French Lessons

Staying Healthy the French Way

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The french flag of the former Meteorological f...

Obesity is in the news (as usual) again this week with the estimate that by 2030, 42% of Americans will be obese (not just overweight, but obese).  Compare that to our current U.S. rate of 36%.  For months now nutrition “experts” are diligently trying to determine the cause of our national eating disorder and suggestions have been made smaller from portion sizes, too much fat, too many carbs, obesogens (chemicals in the food), processed and fast food, sugar-sweetened drinks, not enough sleep, not enough calcium, bacteria in the gut, and even viral infections. The list goes on and it still may be seen that all these factors may be contributory along with those still remaining to be studied.

The old long-held paradigm of calories in, calories out has been questioned.  This advice works for some people, but for others it just doesn’t apply as we struggle with calorie restriction and increased exercise.  The weight often creeps back even though some food and exercise habits have improved.

Studying food in different cultures allows us to look at the different ways people view food and how their diets affect their obesity and chronic disease rates.  One culture stands out above all – the French, as they have a fairly high fat diet with low rates of obesity and heart disease. This is often called the “French Paradox”.  How do they do it, we ask?   The French, especially those residing in the northern and central regions, traditionally enjoyed cakes, pastries, and cheese that would make our arteries slam shut and pounds creep onto our waistlines.

So what are the facts about the traditional diets (around 10 years ago) of the French that kept them healthy and slim?

  • The French diet was high in saturated fat – 35-38% of total calories came from fat compared to around 34% in the U.S.
  • According to one study with French participants, only 14% derived less than 30% of their energy from fat, and only 4% derived less than 10% of their energy from saturated fat.
  • Their heart protective HDL-cholesterol and rates of hypertension were about the same as they are in North America, but the total serum cholesterol levels were higher.
  • They also smoked.

So tally these factors up and you would think that the French would have had at least a higher risk of heart attacks that North Americans.  But the opposite was true.

According to the American Heart Association, out of thirty-five selected countries, France reported deaths from heart disease that were among the lowest in the world – second only to Japan.

In addition, they were better at combating cancer.  For example, they reported incidence rates of breast cancer that were 50% lower, on average, than in the U.S. Also, their rates of colon and prostate cancers were roughly 30 and 60% lower, respectively, than those in the U.S.

Were they obese?  Of course not. They were leaner – back in the late 1990’s, only 8% qualified as obese.  How much of this is genetic?  Probably not much since when the French moved to Montreal and began to consume a more U.S-style diet, “they gained weight and their heart disease rates began to resemble those of the U.S.

French Diet Secrets at a Glance:

Moderate drinking.  The French have always mastered the art of moderate drinking.  Their tempered one-to-two drinks-a-day habit may be what kept their hearts healthier despite their traditional high fat diet. And the French rarely drank alcohol without food.  Think – no Happy Hours.

Lots of fruits and vegetables (no surprise).  Even though the diet was high in fat, the French ate traditionally on average, four or more servings of vegetables a day.

No snacking.   This is where the traditional French diet so differed from the U.S. typical dietary habits.  Americans reported snacking on average three snacks a day contributing about 20% of day’s total calorie intake, the French did not usually partake of this between-meal ritual. Think of our supermarket aisles laden with snack foods.

They also did not eat pastries every day – they considered these as treats for special occasions.  What’s for dessert?  Mostly fruit after dinner.

A Megameal Lunch. A study showed that the French had consumed about 60% of their daily calories by 2:00 p.m. each day compared with an American group taking in only 40% of their calories by 2:00 p.m. then having a snack a couple of hours later and ate the largest meal at dinner.

Curtail Dieting. The French rarely take dieting to extremes.  Prepackage meals and diet foods were considered an “insult” to their palates.  Instead, they made small changes like limiting butter or cutting down on cheeses to lose extra pounds that may creep on.

More is Not Better. When the French visit the U.S. they are appalled at the quantity of food served. They find taking home leftovers or “doggy” bags comical. since they never serve you that much in the first place. If you overindulge, just cut down the next meal or day to compensate and constantly be aware of the amount served. So enjoy in Moderation.

The French have an attitude about food- they savor it. To quote Julia Child “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”

Hooked on Food?

Hooked on Food: A Battle in the Brain? The Reality of Food Addiction

Our brains maintain a healthy body weight by signaling when to eat and when to stop. Hormones regulate feeding circuits that control appetite and satiety, but fatty sugary foods can motivate some people to overeat. The more they have the more they want, a sensation common in drug addiction.

