Category Archives: thought for food

A slice of half-baked pie

It’s tricky being in the advice business, especially the “what is right to eat” one.  There are thousands of diet books enthusiastically embracing a “correct way to eat.”  I’ve read a few recently published, written by smart, educated, scientific minds, several with medical degrees — strongly advising us what we ‘should eat’ to be our healthiest, giving us our best chance to avoid disease.  They all agree on one thing:  we should be eating real whole food and avoiding highly processed (junk).  That makes sense to any dummy.  Eating an apple, they agree, is healthier than a Snickers bar.  Duh.  

Since we are all so “food group” conscious, what the books don’t agree on are the ideal proportions of those whole food groups.  Some are polar opposites over saturated fats, particularly from meats and dairy, whether they are good or harmful.  One camp exposes a strictly plant based diet, showing studies of how animal fats are directly related to our maladies.  Others point to similar studies showing why animal fats and good dairy may help cure them.  Some champion low fat in general.  Others high fat.  Some encourage whole grains, yet others endorse avoiding them.  There are loads of conflicting beliefs and recommendations.  How can smart, educated, studied, professionals be so at odds about what whole foods we should eat?  They all can’t be right.  Or can they?

We’ve all been somewhat dimwitted when it comes to what we’ve been sticking in our mouths over the last century as we’ve radically changed our diets away from natural whole to processed food.  We gain weight and have health problems, then try to reverse years of bad habits, so we listen to what we hope is smart advice.  The thing is, most well-intentioned smart, nutritional advice givers, dedicated to helping people, don’t really know what is the best formula for eating. They can only look at slices of the pie.

We know that our bodies are a collection of atoms, too numerous to put a number to.  We’ve learned that atoms join together to form molecules and that these molecules are in constant communication with each other.  Life at the molecular level is highly dynamic and interactive.  What we eat and breath, ends up communicating with our cells, made up of those molecules.  Throw in coded messages from our non-stop thoughts and the quality of sleep, and our internal systems, from brain to toes, are constantly buzzing with vibrant interactions.

In affect, the advice-business folks make blanket claims about what is good or bad with blinders on.  We are learning that our molecular messaging system is so complex that  effects are sometimes not known for decades, or even generations, leaving us little choice but to make assumptions by looking at slices.

As a complex species we are somewhat the same, but each with unique messaging systems.  Is there a “best diet” for everyone?  From a logical perspective it’s highly unlikely.  At the same time, what is also logical is that food (including the food’s source) which has been manipulated (altering the original intended message) is most probably sending less-than-desirable information to our cells, whether that food is processed, whole fruits and vegetables, or animal origin.

So a hearty thanks to those doing the hard research and giving sound advice, particularly those warning that vegetable oils and sugars are highly toxic.  At the same time, it might be helpful for certain advise givers to qualify their advice and offer caveats, that studies have limitations and that their advice may not be for everyone.  Anything less is a half-baked slice of delicious home-made pie.

Four Books

That just may enrich your life.  Sure, there’s an avalanche of perspective-changing books floating around.  But the following four are damn worthy of a read or listen if you are up for possible improvement.

A New Earth — Eckhart Tolle a-new-earth

Mentioned in a post last year, this book helps put spirituality in context.  Grounded in logic with valuable pointers for almost anyone, of any point of view, to be better humans.  The last couple of chapters are especially profound.  We alone posess ownership of our  “happiness” destiny.  If you are not a highly-developed spiritual yogi, this book is a perspective-expander for the everyday hu-man.

Deep Nutrition — Catherine Shanahan, Luke Shanahan


Just out this year, this book breaks down, in detail, how our diets have changed dramatically over the last hundred years, which coincide to the rise in the majority of health problems, and why.  This is pertinent to societies anywhere in the world as it becomes increasingly challenging to avoid industrially prepared (altered) food.  The authors explain how the two biggest culprits, vegetable oils and sugar, have combined to create wide-scale toxic damage which is having compromising physical effects not only on us, but also detrimental hereditary effects.  The medical community at large is considerably fuzzy over how alterted food has chromosonal and molecular effects (look no further than what almost every hospital serves its patients). If you can stomach the details, this is a must read.

