The American Plate: 1900’s

Oysters and Champagne For A New World Power

“When the decade started, America was recognized for the first time as a world power. “The Wright Brothers took flight, Henry Ford took to the road, travelers took the rails aboard luxury trains, and those who had one listened to the radio. The first feature film (The Great Train Robbery) provided entertainment, and Einstein provided a relative theory. “

There was not much progress in the home kitchen. Housewives still slaved over a hot stove fueled by wood, coal or petroleum. Restaurants (both low and high end) often segregated their rooms by sex and/or race, and boasted they were fireproof. Restaurants ranged from oyster houses to exclusive dining rooms that offered both French and English cooking that often only included high society gentlemen.

Fine Dining

In 1902, Horn & Hardart, the first automat was introduced as the first “automatic restaurant” concept in the U.S. along with cafeterias and soda fountains that launched the fast-food industry, “a whole new style of “eating out”. Train dining was an elegant affair in its early years. Airline food would only appear three decades later.

Meet Me in St. Louis: The World’s Fair

Peanut butter, ice cream cone, the hamburger, and iced tea had not been on the American Plate in 1904 until introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair that ushered in a new era in American dining.

Novelist, Upton Sinclair, whose 1905 best seller, The Jungle covered, among other topics, the unsavory practices of American meat-packers. The book was so shocking that Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906.

Diamond Jim and Lillian Russell

Financier, Jim Brady, aka Diamond Jim lived a life with food abundance along with his companion, actress Lillian Russell. It was considered at the time that being overweight was a sign of affluence and success. Dinner, his main event featured three dozen oysters, a dozen crabs, six or seven lobsters, terrapin soup, a steak, coffee, a tray of pastries and two pounds of candy. He died at 56, his stomach was said to be six times larger than the average.  Lillian was known to match Brady “ forkful for forkful.” The fair Lillian was hefty (considered the ideal for the times.)  She was reported to have smoked 500 cigars a month. Grove’s Tasteless Chili Tonic made in St. Louis not only claimed to cure everything, but also adds much-admired heft to the figure.

In 1912 “Immigrants pour into the country ” – between 1910 and 1924, 12 million come through Ellis Island. All are screened for communicable diseases and overall health status. This event began the beginning of a myriad of ethnic restaurants.

Crime and Nourishment???

We have all heard about the rising crime rates occurring in the U.S. Our first inclination is to wonder what could be going on in our country to cause this – or at least what is contributing to this disturbing shift of behavior?

“The issues of diet and criminal behavior are limited but intriguing. If you’ve ever found yourself in front of the TV after a bad day, mindlessly digging ice cream out of the container with a spoon, you know that mood and food are sometimes linked. But while stress eating is a verified phenomenon, the relationship between food and actual mood disorders, depression and even behavior needs some attention. Can dietary changes potentially improve our mental health.? What do the studies say?

Scientists looking for answers – Hints of a Link

Before, we jump into the science (research), some basics:

As we all know, our behavior is mostly controlled by our brain. Every organ in the human body requires nutrition to function properly and when it doesn’t get what it needs it functions abnormally. So, is there any reason that the brain should be an exception? The brain is a complex organ so that alone should be enough to assume that if it does not get the proper nutrition, it might just not work as well as it should.

Recent research offers a viewpoint that the brain and the gut “talk to each other” through the presence of the microbiome – the community of microorganisms that lives inside our digestive tract.  When this communication channel is “out of whack” or missing essential nutrition, major health problems can crop up in both the mind and body, enabling food sensitivities, allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

“A study indicated that when levels of the brain chemical serotonin decrease from stress or not eating, it affects the brain regions regulating anger, potentially resulting in “a whirlwind of uncontrollable emotions”. 

“Prison studies suggest that many inmates have poor blood sugar control, compounded by a high-sugar diet. We all know how it feels when blood sugar drops – we feel moody, foggy. Apply that to someone from a disturbed backgound.”

In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial,  Oxford criminologist Bernard Gesch found that giving prison inmates a multivitamin and fatty acid supplement led to violent offenses dropping 37% compared to 10% for those who were given a placebo – findings that were confirmed by a later Dutch study.

“In a large study of prison diets, Stephen Schoenthaler, Professor of Criminology and Sociology at California State University found that prisoner’s eating habits could be used to predict future violent behavior. Normally, past violent behavior is considered the best prediction of future violence. But professor Schoenthaler found that a poor diet is an even better predictor of violent behavior.”