Sugar in the form of glucose provides the body with quick energy. But lately, we’ve gone way beyond the Call of Duty. 200 years ago, the average American ate about 2 pounds of sugar per year. Today we each eat about 152 pounds a year according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. This sharp increase in the consumption of sugar is no mystery. Sugar is cheap, plentiful, and it tastes great.

Some doctors and researchers classify sugar as an addictive drug because this refined white crystal triggers the pleasure and reward centers in our brain much like a drug does. It was already well established that sugar consumption will light up the nucleus accumbens and other areas of the brain that are collectively known as the reward centers, generating intense feelings of pleasure when we engage in acts like eating. Doctors are trying to curb our out-of-control sweets habit. The American Heart Association recommends that adult men consume no more than 38 grams or 9 teaspoons of sugar daily, women only 6 teaspoons, and children even less. The latest 2025 dietary guidelines recommends even smaller amounts for daily consumption: no more than 30 grams of added sugar a day for an adult male. However, these numbers fall far below what a typical American actually consumes. An average soda is 39 grams and a bowl of cereal is 20 grams and that’s without dumping more spoonfuls of sugar on top of it.

Is Sugar Addictive?

A recent study showed that rats can be addicted to foods, too.  Actually, these foods sound very similar to those found in the Standard American Diet. The researchers gave rats unlimited access to standard chow as well as to a mini cafeteria full of appetizing high calorie foods: sausage, cheesecake, chocolate. The rats decreased their intake of the healthy but bland items and switched to eating the cafeteria food almost exclusively. They gained weight. They became obese.

The research then warned the rats as they were eating by flashing a light that they would receive a nasty foot shock. Rats eating the bland chow would quickly stop and scramble away, but time and again the obese rats continued to devour the rich food, ignoring the warning that they had been trained to fear. Their hedonic desire overruled their basic sense of self preservation.

“We now have the evidence for just how easy this is. People eating ultra processed, palatable foods are likely to eat more calories and no surprise, gain weight. We know this from a clinical trial run by Kevin Hall and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health. They managed to convince 20 adults to live in a controlled metabolic ward for a month period. They gave the volunteers one of two diets unprocessed or ultra processed that were matched for calories, fats , carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. For two weeks the volunteers could eat as much as they wanted of the assigned diet; they then could eat as much as they wanted of the other diet for two weeks. The results were stunningly clear. On the ultra processed diet, the volunteers consumed many more calories – 500 — more a day than when eating the unprocessed diet.  They also gained a pound week.

This experiment tells us that there is something about sweet, salty, and fatty foods that makes us want to eat more of them and to be unaware of how much more we’re eating. Salads and fruits do not trigger this kind of response.”  Source: Marion Nestle. Let’s Ask Marion: What you need to know about the politics of food, nutrition, and health. California Study in Food and Culture. 2020.

Did they become “hooked on food”? An inability to suppress a behavior, despite the negative consequences, is common in addiction. Scientists are finding similar compulsiveness in certain people. Almost all obese individuals say they want to consume less, yet they consume or continue to overeat even though they know that doing so can have shockingly negative health or social consequences. Studies show that overeating juices up the reward systems in our brain so much so in some people that it overpowers the brain’s ability to tell them to stop eating when they have had enough. As with alcoholics and drug addicts, the more they eat the more they want. Whether or not overeating is technically an addiction if it stimulates the same brain circles as drug use in the same way, people also can possibly be “addicted to food.”

What to Do? Protein to the Rescue

Many peoples’ relationship with sugar typically starts when they wake up in the morning.  Many start the day with a sweet bowl of cereal or a muffin (at 600 calories) for breakfast. But this pattern can set you up to fail, so many nutritionists recommend to focus more on protein.

Protein helps stabilize blood sugar which helps keep you out of fight or flight reactions and protein also provides the building blocks for your brain neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. Many nutritionists advise their patients to eat protein such as eggs, cheese, nuts, peas, beans, and or even a protein shake at least an hour after they get up, and with every meal. If you snack before bed, make sure that it has protein too. Even if we strive to avoid sugar, it is often ubiquitous in our food culture appearing in many processed foods.  If you have trouble saying no to sweets, it is recommended to eat protein proactively to keep temptations in check. This way you can help to avoid another binge on your favorite indulgence promoted by the American food industry and your brain, which is actually in on the hijacking, by the way.

The First Thanksgiving: 1621

A Brief History of Thanksgiving Foods

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English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“ The turkey is certainly one of the most delightful presents which the New World has made to the Old.”  Brillat Savarin.

Most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods we now eat on this holiday are foods that originated or were Native to the Americas. The word for turkey in French is dinde, short for poulet d’inde since they thought that the turkey came from the West Indies of Columbus days.  The turkey was popular in England before the Pilgrims came in 1620.

