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Definition:The act of sharing food with strangers.
The other carnal pleasure.
Tag Archives: Diets
Getting Food Smart, II
The Harvard Course I took provided me with terrific and occasionally but not often useful insights on modernist cuisine. It made me poorer, as I ended up buying myself a graduation gift – a $200 Anova immersion circulator followed by the online digital copy of Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist cuisine at a for students only reduced price of about sixty bucks.
While the Anova is enormously entertaining and really offers a new dimension to cooking – and I will eventually figure out how to get 64 degree eggs to come out without a mantle of snot and be able to shell them, I swear – the book is not better than the $2500 tome, except that it takes up less shelf space. Joy of cooking still does it for most things.
Having not only somehow passed the Harvard course, I continued on with a course on world nutrition and nutritional science offered by McGill University in Canada – specifically offered by three to my mind very handsome professors backed up by a bevy of delightful assistants, and I managed to pick up some interesting information which seriously contradicts common beliefs.
This has become an issue. I think I mentioned that. The problem is that knowing something – actually knowing just about anything about food, agriculture and nutrition these days sets you apart from the crowd, or at least my crowd.
People are distressingly misinformed about so many things they proclaim loudly. That would be, for instance, the value of organic food or local food (silly idea) or Genetic Engineering. Anecdotally (the courses have me hooked on empirically tested statements, which I can’t provide, since I don’t have grant money to do legitimate research) the vast majority of people I know believe passionately that GMO crops are dangerous, and a great number of them neither know what crops those would be (few) or really what GMO is. This is very handy for them, as it sets them in concord with all their friends.
Until the shoddy research revealing the damages of gluten to people who are not celiac, any gathering of women I participated in would contain a fair group of “gluten intolerant” individuals attempting to convert the rest of us to a gluten free lifestyle which would cure out wheat belly and brain fog. Actually they still do, even though the existence of non-celiac gluten intolerance has been roundly disproved and the original “study” shamed and withdrawn. I demurred at one and nobody talked to me the rest of the evening. (I had just undergone testing for Celiac and was delighted not to be a sufferer. They were delighted with their common affliction, it seemed.)
Facts, schmacts. Belief is what counts.
I have issues with belief which far transcend a firm grasp of evolution (the mechanism for creationist beliefs and GMO damage or anti vaccination beliefs is exactly the same). Easily swayed by alarmists, too many of my otherwise smart friends join the avalanche of misinformation and spread the alarm.
Let’s get to belief later. For the moment let’s talk about me, and if you haven’t removed yourself from the subscription list, you. What I/we have found out since being empowered with actual empirical data is that it sets one unpleasantly apart. Facts can outrage and insult. There is no way to say “No, not really,” to a friend who parrots the latest Luddite meme and still remain friends. The relation turns frosty, and you won’t be invited to their next grass fed Bar B Que.
I got kicked out of Slow Food for stating a truth, although nothing as upsetting as a rejection of locavorism.I kept to myself. (What? No bananas? Get real.) At least I think that’s why. In an early leader meeting I contradicted Marion Nestle’s assertion that the problem with Food in the United States (“our culture”) is that it is too cheap.
Excuse me, Ms Nestle – but have you tried to buy pot roast recently? Alice Waters was there, as was her old college roommate sitting next to me, who profited from the relation and slow food by eventually becoming Prince Charles’ PR person – I think he had an organic food line or cookies or something like that. As for wardrobe, Waters does not dumpster dive and the roommate was wearing what looked to me like Farogamo sandals with a pretty nifty pedicure, so deducting that nobody there had ever experienced the privilege of poverty and perspective it provides I decided unwisely to enlighten the Slow Food nobles. That was kind of like inviting the SS to a Seder. I had, and I told them that I had shopped in places where I was the only one not on food stamps and watched grandmothers with four kids in tow load up carts with cocktail wieners, which were on special for fifty cents a can, then not have enough food stamps to pay for them.
I was hushed up, and eventually drummed out of the corps. I assume the “food is only too cheap if you have a lot of money” snipe was the cause, but occasional comments about other SF dogma surely did not help, There were, of course, the usual dirty non-profit politics, and I once asked Waters at a screening of Deborah Koons Garcia’s anti big-ag film (the future of food, I think) for advice on setting up a garden for John O’Connell High School. She was neither pleased nor helpful. (“Do what I did. Raise a lot of money”) but I think speaking out about something I knew from reality which contradicted something they believed in the abstract was the main cause. People in general and ideologues in particular hate having their dogma kicked in the tires.
