Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Jane Brody Is a Genius

Today's New York Times features a column by Jane Brody, "My Diet Strategy? Controlled Indulgence" (registration required, I think). She explains that she manages her weight without fad diets, deprivation or guilt, and enjoys favored treats such as ice cream almost daily. Real ice cream: "Most are the slow-churned reduced-fat flavors, and some are frozen yogurt. But none are fat free or sugar free, which to me tastes ersatz." The control comes in with portion sizes: No more than a few tablespoons or the recommended half-cup serving. "And I made a rule for myself. If I start eating more than that half cup, all the ice cream has to go. Because I would rather have it around when I want it, I stick to the half cup."

Brody then goes on to explain her strategy for other dining occasions: review all the offerings at buffets and choose only the items you think you'll really want, limit dressings, don't bother with foods that don't taste all that good, favor salads and vegetables first before the more caloric dishes. But if something is truly delicious, she says, enjoy it--in moderation. She explains too how she and her husband managed to raise children with moderate appetites for sweets and snacks: Don't keep less-nutritious foods handy as a rule, but don't forbid them when they're available otherwise (such as at friends' houses), and allow regular treats. Making such foods rare but not forbidden made them less interesting, and made the whole family less prone to overindulgence.

"Deprivation feeds desire and can lead to overindulgence at the first opportunity," she notes. I think: Is it any wonder that Americans privilege overindulgence when the language of marketing is all about deprivation? Advertising succeeds when it convinces people that they need something they didn't know they needed. Need stems from lack or deprivation; it's much easier to sell a product by putting it forward as the solution to a problem than to say "This looks like fun, would you like some?" The answer to that may so easily be "No, thank you, not right now." But if you're suddenly threatened with a crisis, a need, a problem to be solved, you will more eagerly accept the solution. And our consumer society has learned well that solutions are found through consumption: A pill, a sports car, the single woman's diamond ring, all are offered as products that assuage a physical or emotional need.

Jane Brody knows she doesn't need the ice cream. But she likes it. So she enjoys it fully, while keeping in mind that if the numbers on the scale creep up she needs to cut back for a while. She doesn't need to replace it with an imitation to keep up a sense of deserved indulgence; substitutions are not satisfying, so she does without for a while, knowing that she is not saying "no" to an emotional desire but saying "yes" to health and enjoyment.

The food marketing culture tries to get us to buy by threatening us with "no," with deprivation. Scarcity mentality makes us grasping, anxious; we want to stock up, to hoard. We can counter this by saying "yes" to good taste, to real food. Blogger Shauna James Ahern, in her blog and her new book "Gluten-Free Girl," is one of the most inspiring people I've seen leading the charge to say yes to life. (Disclaimer: I went to college with Shauna but we haven't been in touch in years.) Shauna has celiac disease, but she doesn't like to focus on the idea of disease. She knows that wheat gluten makes her ill--nobody knows better than she does how ill--but rather than framing her condition as deprivation, she says yes to the immense number of other foods she can enjoy. And enjoy them she does, with her fullest vigor and being. No imitations, no "recipe clones," just savoring of real foods and their real flavors.

That's where salvation lies.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I have not abandoned the blog

But life and work have been very busy, too much so for me to have had time to compose posts. I will be doing some updates within the next week, though, I promise.

Topics may include these:
  • My recent trip to Atlanta, which featured hotel food and the World of Coca-Cola
  • My recent trip up the Hudson Valley to Saugerties and Rhinebeck, NY, and my dilemma: If I tell you about our super-favorite B&B will people overrun it and exhaust the proprietors? Because if we can't get a reservation for next year's festival I will NOT be amused
  • Some thoughts about what a pain in the ass it is to try to eat reasonably when you have NO TIME AT ALL to cook
  • And assorted whining

So hang in there. I have by no means exhausted the depths of the damnation.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Bits and Pieces

A few miscellaneous items:

Oh, good, as long as that's clear
Faithful reader Luann sent me this picture of a gummy-bear package. Where does your snack food originate?

Got that? OK.

Happiness is a Kraft Singles grilled cheese sandwich
Today's New York Times spotlights a new ad campaign for Kraft Singles. The "have a happy sandwich" campaign will feature former foes bonding over the gooey toasted cheese concoction. The creative centerpiece of the campaign is a MySpace contest for video clips that celebrate the grilled cheese sandwich. The goal, of course, is to increase sales of Kraft Singles.

The campaign may succeed as long as a) Nobody figures out that you can make a grilled cheese sandwich more cheaply by using less-expensive block Cheddar and a sharp knife, b) Nobody associates the tagline "happy sandwich" with the slang term "happy finish" (describing the, uh, payoff in certain paid massage services) and c) Nobody uses the MySpace contest to create snarky satires (after the fashion of the 2006 GM "viral ad" program in which participants hijacked the video clips and forum to create anti-SUV videos).

But what about the toy surprise?
The NYT online blog section included this story noting that organic cereals may be lower in certain vitamins than mainstream children's cereal brands. The blog entry opened "Kids who go organic for breakfast may be missing out on their vitamins," and then went on to explain that while cereals such as Frosted Flakes are fortified with a wide variety of key vitamins, some organic or naturally produced cereals are not (but some are). The entry notes, "If your organic cereal is low on vitamins, it doesn’t mean you have to give it up. But it’s probably a good idea to give your child a multivitamin in the morning as well, notes Dr. Susan Roberts, a nutritionist at Tufts University and co-author of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health."

Commenters spat out their porridge and attacked the blog for implying that high-sugar cereals are more inherently nutritious than organic varieties. "How ’bout if we just have our kids eat fresh fruits and vegetables?" asked one. "Looks like the major vitamins added to our kids’ breakfast are B and S," said another. Additional comments speculated about safety issues (contaminants in fortifying vitamin sprays, pesticides in conventionally produced grains), and others took delight in noting that the organics market is just as much a market as any other.