Friday, February 10, 2012

American fads

The lack of a strong, centuries-lasting food tradition is what makes the US such an interesting country in which to eat food at the moment. Alas, it is also the main reason why Americans seem to be so prone to fads, including diet fads.

French and Italians cuisines have all formed during centuries, assimilating traditions coming from different influences. On the bad side of things, this means they are now less open to new things, and they may be described as stiff. (Spanish cuisine is probably the exception here, with its capability to innovate itself profoundly at the moment). Because "American cuisine" is so new, Americans are more eager to try new things: some of them work, some don't, but at least this process of trial and error can generate new things.

The problem is that this lack of a stable dietary history also generates diet fads. The level at which the average American person seems to be influenced by diet fads is incredible. Up until 2002 the official government's guidelines invited Americans to eat grains and carbs and to reduce the level of animal fat. At the same time though, the Atkins diet was all the rage with a vast sector of the population, advocating exactly the opposite: cut the carbs, increase the fat (including animal fat) and eat as much of that as you want.

The low carb histeria exploded thanks to a famous article from the New York Times, appeared in July 2002. It  cast a doubt over whether fat was really the culprit for the overweight pandemic that had struck America since the mid-70s. Overnight, a country which had been taught to eat pasta like Italians do, because it was supposed to be good for you, started to obsess with low-carbs options. I distinctively remember spending New Year's Eve in New York in 2002, and every waiter was offering low-carb options. I didn't even know what it meant at the time.

Now there is a new fad coming along: the so called paleo diet, which actually originated in Europe. It advocates for a regimen based on what we think paleolithic men were eating, from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, before agriculture came into the picture: lots of meat, no pasta, no bread, no grains (all agricultural products or byproducts). The theory behind this actually doesn't sound too wacky as you might think: their point is that from an evolutionary point of view, man evolved to consume meat, roots and berries. Agriculture appeared too late in the game to have had any impact on our evolution as a species yet. To imitate the paleolithic lifestyle, there are even those who fast for 36 hours, exercise with an empty stomach, and then eat an entire buffalo. And I am not even joking, people. 

As for me, I simply don't trust nutritionists. As the fat/carb issue well proves, nutritionists are always ready to crucify you for something, and then the day after they will be on your back for something else.

And tonight I am eating pie.


Trobairitz said...

I think that there will always be a new fad diet for people to try in this country and nutritions are contradictory at best.

When I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease back in 1991, I was instructed to eat a meat and potatoes diet, no raw fruit and no raw veggies. 4 years ago I went vegetarian and was never healthier. Last September we went vegan.

My body does not process animal products well. Unfortunately it took me a long time to figure it out.

I think people just need to eat what is right for them. There can not be a general eat this/not that for everyone.

And pie sounds delish. What kind is on the menu?

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

The point is that nutritionists know don't know the famous Jack. They say that animal fat will cause heart attacks, but then there is the so called "French paradox" (and notice that they call it "paradox" because they are biased to start with): French eat more animal fat and drink more wine than American, exercise as little as Americans, and YET the heart attack rate is way lower.

The Mediterranean diet was all the rage a few years ago: i love it, it is my original diet. But whoever has been to Italy on vacation has seen that Italians don't remain thin for long...they may not be morbidly obese, but they are largely overweight.

Plus: the obese epidemic started in the US in the mid-70s. Fast food is blamed: but fast food consumption didn't skyrocket in the 70s, so it cannot be the culprit.

I don't know.

Going vegetarian for me is not an option at the moment, and vegan even less. I could live without steak, but I couldn't live without cold cuts. But then again, I know people who are vegan and they feel great, as you say.

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

PS: I am baking "torta della nonna", a typical poor man pie from Italy, with puff pastry, pine nuts and egg cream inside it. I will report back on how it comes out...

illmakeitmyself said...

I remember when Atkins was all the rage, and even though I figured lessening the amount of complex carbs (bread, cake) was good, giving up apples and plums was completely stupid. And I was right!

In Japan, in contrast, there's always some ridiculous magic diet food, like "eat a banana and a glass of water before every meal" - which made bananas scarce on the ground--or the new one, tomato juice lowering "neutral fats" in the blood, and now tomato juice is flying off the shelves...

At the same time, I saw a "spaghetti sandwich" at the convenience store today: it was the ketchup spaghetti (ugh) stuffed in a white-bread bun.

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

I had heard of the banana/water diet: the banana is supposed to fill your stomach, sedating your hunger feeling. But all I can think now is that I want to try that spaghetti bun!


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