With the insights McGill and curiosity have provided me about so many of the nutritional sacred cows I now find myself in quandary – If the truth insults your friends but your friends’ fixed beliefs are distressing to you, do you a) hold your peace and decide it doesn’t matter (diplomacy – more or less what I have aspired to up till now) or b) simply state the fact and hope not to start an argument, knowing that it won’t have much impact.
The keep your peace solution would seem to have the least damage, but there is the “To thine own self be true, “ theory and the feeling that truth is indeed worth something.
My father had a saying: In the land of the blind the one eyed man had better damned well keep his stupid mouth shut. It’s served me well when I’ve had the self-discipline to apply it, but I think that has to stop now. Not at cocktail parties, where you really can change the subject to the weather or the Giants (well, you probably could. I know nothing about the Giants) but here.
It’s a little too self-important to quote Edmund Burke in this context: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” as I doubt that anything I say will have any measurable effect on the prevalence of evil, but I have a friend with stage four colon cancer who is forgoing traditional therapy for an outrageous expensive juice treatment, because it is natural. The good news about this is that about 65% of stage 4 colon cancer sufferers survive with or without further treatment, so we hope he is not one of the remaining 35%, but he is following a “natural is good” philosophy preached by some of the same people who oppose vaccination and all progress including genetic engineering. And it’s too late to do or say anything, but I think if somewhere he had stumbled upon something that said, “warning..there are quacks about and they are maybe crazy and maybe greedy, and maybe both, and they will let you endanger your life for a little money,” or just, “high colonics don’t cure cancer,” he might have lost is hair by now and have a 17% higher chance of the cancer not recurring.
So, I think, the time to be a diplomat, or a wuss, has ended. Here, for instance.
I wrote a paper on the mass hysteria opposing genetic modification, which I was not going to publish. I changed my mind. Watch for it soon. If it insults you, then I suggest you take the time and effort to do a little independent research beyond the constant stream of Monsanto-hate that flows through your social media portals. You’ll be surprised what you learn.
I apologize to all of you who will be offended, but thank you Senator Moynahan: “You are entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts. “ Facts rule from now on.
The Party’s over, America. Get ready to be told to eat your spinach.
After suffering Jamie Oliver’s patronizing missionary swing through the American nutritional landscape (An Englishman is telling America how to eat? They eat canned spaghetti on toast, for the love of Gawd), we are about to be treated to a much less entertaining Paula Deen proselytizing healthy nutrition. In case you’ve just come out of hibernation, Deen has outed her type 2 diabetes and with the speed of a congressman caught in a threesome with a teenager and a high priced hooker come to Jesus with a full public mea culpa and a promise to do only good with a healthy food show in future. Her conversion outraged Tony Bourdain and saddened those of us whose pleasure was watching her stuff a week’s worth of fat, sugar and salt into a single appetizer serving without apologies.
Deen’s retreat from salt, sugar and trans fats is our loss – devil-may-care-and-don’t-spare-the- lard is at the very least highly entertaining, and whether or not her new focus on what’s good for us is well intended or just self serving, like Oliver’s warnings, Michelle Obama’s charming cajoling, the Center for Science for the Public Interest’s incessant and self-serving nagging and all of the nation’s food political media sensationalism combined, it is not going have any substantial impact on the country’s obesity statistics or diabetes crisis. You have to get to the root of the problem, which is us, to effect real improvement. And that is what? Are we simply culinary idiots?
Granted, American eaters are occasionally stupid, as evidenced by the increasing number of three hundred pounders zipping around on disability and Medicare paid My Little Buddy Scooters years after their doctors warned them, that their diet would take out their knees and hips. Our fellow eaters know that McDonald’s 1500 calorie burgers and Starbuck’s 500 calorie frozen coffees are going to make them fat, immobile and sooner dead – but neither Starbuck’s nor Domino’s is feeling the pinch of their logical conclusions. Apparently cause and effect thinking (Big gulps yield inability to support your own mass) is not our strong point, but you can’t hold stupidity alone responsible for the current national nutritional health crisis.
