I know we’re supposed to get all worked up that Chelsea Clinton spent money on a wedding when she could have fed Haiti for all time for the cost of her dress. The only thing that got to me was that the cake was gluten-free. I realize there are people who have real celiac disease. But it’s rare, maybe 1 percent of the population. Aside from lactose-level marketing, there’s no reason stuff like mayonnaise has to be labeled gluten-free. (Check your Nivea, though.) And who would think wedding cakes are meant to be eaten?
New rule for processed crap: If it’s nutritionally worthless, it’s got a huge “multi-grain” label on it. The latest is whatever that stuff is that’s packaged in tennis ball tins. If I were a devotee, I’d be annoyed that my junk favorite was being made healthful. No one eats chemicals bound with rice flour for a good reason.
(In other nutrition nuttiness, I liked the study that came out showing industrial sausage is worse for you than plain steak. You think? In other news, water’s wet.)
For once I was impressed by the NYTimes’s P1 editors’ story choice. The report summarizing the new research on how rare food allergies really are should have been above the fold, but it was enough that it made the front page. I would only have turned around the figures and said 95 percent of adults/92 percent of children have nothing to fear from peanuts/shrimp/milk/etc. Back in the last century I did a piece for Vogue asserting much the same thing, and it set off a shitstorm because even then people were going out to restaurants armed with business cards listing their food restrictions. Not, of course, described as issues but rather as allergies. At least now maybe it will be harder for people to pull the stunt a woman we used to eat with always did: Make a huge fuss over not being able to eat butter on her (inevitable) chicken. And then order ice cream for dessert.
Cretins and keyboards are a dangerous combination. I try to stay out of comment swamps, but I had to peek in on lard before an interview that I was warned would include a question on reaction. “Ghee is butter without all the junk?” WTF? At least I could frame an answer: Some people refuse to believe in evolution, too.
Five of the most foreboding words in the English language are “I’m a registered dietitian and . . .” What follows is inevitably some misguided hectoring based on research just proven flawed or about to be proven definitively flawed. I guess I’ve been in this business far too long, because I can still remember when fat was the scariest thing that could enter the alimentary canal. How many RDs did I have to track down to get them to say what a magazine editor needed to have said before more studies showed it wasn’t just any fat that was problematic? Now I’m getting badgered for snarking that sugar is naturally superior to high-fructose corn syrup. Big Food obviously still has big money behind the latter, because its minions are out hammering its message, Michael Pollan be damned. My story, and I’m sticking to it, is that corn tortured into either oil for shortening or sweetener for soda is far from anything my great-grandmother would have recognized. This is the crew, after all, that sold us Snackwells as lard asses only got lardier.
File under unintended consequences: Some new study (admittedly underwritten by who knows whom) finds regular Vitamin D wards off memory loss. I’m already convinced the demonization of whole milk has contributed to osteoporosis. Now it could be that all those silly women substituting soy “milk” in their silly decaf “lattes” are incubating Alzheimer’s, too. And fake yogurt is not going to help them remember where they ate wrong.
I said this over at the satellite operation, but it bears repeating: First we really should kill all the “nutrition experts.” Especially those who felt compelled to weigh in on the once-in-a-country inaugural luncheon and trash it as too high in fat and calories. As if anyone eats seafood stew and a brace of birds every day. For Richard Simmons’s sake, don’t these people have McDonald’s salads to tout?
Then again, a booklet I came across while street-dressing after PT seemed pretty helpful for anyone looking to eat intelligently even while ordering in from minefields disguised as neighborhood restaurants. And then I got to the last page, with tips for a newish Indian joint. The authors, allegedly both registered dietitians, not only warned about the ghee the kitchen used but described it as “a k a lard.” Okay, anyone whiplashed by the great American fat frenzy can make a reactionary mistake. But just think about the idiocy of damning Muslims’ food for pork fat. Describing schmaltz as bird lard makes more sense.
I like clean water and nonlethal drugs too much to want the government totally off everyone’s back. But the more the short-term bosses of us muck with diet regulations for our own good, the more nervous I get. I used to live on Coca-Cola but now have one maybe every couple of years, so a tax on the stuff would not be a biggie. But letting Tab off the hook is the bureaucratic equivalent of empty calories. I always thought there was something to the studies that found people who drink diet sodas tend to eat far more because their appestats never get the “full-up” signal. Given that coffee and tea would not be covered by this silliness even though they can rival Pepsi when sweetened, it’s a slippery slope to taxing french fries and letting the 8,000-calorie taco “salad” slide. Where there’s a law, there’s a loophole.
I’m still working my way out of a Vicodin haze, but I hope once my wits return I can do a side-by-side comparison of the nutrients in an avocado and in a can of Ensure. That shit is scary if you let your eye stray below the impressive list of nutrients, down to the main ingredients: Sugar, sugar and more sugar. It reminded me of Borden’s condensed milk with artificial flavoring, but my roommate wanted every can I wouldn’t swallow. What a strange concept, adding vitamins etc. to garbage and selling it as redemptive. In my next life I’m coming back as a marketer of geriatric formula.
One of the many stories I have never been able to sell is “why Thanksgiving is a food writer’s most-hated holiday.” As I am probably repeating myself to say, never does so much effort go into reinventing a wheel that rolls itself. We rewrite the Kama Sutra every goddamn year, and readers are totally happy with the missionary position: turkey breast up, guests face-down in overloaded plates. I’ve done my duty for this November and can now lean back and relax contemplating the hoops others are hopping through: Serious Eats is working itself into a lather with a countdown on a meal that really, come on, is the fucking easiest of the year. And USA Weekend had to trot out Sorta Slim to push a menu focused not on flavor but calories. Maybe I’m a math dunce, but 1,211 calories for a feast sounds downright abstemious compared with your average Blooming Onion. Cutting to 682 on a holiday seems mean enough to send the Puritans right back onto their boat. What is most insanely stupid about a feature like that is that the last Thursday in November is the one day most Americans actually eat well, with not just good protein but the full complement of fruits and vegetables. My big fear is reincarnation, but sometimes I wish I could come back as a culinary archaeologist to wonder why Americans would obsess on the calories in a once-a-year feast. It’s like angsting over the carbs in a Communion host.
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. . . .
The French seem determined to prove they are all Americans now. What’s up with this whacked idea of taxing foods the government decides are fattening? This is a country that invented half of what is worth eating, or at least makes life worth living. What is the adjective before “fry,” for Sarkozy’s sake? My French is about as good as my Swahili, but I would say it’s a slope slippery. Do you tax the Epoisses and not the baguette? Eat enough of anything, foie gras or chicken feet, and you can make yourself into Mr. Creosote. Next they’ll be putting warning labels on their wine bottles. And electing dry drunks. (I know, I know.)
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.
As scornful as I am of fast food, I still think Los Angeles is one taco over the line in proposing a ban on it. A Big Mac is no different from foie gras: Someone wants to eat it, this is a free country. And once they come for the chicken nuggets, where would it end? Cupcakes can make you fat, too, with or without trans fats. Not to mention the fact that driving is not exactly good for anyone’s health. I see Sinclair Lewis quoted everywhere lately, saying fascism will come to America wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. But he might be wrong about the outfit. I predict a nutrition lab coat.