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Are Food Writers Part of America's Food Problems?
I brought Dahlia Bakery’s caramel corn to my meeting last week with Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize winning author whose latest book Salt Sugar Fat debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. That sweet, rich, just a tiny bit salty treat was my way of testing how evangelical Michael was about preaching the gospel of restraint. The small serving disappeared quickly as we talked, though I’m not sure it reinforced the book’s central thesis: "How the Food Giants Hooked Us."
Mr. Moss—whose fine investigative work turned up the ugly practice of mixing pink slime into ground beef and making some consumers sick—is no taciturn killjoy. He’s not a preacher, but really more like a teacher, shining a light on some sneaky practices used by the food industry to get us to consume more, to join the clean plate club, finish off that bag of Doritos and fatten those bottom lines. It's good work that’s getting rave reviews and loads of attention.
However, a thought has been eating away at me ever since reading an excerpt of the book a few weeks ago in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. What if I’m part of the problem? What if food writers across the land are nothing more than enablers, recording every morsel consumed and crowing about culinary excess by proclaiming “everything’s better with bacon!” (Well, it is, isn’t it?) Where does the celebration cross the line into downright decadence?
So, I posed the question to Michael – who was in Seattle for an appearance at Town Hall – do food writers share some of the blame for getting Americans hooked on junk?
He’s not a fan of the scads of diet books that offer quick fixes, but ultimately lead to the whole yo-yo syndrome. You lose some, then you gain back twice as much.
But as far as food writers who cover food news and share it with hungry readers? We’re off the hook. Especially as far as covering restaurants go, because most people eat out rarely. When they do, it's typically a special occasion splurge.
Still, I’m not exactly convinced. I believe there’s something food writers could possibly do to encourage chefs let those wonderful ingredients they’ve carefully sourced shine without buttering us up. Maybe it’s risky, but how about cutting back on the portion size? Or what if there was the option of a smaller entrée? I’d be so down with that.
I’m not a big consumer of junk food or fast food, which is why I can say I’m not hooked on salt, sugar and fat. (Or am I in denial?) Oh, I like those things very much, but I subscribe to the Julia Child school of eating: all things in moderation.
When I pig out – as I did yesterday, while judging Cochon 555 (congrats to Jason Franey and the Canlis crew on the win at this competition created to spotlight heritage breeds) – I usually spend the next day or two giving my system a rest, loading up on salads and veggies. If you read my Twitter feed, it might look as if my days are non-stop chewing and sipping and then Tweeting about what I’m eating and drinking. Yet, most of the time, my meal plans at home are pretty low-key.
In this seemingly insatiable food-obsessed world, it’s kind of boring to talk about the Saturday afternoon I spent making a raw beet salad and nettle puree.
Bacon is sexy. Readers and eaters cannot seem to get enough mac-n-cheese. When Hostess shut down, people went nuts. Twinkies were mourned. (Don’t fret, they’re coming back.) Heck, it's fun to chew the fat about this stuff!
Maybe there’s a happy medium somewhere between the worship of all things fried and all things raw? Amen to the search for that balance!