Extra Virginity — Tom Muellerextra-virginity

Getting past the history at the beginning, this book explains how much of the olive oil in the market today, the world’s oldest and most prized “healthy” oil, has been corrupted by mafia organizations, and more recently by global food congolermates.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil,  actually a fruit juice, is known to have complex antioxidant properties with an abundance of health benefits.  Unfortunately, the majority of Extra Virgin Olive Oil sold in supermarkets around the world has been bastardized (contaminated), mixed with cheap seed oil and perfumed, almost impossible to detect without thorough testing.  The EU and the FDA are virtually powerless to stop the blatant misrepresentation.  It’s simply too costly.  For anyone who doesn’t use (real) olive oil, well, too bad for them.  For anyone who does, it’s an engrossing and educational read for buyer beware.

sapiensSapiens, (A Brief History of Mankind) — Yuval Noah Harari

You might not be able to take individual action based on this book, but the author eloquently lays out the history of man, offering a bird’s eye perspective of how humankind has evolved.  We think what is going on in our individual worlds and societies as all-important.  This book provides an intelligent, macro frame of reference, helping to contextualize how we, civilizations, and now nations, have transformed to interact with each other (and are continuing to do so).




what’s your secret?

This innocuous question was posed to me twice during a recent week of traveling.  The first by an early 30’ish, relatively slender men’s buyer at a retail clothing company where I was presenting our latest men’s button-down shirt collection.  During a coffee break in their lounge, he asked me “Freddie, after all this time, how have you managed to stay so thin?  What’s your secret?”  (I couldn’t help but thinking that what he meant by “after all this time” was “how does an old fuck like you….”)

He was displaying an unusual amount of cocky swagger and it was evident he wasn’t after anything more than a short answer.  He clearly wanted to remain the center of attention.  I told him my secret was chasing down stray dogs at every opportunity.  He wasn’t amused and insisted that I must have a secret or that I was blessed with good genes.  I shrugged my shoulders and tried to change the subject.  Determined, he went on to say that if he didn’t have his little belly protrusion, which, he claimed, was owed to his Indian heritage, that he would don tight shirts, skip wearing jackets and “really flaunt it.”  At least he was honest as he admitted what is part of our culture’s warped perception.

It wasn’t but a couple of days later that a middle-aged man asked me the same thing.  While padding his generous girth he wanted to know my secret for maintaining a slimmer gut line.

I didn’t have a satisfactory answer for either one.  The truth is, while I may think I have an idea, I have not studied, at least in depth, human biology and physiology.  The truth is, I think the topic is fairly complex, with no correct answer, or secret, that fits everyone.  There are most likely many secrets.  Apart from the obvious factors like not eating junk (and knowing what junk is) and being generally active, logic says that staying on the slim side is a result of a chosen lifestyle, including well-balanced mental health.  Regardless, thinness and overall long-term health are mutually exclusive.  There are loads of less-than-healthy thin people.  But overall health is not the principal goal for many.  Thinness is.

his secret?  must be milk

his secret? must be milk

My 50-something NYC neighbor has been laser focused on his newly attained physique as he prepares for life post-divorce.  His secret, he says, is grunting through 1,000 daily push-ups and kettlebell swings.  He also goes through at least 10 packs of zero-calorie sugar substitute every day with his coffee.  His dinner drink is diet Pepsi.  But he has gotten thin and is happy about it.

We all want to look our best — that’s natural in our “looks” obsessed world.  What may not be natural is our conception of “best.”  Why would a woman choose to walk around with her heels several inches off the ground, her feet in a distorted position?  Because our appearance matters, even at the expense of substance.

If I had a secret to long-term vital health, I would not have had to deal with a nasty health issue a few years ago.  As we all know, looks can be deceiving, that’s no secret.  But maintaining optimal, vital long-term health?  That’s a secret worth knowing.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, to all in the family,
             May your tables overflow with succulent food,
While we give thanks, for this day, and being together,
             And remembering our brother, Heathen Dude.

When we weren’t many, we shared the land,
            Those centuries ago, in a high-spirited mood,
We were brought together, with treasures we stewed,
            And started a tradition, with you, Heathen Dude.

But we needed more land as our numbers grew,
            You lived in teepees, we had forests to hew,
 Then you banded together, started to collude,
            Planning retribution, vowing not to be screwed,
With feather headdress, you charged at us half-nude,
            We were Quakers, proper and prim,
Witnessing crazy people, dangerously wild and lewd,
            Yes, things got aggressive, brother Heathen Dude.

We had hoped you would realize,
            Our intentions as not rude,
Yet we could not glean from the native tongue,
            What you were trying to allude,
While some admired you, your love of land,
            We remained petrified of the sounds you mewed,
And blinded by what we saw as crude,
            So we had to run you out, Heathen Dude.