So blame it on the manufacturers, who are putting cheaper corn syrup sweetener in things you wouldn’t consider dessert and marketing a bucket of calorie packed fried chicken as a healthy family meal. So ban toys in Happy meals or pass a soda tax, Go to battle with the First Amendment and try to stop their advertising. Good luck.
The food industry is simply doing what businesses do and Paula Dean is about to do: Playing to their audiences. They sell what consumers demand. You can of course, like Paul Kenny accuse food manufacturers of creating an addiction and attempt to resolve the problem with a war on Lardo or sugar, which promises the same success as the government’s war on drugs. Or we can fix it, at least in the long term.
If we as a nation want to solve out diabetes and obesity crisis, which means addressing what it costs us in health care and welfare programs, we can’t just scoff at “stupid” and blame the providers of food, Nutritional outrage and good intentions are ineffective. We need to look beyond the buzz words and the facile finger pointing of the media and identify the underlying causes of the country’s poor eating habits. Junk food’s ubiquitous availability (evil producers are selling it) and advertising bombardment are results, not causes. If our nation’s eaters were dying to have spinach snacks, Kraft would be producing them and running million dollar ad campaigns at the Super Bowl.
Is junk food addictive? Perhaps, but “habit forming” is perhaps a better description (things you like produce serotonin, whether it’s running or eating salt water toffee) and as tidy as the accusation that big agriculture and McDonald’s are pushing addictive products, It’s more probable that we, once we reach our mid-twenties, have formed habits that we are not likely to break until we get our own diabetes diagnosis. The fact that we will change our habits then shows that we are not that stupid.
What we are, as a nation, however, is ignorant, and there’s an app for that.
The real underlying problem is lack on knowledge aboout and understanding of the simplest facts about food – culinary and nutritional illiteracy. Americans for the most part know pitifully little about what they eat. They don’t know how to buy it. They don’t know how to cook it, and according to the statistics on food poisonings, they haven’t got a clue on how to keep it. I suspect that most Americans don’t know what really good food tastes like. The continued existence of Velveta is proof of that. We build our life long pitiful eating habits as children because nobody tells us any better. This wasn’t always the case..
How’d that happen? Two generations ago your grandmother, who may have been rolly polly and not a great cook, was serving your mother a balanced meal and sending her to school with something more or less appropriate, including celery sticks with peanut butter, a tuna fish sandwich or an apple. If you are under 40, your own mother probably didn’t do that (if she did, you are probably not obese). Nobody’s mother did. Blame it on feminism.
Our common food culture is in great part collateral damage of the women’s liberation movement. James Beard as the spokesman for the Jolly Green Giant and Westinghouse with the first dishwashers led the way to the sea change in our eating conventions, creating conveniences which permitted Mad Men’s wives to toss away their aprons and enter the work force, but Gloria Steinem’s followers did in America’s healthy relationship with food by stripping Home Ec from our high schools.
Bless’em for that. Home Ec, frequently boring and generally run by bossy and intolerably opinionated teachers, was obligatory for girls, who usually gave up Geometry or beginning algebra in order to graduate from junior high school. Eliminating first the requirement and then the class entirely put girls on equal educational footing with boys and provided women the academic foundations to transcend the nurse, teacher, stewardess and teacher futures available to them.
Eliminating home economics also saved the schools a lot of money. Lab courses are enormously expensive to run, and insurance was just beginning its parabolic climb to astronomically expensive, when the courses disappeared, and the cost of insurance for classes using knives and hot liquids would have destroyed school budgets.
Education equality with men also means that women know as much as their male classmates about food: Squat, a knowledge void passed on to their children. The problem was compounded by the time limitations set by women’s initial liberty to participate in the work force, reducing the time spent providing cooking experiences and instruction to their children. Balanced sit down meals and brown bags began to disappear in the seventies, creating a population that not only did not know how to cook or understand nutritional basics, but doesn’t know what good food can and should taste like.
If you want to change America’s eating habits, you have to educate our children: Return Home Economics classes to the schools. Make them obligatory for all students in their food formative years – that would be about the seventh grade. Make them accessible and interesting and not preachy. Keep it simple and don’t insist on organic or sustainable product. Teach your children how to make basic foods – forget Alice Waters and the ideologues and stick with an American menu adolescents will like. Just do the basics. Explain vitamins and calories, flavors and technique.
