It is as if Coca-Cola decided it wanted to begin putting its aspartame-sweetened Diet Coke and its corn syrup-sweetened Coke in identical cans – all in the name of helping their customers.
From the petition:
“Petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners [like aspartame] should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can more easily identify its overall nutritional value.”
In other words, the less you know about what’s really in your food, the better you’ll be able to make good choices about what to eat.
You have until May 21st, 2013 to visit the public petition online and register your comment about the proposed change to the “Standard Identity” of milk.
Sarah Palin, a former US governor and current media lightning-rod, joins her husband in showing support for traditional Christian values…by buying a fried chicken sandwich. (No word yet on why she wears her sunglasses inside.)
Fair warning to my readers outside the US: Americans have got their panties in a major twist this month about some chicken sandwiches.
My dad introduced me properly to Chick-fil-A when I visited my parents a few months ago.
He had been rhapsodizing about Chick-fil-A for at least two or three days by the time we stepped up to the counter: the hot, tasty chicken sandwich with fresh lettuce and tomato, the waffle fries, and most of all, the milkshakes.
I doubt he remembers his kids’ high school graduation as well as he remembers his first taste of the Chick-fil-A Banana Pudding Milkshake: according to him, the treat was both arctic cold and yet still easy to sip through a straw. Real bananas swam in vanilla ice cream and met ultimate bliss with ‘Nilla Wafer cookie crumbles that retained their delicious crunch.
But that wasn’t all – Dad also extolled the stellar customer service at Chick-fil-A. Not only would they serve you the best chicken sandwich in the biz, they’d make you feel like a king.
When we went to Chick-fil-A, the girl behind the counter beamed as if she’d been waiting for us all day, and the chicken sandwich and milkshake were everything I heard they’d be.
The next week, I dragged myself to the mall (I needed an outfit for a job interview). Hungry and trembling with the exhausted vexation of a full-figured woman searching for a blazer that fits in the arms and waist as well as the bust, I saw the red Chick-fil-A marquee at the food court.
As I sat down at a table with my sandwich, I realized that it needed a spot of mayo. There was a long line at the counter and I could only see ketchup packs. Just as I decided to do without, an elderly man in a Chick-fil-A apron appeared at my left elbow.
“How are you doing today, miss?” he said. “Are you enjoying your lunch? Do you have everything you need today?”
“Hi,” I said. “Actually, I was hoping for some mayonnaise.”
He smiled with pleasure, reached into his apron pocket, and handed me a pack of mayo.
“You have a great day, now,” he said, before moving onto the Chick-fil-A lunchers at the next table.
I was transfixed for several moments by the shock of being waited upon in the mall food court, where the closest thing to customer service is the cleaning staff sweeping the floor right where your feet are resting.
“He drives Chick-fil-A’s efforts to provide genuine hospitality, ensuring that customers have an exceptional dining experience in a Chick-fil-A restaurant,” the Baptist Press said of Dan Cathy in a July 16tharticle.
Chick-fil-A’s proud Christian foundation has been a source of moderate controversy for a long time – devotees of their chicken sandwiches have long bemoaned the company’s strict policy of closing on Sundays.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of Cathy’s public preference for the “Biblical definition of the family unit”, reconfirmed in the same Baptist Press piece.
We could dwell on which Biblical family Cathy admires: King Solomon’s extraordinary assemblage of concubines, or perhaps Jacob’s marriage to the sisters Leah and Rachel and his subsequent fecund, wife-approved romps with two handmaidens. Or maybe Cathy would emulate King David, who sent Bathsheba’s husband off to die on the front lines after spying on her during her bath. Or maybe the law about a widow marrying her husband’s brother resonates best.
But what Cathy means, of course, is the Biblical importance of denying equal rights to homosexuals. His recent comments on the Ken Coleman Show claim that advocates of gay marriage are “prideful” and “arrogant”.
“We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,” he says.
Cathy’s comments about gays aren’t usually so pointed or inflammatory. In the past, he’s claimed that Chick-fil-A doesn’t discriminate against anyone, and that as a fast-food restaurant, they have no public political stance.
But gay-rights advocates in the US are pretty riled because of several million dollars Chick-fil-A has donated to far-right American groups that, depending on your source, advocate the “curing” of homosexuality with special reeducation programs, urge the reinstatement of laws against sodomy, teach that homosexuality is naturally associated with pedophilia, and lobby against the repeal of Ugandan laws that punish homosexuality with death.
There hasn’t been a mass shooting, major US natural disaster, or politician caught in a humiliating affair for about two or three weeks over here. Granted, the Olympics are going on. But that doesn’t provide nearly the angst outlet that we need.
So….Chick-fil-A hates gays! TO THE INTERNET!
The fallout has had more unexpected plotlines than a “Game of Thrones” novel.