Turkeys don’t migrate so they were some of the first Native Americans and were available all year.  Turkeys are easy to hunt – when one is shot, the others freeze in place.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t encourage shooting turkeys – we have lots of wild turkeys here in Western North Carolina. Many times I’ve had to stop and wait until they cross the road.  I once encountered a few hens walking in the woods, followed by a male who wanted to impress them by making a racket and spreading his tail feathers – of course, the “girls” totally ignored him and went on without a nod – I kind of felt sorry for him

Potatoes had reached Europe early in the Columbian Exchange (thanks to Christopher Columbus).  Potatoes had an interesting history – they were native to Peru, a Spanish colony and enemy of England, and went from Peru to Europe and then returned to New Hampshire with Scottish-Irish settlers in 1723.  It is thought that the idea of mashing them with butter and milk also came form Scottish-Irish influence.

Cranberries were native to New England. Cranberries and blueberries were mashed with sour milk and used as paint as well as for food.  To this day, these colors or variations of these colors are used in New England colonial homes.

Many types of squash had reached Europe, but pumpkin was unknown at that time. Pumpkin was used in the early colonies, but did not appear in cookbooks until Amelia Simmons in 1796 wrote the first printed American cookbook.  She referred to it as “pomkin”.  You may prefer pecan pie – and these are also of American origin.  Originating in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico, pecans were widely used by pre-colonial residents.

Cornbread and sweet potatoes (both being native to the Americas) round out our traditional Thanksgiving fare. Archaeological studies indicate that corn was cultivated in the Americas at least 5600 years ago and American Indians were growing corn long before Europeans landed here. The probable center off origin is the Central American and Mexico region but since the plant is found only under cultivation, no one can be sure.

The sweet potato has a rich history and interesting origin. It is one of the oldest vegetables known to mankind. Scientists believe that the sweet potato was domesticated thousands of years ago in Central America. Christopher Columbus took sweet potatoes back home to Europe after his first 1492 voyage. Sweet potatoes spread through Asia and Africa after being introduced in China in the late 16th century.

So as you enjoy your Thanksgiving this year, give thanks to the Americas for our traditional foods that are truly “made in America”.

BTW –Many of the foods we find on our Thanksgiving table today, weren’t  available back when the colonists celebrated the First Thanksgiving in Plymouth.  The first historical descriptions of the first Thanksgiving do not mention turkey – only “wild fowl” (not identified) and five deer.  The party was in 1621 with fifty-one Pilgrim men, women, and children hosting ninety men of the Wampanoag tribe and their chief, Massasoit.  It was in the fall to celebrate the good harvest of corn (wheat and barley weren’t as successful) and lasted three days.

Have a great Thanksgiving Day from Food, Facts & Fads and STAY SAFE.  SJF

The First Dietary Guidelines 1980

The Old, The New, The Truth

Soon, The Dietary Guidelines for 2020  are due to be released.  As usual, there will be a flurry of discussions, debates, praise and criticisms somewhat dependent on what sections of the food industry are happy and those who are not.  The Dietary Guidelines, in my opinion, reflect who won the battle for the food industry’s interests this time around, to make sure their profit margins are kept intact. Little else new is gained from them and little attention is paid to them after their endlessly repeated advice based on lobbyists and politics. Who will win out this time?  In the past few decades, the advice has lacked conviction, e.g. what is moderation,  and has been so diluted, it plays little role in how our food supply affects our health.  Enjoy a little history of past advice and forgive me for the cynicism.

CLICK HERE.

How to Eat (most of the time)

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Do you feel guilty if you do not eat healthy foods? Most of us don’t but there are people who now comprise a group exhibiting a new eating disorder called orthorexia. 

The following article by Mark Bittman may put this eating pattern in a reasonable perspective. The Bottom Line? Enjoy food but make healthy choices (most of the time). This philosophy as stated by Bittman is refreshing – Seems to resemble the traditional diet of the French – the Good Life Savored.

“Eating well is an integral part of their national heritage. To say the French know their food is an understatement and it has been said that even their children are serious “foodies” with two-hour multi course lunches (not uncommon in France)” – all this without guilt. Contrast that with the typical American with a quick drive-through grabbing a burger with fries and eating them in the car with some snacking throughout the day.  The French also maintain their weight with little dieting, calorie counting or snacking.” They simply say: If you eat too much one day, cut back the next day. Pretty simple advice but it seems to work (at least for them).

Source: 30 Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Cuisines. by Steven Jonas, M.D, and Sandra Gordon.

Note: Obesity rates in France are among the lowest in Europe, but have been increasing steadily. The increase has been attributed to an increased adoption of the Western diet or Standard American Diet.

