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In LA, we are what we don’t eat

Posted in Health, Uncategorized, and Women's issues

Nutella and strawberry pastries - I make them but don't eat them
Nutella and strawberry pastries – I make them but don’t eat them

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.

Randy's donuts
The place looks dodgy – the doughnuts are sublime

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.

French butter cake
French butter cake – if you are in need of calories

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

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22 Comments

  1. Dear Camparigirl,

    I am sitting in a cafe in Pasadena eating a Philly cheesesteak sandwich with fries on the side while reading this post. Why this choice of lunch? Because it sounded good. I didn’t think about the hormones in the meat (or if it was really meat!) nor did I fret the calories of the fries. I think Californians are extreme. And now, the obsession with food is everywhere. Even in my beloved Greece. It seems the more people become obsessed, the heavier they get. Ok, that and a bunch of other factors. (Someone who visited Crete recently told me there were more fast food places than souvlaki stands!)

    My philosophy: any and everything in moderation (of course, if you don’t have any allergies or special needs). I agree with several of the other comments, a bit of exercise and smaller portions should do the trick.

    Every Californian restaurant sign with caloric information drives me a bit nuts. I wrote something like this before and people were up in arms that we NEED to know calories because of the high rate of obesity. I guess for some people it may in fact educate them… I need to read more research to be convinced that these numbers really help. I still see people ordering the double double mocha fudge spice latte with whip cream even though the sign says 1,000 calories! Ok, I’m exaggerating.

    I have also maintained my weight for more than 20 years, (like you, no children) but I care less about organic as I don’t believe all the hype. Oftentimes, all the veggies come from the same nutrient-depleted soil. And are the sprays really that bad? I do know a few arachnids in our food really don’t do much harm. Sometimes I buy organic, but only if the price is competitive to the regular item. Let’s see how I fare in the years to come since I can’t see my insides 🙂

    I wish I could wave a magic wand and give everyone the ability to have a normal relationship with food. It’s so nice to just enjoy it, stop when full, and focus on the things that really matter.

    As always, interesting post and enjoyed reading your followers’ responses.

    Greekgirl
    p.s. read a few months ago that
    “the rates of child and adolescent obesity in Crete. . . is ten times more than those who were recorded in the 80’s.” Sad.

    Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/5405446

    October 3, 2013
    |Reply
    • When I was growing up, the chubby child was a rarity. Obese unheard of. Let’s blame American culture on the influx of soda and fast food into Europe and the ensuing obesity crisis.
      But you should pay attention to hormones and antibiotics in our food. More and more girls, especially from low income areas, start menstruating as early as 8, most likely because of the hormones in the milk (and meat) they are fed.
      Also, many infections, like a strain of C-diff (often contracted during hospital stays) are resistant to common antibiotics because our bodies have become immune to them through the meat we consume.

      October 4, 2013
      |Reply
      • I do actually always buy organic milk because I find that I drink a lot of milk lately; my body craves two to three cups a day. I have read about the hormones, so I figure since it’s a staple in my diet, I should treat myself “just in case.” My salad stuff, kale included for my morning juice, is organic and priced well at Trader Joes. LOVE Trader Joes. Mostly though, if I want it, I eat it.

        A friend recently told me about the blood-type diet. As O- I guess wheat is my only downfall. She says maybe my energy slump during the day comes from that. I love Mini-Wheats for dinner. Not giving that up! 🙂

        October 5, 2013
        |Reply
  2. Claudia, I LOVED this post, it made me laugh so much. 1. I have the same kind of breakfast (partly because of your post on Revive:-) 2. I wonder every single day if I actually drink coconut water because I like it or because they told me I should like it as a morning snack 3.The somehow crazy food attitude is what I liked most in L.A., it was a paradise for dietary schizofrenics (do we say so?).4. As someone said above, the paradox is that now that I am eating super healthily according to modern standards I am way heavier than when I was eating the Italian way, without spending my time thinking of carbs and proteins and Omega 6.
    As for gluten free, it’s all over here as well. They say gluten makes you age faster (?!?!) so from time to time I stress out and do a few wheat and gluten free detoxes. Then I go back to bread and pizza….:-D

    September 30, 2013
    |Reply
    • When my mother was here, she required bread with every meal. Bread? I don’t even buy bread, let alone making it part of my meals! My diet is just as schizophrenic – living in LA has made me a touch obsessed. My weight hasn’t changed in 30 years, diet fads or not but, then again, I didn’t have kids.

