When I was about sixteen a disgruntled taxi driver had the bad manners to shoot my father, shattering his carotid artery, which had about the plasticity of a china cup. Research had just discovered that the arterial sclerosis affecting the artery was caused by beef, butter, milk, ice cream, pork and baby lamb chops and just about anything else I like to eat. My mother, determined not to be widowed early, followed the cardiologist’s dire warnings and changed our diet, which, considering my mother’s voluptuous egg, cream and butter based cooking was like turning the Queen Mary on a dime.
Bacon and burgers were replaced with poached salmon and steamed spinach. Vegetables no longer dripped with butter and cheese, our milk went from creamy white to transparent blue, margarine and Wesson oil took the place of butter, and cottage cheese was dressed up to provide a thoroughly inadequate and mildly disgusting alternative to sour cream. We were among the zillions of families catapulted into anti cholesterol hysteria by a nutritional scientific community, which avowed longer and better lives for all if we just cut out red meat and took the skin off our chicken.
In the next few years Victoria Station, a rollicking beef restaurant group in yellow railway cars, folded because the management failed to see the anti-cholesterol writing on the wall, the chicken industry (no skin please) exploded from farms to batteries and the food factories of the world developed cholesterol free versions of anything that was any fun based on partially hydrogenated oils. Lard became an obscenity and pie crusts lost in the exchange.
The Mad Men generation of Americans spent their middle age eating gawdawful alternatives to real food, trusting their doctors and the nutritional voice of the Nation, the FDA. They died anyway, and possibly occasionally sooner than they otherwise would have. What a pity. No wonder they drank.
Shortly after my mother’s non coronary related death twenty five years after the shooting my father remarried. His second wife couldn’t cook for squat, not last because her hoarding had the stove covered three inches deep in shatskis and collectable jam jars. She seemed to believe that vodka and Cheesits were a pretty acceptable dinner substitute. Under her influence father’s preferences quickly morphed from boiled halibut to double cheeseburgers, Mexican omelets with bacon, and Linguini Alfredo. He lived another 26 years and died at 96 from strep. Perhaps if he’d lived another ten or so years, the cholesterol would have had a shot at him.
I so intensely disliked my mother’s nutritionally correct steamed spinach, simmered kale and faux cottage cheese sour cream, that once out of the nest I decided to die young, if necessary, but not to be miserable with healthy food. Every time one of my dinner mates whined, “My doctor won’t let me eat shellfish / chocolate / peanuts / salumi because of cholesterol,” I suppressed the urge to say “Shut the fuck up and let me have my lobster bisque in peace,” and made a mental not to find another dinner companion.
My chances of dying young are dwindling, but despite a life of Epoisses, flans and duck breast, I have what my doctor describes as “divine cholesterol levels”. How come?
More recent studies indicate that not milk fat but trans fats , that is the products in all of the low fat baked goods, cool whip and anything else concerned eaters were making do with, were disastrous for coronary health, not lamb and vanilla ice cream. In other words, it really is not butter, whether you believe it or not, and it’s not better – in fact it’s worse for you than butter.
Better yet: According to new research by the Royal University of Copenhagen milk fat is good for you, or at least better than the alternative. They’ve been at this for a while, actually, and while all contemporary research should be suspect (Copenhagen does, after all, have a lot of cows and export a lot of milk products, so what’s to keep his Highness the Danish King from suggesting to the scholarly researchers that their duty to their country was to do an empirical spin job on our Danish butter?) it’s pretty hard to envision the University of Copenhagen carrying out studies funded by Kraft or the Danish Dairy and adjusting their results to harmonize with the funders’ objectives. It’s more likely that they just know a heap more about milk and cream and the resulting products than, say the University of Beijing.
Food research is big and oddly enough widely believed despite continual retractions and opposing results. There’s a great deal of fun to be had with it, and Culinary Promiscuity looks forward to doing just that. Soon. For the moment, however, let us just gently propose that based on the scientific community’s long track record of contradiction and failure increased skepticism towards people telling us what will make us healthy is advisable. Take their pronouncements with with a grain of salt, which, by the way, researchers tell us will lead to coronary disease. Or maybe not. We are an excessively nutritionally gullible nation.