In France, almost 40% are overweight (including obese). You can contrast that with the U.S. at 70% (overweight and obese).

CLICK HERE.

Dieting in America: An Ongoing Issue

After 150 years of becoming a nation obsessed with weight loss, we still have not grasped the true experience of how difficult it is to lose and more importantly maintain that loss (if it occurs) so many still seek the “quick fix” Of course, the obesity industry likes it that way – success does not help them obtain more business and appears to keep their customers coming back for more promises and sometimes unhealthy claims.

This post addresses with more detail a previous post on a diet time line, tilted Is Dieting Deadfrom Banting to weight loss surgery for the morbidly obese. The obese get blamed for their dilemma which adds to their guilt, whereas, the emphasis should be more focused on not only how hard weight loss is, but keeping it off avoiding the Yo-Yo dieting phenomenon.  This leaves the obesity industry even more gleeful as their customers keep returning. From Obesity Soap in 1903 to the dangerous Tape Worm Diet, the Drinking Man’s Diet, and eating disorders,  the quest furthers our national obsession with weight. An excellent book,The Hundred Year Diet:  America’s Voracious Appetite for Losing Weight, by Susan Yager aptly addresses this issue.

 

CLICK HERE.

The Tumultuous Sixties: The American Plate 1960 – 1969

Sally J. Feltner, M.S.,PhD

The French Chef

In 1945, an American woman went to Paris with her husband. While there, she attended the Cordon Bleu cooking school and became very fascinated with French cooking. She was eager to share her fascination with others back in America, so when she returned she ended up writing a cookbook. In 1961, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child was heralded by critics and housewives alike. But her TV show, The French Chef, which aired from 1963 to 1967, made her America’s first true celebrity chef. She inspired a generation to see the act of cooking as a joy and an art
In the United States. She alone is credited with restoring our culinary culture after a decade in the 50’s of processed food and a trend away from home cooking. She introduced us to the luxuries of butter, cream and cognac. The newly affluent were eager to try to attain culture and she made it very approachable. We were introduced to Cog au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Mousse au Chocolate and Duck a l’Orange.  The 1960s decade was  stormy,  shaped by the clash of conforming tradition and radical change. WWII rationing was a distant memory; 50s casseroles were old & boring. The late 60’s brought social unrest with growing frustration over the Vietnam War, assassinations of a President (JFK), a civil rights leader (Martin Luther King), and a political candidate (Robert Kennedy).

The New York World’s Fair: 1964

 

“In 1964, international cuisine was scarce in the United States , and few Americans had tasted Indian, Korean or Middle Eastern food. At the 1964 New York World’s Fair they got their chance. With 140 pavilions representing 37 countries on a concourse of nearly 650 acres, taking in the entire fare was difficult with 112 restaurants to choose from, deciding where to eat was even tougher. The exhibition boasted regional foods from Japan and Lebanon, Africa and Spain, Hawaii and Belgium. The Indian pavilion served tandoori and paratha; The Korean pavilion featured kimchi and other garlicky specialties. Jordan’s restaurant offered hummus and shwarma and the Hawaiian pavilion had a luau. Spain’s stunning pavilion complete with an art gallery displaying original works by Goya, Valezquez, El Greco, Miro and Picasso, offered authentic Spanish fare at three restaurants.  the Belgium village had a 1500 seat beer Hall and a breakfast house that introduced the Belgium waffle to America. The fat,  fluffy treat piled high with strawberries and whipped cream was, without a doubt, the fair’s biggest food sensation.”  Bon Appetit, September, 1999.

‘Eggo waffles were invented in San Jose, California, by Frank Dorsa, who developed a process by which waffles could be cooked, frozen, and packaged for consumers. In 1953, Dorsa, along with younger brothers Anthony and Sam, introduced Eggo frozen waffles to supermarkets throughout the United States. Because of the egg flavor, customers called them “Eggos”. Eventually the name became synonymous with the product and, in 1955, the Dorsa brothers officially changed the name to “Eggo”. In 1968, as a means of diversification, the Kellogg Company purchased Eggo.[4] Their advertising slogan—”L’eggo my Eggo”—developed by Leo Burnett in 1972 is well known through their television commercials.” WIkipedia

White House Style: The Kennedy Years

“From the moment Jacqueline and John F Kennedy moved into the White House in 1961, the world could see that a new generation had arrived. With their keen interest in history, literature, the arts, food and entertaining, the youthful, scholarly charismatic Kennedy’s roused stodgy Washington by setting new standards in everything from clothing to table decor and cuisine. The first lady, an avid recipe collector who loved French food, hired French chef Rene Verdon from New York’s Carlyle hotel to serve as executive chef at the mansion.  The Kennedys hosted legendary dinners with dance, concerts, poetry readings, performances of Shakespeare, and other entertainment that showcased the best America had to offer.”

