After a day last week when our faucets ran mud, I shouldn’t be complaining about new regulations. But I am astonished that local governments so strapped they’re cutting fire and police protection are rushing to put on nanny uniforms that will not and should not fit. NYC is apparently banning home-baked stuff from school bake sales, so kids will be protected from some strange mom’s bacon-chocolate chip cookies but be able to tear right into processed crap (yeah, go ahead and blame calorie counts, as if Big Food lists them accurately). Out in California, there’s a crackdown on cocktails made with booze infused with other ingredients — nice to think inspectors will be deployed in the consumer protection racket while students are freaking out over high tuition and fees in a college system that was once the country’s best and most accessible. After eight years of national anarchy, I’m half-happy to see “authorities” seizing the reins, but not behind the bar. In all other cases the best thing they could do to keep junk out of innocent mouths is very simple: Tax the junk. People adjusted to a nickel deposit on soda cans that most never redeem, judging by the recycle bins in our building. They could adapt to a few cents more for sugar water. Instead, confusion reigns. I heard an “expert” on Brian Lehrer the other day saying no kid ever got fat drinking pineapple juice. He was right that juice has nutrients that tax-ready soda does not. He was wrong about obesity. One of the earliest lessons when I spent a week studying “nutritional cuisine” at the CIA back in the last century was that juice poured like water was going to turn little kids into Fat Alberts. Given that Coke owns Minute Maid, it’s no wonder a product once rationed in special glasses is now a Big Gulp, and a protected one at that. If there is a hell, let’s hope it’s full of tiny airline seats.
A really great book came out in the last year called “Swindled,” on all the ways all through history profiteers have scammed people with food, even lethal food. Obviously nothing ever changes, because the NYTimes let the beef industry respond to its devastating indictment with a lying-through-its-cud letter to the editor saying E. coli is like floods, just one of those annoying acts of nature. Anyone who has read “Fast Food Nation” or seen “Food, Inc.” knows that ranks right up with Eve-ate-dinosaur-apples BS. But this weirdly emasculated media keeps giving liars free rein — the WSJournal let the Coke huckster in chief blame sedentary lifestyles for obesity, not his sugar water sold for cheap in 50-gallon vats. So I am perversely encouraged by Jon Corzine’s sly attack on his opponent for New Jersey governor. Let’s call a fat slob a fat slob. Put the weight on him.
One of Buffalo’s many strengths saving it from a fate worse than Detroit, though, is its plethora of one-of-a-kind, locally owned restaurants, so my only excuse for succumbing to Panera for our first meal was that it would be quick when we had cake to pick up and Wegman’s to navigate. And it was worth the journey to marvel at how accepting patrons were of sharing the pagers handed out to alert them when their orders were ready. Even crappy supermarkets have antibacterial wipes for grocery carts these days, and here people were happily handling potential noro virus carriers just before tucking into hand-to-mouth food.
A rather large percentage of diners there could probably afford to spend a week or two off their feed, however. The same was true at a quite good New Orleans-esque restaurant that night, where three of us kept sliding off the benches in our booth trying to connect with our plates. Only at the end, after a trip to the head when I noticed how immense some other diners were, did I realize what the problem was. To accommodate them, you’d need a space between table and chair roughly the width of the Erie Canal. It’s a good thing New York Cityans are migrating to Buffalo rather than the other way around; otherwise no restaurant designer who had worked there would ever get hired here, where the goal is apparently to cram an A train’s worth of seats into a Smart Car’s square inchage.
Had a drink the other afternoon with a lovely friend in from Italy for a couple of months and, as always, he was full of sharp observations. He wanted prosecco but the bar had only cava and when I repeated, “Spanish prosecco,” his head almost swiveled off in a big no. “I tried that here once,” he said (I’m paraphrasing). But mostly he was astonished at how America eats; it’s killing him. If he chowed down like one of us, he said, “I would be big and soft.” Wait. Everyone knows pasta makes you fat. You mean it’s really crap consumed on an irregular schedule that does it?
