Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nutrition Facts vs. Ingredient Lists

Governor David Patterson of New York recently announced his proposed Executive Budget. Among many cost-cutting measures, there is a planned tax on non-diet soft drinks.

According to the Briefing Book for the 2009-2010 Executive Budget:
"The Executive Budget proposes an additional 18 percent sales tax on certain high caloric, low nutritional beverages like non-dietetic soft drinks and sodas. Expansion to other high caloric and low nutritional beverages can be considered. Almost one in four New Yorkers under age 18 are obese. Significant price increases should discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from consumption and help fight obesity which results in higher risk for diabetes and heart disease. (2009-10 Savings: $404 million; 2010-11 Savings: $539 million)"
Many, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, think the proposed tax is a great idea. In a column last week, Kristof wrote, “. . . the new soda tax proposed by Gov. David Paterson of New York is such a breakthrough.”

I think it’s a st
art, not a breakthrough; I can’t fathom why diet soft drinks aren’t covered by the tax. This omission, though, coincides perfectly with our society’s infatuation with the nutrition facts--rather than the ingredient lists--on food labels.

Mind you, soda is a poor example since it is unhealthy no matter what form it comes in, but should Governor Patterson be condoning the consumption of aspartame, an artificial sweetener that has been linked to a myriad of serious diseases, including cancer? Aspartame is what makes diet sodas “diet.” But is saving a couple calories really w
orth the risk?

It see
ms our society is overzealous about the amount of fat, calories and cholesterol we consume. We focus on the nutrition facts, zeroing in on the numbers found next to the above three line items. Yet, in our pursuit of nothingness, what damage are we doing to our health by ingesting synthetic, man-made substances of nefarious provenance?

Look at the ingredient lists for some of these “light” and “diet” and ”reduced fat” foodstuffs. Does anyone have a biochemistry degree? What exactly are the corn syrup solids, soy protein, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, and polyglycerol esters of fatty acids that save us a gram of saturated fat here or there? Should we be so willing to barter minimal amounts of fat for additives we have to Google to find out what they are?

If real fat (
not Ring Ding or Dorito fat) was so bad for us, wouldn’t avocadoes, wild salmon, olive oil and nuts have been subject to some sort of government tax since the Roman Empire?

Governor Patterson, do the health care system and the state a favor--tax 98% of the items in the supermarket that come in a box, plastic package or can. That would be a breakthrough.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cooking Lessons For Kids

A fair percentage of my cooking lessons and interactive events are with adults, but I also often teach kids.

Many experts believe that getting children involved in what they eat is an important step in expanding their palates and making them better eaters. Logically, having kids help in the actual cooking process is a great way to achieve this goal.

The dishes I cook with kids vary depending on their age, but we always use real food, not packaged or processed ingredients. As I’ve written previously, I believe that it is essential for children to know how food grows and what it looks like in its natural state. Broccoli does not grow as florets conveniently packaged in a plastic container, but rather on a big, thick stalk, surrounded by edible, leafy greens.

So what d
o I cook with kids? With younger children, I like to make real versions of the dishes they are familiar with from school lunches, kids’ menus at restaurants or the incessant marketing campaigns of the big food companies.

Fish sticks are one example. Instead of microwaving the processed frozen version, we’ll simply and quickly make our own from scratch.

We’ll cut fresh flounder into pieces, dip into a real mixed egg and coat with real bread crumbs. We’ll then pan fry the fish sticks in real butter and/or olive oil, let them drain on paper towels and add a sprinkle of sea salt and a squirt of juice from a lemon. For a sauce, we’ll mix together equal parts Dijon mustard and real mayonnaise, plus add a squeeze of juice from a lime.

The same straightforward principles are employed when we make spaghetti and meatballs, chips and guacamole, hamburgers, pizzas, shrimp rolls and fruit crisps.

Invariably, the kids will eat what they helped cook. They don’t love it all, but at least they’ll taste everything.

And according to a recent New York Times article, studies show that “When children were involved in cooking their own foods, they were more likely to eat those foods in the cafeteria, and even ask for seconds, than children who had not had the cooking class.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nicholas Kristof: "Secretary of Food"

Sorry I've been out of touch; with all this campaigning for Obama's Senate seat, giving cooking lessons, moving, changing my personal e-mail address and working on my squash game, who has time to write a blog?

Seriously, I'll be discussing some interesting subjects in the near future. Today, though, I wanted to mention Nicholas Kristof's latest column in The New York Times, which discusses the Department of Agriculture and its leader, the secretary of agriculture (a cabinet position).

Not that Mr. Obama doesn't haven't enough to worry about, but as Michael Pollan says, “Even if you don’t think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on — health care, climate change and energy independence — unless we reform agriculture.”