier, even in situations where service is their job, like cashiers and wait staff.

How do skinny people protect their quiet time?

Next you’ll tell me I’ll actually fit in an airline seat.

Mind blown

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Achievement Unlocked: 5K Run

I’ve never been a runner.

I was that kid who hated running in school. Loathed it. I stole all the usual clichés, like, “I’m only going to run if something’s chasing me.”

Of course, we never stop to realize if we’re not good at running, we’re not going to do very well when our lives depend on it.

I digress. Point is, I hated running.

Past tense. When it sunk in that improving my cardiovascular endurance would not only be good for my health but would improve my karate performance, I decided I’d best hit the track.

I’ve been running on and off since (except in Winter, because screw that noise), and I’d get in a 5K (3.11 miles) every session, alternating walking and running. I completed two Warrior Dash events that way in 2012 and 2014, though before long I could hit a mile consistently.

Earlier this year, I was able to hit two miles straight. That felt good. I couldn’t even do a mile as a teenager.

Then, Monday night, for the first time ever, I was able to run the full length of a 5K.

Runkeeper tracking

Runkeeper tracking

I’m pretty damned happy with that. The pace is nothing to get excited over, but speed will come with time. Meanwhile, I’m in better shape now than when I got married.

Metal. \m/

 

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

How Our Bodies Betray Us

Too many of my friends lament their age.

I’m not even sure why. I mention some small ailment or injury, and the older guys will say, “Just wait.” They act as if there’s some demon lurking in the background, biding its time until I hit some predetermined age.

Then, it pounces! “Happy birthday! Welcome to hemorrhoids and scoliosis!”

It’s hard to blame those guys. I’ve been on and off statins already. I’ve learned I have a mild food allergy, and I just finished a prescription treatment to clean up my esophagus. I’ve also learned my thyroid has slowed down, a condition I’ve inherited, and now I have to take a pill for it every day for the rest of my life.

As I type this, I’m sitting in a dentist’s office waiting for my kids to have their teeth cleaned. An elderly couple just rolled their even-more-elderly mother in with a wheelchair. It took them five minutes to get her out of the car, and thanks to a rather loud conversation in the lobby, I learned she lives in a nursing home and the dentist is about to yank her remaining teeth.

This is how we picture old age: a slow decline into physical and mental incapacity. To hear most people tell it, this decline starts at age 40.

I haven’t quite hit that mark yet (it’s coming soon), but I just don’t feel it. Are the bumps and bruises and the joint aches from karate a little slower to heal? Sure. But I’m still on the mat doing it. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been—probably stronger—and I’ve completed the Warrior Dash twice. The key word to my statement about statins is I’m off them again because I’ve managed to get the problem under control through exercise.

I often tell my friends to chill, we’re only as old as we feel. They’ll immediately start bitching about back pain or a tricky knee or chronic heartburn or whatever is bothering them at the moment, and they need to slow down and then can’t do this or that anymore.

“Just wait, Mike. Just wait.”

In 1532, most of us would already be dead. Putting aside minor (by today’s standards) illness or infection, the things we’re surviving now as an inconvenience would probably have killed us. A close friend not much older than I has already had a heart attack. Statins, thyroid meds, and insulin? Forget it. Hell, just twenty years ago this food allergy I have would have been misdiagnosed as an ulcer or chronic reflux.

If I’ve still got half a lifetime ahead of me, I’m not going to let some inconvenience slow me down. By 1532 standards, I’m on bonus time. I’m not going to wait for it get worse, I’m going to work with what I’ve got. I plan to still be running kata when I’m 83, not confined to a wheelchair. If some major illness slows me down, then I’ll find some way to work around it, too.

We say life is short and our average life expectancy is approaching 80 years. If we skip out on activities just because it takes a little longer to get the joints warmed up in the morning and we have to take a few pills to regulate one bodily function or another, then why pad out those bonus 40 years anyway? “I can’t run like I used to” doesn’t mean stop doing it.

Our bodies betray us. We know that. Suck it up and move on.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

All Scoped Out

Ah, modern medicine. Got a problem with your gut? Just run a camera down there and see what’s up.

