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Paleo, shmaleo. July 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, our friend Ben and I were grocery shopping. I’m always interested in checking out what my fellow shoppers are buying while I’m waiting (and waiting) in the checkout line; it beats the hell out of staring at those magazine covers about the Kardashians or “guess who this fat actress is.” Ugh!

Most of the time, I’m demoralized to see that the entire order consists of bags of chips and pretzels, sodas, gallons of ice cream, doughnuts, sliced lunch meat, a loaf of white “balloon bread,” and the like, with some sugary cereals and a jug of milk added to up the “healthy” contingent and the requisite dozen cans of cat or dog food. Maybe a few bananas and some orange juice. Basically a recipe for diabetes, obesity and heart disease. I’d never give my own pets canned food, but it’s probably better for them than all that fatty, sugary, chemically laden, nutritionless glop is for their loving owners.

Yesterday, however, the woman in line behind me had a quite different shopping agenda. I stared wide-eyed as she pulled gigantic package after package of meat from her cart: the biggest package of salmon I’d ever seen, a huge pack of organic shrimp, and huge pack of organic ground meat (turkey? it looked a little pale for beef). On and on it went, until the conveyor belt behind me looked like a slaughterhouse. Yet she had obviously gone to great effort to pick only the healthiest meats, and to seek out organic meats at that. Then, she extracted the only non-meat item from her cart: a skimpy bag of frozen, steam-in-bag mixed vegetables.

Gack! This time of year, the produce aisles are overflowing with beautiful, seasonal fresh vegetables and fruits. Our own shopping bags were bursting with them. Why on earth would a person who’d taken so much care to buy healthy meats and avoid all processed foods, much less junk foods, get a tiny bag of frozen mixed veggies when all earth’s bounty lay before her?

I was mumbling about this to poor OFB all the way home from the store. I just couldn’t understand it. I kept thinking she must be planning a cookout. But why would someone serve up a tiny bag of disgusting steamed mixed frozen veggies to their guests when they could grill corn on the cob and endless other grill-friendly veggies, scoop up some homemade guacamole, salsa and tortilla chips, offer big sides of homemade coleslaw and/or Caprese salad?

Then, finally, the lightbulb went on. We weren’t talking about a party here. We were talking about a woman on the Paleo diet. If anyone still doesn’t know, the Paleo diet is supposed to reconstruct what our ancestors ate back in the hunter/gatherer days, which in essence was damned little. They trapped, hooked, and shot what they could; they foraged for wild grains, berries and fruits, honey, roots, herbs, nuts, and shoots, and doubtless worms and insects and anything else they could find. Our pre-agricultural ancestors were opportunists, foraging for what they could find, the perfect definition of omnivores.

And yes, they were thin, the reason people embrace the Paleo diet today. They weren’t thin because they wanted to be, of course; they were thin because it was so hard to find food and to consume enough calories to offset the time it took to find them. They were starving most of the time. This put their body in ketosis, kidney failure, the exact same method all the meat-based diets like Atkins use to cause their clients to start burning their own muscle to lose weight. (Yes, I said muscle; they only burn fat once the muscle is exhausted.)

If our Paleolithic ancestors could have been fat and happy, never worrying about where their next meal was coming from, getting all the delicious fat, sugar and alcohol they could manage, there’s no doubt that they would have enthusiastically supported grain-based agriculture as their descendents who managed to stumble upon grain-raising as a way to ensure a supply of beer and in the process discovered breadmaking and prosperity. “Thin” was not an attractive quality in a perpetually starving population that were lucky to make it to their 20s, much less 30s. It was agriculture, a stable food-producing system that allowed us to grow crops and livestock in place rather than hunt and gather them, that gave us longevity. Not to mention civilization.

It might be worth remembering that next time you contemplate a Paleo diet, or raw food diet, or juice cleanse, or any extreme diet. Humans were never designed to be on diets, they were designed to enjoy a diverse diet of foods prepared in a diverse manner of ways, and to enjoy foods in moderation but not in deprivation. Anorexia was never considered to be attractive, just heartbreaking, the outward manifestation of an inner mental sickness. Eating whole rather than processed foods, prepared in delicious recipes and showcasing seasonal variety, will keep us fit, not fat. Let’s go for it.