Other courses won’t lose ground. Good food preparation involves math and science. It’s fascinating stuff. Show kids who have had nothing but Tortino Pizza Rolls and Pop tarts why bread has holes in it and how absolutely awesome a little orange and cheese can taste, how much fun watching a sauce firm up can be. Make jam. Fry eggs, mix salad dressing (colloidal suspensions), make lemonade from fruit. Cook up a BLT or a croque monsieur. Mash potatoes. Explain a food budget and make a banana smoothie. Explain why steel needs to be sharpened and milk is homogenized. Let them cook bugs and make a pie or cookies without a mix. .
Added bonus: The Trojan Horse effect. Children, being the insufferable know-it-alls they are, will carry their nutritional literacy beyond the classroom. Parents are going to get an earful when they put another batch of Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese on the table. That’s good. Some will want to cook at home, occasionally in self defense. (This was not the case with the traditional course, as the at least one person in the home could usually prepare a meal.)
Still Better: In only eight or so years the first batch of nutritionally literate adults will be opinion makers and trend setters, and their demands will be met. The fast and convenience food providers are using mass media to educate. So, Educate Back. The schools have them as a captive audience, face to face for at least an hour three times a week. Sarah Lee would die for that exposure. Why aren’t we using it.
What speaks against return Home Economy to the schools:
The Money Problem.
Food classes aren’t expensive. They are exorbitant. They require equipment, product, and insurance. But then good education does cost something, and it is our general mandate, all of ours, to educate our children for the important things in life. We are failing here. Just as important is what an educated eating public will save. Congress is belly aching about the cost of Medicare. What if the next generation of adults didn’t need Scooter Buddies to haul their four hundred pound carcasses around the sidewalks? What if they didn’t need insulin and knee replacements? Would that offset the cost of teaching the most basic component of our lives to people who need the education? You betcha. After all, we have sex education, don’t we?
Oxen being gored: Whose? Who knows, but any major change disadvantages someone who makes money from the status quo.
And there are the unions. An attempt I once participated in to set up a good culinary program at John O’Connell high school ran aground at the shoals of the hairnet lady’s union. The plan was to let the students cook lunch twice a week. The hairnet ladies said no, and the class was re-conceived as a special needs solution. We need to get our priorities straighter, if we want to resolve really large problems.
Big Food Industry: While Big Food can’t be held as the sole culprit in the American nutritional crisis, they enjoy great profits from it, which they won’t give up gladly. An early attempt by Slow food San Francisco to introduce apples as snacks twice monthly was foiled by the contracted suppliers of potato chips and Snickers bars. Big Food lobbies, and they are not going to lie back and allow the educational system to market carrots as snacks to their prime audience. They had, furthermore, effectively undermined Home Economics classes before they were dropped with donations of their products (Mac ‘n Cheese, mixes, Jello) to Home Ec programs,
You can do something. Take this immodest proposal to heart, then take it to your congress person, then take it to your school board. Michelle Obama – stop finger wagging and start lobbying for hands on food education. Just the basics. It will work.
What kind of Tarian are you?
When I was a kid everyone ate about everything unless you happened to have the misfortune of being Catholic with Lent or Vatican imposed meatless Fridays, Seventh Day Adventist or Orthodox Jewish and had to adhere to theologically imposed dietary restrictions. Or poor, of course, which came with its own set of limitations.
As Episcopalians we were theologically/nutritionally unencumbered. My mother, who railed at people who came to dinner then disclosed their dietary restrictions (there were fewer back then), never invited the one Seventh Day Adventist she knew and invited our Catholic friends on Saturdays rather than Fridays unless she happened to expect bluefish or crab off my uncle’s boat on a Friday.
A Friday dinner invitation from Catholic neighbors was cause for some nose wrinkling, but then most of the Catholics we knew back then were Irish, who, apologies to the sons and daughters of the Green Isle, are far from the best ambassadors for Catholic cuisine. Had we known Josephine Gasparro, things surely would have been different. Josephine cooked a mean salmon. Kosher was never an issue..the only Jews we hung out with were reformed and were lavish eaters and phenomenal cooks.
Times have changed.
