I tried the Jenny Craig diet, and here’s what I found

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These are some of the foods I bought (Photo by Mary MacVean)

By Mary MacVean

My first day on the Jenny Craig diet I ate a mixed berry bar and vanilla shake for breakfast; chicken tacos and salad for lunch; and spaghetti and meatballs and lemon cooler cookies for dinner. Packaged and portioned for my convenience.

I’ve written about food for years, and have been curious about these diets that make so many choices on your behalf.

The dishes above seem like a decent day’s menu, even if they’re not what I’d cook if I were trying to lose weight — and believe me, I know about diet cooking. …


Feeling bored, annoyed, unsettled in my pandemic-era kitchen

By Mary MacVean

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Finally baking banana bread (Photos by Mary MacVean)

It’s all Covid cooking now, and it’s getting achingly tiresome. I never imagined Covid cooking would become a way of life, that I’d still be making do without ingredients I wanted or that I’d be making dinner every single night, like my 1950s housewife mom. (Hope that’s not too painful, Husband.)

This has its upsides: More people might be learning to cook, at least I hope that’s so. We are perhaps wasting less food with a disincentive to run to the store for any old thing. I gave in and baked banana bread yesterday, when two bananas were past their prime and two others had been waiting in the freezer. It does feel that nothing is just right in my kitchen, though. The banana bread recipe called for a cup of chocolate chips, but I had only half a cup. …


By Mary MacVean

Husband and I live in an urban neighborhood, which in our part of L.A. means we have a very small backyard. We have no grass, but we have a big dining table and two raised bed boxes Husband built for me. Growing some of your own food is peaceful, empowering and economical. It’s also a radical act. And it can break your heart or send it soaring once you’re attached to your plants.

The days around Labor Day were outrageously hot, and the skies full of the residue from horrific fires. Our air was among the top 10 worst on Earth — no contest to win. …


Considering my heritage, a prison feast to honor George Floyd, and jammin’ for all

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This board would certainly be left at the messy end of any garage sale, when everything gets loaded into the car, either for donating or trashing. Look at it: gouged, nearly broken in half, stained and rough around the edges. I don’t use it, but this cruddy-looking piece of wood is one of my dearest possessions.

This board belonged to my maternal grandmother, a woman who died long before I was born. She raised my mom, aunt and uncle on a farm not far from Rochester, N.Y., a beautiful hilltop site where the winters were brutal and the neighbors far. …


Growing, making food can be radical politics that work toward nutritional equity

My goal with this project was simple: In the face of a pandemic, orders to stay home, restaurants closed, I wanted to share some ideas for mostly-healthful, delicious, easy-to-make food. Feeding one another, I reasoned, is a hopeful, loving political act.

Political action became more urgent from the day of George Floyd’s murder. Those of us who are white need to see the racism in front of us, call it out, examine our lives and feelings. We need to get educated. …


Covid-19 has had to make room in our attention for the demands for a more just society. Not that the pandemic is over, far from it. I, and most people I know, wear masks and calculate risk every day, but my heart is pulled to the uprisings I so hope will bring real change.

As I turn the pages of my (yes, paper) calendar, and see the birthdays that won’t be parties, the summer concerts I won’t be attending, I want to consider food from another perspective, one related to justice.

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A few months back, when we were all told to shelter in place, many of us filled grocery carts to the brim, motivated by fears of scarcity, and brought home foods our “good” selves would never buy. Then we ate the food. Then we felt awful. Yet another diet effort down the drain.


My heart and my head are exploding. I feel frightened, full of many overwhelming emotions. I’m deeply worried for the future of my country and so proud of the people who are stepping up to create the world they want to see, not waiting for established leaders but rather showing the way themselves on the streets of America.

I suppose I appreciate the streams of emails from organizations and companies that call out callous killings of Black Americans, promise to do better, to stand with Black Lives Matter and all the rest. …


Husband and I spent part of Memorial Day weekend doing something so normal: We planted tomatoes, herbs, squash, eggplant and a few other vegetables in our little urban raised beds. But, of course, we are all oceans away from normal. To me, staying home and staying isolated lately feels a bit like the tale of the boy with his finger in the dike. We may soon be washed away by those who are eager to be out and about. If you go to church, the mall or the beach, you won’t see me, but I hope you are safe.

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Two masked faces and one very cute dog

May 7…


For many people, fears of covid-19 have given ground to frustration. Perhaps it’s not knowing when your office or school will reopen; or should you quarantine from your adult children; or when will the unemployment funds arrive. I am among the lucky ones: uninfected, housed, Internet-connected and not alone. The weather is warm, the sky is clear and cornflower blue. And it’s still hard.

March 26, Thursday

12:30 p.m. on Thursdays is a high point of my stay-home week. Diana Winston’s half-hour meditation moved from the Hammer Museum auditorium to Zoom. One of the nation’s best-known meditation teachers, she directs mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. I learned about Diana when, as a reporter for the L.A. …


Most of us are feeling adrift, unsettled and perhaps more than a bit frightened. But we still have to eat. And it would be nice if the menu featured more than ice cream, potato chips and bananas. I cook, and I’ve been Zooming away with family and friends from my little house in Los Angeles. It’s my hope that this journal will entertain you, make you feel a little more connected and, most of all, help you navigate your own kitchen. Let me know what you think.

March 14, Saturday

My husband and I returned home to Los Angeles early today from a vacation in Portugal. Coronavirus has been on our minds for months, but Portugal felt safe; to be frank, we were not sure what coronavirus-unsafe might feel like. There were some masks among the faces walking the hilly cobblestone streets of Lisbon and Porto, but not many. We felt a little in uncharted territory, so I bought one small bottle of hand sanitizer gel, remarkably in the first pharmacy we tried. Later, of course, I realized that bottle held liquid gold, when people in L.A. and elsewhere began hoarding it, along with wipes and flour and toilet paper. …

About

Mary MacVean

Longtime food writer, now food grower. Journalist, reader, traveler

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