It's impossible to stand in a supermarket line without noticing articles on weight loss appearing month after month in endless iterations. Come December, the publications work themselves into an orgasmic frenzy recycling the same anxiety-producing messages. With an endless stream of dietary dos and don'ts competing for our allegiance, you'd think Americans had nothing else to think about but their waistlines.
What's a body to do? Besides the dueling doctors whose clamor runs the gamut from high protein, no carbs and minimal fats to moderate protein, good carbs and good fat--and a dozen permutations thereof--now we have glycemic load (replacing glycemic index) to think about, not to mention the newest kid in the kitchen: the anti-inflammatory diet. (By the time you read this, it too may be old news.)
Remember the Mediterranean diet? Evidently it wasn't good enough for one doctor: He's come up with a Miami version. (Stewed dolphin, anyone?)
All of this dizzying diet business is quintessentially American. First, we develop a food industry loading us with fats, toxins and artificial everything, then we develop a diet industry telling us how to undo all the harm we've done to ourselves by scarfing down those trans-fat-permeated goodies. It's enough to drive us to drink, which is OK if it's one glass of red wine with meals, sayeth the diet soothsayers.
Things are so wacky that American women need a French woman to tell them why her compatriots don't get fat. You'd think we'd have enough common sense to figure it out: Eat smart, exercise, walk, get off the couch, don't stress.
I'm not advocating a senseless regime of eat whatever whenever, but middle-class Americans are the only people on the planet afflicted with this diet mania. And though I've never been diet-crazed, I was amused to discover food fads had insinuated themselves into my kitchen.
Our cookbooks take up a bookcase of approximately 6 feet by 2 feet. The five shelves hold a total of more than 100 books on various cuisines, as well as some dedicated to diets. Among the titles cluttering my kitchen are: The Higher Taste: A Guide to Gourmet Vegetarian Cooking and a Karma-Free Diet; 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger; and The Save Your Life Diet: High-Fiber Protection From Six of the Most Serious Diseases of Civilization. The last is big on, you guessed it, grains.
Does anyone remember the now-embarrassingly outdated Jane Brody's Good Food Book: Living the High Carbohydrate Way? Makes me wonder what Jane is cooking up these days now that the Atkins diet, among others, has declared carbohydrates the work of the devil.
The first chapter of Brody's book extols the virtues of a diet based primarily on plant foods. And like everyone dedicated to convincing readers of the righteousness of a particular eating regime, she quotes the experts and offers apparently convincing evidence.
Brody's book was first published in 1985 and, if you believe what diet mavens have been telling you for the last 20 years, should be torn up and used as starter fuel for your grill before you toss on the steak. Nearly 20 years later, Loren Cordain writes The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. (Unlike poor Jane, who can only point to her years as a food writer for The New York Times as a credential, Cordain boasts the letters Ph.D. after his name.)
I am particularly fond of his use of the word "designed." As if some great engineer in the sky designed all humans to eat the same food.
Like all diet pushers worthy of the name, Cordain marshals his own army of experts and convincing-sounding evidence. His bibliography alone is worthy of the most hard-working, dissertation-writing doctoral student. On the first page of the first chapter, he cites DNA evidence (gosh!) as infallible proof that we should be eating what our Paleolithic ancestors ate. (Pass the smoked mastodon, won't you?)
Unlike the doctor who says accepting fiber into your life will ensure salvation, Cordain claims grains and legumes are bad, bad, bad. And not just that nasty white stuff, but even quinoa or brown rice or lentils. Lentils!
If you check out Cordain's photo on the book jacket, you'll find a pale-faced dude with blue eyes. Cautionary note: Never take dietary advice from anyone who looks like this.
So whom should you trust for the skinny on diet? Just wait until next year, when I cash in on the diet craze and write my own book: Grubs, Slugs and Roots: Enjoy Permanent Weight Loss, Enlightenment and Immortality.
But for now, I'm indulging in every holiday treat coming my way.