Sunday, January 23, 2005

Scooped again.

So what does William Grimes have that I don't have?

The ear of the New York Times, for one thing, perhaps because he was a restaurant critic there. As a result, they chose him to write the Week In Review wrap on the new dietary guidelines, and not me. "Four Days on the Uncle Sam Diet...," he called his piece, where he did pretty much the same thing that I did on this fine blog. So while neither of my readers left a comment about my posts, perhaps yawning them away and wondering, "Ubi sunt the political rants of yesteryear?" he gets a readership of millions.


Another thing William Grimes seems to have in spades is royalty payments, judging by the number of his books at amazon. I bet when he gets his royalty statements from his press, they don't still--three years out--show how many copies he still has to sell before he sees a check. And one is even published by Oxford UP! Oh my furious little friend, chides William Grimes, I am so sorry to hear that you have not heard back from a publisher yet. I am sure that your book about Ezra Pound will be very important.

It has only been two weeks, I snarl back at him, wringing my copy of the Week in Review. Back off.

Plus William Grimes has people paid to generate graphics for him, like the catchy little number printed above his article on page one of the section, and conveniently included at the top of the e-version. "YOUR CHOICE!" screams the catchy graphic. If only I had learned how to post my own digital photos before I ran my little series. I could have shown the muesli! Everyone wants to see the muesli!

And of course fancy Mr. Grimes ranked a graph: it show how the author's first two days' consumption compared with the new guidelines, including a revelation of how far over his recommended 2211 calories/day he went. Well, it turns out my browser won't display the graph, so take that, Mr. Grimes!

What else does this man have that I do not? Well let me quote from his article (emphasis mine):
And in many respects, I ought to be an ideal candidate to follow almost any diet. I am thin, my cholesterol level is low and my blood pressure seems to be not just acceptable, but fabulous. Doctors constantly comment on it. In other words, I would be starting off at a point that, for many of my overweight, cholesterol-burdened fellow citizens, remains a distant goal.

Why don't you just trumpet from the rooftops, Mr. Grimes? "Well, furious friend," he responds to me, taking a little sip of wine, "perhaps you ought to scale back your caloric intake." Sure, sure, Mr. Grimes.

But now I have no other choice but to reveal that William Grimes wrote quite a good piece about those guidelines. He says early on, "I gave it a try, curious to see how hard it would be to change my eating patterns to fit the program."

OK, William Grimes, in the name of science, I make this truce with you: I will add your findings to my own, and together we can venture forward on our quest to better understand what our government wants of us.

Besides, how can I not appreciate a man who writes (again, emphasis mine), "I was dismayed to find that a mere stick of butter contains a whopping 800 calories, or more than one-third of my daily allotment."

He began as I did, by figuring out his daily calorie allowance, 2211 calories with a discretionary allowance of 290 calories. That puts us in slightly different places, thanks to my exercise regimen. (Take that, William Grimes!)

Once I stop my snarling, I find that our findings are similar. For instance:
Plunging ahead, I revised my usual breakfast, based on several slices of butter-streusel coffee cake, and instead consumed two servings of orange juice, a half-cup of oatmeal with a teaspoon of brown sugar, and two cups of tea with milk. Plus one slice of brioche toast with jam.

Two hours later, I experienced hunger pangs . . .

Well, I could not sympathize more. I am starting to like you, Mr. William Grimes. You are welcome to join me for muesli any morning of the week.

Later, at the meal most crucial to us foodies:
By dinner time, stark choices loomed. My calories were running out, and vegetable account was in deep deficit. Catfish was the entree, and I lovingly eyed a recipe involving a pecan-butter sauce.

But pecans, I quickly discovered, are butter in the form of a nut. One cup contains 822 calories, 772 of them from fat.

It was then I realized: the only reason I had been able to stay sane on the new guidelines was all the swimming: if I had had to stick to a 2000-calories-a-day diet, I might well have lost my mind.

As he so nicely concludes:
The guidelines were beginning to feel like wartime rationing. I walked around with a nagging feeling of being just slightly deprived. After two days, it began to haunt me.

I also began to chafe at the relentless assault on pleasure that the guidelines seemed to represent. At every turn, American were being urged to consume foods in their least tasty forms. There they were, the dreaded chicken breast with the skin removed, the unadorned steamed fish and the unspeakable processed cheeses.

