September 29, 2007

Football and food: In the RightSize

Jesse Chatman tells Sports Illustrated this week how a weakness for Mexican food and anything fried nearly derailed his NFL career. After an injury Chatman ballooned from 220 to 283 pounds. Then he started exercising -- but even a NFL regiment -- couldn't get him to his playing weight.

To shed those 60 pounds, Chatman changed his diet.

He now eats egg whites with mushrooms in the morning, spinach salad with chicken at lunch and salmon with oregano and lemon at night.

By skipping the fast food restaurants, Chatman made the Miami Dolphins roster.

Goes to show you that eating the RightSize is one way to be healthy and to be an NFL player!

September 26, 2007

Wait staff: what's your best and worst restaurant stories?

I thought I would use the power of the blog, to ask all wait staff their favorite restaurant story. We always hear about what goes on in the kitchen with the chefs, but now it's your turn to tell us about the food you bring to the customers.

And what about those customers? Are overweight people a pleasure or a pain to serve? From your vantage point to people overeat? Do restaurants overserve? Is the special of the day really special? And can you survive on those tips?

Let us know with your comments. Thanks.

September 22, 2007

What to look for when dining out

Lately I have been talking a lot about the bad things at a restaurant. But we all eat out, several times a week or even several times a day.

Last night I had cioppino at my favorite Italian restaurant Lucia in New Milford. The seafood was simply prepared in a little wine and lemon sauce. My wife enjoyed veal and asked for broccoli rabe on the side. A little wine, a little espresso and, later, at home, a little limoncello, made eating out, a dining-out pleasure.

So how do you find these restaurant gems hidden in a sea of unhealthy meat markets? What are the clues that waffed into your senses as you walk into a restaurant?

Karla Cook of the International Herald Tribune talked to restaurateurs and drew upon her experience as a restaurant critic to offer sage advice.

First. as you are waiting for a table or just opening the menu, spy on your neighbor. Did the chef take his time with the side dishes?
"Look over your neighbor's shoulder," says Betty Fussell, an author living in New York. "It's good to know the size of the portions. And check out the joint, to see what other people are eating.' Are vegetables, whole grains and fruits and vegetables commanding half the plate, or are green beans a garnish? Is there too much rice? Is sauce lapping over the sides of the platter? Is there, as Rodgers disdainly describes it, 'excess for the sake of excess?'"

"The value of my dollar isn't based on how much food is on my plate," he said. "It's based on the dish itself and the quality of ingredients, the flavors and the overall dining experience."

Next, look for menu clues: light, fresh and sustainable. A small and simple menu is probably a great indication of a kitchen that changes with the season and keeps less perishable food lying around.

A promising sign on a printed menu is provenance plus preparation, like "grilled Barnegat Light scallops," with a description of "New Jersey dandelion, guanciale, celery," at Blue.

The item and its ingredients seem to indicate an interest in buying local, in perhaps paying more for it, and, possibly care to make the most of the ingredients. I ordered it, and was right.

Watch out for foods that are out of season. Where did those peaches and tomatoes come from in December?

On the other hand, peaches and tomatoes on the menu in winter should raise an eyebrow, says Nils Norén, vice president of culinary arts at the French Culinary Institute in New York.

Specials can indicate either too much inventory or a chef's treasure, with price as a rough guideline. "If it's really inexpensive, or looks like a great deal, it might be too good of a deal," says Noren.

And always custom order for yourself. Substitute broccoli rabe for French fries.

Finally, no menu should say "freshly made" or "grilled to perfection". Isn't that what you're paying for?
Buon appetito!

September 21, 2007

Money Funds America’s Killer Diet

CNN this weekend tackles America's Killer Diet: Fed Up: America’s Killer Diet.

It's probably an eye-opening special, but by the stories on the web and the thrust of the headlines, CNN only tackles the symptoms of America's obesity problem.

The best part is the title: food in America is a killer.

But it's a killer with a lot of money behind it.

Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said, the federal food policy is making, and keeping, people fat.

He was interviewed by the Hartford Courant and his views coincide with my experience.

If you don't change food policy, people will keep getting fatter and sicker, and no diet or exercise program in the world will change that, Brownell said.

His advocacy of sweeping policy change, such as his promotion of the so-called Twinkie tax on junk food - and his own substantial girth - has made him an object of derision to conservative critics who say weight is purely a matter of personal responsibility.

His conclusions have been at the center of a growing national debate over food - from whether trans fats should be served in restaurants to snack food in schools. Brownell believes the chief culprit is the trillion-dollar food industry, which Brownell said has stayed profitable through massive advertising campaigns to get people to eat more calories than they need.

The evidence is everywhere, Brownell said, from super-size fast food meals to jumbo Coca-Colas. As portion sizes ballooned, so did waistlines of people who exercised less and less over the years.

