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    Coming Attractions

    Over the past ten days I have had the pleasure of watching two upcoming, vastly different food and nutrition documentaries.

    First up? Food, Inc — an incredibly engrossing and harrowing look at the state of farming and food processing in the United States from the people who brought you An Inconvenient Truth.

    To become familiar with the subject matter before its June release date, visit The Meatrix, where all the grizzly details of meat production are explained.

    I also recommend checking this link to see if Food, Inc. will be screened at a film festival near you before its limited big-screen debut later this Summer.

    This is a MUST-SEE for anyone interested in farm policy, agricultural subsidies, agro-business, and the current state of the United States’ food chain. You might want to bring some anxiety medication with you, since the tone of the movie is extremely “doomsday” (in my opinion, sometimes annoyingly so).

    On a more lighthearted note, this past Thursday I had the pleasure of watching upcoming kid-friendly documentary What’s On Your Plate?, “[which] follows two eleven-year-old African-American [New York City] kids as they explore their place in the food chain [and] talk to each other, food activists, farmers, new friends, storekeepers, their families, and the viewer, in their quest to understand what’s on all of our plates.”

    While certainly softer (and much easier for children to grasp) than Food, Inc., What’s On Your Plate? showcases issues of local agriculture, school nutrition, and big business with very little preaching or finger wagging.

    PS: I predict an Oscar nomination for Food, Inc.


    In The News: Another One Bites the Dust… Yay!

    Those of you who watched my YouTube video on appetite suppressants know how much I loathe them.

    So, as you may imagine, I was pleased as punch to find out today that multi-national giant Unilever has canceled negotiations with Hoodia supplier Phytopharm to use the plant extract in Slimfast products, despite plunking down $25 million in research and developments costs over the last four years.

    Unilever’s official statement is very PR-friendly: “the extract would not meet our safety and efficacy standards.”

    In other words — the whole thing is bunk and they want nothing to do with it. Good!

    By the way, Hoodia was one of the “magic indredients” in TrimSpa. We all know how THAT ended.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Hoodia, it is a plant native to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, which Natives have supposedly eaten for centuries to keep hunger at bay while on long treks.

    The “magic” apparently occurs due to a molecule in the plant known as P57, which allegedly shuts off appetite by targeting the hypothalamus.

    Mind you, there is absolutely no evidence that Hoodia works. All we have are anecdotal accounts (generously provided by companies selling the product, of course.)

    It’s also silly to assume that processed parts of a plant, either in powder or capsule form, yield the same results as consuming it in unadulterated ways.

    That’s like someone hawking fruit juice concentrates in pill form and claiming they offer the same health benefits as a piece of raw fruit.

    Even if Hoodia did work, appetite suppresants are the worst thing you can do for long-term weight loss.

    They don’t teach new behaviors and can have risky side-effects (remember, the term “appetite suppresant” is a euphemism for “amphetamines.”)

    How about a pill that makes consumers immune to diet scams, frauds, and “magic bullets”?


    In The News: Healthy Eating & Restaurants

    The January 2008 issue of trade publication Restaurant Startup & Growth Distributor reprints a March 2004 feature titled “Good Restaurateurs Are Always Learning,” which discusses successful strategies and business models.

    One sidebar — with the header “SevenBasic Menu Design Tips You Can Take to the Bank” — begins with the following bullet point: “You Own a Restaurant, Not A Health Club.”

    “Be aware that people talk about healthy eating, but pursue food that is tasty,” reads the explanation.

    It is unfortunate that so many people view these two concepts — healthy eating and great-tasting food — as mutually exclusive. Nutritious eating is not relegated to salt-free rice crackers and steamed carrots.

    In this blog, I have highlighted several delicious, healthy recipes.

    Even mainstream great-tasting fare like a whole wheat burrito with black beans, vegetables, guacamole, and salsa falls under the health umbrella. Restaurants should not look at offering healthy options as a reinvention of the wheel.

    According to this article, “focus groups tells us that a menu speckled with ‘heart-healthy’ icons is not well-received. In fact, if you want to sell less of an item, put a ‘heart’ on it.”

    Interesting. I wasn’t aware of this statistic. The reasoning here is that people go to restaurants as a treat and do not want to be reminded of dietary restrictions.

    Fair enough, but this should not give chefs a free pass to drown vegetables in half a stick of butter, smother pasta in Alfredo sauce, or rely on sugary sauces to make meats taste good.

    Fat and sugar can make anything taste good. A true culinary talent can bring out the naturally delicious flavor of food with healthy items like spices, herbs, olive oil, and lemon juice.

    Lastly, readers are encouraged to “place healthy items in their own category.”

    While I can see how this helps customers (someone looking for low-calorie options knows what their choices are), it could very well dissuade many from selecting that menu item.

    I have learned that whenever I make a healthy variety of something (one of my tried and true classics is a whole grain pizza with salt-free tomato sauce, which I then spice the heck out of), it is best to remain silent until people taste it and comment on how great it tastes.

    Everyone who has tried my vegan chili, for example has told me it is the best chili they have ever tasted. Even the most hardcore carnivores are surprised they are eating — and liking! — a meal that is devoid of animal flesh.

    I once made the mistake of telling a few people the ingredients before they tasted it. They immediately grimaced and stated “Am I going to be hungry ten minutes after I eat it?”

    The psychology of food is quite interesting. Some people, sadly, automatically relate nutritious meals to tasteless cardboard, and might be discouraged from trying something simply because it is under the “heart healthy,” “low calorie,” or “low fat” category.

    Then there’s the gender politics of food. You know, like the belief that “real men” eat a pound of semi-raw steak for breakfast and avoid anything that is naturally green and has leaves?

    It saddens me to think that the restaurant industry typically views nutrition as a liability to their business.

    In the meantime, here are some tips I published last year on how to enjoy restaurant fare while still tending to your health.


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