Sabine, my German neighbour, calls to discuss, again, the menu for an upcoming dinner the two of us have organized.
“I changed my mind. I am not making curry but a German beef dish. Do you know if everyone eats beef?”
Welcome to 21st century dinner invitations in Los Angeles. The old adage “we are what we eat”, in the land of the tanned, the skinny and the retouched, should go more like “we are what is fashionable to eat”. My lunch, today, consisted of a lentil, quinoa, brown rice, spinach and basil salad. And a few grapes. Breakfast was a smoothie at 6 am (peaches, 1 banana, pineapple, water and protein powder), followed by a coffee at 10, with a gluten-free peanut butter and jelly sandwich – all strictly organic and sugar-free.
I don’t know anymore if I actually enjoy these foods because I know they are healthy (and, yes, they do make me fool good) or because I am told I should.
This collective health police which manifests itself with the cropping up, at a ridiculous rate, of smoothie stores (and don’t think Jamba Juice but, rather, kombucha tea concoctions and kale juices); vegan restaurants; raw food restaurants; gluten-free bakeries and dairy free truffle stores, hovers over every food decision I make, at times pushing me in the opposite direction, just to indulge my spirit of rebellion. Only to feel doubly guilty after my indulgences. Like the trip with Ottie and my friend Luisa to Randy’s doughnut, a dive on the side of a freeway, or breakfast at one of my favourite bakeries, Huckleberry’s. It was here I pondered the sensory and gustatory deprivations Angelenos subject themselves to.
After an unusually early dental appointment, I rewarded myself with a cappuccino and a butter croissant, iPhone and New York Times in front of me, schizophrenically veering between reading the news and answering e-mails. Every single year of my adult life lived in Italy, breakfast consisted of cappuccino and croissant – it still does when I visit so, smoothies and organic peanut butter notwithstanding, I still consider it somewhat normal. Until I raised my head from my technology long enough to peer at the other tables: bowls of oatmeal with fruit compote, quinoa with fruit, poached eggs with kale or just kale. With coffee? Seriously? Not even the men had carbs perched on their plates.
I walked over to the pastry case, which is a beautiful and inviting array of rustic baked goods and I noticed that the kouign amann, the latest craze from Brittany that’s popping up at every self-respecting bakery, was half the size it used to be. There was a modest plate of doughnuts but a gorging bowl of doughnut holes. Clearly, the chef is playing to her customers. I returned defiantly to my butter croissant.
I grew up in a city that has bestowed lasagna, mortadella, tortellini and all other manners of culinary delights to the world, and now I live in the vegan and gluten-free capital of the world. The upsides are the extensive knowledge I gained on how food affects our health, and that many chefs have perfected delicious dishes devoid of gluten/fats and salt and anything else we should not be eating. The downside is that we risk becoming obsessed.
Celiacs, those who really do need to stay away from gluten for health reasons, represent a small percentage of the population, yet, bakers are doing brisk business selling j$8.00 gluten free loaves and cupcake approximations. Gluten might be indeed harder to digest and a large consumption is not advised for anyone, but forsaking it altogether? And I don’t believe for a moment anyone out there enjoys kale and celery juice.
When planning brunches and dinners, one is compelled to ask “Is there anything you don’t eat?” and be prepared to jot down a long list of ingredients, once all the guests have been quizzed.
The paradox is that a small segment of Angelenos, those with money and, often, looks, define these trends for the rest of us but the majority of Americans are still having a hard time weaning themselves off a diet rich in sugar, carbs and red meat. Most issues nowadays hang in unresolvable imbalances: think political gridlocks, Syria, global warming, poverty just to name a few. If we all agreed to look at an issue from all viewpoints and struck a balance, life would be much easier. Easier said than done.
But today, lunch is ricotta and kale tortelloni, made by my mom and still lurking at the back of the freezer. That is what I call balance. There is kale in the filling after all.
All photos copyrigh of C&S