Family, Food & Wine, Health, Life

All My Skinny Friends Are Dead

This is a real quote from a real person who, when she got hungry in the middle of the night, got up to fix herself a “little plate,” and was a little proud of it, too.

Ask my dad. It was his mother.

My Grandma Bel loved to cook (as I do) and loved to eat (as I do). Too much of either of these 2 hobbies ‒ let alone both together ‒ can get you into too much trouble.

(Don’t try this at home, but she also smoked for 50 years, never exercised a day in her life, typical of women of her generation, and lived to be 87.)

Flax, fiber, and all those other ffffffffoods just make me sad. Same with those grassy drinks that taste like I fell face-down in a putting green.

Then someone sent around this photo and commentary and suddenly I felt a whole lot better.

Now, it’ll be awhile before I’m 51, but who do I want to look like when that time comes? The woman who recommends colonic irrigation, or the woman who recommends passion-fruit mousse?

Everyone in the UK knows Nigella Lawson, but she’s a different kind of food celebrity than the pompous Gordon Ramsay or the breezy Jamie Oliver or the mama’s boy ‒ in his case, that’s a compliment ‒ Raymond Blanc.

(If you don’t think you have the time or the skills to cook a French meal on a weeknight, try Chef Blanc’s Bresse Chicken with Red Wine Vinegar.)

This quote is from the forward to one of Nigella’s books: “I am not a chef. I am not even a trained or professional cook. My qualification is as an eater. I cook what I want to eat – within limits.”

Now, there are some people for whom limits, however loosely defined, work fine. How lucky is that. Then there are others (of us) who best put our formal training to use mostly by feeding other enthusiastic eaters.

Which I don’t mind at all, so come on over, prepared to eat your peas.

We don’t need to be told by President Obama to eat our peas. It’s all about how they’re prepared. Only in the UK does the waiter give you a choice between “garden peas” and “mushy peas” and people actually order the latter on purpose.

Personally, I like all vegetables, including lima beans, collard greens, and ‒ wait for it ‒ rutabagas. Okra any way but stewed. Cauliflower minus the cheese, cheese sauce, or cheese-flavored bread crumbs. (One chef friend, formerly of the Four Seasons New York, oven-roasts cauliflower and broccoli flowers with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon slices.)

But the world doesn’t come to an end when you eat that hamburger at the summer barbeque. As long as it’s only one ‒ hint: if you’re the BBQ operator, you’re too busy to eat ‒ and you skip the mayonnaise.

The world will, however, come to an end the moment you put one of those egg-less, cheese-less, why-bother meat impersonators on the grill. They sell a scarily similar product in the tile repair department at ACE Hardware.

I completely respect people who avoid meat for religious or health reasons, or out of social conviction. However, even if a veggie burger is labeled “healthy,” please read the ingredients carefully. In addition to vegetables and grains, you may get methylcellulose, also known as food additive E461, a non-digestible chemical emulsifier used in shampoo, toothpaste, and paint.

You may also get evaporated cane juice, which is just sugar. Actually a little sweeter than sugar, but at least it’s a real food…and thus perfectly legal for prepared foods labeled “organic” to contain it.

So, your choice is not only meat vs. vegetables, it’s also meat vs. sugar.

(Aside: I think a great solution to prison overcrowding would be to sentence convicts to being Lifetime Vegans with No Possibility of Parole. Ugh. Send me to a real jail.)

The “all my skinny friends are dead” quote was born when my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. The treatment caused her to lose a lot of weight…and her trademark fiery red hair, too, which was actually worse. Her theory was that if you have some extra weight to lose, chemotherapy or radiation doesn’t leave you looking like the emaciated woman in the photo above, Scottish TV health guru Gillian McKeith, whose best-selling strategies have been repeatedly debunked by clinical nutritionists and food scientists as phony and dangerous.

On the other hand, if you run ultra-marathons and have 8% body fat, you don’t have much leeway. (My grandma would be ultra-proud of my sister, then, who claims to run only when chased.)

Now, the possibility of getting cancer does NOT excuse any of us from being height-weight proportionate, no matter how much it hurts (and you have no idea). But in Grandma Bel’s case, diverging from the mean hurt less than usual.

And it was incredibly interesting how true her comment was, thinking back on her close circle of friends and what happened to them, versus to her, who had not only beaten back cancer, but also, despite admittedly a few too many of those “little plates…”

…lived for 20 more years afterwards.


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