Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In which France joins the Orient

Forces literally* beyond my control cause me to find the "Well" blog endlessly fascinating. What is it about health columns that make a person want to wade in a pool of lard, sunbathing, and downing Cheetos by the bucketful? The nutritionists quoted in health articles might consider doing a study on the health-article-induced-unhealthiness phenomenon.

So. In the latest installment of "Well", Tara Parker-Pope, who means well, explains what the Mediterranean Diet consists of, after, I take it, explaining why this is how we should all eat, personal preferences and regional limitations be damned. Despite this explanation, I'm more confused than ever. "Mediterranean" apparently doesn't mean eating what is actually consumed near that particular sea, or what those living in those parts would have eaten during the Golden Age if they had had the money to eat as they pleased. It's about mimicking semi-starvation as experienced in a region that happens to have amazing local produce. If you happen to live somewhere where all foods save delicious vegetables are abundant (say, anywhere in the U.S. that isn't Berkeley), good luck.

But, back to my confusion as to what this Mediterranean noms is all about:

"Mediterranean eating is focused on simple cooking and includes all the foods you already eat, just in different proportions."

What is it I already eat, that the "Well" blog sees, via the camera-thing I don't even use in my laptop? Why not 'the typical American diet'? Why make it personal, especially when the "Well" blog readership probably eats only yogurt, kale, and quinoa, washed down with a decaf and the latest Philip Roth.

"[T]he portions are smaller than typically consumed in a Western diet."

Take that French Orientalist-types, who spend your days sneering at your Arab-immigrant concitoyens! You're not even Western! Western now equals American! How'd you like them pommes! (But why oh why, when a commenter points this out, does TPP ask said commenter to reread the post? France and Italy have not moved, nor has the not entirely geography-specific definition of Western civilization changed so as to exclude all countries other than America.)

"Refined sugar and flour and butter and fats other than olive oil are consumed rarely, if at all."

What is it, then, that pasta is made out of? Is semolina not refined? Is it an American myth that Italians eat pasta, or that French people eat baguettes? This is a serious question. I am genuinely confused. Isn't whole-wheat bread something particular to contemporary diet-conscious Americans?

"One of the key components of Mediterranean eating has to do with the elevation of the meal as a social event."

Fair enough. But is there a culture, other than Evil Contemporary America and all that it has influenced (again, see Rita's wonderful post), that does not elevate the meal in this way? Ashkenazi folk back in the less lean days of the shtetl surely lingered for hours over gefilte fish, pastrami, schmaltz, and sugary tea, along with some cookies baked with animal fat so as not to disrupt the milk-meat what-have-you, but no one's suggesting a Shtetl Food Pyramid.

"Many of the recipes we typically associate with Mediterranean countries don’t come from coastal communities, but from regions farther to the north."

Take that, blond-northern-types! A swarthy diet is a healthy one. (Though dark-haired, I'm resistant to this point because Camembert, from the non-healthy part of France, is one of the best foods out there.)

"Research on the diet took off in the 1990s, as scientists noted that people in Mediterranean countries lived longer and had low rates of serious disease despite high rates of smoking and drinking."

Indeed, being beautiful, tanned, and European prevents cancer, as we've all known all along. Results obviously not replicable among lower forms of humanity, such as Americans.

And finally, from the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, one more question:

Legumes only weekly? Really? What health problems are associated with eating too many lentils? (OK, I see where this could go, but this not being Jezebel, it won't.)



Paul Gowder said...

Oh god, I hope there aren't any health problems associated with eating too many lentils. The best cheap restaurant in palo alto has this lentil soup... I'm pretty sure there have been weeks when I've consumed it all seven days.

Phoebe said...

Now I want to go to Palo Alto! There's good lentil soup to be had in NYC, but my Middle Eastern source for the stuff was out last time I tried to track it down.

AP said...

Sometimes I get cantankerous when I read your blog (though not cantankerous enough to comment) but I loved this post!

Petey said...

"It's about mimicking semi-starvation as experienced in a region that happens to have amazing local produce."

Well that, but a love for food is also a necessary part of the bargain.

The yummy cuisines that are the best for you are the cuisines from an advanced aesthetic culture suffering from a lack of livestock, which forced the folks to work hard make things get yummy: aka Naples and Japan.

Any stupid culture can make highly edible food if they bathe everything in lard. But it takes hard and inventive work to make highly edible food without abundant pigs.

You got a problem with that? Seems about right to me.

David said...

"includes all the foods YOU already eat, just in different proportions" (emphasis added)..this is an increasingly & depressingly common writing style, clearly based on the assumption that the reader is so narcissistic that he would not be interested in anything unless its direct relevant to him was pointed out in the most simplistic terms. My local telephone weather service doesn't say "here's the weather" but "here's YOUR weather," as if they were microforecasting to the sub-zip-code level.