Among loud lamentations at how tragic it will be to cut this delicious chicken out of our lives, there’s the Chick-fil-A boycott by my liberal peers, who declare that not another penny of their money will go towards donations to hate groups. There was the “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” counter-wave, in which thousands of good southern Christians lined up around the block for chicken sandwiches to show their support for NOT supporting the gays.
Chick-fil-A noted record-breaking sales.
Meanwhile, the wider fray was already breaking into more factions than the rebels of Syria.
Multiple city politicians announced to the press that Chick-fil-A would be blocked from building restaurants in their jurisdictions because of Cathy’s views. A tsunami of self-appointed pundits-turned-Constitutional-scholars fought back to define the proper roles not of women and men, but of business and the government.
While we all got our Constitutional dander up, guerilla skirmishes on first-amendment free speech flared as Facebook apparently disabled a page supporting Chick-fil-A, and then quickly reinstated it. Free-speech stalwarts pointed out that Cathy is entitled to his point of view, while a flood of suspiciously anecdotal news stories countered that the free-speech dispute is irrelevant because discrimination is in action at Chick-fil-A, from gay employees who feel compelled to stay in the closet at work to a woman who claims she was fired because her Chick-fil-A manager said women should be stay-at-home moms.
Business experts were more interested in coolly debating whether corporate presidents helped or hurt their profits by taking public stances on hot political and religious issues.
Anti-gay Christians rejoiced that so many people are still willing to rally to their agenda, as evidenced by the epic queues at Chick-fil-A locations below the Mason-Dixon Line. Gay-rights advocates rejoiced that the last corporate stronghold of anti-gay sentiment in America was nothing but a chicken-sandwich chain.
Meanwhile, the high-minded hipster gentry got to work pointing out everyone’s terminal hypocrisy, declaring that those waiting in line to support Chick-fil-A would never flood the volunteer lists of a homeless shelter with such zeal, as Jesus would no doubt want them to, while also taking their secular community-garden buds to task for boycotting Chick-fil-A without also boycotting companies like Apple, Amazon or McDonalds for their egregious violation of things like fair working standards. An NPR commentator pointed out that mayors publicly decrying Chick-fil-A for anti-gay bigotry have ignored proven and persistent racial discrimination in their own districts.
Other commentators held forth on bullying, while others devised all sorts of ways to bedevil Chick-fil-A: ordering chicken while dressed in drag or, based on an obscure Bible passage about providing food and water to your guests, demanding free food of Chick-fil-A employees, if they’re so Christian and all. Gay-rights enthusiasts responded to Chick-fil-A appreciation Day by staging a nationwide same-sex kiss-in at Chick-fil-A restaurants.
And in perhaps my favorite development of all, fat-acceptance activists have begun blasting liberals who try to shame habitual Chick-fil-A eaters for being fat: fighting homophobia with fat-ism is just trading one form of bigotry for another!
All we need is a questionable study linking Chick-fil-A to autism in children of gay parents, and we could keep the controversy going until next Wednesday, at least.
One thing I wonder about is our possibly overblown notion of ownership. If I have converted my money into a chicken sandwich, and then enjoyed said sandwich, do I have cause to make any demands on what Chick-fil-A does with what was formerly my money?
While there is something to be said for voting with your dollar, and buying products from socially and environmentally responsible companies, I can’t imagine tracking every dollar I spend, to make sure that the business who’s got it is disposing of it in a way that pleases me. That dollar ain’t mine anymore and its fate isn’t my business – I traded it for a goldfish or a bottle of nail polish or a banana.
If Dan Cathy gives a fraction of his profits to anti-gay groups, am I complicit in that, when really all I did was convert my dollar into waffle fries? As soon as I polish off the fries, I have no claim on that dollar anymore. Why should the occasional cheerfully-served, heavenly Chick-fil-A milkshake dog my conscience?
As I type, I can practically hear the screams of the progressive mob, who would behead my spineless rhetoric faster than Henry VIII would dispatch an unwanted wife.
The truth is, I can think of better ways to support gay rights than NOT eating at Chick-fil-A. But I doubt that I’ll eat Chick-fil-A again, at least in Philadelphia. Despite what my parents think about my working in the “big city”, it’s really a pretty small town around here, especially if you’ve got the network of a journalist. I can hardly step off the train without running into someone in the crowd that I know.
God forbid they see me with a Chick-fil-A bag. They might think I’m a bigot. Or a Christian. Or a bully. Or a Constitutional law enthusiast. Or a gay-marriage opponent. Or a fat person. Or a fat-activist-hater. Or a Republican. Or a free-speech zealot. Or a hungry, weak-willed liberal. Or, worst of all, an ignoramus who doesn’t read blogs at all.
The following image, snapped and stored in my phone, has haunted me for almost two years.
Some well-meaning designer of signage at the take-out breakfast and lunch chain known as Au Bon Pain, contrary to the restaurant’s intentions, has seriously dampened my craving for chicken salad. And I love chicken salad.
There is so much wrong with this sandwich board.