Meanwhile, the government has fueled the obesity epidemic by granting subsidies to farmers that helped create cheap feed for cows, greasy oils and sweeteners to create countless empty calories in our diets, he said.

Food economics make it cheaper to buy a Happy Meal than a salad. Why is it, he said, that you get a price break the bigger the fries or soft drink you order, but there is no break when you buy six apples instead of three?

Why not create food subsidies for apples, oranges or broccoli instead of corn?
As they said in "All the President's Men": follow the money! Obesity isn't a problem with individual willpower. It's a problem with too much money for all the wrong foods. Let's demand cheaper healthy food and expensive junk food. In the end, it will all be cheaper and better for us and our children.

September 14, 2007

You may be too fat to go through the drive-thru is reporting that some car owners may be too fat for their cars (and tires).

The Mazda MX-5 Miata and Chevrolet (GM) Corvette, aren't certified to carry two 200-pound adults, according to a government formula aimed at tire safety.

Many five-passenger vehicles are rated about 850 pounds, maxxing out if their five occupants weigh more than 170 pounds each. Six 200-pounders would overload the seven-passenger Dodge Grand Caravan minivan."
Car weight limits are a big, fat problem
Automakers say the limits reflect a mandated federal formula that requires them to rate passengers at 150 pounds each. The limit may not be realistic "given American propensity for food, but that is the regulation," says Mazda safety director Dan Ryan.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says automakers can set the weight limit at whatever they deem appropriate.

In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control pegged average weights at 190 pounds for men, 163 for women.

David Champion, Consumer Reports head of auto testing, says automakers aren't building cars that can stand up to loads of bigger passengers. A family car "should be capable of carrying five reasonably sized people, not five midgets.
Sounds like one part of the government is not talking to the other part. The Federal government reports 66% of Americans are overweight or obese. I don't think those tires are going to last long; not as long as Americans keep going through the fast-food drive thru.

September 12, 2007

The revolution has started

If McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Jack-in-the-Box, et. al. won't control themselves; and we know Americans can't control themselves, at least in California, the law will control fast food.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting officials are considering "health zoning": prohibiting new fast-food restaurants in certain all of South L.A.

"The people don't want them, but when they don't have any other options, they may gravitate to what's there," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who proposed the ordinance in June, and whose district includes portions of South L.A. that would be affected by the plan.

In just one-quarter of a mile near USC on Figueroa Street, from Adams Boulevard south, there are about 20 fast-food outlets.

"To be honest, it's all we eat," Rey Merlan said one recent lunch hour at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. "Everywhere, it's fast food everywhere."

The L.A. Times study found South Los Angeles with the highest concentration of fast food restaurants, and fewer grocery stores than the rest of the city.

And of course the next statistic is no accident. Thirty percent of adults in South L.A. are obese, compared with 20.9% in the county overall, according to a county Department of Public Health study released in April.

For children, the obesity rate was 29% in South L.A., compared with 23.3% in the county.
"While limiting fast-food restaurants isn't a solution in itself, it's an important piece of the puzzle," said Mark Vallianatos, director of the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College.
But it's a start.

Other cities including Concord, Mass. are starting a new revolution by banning fast-food restaurants in certain districts.

The first shot heard round the world was just fired.

September 11, 2007

What a concept! Schools teach and serve healthier foods

It's been almost 400 years since Harvard University was founded.

And today the Boston Globe reports that for the first time healthy eating is being taught in the "Hub of the Universe".

Boston City Schools have hired a chef to train cafeteria managers across the public school system how to make their food healthier and more attractive. He started serving food last week.

"I think this chef's program will get kids to change their eating habits," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "What we're trying to do is make sure they're educated about what to eat."

Almost half the children in Boston's public schools are overweight and many are obese. At the Frederick school, 41 percent are obese; at the chef's other pilot school, the Mario Umana Middle School Academy in East Boston, 52 percent are obese and 17 percent are at risk of diabetes, according to school officials.

more at: The Boston Globe: Schools hope chef's touch whets cafeteria appetite.

It's about time (and health).

September 10, 2007

FDA might get it half-way right

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration took the first step toward new food labeling, inviting food companies, trade groups, watchdog organizations, medical experts and its overseas counterparts to share how front-label symbols, like the 'traffic light' system used in Britain, can improve public health.

Last January, I told you England has easy to understand symbols, pointing out the RightSize of fat, salt and sugar.

I suggested then that this only covers about 60 percent of the food we eat. The other 40 percent is eaten away from the home and we still don't have any way of figuring out the calories, the fats, the salt or the sugar in our restaurant meals.

How much fatter do our children have to get before we take action? How much fatter do we have to get before we take action?

Let pressure our presidential candidates now to consider food labels on menus.

