Archive for April, 2012

Tonight, fans of RuPaul’s Drag Racewill finally find out just who will win the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar during highly anticipated reunion special. Due to the events of last week’s finale, this post was postponed until today. However, there were more reasons why I held off on writing this article. Some were time related and others were of a conflicting way due to some hurtful and damaging remarks that came across my peripheral, which forced me to reevaluate my stance on a certain contestant that I cheered for throughout the competition. Thanks to a chance look on my Facebook timeline today and the unwavering faith I had in someone, I can rectify that situation by not only finally getting this article written, but by apologizing to Sharon Needles for even letting one glimmer of doubt taint my judgement of her character. So without further adieu…

Last week, RuPaul shocked the final three contestants (Sharon Needles, Chad Michaels, and Phi Phi O’Hara) as well as the audience by breaking tradition and withholding the winner of the competition. Ru’s reasoning behind the switcheroo echoed the sentiments of millions of fans everywhere: the finalists this time around were simply too “fierce” to easily select a winner. Basically, you have Chad Michaels, who exudes talent as well as a professional and experienced background. Then there is Phi Phi O’Hara, the young queen who might come across as an amateur (and a complete bitch) to some, but has the stamina and drive of a superstar in the making.

But despite the attributes of those two contestants, Sharon Needles trumps both Phi Phi and Chad in all their qualities as well as the fact that she is just simply unique. Yes, all the other contestants had their own distinct characteristics and quirks, but none of those bitches would have ever had the nerve to mix RuPaul’s song “Cover Girl” and a blood sacrifice in the same sentence/challenge. In fact, the other queens pretty much gave somewhat “safe” performances during the challenges this year, while Sharon always gave the judges a memorable character whether she won that specific week or not.

Despite being labeled a “one look bitch,” Sharon Needles took that critique and used it to her advantage, making all the other contestants step their game up, even if they were reluctant to admit it. For example, in the RuPocalypse challenge (which was basically the “drag on a dime” scenario with another theme added to it), most of the outfits presented could have been made by any of the past contestants of the show. On the flip side, Sharon’s total embracing of the apocalyptic theme, all the way down to using prosthetic blood to sell her look, showed that she was not scared to get dirty by thinking outside the cute makeup box most of the queens stubbornly live in. It was also when I knew Sharon would be a bona fide force to reckon with. Another example why Sharon should take home the crown? The dog challenge, in which Sharon gave three different looks to the judges. Even though some of her looks were somewhat out of her comfort zone during the challenge, they still screamed  “Sharon Needles” at the end of the day. This, as well as other reasons that I could spend all night writing about, is why Sharon Needles needs to join Raja, Tyra, and BeBe as America’s Next Drag Superstar.

Out of all the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race this season, I was drawn to Sharon and her knack for the odd and unusual, as well as her charm and unabashed, yet positive, take on life itself. Her Marilyn Manson-esque shock goth look might turned off most people this year, but if it did, then you truly missed out on a genuine person, who should most definitely walk away with the crown. This brings me back to my intro where I mentioned having lost faith in Sharon Needles due to a nasty rumor floating the Internet. Apparently, there was a post somewhere that was allegedly written by Sharon Needles where the “N” word was dropped and Sharon defending her use of it. I’m not going to lie, but after hearing and seeing that post, I felt as if I was finding out that Santa Claus wasn’t real all over again. My heart was broken, because I rooted for Sharon Needles from day one and didn’t want to think of her as an ignorant bigot, especially after seeing on a weekly basis that she was seemingly anything but.

However, deep down inside, something was telling to not lose faith in Sharon. Something was telling me that the person who I had grown to admire and respect in a short amount of time was still the great human being I had pegged her as from day one. I never doused that little flame inside rooting for Sharon Needles and thank God I didn’t. On Facebook today, Sharon made a post on the allegations against her in the most respectable and professional way possible, and I couldn’t help but yelp in excitement as if the Memphis Grizzlies had won the NBA Finals this year. To see what Sharon Needles said about the lies against her, click here. Otherwise, just know that the one queen who should be walking away with the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar and $100,000 is the one and only Sharon Needles.

