This article originally appeared in the Asbury Park (NJ)Press in 1996


Whatever happened to real food?

In the name of nutritional correctness, we are being bombarded with a barrage of "virtual" foods -- fat-free, cholesterol-free, sugar-free, sodium-free -- and flavor-free.

Not only that, but food has taken on a morality all its own. Desserts are vilified as "sinful" and "decadent" while steamed vegetables are lauded as "guilt-free" and "virtuous." (As if a cheesecake ever sold drugs to kids or broccoli won a Nobel peace prize).

My co-workers are a case in point. No reasonable person would consider any of them to be fat. Yet they scrutinize food labels and analyze nutrient contents with the intensity of scientists probing a DNA molecule. Their motto is "Eternal vigilance is the price of staying slim." They derive their sustenance from "light" yogurt, salads with fat-free dressing, baby carrots, diet soda, fresh fruit, and rice cakes. They calculate how many sit-ups will serve as penance for a handful of potato chips. "I was so bad. I had a slice of pizza for lunch," one of them wails, as if eating pizza could somehow be equated with selling nuclear weapons to Saddam Hussein.

I call these pseudo-foods "chick" foods because most of the people who eat them are women who have bought into the morality of food and the notion that slimness is a virtue. Watch any couple eating at McDonald's. He'll happily slurp down a chocolate shake with his two Big Macs and supersize fries while she sips her diet soda and agonizes whether she put too much reduced-calorie dressing on her garden salad. No self-respecting guy would touch a Snackwell cereal bar. Guys consider baked potato chips an abomination. A guy would sooner eat a hockey puck than a rice cake (and come to think of it, there's not much difference between them). But then guys consider fried pork rinds a gourmet delicacy.

We may have lightened our food but not our thinking. Really, will the "food police" slap the cuffs on us for munching a chili dog? Have the gods of dieting ever rewarded us with an inch lost from our waistlines every time we refuse French fries or doughnuts? Hey, I'm sure even Mother Teresa used to enjoy a cookie at least once in a while.

Yes, they've removed the fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol from so many of today's foods. Now if only they could remove all the calories.