The Vatican lifted it’s fiat on meat, thus removing its negative image of an imposed food and possibly contributing to the endangerment of hundreds of species, as seafood became not only interesting but hotly desired for any night you wanted to have it. The Adventists may still be meatless, although the two I know eat non garden burgers with gusto. My Jewish friends now are staunch proponents of all things porcine. Religion no longer rules the plate. Instead we have made our self imposed food limitations to our religions.
Vegetarianism has gone secular-mainstream and highly vocal and spawned a score of variations, some extreme, some simple variations, and we have named them all.
The equal and opposite reaction to the steady surge in demanding vegetarian diners sprung up in the form of testosterone laden carnivore movement under the name of the Whole Beast Movement or Snout to Ass, initially carried by chefs like Chris Cosentino, then picked up by butchery event planners like Big John Fink, who creates butchering shows followed by orgies involving large pigs on spits.
There are nutritional crusades and tirades on both sides. Animal rights activists have effected bans of foie gras and shark fins in California and attempted to pass laws requiring that restaurants observe “Meatless Mondays”. At a North Beach Pizzeria a young Swiss guest responded to the gorgeous Italian server’s suggestion of a porchetta spiked pie with, “I don’t eat meat,” spoken with the vehemence of a Jonathan Edwards holding out a cross and snarling, “Get the behind me, dead animal.” Professed carnivores also have their obnoxiously vocal moments.
Most of us omnivores in the middle eat just about anything anyone sets down in front of us, or at least it around our plates or feed it to the dog, so people think you liked it.
That was the Readers’ Digest version – our personal nutritional sects are considerably more complex.
The Administrative Director of the Culinary Institute of America told me years ago that the Institute had done a survey of eating habits. Among those who stated their diet as vegetarian a large number – I believe over half – also stated that they ate seafood and/or poultry frequently, and a smaller number occasionally meat. I eat vegetables, ergo I am vegetarian.
There is now a term for that:
Vegetarians remain vegetarians, at least in theory people who don’t eat meat, poultry or seafood.
Seafood eaters but not meat eaters, on the other hand, are either Pisquitarians or pescatarians, the word being so new that nobody has settled on a proper spelling.
Vegetarians who avoid eggs, honey and milk are vegans. Vegans believe in making life more challenging by foreswearing eggs, honey and cheese, which supposedly exploit chickens, bees and cows.
Vegans who don’t cook their food are Raw Foodists.
Vedic Vegans reduce their options by the entire nightshade family, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes.
The most radical vegans are the fruitarians, who eat no live fruit – that is, eat nothing that is picked from the tree on the theory that picking it would be killing a living thing. In other words, they live from vegan road kill. One suspects that the pharmaceutical company is not producing sufficiently effective meds, but perhaps the fruitarians reject them because their production exploits some bacilli or fungi.
Omnivores don’t get away with a simple label, either.
Those of us who eat meat but not huge steaks have recently been dubbed “flexitarians”, which apparently means that we are not huge meat eaters. That would be in less pretentious food speak “omnivores”, or perhaps nothing, since we are still the people who generally eat what is put in front of us (or push it around the plate.) Most of us still consider ourselves, probably irrationally, the default.
My son’s best friend’s mother is a socially conscious vegetarian with an irresistible taste for salami, which makes her a salmitarian (or salumitarian, if you include things like coppa and sopressata, which she probably does. )
My father’s second wife who actually ate mostly Cheetos and taco chips unless they went out was a poultry eater and pronounced herself an “avitarian”. Actually she also ate some seafood, preferably fried, which would probably make her a pisqueavitarian.
And then there are the locovores, who, donning one of the rougher nutritional hair shirts of our times, swear never to eat anything grown more than a hundred miles from their homes. There aren’t many locovores in Minneapolis, and God bless the others. More bananas and Prosecco for the rest of us.
Fortunately the dining community, omnivore, flexitarian vegan et al, have not yet come to the point where we define ourselves by what we don’t eat – I am an antiglutenitariian or a non-lactositarian, but for an identity starved society who craves labels, it’s probably not far off.
The poor are still around, but they would probably just as soon renounce their dietary restrictions.
As for me, you can ask me to dinner any time. I’ll eat it if you’re a good cook. Unless it’s steamed spinach, in which case it will be neatly distributed around the plate.