It’s a long time over,
            Our long-time feud,
So wherever we are,
            By ourselves or with a brood,
While we over-consume,
            with thoughts of calories eschewed,
Let’s give thanks and a toast,
            With whatever is brewed,
And salute to all we’ve wooed,
            Including our brother, Heathen Dude.

skf 2008


The topic came up a couple of weeks ago when nephew S stopped in for a visit during his backpacking trek through China.

Meal preparation is something I almost never do while living alone.  It’s not usually the task but the time.  The washing, prep, cooking, and cleaning afterward sucks up more time than I can allot.  Although the occasions when I have cooked, usually on Sunday, resulted in quantity enough for a family — meaning lots leftover.  Trouble was, after the first night the fare lost its appeal.  The leftovers usually ended up in the can.  So I stopped cooking. Buying cooked food packed for take-out is the norm.

As a backpacker, if you have a hankering for warm food, you’ve also got to rely on buying prepped meals.  And, eating leftovers is the norm.

Ordering cooked food that doesn’t match your hunger level means you end up with not enough or too much.  Most of us over-order.  Better to have too much than go hungry.  So what to do with the leftover?

several day of accumulating these leftovers left them truly over.

Several days of accumulating these leftovers left them truly over.

Certainly the most thrifty, and at times, most practical way to handle leftovers is saving it/them for another meal.  Certain foods are known to even taste better as a leftover.

In many of the restaurants I frequent I’m amazed at a number of people who leave large quantities of food behind.  Sometimes family-style dishes loaded with delicious looking food are left to be thrown.  Some diners will have the leftover packed to go, but most  leave it to be dumped.

At home in NYC, if what is leftover isn’t much, one of us will say to the other, “botar en la boca?”  Our short phrase meaning ‘it’s either down the gullet or thrown away.’  Mostly it gets pitched after thinking the only reason for eating something is to save it from the garbage.  Sometimes I’ll stash leftovers in the refrigerator to avoid the guilty feeling of the immediate can toss.  But most times the refrigerator serves only as a temporary stopping point to the ultimate destination of the garbage bag.

I definitely fall in the the over-order category.  Most evenings I end up ditching what is left.  I think of our NYC phrase and remind myself that I’d rather throw the leftover in the trash than down my throat.

Sure, I could keep the leftover for another day, but I’m not backpacking and there is a plethora of restaurants around that specialize in making good food packed to go.  The idea of freshly cooked somehow continues to win over reheated grub.  Not that there is anything wrong with leftover cooked food.  There are times reheating leftovers is rather delightful, as well as practical and a time saver.

And I guess if you are backpacking, carrying leftovers is not just about watching the funds, but also having food when there is none around to buy.

Thick leftover broth from pickled fish Saturday night. It would have made a nice next meal with rice. But it stayed leftover.

Thick leftover broth from pickled fish Saturday night. It would have made a nice next meal with rice. But it stayed leftover.

Nephew S was relating during our leftover conversation that it’s not uncommon to have leftovers of leftovers.  And, there are even times, he said, there are leftovers of leftovers of leftovers.  I could see him thinking of the next iteration, but before he could confirm I asked, “why buy so much” if there is so much left over?  It’s just the way food allotment can get if you are carrying everything you eat and drink on your back.

So during S’s visit, the leftovers from each evening’s dinner served as his lunch the next day.  After he left, I thought I’d give it a try.  I saved what was leftover each night.  Each day I stared at the boxed food accumulating in the refrigerator during the week trying to determine when I’d heat it up.  But the leftovers kept accumulating.  It all became too confusing, some dishes mixed and matched in different containers, I could not tell what was what. The leftovers finally got ditched.

But I may try again soon.  I bought a half roast duck today and couldn’t eat it all.  It doesn’t feel right giving the bird to the birds.  I’m committed to polishing it off tomorrow.

bag of frogs

In the circuit of restaurants I stop at during the week for evening take-home dinner is a hole-in-the-wall, alley place specializing in pickled fish and other seafood dishes.  There are not many tables but it’s always noisy.  In the dumpy area where the live fish are kept there is almost always a bag of frogs.  They are kept in an empty aquarium directly under the fish and other sea creatures.