‘Til next time,



Fast food is junk food. July 9, 2013

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Silence Dogood here, with a really, really weird finding. Nobody has to tell us that the burgers and fries and deep-fried everything sold by fast-food chains aren’t good for us. Supersize me!

But the attempts by fast-food chains to counter their unhealthy image have, according to researchers, had a most curious and unexpected effect: The more salads and other comparatively healthful items the chains add to their menus, the more deep-fried, sugarcoated junk people buy. And these findings especially hold true for people who describe themselves as “healthy” eaters, the ones who wouldn’t dream of deep-fat frying in their own homes, the ones who eat a salad every night.

In perhaps the most counterintuitive reaction of all time, apparently these people think “Gee, they have salad, so now it’s okay for me to order a Big Mac and fries!” They don’t order the salad, just the burger and fries, or the fried chicken or seafood, or whatever. Talk about bizarre!

So folks, you can expect a lot more healthy options to crop up on your local fast-food place’s menu. Apparently, it’s good for business.

‘Til next time,


Food fight! Eat real food, part 2. July 3, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. In the first part of this series, I expressed outrage over an article in the July/August 2013 issue of The Atlantic by David H. Freedman called “The Cure for Obesity: How Science Is Engineering Healthy Junk Food.” (Check out Part 1 by scrolling down.)

To recap, Mr. Freedman pours scorn and contempt on the people who are trying to get Americans to eat fresh, whole foods, claiming that the only hope is nutrient-enhanced junk food. He reserves his most biting (pardon the pun) comments for those who support local and organic foods, i.e., the people who are attemtping to restore community-centered support and chemical-free, healthful foods, as opposed to preservative-laden, disease-inducing poisons.

Mr. Freedman apparently believes that the majority of Americans are too stupid to change their dietary habits, stuffing down their Big Macs and fries and convenience-store hotdogs and Velveeta-glued chips, while of course proclaiming that he himself “scarfs down all sorts of raw vegetables like candy,” and lives in a neighborhood where there are three Whole Foods stores within a 15-minute drive from his house. I don’t know about you, but in my area, Whole Foods is just an urban legend, something that exists in upscale areas far, far away.

This divide between the haves and the have-nots is at the heart of Mr. Freedman’s argument, and it’s one of the things that leads him astray. He’s tangling up three issues: the perception that the answer to obesity is simply cutting calories, no matter how unhealthy the low-cal foods are; the urban poor’s lack of access to healthy food; and the futility of trying to get anyone to change their eating habits.

To his first point, low-cal foods in themselves, if loaded up with chemicals, sugars, and other nutrient-free substitutes for fat and flavor, are inherently unhealthy. Naturally low-cal foods like carrots, celery sticks and broccoli, dipped in low-cal salsa or nutrient-rich guacamole or protein-rich hummus, beat out any processed low-cal or no-cal food any day. (The only naturally no-cal foods are water, tea, herb tea, and black coffee.)

Far better to eat a small portion of plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with tomatoes or berries or unsweetened apple butter than nonfat fruit yogurt filled with sugars, preservatives, gelatin, and God knows what else. Portion control is legitimate; naturally low-cal foods like raw veggies are legitimate; equating all foods based on calorie content alone is not legitimate.

Yes, I could eat a handful of almonds or a couple of pieces of pork “rinds” and the calorie content might be the same, but the almonds would be nourishing and heart-healthy, while the pork rinds would be a heart attack in the waiting. Depsite Mr. Freedman’s blanket assertion, all calories are not created equal.

Then there’s the issue of the urban poor. Mr. Freedman’s contention, which is in line with a lot of nutritionists’ views, is that in poor inner-city areas, people only have access to convenience stores to do their grocery shopping, and that, since convenience stores typically sell junk food, that’s what people buy and eat.