First, it violates my personal objections to restaurant logos that cheesily anthropomorphize the food they serve. For example, if you specialize in seafood, don’t have a cartoon of a grinning, waving crab on your signage. The crabs aren’t happy about being eaten; pretending otherwise doesn’t make me more likely to eat at your restaurant.
Not helping my appetite, Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant.
Second, for unknown reasons I’ve always been bothered by the artistic license that turns birds’ wing-feathers into hands.
But worst of all, I’m assuming that the marketers of Au Bon Pain want me to purchase their chicken salad based on the endorsement of a giant molting chicken who, with evident relish, is about to eat a sandwich made of its own flesh.
I’ve been sitting on some of these for awhile. My husband or I took all the photographs.
PERHAPS THEY USED UP ALL THE QUALITY ON THE MERCHANDISE.
I’m assuming that as much as Trader Joe’s supermarket would like us to think some wholesome neighborhood artist whipped this up, this is a sign that went up in all their stores.
1) Who’s writing, proofreading and manufacturing signage for Trader Joe’s? How did they, and every staffer to view this sign from its inception to its installation, miss this bizarre apostrophe placement?
2) Is there some inner meaning or allusion I am missing here? Or did this designer simply not know or care about the distinction between a palette and a palate? Perhaps this unfortunate soul wishes he or she worked for an art-supply store, not a grocery store?
3) I’m getting the feeling that somebody thinks “palette” and “wallet” rhyme.
1) If you feel strongly enough about the word “voracious” to include it on a retail chain’s signage, why don’t you know how to spell it?
2) In case you care, “there” ≠ “their”.
1) I guess they have a pretty broad definition of suspicious activities.
2) I especially enjoy the last line, because to me it implies thanks are being offered to McDonalds itself for not being suspicious.
EDWARD CULLEN DOESN’T SHOP AT WALGREENS
1) Walgreens carries garlic? Perhaps vampires have become so embedded in our lives that we want to pick up something to ward them off along with our Tylenol and Airborne.
2) Since when is a bag-full of whole raw garlic a good snack to go?
GATORADE FOR THE BEDROOM OF THE INTELLIGENTSIA
Today, just a few hours after I discovered that a beverage called Neuro Gasm is on sale at Walgreens, a friend shares the definition of the word sapiosexual on Facebook: “a person who is sexually attracted to intelligence in others”. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
PUERILE ADULTS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT. I mean it.
Special thanks to Bed Bath and Beyond. Whose idea was it to hang up the dog-bone-shaped doormats?
I routinely fail to fully decipher the things that people post on Facebook, and the statuses that consistently beg for additional interpretation are the ones about what we’re eating. Perhaps it’s just because I see the world through the lens of my own historically troubled, guilt-ridden relationship to food, but I think that something else always underlies these food statuses – something that has little to do with keeping all of our friends abreast of what we are eating.
I think it’s because food connects to multiple arenas of our lives like nothing else – something as simple as what food a person eats or doesn’t eat can offer a wealth of information about his or her lifestyle, priorities, habits and health. Just think of what you can infer about someone who refuses veal or foie gras, or wheat, or who insists on organic produce. We don’t assume people are making these choices – and broadcasting them to all present (and by “all present” I mean everyone on the internet) – merely because they prefer the taste of beef, brown-rice tortillas or pesticide-free mushrooms and believe you will find this preference interesting.
So I think Facebook statuses about food often aren’t about food at all. Instead, they’re handy signals for lifestyle choices that we want others to know about, from fitness and dieting to travel, culinary skills and eco-consciousness.
True, some of these statuses are probably just due to sheer joy in life. But, for example, I notice that while announcements about muffins are fairly common in my news feed, very few people in my news feed are simply announcing that they had a great muffin. It seems crucial that they emphasize a certain quality of the muffin, and what that implies about their lifestyle.
Let’s get to it. Did I mention that I’ll be asking you to participate?
Take, for example, two statuses I noticed in the last several weeks:
“Breakfast – vegan key lime coconut cupcake” and “vegan blueberry walnut coconut muffins for breakfast coming right up”.
What are these statuses trying to say?
Now try this one.
Try this one: “I thought that I was completely out of produce, but behold! I found a slightly wilted bunch of kale in my fridge! I shall resurrect this kale, and then I shall eat it! With butter and garlic. =D”
I hope you didn’t think that I was polling you because I have the right answers. I don’t. Like you, I can only guess, and I want to see if I’m alone in my guesses. Perhaps, in your view, I’ve gotten them horribly wrong. Feel free to chime in with your own.
Last but not least, many thanks to the friends whose statuses I hijacked. I love you guys (and our food quirks)!
Every two weeks or so, I clean Grampa’s apartment at the retirement complex. Vacuuming every corner of a tidy widower’s apartment is less important (at least to a non-neat-freak like me) than a regular check-up on Grampa.
My dear Grampa is a creature of habit.
“Well, maybe we ought to have lunch,” he said when I arrived this morning.