That’s pretty much how it went for me, anyway. I’d been sweating ulcers or a hiatal hernia for a while, so I finally went to see a GI specialist last week. Today, he ran the scope down my throat.

IV drip

Cold, cold saline going in

They told me I’d be awake for the procedure, so I’d hoped to get a look at the monitor, see what the doctor sees. What they didn’t tell me until today was part of the cocktail they use to sedate me for the procedure is an amnesia drug.

Sure enough, as far as I know it was lights out. I remember a few seconds of gagging, and telling myself not to fight it. Chances are I couldn’t have moved if I’d wanted to, but next thing I know my doctor and my wife were standing at the foot of my bed.

On the upside, the doc found no evidence of ulcers or hiatal hernia.

Fortunately it wasn’t one of these bad boys, either

On the downside, I get to learn more about something called eosinophilic espohagitis, which is a fancy way of saying I probably have a food allergy. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out what my triggers are. The doc says to avoid processed foods to start with, which is a good idea in general.

At least I have some peace of mind now. Ulcers could have led to surgery, as would a hiatal hernia. There was no talk of strictures or acid reflux scarring, so I’m guessing that’s clear. I’m fortunate, as this is at least the second time I’ve had some weird symptoms pointing to big problems, only to learn it’s actually something minor.

Works for me. Onward to bigger and better things, as I’ve got a race to train for.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Warrior Dash Promo Winners

Congratulations to Alyn Day and Jack Finley on winning autographed copies of Lie with the Dead as part of my St Jude Warrior promotion! Thanks, Alyn and Jack, for supporting my run and the children of St Jude.

Dig.

Lie with the Dead

While the drawing is over, I’m still taking donations until the day of the race and would greatly appreciate the extra support. Simply visit my St Jude Warrior page for more information.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Fare Thee Well, Fitbit

I’m one of the lucky winners of the Fitbit Force skin rash lottery.

Taken on Sunday, 2/23

I’m far from the only one reporting a problem, and now Fitbit has issued a recall on their Force devices. The company first blamed a nickel allergy, and they’re still using that as their main explanation. However, they’re acknowledging it may also be a glue used to bind the Force device to the wristband. This makes a lot more sense, as this rash feels more like a chemical burn than a rash. I’ve still got the burn/rash today (Monday), yet I haven’t worn the device since Wednesday evening. I notified Fitbit and they immediately issued me a refund and a shipping label to return the device.

Here’s the thing: I liked this device. While in many respects it is a glorified pedometer, and using RunKeeper and GPS on my phone is probably more effective when I get back to running, I liked the addition of a display and the ability to track activity all day. I also liked that it does sleep tracking and has a silent alarm. I had yet to really put it to the test in karate classes, but it seemed to be pretty good at figuring out when I was active versus just moving around on day-to-day tasks.

My personal feeling is their manufacturer used cheap materials. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the worst parts of the burns are beneath the two joins between the underside of the device and the strap. With luck, it will be something they’ll be able to straighten out soon.

Will I purchase another Force if that’s the case? Honestly, I’m not sure. I thought about downgrading to Fitbit’s Flex, but I hate the idea of a single-purpose device. There are also new competitors coming, like Atlas Wearables, who make devices capable of tracking more data (heart rate would be terrific) and which are waterproof (ideal for when I run the Warrior Dash this summer).

My only other concern? Dragging a sword across it in iaijutsu class or snagging it during judo work and partner drills. I can worry about that when a new device is in hand, though.

In the meantime, farewell, Fitbit. It was nice while it lasted.

Update 3/6/14:

It’s been two weeks now, and the photo below is what the wound (I think it’s fair to call it that) looks like now.

They’re turning me into a lizard!

Tasty, huh? It doesn’t itch near as much, and it’s mostly just crusty, dry skin as it heals. It’s cracked in a few spots, though, so I try to keep it clean and I put unscented moisturizer on it.

