Why You Can Eat Anything You Want

(as long as you make it yourself.)

for the record, I happen to love me some good North Fork Potato Chips--a locally produced brand. But I don't pretend they're healthy. They're just yummy, and a sometime treat.

Last week, Michael Pollan tweeted a paper on nutrition by Carlos Monteiro entitled “There is No Such Thing as a Healthy Ultra-Processed Product.” Food companies, the paper argues, promote their products as ‘healthy’ based on either of two things:

1. The absence of perceived “bad” ingredients (0g trans fats! NO High Fructose Corn Syrup!)

2. Reduced levels of (X “bad” component: fat, salt, sugar) as compared to comparable products


3. The addition of nutrients (“enriched” or “fortified”)

notice how they use 'earth' tones on the packaging to give you a greener, healthier feeling?

The paper is not very interesting reading, but overall, it makes a good point, which is this: stuff that comes out of the package “ready-to-eat” is probably not good for you. Yet it is precisely the ingredients that get processed into foods like that–cereals, granola bars, powdered flavored drinks, chips–that receive the HIGHEST government subsidies (think corn and soybeans, which get processed into literally thousands of different unpronounceable food ingredients.) And precisely those products are the ones backed by enormous advertising budgets to convince people that they are HEALTHY.

Let me put some flesh on those bones: once, I sat in one of the very nicest restaurants in Philadelphia and was served a delicious, handmade dessert–something involving chocolate and whipped cream, I don’t remember what, exactly–and one of the people at my table, instead of eating that, pulled out some kind of chocolate-flavored protein bar and ate that instead, explaining that he was on a diet and that this was ‘healthier’ because it had X number of grams of protein with only X amount of carbs. His perception was clearly that this bar (which, as very nearly all such bars are, was an ultra-processed, partially artificial THING made in some New Jersey industrial ‘park’) was “superior” to the cake.

Here’s another example: breakfast cereal. The companies that make ready-to-eat cereals have done a fabulous job of convincing people that there’s something special about cereal that makes it a right and proper (if not THE right and proper) thing to eat for breakfast. In recent years, we’ve seen them all scramble to put a bit of WHOLE GRAINS! in there and then shout about it on the package. But you know what? Most of the time, a few slices of whole grain bread with butter and jam (or some cheese) is a far superior breakfast, nutritionally speaking. Most cereals qualify as “ultra-processed” foods.

don't be fooled by the health claims! even the healthy looking ones are little better than vitamin-enhanced cookies...

Maybe these things don’t seem like such a big deal. But they kind of are a big deal. In developing countries, ultra-processed products (Monteiro uses Tang as an example) are viewed as modern and ‘healthier’ than the traditional diets. As such, even though products like these are comparably expensive, people will spring for them–with disastrous long-term effects on public and environmental health. In our own country, the lobbying pull of food producers prevents the likes of Michelle Obama from saying clearly “don’t eat stuff that comes ready to eat from a package” and allows pledges by Wal-Mart to reduce X number of “bad” ingredients as part of Let’s Move.

Monteiro isn’t saying never eat anything that comes from a package, and neither am I. But I think what we’re both saying is this: REAL food–and thus REAL wellness–doesn’t come from a package loaded with health claims and advertisements of “fortification,” or, indeed, of “reduced” whatever.

In a nutshell?

EAT THE CHOCOLATE CAKE! (not a flavored ‘energy’ bar)

EAT THE WHIPPED CREAM! (not the fat-free whipped ‘topping.’)

The Best Pizza in All the World

Last year I moved back to my native land–the greater (i.e. downstate) NY area–after many, many years away. I’ve lived in Philadelphia, Chicago, California, Scotland, and Germany in the meantime, traveling to Rome and Paris in between. In each place, I longed for a real NY slice.

Before singing the praises of my hometown pizza, I give you the utterly biased and probably unfair generalizations of the pizzas from my travels:

Philadelphia: Renzi’s pizza in Bridesburg is good, but kinda salty and overly tomatoey for my taste.

Chicago: Stuffed crust is interesting, but kinda gross, and Chicago thin crust tastes icky and Bisquicky. Plus, why do they cut it like that? And why no pizza “by the slice”?

California: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the California Pizza. Pineapple? Yum. Fresh Veg.? Yum. But still not quite like home.

Scotland: Can’t tell you how I hate to confirm the (sometimes unfair) “Bad Food Britain” stereotype. But CORN and PRAWNS on a prefabricated crust with bland, corn starch thickened ketchup tasting sauce? Why?

Germany: Joey’s Pizza isn’t fantastic, but it has a major advantage for the expat who speaks German haltingly and has no car–ONLINE BESTELLUNG und LIEFERUNG! (you order it online and they bring it to your door, free!) The best pizza in Germany is probably made by my friend Crystal. (Hi Crystal!)

Rome: I seriously offended some Italians by saying so, but I found Roman pizza seriously disappointing. That could be because NY pizza is more influenced by a Neapolitan slice (or so I’m told), but I don’t know.

Paris: Some may think this is blasphemous, but we actually ordered in Pizza Hut while staying with a lovely friend outside Paris. It took much longer than US Pizza Hut and tasted much better, too. (My son had a broken leg and we were in crisis mode. Pizza is the official food sponsor of Stone family crisis mode.)

The FIRST DAY we were back on native soil, I HAD TO HAVE pizza from La Capricciosa Brick Oven Pizza, right here in Greenport, NY. 

Oh, this pizza! It’s made from scratch, right there where you can see it. Its crust strikes a perfect balance of crispy and chewy, beautifully dimpled beneath just the right amount of a tomato sauce that’s at once tangy and savory. And the cheese: neither too little nor too much, and none of this part-skim stuff. Health food? I think so. It’s REAL FOOD. Nothing prefab. Nothing fake. Made before your eyes by people you can talk to.

(in case there was any doubt about where allegiances ’round here lie…)
The pizza man was all "why you wanna take a picture of my hands?"
playing with cars helps you wait for your pizza--my nephew (kind of) Dante

(note that my sons KNOW how to fold a real NY slice. so proud.)

It’s truly delicious! Even among NY pizzerias, it is king. I haven’t had a better tasting slice ANYwhere in the world.

{Not that I’m biased or given to superlative statements.}

I suspect that we all have some food or foods that just taste RIGHT to us, that make us feel that we’re really at home, and call forth from us spontaneous delight and gratitude.

What’s yours?