“Sure, Grampa,” I said. As I got out the Lysol, I couldn’t resist adding, “what are you going to have for lunch?”
“Oh well, let’s see,” he said, opening the fridge and bending down to peer in, as if for inspiration. “One slice of wheat bread, folded in half, with hummus and three green olives, cut in half, and cran-raspberry juice.”
This is what he has had for every at-home lunch for the last several years.
“So of course you can have whatever you’d like,” he added, closing the fridge.
“Or,” he continued, and I could see a familiar light in his eyes. “We could go to Applebee’s.”
Never was the slogan over a chain restaurant’s door more applicable to a customer.
Instead of “Welcome”, the local Applebee’s entrance reads “Welcome back!” Since having eaten lunch there three or four times last week as well as yesterday is not viewed by Grampa as a reason to avoid eating there today, it’s right on the money.
He’s a man who knows what he wants, and he likes it best when the wait-staff knows too, before he places his order. For the welcome they give my Grampa, the wait-staff of the Southampton, PA Applebee’s on Street Road deserve induction into the chain restaurant hall of fame, should anyone ever found one.
Eating at Applebee’s with Grampa makes me think of another amiable octogenarian, whose affinity for chain restaurants exploded across the internet earlier this month. Marilyn Hagarty, longtime columnist and food critic for North Dakota’s Grand Forks Herald, published a review of her $10.95 lunch at the local Olive Garden (a glass of water, a “familiar” salad, “long, warm breadsticks”, and a “warm and comforting” chicken alfredo), and the piece quickly went viral.
Myriad blogs took up satirical commentary on the elderly Hagarty’s earnest naivete in writing a straight-faced review of the chicken alfredo at a chain restaurant. But a surge of journalistic and culinary nostalgia quickly swamped the snark as prominent writers and celebrity restaurateurs came to Hagarty’s defense, culminating in the Los Angeles Times calling the review “the purest gauge of all that is America”.
I’m no connoisseur, but yes, my husband and I will always opt for our favorite local Afghan, Thai or Vietnamese restaurant over Applebee’s and its national cohorts. My mom’s been telling me for years that I’m a snob, and she’s probably right. But I left Applebee’s today with a warm heart.
“I tell you what, today why don’t we park over here and leave the handicapped place for someone else,” Grampa said, pulling into a space two spots away from the handicapped parking. He’s perfectly fit for his age: the handicapped permit is a relic of my late grandmother’s last years.
“But I’m a wounded veteran,” he usually points out when we tell him he doesn’t need the handicapped space. It’s true: he did earn a Purple Heart fighting in France and Germany during WWII. But as long as the scar doesn’t prevent him from playing eighteen holes of golf, I won’t let him park in the handicapped space.
Our Applebee’s server, a young woman whom Grampa requests every time, came over with a smile. By name, she inquired about Phyllis, Grampa’s usual lunch-mate, who has been his companion in the years since my grandmother’s death. She asked about his healing from a recent fall, and he displayed the wound on his left hand – the stitches in the four-inch gash were just removed yesterday.
With nary a flinch, the server brought Grampa’s iced tea with three extra lemon slices, just the way he likes it. The next several minutes were devoted to surgery on the lemons. Juicy, sticky seeds scattered across the table-top.
“Next time, I’m going to order my lemons without the seeds,” he said.
When it comes to lunch at Applebee’s, Grampa’s degree of variability usually matches that shown in his own kitchen. I ordered a chicken-topped salad and our server was all ready to take down Grampa’s usual order of French Onion soup and shrimp and spinach salad.
But something about our day had sparked a freshness in Grampa.
“How is the Fiesta Salad?” he asked.
“Oh, I hear it’s very good!” the server answered.
“Don’t you like it yourself?”
“Well, I don’t eat cilantro.”
He asked what cilantro was and we explained it was a green herb often used in Mexican food. He folded his hands and addressed me seriously.
“Is it bad for me?”
He decided to risk it, alongside his regular soup.
The resulting bits of lettuce were mounded with so many small pieces of chicken that he eschewed his fork altogether and ate the salad with his soup spoon.
“Why, this is great,” he said. “Usually I have to eat my soup and then eat my salad, but this way I can eat them both together.” He asked me to show him the cilantro and he carefully spooned the green speck and chewed it up.
“Why, that’s fine!” he announced.
“I’m going to have to tell Phyllis,” he said of the Fiesta Salad. “She won’t believe it.”
On the way home, admitted to me that he suspects his life is in too much of a routine.
“I always do pretty much the same things,” he said. “I want to start trying to do some things differently.”
“Well, trying a different salad for lunch is a great start,” I replied.
“Yes,” he said. “But I’m not ready to change my breakfast. I have a great breakfast: strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, three-quarters of a cup of Great Grains, milk, and twelve Mini-Wheats.”
“Twelve Mini-Wheats?” I asked.
“Twelve,” he said as we pulled into his parking space at the retirement village.