A disgusting little story about a guy who managed to ingest an entire 15-pound (or was it 20?) burger seemed to run everywhere. I’m as bad as everyone else in talking about behavior that abhorrent during a world food crisis. (Seen any news out of Haiti lately? They’re eating dirt.) But I bring it up only to say it made me think of a bizarre if hilarious piece of writing I turned up thanks to Popurls, by a guy who ingested way too much macaroni and cheese or something at an all-you-can-eat place and wound up having the most graphically described intestinal distress maybe in history. Suffice it to say it is beyond detailed and involves the manager of the restaurant hosing down him and the bathroom while his wife is off buying him new pants, underwear and shoes. If we’re going to celebrate gluttony in an age of understocked food pantries, there should be equal time for the crappy consequences. I will never look at a fat guy on a buffet line the same way. . . .
Like every old phart these days, I’m addicted to Facebook. But lately I’m starting to wonder if it’s a safe playground. The people who are being suggested as friends are scaryyyyy. The food world is both fake and incestuous, but I draw the line at pantloads — this guy used to run campaigns worthy of McSame and the Caribou Killer — and I don’t even wanna know who his “friends” are. I’m cynical enough.
I know my intolerance is showing whenever the subject of obesity comes up, but this latest wave of news reports insisting you can be fat and healthy really can’t go uncontested. If the only worry in life were heart disease, sure, the newest gainfully underwritten study would be the greatest development since the motorized scooter. But as I gimp around the city, I see untold hordes limping even worse merely because they are, in the immortal words of a letter-writer to USA Today a couple of years ago, carrying around Cadillac bodies on VW Bug frames. And every time I think about porking out, I remember the whale of a woman at PT who tried to climb onto an exercise bike and nearly pulled the thing over onto herself. The message that went out this week from even the vaunted NYTimes was very clear: Eat up. Probably no one detected the “get on the treadmill” second graf. For all the government intervention in Americans’ eating habits, it’s amazing no one has come up with the best deterrent to gluttony yet: Hang a set of crutches next to the Ben & Jerry’s case and make sure anyone who wants to buy a few pints of Chubby Hubby can first actually walk the length of the aisle on them. Now imagine trying to move fast enough to get out of the way of a speeding car (or a crazy gun guy in church) or through the door of a crashing airplane. There’s more than one way to die by fat. . . .
When it comes to politically incorrect observations on obesity, I have a new shorthand: IOIYATB. I agree totally, and laughed out loud, but I wonder how many of his viewers got a big (really big) chuckle out of watching him and Mr. Gun Whackjob trash the hell out of their fans’ physical limitations. If only tapeworms were the new heroin for dieters.
Nice try on LA’s part in attempting to zone out obesity by banning new fast food outlets. Talk about a very slender finger in a mega-dike, when companies like Kraft are busily coming up with the edible equivalent of fat-injecting hypodermics. Did the world really need bagels pre-stuffed with cream cheese? So the poor Angelenos can’t drive through to their diabetic death. They can still go shopping in the crap aisles at Ralph’s. Outlaw Whoppers and only outlaws will have Whoppers.
I know people from America are very different from us, here at the center of the universe, but really, what would possess a grown man to travel to New York and parade around in a T-shirt reading: “Instant idiot — just add beer”? And how did I know he was not from around here? The shirt was size XXXL and still too small.
Here’s a new psychological syndrome: Attention Whore Disorder. I was amazed that bloggers would be bummed not to be swept into the Phat Phuck corral. They not only admitted it, they posted at length. As I said before, 8 is the new 12. Now I want to add: Obese food writers are so last century. The one time I went to the Pillsbury Bake-Off, in Miami sometime in the Eighties, I was horrified at the herd of lumbering food editors engaging in gavage at the breakfast buffet in our hotel. All of them were women. Today they would be aberrations. Which is just one objection to that silliness in search of a nut graf. It should have been headlined Boys Don’t Scarf and Barf. Only one woman was quoted, and she happens to be one renowned for wrestling with the object of her profession. (I was happy to see the only other one mentioned, and photographed, was not allowed to sell herself as a role Moss, not with a full Olsen left to drop.) The one story no one could ever do would cover the extent of eating disorders among people who eat for a living; I can’t remember how many press events I’ve been to where women (and one particular guy) disappeared into the bathroom after inhaling everything in reach (one was renowned for an accessory worn to cover the external damage she was doing to herself). So I thought this piece was all about piggishness, then I opened my magazine to see the lithe spirit had not moved the Omnivore to reconsider his intake — he was writing for the shape issue. Don’t read it if you don’t want to think about him in “the teensiest bathing suit,” though. I had to go back and brave the photo of the creature from the gluttonous lagoon to flush that image out of my cranial sieve. And that made me wonder: Forget a gut you would have to lift to be able to pee. Wouldn’t skin the color of a Silkie chicken be a sign that all was not well in Whaleville?