I just pray RuPaul and the rest of America thinks the same way.




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On the scene at ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: Reunited’: RuPaul crowns three America’s Next Drag Superstar winners (for now)


RuPauls-Drag-Race-ReunitedImage Credit: Aaron Young/Logo

Last night at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, Calif., the 13 contestants from season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race gathered for the show’s annual reunion and — because host RuPaul refused to pick a winner in Monday’s season finale episode — a very special crowning of this year’s winner. Only, you know that’s not how that was going to go down.

Were they really going to reveal the winner to a live audience armed with big mouths and Twitter accounts? Think again and allow me to explain exactly what went down, since I was on the scene for the three-plus hours of taping, which happened in front of a live studio audience for the first time ever.

As you might expect, RuPaul went through the whole evening, interviewing all the gals about the hot-button issues from the season and talking about their futures and whatnot — I’ll go into that in more detail later — but there were two specific things that everyone was dying to see play out on stage: the delayed crowning of America’s Next Drag Superstar and Ru’s interview with ousted contestant and egomaniac Willam, who was infamously disqualified earlier this season.

Let’s start with the weirdness around the crowning of America’s Next Drag Superstar. After a couple laborious hours of taping, Ru — dressed to the nines in gold slingback heels, wildly curly ‘do and a fluttery red number that she said was “a little something she sewed up back stage” — lined the three finalists — Phi Phi O’Hara, Sharon Needles, and Chad Michaels — up, pageant-style, and grabbed a tiara, ready to crown one of the ladies. “America’s Next Drag Superstar is…” Ru said, dripping with drama and a dramatically long, long pause. “Chad Michaels!” The crowd went wild, Chad took a minute to address the crowd and walk the runway like any good pageant queen, and then, Ru dropped the bombshell: The audience was to remain in the seats, as the production team would be retaping the ending two more times with both Phi Phi O’Hara and Sharon Needles as winners, too. Needless to say: Sharon and Phi Phi’s faces did not convey the idea that they were happy about what was happening.

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It’s unclear, however, whether the queens on stage were in on the little prank, which was designed to stop leaks. (In my six years at EW, I’ve never heard of a show going to such lengths to protect a secret.) Did the finalists know that they would have to fake two losses and a win each? Who knows. But Ru explained that after what happened last year — the news about Raja’s win leaked on the internet halfway through the season’s airing — they weren’t taking any chances. Sources tell me that only a handful of need-to-know folks will be privy to what ending — and thus, which queen wins — makes the cut in the episode, which will not be put on tape but, instead, will be uploaded directly to a satellite in the sky to be broadcast Monday evening at 9 p.m. Viewers won’t ever see the two endings that didn’t make the cut, so enjoy the details here. (Although, maybe the two extra endings will make the DVD release? If there is one.)

For their parts, the queens — both the finalists and the cast-off queens, who were sitting off to the side — did an admirable job feigning their excitement as both Sharon and Phi Phi took their turns with the crown and the requisite walk down the runway. I have to wonder, however, how many of the wider group of queens on the stage were in the loop about what was happening. It seems like after the crowning had already been pushed off once, all involved would have been enraged and even more shocked than they appeared when RuPaul announced what was happening with the retapings. But everyone on stage just sort of went along with it all, oddly enough.

One interesting bit of speculation I heard from someone in the crowd concerned the order in which they taped the various endings. Since the crowd didn’t know what was going on, the reaction — naturally, of course — was more genuine with the first announcement, for that of Chad Michaels. Does that mean that he will be the eventual winner? Of course, no one knows that, but it’s a decent theory that they would want to have the winner get the taping with the most authentic reaction from the live, in-studio audience.

In terms of reactions from the finalists themselves, Chad didn’t do anything too memorable — she was gracious, as you might expect. Your usual hugs and whatnot, a nice message to the audience and viewers at home. Sharon, of course, quipped a funny line when Ru asked if she had anything to say to the crowd: “Happy Halloween, everybody!” And just before Phi Phi took her turn — she was last — Ru announced, somewhat wearily: “Only one more to go.” Sharon quipped yet again: “Can we skip this one?” That got a laugh, but it was most interesting to hear Phi Phi’s self-deprecating response: “This is the closest I’m going to get to it.” It was audible, and the crowd let out a big “awwwww” when they heard that. Phi Phi’s crowning was probably the most hilarious, actually, as she dropped a huge diamond off the corset she was wearing and her tiara fell off. She owned it all, though, and went about her business, commenting after the taping was done, “That was a mess.” Indeed.