If Dunkin’ Donuts was a fatal virus, the city of Philadelphia would be on its deathbed. In the train station beneath City Hall, there are no less than three of them. You can see which one has the shortest line and go there. And that’s not counting at least two or three more within a four-block radius. If you are in one Philadelphia-area Dunkin Donuts, I practically guarantee that you can take a deep breath, hold it, and walk to the next one before you run out of oxygen. You get the picture.
The problem with this is that while I run around downtown, I am constantly bombarded by the suggestion that a Dunkin’ Donuts cookie or muffin is the perfect everyday afternoon pick-me-up. Most of the time I resist, but occasionally I used to give in. What’s one cookie to tide me over til dinner?
Over one fourth of the total calories I’m supposed to consume in an entire day, apparently.
In 2010, the City of Philadelphia took it upon itself to put the kibosh on my snacking inclinations, requiring any chain restaurant or retail food establishment with more than fifteen locations nationwide to post calorie counts on their menu boards. I still remember the first time I backed out of a City Hall Dunkin’ Donuts in a haze of shock, having learned that the chocolate chunk cookie has 540 calories. For reference, a serving of Häagen Daz chocolate ice cream has 260 calories (don’t ask why that information is so easy to come by at my house).
Since then, I’ve lived in a fog of shame and haven’t purchased a Dunkin’ Donuts cookie from that day to this (I’m sure this is why large food retailers love laws like Philadelphia’s).
It took awhile before I could look pastries in the face. But last week, over two years since the labeling law went into effect, I visited the pastry shelves of the Au Bon Pain, which, apparently undeterred by the infestation of Dunkin’ Donutses, has taken up residence in the train station. (The popularity of a chain called “Au Bon Pain” somehow gives me a tiny bit of hope for an American populace constantly derided for its linguistic ignorance. The fact that Au Bon Pain is usually full of customers makes me think that Americans have figured out that pain doesn’t mean the same thing in French as it does in English).
Of course cookies and croissants would be out of the question. But maybe a sensible muffin would do for a snack.
For old times’ sake, I looked at the croissants, sitting like convicts beyond visiting-room glass.
It’s a dreary life, choosing the Carrot Nut or Raisin Bran Muffin over these.
Wait a minute.
Now you just hold on here!
What the @#$% is going on here?
I reeled out of Au Bon Pain empty-handed. Is there no tasty item, easily and cheaply purchased with a minimum of caloric guilt, to sustain me between meetings??
By this week, the revelation had begun to sink in, and as I arrived at a downtown coffee shop for a morning meeting, I became aware of the true role of calorie labeling in my life.
A Carrot Nut Muffin has 560 calories, while a Raspberry Cheese Croissant has 370.
Thou shall not devastate thy body with wheat-based ingredients.
Honor thy rice flour and thy corn chips, that thy days may be long upon the land which thy organic farmer is giving thee.
I’m really susceptible to food-based guilt. I think maybe it comes from growing up not skinny in late 20th-century America. Lately, it’s the gluten that’s getting me down, partly because I just don’t know what to believe.
On one hand, I’m experiencing a whole new realm of food-based guilt stemming from the bringing of home-cooked food containing gluten to gatherings which include Gluten-Free (GF) People. I feel like I’m bringing KFC extra-crispy to obese heart patients.
Every other package at the grocery store now says “Gluten Free!” Whole freezer cases are now devoted to wheat-free waffles and six-dollar loaves of brown rice bread the size of my digital camera. My husband listens to a lot of alternative health podcasts and I’ve heard the burgeoning anti-gluten movement for myself.
It used to be that Celiac disease was a little-known disorder involving the breakdown of the digestive tract due to a severe allergy to an elastic protein in wheat and similar grains known as gluten. It was so rare that an early episode of House, MD – king of bizarre, utterly far-fetched diseases you would never ever guess – featured a woman suffering from Celiac disease. Nowadays, given symptoms from nausea to headaches and sore joints to rashes, any American five-year-old could diagnose gluten intolerance.
On the podcasts, I learned that the traditional understanding of gluten allergies is dead wrong. Gluten’s insidious effect is not limited to the digestive tracts of an unlucky few. Apparently gluten is rotting everyone’s bodies from the inside out, accountable for everything from diarrhea to dementia. In fact, the decline of human health as a whole began thousands of years ago, when we stopped gnawing hunted bones and foraged berries for sustenance, and began planting fields of wheat. One harrowing internet narrative involved a GF nun who continued to have devastating symptoms, until a wise and committed alternative practitioner discovered that she was still taking the Holy Eucharist- Jesus may be your BF, but he’s not GF. Wheat destroys your gut, clouds your mind and rapidly makes you obese, and our whole modern society is going to hell in a bread-basket until we lay off the spaghetti.