Fitbit still maintains it’s skin irritation or an allergic reaction. I don’t buy it, but hey, I’m not a doctor.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

You’ll Believe a Fat Man Can Fly

I tell people I like karate because there is a lot less high kicking and jumping than in an art like taekwondo.

Then I made black belt, and last week I learned this kata:

We run this one slightly different, but there’s still a 360° jump and a jump kick into a 180° turn with a four-point landing. Swell.

I’m not giving up, though. I’ve said “I can’t” in karate before, and before long, I could. This is why I’m still doing leg day this morning, even though my publisher is on his way down for a meeting. This is why I’m thinking about investing in a solid stand for box jumps. This is why I’m looking at tweaking my stretching routine.

I may not be as graceful with kicks and jumps as some of my instructors and fellow black belts, but I will be able to do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why the Hell Would You Eat That: Big Chain Pizza

Let’s get this out of the way up front: if you’re getting a pizza from a big pizza chain, you may as well be eating frozen pizza. Don’t trust any pizza place that can “run out of crusts,” because frozen pizza is exactly what you’re getting.

I didn’t even know this was possible until we moved from the Chicago ‘burbs out to central Illinois. One of the few pizza joints in the area at the time was a Marchelloni’s, which later became Geo’s. They had a thick, buttery, doughy crust most Chicagoans would call pan pizza, and they pretty much sucked. However, their competition was worse, so we gave them another shot one night and ordered a couple of large pizzas.

“We’re out of large crusts,” she tells me.

“Okay, can’t you make more?”

“We don’t do that here,” she says, all snide like I’m the asshole. Turns out the crusts are made elsewhere and shipped in frozen to the actual store. No thanks.

Know who else does this? Pizza Hut. Our local PH had a night donating their proceeds to our elementary school, so we paid them a visit. They were jam crowded with townies and unprepared, so they ran out of everything but regular thin crust (and those were “going fast”).

This is why these pizza joints’ pizzas are nasty, greasy messes. Yeah, Pizza Hut may be edible when it’s hot and fresh, but suck it down fast because it becomes slop two minutes after it hits the table.

Now, I realize some of you are stuck in the wild pizza frontier outside of Chicago and New York City. I realize some of you think Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and the bland bullshit served up  at your local mom & pop dustbowl pizza place is pretty good. I pity you. I really do. When some friends of ours from L.A. first tried Domino’s out in Baltimore and were impressed, I wept for their souls.

See, when the dough is made fresh on the spot, it’s got your standard dough ingredients. If you can see the guy rolling out your dough, you’re in the right place. Frozen dough? Now you’re getting preservatives and shit in it. It’s been processed, just like the garbage pizza in the freezer aisle. Not to mention these big chains need to make sure the crap they’re serving has to taste the same at every location, which means the rest of their ingredients are equally processed and preserved and loaded with things like MSG. Domino’s and Papa John’s can claim “fresher ingredients” all they want, but remember, McDonald’s makes the same nonsense claim about their fries.

I’ve tried your revamped pizzas gentlemen. An improvement? Maybe. Good pizza? Sorry, no.

I’ll admit I’m a pizza snob. Am I a Chicago or New York pizza guy? Both. I love a good Chicago stuffed pizza, and I like the giant slices you gotta fold in half to eat, so long as they’re not hyper-processed chain food disguised as the real deal.

Growing up in the ‘burbs, we could get good pizza just about anywhere, and most everywhere had a signature flavor the chains couldn’t match. Friday nights were pizza night in my family. Even our dog responded to the word pizza with excitement. Most places we called were dedicated pizza joints, but there were a couple bars that had pizza ovens, too.

Unfortunately, the farther I move from Chicago, the harder it gets to find good pizza. Things were so bad my mom, who commuted to the suburbs, brought pizza home with her on Friday nights. One pizza joint gave her an insulated delivery bag when they found out what she was doing. An hour from the oven, their pizza tasted better than anything local.

Out here in Peoria, most of the bars serve frozen pizza. The locals think it’s great, but to be fair, they have nothing to compare it to. In fact, the pizza is so bad out here, people dip it in ranch or Catalina dressing. I was horrified the first time I saw that. If the pizza is so bland you have to jazz it up with a dip, why the hell are you eating it?

