Friday, October 7, 2011

An Affair to Remember- Real Food

 I was born with a spoon in my mouth.  It wasn’t silver, but, that doesn’t matter, any old spoon will do.  I love food.  My affair with food began very early.  When I was four, we moved to Germany and a favorite family story, retold with a chuckle, was my bravery in indulging in steak tartare (raw beef) and escargot (snails).   Remember the Life cereal commercial with Mikey?  I was Mikey... I ate everything.  Maybe in a past life, I was a starving child.  I just know in this one, I love food.  My mantra was bring it on, I’ll try it.  Early experimentation must have honed sensitive taste buds that were head over heels in love with an epicurean lifestyle.  For me, eating was like a daily vacation into mine (or someone else's) kitchen paradise.   One of the highlights of my day was pondering what I was going to make, or, what I was going to have for dinner.  The blush of new love in my affair with food, surprisingly lasted well beyond the traditional honeymoon period: a good 40 years or so. 
Over the last decade our relationship, (mine and food) has changed.  I found myself eating alone more, and filling the void with fast fixes, serial eating whatever convenient quickie was available at the moment. The family size bag of chips on a Friday night was my tried and true companion, leaving me sprawled on the couch in a carb coma.  I noticed this was also about the same time the FDA began the mandatory labeling process.  It coincided with the low-fat/ fat-free craze.  I began to pore over labels as if smitten by the latest NY Times bestseller, mentally picturing those fat grams clinging to my thighs like frightened children.  The labels grew more explicit and I was now watching sodium, fiber content and doing an Internet search on the chemical make-up of all the ingredients listed.  There was some hesitancy when I saw words like phosphate, enzyme modified, conditioned, artificial and colored. A decade from now, would the same foods have a label plastered on the packaging warning against Red Dye #2 explaining my permanent sun-kissed skin pigmentation?  Some of my packaged meals professed a whopping 42 ingredients! I don’t think a Master’s degree in Chemistry could explain to me why these chemicals were sprinkled onto my food like fresh herbs over an exquisite French dish.  Yet, I continued to eat this light, half the calories, reduced fat, processed cuisine. After all, it was good for me.  The label and the diet industry said so.   Although, I seemed to be hungrier than I recall years ago when I indulged in real fat and unmodified calories.  I also began to notice strange happenings to my body.  Rather than getting smaller eating less fat, half the calories, and light, I was witnessing a midsection engaged in a heated battle of the pudge.  The other half of that missing fat showed up and invaded in droves, spilling over the top of my mid rise jeans. 
Then the low carb craze struck.  Oh, boy!  Now, it really didn’t matter that I cut back on fat, I just needed to give up carbs!   No more bread, beans, or fruit; a few of my food favorites, but people were dropping weight as fast as old baggage at a group therapy session.  So what if their hair was also falling out and they felt lethargic.  They were thin.   
A few years ago, I visited Italy.  I had envisioned Italians predominately like the picture in my kitchen; roly-poly, mustached chef, tossing a pizza in the air as his belly peeked out from a shirt that was way too small. I was wrong!  In my six weeks there, I saw two overweight people.  As I moved closer to them in the Gelato line at the corner stand, I  overhead their conversation, spoken in English, infused with a twang of Bronx.  The Italians ate like I used to eat years ago, only better.  They knew how to make a meal an event. Long leisurely sessions with 4-5 courses spent savoring bread, pasta, freshly prepared seafood dripping in butter, and pizzas with ingredients you wouldn’t imagine on top of homemade crusts.   I was in heaven again, and I even lost a few pounds during my time there. Perhaps there is something to be said for eating fresh, chemical free food and approaching it as a loving friend instead of an enemy that needs to be calculated and conquered.  Maybe food wasn’t meant to be modified and altered to fuel bodies that weren’t designed to ingest and process poly’s, pheno’s, and phospho’s. 
My dieting bottom came the other day as I pulled a teeny-weeny appetizer treat out of the freezer; low calorie, the box touted. As I opened the end, two miniature cups the size of Tinkerbell’s cereal bowl tumbled out on the counter.  Checking the cooking directions I was surprised to see the FDA (aka the food police) and the manufacturers have now stepped things up a notch.  The directions read: Remove dip bowel and pita bread from box. PLACE BOX WITH OTHER 200 SERVING PORTION BACK IN THE FREEZER!  As I debated whether the minuscule portion would be enough to satisfy my lingering hunger, I swear I heard sirens go off, lights flashing and a megaphoned voice say, “Lady, back away from portion two.  Move away from the dip bowel immediately.”     
It’s time to fess up to my love affair with good food, bring it out of the back room, into the light of day.  No more low fat, low carb, low sodium, or packaged meals that exercise secret mind control tactics. 

Article published in Gallon Inquirer October 2011