FDA Asks Groups to Consider Food Labels

WASHINGTON (AP) — Next month, General Mills Inc. and Kellogg Co. will begin emblazoning their breakfast cereals with symbols that summarize complex nutritional information — part of the growing use of logos to steer harried grocery shoppers toward healthier choices.

The proliferation of such symbols is a worldwide phenomenon, with government regulators in Britain, Sweden and elsewhere establishing logo systems that concisely indicate how nutritious food products are. In the United States, however, corporations have been left to devise their own schemes. That's led to a patchwork of systems that some fear further confuses consumers already unsure about how to eat wisely.

Here's the way my labeling would look at restaurants:

September 6, 2007

Chefs Share Their Secrets

I've told you about chefs that can turn healthy foods into fattening foods with too much butter or cream, but now Reader's Digest searched America to find chefs who are putting down the fats and still cooking good tasting food.
When Michael Wild prepared his savory chicken dish for eager diners 15 years ago, he'd start by reaching for butter and cream to prepare the sauce. Today, the owner/chef of Bay Wolf Restaurant in Oakland, Calif., poaches the chicken in stock, tops it with a mushroom-rich mustardy vinaigrette, and artfully arranges his creation on a bed of greens. The butter and cream rarely leave the refrigerator.

Susan Weaver, executive chef at Fifty Seven Fifty Seven, the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, builds flavor with vinegar, citrus fruits, mustard, spices, and herbs. That approach applies even to whipped mashed potatoes, a traditionally butter-rich member of the comfort-food family. "We puree the cooked potatoes with chicken stock and mustard, which gives a dense, rich flavor," she explains. "The creaminess comes from the potato itself. The taste is that of a luscious, fat-laden dish, but in fact there's no fat whatsoever."

It's chefs like these showing the rest of America it's possible to have good tasting, satisfying healthy restaurant meals.

They are the ones deserving our applause, and business. And fast food restaurants could be doing the same thing. There's not one reason for a salad to be 700 calories. A side order of potatoes doesn't have to be fried; it could be mashed with chicken stock.

As Chef Pierre LeBlanc of the Culinary Institute of America said : I look at low-fat cuisine as a challenge to creativity and a catalyst to healthier food that taste better.

All restaurant chefs take that challenge. I dare you.

September 2, 2007

Company charges extra for obesity

"If you're too heavy, then we are going to charge you more."

That's the message at least one company is telling its employees.

From "Like a growing number of companies, Clarian Health Partners has for a number of years had a program that rewards employees for getting healthy. But now, Clarian is telling its workers, it's time to shape up or pay up."

“For several years, we’ve had a reward program, where if you cease smoking and do a self-assessment, you receive a reduction in your [health care] premiums,” Clarian president and CEO Daniel Evans told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Friday. "[But] our health care costs were going up and our employees were not taking full advantage of the programs we had in place.”

To combat the problem, beginning in 2009 Clarian employees will be charged up to $30 every two weeks for failing to meet standards set by the company in a number of areas. That breaks down to $10 for a body mass index that’s too high, and $5 each for smoking, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure.

It's only a matter of time before all companies look to offset the increased costs of health care for obese employees. Now is the time for the restaurant industry to get in line with helping people to get fit, not the other way around.

September 1, 2007

Why are Missouri citizens so fat?

New men's belt size

Missouri has the 12th highest rate of adult obesity at 26.3 percent.


One reason might be restaurants and restaurant reviewers who revel in the ridiculously rich, roly-poly, wrong-sized portions of fat and calories.

Take Betha Whitlow from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper. This is not some backwater village crier, but "what once was" a respected newspaper.

In her review of Billie's Fine Foods, she writes:
Dining: "My eating style typically leans toward small-portion grazing, but I got a thrill when my chicken fried steak with eggs, potatoes and a biscuit ($6.40) arrived on two large dinner plates, inspiring a 'She's a hungry one!' from our server. I forked into the steak, which was covered with velvety white gravy flecked with black pepper. The fried crust of the steak remained inexplicably light and crisp under its heavy gravy blanket, and the steak itself was piping hot and juicily tender. I also devoured my two perfectly cooked over-medium eggs, and fried potatoes that fell somewhere between hashed and cubed. While the larger potato pieces were a little soft, their mild flavor mingled beautifully with the smaller bits, which had a caramelized brown patina. The biscuit — a heavy slab sliced from a pan — was dense and buttery enough to make me forget about cholesterol for the moment."
First, it doesn't sound like Billie knows what fine food is. But why does the reviewer play up the most heart-attack-producing meal? Couldn't we have heard about something that approached fine foods?

I guess not. The reviewer concludes with:
... but we picked the plate clean as we reveled in our newfound gluttony.
Missouri is only the 12th fattest state. With restaurants and reviewers like that, look out Mississippi, they will be #1 in the nation soon.