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply
  3. Isabel Freeman
    Isabel Freeman

    In the past, unless you had a severe allergy, diabetes or other medical condition that required dietary restrictions you were expected to eat whatever your host/hostess served. If something was served that you couldn’t eat for medical reasons, you just skipped it and ate what you could. It put the emphasis on appreciating and accommodating the person doing all the work and not making his/her job harder by asking for special menus. There has been a big cultural change in this area and not just in LA.
    It has made people more aware of the many food allergies, etc out there but also made it much harder to entertain than it used to be.

    September 30, 2013
    |Reply
    • You are so right. For the two decades I was vegetarian, I never mentioned it when invited for dinner. I just ate around and, sometimes, would swallow some meat out of politeness. But it’s just too daunting to have people at your dinner table eating just crumbs so I always check now. Have a Paleo diet guest coming soon….

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply
  4. I’ve noticed, over the years, that trend & rules obssessed eaters are often in poor health, and always either irritable or downright miserable. How about a balance diet, with portion control? works for me, and I’m a diabetic!

    September 30, 2013
    |Reply
    • alan
      alan

      pick me up some randys

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply
    • I was vegetarian for 17 years and anemic for most of that time. Now I eat very little meat but enough that I don’t have to worry about my iron. If I had to turn vegan, it would be a full time job to monitor my protein intake!

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply
    • I could not agree with you more alison41…..The obsession and trouble of keeping up with trends is way too much, enough to kill one already. A balanced diet, portion control and moderate exercise are as old as time and they remain relevant even today. I personally am not blessed with “good slim genes”, but since starting on a healthy lifestyle after balloning terribly in my teens when at boarding school, I have never struggled with my health or weight and I eat any and everything I want, whenever I want, thanx to a balanced diet and controlled portions.

      October 1, 2013
      |Reply
  5. When I lived in L.A. I was pretty much on a low carb diet for 10 years. I worked out 5-6 days a week at Equinox, plus hiked up Runyon or Temescal Canyons.

    I moved to Italy. I actually eat carbs, gelato, drink wine, etc. I do not diet, yet I’ve dropped weight. I’m the thinnest I’ve been in over a decade and as we know it’s hard for women to lose weight as we get older. I don’t belong to a gym but do take tennis lessons once a week.

    I know walking versus driving everywhere plays a role but I think my relationship with food here is the main reason why I’ve lost weight.

    Food is part of the culture and not the enemy. It so refreshing to go to a restaurant or a dinner party with friends and enjoy my meal instead of hearing about some diet.

    I cook more because I have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It took me a while to get the hang of seasonal eating but now I really appreciate it.

    The one thing I do miss about L.A. is sushi! Oh, and Mexican food.

    September 30, 2013
    |Reply
    • You hit on two very valid points: lack of obsession and more exercise by default. If I think of the amount of food (especially carbs) I packed in when living in Italy, it seems absurd I could be so thin.
      But there are other factors at play: portions are much smaller; food in general (and meat in particular) is not pumped with hormones, vitamins and whatever else; the need for constant snacking is not as prevalent nor as easy to satisfy.
      But Mexican food sucks in Italy – on the other hand, if you are ever in Milan, there is a huge Japanese community and excellent sushi. Milan is the biggest fish market in Italy so give it a shot.

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply
      • Thanks for the heads up about sushi in Milan. I plan to be there next April.

        You are so right about the hormones in the meat, milk, etc. and snacking. It’s a “struggle” to get American style snacks here. Grapes don’t cut it. ha

        Last fall I was in L.A. for meetings. I went to Gelsons in Century City and almost past out in the snack aisle. I was overwhelmed!

        October 1, 2013
        |Reply
  6. I loved that California (and Oregon) cater so well to dietary restrictions, when I was there recently. But I also loved that there was handmade pie in every diner. Balance indeed!

    September 30, 2013
    |Reply
    • It is indeed a culinary paradise. I am still looking for the perfect Indian restaurant, which is proving elusive, but anything else you might want, it’s there to be found.

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply
  7. “and, yes, they do make me fool good”
    I can’t decide whether this was intentional (and very witty!), or whether the workings of your subconscious produced an ace of a typo?!

    September 30, 2013
    |Reply
    • I cannot lay claim to such witticisms. I will let my unconscious take the credit. And now I won’t correct what isn’t a typo!

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply
    • Engage a (former) pastry chef at your peril. Yes, there is. In Italy we make something we interchangeably call a croissant, a brioche or a cornetto which does have butter but it’s an egg dough and much more cake-y than a butter croissant. I am partial to it

      September 30, 2013
      |Reply

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