Culinary Hysteria: Anatomy of a food fad
The inspiration for Culinary Promiscuity came through a book tour presentation by Richard Wrangham, primatologist and author of “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human“. Wrangham theorizes that fire was the pivotal event for human evolution, catapulting our species from tree dwelling, leaf chewing primates to doctors, lawyers and casino magnates.
With more calories available through cooking, says Wrangham, our treed ancestors no longer needed to spend the entire day chewing to fuel their oversized bellies, could climb down from their branches, develop a brain in place of their enormous chewing apparatus, walk upright and begin hunter gathering. All that in turn permitted the development of a voice box followed language, society, tools, the wheel, the written word, the printing press, hors d’oeuvres and eventually Julia Child and Jacques Pepin teaching us how to make puff pastry and employ a Cuisinart the right way. Cooking made us human.
Once published Wrangham’s initially contested theory gained instant popularity among the food crowd. Endorsed by sustainable food guru Michael Pollan, the idea took hold in at least some of the food fixated community. Others, however, didn’t get the memo.
During Wrangham’s book tour presentation a member of the audience mentioned the burgeoning Raw movement, whose adherents eat nothing cooked, maintaining that food in its “natural state”, i.e. raw, was healthier to the point of possessing nearly magical powers. Wrangham gave it short shrift, stating that he had “heard of them” and that they were “always very thin, and very hungry,” suggesting the question : If you’ve come a long way baby, why ever would you want to go back?
The raw food movement, with little regard for Wrangham’s insights or for that matter, any empirical scientific data was gaining momentum and soon topped the foodie topic chart, it’s disciples eschewing their Wolf ranges and promoting the value of all things not only raw but vegan with a truly missionary ignorance.
The first time I heard about the Raw Movement was perhaps ten years earlier, when a restaurant asked me to find him a “special chef. As it happened, Nick Petti , a pretty special guy, dropped by that afternoon. “Have I got a job for you,” I probably said to Nick who undoubtedly raised one eyebrow under his signature jester cap, mumbled the likes of “We’ll see about that,” and took off to have a look. In a couple of hours he was back. I’m pretty sure he slammed his fist on my desk. “Don’t you ever…” he sputtered, then gave me a review of his interview. “He puts pizzas out to dry on the roof in the sun. Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? There are flies!”
I backed off the deal and dismissed the idea as one more visionary loony’s fantasy, but the idea was out of the barn and about to explode. It’s odd how easy it is for outrageous ideas to find followers. Sometime later the raw restaurateur’s book appeared, spawning an initial rush of highly vocal disciples, then suddenly “raw food” was the trend, gathering foodies as it rolled on like a cartoon snowball. Charlie Trotter adopted the philosophy, offering all raw prix fixe menues at this Chicago restaurant, and published a blockbuster book with beautiful pictures in collaboration with Roxanne Klein, who opened a raw cuisine, or “living food” as she put it, restaurant in Marin, claiming credentials from Stars, Square One and Chez Panisse – enough heavy ammunition to awaken the herding instincts of the food mad restaurant followers of the Bay Area. She apparently actually did work at Chez Panisse.
Chefs, on the other hand, scoffed: “The whole thing about being a chef, said one,” is cooking. “That’s what I have been working to learn for ten years, that’s what I went to culinary school for. You gotta have fire.” Wrangham’s point, entirely. The cooking community concurred: the reason you cook things was that a) it made food safer and b) food tastes better. Klein had asked me to find a “chef” for the restaurant, although she, herself, was generally accredited with the food. My searches led nowhere. “You don’t need a chef. That’s a pantry cook,” said potential candidate. The others noted things like, “Hey, man. I gotta do meat.”
The trio of arguments against raw food – safety, flavor and nutritional value – are convincing. The whole raw food philosophy rejects temperatures above 118F, keeping the procuts in the sweet spot for microbe growth for extended periods of time. (The Microbial danger zone is between 40F and 140F). The PH of the vegetable proteins used, for instance to make “dough” of sprouts, is perfect for dangerous critters. As for flavor, the combination of vegan dictates rejecting eggs, milk products and honey plus the processing limitations exclude hot baked biscuits. Eggs Benedict, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, oven baked asparagus, chevre and Waygu sliders. Why would otherwise seemingly intelligent people turn their back on Toast in favor of a Neolithic diet of nuts, soy and berries, skillfully combined in an expensive, high visibility restaurant? Why the lemming rush to the past?
