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Fit fat foe fet ... I smell dietary issues (and the last food taboo)

November, 2010

I’ve often wondered what they eat in those gruesome fairy tales. The giant in the story about Jack and the beanstock has problems that might be diet-based. He can smell the nationality of those approaching and he grinds up their bones for bread. Perhaps the desire for bone-bread is a symptom of the olfactory problem. This is a case for Dr. House.

But, not to digress, I note that the witch in Hansel and Gretel pops children into the oven after enticing them into a confection-covered cottage. The wolf in Little Red Riding Hood eats well by eating, well, whomever he can find. And there are others. Now, I recognize that these tales are associated with cannibalism, perhaps the last food taboo. However, all the characters who ate people don’t seem to have eaten much else. This – the most attenuated version of the Atkins diet – might indicate that a pure protein diet creates strong antisocial tendencies. Okay, the witch who snagged Hansel and Gretel might also suffer from a sucrose-related disease. None, not even the presumably athletic wolf, would be considered healthy in the sense that a healthy person is sensible and well balanced.

I bring this up because it is often by looking at the extremes of radical diets that we can recognize what it means to be healthy, although most diets promise fairy-tale endings: You’ll live happily ever after.

To achieve immediate results, most diet programs urge a limited food intake of porridge (Goldilocks, it’s all you really need). Results come quickly (have this apple, Snow White, and you’ll be a different person), but eventually things return to normal. Most diets don’t work; many people actually become fatter after they end their regime. Hands up anyone who has gone through this. I’d put two hands in the air right now but I need them for typing.

The long-term solution is to focus on fitness, not fatness. Take a walk before dinner. Eat slowly. Cook what you eat. Portion out the meal; don’t serve it from a large dish or platter. We all have sensible rules we know we should follow.

Food guru Michael Pollan’s advice used to be to buy food only from the supermarket perimeter. That’s where the veg, meat and dairy counters are. Everything in the middle of the store is processed food. His new dictum is simpler: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Both are smart approaches to making us more conscious of what we eat.

As I see it, another key to a successful diet is to stop demonizing food. “This dish will harm me” is the admonition of all diets. Only the secret formula (fee, fie, foe, fum) can save me. After all, what kind of diet would make money unless it had a complex multi-page-book-and-buy-this-DVD approach to killing the food demon? Instead of trying the next fad, consider what Michael Pollan suggests and remember the Italian folk saying: It is better to spend money on the grocer than on the doctor ... or the diet book.

So, I am working on this story in which an old woman gets Hansel, Gretel and Goldilocks to walk into a grocery store. So far everyone seems to be okay …

A quick fall dish:

Rapini with pasta. This balances great veggies, some carbs and a touch of protein. The cheese gives it just the edge of fat you need to feel full. For protein, pancetta or prosciutto are traditional, but you can add leftover chicken, shreds of roasted meat or even a firm cooked fish like tuna.

One bunch of rapini, sometimes called broccoli rabe. Wash well, trim the ends, blanch for a minute in boiling water, drain and chop into chunks. This amount is good for three or four people.

For pasta, I prefer the corkscrew-like fusilli for this dish, but choose what you like. Use 100 grams or a quarter-pound of dried pasta per person. Cook until it is firm and drain it, reserving a cup of the pasta water. Stir a little olive oil or butter into the drained pasta so it doesn’t stick together.

Heat a finely chopped clove of garlic and a few chili flakes in a tablespoon of olive oil. When the garlic is soft, add a quarter-cup of meat per person, cook until the meat is heated through and browns. Add the cooked pasta with a quarter cup or more of the pasta water to create some sauce. Stir well and continue cooking until everything is cooked through. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of grated cheese (parmesan, romano, asiago or any hard Italian cheese) and toss. Add salt and freshly ground pepper at the table.

And don’t wolf it down.



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