The biggest culprit is Butch’s. Peorians love Butch’s because they make their pizzas locally in Morton, and they sell their own hot sauce and seasonings. My theory is they make the hot sauce to disguise the flavor of the pizza: no matter the topping, a Butch’s pizza tastes like a salt lick. It’s good bar food because you’re drunk and hungry and won’t remember the flavor anyway.

Monical’s is the nasty local chain of choice. They’re all over the Peoria area, and if I drive east on Route 24 into Indiana, I’ll pass half a dozen or so of them, all right there on Route 24. Their pizza is a cracker with a little spaghetti sauce on it. Dry and bland. Kids go ape over it, but they’re too young to know better.

Understand, no pizza is going to be good for you. My point is if you’re going to eat something unhealthy, shouldn’t it at least taste good? Shouldn’t it be worth those extra calories? The extra laps around the track you’ll have to punish yourself with?

Choking down a Caesar’s hot & ready just isn’t going to cut it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why the Hell Would You Eat That: Bullshit Meat

Processed meat is not good for us. Aside from cutting a hunk of meat off an animal, slapping it with spices, and throwing it over a fire, there’s not much you can do to meat that makes your body say, “Hell yeah, give me more of that!” The abundance of salts, chemicals and preservatives wreak havoc on us.

I get it, though. I’m a big fan of the occasional hot dog, sausage, or deli meat. Chorizo in a skillet? Hell yes. Brats and Italian sausage on the grill? All summer long. A good ham steak? Smoked sausage in a spicy jambalaya? A finger of mozzarella wrapped in fine prosciutto? Some of mankind’s finest culinary discoveries, if you ask me. They may not be good for me, per se, but they’re not going to do much damage in moderation.

That all said, why eat the bullshit meats? I’m talking the lowest of the low. The ones that lie to you when you’re browsing the shelves, hoping you won’t take a closer look at the ingredients list. The ones that should say “sausage*” on the front, complete with the asterisk.

Sadly, they’re the ones that fill the majority of the meat section at your local supermarket.

I’ve covered supermarket chorizo in the past, so I’m going to focus on hot dogs and smoked sausage instead. The running gag for these things is they’re all composed of snouts and lips, but let’s look past the rumors and check the ingredients.

Ever taken a bite of a hot dog and wonder what the hell you were eating? I did that with Bar S hot dogs.

"Made with chicken and pork." Pass.

“Made with chicken and pork.” Pass.

These were purchased because they were the cheapest on the rack. A relative grilled them. I took one bite and thought I was eating something that had spoiled, so I went and fished the label out of the garbage can. As the print gets smaller and smaller, it gets scarier and scarier. What’s a good hot dog made of? Beef. What’s this crap made of? Chicken and pork. No, correction, “mechanically separated chicken” is the first ingredient. Second? Water. Then pork. There is even more dextrose (sugar), corn starch, and salt than there is beef.

Now we know where the snouts and lips rumors come from.

I should note Bar S is not the only culprit, here. Oscar Mayer doesn’t get a free pass. Nor does Ball Park. They may have their high-end hot dogs that are mostly beef (sometimes with their new favorite beef marketing term, “Angus”), but they’re happy to sell you the bullshit at a far cheaper price because they know most of us just don’t care.

In contrast, let’s take a look at two of my favorites, Nathan’s and Hebrew National. The first ingredient on their labels? Beef. Even better? Hebrew National carries the kosher designation. The ingredients are pretty much beef, spices, and yes, a couple of those scary nitrates. But Jesus, at least you’re getting the real thing!

Even better, look for Vienna Beef. They’re hard to find at supermarkets, but a hot dog stand isn’t a hot dog stand without Vienna Beef signs hanging around the joint. Red Hot Chicago? Okay, fine. But if the place is buying no-name garbage to keep costs down and margins up, walk your ass out. All beef or nothing, people.

Yes, I can absolutely taste the difference, and so will you. Buy a package of Hebrew Nationals and a package of some cheap crap, grill ’em side-by-side, refrain from smothering them in condiments, and take a bite. There’s no way you can tell me they taste the same.