In terms of Willam, I can’t say too much about what went down, just that there is a whole section of the show dedicated to an interview with her. Willam actually didn’t appear on stage with the other contestants who were cast-off early, but instead, she was dragged to a stool, kicking and screaming, by the boys from the Pit Crew, who were on hand for various tasks throughout the evening. I will say, however, that everything is finally cleared up and, until the very end of her interview, Willam isn’t really sorry for what she did. Also: Audience members got the chance to ask questions, too, and — very thankfully — someone asked about why Willam barfed on the stage just before she was ousted from the show. The answer isn’t out-of-control satisfying, but it’s very Willam, and it makes sense when she explains what happened.

As for the rest of the evening, tons happened. I don’t want to spoil too much — I’ve probably already given away too much and should expect angry calls from Logo and World of Wonder any minute! — but I do want to give you a taste of the evening. So here are a handful of drips and drabs and other things I noticed while on the scene for the taping of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Reunited:

+ THEATER SCENE: The audience was kept out of the theater while production lit the stage and various other production-y things, and it was a smorgasbord of queens from past seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Spotted: Yara Sofia, last year’s winner Raja, Sonique, and Pork Chop, the very first contestant to ever be eliminated from Drag Race in season 1. (In fact, Ru gives her a shout-out during the show, but it remains to be seen if that’ll make air.)

+ PRE-SHOW ENTERTAINMENT: Lady Bunny, Drag U judge and serious drag entertainer, warmed up the crowd with a comedy routine, aided by the Pit Crew boys. Quips dinged Justin Bieber, the three Drag Race finalists, former Drag Race winners — and even RuPaul. “I told RuPaul to act her age — and she died.” The crowd roared at that one.

+ RUPAUL REALNESS: She delivered on every level, imbibing the whole show with her signature catchphrases. I especially loved when she announced that the stage was slick because it was “dripping with charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.” Indeed!

+ STARRING MOMENTS: I’m not going to go into ever detail of what RuPaul talked about with each of the queens, but just know that each of them get their moment to answer questions. And for the most part, the whole thing came off as a lovefest — not one of those screaming, hard-to-decipher Real Housewives reunions.

+ CHARRO! The Drag Race fave makes a cameo in the show. Again, won’t tell you details, but she’s got a hilariously funny bit with Kenya Michaels that will find you rewinding your DVR.

+ LATRICE! Even though the bulk of the show was designed to celebrate the three finalists — Chad Michaels, Sharon Needles, and Phi Phi O’Hara — a good portion of the love from the crowd went to Latrice Royale. Variously through the evening, you could hear audience members bellowing “Latrice!” at any moment that she was in the spotlight. I hope that comes through in the editing. And I’ll just say that, while Latrice sadly didn’t take home the crown — I can guarantee you that — she does very much get her moment in the sun (complete with…a choir!).

+ BREAKDOWN AWARD: Granted, the show was mostly a lovefest, but there was one big breakdown. You’ll see all the goods on Monday, but hopefully a big portion of Jiggly Caliente‘s sobby comments directed at Phi Phi O’Hara make the cut. It was juicy.

+ QUERIES FROM RU: My favorite question Ru posed to the finalists throughout the evening was: “What would being America’s Next Drag Superstar mean to you?” I know it sounds simple and expected, but truly, the answers were from the heart — even from Phi Phi, who doesn’t seem to have one! — and really illuminated why this show does change lives and makes an impact. Get your hankies ready!

+ DOWN TIME: There was much time between various acts of the evening, and oh, so many moments that you’ll never get to see! I can’t go into them all, because that would take forever, but some of the highlights were when Willam pulled a bag of fruit snacks out from inside her wig and shared them with the other queens on stage; when Sharon explained that the thing she was wearing on her forehead was Ouija planchette; and an ad-lib from Michelle Visage — who was playing announcer and wearing a delightful green outfit that left nothing to the imagination — where she promised someone (everyone, hopefully?) a blow job. Yes, this is Drag Race, y’all.