He also found that that in a study of young offenders in California, young adult men receiving vitamin supplements showed a 38% drop in serious behavior problems.

The types of problems associated with poor diet, such as aggression, attention deficits and hyperactivity can make impulsive behavior more likely. Low levels of iron, magnesium and zinc can lead to increased anxiety, low mood, and poor concentration, leading to attention deficits and sleep disturbances. Omega-3 fatty acids, are often deficient in the U.S. diet and needed to improve cognitive functioning.

“No one blames a poor diet as a cause of crime, nor is it the only solution. But if better nutrition in general can bring about a substantial reduction in violent crime in and out of prisons, that would be something to cheer about. For isn’t a good diet, made up of good food, a better and less expensive solution than just hiring more police and building more prisons?”

Needless to say, The Standard American Diet (SAD) needs more attention for all of us, not just in our prison population. Simply, with the input of nutrition scientists, education of the consumer, and cooperation of the food industry, we desperately need more healthy food choices for our personal health and that of our food culture.

Schoenthaler, S.J., Ames, S. Dorax, W., et al (1997)

The effect of randomized vitamin mineral supplementation on violent and non-violent antisocial behavior among incarcerated juveniles. Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, 7:343-352.

The Conversation: Crime and Punishment – the link between food and offending behavior. Hazel Flight, John Marsden, Sean Creaney. 2018

The Guardian. Can Food Make You Angry? Rebecca Hardy. Wed.24 Apr 2013.

C. Bernard Gesch, Sean M. Hammond, Sarah E. Hampson, Anita Eves, and Martin J. Crowder

Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behavior of young adult prisoners. British Journal of Psychiatry 2002, 181, 22-28

Nutrition, Behavior, and Disease

Biological Changes during Aging and Nutritional Consequences

S0URCE JUDITH E. BROWN, NUTRITION NOW, 7TH EDITION, 2013

The combined effects of poor diets, other risky behaviors, and biological aging increase the rates of serious diseases during adulthood. How soon a disease develops largely depends on the intensity of exposure to behavioral risks that contribute to disease development.  These are often referred to as epigenetics (when the DNA is not altered, but environmental factors cause genes to be turned either on or off.) 

What Are Some Nutritional Consequences?

 Lowered stomach acidity may result in decreased absorption of vitamin B12? The consequences of getting less sun exposure may result in less production of vitamin D in the skin.

A person’s need for calories generally declines with age as physical activity, muscle mass, and basal metabolic rate decrease. However, when one chooses to continue their physical activity into their older years can maintain their muscle mass, experience less muscle, and bone pain, and gain less body fat than people who are inactive. 

For the most part, the development of chronic disease in middle-age and older adults can be viewed as a chain that represents the accumulation over time of problems that impair cell functions. Each link that is added to the chain, or each additional insult to cellular function, increases the risk that a chronic disease will develop. The presence of a disease indicates that the chain has gotten too long – that the accumulation of problems is sufficient to interfere with the normal functions of cells and tissues.

Normal cell functions and health promotion are facilitated by healthful dietary lifestyles and other behaviors. For example:

Correcting obesity and stabilizing weight during the adult years tends to lengthen life expectancy.

Dietary intakes that correspond to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (MyPlate) or following a healthily diet pattern like the Mediterranean Diet is related to a longer life expectancy.

Maintaining adequate calcium, vitamin D, and protein intake and engaging in regular physical activity during the adult years may prevent or postpone the development of osteoporosis and help maintain muscle mass and strength.

Above average intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains may delay the development or help prevent a number of types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and cataracts. 

The health status of adults is not necessarily ‘FIXED” by age.; it can change for the better or the worst, or not much at all. It’s up to you.

What’s Wrong With the American Diet?

For one thing – it’s too many calories and processed food. Twenty five years ago, the average American consumed about 1850 calories each day. Since then, our daily diet has grown by 304 calories (roughly the equivalent of two cans of soda. That’s theoretically enough to add an extra 31 pounds to each person every year; judging from the ongoing obesity epidemic, many Americans are gaining those pounds — and then some. Obese children who carry the weight into adulthood (1 in 5 young people (ages 6-19) have a higher likelihood of developing hypertension, severe kidney and heart disease, and type 2 diabetes as well as mobility and self esteem issues. What has gone wrong? One thing is the takeover by the food industry of processed convenience food – our snack foods are often breakfast, lunch and even sometimes dinner for a lot of us. These foods are loaded with inflammatory compounds that eventually lead to chronic diseases.