Bon Appetit, September, 1999.

The Revolutions

Millions of people in the world were starving. Technology’s answer was food that was genetically engineered like soy and dwarf rice that had a short growing time, a phenomenal yield and would grow anywhere in Asia. It could produce two crops a year and yielded more rice per plant. This was the beginning of the Green Revolution. People began to eat more consciously after the book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring was published. Her book spoke of the consequences of using pesticides which led people to be more aware about where food comes,

The Blue Revolution involved aquaculture or fish farming. Both these revolutions have pros and cons, critics and proponents. Aquaculture nevertheless is probably the world’s fastest growing form of food production and some believe that by 2030, aquaculture will supply most the fish people eat.

greenrevolution

Counterculture Cuisine – Hippie Food

Some people took it a few steps further by growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs, milked farm animals and revolted against white foods – Minute Rice, Cool Whip, instant potatoes, white sugar, white bread. Hippies dominated the culture and brought with them a return to unprocessed foods. They baked their own bread, made peanut butter tahini and hummus and ate brown rice and brown eggs. They brought to our attention cooperatives, vegetarianism, and fresh food markets and health food stores. Food quickly evolved from French cooking to “back to the earth” attitude.

In the 1960’s overabundance, fast foods and processed foods led to the beginnings of the obesity problem in America.  On the diet front, Jean Nidetch and several friends met in her apartment in 1961 to counsel each other about dieting. Her support group eventually became Weight Watchers. The sugar free soft drink Tab is introduced in 1963. In 1967, Twiggy, 5’7” and weighing just 92 pounds becomes a supermodel and influenced thousands of young women to rethink their body image to try to meet her standards. The slogan “thin is in” quite possibly led to a resurgence of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge-eating that saw its roots in the Victorian days of the 19th century.

 

newton-stewart-health-foods

Sources:  Linda Cvitello, Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, 2nd Edition.

SPAGHETTIOS

Tackling strands of spaghetti on a fork is a formidable challenge for a toddler which requires a bottle of “Mr. Clean” on hand. So in 1965, Franco-American came up with a solution by inventing a kid-friendly spaghetti for babies. Original shapes were discussed using stars, cowboy shapes, spacemen, but eventually it was decided to use four different sized circles while making the sauce sweeter and cheesier than adult canned pasta for adults.

The pasta was put in a can decorated with a childish drawing of a face with two pasta rings for eyes which appealed to both kids and parents. The ad campaign featured the song, “Uh, oh” Spaghettios” jingle sung by a pop singer, Jimmie Rodgers. Often today’s baby boomers can sing the whole song from memory.

To clarify the Jimmy Rodgers thing – there was a country singer named James Charles “Jimmie” Rodgers who died in 1933. However, the Spaghettios singer was born James Frederick “Jimmie” Rodgers who was born in 1933.

Carolyn Wyman, Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat

A Trivia Timeline

1960 About 35% of all women work outside the home and they average 60 cents for every dollar earned by men.

1960  The civil rights movement begins with lunch-counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C.

1961   Sprite hits the market.

1962   John Glenn says that his first meal in space, applesauce through a tube, is nothing to write home about.

1963    Kenner develops the Easy Bake Oven “toy”.  The working oven is introduced at the 1964 toy fair and more than 500,000 are sold the first year at a price of $15.99.

1964   The first Coke in a can appears.

1965    The immigration Act of 1965 begins the influx of millions of people from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Eastern Europe, the Philippines, India, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and Central and South America.

1966    Doritos, the first tortilla chips, are launched nationally.

1967    Campbell Soup Co. acquires Godiva Chocolate and begins to supply the U.S. from its Reading, Pa. plant.

1967    The National Football League adopts Gatorade as its official drink.

1969   Dave Thomas opens the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio. He has already made $1 million by taking over Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants.  Wendy’s is named for his daughter.

1969   Pringles potato chips are introduced.

Source: The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites, Beverly Bundy

 

 

Life Was Good? The American Plate 1950 – 1959

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Author: Sally J. Feltner, M.S.,PhD

An Attack on Gastronomy

The 1950’s brought a renewed hope for the country after two decades of Depression and War. However, food historians deplore the state of the cuisine during this period – it mainly consisted of processed foods which many blame for this anti-gastronomic desert. In addition, the rise of the fast food industry, i.e. hamburger chains that sprouted up along side the newly build national highway system did not offer any better fare. Freeing Mom from the kitchen seemed to be the dominant theme as appliances and prepared foods became the ‘norm”.