Mr. Grimes's concerns--that these guidelines force us to change our entire food culture and deprive food of the real pleasure that it offers--are right on the money. They are not the concerns of most people, so-called ordinary Americans, for whom the real challenge is how in the world do I eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables, especially when fast food is so much cheaper? That was the story in the Greenville News yesterday. I suppose that is a different kind of cultural shift.

My gift to you, Mr. Grimes, is the reminder that these are mere guidelines. I am enjoying all the fruit that is now in my diet, and the return to whole foods. Like the strawberry-banana yogurt I made this morning, starting with fresh fruit, plain yogurt and honey. And they did make me reach for a sandwich on wheat bread instead of white yesterday at the swimmeet. But there are compromises I will not make: I have already noted that I am not giving up liquor, but I also refuse to back away from the amazing foods out there, the beautiful Italian filled pastas served with a simple sage-butter sauce, or the delicious herb-infused skin that comes on the chickens I roast, or the delicate flavors of the beautiful coffee cake that the PP baked last weekend. I consider myself guided, but only as far as I will allow Uncle Sam to lead me.


mtnRoughneck said...


Howdy. Very interesting stuff. I am constantly tweaking my eating habits, tending toward a simple whole food approach for most of my utility meals. But I am a foodie at heart, and refuse to sacrifice the pleasures of delicious, well-prepared dishes.

Perhaps you will enjoy this article. It is a quick examination of the 'French Paradox' as covered in Anne Barone's Chic and Slim: How Those French Women Eat all that Rich Food and Still Stay Slim.

Here is an excerpt:

"'Forget diets,' continues Barone. 'They are no fun and don't work. What I learned from French women is that ultimately staying slim is not about counting calories or fat grams. It is not about exercise exhaustion. It is really about personal style.' True, the French women I know tend not to get too hung up on 'dieting'; I have never witnessed a Parisienne performing the calorie or carbo calculus that bedevils so many British meals. But they do enjoy a sensible, sensuous way of eating. Just watch them, dipping mussel shells into mariniere broth at any brasserie in Saint Germain. They savour their food. They are passionate about food. They have a national heritage devoted to and founded upon food. France is, after all, the home of the great chefs, from George Auguste Escoffier to Paul Bocuse - men whose creative juices still flow through the many kitchens and cooks of the land. For them, it seems, eating is life-enriching exploit, not a chore, and certainly not a guilt-trip. Ironically, the people most likely to be 'on a diet' (12.8 million of us in the UK) are the least likely to be slim.

A recent survey conducted by the French government's Committee for Health Education (CFES) found that eating is still very closely linked to a national heritage of consuming good food for pleasure. In France, 76 per cent eat meals they have prepared at home; the favourite place to eat both lunch and dinner is in the home, with 75 per cent eating at the family table. In the UK, by contrast, we like to eat our meals (a) standing up, (b) in front of Coronation Street , (c) at a desk while catching up on emails or (d) by the side of the M40.

Whereas the French typically spend two hours over lunch, we bolt down our food in the time it would take them to butter a petit pain. Nutritionist Dr Francoise L'Hermite believes that the French secret is to sit down with friends or family for a meal, and to eat three times a day at regular intervals. She points out that the French don't eat in front of the television, and they eat slowly, enjoying both the food and the company. How very civilised.

'For France, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation,' says L'Hermite. 'From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, food is just fuel to give energy to your muscles. If you have no pleasure in it, you are breaking all the rules of eating.'"

I feel the same way about the USDA guidelines; no soul. As if food is just a means (the science of nutrition) toward an end (good health.) Ugh and bleah.

I'll take a foodgasm over bland nutrition any day.

mtnRoughneck said...


Howdy. Tried to post this comment earlier, but it didn't take.

Thought you might enjoy an article from the Observer regarding The French Paradox.

My sister noted, upon her return from a year in Holland, the speed with which Americans consume their food. It actually repulsed her to eat with us. She told wonderful stories of long hours at the dinner table spent tasting many different courses and drinking many bottles of wine. Of course, many Dutch don't go to work until 11 AM.

I tend toward whole foods for my utility meals. But I am a foodie at heart and will never feel so guilty about nutrition as to pass up a well-prepared dish.

The USDA guidelines have completely ignored the soul and culture of food. To the scientists, food is merely a means to an end.

Bleah and Ugh.

I'll choose a good foodgasm over sound nutritional science ANY day of the week.