On the other hand, I’m confused, because the grocery-store packaging that is not Gluten Free proclaims that it’s Whole Wheat and therefore excellent for my health. Several years ago, I patted myself on the back for switching from white bread to whole wheat or whole grain bread, thinking that it made me a healthier individual. Almost every health manual – particularly those espousing vegetarian or vegan diets – hinges on whole grains. The specialty market sells seitan, a wheat-based meat substitute that is essentially gluten, as a wonderfully healthy option. What is the truth?
The whole thing gives me even more trouble, because I have, in fact, heard at least one alternative health practitioner pronounce online that Interstitial Cystitis (IC), a little-known bladder disease, is none other than a gluten allergy, and that IC patients will cure themselves the moment they lay off the bread.
Being an IC sufferer myself, I asked my urology specialist this week if she knew of any studies that linked gluten intolerance to IC. To her extensive knowledge, no studies of this type have ever been done, let alone proved that IC is a wheat allergy. She says that some of her other patients have gone GF with mixed results. One improved a lot. Others reported fewer headaches but the same pelvic pain. Others saw no difference. But when you have an incurable medical condition that produces epic pain on a daily basis, you tend to grasp at straws. It makes me wonder if quitting the gluten is what I should do.
And this brings me to a difficulty which is infinitely more gluttonous but just as potent. The idea of going GF strikes terror into my heart. No more bread and butter, no more pasta? No more cookies, no more quiche, no more soup with a smidgeon of flour? Maybe for your average consumer this isn’t too intimidating. But I already spend roughly a third of my waking hours scouring ingredient labels for substances I’m allergic to (like the flavoring monosodium glutamate, in approximately 99.6% of the food on the market today) or absolutely cannot abide, like peppers, wasabi, cilantro, caraway or aspartame. This also includes avoiding almost all fruit in any form, tomato and tomato sauces, citric acid, all juices, all tea, all coffee, all soda and all alcohol, because of the IC. Upon scanning any restaurant menu, I usually find that about 80% of the dishes are off-limits.
The point is that I feel as if I can’t face any more dietary elimination. Yes, I know there are GF imitations for everything from muffins to crackers, but GF People bring them to the party and I’ve tasted them. Plus they seem to cost at least twice as much as regular items. My grocery budget couldn’t take it.
Then there’s the issue of the constantly evolving roster of food police no-no’s. Part of me fears that gluten is simply the food scare of the year, which will be proven baseless in time for some new culinary specter. How many times has the government “Food Pyramid” changed in the last decade? Can anyone make sense of its last two or three incarnations? A decade or two ago, fat was the ultimate enemy, and dieters gorged on pasta and bread. Even today, some of the most prominent “health food” options are non-fat yogurts and the like bursting with sugar.
Doctors used to warn against red meat, dairy and eggs. Now, we’re learning that these iron and vitamin-rich foods are nutritious in moderation: a healthy body needs protein and fat, and carbohydrates and sugar are the real enemies. In the last year, I’ve read some articles touting the health benefits of brightly colored vegetables and at least one advocating the consumption of pale ones. I’ve heard that peanuts are a great diet aid, and also that they’re terribly toxic. Coffee, chocolate, and red wine, once guilty indulgences, now have positive impacts on longevity and heart health. In relation to my IC, one author urged me to cut out all red meat in favor of a grain-based diet, while another, as you saw, warned against grains.
Jumping on the anti-gluten bandwagon would be a big commitment. I fear that the GF craze will be disproven and die down, like so many other dietary doctrines over the years. In the meantime, I’m getting a little sick of the GF doctrine – especially from those who claim they can cure my disease without any studies to back them up – even as I fear, deep down, that I have brought my health woes upon myself one bagel at a time.
I remember the first time I ever felt guilty about eating – I decided I was too fat when I was about seven years old, and have never looked back. Now, a new layer of guilt is developing every time I have a piece of whole wheat toast with my breakfast eggs. It’s already hard enough to stop myself from reaching for some orange juice, berries or tea in the morning – should I partake in the gluten-based shame as well?
I can’t face the latest grocery store gospel alone anymore. Will you please weigh in with your own (fact-based) opinion or experience?
I am so enamored of Thai coconut soup that I’m compelled to share it with you. Well, not literally: even if you were actually here with me, I might not offer you any because that will leave more for me. What I mean is that, in an Alaina Mabaso’s Blog first, I’d like to share a recipe with you, in deference to the whole “teach a man to fish” principle.
I already fear that I may deviate somewhat from the strict content of the recipe, so I apologize in advance. Sometimes there is more to be gleaned from recipes than just the instructions.
First maybe I should explain my homemade soup obsession. I adore soup. Unfortunately, I am also allergic to monosodium glutamate, which gives me horrendous headaches. This means that approximately 99.5% of all pre-packaged soups on the market are lost to me (food companies, having wised up to the anti-MSG backlash, now label MSG under a plethora of different names, usually “autolyzed” something-or-other).
