As the de facto menu planner for our non-traditional quasi-family unit, I try to make sure The Girlfriend and I eat a healthy, balanced diet. Granted, our definition of 'balanced' might be different than yours.I believe that, if you had a salad for dinner, you can, and probably should, have a gigantic apple fritter for dessert. You know, for balance.
In general, though, we eat healthy food. But what IS healthy food? Now, even ravenous meat-eaters would probably agree vegetables are involved, in some way. And growing up, I never had a problem eating my vegetables, because if they were on my dinner plate, I was supposed to eat them. Of course, Mom never exactly challenged our palates -- the Great Kale Experiment of 1971 being the only exception, and thankfully that didn’t last more than a week or so.
I was a vegetarian for two weeks in 1987, a commitment which, in retrospect, lasted longer than a lot of my relationships in 1987. Would have stayed with it, too, except that in the eighties, I was on the road all the time doing the comedy thing, and options for the aspiring herbivore were limited at your various Perkins and Stuckey’s locations. You get really tired of Cobb Salad.
I don’t imagine there were too many vegetarian dining options in the seventeenth century, but in 1622, the first ‘health food’ cookbook was published by Tobias Venner with the title, "Via Recta ad Vitam Longam, or a Plaine Philosophical Discourse of the Nature, Faculties, and Effects of all suche things as by way of Nourishments and Dietetical Observations made for the Preservation of Health."
This translates as either ‘The Straight Road to Long Life’ or ‘Avoid Eating at the Olive Garden’ (my Latin is sketchy at best). His advice: “Cut down on heavy sauces, meats and desserts” and “Avoid eating at The Olive Garden, for it will surely lead to ill humours, despite the unlimited breadsticks.”
Ellen Swallow Richards is credited with the first American health food cookbook, called "First Lessons in Food and Diet," in 1904, building on the success of her earlier books, "The Adulterations of Groceries" (which sounds like the title of a Merchant-Ivory film) and her runaway bestseller, "The Effect of Heat on the Digestibility of Gluten."
I did some exhaustive research on Ms. Richards, and I'm not trying to turn my little column into a post-feminist screed here, but I have to ask...
HOW IS THIS WOMAN NOT MORE FAMOUS?
Ellen Swallow Richards (1842 - 1911)
First woman admitted to M.I.T. And its first female instructor. And the first American woman accepted to any school of science and technology. First American woman to earn a degree in chemistry. And, for good measure, introduced the word ‘ecology’ into English. Of course, the fact that her maiden name was 'Swallow' is unfortunate. But seriously, history books could give us one less paragraph on, say, the Monroe Doctrine to make a little room for Ms. Richards.
About a century after Ellen Swallow Richards, the USDA introduced the first 'food pyramid,' but it was doomed to failure. C'mon, people -- Americans don't remember their high school geometry! For the average American, you might as well have called it a Food Dodecahedron.
Recently, the USDA replaced the Food Pyramid with the even more remedial 'Choose My Plate.' But there will still be confused people wondering, "Do I have to have dairy with grains?" and "Are you only supposed to eat red fruits now?" and "Is this part of that socialist takeover of the government Fox News mentioned?"
Other countries have tried to get creative with the whole "If we draw a picture of what they should eat maybe they won't get fat like Americans" thing. In France they have twenty-five separate nutrition guides, NONE of which are followed by the French. And Canada has a Food Rainbow. Of course they do.
The Chinese use a Food Pagoda, whereas in Japan, it's a spinning top. Too bad the Japanese couldn't find a way to use anime, because a hot alien chick with a machine gun could get a lot of teenage boys on the right nutritional path.
Forget foods you should eat -- I'm just glad there aren't many foods I can't eat. I don't eat much dairy, but I don't say I'm lactose intolerant, because, frankly, I'm a liberal, and I feel I should stand up to intolerance. So I have a little cheese once in a while, just to make a statement.
There is definitely a place where politics and food choices intersect. Take the 'locavore' movement. I am so supportive of this idea that I will only eat Chilean sea bass at local restaurants. Hmmm. I wonder if there are people on the opposite end of the sourcing spectrum, who only eat foods that have to be shipped over great distances...