On to sausage. The problem with sausages is they’re so loaded up with spices and other flavorings, they conceal whatever the meat filler is. This is how people learned to choke down things like haggis back in the dark ages where they had to eat every piece of the animal to survive. Got something that isn’t very appetizing? Smother it in potent herbs and spices. All the fat and protein the body needs with enough flavoring to help a medieval man keep it in his stomach.

And this, my friends, is how they get away with lying to you. Even the major labels. The consumer in me is comfortable buying Eckrich because I see the commercials and ads all the time. I’ve been throwing their smoked sausage in jambalaya for a while, but then I took a look at the label.

Et tu, Eckrich?

Et tu, Eckrich?

I’ve been seeing their ads since Saturday Morning Cartoons were a thing. Pork, turkey, and beef!? If I want turkey sausage, I’ll talk up some local hunters. But hey, let’s take a look at what didn’t make the picture, the actual ingredients:

Meat ingredients (pork, beef), mechanically separated turkey, water, corn syrup. Contains 2% or less of dextrose, flavorings, autolyzed yeast, modified food starch, mechanically separated chicken, monosodium glutamate, potassium and sodium lactate, salt, sodium diacetate, sodium nitrite, sodium phosphate, vitamin c (ascorbic acid).

You sons of bitches. Corn syrup? Dextrose? Chicken? Why? Why!?

They want it to be cheap, that’s why. They want it to survive on the shelf, and they don’t give a shit what we cram down our gullets because we don’t give a shit what we cram down our gullets. They have all those leftover bits of meat they can’t sell as steak or pork chops, so they grind it up, put it in sausage, and fill it with bullshit to make it palatable. It’s haggis by marketing rather than necessity.

As an alternative, I tried Aidells all natural sausage. I tasted samples at my local Kroger, thought it tasted great. The difference in flavor was not quite as obvious as in the different hot dog brands, and the Aidells had a texture I’ll describe as “dry.” Not bad, just different. Okay, fair enough, but let’s look at the label.

You had me at "cajun"

You had me at “cajun”

Most of us know “all natural” has been adopted as marketing speak, so let’s just ignore that for now and concentrate on the ingredients:

Pork, water, salt, garlic, spices (including white pepper, red pepper and black pepper), sugar, paprika, celery powder and dehydrated onion.

No corn syrup, no mechanically-separated anything, and no chemical additives my browser’s spellcheck insists isn’t a word. Hallelujah, bitches. Sold. They cost a little more (even after the sample lady handed me a coupon), but they tasted great in our jambalaya and I felt a lot better about inflicting them on my kids.

That’s the great thing about today’s supermarkets and corporate foods: they know some of us are getting educated. There’s a demand for the good stuff, so there’s an incentive for them to produce it. Does it cost a little more? Yes. Does it take a little more effort? Yes. For now. But isn’t it worth it? Between the better flavor (in most cases) and not turning my body into a food lab, I say it’s totally worth it.

The big corporate food conglomerates today are no different from RJ Reynolds back in the day. Sure, they know some of this shit is bad for us, but nobody’s stopping them yet. I wasn’t thrilled to see a ConAgra Foods logo at the bottom of the Hebrew National page, but that’s the way things are going; big corporations are buying out locals and organics in an effort to pad out their portfolios with the good stuff.

You can still do one better by hitting your local butcher. We’ve got an IGA store nearby with a butcher, and they make fresh-ground Italian sausage and chorizo. Both are terrific. I can also go to Peoria’s Alwan & Sons and get some killer cuts of beef, pork, and chicken. This costs more, too, so I can’t do it all the time, but the taste and quality are there.

I’m no health nut, I’m just a dad who spent too much time on the Internet and started reading the labels. I’m not necessarily anti-big corporation, and I’m not going to call you an idiot for not shopping exclusively at farmers markets. I buy the good—okay, better—stuff because it makes sense, and I’m willing to sweat a bump in the grocery bill.

If enough of us do the same, maybe those costs will come down.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.