I’ve certainly seen convenience stores that sell nothing but hot dogs, sodas, sausage, pizzas, candy, chips, and the like. But in my area, I’ve also seen far from upscale convenience stores that sell healthy sandwiches and wraps, salads, fruit, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, veggies and hummus, fruit cups, nuts and sunflower and pumpkinseeds (pepitas), as well as milk, water, healthy juices, even coconut water. I’ve seen plenty of convenience stores here and on my travels that partner with Subway to provide low-cost sandwiches that can be lower-calorie and far healthier than burgers and fries or fried chicken.

But whatever the case for that, the focus of making sure the urban poor have access to affordable fresh fruit, veggies, and other healthy options is important. But it’s not a reason to attack the people who are trying to promote eating more fresh, local, in-season foods. Instead, it should be a point of common cause, making sure those foods get into poor urban areas. Trust me, the folks who live there will know how to cook them better than you.

Which brings me to the arrogance of Mr. Freedman’s final argument: That we Americans are just too addicted to our Big Macs and fries to even contemplate switching to, say, baked chicken or a broiled steak, a baked potato or baked sweet potato, green and yellow wax beans or asparagus or broccoli, and a salad. Or fill in the blank for any of the above: pesto pasta, eggplant rollatini, stir-fry over rice, grilled or roasted veggies, homemade pizza with tons of veggie toppings, dal, curry and rice, tacos or burritos with all the fixings.

There are so many options, and Mr. Freedman denies us all of them. Apparently, we’re too dumb to buy whole ingredients and cook them. We’ll just balloon up and then blow up unless we eat scientifically modified junk food, and nothing but, while he “scarfs down” his raw veggies. He may content himself envisioning us gorging on stuffed pretzels while he indulges himself in pretzel logic. But I say shame, shame on him, for deriding whole foods and endorsing chemically and genetically modified junk food for the masses.

Mr. Freedman, what are you really saying? Your attitude has sparked revolutions; you might want to look them up. And eat some convenience-store hot dogs and other junk food before you endorse it in future. Oh, yum! Isn’t it marvelous?

‘Til next time,


Food fight! Eat real food, part 1. June 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was absolutely outraged to read an article in the July/August 2013 issue of The Atlantic called “The Cure for Obesity: How Science Is Engineering Healthy Junk Food.”

The author, David H. Freedman, basically says that no one will ever eat real, healthy food, and that the only solution is to eat reduced-calorie junk and fast food that’s been engineered to be better for you than the hi-cal, hi-trans-fat junk we’re all (supposedly) stuffing ourselves with now. As an example, he suggests that manufacturers put somewhat healthy ingredients in the middle of their candy bars and assume no one will notice.

He also demonizes the people who suggest that we try to cut down on processed foods and eat more whole, fresh foods, such as veggies, fruits, and carbs like brown (as opposed to white) rice. And he especially hates proponents of organic and locally grown produce. Using author Michael Pollan as an example, he has a section called “Michael Pollan Has No Clothes,” and refers throughout the article to those who try to promote a healthy whole-foods diet as “pollanites.”

This article is such a tangle of ignorance and pretzel logic that it’s challenging to even know where to begin. So I’ll begin where he does: with three smoothies. Smoothies are an easy target because they’re trendy among health-obsessed stars and athletes, sort of a pretentious excuse for a milkshake. They can also contain stomach-churning combinations of ingredients.

In fact, one of the three smoothies the author tried was made from green vegetables, and despite being super-healthful and low-cal, he couldn’t finish it, noting that it “smelled like lawn clippings and tasted like liquid celery.” Besides, it was… green.

I have to agree with him there. Drinks just shouldn’t be green, unless they’re limeade, margaritas, or mojitos. I don’t care how healthy it is, it’s just wrong. (I felt the same way when I was served a margarita once that was the precise color of blue mouthwash. It tasted fine, but still. “Blue agave” doesn’t bring that color to mind, and I know my agaves.)

