Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Unfortunately I Am What I Eat

I am currently reading Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss, an exposé on how the major food companies worked very hard in the mid-20th century to convert Americans, and then the rest of the world, into processed food junkies.

They succeeded.

It is understandable women of the1950s bought into the easy-to-prepare food mystique. Post-World War II America changed family life. Convenience foods - a term coined in the early 1950s by General Foods CEO Charles Mortimer - was key to minimizing women's time in the kitchen.

It is hard to imagine how our forebears survived without such staples as soda, ready-to-eat frozen foods like pizza, packaged cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals - the list goes on and on.

The pendulum is slowly moving away from diets composed mainly of processed foods to more real food as researchers connect the dots concerning rising obesity rates, increasing heart disease and other illnesses, and the long-term ingestion of sugar, salt, fat, and chemical additives.

Not that natural, home made foods were always the healthiest way to go. My grandmother used chicken fat (schmaltz to Grandma) in place of healthier alternatives. Old World living - customs transferred to the New World - required the use of every available food item, no waste their mantra. So stuffed intestines (stuffed derma, a.k.a. kishka) appeared on the dinner table. And chopped (chicken) liver - in more upscale homes and restaurants called pate - a dish I still indulge in, sometimes store bought and occasionally made from scratch in my kitchen.

Scrapple, composed of pig scraps, and other animal parts, like brains and pig's stomach, are still displayed in sparkling meat counters in food stores and farmers markets in my old hometown in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Grandma made the best steak fries, cutting thick slices of potatoes and immersing them in oil until golden brown. Delicious, but hardly nutritious or healthy.

Eating out - which I do too often - complicates attempts to eat healthy. You never know all the ingredients in prepared dishes. Hidden calories, chemicals, and flavor enhancers are an integral part of today's restaurant meals.

I have another weakness shared with many Americans, a vulnerability exploited by food companies.

I eat too much. The industry calls this supersizing, akin to refilling your plate or buying (and eating) a huge steak or cutting (and eating) a large piece of cake because you can.

A byproduct of our prosperous lifestyle.

Scientists tell us people eons ago ate a lot of food so their bodies could store energy for lean times.

We have no lean food times.

There are people who cannot afford food for their families, but most of us are fortunate enough to fill our shopping carts.

I was never a total processed food junkie. I bought a baby food grinder when my boys were babies and made baby food. No jars of sugar-laden, chemically enhanced food for them.

But we were like most American family, indulging in pizza (a.k.a. fat, sugars, salt, carbs) Sunday nights - the local pizza store offered Sunday specials.

Dessert (cookies, cake, ice cream) regularly appeared on the table.

Burgers and fries were food staples.

Meanwhile one son became a vegetarian and the other carefully watches his diet.

I diet too, all the time, without results, and consider not gaining weight a victory.

I stock forbidden foods when the grandkids descend.

And they are coming soon.

I need kid-friendly cereal, brownie mix, chips (I will buy the veggie kind), peanut butter and jelly, juice (100% real), packaged macaroni and cheese - Annie's organic, probably containing some unreal food stuff. I refuse to carefully read the label to find out.

Sometimes ignorance is an essential Grandma and Grandpa trait.

The kids like chicken nuggets, and I will buy a pack made with real chicken along with other ingredients not found in my kitchen. I never heard of chicken nuggets when I was a kid in the processed food deprived, but quickly changing, faux food desert of the early 1950s.

Ice cream will be the most vital item stocked, different flavors to satisfy the desires of kids and adults alike. And, of course, the trip to the neighborhood Ice Cream Parlor on warm summer nights is mandatory.

These are food staples of modern life.

I will sneak in fresh fruit and veggies.

Please do not tell the major food companies. I might be kidnapped and force fed sugar, salt and fat laced with chemical additives.

Before you know it I will be an adult junk food junkie.

And I don't think there is a cure.


  1. For this past weekend's two-day visit by the 3 grandboys and their parents, I made a blueberry pie, bought a 1/2 gallon of ice cream, and made a full batch of chocolate chip cookies - all food that never appears on our table at any other time. My kids always hated my cookie jar - it's a Dansk cast iron casserole and it's impossible to snag a cookie without making noise. There was a steady clanking coming from the kitchen, even after the cookies were put high on top of the fridge. I just feel it's my duty as a grandma to provide memories of a constantly full cookie jar.
    In my defense, the middle child was responsible for the disappearance of a double tray of raspberries, and the four year old ate his body weight in grapes (I hope the ride home wasn't too eventful).

  2. I just saw "Fed Up" at the movies. It's quite interesting to see how difficult it is to change once you get hooked on fast food. I'm very fortunate that I haven't, and it makes such a difference in my health. Glad to know you are maintaining and not gaining. Have fun with the grandkids! :-)

  3. I was just reading about sugar being the new poison. Now I thought that we had defenses like an aversion to the taste of foods that might be poisonous. That is why scrapple does not pass my lips! I guess I will wait a few years for sugar to become a health food, as I am sure it will.