Go Ahead and Eat the Bacon

Friday, July 31st, 2009

I was reading a New York Times article this morning, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch by Michael Pollan.  Ostensibly, he is promoting the new Julie & Julia film but he also finds the space to consider his pet subject, the lamentable state of America’s eating habits and trends.   He mentions the usual scapegoat suspects as causes of the increase in obesity: fast-food culture, high-cal-high-fat pre-packaged foods, lack of time to cook, the ubiquitous soft drink, etc.  But there were a few things in this article that I found especially compelling.

Writing about the shows on the Food Network, he makes mention of the competition-based shows like Iron Chef America, Top Chef, and makes an observation that I’ve many times proclaimed myself:  “If you ask me, the key to victory on any of these shows comes down to one factor: bacon. Whichever contestant puts bacon in the dish invariably seems to win.”    No question about it: bacon is always the right answer.  If one of the competitors adds both bacon and cheese, it’s practically cheating.

Offering some facts about the cooking and eating habits of Americans, he writes,

“…as the “time cost” of food preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are typically cooked outside the home. They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to our daily intake.”

Interesting.  Convenience = more calorie intake?   That might be one of the reasons that we, living on a steep hill and not owning a car, now consume far, far less “food of convenience” than I think either of us ever has before.  It’s like we’ve created obstacles to convenience which means that unless one of us is willing to down and up at least two blocks of a steeply graded hill, we’re cooking at home.

Which segues to the third thing I found particularly interesting in the article,  a quote from the food market reseacher Harry Balzer, whom he interviewed.

“So I asked him how, in an ideal world, Americans might begin to undo the damage that the modern diet of industrially prepared food has done to our health. ‘Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.’ ”

Remarkably succinct advice, if a little trite.  A few times, people have asked Marc and I how, as two people who take so much pleasure from eating and cooking, we both maintain a reasonable weight.   Doesn’t eating all that butter and bacon and cheese and duck confit add up?   Well sure; our long-winded and circuitous answer generally dilutes down to the statement that we mostly cook for ourselves.  Now, I think I’m just going to shorten that answer to what buddy said:  “Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.”