Drag Racers, start your engines for Monday’s airing now! Are you excited? Who are you rooting for?

Sharon FIRST choice she rocks.


Phi Phi


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Lady Chadderly on the runway.

RuPaul’s Drag Race fans have fallen in love with Chad Michaels over the course of the fourth season. A den mother to the other contestants and a drag legend in her own right, fans may be saddened to learn that in person Chad is, well just as awesome. Seriously, Chad Michaels may be one of the most polite people we have ever had the privilege to interview. A pro-fes-sion-al if you will.

Having just watched as Chad and the other ladies waited to hear if they had won the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, and then seeing them be told they would have to wait months for Ru’s decision, we figured Chad may be a bit miffed by this last second shocker. Not the case however.

“I have complete mixed emotions about the finale,” Chad told NewNowNext. “I have never been thinking about the money or winning. It was much more than ‘winning’ with me and Sharon [Needles]. I am just glad everyone got a fair shot and got to sing. Everyone had a chance.”

As for the final three, Chad makes no qualms about who he wished had made it to the end. “It should have been me and Sharon and Latrice [Royale].”

Latrice, Sharon and Chad were incredibly close the entire season as every viewer could see, but Chad shared a very special bond with the former. “”Something about Latrice reminds me of my drag mother Hunter who passed away,” Chad explains.

Chad was without question the most poised and consistent contestant all season, always runway ready and never looking less than perfect. That being said, it is Cher that she was known for prior to her time on the show, and now Cher she will be known for by millions of new fans. Not that Cher was a celebrity Chad made a point of imitating in her career.

“It was a complete accident, but if you are going to do someone who is better than Cher?,” Chad asks. “Now it is what I am most known for.”

This of course begs the question if the two have ever met.

“I did meet her once. I did an opening number for her at a benefit at David Foster’s house in Malibu. We chatted for a little bit and it was very, very cool. It seemed like a dream and it was a very private party and a private moment. I have a picture of us I keep to remember the night.” Chad has since gone to seen Cher in concert numerous times in Las Vegas, and while the rest of us are lucky to just get to sing-along with the diva, Chad has gotten to enjoy some back and forth with the singer throughout her set. Lucky bitch.

Chad is now deciding what to do with reality fame. “RuPaul told me I need to do something with my celebrity, but I am not sure what yet. I would love to host a talk show maybe, or do something open ended.”

And should Chad not get to take home the crown this season she is quick to say she is hoping for a Sharon Needles victory, and don’t think she will not be back again. When asked about the upcoming All Stars: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Chad said; “I would consider doing another season. All aspects of this were a joy for me.”

Let’s make this happen folks.


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Miss Needles if you’re nasty.


“Happy Halloween!”

Yes friends, Sharon Needles answers the phone exactly as you would expect. Tired and exhausted after a day of nonstop press and months of staying in her new apartment, “the Airport Towers,” Sharon is still her kooky, spooky and hilarious self. “I gave up my favorite narcotic sleep but I know reality fame is fleeting so I am not going to waste this time.”

If anything Sharon’s star is shining brighter than ever, especially after this week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race where it was revealed that the winner of season four would not be announced until the show’s reunion special. Now her Facebook page has filled with thousands of comments, the Twitter-sphere has become overrun with support for the drag diva and many a Logo employee has been spotted proclaiming their love for Miss Needles with a Team Sharon tee. Heck, even Lady Gaga is a fan.

Despite the newfound fame, winning is the last thing on Sharon’s mind. “I have always watched the show on my same crappy recliner in Pittsburgh every season and this time when I watched there was a disconnect. I wasn’t watching myself I was watching a character named Sharon Needles. The thought of winning never passed through my mind.”

As for that twist ending Sharon simply says, “I have become numb to the concept of television shockers and zingers.”

And just as Chad Michaels praised Sharon and their friendship throughout the season, Sharon admits she would not have made it through without Chad. “Chad was my Xanax. Chad eased any anxiety or doubt I had. To have a seasoned professional and the industry standard say I was good meant everything to me. Chad was like a mother to me. I would have felt a lot more alone if she wasn’t there.”

