Friday, January 18, 2008


I'm thinking about food. Nothing new for me. I've been thinking about food for most of my life. When I was a kid our household was always filled with food - dinner together, all seven (or eight, if Ruth was there) around the dinner table, each in our assigned seat. I sat in between Ruth and my mother, across from Josh. Josh liked to play "Look!", his mouth filled with partially chewed food, opened wide, Look!. He drove my mother crazy. JeriAnn sat at the other end next to my father. I suspect she was his favorite.

We ate meat and vegetables and rice or potatoes every night - capons roasted to perfection, moist on the inside with crispy skin; roast beef with "natural juices" (blood?); when in doubt, inch-thick sirloin steaks. And only real butter - lima beans swimming in pools of butter; broiled flounder in lemon butter; corn-on-the-cob not complete until our chins shone with butter. My father had meat delivered from the city periodically. He ordered smoked hams from a company in Vermont. They'd never mailed hams before. To this day they have a thriving mail-order business.

In summer, when the fruit market was open, I'd go with my father to buy flats of black cherries, blueberries, peaches and whole watermelons. We'd frequent the fishery, our purchases wrapped up in newspaper (We called the local paper the fish wrapper.) and go to the delicatessen where the owner made me tasty treats of herring and cucumber piled onto a cracker.

We ate food. Lots of it.

In the late 60s my brother Josh introduced me to Macrobiotics. I got the cookbook, bought brown rice, mung beans, aduki beans and tamari, and I was set. I drank carrot juice at the health store on Broadway. I suspect I was macrobiotic for about a week.

My brother Jeff, on the other hand, taught me the wonders of the cheese steak hoagie, a midnight summertime treat followed up by a A&W root beer float - thick, cold glass mug filled to overflowing and delivered by a carhop on a tray to hang on the driver's-side window.

In college I studied Biology, with special interest in Biochemistry and Nutrition. In those days we had Adelle Davis and Euell Gibbons to lead us to nutritional rightness. I kept chickens for eggs; grew vegetables in short Vermont summers; ground wheat berries into flour to make bread; made my own tofu, mayonnaise, humus; cooked on a wood stove. We ate wisely, naturally, deliciously.

Enter the 21st century. My kids counted the days until Taco Bell opened down the street. They eat there several days a week. They "eat fresh" at Subway routinely; Popeye's for fries and "chicken strips"; Chipotle; Domino's, Pizza Hut, Papa John's pizza; all matter of "soft" drinks (They call them beverages.) and chips; and boxed, bagged and frozen meals cooked in the microwave.

Forget the fact that their pizzas were homemade when they were little - organic whole wheat crust, organic tomato sauce; that I made their pancakes from scratch with 20-grain (that's right, 20-grain) flour I mail-ordered from Walnut Acres; their french toast with 9-grain bread.

Jerzy loves to make pancakes from a mix she buys packaged in a plastic container - all she does is add something, shakes and pours. When she and Julia are sick, they both crave frozen Pizza Rolls for comfort.

And now I'm primed and ready to rant about cloned animals that the FDA, in its infinite wisdom, says are safe for consumption (NY Times article here). And about the billions of dollars that drug companies spend for cholesterol lowering drugs, even though it's not clear that cholesterol is the ultimate culprit, in the midst of a culture that promotes heart disease and diabetes through over-consumption and under-activity (NY Times article here).

I'd like to go on and on about the Ingredients labels on packaged foods, that they've lost their usefulness, and simply feed the frenzy of food fads. Do you know what we see when we glance at the ingredients? We look at the carb count or the total fat and sat fats. We don't glance at the ingredients at all. If we did, and if we weren't inured to the fact that what poses as food is actually a mix of processed (What exactly is processed?) natural and artificial flavors, weird colors, scary chemicals, and is not actually food at all, we wouldn't take a bite or a sip.

I'd like to rant about these things, maybe make references to Michael's Pollan's new book again. But I won't.


Alice at Wintersong said...

You're right on so many counts. There is one ingredient I routinely check, however, and that's the fiber content. My daughter is cooking and serving only fresh, as organic as possible fruits and veggies to her kids, not a lot of meat, and I wonder if they'll turn to Taco Bell when they grow older. Hubby and I have let them try McDonald's as a social experiment (?) so that they wouldn't feel deprived when their friends talk of those places. And you know, they hardly touched any of the food, only drank the juiceboxes. But they loved the playland area.

sharryb said...

Last year was a frenzy of food reading for me. It all started with the Zone and went in all directions from there. Pollan. Kingsolver. Those were the best reads. Another one I liked was If the Buddha Came to Dinner. My friend, Gail, is now a confirmed vegan after reading the China Study and others. I've begun to eat meat after 10 years as a vegetarian. At the moment I'm assessing the whole landscape and praying for a way to love cooking. It is only when I'm really enjoying the cooking, chopping, preparig process that I eat well.

Anonymous said...

Great blog entry, but I have a small quibble: it's Euell Gibbons (although it is Yul Brenner). Given your interest in language, I thought you'ld want to correct it.

Judith Shapiro said...

Anonymous - Thanks! I've made the correction, googled and now have lots to read about him.

Thanks for reading and double thanks for the information.