TV Dinners

After WWII, America’s economy boomed, women entered the workforce as never before and food got a little strange. Housewives spent less time in the kitchen, so food companies came to the rescue with a buffet of processed foods. Foods were purchased in a can, package or pouch. Soups were available as liquids or in dry form. Tang landed on supermarket shelves and frozen dinners laid on trays in front of TV sets. TV dinners were introduced in 1953 by Swanson and with a flick of a wrist you could turn back the foil to display turkey in gravy, dressing, sweet potatoes and peas ready in about 30 minutes – all with no dishes to wash.

tv_dinner01

Better Living Through Chemistry

“Better Living through Chemistry” was the slogan of the times along with “I like Ike” referring to the popular Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 5-star general from WWII winning the U.S presidency from 1953 to 1961.
This change in processing came from the demand of the Army during WWII to provide needed ready-to-eat meals. The food industry responded by ramping up new technologies in canning and freeze-drying to feed the troops. The marketing of these foods presented a challenge, however. At first, many of them were less than palatable, so food companies hired home economists to develop fancy recipes and flooded magazines, newspapers and TV with ads to broadcast their virtues. Actually the first cake mix was available in 1931, but was met with disdain due to the use of dehydrated eggs, e.g. Women later would respond more favorably if they could crack their own eggs into the batter so they would feel like they were doing something positive in the kitchen.

June Cleaver

People rushed to buy appliances, houses, cars, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and backyard barbecue grills and new home freezers.  They also bought television sets in record numbers and watched shows that represented their new idealized lives like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. Beaver’s mother, June Cleaver was depicted as a housewife freed from household chores and often was serene and perfectly dressed with pearls and high heels pushing a vacuum cleaner and putting meals on the family table, all before solving the family problems.

Fast Food Nation

The birth rate soared and created what is known as the Baby Boomer Generation. Fifty million babies were born from 1945 to 1960. Food marketing shifted to kids with Tony the Tiger and fish sticks leading the campaign. Fast food had its beginnings strengthened in 1955 when Ray Kroc bought a hamburger stand from the McDonald’s brothers in San Bernadino, California. Disneyland opened in 1955 and was so popular they ran out of food on the first day.

mcdonalds-burger1

The Seven Countries Study

In 1958, the American scientist, Ancel Keys started a study called the Seven Countries Study, which attempted to establish the association between diet and cardiovascular disease in different countries. The study results indicated that in the countries where fat consumption was the highest also had the most heart disease. This suggested the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease. He initially studied 22 countries, but reported on only seven: Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, United States, and Yugoslavia.

The problem was that he left out:

  • Countries where people eat a lot of fat but have little heart disease, such as Holland and Norway and France.
  • Countries where fat consumption is low but the rate of heart disease is high, such as Chile.

Basically, he only used data from the countries that supported his theory.
This flawed observational study gained massive media attention and had a major influence on the dietary guidelines of the next few decades, i.e. cut the fat out of our diets.

 

sevencountries

The First Artificial Sweetener

In the diet world, Saccharin was manufactured in granules and became a popular sugar substitute for dieters. It was first produced in 1878 by a chemist at Johns Hopkins University, but became popular after sugar shortages in WWI and WWII. In the United States, saccharin is often found in restaurants in pink packets as “Sweet’n Low”. It was banned later but it remains on the market today. The basis for the proposed ban was a study that documented an increase in cancer in rats being fed saccharin. The “Delaney clause” of the Food Additive Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act states that no substance can be deemed safe if it causes cancer in humans or animals. In suspending the proposed saccharin ban, Congress ordered that products containing the popular sweetener must carry a warning about its potential to cause cancer. The FDA formally lifted its proposal to ban the sweetener in 1991 based on new studies, and the requirement for a label warning was eliminated by the Saccharin Notice Repeal Act in 1996.

TIMELINE: 

1951 I Love Lucy debuts on CBS.

1952 The Lipton food company rolls out its dehydrated onion soup that will earn it fame as a base for onion soup mix: 2 envelopes of mix plus 1 cup of sour cream. Lipton eventually prints the recipe, “California Dip” on the package.

1953 Eggo Frozen Waffles are introduced.

1954 Employee Gerry Thomas from the C.A. Swanson Co,  has an idea (although fellow workers nearly laughed him out of the Omaha  plant): package the left-over turkey, along with some dressing, gravy, cornbread, peas and sweet potatoes into a partitioned metal tray, sell it frozen, and consumers could heat it up for dinner. His name for the leftover meal: TV Dinner.

1954 The first Burger King  opens in Miami. A burger is 18 cents, as is a milkshake. The Whopper is introduced in 1957 and sells for 37 cents.