The other man in Sharon’s life has also been a huge comfort in the wake of her recent success, boyfriend Alaska. “He is my biggest fan and best employee,” she jokes. “Honestly, it is nice to date someone who has such an open mind and is so, so supportive of me and my career.”

The biggest obstacle standing in Sharon’s way in her hopes of becoming America’s Next Drag Superstar it seems is her performance in the finale. Dancing is not Sharon’s forte as we all saw this week. “I can not lip sync Beyonce,” she explains. “My idols are people like Divine, Leigh Bowery, GG Allin and Jayne County.”

Amanda Lepore is also a big idol for Sharon and she revealed the two will be performing this Monday at the RuPaul’s Drag Race finale party in NYC. In fact, Sharon had just gotten off the phone with the legend before calling us. “We are doing The Funeral of Sharon Needles. The season is over and her legacy is done and it is my way of saying goodbye to an amazing roller coaster ride.”

“Of course, I’m resurrected at the end.”

Thank God for that.



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The top official for the school district where Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr., the 14-year old who died by suicide last weekend after being mercilessly bullied by classmates, says he “had no idea” the bullying would lead to the teen’s suicide, nor is he willing to re-examine school policy on bullying. Kenneth James Weishuhn Jr.’s funeral was Thursday morning.

READ: 14-Year Old Suicide Victim Was Receiving Death Threats For Being Gay

Weishuhn was also receiving death threats on his cell phone, and was the subject of a Facebook hate group, but Dan Moore, Superintendent of the South O’Brien Community School District, who serves three Iowa towns, including Kenneth Weishuhn’s tiny town of Primghar, seems to be circling the wagons and defending the district.

Moore “said administrators knew of only one incident regarding Kenneth and that he believes they dealt with it well,” the AP reports in a Boston Globe article:

“I feel the school did address the issue that they were aware of when it came to their attention,” Moore said. “Obviously, we had no idea that we’d have an end result like this, or what was going on outside of here.”

He said administrators didn’t know about the alleged online and phone harassment, but that they may not have intervened even if they did unless it carried over into school.

Teachers began standing in the hallways after someone complained that boys were yelling slurs at Kenneth, and the school addressed the issue of bullying at an assembly. But the teen’s mother and sister said they don’t think administrators did enough to protect him.

The AP adds:

Moore said the district has no plans to change its policies, but that it is still examining the circumstances surrounding Kenneth’s death and will explore ways of better impressing upon students that bullying is unacceptable.

Kyle Munson at The Des Moines Register reported on the funeral:

“We buried a student today,” said a reflective [Superintendent Dan] Moore. “We should never have to do that.”

Moore said he had gleaned a message from the homily at Weishuhn’s funeral: Take the hate and throw it out of here.

“We’ll get through this,” Moore said as much to himself, it seemed, as to the pair of journalists standing next to him.

The U.S. 2010 Census reported Primghar has a population of 909. It’s 908, after one student didn’t “get through this.”

Moore needs to do more. Nine out of every 10 LGBTQ students report being bullied in school. Most “get though” it alive but far from unscathed. Too many do not.

After every tragedy, top officials always say, “we had no idea” this could have happened, despite warnings every day that it will.




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8 Food frauds on your shopping list

Most consumers know to ignore emails alerting them to foreign lottery winnings and to steer clear of “designer” bags sold on street corners. But experts say even scam-savvy shoppers may be falling prey to fraud at a surprising place: the grocery store.

Food fraud — the adulteration, dilution or mislabeling of goods stocked on the shelf — is part of a growing trend of faux household goods . Although there is little data on the frequency of food fakery, experts say there’s growing awareness of the problem. The lack of information on the subject recently prompted the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention — a nonprofit that sets standards used by the FDA — to establish a Food Fraud Database. And a new study in the Journal of Food Science analyzed the top offenders identified by the database, including olive oil, milk and honey. “We’re seeing similar trends in food to other items — if it can be faked, it probably is,” says Tara Steketee, the senior manager for brand protection at OpSec Security, an anti-counterfeiting consulting firm. “There are actually counterfeit tomatoes, believe it or not.” (In that example, she says, garden-variety tomatoes get marketed as the more expensive heirloom ones.)

