Is there anyone out there who still really enjoys food? Making a meal like yesterday's traditional feast makes me wonder.
There's a great pleasure in making a meal for a group, even on a day where the various ingredients are more or less standard. You plan it, and create each element according to a schedule, and if you bring it off with only a couple of mistakes, you feel like you've accomplished something. (My biggest mistake was when the pepper grinder came apart in mid grind and deposited its load of peppercorns on top of the uncooked dressing! I wonder if anyone else bit down on a peppercorn?)
But how much of the pleasure of the day actually connects to the food you’re eating? There’s anticipation, and the enjoyment of seeing family, and the absence of guilt since you’re all together in real time for once. And the food is good, sort of, except you always eat too much and it’s uncomfortable. The food never tastes like you remember, either. Each one of you at the table has his/her own memories of childhood holidays, taste memories as well as sentiment. Nothing ever quite matches.
Yesterday, the food was made with lots of butter and no salt. My husband is on a low sodium diet, so even the butter was unsalted. Butter in the sweet potatoes (and cumin, and a little brown sugar); butter in the green beans; butter in the gravy. How often do we use butter? Try never, except when eating out. Since we avoided salt, however, I figured I’d better use all the flavor I could find elsewhere.
I used to be a pretty good cook. Once I even made blanquette de veau for thirty while coming down with the flu. But that was before cream and butter were removed from everyone’s culinary arsenal. There are no substitutes, you know. Not that taste as good, anyway.
I do still try—olive oil, a lot of Italian dishes, curries, etc.—but the medical profession keeps finding things to remove from our approved list. And mainly, we should eat whole grains and fiber-rich food. Whoops, no we shouldn’t, if we need to restrict potassium.
A lot of people on low-sodium diets to regulate blood pressure substitute potassium salts instead to flavor their food. But people on Cozaar, one of the secondary control drugs for blood pressure, have to eliminate potassium from their diet, or risk kidney problems. Instead they are directed to eat the white stuff nutritionists been telling us for years to avoid--white bread, white potatoes, for instance--the emptier the calories, the better. I love the irony, really. Eat foods with fewer nutrients (including potassium) and less fiber in them, in order to take a potassium drug. Then take something else to undo the effects of a diet without fiber. Terrific.
I wonder if the reason for so much American obesity is precisely this: That we’re constantly nagged on all sides about what we shouldn’t eat, which increases our anxiety and focuses our attention with every nag on food itself, the great emotional palliative. So we eat. Maybe if we just made meals that taste good, and are full of balanced nutrition so they’re good for us, too, we’d all be walking around at our proper weight and on minimal medication. And we’d be happier. Let’s not forget about the health benefits of being happier.