If there are 'locavores,' why not 'locovores,' who only buy their food from crazy people? Or maybe we could call people who only eat bland, boring foods 'bori-vores.' And if you keep strictly kosher,you're a Torahvore! I got a million of 'em!
Of course, in addition to vegetarians, there are vegans and then there are 'fruitarians,' who I can only imagine are even more judgemental than vegans. And if the only animals you eat are seafood, you might be a 'pescaterian.' Or are the 'Pescetarians' a religious cult devoted to annoying people?
Every few years we find out something is bad for you that we thought was just fine. It was easier to be healthy when I was younger, because we didn't know as much! Why, when I was your age we only had ONE kind of cholesterol, and we weren't sure whether it was good or bad for you!
There's always some new healthy grain or super fruit or must-have amino acid. I can't keep up, and I figure I'm as qualified as anyone to toss out random diet suggestions. If these work for you, great. If you get sick, I'm not liable.
THE LEXICOGRAVORE DIET: You only are allowed on a given day to eat foods that start with that day's letter. So the first of the month, you can eat apricots, artichokes, avocado...you get the idea. Day two you've got your bacon, maybe some blueberries--even brisket! After Day 26, you can eat what you want until the first of the month, when it's back to arugula, or maybe alligator. Also, on Day 24, you can eat what you want because no foods start with 'x.'
THE CARTOGRAVORE DIET: Get out your placemat with the big map of the U.S. on it, because, on this diet, you will only be able to eat official state foods, and you'll be eating them in the order the states were admitted to the Union! You could lose fifty pounds in fifty days -- or you might gain a bunch of weight! No one knows! But you will learn obscure facts about our wonderful country!
First, how about carving up Delaware's state bird and enjoying some blue hen? Sure, it's not their state food, but if you cook it right...Day two means cheesesteak, and for New Jersey on day three, how'd ya like a big fat Jersey tomato? Huh? I'm talkin' to you, pal!
The rest of your first week includes Georgia grits (technically their official state 'prepared dish'), and you might as well have seconds because Connecticut has no state food, so on day five, you don't eat. Just be careful on day seventeen, because too much Ohio pawpaw probably isn't good for you.
The creepily named 'Center for Science in the Public Interest' (read much Orwell, guys?) recently put together a list of the ten healthiest foods. Strangely, none of them are pizza. However, fans of butternut squash (you know who you are) should feel vindicated.
Let's be honest. We all have a vague idea of what 'healthy' is, but we crave the crap. And to me, that's part of a balanced diet, too. But if I'm gonna eat something I KNOW is bad for me, I don't need to find out HOW bad. I've never understood why, for example, Hostess would bother to list 'nutritional information' for their 'fruit' pies.
I guess because it's important to know that if you eat one, you'll get two percent of the calcium and FOUR percent of the phosphorus you should be getting in your diet. So...if I just eat twenty-five of these a day...what? I don't want to develop a phosphorus deficiency!
What I love about this wrapper is that it's a "real fruit pie" (there's even a picture to prove it), yet the food wizards at Hostess realized it still needed to be "artificially flavored." I picture a meeting of suits and one of the product guys says, "I'm on board with the real fruit, but whaddya think of this --we take the fruit and whatever boring 'real' flavor it has and then we add more flavor artificially!
By contrast, the label on this organic pasta may be the ultimate example of truth in labelling. Much more than the nit-picky specifics of what the ingredients are, I just want to know they're 'real.' Nothing ruins a nice dinner like finding out that your food contains FICTIONAL INGREDIENTS! "Look at this! It's eight percent Flubber! That can't be good for you!"
I can't wait for the inevitable backlash, when it becomes hip and trendy to eat as badly as possible. Americans will be all over it. After all, we bought Jolt Cola ("All the sugar, twice the caffeine"), who's to say you won't start seeing chips advertised with extra salt.Or maybe Dunkin' Donuts will start adding trans fats to their pastries. You'll be able to order a hot dog and say, "Heavy on the nitrites, please!"
You read it here first. The next food trend will be deliberately unhealthy food-- food that says, right on the package, "This will mess up your colon."Look, I'm all for, in general, as a rule, for the most part, eating a healthy diet. All I'm saying is, occasionally, it's important to eat something ENTIRELY because it tastes good. For balance.