Pre-GV I had a Japanese-American girlfriend who had a phobia about frogs.  Even if she saw a picture of a frog in a magazine she’d let out a short yelp and quickly turn the page. She was fairly normal (stable) otherwise, but for sure she would not be able to get close to these amphibians nor visit this restaurant because of them.  Most people like frogs so it was a peculiar fear.

Anyhow, unfazed by the noise with not a croak to be heard, these frogs just sit in their net bag, piled on top of one another, eyes wide open.  They don’t move around and appear fairly content.  If I’m reading frog facial expressions correctly, it’s like they are resigned to their known destiny.

a bag of frogs, awaiting patiently their fate

a bag of frogs, awaiting patiently their fate

I don’t know whether to feel sorry for them or not.  If I did, then where would the “sorry for the animal being trapped” feeling end?  Virtually everything we eat, meat-wise, is a trapped animal.

The menu is written in Chinese so I don’t know which are the frog dishes, but one of these times I’ll work up the nerve to point to them while making an eating motion and see what happens.  When I do, my frog sense is that whichever ones are selected,  if even for a few seconds, might feel liberated from being bagged.

not this way

There are lots of things not ideal to do a certain way.  If you are running a retail store, for example, you don’t want to alienate the customers you are trying to sell.  That would be dumb.  But it’s done with some frequency in the country that, overall, is just learning the value of merchandising and overall customer experience.

My colleague and I joke about the times we are in local apparel chain stores and the sales associates hover with such intensity, persisting that we try things on.  Like annoying insects that keep coming at you no matter how much you swat at them, their behavior drives you out of the store — no calm shopping allowed.  Where so many outlets acquire the hard-sell technique of being primed to pounce is puzzling.  That might explain why the preponderance of stores have so many sales people and so few customers.

Then there is the opposite approach, stores with lots of customers and little-to-no help.

Yesterday in the inclement weather, I decided to don my rain gear and bicycle just outside of town to buy spinach wraps — a type of Indian roti or Spanish tortilla.  The thin bread, which I don’t eat much, makes a nice addition to wrapping up certain foods, burrito style.  While walking through the warehouse-type hypermarket, like any good consumer, I picked up several unplanned items that I didn’t know I needed.  By the time I reached the cash registers my arms had all they could carry as there were no small baskets or handcarts, only mammoth industrial shopping carts large enough to fit a few family members.

for a few speciality items not found elsewhere, like flat bread

for a few speciality items not found elsewhere, like flat bread

There were five registers going, all of them about six customers deep with their immense carts piled high.  No problem, I had time and pockets full of patience.  After about five minutes in line, the cashier in my line was having register issues.  She was loading a box of paper into the dot-matrix printer used for receipts and could not get the paper to feed properly.  Scanning the checkout area, even though I wasn’t in a hurry, I decided to shift to an adjacent line for efficiency’s sake.  A few minutes later I was glad I did.  The new line started moving and the cashier in the original line still hand’t resolved the issue.  I felt like I made a smart move.

As I worked my way up to the register, relieving my arms of the goods on the rolling belt, the person in front of me was completing her purchase with a bank card.  The process was longer than a card transaction should take.  The cashier then called a manager, who after arriving, called another.  There was no problem with the customer’s card, but the undertaking, for some reason, rendered the register non-functional.  The cashier finally told everyone in our line to go to other registers, including the person in front of me who’s transaction was foiled.  Because I didn’t understand the language, my slight hesitation meant that everyone else got the jump on me to queue into the other lines.  The cashier, apparently feeling sorry for me and also knowing it wasn’t fair to stick me in the end of another long line, picked up my things and walked around trying to figure out what to do.  He surveyed the situation for a while, like the captain of a ship might study the horizon looking for land, steadily gazing back and forth, and back and forth.  After a couple of minutes, he started giving me my things back before finally saying, in probably one of the few english words he knew, “sorry.”

By now, the lines were at least eight deep.  The original line with the printer problem was moving and the family that had been in front of me had already checked out.  Had I waited I would have been checking out.  Instead I was looking for another line.  It was evident that my first line-switch move was not so smart.  Anyway, while I was still packing some patience, I decided that perhaps I wasn’t so hungry for the tortillas so I unloaded the food items I was holding onto the first flat surface I saw (besides the floor), walked out of the store, got back on my bicycle, and considered it another interesting shopping adventure in China.  I don’t really like wraps much anyhow.

they are not bad, if the checkout gods are with you.

they are not bad, if the checkout gods are with you.

Bottom line, when opening a retail shop in China, there are lots of opportunities to do things, “not this way.”