The ordering of soup from restaurants is also fraught with danger for me. Soups generally have many ingredients and there’s no telling what’s going to be mixed up in there: any kind of pepper, Old Bay and cilantro are just a few of the ingredients I can’t stomach. This means that if I want soup, I have to make it myself. And the soup I most often want is Tom Ka Gai, a Thai coconut dish. Made right, this thin, creamy soup packs a riot of rich, salty-sweet flavor laced with the bright sourness of lime.
You will need:
Kaffir Lime Leaves
My most recent spasm of Tom Ka Gai goodness was a few weeks ago, when I determined that I would bring my signature Tom Ka Gai for a special family potluck dinner.
In this case, imagine that you decided to make the soup, and then promptly forgot until the night before the dinner, when you got home exhausted at about 11pm, having had no time for dinner. Naturally, you break down and order a wonton and cashew-chicken extravaganza from your favorite MSG-free Chinese place. See how your goldfish fry like the wonton.
They're going to town!
Then remember the soup.
The soup itself isn’t too time-consuming, but to make soup right, you’ve got to start with the broth. Many people have forgotten that broth does not naturally come from boxes at the supermarket. Fortunately, you have yesterday’s roasted chicken in the fridge. Pick most of the meat off and save it for other meals. Put the carcass into a large pot. Add a few peeled and chopped carrots and an onion, a few cloves of garlic, plenty of salt, fresh rosemary, basil and sage, and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Cover it all with water and turn up the heat. When the water boils, skim off some of the gross brownish foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low, put a lid on the pot, and then go to bed.
If you like something else in your chicken broth, by all means throw it in.
When you wake up eight hours later, your apartment will be a wonderland of roasted chicken aromas. Separate the broth from everything else in the pot. Use whatever ladles, strainers or colanders you’ve got. You’re smart, you can figure it out.
This is how I do it.
Many recipes advise you to let the broth cool for awhile, and then skim off the fat to discard it. That’s a load of crap. Let the fat be, it makes a nice tasty broth. Lay off the aspartame-sweetened coffee, the Special-K bars, and the 100-calorie cookie packs and eat some real food, it’ll do you good.
(Let me say here that last year I made my soup and invited a friend over for lunch. She wanted to know how I made it. A few weeks ago, when I was out to dinner with her and her fiancé, he leaned over the table to me. “You’re the one who taught her make that soup?” he asked. I said I was. “Thank you,” he said.)
Lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves. You may have a sexier chopping block than this one.
Now you’re ready to make the soup. Peel and chop a hunk of galangal. No, don’t use ginger just because it looks similar.Never mind the employees at the Thai grocery stand who make fun of the way you pronounce “galangal”. Chop two stalks of lemongrass into several pieces. Put three cups of your broth into a saucepan, and add the galangal, lemongrass and four kaffir lime leaves.
Bring the pot to a boil. Once it does, put a lid on the pot, turn the heat down to low and simmer for five minutes. Then, take it off the heat and let it all sit for at least ten minutes. Strain the galangal, lemon grass and lime leaves out. Sniff deeply at the broth and go into quiet ecstasy over the developing aroma. Toss in a generous handful of chopped mushrooms. I usually put in whatever I have on hand, often regular white mushrooms. Bring the soup back to boiling and then simmer for a few minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked. Then, stir in one cup of coconut milk, four teaspoons of fresh lime juice and one teaspoon of brown sugar. Add four teaspoons of fish sauce.
None of my fish were harmed in the making of this fish sauce.
IMPORTANT: Don’t taste or even sniff the fish sauce on its own. No, seriously, do not do it. You’ll only gross yourself out. Just hold your breath, add it to the pot, and trust that in combination with everything else, it’s bringing a luxurious salty depth to your soup.
If you want to add some additional lemongrass or lime leaves to the soup as a garnish, feel free, but I generally find these to be impediments to the slurping.
In Thai restaurants, I’ve had the soup with red pepper slices (enhancing my commitment to making it at home), cilantro (striking horror into my picky little heart), stewed cabbage (adding marvelous texture and absorbing the soup’s sweetness beautifully), sliced chicken (delicious) and shrimp (out of this world). I encourage any and all adaptations in your own kitchen – especially if you require a little spice.
Now that your soup is done, remember bitterly that you have made it not for your own consumption, but to share it with your extended family. Ultimately, though, their delight in the soup makes you feel good.
My cousin Ryan Tennis, a popular Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter. No, I'm not biased, he's really good. And he likes my soup.
You may encounter challenges, however, from your notoriously hungry uncle, a lanky, affable man who seems to demolish plates of food for the entire duration of the gathering. If he announces that he wants to mix his portion of your coconut lime soup with your aunt’s peppery tomato, kale and bean stew, politely express your misgivings and then hand him the ladle.
(I should be the last person on earth to cast aspersions on someone else’s offbeat food choices.)
Another aunt loves the soup so much that you give her a good portion of the leftovers (surely God notices acts like this). When she texts you the next day, you know you did the right thing.
A note to my readers: I will probably be unable to blog for the next two weeks, so I apologize in advance for skipping the weekly poems, Sunday polls, and other essays which, by now, I expect, form the core of your literary existence. Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll hope to have you back when I return.