Until recently, I assumed all women lied about their weight. Now two friends are telling me 150 is not to be dissed, and neither of them looks a gram over acceptable. For once I’m sorry I sounded mean. I should have been clearer. Weigh away — just don’t try to make yourself a role Moss. And please consider what I learned the hard way. Every extra pound adds five pounds of stress on your hips and knees and ankles (get sentenced to 20 months of physical therapy and you will be haunted by visions of people who can barely hoist themselves onto treatment tables, not to mention those who could pull over a stationary bike just trying to dismount). If that’s not cautionary enough, imagine lugging yourself around on crutches for months. Every fucking ounce counts, painfully. Figures may lie, as my friends demonstrate slendiferously. But if you want to sell a diet book, at least look as if the Weight Watchers worked.
And I see there’s a new snack for cretins (or, as they prefer to spell it, creationists). If the ad didn’t have a Big Food name in it, you would swear it’s a spoof. The brand is Flat Earth. The bag is held up by flying pigs. And the copy promises half a serving of vegetables in an ounce of chips. That is a lot of disbelief to suspend. Even the trademark sounds straight out of the Onion: “impossibly good.” They paid lawyers actual money to register that? It must have tested really well with the lumbering throngs down at Dinosaur Adventure Land, riding the Leap of Faith swing.
I can’t imagine surimi is any better for you than the steak of the sea even with mercury in it. But I’m no expert, and the one Time magazine found said it best: Readers are done no favors by single-food scare stories. On a petty level, I did wonder why the store next door was, yet again, given a pass in the testing; it only is about the biggest seafood retailer in town. And it should not have taken a listen to Brian Lehrer to hear from a real authority how the dangerous stuff actually gets into the tuna to begin with. Phyllis Richman predicted many years ago that sushi would become the new hamburger. If we can swallow the reality of mad cow and E. coli, what’s a little industrial spillover? We do like to leave the lights on and the microwaves humming in this country. . . .
In other nutrition nuttiness, let the “consumer advocates” rail against NYC’s new rule requiring certain restaurants to post calorie counts. As I must have said a thousand times, I have not eaten a Mrs. Fields cookie since learning back in the last century that each one contains about 260 calories. And I was, back then, a scholar when it came to the back of Fritos bags. So all those defenders of the public’s right to be stupid, the ones who say anyone can easily discern the difference between a bucket of chicken wings and a salad, should be sentenced to Southwest-salad-with-crispy-chicken hell. With Big Gulp cholesterol drugs for the ride.
By contrast, I was happily surprised by the junk brochure from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia that my consort dropped off on my desk the other day. A promotion for a health web site, it included not just a notice of a “dark chocolate and red wine reception” but a photo of and recipe for a salad made with warm goat cheese in a panko crust. We’ve come a long way from the “pasta makes you fat” attitude toward healthful eating. I’m not sure, though, I would want a tour of the Mutter Museum after that reception. Elephantiasis is a terrible petit four.
Judging by a survey that turned up in my email one morning, Michael Pollan has his work cut out for him in trying to persuade Americans to eat primarily from the perimeter of supermarkets. Of the top 10 sales categories, only milk, bread and eggs are showcased in the healthful real estate. Cereal, cookies, canned soup, chocolate candy and potato chips were the other “foods” on the list, and I just read that and heard Fat Albert hey-hey-heying his way toward the deli. Why do I suspect cloned meat is the least of the threats to the food chain?