What's There to Eat?
by Jan Baughman

In today's health-conscious, cigar-smoking environment, deciding what to eat is tougher than an overcooked steak. The endangered species list is growing to include beef (mad-cow disease), fish (mercury poisoning), chicken (lethal flu virus), lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, berries and apple juice (e. coli). Soon, I'm afraid, we'll be left with nothing but tofu. And what is a good tofu salad without alfalfa sprouts?

One welcome trend would be the disappearance of food substitutes. A recently published fourteen-year study of 80,000 nurses showed that those who consumed the highest amount of trans fats, contained primarily in margarine, had a 53% higher risk of heart attack. The difficulty of interpreting this is that those who eat all the "fat-free foods" seem to feel free to gorge themselves on other junk or greater quantities of the same. You can eat two bags fat-free potato chips before you feel as guilty as from eating one! The extinction of rice cakes would not be a culinary crisis. We've been lulled into a false security, eating unlimited quantities of fat and sugar-free items, and we're only getting fatter. One prediction for the coming decade is that we will return to a time when weight--a lot of it--will be associated with wealth. Take a close look at the fashion magazines.

In the Seventies, the French introduced nouvelle cuisine: Simple dishes with the freshest of ingredients, but we Americans just couldn't grasp it. California cuisine soon followed, with minimalist portions and artisan presentations at art-collector prices. Today's restaurant fare is moving toward oversized portions, perhaps because leftovers mean one less meal to cook. Perhaps the changing food options will help to decrease our appetite.

So-called exotic meats such as ostrich, rattlesnake, venison and buffalo are now commonplace menu choices of the hip and otherwise adventuresome. But there is a new trend brewing in London, and it's offal. Webster defines offal as "the parts of a butchered animal that are considered inedible by human beings." The French have long enjoyed animal parts that Americans consider offal: pig's feet, sweetbreads (a euphemism for the pancreas or thymus, which may be sweet, but are certainly not breads), tongue and tripe. Today, according to the Wall Street Journal, between 25 and 30% of London's top 600 restaurants serve offal, with everything from Pig's Head Salad to fried lamb's testicles, and the profit margin is even more scrumptious. Package 80 cents worth of lambs' tongues and sweetbreads in a beautiful filo pastry presentation and it sells for a $13 appetizer. The restaurant industry may never be the same again, nor will dining out.

So what's there to eat? Just about anything you like, in moderation.

Published January 10, 1998
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