1955 Milkshake-machine salesman, Roy Kroc tries to persuade Dick and Mac McDonald (owner of the original McDonalds in California) to franchise their concept.  They aren’t interested but  tell Kroc to go ahead and try his hand. Kroc opens his first restaurant in Des Plains, ILL., and eventually buys out the McDonalds.

1956 Jif Peanut Butter is introduced.

1956 More than 80 percent of U.S. households have refrigerators. By contrast, only 8 percent of British households have refrigerators.

1957 Better Homes and Gardens prints its first microwave-cooking article.

1957 Margarine sales take the lead over butter.

1958 Eighteen- year-old Frank Carney sees a story in the Saturday Evening Post about the pizza fad among teenagers and college students. With $600 borrowed from his mother, he and his fellow Wichita State classmate, opens the first Pizza Hut in Wichita, KS.

 

A Better Idea? Pastured Pigs

The other day, I cooked a pork tenderloin (at low heat) and was surprised to find the meat “stringy” and not very tender. We had not found that a few years ago when we had used the very same recipe. What has happened to the perfect pig?

Pork had been the meat of choice since Colonial Days in the Plymouth Colony (circa 1623). The dense American forests were ideal for raising pigs. They were allowed to remain “wild” and roam freely most of the year with only penning them in the winter.  They were “finished” on corn that made the flesh firm but tender and they gained weight quickly. Pigs were more efficient than cattle for meat, so cattle were more used for milk, butter, cheese and plowing.

Excerpts from an article from U.S. News and World Report (August 15, 2005) offers some reasons.

“Pigs aren’t porky anymore. Instead, they are as lanky as marathon runners.  However, today’s pork roasts all too often don’t taste good and the meat is dry.” Through breeding practices, searching for a leaner pig began back in the 1970’s when customers began to demand low fat food products that satisfied the flawed low fat movement for heart health. “This alarmed pork producers who launched a now familiar campaign, “The Other White Meat” attributable to pork that suggested that it was just as lean as chicken. It wasn’t just hype. According to 2005 standards, “supermarket pork is 31% lower in fat than it was 20 years ago.”

“All during the 80’s and 90’s, animal scientists continued to try to say that they could get a leaner hog with more muscle” said a meat scientist at Iowa State University. “They lost the taste, they lost the moisture content”, he said.

So what is  the perfect pig?  It depends on the time frame. The feral pig was first domesticated in the Middle East and central Asia 9,000 years ago. It was brought to America in 1493 on Columbus’s second voyage. The 1900 pig was bigger to provide lard that was highly prized at the time. Some pigs topped 2,000 pounds. The typical market pig today is lean and muscled, with a market weight of from 275 to 300 pounds.

Everyone has their own motivation when it comes to changing their diet; to lose weight, to be healthier, to eat or reduce meat consumption, to address environmental or animal welfare, and to enjoy great tasting food.

For some of us, the perfect pig is a “happy pig”.  Fat or lean – the most important aspect is how the animals are treated by us  when they are in our care (my opinion).

Being an “ethical omnivore” is about an attitude towards what you consume and the effect it has on you and others. It also involves how we treat the animals we choose to consume or not to consume. We as “ethical omnivores ” need to know where our food comes from and respect the welfare of the animals in exchange for what they provide for us.

A better idea rather than manipulating their fat content in the ethical treatment of animals may be seeking out and encouraging pastured pigs that are raised with animal welfare standards including compassion and dignity in their own natural environments.  There they can receive better diets that are more suited to their physiological needs rather than attempting to alter their size and fat content artificially to please the food industry profits. After some soul searching combined with my love for animals, I think pork will come off our menu for a long time.

A good book to read about animal-human relationships is Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. Hal Herzog is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on human-animal relations. He is a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and lives in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Mohandas Gandhi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Americans Eat So Much Beef?

 

A typical beef feedlot

January 22, 2013 by foodworksblog 3 Comments

Even though it has been reported that meat consumption has declined recently, in the past, Americans have been consuming about 150 pounds of “red meat” per capita/year. The percentages are startling: 60% beef, 39% pork, with only 1% for lamb and mutton. The percentage of goat is too small to even mention.

Pork had been the meat of choice since Colonial Days in the Plymouth Colony (circa 1623). The dense American forests were ideal for raising pigs. They were allowed to remain “wild” and roam freely most of the year with only penning them in the winter.    They were “finished” on corn that made the flesh firm and they gained weight quickly. Pigs were more efficient than cattle for meat, so cattle were more used for milk, butter, cheese and plowing.  Other food animals that were available were goats, sheep and chickens.