I have the ultimate key to your grocery budget. I’ve been an expert ever since my search for natural dairy led me from $3.50 gallons at the supermarket to $4.50 half-gallons at Reading Terminal Market. How did I get milked out of $5.50? The answer is one of the great ironies of modern living.
Perhaps it’s best simply to accept the basic truth that you get what you pay for: the organic whole grains in a $4.29 loaf of bread are more nutritious than high fructose corn syrup, a main ingredient of Wonder Bread, which costs less than two dollars. But the longer I’m immersed in the specialty supermarket, the more it seems that something stranger is afoot. I see it in every part of the store. Less is more. And more is less. Money, that is.
The price of food rises or falls in direct relationship to its number of ingredients and the amount of processing it requires. However, these differences in price are counter-intuitive. The most expensive foods are the ones with the fewest ingredients. The more processed a product is, the less it costs.
For example, while a typical jar of peanut butter costs a few bucks, a jar of organic raw almond butter costs about twenty bucks at Whole Foods. Yes, one is peanuts and one is almonds. But I suspect the inflated price has more to do with the fact that the almond butter, in addition to being chemical-free, has only one ingredient (ground almonds – not even any salt!) and is raw instead of roasted. Such basic simplicity in food is reserved only for those with the most extravagant budgets.
It’s the same story in the juice aisle. I’m used to the organic juice costing twice as much as the non-organic. But why does it have to be more expensive to manufacture juice that has only water and fruit, while juices made of sweeteners, preservatives and dyes are dirt cheap? And why does the “unfiltered” apple juice cost at least a dollar more than any other apple juice? What takes more effort: filtering the juice before you bottle it, or simply bottling it? The high price of no filtration would indicate the latter.
Environmentally conscious animal products are an even worse budget minefield. Cage-free hens who ate organic vegetarian feed lay eggs that cost three times as much as the average grocery-store dozen. Why do I have to pay more when the chicken was on a restricted diet? I suppose if the chicken had been dining on filet mignon its eggs would be much less expensive. (I get the uncomfortable feeling that people are pushing their own agenda onto the chickens – perhaps protein-starved vegetarians feel better about eating a fellow creature’s eggs if that creature was on a diet they approve of.)
Buying meat is even harder. I like meat, but I hate the horrors of the modern factory slaughterhouse – that’s why I like to get chicken, pork or beef from local farms. But isn’t it ironic that while we’ll shell out at the pharmacy for our own antibiotics, we’ll pay through the nose for meat from animals who did not take antibiotics?
It’s hard enough to accept that I must pay more for milk from cows whose natural food was not sprayed with pesticides. Why must milk cost more when it is whole, unpasteurized and unhomogenized? It seems like someone was just spared a whole lot of trouble in getting the milk from the cow to my fridge. “Straight from the meadow to the market,” one label brags – so what am I paying so much for?
I never questioned the expense of imported food. Someone has to be paid to carry that dollop of foil-wrapped butter all the way from Europe. But lately I’ve noticed a new trend in gastronomical fees: “local” is the new shorthand for “priced sky-high.” Want a pork chop from a pig that was raised in your home state? That’ll be $7.00 a pound. Want to pay less? Eat meat that was shipped from much further away.
If my next-door neighbor were to raise an un-medicated cow on the pesticide-free grass in his own backyard, and then butcher it on his porch, I would have to sell my own kidney to afford one steak. If the guy across the street were to pluck an organic apple from his yard and squeeze the juice right into a bottle, I could choose between buying it and paying the rent.
The sad truth is that I know why organic, locally farmed food is so costly compared to corporate food sources. When cows are fed and slaughtered by the million to make a billion fast-food hamburgers, it is easier to fill them with drugs than it is to keep them clean. Giant agribusiness, with its government subsidies and mass distribution, can deliver a skimmed, ultra-pasteurized, homogenized gallon to me much more cheaply than the natural one from a single Lancaster farmer. The bill for organic, small-scale food is like the bill from the mechanic: parts and labor. I recently wondered why the delicately blue-hued chicken eggs at the Reading Terminal Market farm-stand cost $7.00 a dozen. An employee explained that the beautiful eggs came from a kind of chicken who likes to hide her nest. Somebody has to go find the eggs, and I guess he doesn’t work cheap.
It’s as if chickens scampering free are some kind of wacky new notion, while egg factories made of millions of caged chickens are the traditional source of eggs. Why are produce and meat which have been doused with chemicals called “conventional”? I wish this label was reserved for organic foods. The pesticide-laden monoculture of today’s crops and the filthy crush of factory farming are the things that are new – when did “natural” become the opposite of “conventional” at the grocery store?
In short, if you have a modest grocery budget, look for the packages with thirty ingredients, not three. Avoid fresh ingredients and never buy anything that was raised in your state. Always opt for as many chemicals as possible. If your body doesn’t thank you, your bank account will.