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UNHEALTHY PROCESSED FOOD AND SNACKS CAN LEAD TO OBESITY

Going Vegan?

Lose weight and live longer on a vegetarian diet.? From the Harvard Medical School Health Guides

There is a lot of attention being paid to switching to a plant-based diet. There are many published articles and recipes on plant-based diets to achieve a lower body index, lower blood pressure, and reduced risks for heart disease, diabetes, type 2, cancer, and longevity. Plenty of attention is being paid to the health benefits of those centenarians living in the Blue Zones, particularly ones that live in a plant-based environment as well as those with a more modified vegetarian approach. I suggest you search for more posts on these excellent topics on the “Blue Zones” on this blog or check at your local library.

If you’re thinking of going vegetarian but worried about making such a big change, there are several ways to try to see if you can manage a diet with less animal protein.

Here are some options:

  • A flexitarian diet – meat is limited as a condiment and not considered the main attraction. Use vegetables, appetizers instead.
  • Semi vegetarian diet (no red meat)
  • Pescatarian – avoid meat and poultry but eat fish and seafood.
  • Lacto -ovo -vegetarian – skip all meat, fish, and poultry but include dairy and eggs in your diet.

If you’re trying to lose weight -go heavy on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but limit foods high in saturated fats (ice cream, whole milk, and cheese.) An important aspect of losing weight is often not what you eat – but how much you eat to keep daily calories in check. After all, vegan foods have calories, too. And some are not as healthy as they could be.

In the U.S. Standard diet (SAD) our meals and snacks are taking on gargantuan proportions. “The food industry decided they had to make portions larger to stay competitive and people got used to larger sizes very quickly. Today, normal sizes seem skimpy,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University.

When eating out, the transition to a plant-based diet is easier than than you might think. Fill your plate with vegetables – cooked, raw, or in a salad. Check out the sides that are offered. Then gradually introduce all vegetarian meals once or twice a week and if you like, increase it until you are as “vegan” as you want to be. Try a few meals from a local vegan restaurant, then try a few on your own. You may be surprised. Bon Appetit!!


Drinking for Longevity

From the Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest by Dan Buettner, page xxii. “Scientific studies suggest that only about 25% of how long we live is dictated by genes, according to famous studies of Danish twins. The other 75% is determined by our lifestyles and the everyday choices we make.” What we drink is only one of them.

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Olive Oil and Longevity?

Adding more olive oil to your diet may help prevent an early death.

A recent study from the researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health was published online Jan. 10, 2022 by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Data from 90,000 men and women, free of cardiovascular disease and cancer were asked to complete a dietary questionnaire every four years. At the end of the data collecting, 36,856 of the participants had died.

From the diet questionnaires, it was found that those who routinely consumed the most olive oil – averaging more than one half a tablespoon a day – had the lowest risk of dying during the 28 – year old follow-up period compared with people who rarely or never consumed olive oil.

Olive oil consumers had :

A 19% lower overall risk of death

A 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease

A 17% lower risk of cancer-related disease

A 29% lower risk of death related to a neurodegenerative condition

A  18% lower risk of death related to a respiratory disease

This may explain why olive oil as a major component of the Mediterranean diet has consistently shown health benefits in numerous studies. The results also suggest that when used as a substitute for products containing animal fat such as butter, we see the same healthy benefits. Bon appetit!!

CHOOSING A PLANT-BASED DIET?

Michael Pollan started it – “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Many people are taking more of an interest in plant-based diets. People are switching for various reasons – weight control, sustainability, the environment in general, health reasons, media hype. Food companies load their products fortified with grams and grams of protein in order to “make up” for an alleged protein deficit – however, there are plenty of non-meat sources of protein found in plant foods. Most Americans get enough protein. “Protein is not the key for weight loss and animal protein is not the healthiest food we can eat. Carbs are not the enemy – they are a source of energy, and are staples in the diets of the longest-living people in the world.” Garth Davis, M.D. Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession with Meat is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It. 2015


High amounts of protein are not needed by most consumers unless there is a medical reason. The adult RDA or Daily Value is about 50 grams for most adults. That amount can be found in only 3-4 ounces of most meats – or a portion about the size of a deck of cards.

People have tried a number of diets – Paleo and Keto are of the low carb genre resulting in high protein and high fat diets. Since then, weight gain has taken over with an obesity rate higher than ever along with its companion- diabetes type 2.

Michael Pollan refers to the American diet as ‘the “American paradox” – the more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become”.

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