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Nature, nurture, food Nazis, junk. July 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Like all God’s creatures, we humans have been genetically programmed to be predisposed to foods that are salty, sweet, fatty, and/or alcoholic. I’d add meaty and smoky to that list as well, though obviously not all creatures share our predilections in that regard.

These are the high-density, high-calorie, water-retentive foods that have allowed all creatures to survive since time began, and all of us have been born to seek them, to crave them. Salty, sweet, and fatty foods in combination make us feel good, make us feel high, even without alcohol. And alcohol is the ultimate feel-good source of concentrated calories, as every bear, crow, dog, and yellowjacket feasting on fermented fruit will tell you. Species that have evolved to survive in a world where food was a maybe, a sometimes, not a given, have evolved to seek the most calorie-dense foods possible, and have evolved to, not coincidentally, find them the most tasty of all foods.  

Unfortunately as far as humans are concerned, many of us now have access to plentiful sources of calories and a considerable body of knowledge about nutrition and disease. For us, the problem is not about how to acquire the calories we need to survive, but to avoid packing on more calories, and more unhealthy calories, than are good for us.

Anyone alive today has been the victim of the health Nazis in this regard: We live our lives hemmed in by unending “do nots” with regard to what we may and may not eat. Do NOT eat salt, sugar, butter. Do NOT drink alcohol. Bad, bad, weak, decadent, horrible, fat people! Don’t you know that “beautiful” people, people who are anorexic like professional models, actresses, and Kate Middleton, would as soon die as touch a buttered roll, or an unbuttered roll, for that matter?! What’s wrong with you?! You’re weak, you’re ignorant, you’re low-class!

Not so. You’re simply in touch with your genetic heritage, your link with all life, rather than in denial. I suggest that you eat the buttered roll or the piece of shortbread or the salted slice of watermelon, and enjoy the glass of wine. Because if you don’t, you’re in danger. You’re in danger of succumbing to junk-food overload.

I’m stupefied every weekend when I get the sale circulars from area groceries and pharmacies and the coupon circulars. That’s because the coupons appear to be almost exclusively for junk foods and air fresheners. (Why just eat chemicals when you can breathe them, too?!) Pharmacies’ circulars  are especially bad for offering 10-for-$10 and buy one, get one deals on candy, cookies, chips, sodas and “sports” drinks, so-called diet foods, and crackers. (Shame on them! If anyone should know better… )

But grocery circulars are hardly blameless, either, adding super-processed “lunch meats,” mayo-laden pasta and potato salads, goo-filled gelatin molds, and the like to the boxed, canned and frozen junk foods on sale. Of course, at least they offset this stuff with deals on fresh fruits and veggies, canned beans, cheese, meats and seafood, pasta, nuts, yogurt, hummus, canned tomato products, and other whole and wholesome foods. That’s why I read the circulars each weekend, after all. But yikes, the stuff that’s showcased! Eeeewwww.

Still, those junk-food manufacturers know what makes people pull out their wallets or swipe their debit cards: food that’s packed with sugar, salt, and fat, or “diet” food that substitutes chemicals for some or all of the above. From Cap’n Crunch to Pop-Tarts to Screaming Yellow Zonkers, it’s amazing what people will put into their mouths. And these are the same people who wouldn’t dream of frying eggs in butter and eating them with whole-grain toast, since that screams calories and cholesterol to them, even though then they’d actually be eating simple whole foods! (Let’s not even talk about those doughnuts and frappucinos and loaded fries and mercy-alone-knows-what-else that apparently have no calories since you’re just picking them up and eating or drinking them as you’re driving, so it’s not really food.)

Horrifying as America’s love affair with junk food and fast food is, it pales by comparison to what appears to be the latest trend, which is taking junk food upscale. I was blindsided by this while reading an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal called “Chablis with Brie? No, Cherry Coke and Cool Ranch.” The article showcased a book called Junk Foodie by Emilie Baltz*, which includes recipes for dishes like Balinese spring rolls made from orange Fruit Roll-Ups, potato sticks, grapefruit jellybeans, the inside of a Mounds bar and Utz Red Hot Potato Chips. Two of Ms. Baltz’s other favorites are a combination of Cool Ranch Doritos with Table Talk mini pineapple pies, and Napoleons made from potato chips and Twinkies. (Go to http://www.WSJ.com to read the article in its entirety.)

Anyone who’s ever eaten M&Ms and potato chips or, say, so-called Hawaiian pizza with pineapple and Canadian bacon will understand the appeal of sweet, salty and fatty in combination. And, of course, the temptation to eat lots more than you would if you were just eating the M&Ms or the potato chips, since you can alternate. But, please, people! Salted cantaloupe, watermelon or grapefruit will give you the same satisfaction plus fiber, nutrients, and no fat. Even a slice of salted melon with a butter-fried egg and a slice of whole-grain toast would provide a wholesome, satisfying meal of real food with nary a chemical in sight. And for fewer calories, too.

As for that so-called Balinese spring roll, I think I’ll stick to the spring rolls being offered at our local Chinese restaurants. I’ve yet to see a jellybean or potato chip lurking inside one.

            ‘Til next time,


* I’m praying this book is actually tongue-in-cheek.




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