Titillation certainly counts for some of the fad’s and the restaurant’s popularity. The food was reportedly tasty. The usual promotional tricks surely worked; Roxanne’s claimed connections to prestigious kitchens in her press releases, and that kind of provenance – fact based or not – brings in the public. The Klein’s social connections – they included some of the most glamorous figures in San Francisco and Marin, surely did no damage to the project.
One restaurant, however, does not a movement make, and a movement raw became. The press went wild. The SF Chronicle Food section all but pronounced Roxanne’s the second coming and writers around the country followed suit in the usual food press elephant walk, passing the new and outrageously edgy story about in the usual self-fulfilling prophecy mode. Other restaurants, gurus and books were created. Bloggers went bloggy. Raw web sites and “living food” communities were established.
The language was an extra plus. For the same reason “prunes” were re names “dried plums”, using the term “living food” suggests mythical powers, at least if your food is vegan. It would not work as well for omnivorous menus.
Once the herd was in motion, logic was doomed. At the height of the “living food” revolution, any protest against it became advertisement for it. In the food world, printers ink and pixels turn isolated incidents into widespread phenomena. Wealthy women began looking for private chefs who could juice.
Some of us scratched our heads.
The raw public’s unquestioning acceptance of the trend is further puzzling in light of the amount of raw food from orange juice and salad to sushi and carpaccio we were already consuming in our more or less balanced conventional diets. Nobody, at least in California, was deprived of raw food. Reason (and science) would suggest that they were getting enough fiber or vitamins already, but the diehard believers rejected all cooked foods. Why?
Like other food fads, the raw philosophy promotes the “natural” character of the foods, uncompromised by fire. We were intended, they reason, to eat raw and did so exclusively until about 10,000 years ago. (they’re off by only a little more than three million, but precision was never a prerequisite of nutritional fashion.) Raw Foods, proclaim the advocates, are healthy, insinuating that cooked foods are not. It addressed our obsession with unadulterated and real foods as opposed to the poisons we somehow feel we are subjected to. By some twist of logic, “raw” came to equal “pure”, while cooked foods took on the suggestion of toxicity. We Americans are all fools for healthy; our health grounded gullibility enjoys a fine history in this country beginning with travelling snake oil salesmen. It’s good for what ails ya’.
A claim was that cooked foods fostered allergies and food sensitivities, which various raw advocates stated were due to the destruction of natural elements in food. One chef I asked recently noted he had heard that eating foods raw kept the enzymes intact. It’s quite surprising, in fact, how many food professionals don’t discount the vital enzyme theory and it’s dual fallacy: they are not human enzymes but effective for chlorophyll producing organisms – not us – and second your own digestive enzymes destroy them.
As for the fuzzy concept that raw food is more nutritional, Wrangham and a number of nutritional scientists in the fact based side of the debate avow that cooking foods actually makes many vitamins and enzymes available.
The trend has settled as the foodists rush on to the next thing, be it cupcakes or food trucks. There are plenty to choose from. As trends will, raw food occasionally still stubbornly bubbles up in some food section article now and then, but they are fortunately no longer ubiquitous. It turned out that at least in San Francisco and Marin there were not enough raw devotees to support a large, expensive “live food” raw and vegan restaurant. Their money ran out. The principal investor, Michael Klein, withdrew his support. Perhaps those who tried the regime were disappointed when the wellness they expected from natural and uncompromised product did not materialize. My guess is that, as Wrangham said, they all just got “really, really hungry”, chucked it all in and went out for a pork chop with mashed potatoes.
The Kleins divorced it was rumored that Michael Klein was planning to invest in an Argentine steakhouse with George Morrone. For every action……..
So, how did something as silly as “live food” get so much press and how does misinformation linger on so long? A professor of mine once said that “People attach great importance to what ever comes into and exits their body.” He didn’t add that reason did not apply. When it comes to nutrition, health and food, we are frequently irrational. Give us enough semi scientific evidence and tell us that something is natural and healthy and not contaminated, regardless of the facts, and we’ll all our logical garments and follow the nearest buck naked emperor down any road he decides to lead us.