The author also tried a smoothie made fresh tableside at another restaurant using organic produce, including an apple, blueberries, carrots, and kale. Despite the presence of kale (which I love, but would prefer to eat, not drink), he found this one “tasty,” but decided all on his own that it contained 300 calories per 16-ounce cup.

How could the produce that he mentions, without added fat or sugar, add up to 300 calories? Let’s do the math: apple, 95 calories; 1/2 cup blueberries, 42; 1/2 cup chopped raw carrot, 26; 1 cup raw kale, 33 calories. I don’t know how your calculator’s working, but mine says that’s 196 calories, 239 if you use a whole cup of blueberries.

Finally, he tells us, he strikes gold on the third try, “with a delicious blueberry-pomegranate smoothie that rang in at a relatively modest 220 calories.” He bought it at McDonald’s. He may have bought it, but I’m not buying his argument. I looked up the ingredients in a McDonald’s smoothie, and here’s what I found:

True, they have 210-220 calories for a small (12-ounce) smoothie, about the same number as a small order of fries or a medium Coke, according to Martha Edwards on the blog That’s Fit (www.thatsfit.com, “McDonald’s Smoothies: More Calories Than a Cheeseburger?”). It’s cheating to compare a 12-ounce drink to one with 16 ounces, but even so, the 16-ounce, fresh, organic, actually healthy smoothie only had 19 more calories.

Large (22-ounce) McDonald’s smoothies have 330 calories (more than a cheeseburger), and 70 grams of sugar, derived from pureed fruit, fruit juice, added sugar, and of course, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in that low-fat yogurt, which also—vegetarian spoiler alert!—contains gelatin. And needless to say, it’s not organic.

How much sugar is 70 grams, exactly, for those of us metrically challenged types? A teaspoon of sugar weighs about 4 grams. Ten teaspoons of sugar would then weigh 40 grams, and 70 grams of sugar is more than 18 teaspoons of sugar, more than a third of a cup. Forget the obesity epidemic, Mr. Freedman, ever heard of the diabetes epidemic? Sugar is a cause of inflammation, the underlying cause of chronic disease, from diabetes and heart disease to non-genetically induced cancer. Bring it on!!! As he says in the article, “Thanks, McDonald’s!”

This is enough droning on for one day, but, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

‘Til next time,


Super Bowl Sunday: Please pass the pizza, I mean, carrots. February 2, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. What day do Americans gobble down more food than any other? Thanksgiving Day, of course (gobble gobble). And what’s the second biggest day for pigging out? Christmas? Wrong. July Fourth? Nope. Turns out, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, it’s Super Bowl Sunday. 

Super Bowl fans probably aren’t as surprised to read this as I was, but they’re bound to be surprised to learn that “The Super Bowl is the largest single event for carrots,” specifically baby carrots, or that 71.4 million pounds of avocados (that’s 143 million avocados, folks) will be eaten on that one day. The surprise factor is reduced a bit if, instead of envisioning 143 million people scooping out avocado flesh and spooning it up, as I did, you picture them dipping their chips into bowls of guacamole. But I still find it surprising, since I’d have thought the dip of choice was salsa, which wasn’t even mentioned in the article. I had no idea guacamole was so popular.

Other foods are also going to be consumed in mind-numbing quantities: 1.25 billion chicken wings, “enough to circle the Earth more than twice” and to provide four wings for every man, woman and child in America, according to the article. 4.4 million pizzas (mostly pepperoni), and those are just the ones from Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Domino’s; I’m sure many, many more will be scarfed down. Add potato chips, tortilla chips, and pretzels, and you’re looking at 102.2 million pounds of those three salty snacks alone, washed down, of course, with 111 million gallons of beer.

Gee. Do I hear the sound of food producers, brewers, supermarket managers, and pizza chain owners shouting “Cha-Ching!!!”? (Followed, perhaps, by a resounding chorus from gym and diet-franchise owners the following day.)

Read all about it at www.wsj.com, “Carrots Vie for a Spot on Game Day.”

Carrots. Who’d a thunk it?

             ‘Til next time,


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.