Wednesday, December 13, 2006

TransFatdental Meditations

California is being out-greened! And by who? New York City of all places. It could only be worse if New Jersey beat us to the punch. First the Big Applers outlaw smoking in restaurants, to catch up to their Left Coast kin in the category of lung-legislation paternalism. Now they are outlawing transfats, joining health conscious Chicago, of all places, in culinary legislation, as local governments strive to reshape America one french fry at a time.

Transfats are a molecular designation, describing re-engineered (hydrogenated) natural vegetable fatty-acids transformed into double bonded carbon chains--blah, blah, blah. What is really important is that (1) they don't exist without human engineering, (2) they extend the shelf life of many processed foods, (3) the extended stability allows for repeat usage in processes like deep-frying--making them a relatively cheap alternative to natural fats and (4) they are linked to coronary artery disease, heart disease, obesity and death.

Now until you get to number (4) things sound pretty good. And regarding the final quality, my doctor told me just last week that, while I was worried about the possible consequences of various diseases I have yet to contract "the fact of the matter is that none of us are going to leave this place alive". A true enough sentiment, I suppose, given that 2.1 million of us expire each year (60 million worldwide), but one you would prefer not to hear emphasized by your primary health care professional.

As I struggle against my libertarian biases, I have to admit I hate smoking, and love being free of second-hand mouth clouds, when paying good dollars for decent table fixins'. This position is reinforced each time my travels compel me to pay good Euros or good Yen for expensive meals, only to have the subtle flavors blunted by a coat of bitter tobacco fog emanating from an adjacent table.

Transfats? Well I'm afraid I am OK with getting rid of them too. We seemed to do fine as a species without them for a few million years. And, as I recall, McDonald's fries tasted great in the 1960s, when the company presumably used oil of a non-engineered variety. So the new fries last a few weeks longer. They suck after 15 minutes anyway.

But what about that Price Club palate of Hostess Twinkies stored down in your bomb shelter? Let me offer that if Kim Jong Il manages to land one of his lego-missles in your neighborhood, the relative freshness of your snack food is likely to be the least of your worries.

Now I might feel differently about transfats if some marketing guy gets hold of the issue and manages to turn this dietary disaster into a feature. Imagine restaurant menu items like:
  • Appetizer: Monterey Bay Calamari, dusted with Folker Farms organic whole-grain semolina, lightly sauteed in Monsanto Hills TF30Xc Iowa-corn derived oil food.
  • Main Course: Vialone Nano Risotto with fresh Adante Farms Minuet Goat Cheese, and organic zucchini blossoms crisped in an artisan ceramic vessel filled with Archer-Daniels Midland 530AR9.2 essence of olive oilishness.
  • Dessert: Decadent "Death by Scharffen Berger Chocolate" with Cafe Dumond Begnets cooked to golden perfection in Dow Farms X3D001-PX2 "death by fat-life extender"molecules.
"If you can't fix it, feature it" as my marketing mentor, Jeff Miller, taught me two decades ago.

The backlash against engineered fats reminds me that is was exactly twenty years ago that the big new idea in nutrition was the fake fat, non-fat engineered protein, which promised the mouth feel, texture and flavor-carrying ability of real fats, without any of the actual fat calories. Olestra, from Proctor and Gamble was the poster child of the fake fats, which promised a healthier future for America.

Problem was that these products ended up carrying warning labels describing possible side effects, including severe cramps, vomiting and the ever popular "anal leakage". Now, it turns out that the prospect of anal leakage makes a food unattractive to enough people to prevent its wide-spread adoption. When tongs threaten to become standard equipment in the laundry room, most of us draw the line.

In the current era, one has to ask why local governments are taking up the anti-transfat crusade. The easy answer is that the federal government isn't doing its job. Of course it could just be that the feds don't think it is their job to tell us what we can and cannot eat. But then how can we explain the outlawing of raw milk cheeses and wonderful cured meats from our European trading partners.

I think the answer is that local governments pay most of the price for the plumping of America. We don't fit in buses, we can't walk hand-in-hand on public sidewalks, we drop dead in city streets at an alarming pace, requiring six or seven city workers to crane us up and cart us off to the morgue. Worse yet, we actually have to look at each other as we navigate this world in increasingly larger jeans with belts that require leather goods makers to stitch two cow hides together, and baggier T-shirts that, with the addition of extendible poles, can double as emergency shelters for a family of four.

But is it really that bad? I think so. Now that "muffin-top" has been adopted as an official body-type by respected organizations as the National Funeral Directors Association and the Brotherhood of Mob Disposers, I think it is time to admit that we are just TOO transfat.

One might offer that the solution resides in each of us taking personal responsibility. Avoid processed foods that use transfat. Treat trips to fast food restaurants as a special event, not a daily default meal solution. Learn how to actually cook. I don't know, this sounds like way too much work for my fat ass.

Better to just leave it to our government. Afterall, we can always trust politicians to act in our best interest.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully insightful post! The trend has been natural fat, to reduced fat, to low fat, to no-fat and now no trans-fats. I have to agree with Paul - there is a certain amount of personal responsibility here. If folks would learn what is good for you and how to really cook again, health would improve...and the government could stay out of it.

on a different note, I am anxious to see how anyone is going to enforce the "no trans-fat legislation". Seems like a bigger waste of money.

My two cents worth...and i probably owe you some change

12:54 PM  

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