Goat meat was the first to be abandoned which virtually disappeared.  Goat meat was occasionally consumed in the South by low-income groups as well as some Hispanics.  Goat meat is still served in some Mexican restaurants.

Sheep migrated into British cookery as a by-product of wool production, especially in Scotland and Ireland.  Lamb eventually became more popular associated with the wool industry in New England, but did not catch on in the South due to the influence of the cotton industry.  Later, dairying replaced sheep herding in New England.

The Great Plains became the ideal location for raising cattle. When the corn production moved west, the pig and cattle industry followed.  Then, they had to be “walked” back over the mountains to the Eastern seaboards by “drovers”.  Cincinnati became known as “Porkopolis”.  By the time of the Civil War, Americans were “hooked on pork and had become “the staff of life”, primarily in the South and Midwest.

The Northeast became more partial to beef.  New Englanders no longer raised pigs due to the cutting down of the forests for the shipbuilding industry.  Little corn was grown to “finish” the pork.

In the Western plains, the American Indians preferred the buffalo, so the government (U.S. Army) figured out that if they could get rid of the buffalo, they also could rid the area of the Indians.  Cattle ranchers with the help of the railroads began to raise herds of cattle to replace the once prolific buffalo herds.  Progress with the railroads replaced the cattle drives and the Chicago stockyards became the center of cattle slaughter.  In 1882, refrigerated cars became more available for safer transportation;  the West was running out of grazing land that forced more feedlot “finishing” with corn.

Beef became cheap and ranchers were paid to supply the Indian reservations with beef to prevent starvation (after eliminating the buffalo). For a while beef consumption fell again due to losing its price advantage at the turn of the century until about 1940.

In the early 1950s Americans were eating about equal amounts of beef and pork. By the late 1950s, beef consumption in the U.S. surpassed pork for the first time. By the 1960’s Americans were eating 10 times more pounds of beef and by the 1970s, 25 pounds more.

Why is beef king in the U.S?

  • Changes in beef production and marketing at the end of WW II fit the new postwar lifestyles.  Meat had been rationed during WWII.
  • Improved breeds appeared that were given soy, fish meal, corn, sorghum, hormones, antibiotics that allowed faster “finishing” times due to accelerated growth since the cattle ate day and night.
  • Lifestyles began to involve more home ownership in the suburbs, which lead to outdoor grilling. Beef patties were ideal grillers; pork patties fell apart.
  • There were no dangers of trichinosis with beef.
  • Women entered the workplace that resulted in eating outside the home.
  • The fast food industry exploded and the hamburger became the staple at the drive-in.
  • Presently it is estimated that Americans are eating about three hamburgers a week.

American still eat more meat than most cultures in the world, but even here, consumption is declining.  It is estimated the U.S meat consumption may fall by more than 12% from 2007 to 2012.  This computes to about 165.5 pounds per person, or about one-half a pound a day.

 But Why?

  • Health concerns about meat consumption are reaching the public.
  • Campaigns like Meatless Mondays may be having an effect.  People are getting the message to cut down on saturated fat.
  • Some lower income people may attempt to obtain cheaper sources of protein like grains and soy to improve their health while wealthier groups may have some environmental as well as health concerns.
  • All meat production in America requires a great deal of fossil fuel.  Production relies entirely on nonrenewable fossil energy. There are also concerns about adding grain crops to animal feed, water scarcity, and animal welfare.
  • Cost of meats has risen due to animal feed prices.

How do cows negatively affect the environment? Take a look at these statistics from a recent PBS News Hour video. 

  • It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of grain-fed beef.
  • We use eight times more land to feed animals in the U.S. than we use to feed humans.
  • The 500 million tons of manure created each year by American cows releases nitrous oxide, a gas that has 300 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide.
  • The 17 billion pounds of fertilizer used to grow feed for cows flows into rivers and oceans, creating huge algae blooms or dead zones where nothing can survive. In the U.S. we find them in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Oregon, and the Chesapeake Bay.
  • In total, 6.5 pounds of greenhouse gases are released to produce just one quarter-pounder burger.

Americans still value animal protein from meats and dairy with 65% of the U.S. protein coming from animals.  The global average is about 30%; some low-income countries only get about 6-7 % of their protein from animal sources.

Will the U.S. population accept the current trend of plant-based diets as part of their protein source as well as their taste buds? Time will tell – but it will be a hard road ahead.  The current trends for plant-based burgers (aka as the Impossible burger, and Beyond Beef) will be trial balloons to see how accepting the typical American consumer responds. It is now recognized that most healthy cultures globally depend on a more vegan diet approach than what we find so far on the American plate. The environmental benefits of growing plant crops may help to persuade some Americans to accept this diet pattern more readily. (my opinion).