Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hey, Paula ...

From the time I was wee, I loved being in the kitchen.

I have clear memories of standing on a chair by the sink, pouring water between pieces of Tupperware (and no doubt on the floor, too). I'm sure my efforts were good for developing hand-eye coordination or something, but I just liked playing with water in the sink. And I liked being in the kitchen with my mom.

Eventually, I graduated to "real" food-preparation tasks, like tearing lettuce for salad.

I learned how to bake bread when I was 8. (Once you know how to make bread, you can tackle pretty much anything in a kitchen. People are fascinated by those who can bake bread, like we're all descendants of Midas. But there's no magic in bread baking. So long as you don't kill the yeast, bread is pretty hard to screw up.)

I grew up in a time when assumptions about food were beginning to be challenged. We ate margarine, not butter, because butter was a one-way ticket to the great hereafter. Of course, now margarine is Satan in a stick and butter is once again welcomed into the fold.

Ditto eggs.

But by and large, the tumultuous sea of what's good and what's bad seems to have calmed. There are still plenty of questions about what's best, diet-wise, but people seem to be getting a better grip on what they cram in their maws.

I, like a lot of folks, watch cooking shows as entertainment. Not that I ever make most of what's prepared on TV. But the one TV chef who is now completely off my radar is Paula Deen.

Sure, she's cute as a button and I love her drawl, y'all, but the woman ain't no friend to wellness.

I once cracked that Paula's cooking philosophy could be summed up thusly: "Mix a pound of butter and a pound of cream cheese and put it on a cracker."

Now, of course, we're all responsible for our own diets. Yes, macaroni and cheese just tastes good, dammit. We like chocolate cake. Bacon really does make everything better.

But our country is gripped by an obesity epidemic and our children are the first generation who might have a shorter life span than us.

So doesn't it behoove us to teach our children healthy habits from the get-go?

Paula is publishing a new cookbook for kids. In her interview in Ladies' Home Journal, interviewer Judith Newman posed this to Paula: "You've been criticized for the fat content in your food – and as you know, there's a childhood obesity epidemic in this country. Did you modify your recipes for children to have less fat in them?"

Paula's response: "No. Listen, I am your cook, not your doctor. Don't make me responsible. I share recipes with you, but then it's up to you. You know your body, and you know if you're genetically inclined to have diabetes or high cholesterol. My grandmother cooked and ate the kind of food I make every day, and she lived to be 91. Some people are genetically blessed."

I'd wager that Paula's grandmother probably didn't sit at a computer all day or behind the wheel of an SUV toting her kids around town. Paula's grandmother probably moved all day long, keeping a household running in an era that didn't know all the conveniences we have today.

So, sorry, Paula, yes, I think you are responsible, just the way young women in Hollywood are responsible for being role models whether they want to be or not.

And it's not responsible to teach kids to cook Sausage Quiche that calls for:

1 lb mild sausage
1 8-inch frozen deep-dish piecrust, in aluminum pie plate
2 cups (8 oz) grated sharp Cheddar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half

This recipe makes 8 servings. Here are the nutritionals:

Per serving: 455 calories, 36.5 g total fat, 15.5 g sat fat, 683 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 270 mg calcium, 166 mg chol, 20 g protein, 0 fiber

Now consider that some people (adults, most likely, but still) will have more than one serving. And they'll be eating other things with it, like toast, maybe? With butter? And jam? And a glass of juice? Or milk? Or both? Coffee with cream and sugar? Suddenly, one meal adds up to an awful lot of calories.

The more I learn about food and how it affects us biochemically, the more I understand that fat is not the ultimate villain. Carbohydrates, especially refined sugars, are what wreak true havoc in our bodies.

I've become quite a devotee of Mark's Daily Apple, which is chock-full of information about diet and exercise written in fun and interesting ways. Basically, he advocates eating the diet of our very early ancestors.

As in cavemen, not pilgrims.

I've tried it, and I have to say, my body responds really well to eating that way: lean protein, vegetables, some fruits, some nuts, etc. And if I do eat simple sugar now, whew, baby, I crash. Hard.

So, as I was saying, fat isn't the awful bastard it was made out to be in the '90s – remember when "fat free" was all we looked for on labels? "Hey, I can eat all the candy corn I want! It's fat free!" – but the kinds of fat we consume still matter. Olive oil? Good. Raw nuts? Good. Avocados? You betcha.

Paula's sausage, egg, cheese, and half-and-half quiche? Not so much.

Then again, it could be worse.

She could have suggested topping it with a decorative lattice of bacon. Because bacon makes everything better.


Blogger Mark Sisson said...

Great post! Glad to hear you like the Apple, and I couldn't agree more about the responsibility of the televised chef. People would be shocked if a celebrity chef suggested finishing off a good meal with a pack of cigarettes, but everyone's fine with sugar cookie recipes for the kids.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Marc said...

> So long as you don't kill the yeast, bread is pretty hard to screw up.<
Have you tried baking bread at 5000'? ;-)

4:55 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Ah, the Mar[c/k]s weigh in!

Excellent point about the cigs, Mark. If we know stuff is awful for us, how can we eat it? Then again, we all need to eat every day. We don't need to smoke. And I guess people figure food just moves through our systems, no harm, no foul. If only ...

And Marc: You've got met there, my friend! I live in the baking-friendly Midwest!

4:59 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Baking bread at 5K' has produced it's share of both hockey pucks and air balls, even with ultra careful measurement. There's even a cookbook available that identifies all the strange things you need to do, depending on what you're trying to bake and at what altitude.

It took a lot of effort for our local Einstein's Bagels chain to figure out an acceptable product (while good, is much airy-er than a NYC bagel).

5:34 PM  

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