The growing number of imported foods consumed by Americans makes it harder to identify the frauds, experts say. A recent FDA-commissioned Institute of Medicine study found the quantity of imported foods and drugs nearly tripled over the past 10 years. Currently, imports account for 85% of seafood, 39% of fruits and nuts and 18% of vegetables. That leads to great variety, but also increased risk from less rigorous food safety practices in other countries, says Clare Narrod, the risk analysis program manager for the University of Maryland’s Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, who served on the committee preparing the Institute of Medicine study. Criminals may also re-route a problem product through other countries in an attempt to evade U.S. bans.

Food is also one of the easier products to fake because the distinctions from the real deal are often subtle. “The biggest challenge with food products is that they’re natural, and there’s an infinite number of variation in natural products,” says John Spink, associate director of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program at Michigan State University, who authored the new Journal of Food Science study. Criminals are counting on shoppers not tasting differences between wines, and not noticing that their supposedly wild salmon isn’t quite as pink as it should be when cooked. As more cooks experiment with high-end olive oils, artisanal meats and heirloom produce, passing off a cheap ingredient as its fancier counterpart grows more profitable, too.

Avoiding fakes comes down largely to being an informed shopper and buying from trustworthy sources. Branded products tend to have more supply-chain safeguards, says Narrod. “It’s their reputation on the line, so they have things in place,” she says. It can also help to buy products with shorter supply chains which tend to be local or minimally processed, Spink says. And if the taste of an item seems off, or you get sick, it’s worth alerting both the store and the local public health department.

Because they’re ingested, fraudulent foods carry more significant health concerns than other fakes. Consumers with allergies could have a reaction, says Amy Kircher, associate director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense. Some substituted items aren’t meant for human consumption, and others contain toxic ingredients like lead or melamine.

Here are eight foods researchers say shoppers may unwittingly buy fraudulent versions of.
Olive Oil

Accounting for 16% of the database’s recorded cases, olive oil is the food most subject to fraud, according to the Journal of Food Sciences study. In most cases, experts say, consumers are merely getting a bad deal — regular olive oil instead of pricier extra virgin, say, or a less expensive variety from Greece instead of Italy as the label proclaims. But in rare cases, varieties of non-food-grade oil may be added in, posing a health risk, Steketee says. In one of the more famous cases, more than 600 people in Spain died in 1981 after consuming “olive oil” that was actually a non-food-grade rapeseed oil intended as an industrial lubricant. She suggests sticking to brands you know and sources you trust.


Adulterated milk is typically watered down and then laced with melamine, which increases the protein content to hide the dilution, Spink says. “Consumers may consume the product and may not be aware of the quality variation,” he says. In fact, milk is the second most common ingredient subject to adulteration, at 14% of cases in the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s Food Fraud Database. The 2008 Chinese milk scandal was the most high-profile incident, with the resulting outbreak killing six infants and sickening more than 300,000 consumers. Steketee says the problem is still more widespread abroad, with U.S. consumers needing to be more cautious about powdered milk and similar products of unknown origin.

The Journal of Food Sciences study pegged honey as a top fake, representing 7% of food fraud cases. Last year, Food Safety News tests also found that 75% of store honey doesn’t contain pollen. People are still buying a bee-made product, but all the pollen has been screened out, says Andrew Schneider, a food safety journalist who wrote the reports for Food Safety News. A lack of pollen makes it tough to determine its geographic origin — and also means regulators don’t recognize the product as honey, he says. Why the misdirection? Separate Food Safety News tests found a third of the faux honey imports from Asia were contaminated with lead and antibiotics. For the real deal, Schneider suggests buying from a local beekeeper. A National Honey Board spokesman says the group disputes the Food Safety News findings, and says regulations do allow for pollen to be filtered out as part of the removal of particles such as bee parts and other organic debris.
Fruit Juice

