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I have decided to adopt the air and water diet. Everything else, it seems, is bad for me. Through channels of every caliber, I have been notified I am going to ruin my good health through eating. It’s no joke. It appears as if everything we humans consume is out to get us. There also seems to be a lot of stuff in the grocery store called “food,” neatly packaged and over-priced that may solve any meal-planning dilemmas we have encountered due to the rampant bad press our favorite meals are receiving. Also being marketed are those convenient year-long subscription programs whereby a robot scans your body and customizes a meal plan designed especially for you, eliminating all the things you love to eat and replacing them with what the Spurious Diet Company believes should keep you living long enough for your Mastercard payment to clear.
It seems all the popular fad diets are built around giving up something we’ve eaten all our lives. I gave up eating meat years ago and don’t really miss it much. Except maybe at Thanksgiving. That’s not because I miss roasting, carving and devouring a turkey. It’s because finding a replacement to adorn the holiday table with the same magnificence as a crispy-skinned, brown bird is a time-consuming and hand-wringing task, especially if one will be entertaining guests. There is, of course, the ridiculous Tofurkey. It’s basically a ball of tofu. I tried it once. The best thing about this modern wonder is there are loads of leftovers, which, if disguised as actual tofu, can be eaten without too much fuss. The holiday feast need not be a carnival of side dishes, though they have always been my favorite part. One can get creative with the fancy featured dish. I’ve tried my hand at a Wellington roast (dough around veg filling) to great success. My roulade, a fancy French word for stuff rolled around other stuff, has, with time and practice, sliced up nicely onto the plates. And, through trial and error (failure is learning) I have found that the harvest of just about any plant can be boiled, mushed and squeezed into a loaf pan to be roasted to perfection and covered with my homemade Texas gravy.
Texas gravy is usually served over chicken-fried steak. If you have never lived in Texas, I will need to explain. Steak (from a cow) is pounded with a mallet until it is unidentifiable, then battered and deep fried like a chicken (from Popeyes). The gravy is grease, flour and some milk or cream with a few dashes of salt and pepper. Some folks might call this a roux, but in Texas, it’s gravy. Mine is somewhat of an adapted version that I only make a couple times a year. But now flour and other carbohydrates are verboten in what I call The Great Carbohydrate Massacre. Goodbye mashed potatoes!
Wheat kills! Or so one might think. I prefer to say it was driven out of fashion, along with many vegetables, due to the constant malignment of such by the food culturalists of our time. Some folks are actually sensitive to wheat products (which is damn near everything worth eating on earth) and need to steer clear of them; so they should. But suddenly every carbohydrate has become the enemy of all the people and gluten-free is the darling of carb haters everywhere. How did we get here? A world without pasta is… Mars, where there are no amber waves of grain. Every culture has it’s noodles, and some, are even made without wheat like Japanese soba (read the label!) or Italian pappardelle, both of which are traditionally made with buckwheat, which has no wheat even though it says wheat in the name. It’s wheat-free but still a rogue carbohydrate.
Whenever a food falls from grace, clever chefs come up with replacements since we truly hate giving up the yummies we crave. Hail the zoodle. Made from shaved zucchini, zoodles stand in for our beloved noodles in shape only–ribbons of white drowned in Ragu, along with meat or whatever vegetable is able to hide its carbohydrate-ness in the sauce. You have to make your own zoodles with a vegetable peeler or slicing device such as a food processor or mandolin, so wheat-sensitive cooks often opt for store-bought pastas made with alternative substances such as chickpeas, kelp or rice. Of these, I have tried the rice or a rice/quinoa blend variety with moderate success. Rice, though, is suffering its own decline in popularity.
In addition to its starchy quality, denigrated by carbo-phobics everywhere, the latest buzz around rice consists of warnings that it contains naturally occurring arsenic. Disgruntled spouses murder their unloved ones with this poison in movies and in real life. Why would we want to eat it? I recently bought two packages of dried shitake mushrooms at the Asian grocery and read the label only after I arrived home and began to soak the contents of one package. Warning: Contains shitloads of arsenic, so be sure to soak, squeeze out and toss the water after mushrooms have softened. I followed the directions with the same exacting care a brain surgeon would use to excise a tumor. We ate them in a stir-fry and obviously did not die or even burp afterwards. I’m cooking rice less frequently now, but not before I give it a powerful scrub such as would peel the paint off my car. I only make Indian basmati, which probably has the least amount of arsenic allowed by law. I hope. I don’t really know.
The next culinary delight to topple from its former glory is dark chocolate via an article by Consumer Reports. Dark chocolate has, until recently, been touted as the healthiest kind of chocolate one can nibble due to its plethora of antioxidants. Those are good for your heart. This initial news was reported by health experts everywhere and consumers ate it up, so to speak. Now it seems some upscale brands contain lead and cadmium in amounts enough to be a possible health risk if you eat too much of it at once. Despite the many antioxidants I have consumed over the years, this new report was enough to break my heart. Is nothing sacred? Why couldn’t Consumer Reports have found heavy metals in liverwurst or oysters? I have remained determined to at least finish off the Theo bar in my refrigerator, even if I eat it in pieces the size of a dime over the next ten years. The good news: The article listed a few select brands with less of the nasty stuff. Phew! Or maybe not.
My world of edible food is shrinking. When will the next article come out reminding us that eggplant should not be consumed with tomatoes because they are both fruits and nobody likes eggplant anyway. Or Brussels sprouts should never be boiled due to the abject disgust of those to whom they are served, causing rifts in our close relationships. Perhaps there is an article out there which informs us that forcing a child to eat liverwurst causes deep psychological damage well into the adult years. I’m still looking for words of wisdom concerning what brand of oatmeal causes zombie outbreaks or how much coconut you can eat before you have futile yearnings for a tropical island somewhere.
The marketplace is not content to let us eat in peace. It must, as a steward of corporate financial growth, offer the public products called food–former meat and plants, transmogrified by poor people in foreign countries, until there is no resemblance to any natural condition. Wrapped in six layers of plastic to maintain safety from contamination and appease the gods of petroleum-based products, these foodstuffs are convenient and probably won’t kill us like real food. We should be grateful to be so nourished despite being confused by the tasteless, Soylent Green nature of the product. Yet, even as we are bombarded with overprocessed garbage merchandized as nutrition, stalwart foodies are emphasizing the glory of fresh vegetables and easy-to-make meals we can cook at home for a lot less money. I guess we all have to pick the diets best suited to our lifestyles and stick with them…until the arsenic kicks in.
For lunch I ate a macadamia nut dusted with salt derived from the tears of baby walruses, served on a bed of kale chips, liberally doused with antioxidants manufactured in a cruelty-free, heavily-controlled, undisclosed location. I sluiced it down with a bottle of Evian and followed with a dessert of mold-free, vented air from a gas-powered furnace. I did burp after that delightful repast, but I felt overly full, so I might have to skip the nut next time. What’s in your refrigerator?