Fraudsters find it easy to dilute expensive juices without a notable change in taste or consistency, says Kircher. Orange juice represents 4% of cases in the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s Food Fraud Database, and apple juice, 2%. Consumers buying one of those common juices might get more water for their money, while an expensive one like pomegranate may be cut with apple juice. Consumers should be especially careful to read labels and pick a trusted brand when buying into the latest super-fruit craze, she says. It takes time to build up supply of a newly hot fruit, so those products are more likely to be adulterated.
Baby Formula

Although not a top offender in the Food Fraud database, experts say baby formula poses considerable food fraud risk. Formula is one of the most common targets for organized retail theft, and criminals often tamper with the sell-by codes to move expired product, Spink says. Adulterated milk, which can make it into formula, also poses a concern here, Steketee says. Parents’ best bet, they say, is to buy from a major retailer rather than less-monitored venues such as flea markets and online auctions. And don’t buy any package that has a blurred-out expiration date or otherwise looks tampered with, she says.

There’s ample fraud opportunity in expensive goods that are purchased in small quantities and used in small doses as it’s unlikely one’s using enough to notice something isn’t quite right, Spink says. Saffron represents 5% of food fraud cases and vanilla extract, 2%. Turmeric, star anise, paprika and chili powder each account for another 1%. Some are dangerous swaps, others, a waste of money. Shoppers buying paprika may be getting the flavorless leftovers of spices that have already been processed for extracts. Chinese star anise, for example, may be substituted with toxic Japanese star anise. Experts suggest being cautious about buying from markets or bulk bins without knowing the spice’s origin.

Just a few weeks ago, a New York wine dealer was arrested for allegedly trying to sell rare — but counterfeit — wines for $1.3 million. Collectively, wines, spirits and liquors represent just 2% of cases in the USPC’s Food Fraud database. Most faux wines are just a cheaper vintage and a bad bargain, but adulterated spirits are potentially more dangerous, says Steketee. Fake vodkas in particular have made the news in recent months, with contaminants such as anti-freeze and other dangerous chemicals. Counterfeiters are likely to focus most of their attention on the packaging, so consumers should keep an eye out for logos and bottles that don’t look quite right, she says.

“It’s easy to sell a piece of fish as one species when in reality it’s another species,” says Kircher. Farmed fish also get advertised as more expensive wild versions. Sometimes, it gets even more creative than a simple mislabel. Scallops, for example, might actually be punched out circles from a whitefish fillet, she says. Faux fish represented the top fraud in the Journal of Food Sciences study of media and other public records, at 9% of cases. And some may be unhealthy. A recent Consumer Reports study included a “grouper” sample that was really tilefish, a species that contains enough mercury to make the FDA’s list of foods that pregnant women and young children should avoid. Experts suggest buying whole fish when possible which are harder to fake.


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Transgender 101: 15 Things to Know

Because I run a camp for transgender youth, Camp Aranu’tiq, I end up interfacing with parents soon after they have found out that their child is transgender. These parents are looking for resources for not only themselves but their family and friends. In my effort to help these parents find solid answers to the questions they face, I searched for resources. Most of the literature I came across was geared specifically toward helping professionals who already have a baseline understanding of transgenderism. Therefore, I decided it was time to write a book that could be used by parents, teachers, family, friends, professionals, and students alike.

I began to write down what I thought people should know about transgenderism if it was their first foray into the area. I supplemented my knowledge with research and interviews and tried to keep it light. Yes, transgenderism is a serious issue to those who are trans, and to their family and friends, but I know from my own experience that if there is a void of levity, one can end up feeling hopeless, especially given the lack of understanding in the American public surrounding trans issues.

The approach of Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue is easy and conversational. When writing the book, I thought about the following: if you were sitting in a room with me, and I was explaining what “transgender” means in the simplest terms possible, what would I say? For instance, one of the chapters in the book, “Gender vs. Sexual Orientation,” explains in laymen’s terms the differences between gay or bisexual people and transgender people, and how they may overlap, but how they may not. I felt that this was one of the many areas that needed attention, because I constantly hear people use “transgender” and “straight” (“heterosexual”) as mutually exclusive terms, which they are not. The book also details what it means to come out, to transition and live as one’s true gender, to live in between genders, to face daily discrimination, and more.

15 essential things to know:


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