Foods for Thought

by Nick Thomas

After the Los Angeles School District banned sodas in schools in 2004, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenergger went on to sign sweeping laws to improve the nutrition standards in California schools. Continuing that trend, flavored milk was outlawed in LA schools in 2011.  Now, New York mayor Bloomberg is proposing a ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and sports venues.

While those steps may sound drastic, perhaps other states need to follow these leads since obesity often follows children into adulthood. Studies have shown that this is especially true for folks in the South who seem to be losing the battle of the bulge. For instance, Alabamians and Tennesseans are now amongst the fattest in the nation, waddling in a close equal second behind the folks from Mississippi.

So perhaps we all need to get our heads out of the fridge and our tails off the couch, and re-examine our lifestyles.

We can begin by increasing our weekly exercise. For instance, instead of driving to the supermarket, I now try to walk there. I find carrying home a couple of shopping bags stuffed with glazed donuts, chocolate chip cookies, Rocky Road ice-cream, hot dogs, and frozen pizza burns off plenty of calories.

However, there’s one food item I refuse to bring home: turducken.

Have you heard of this? It’s straight from the American calorific hall of fame, and the mere mention of this dish plunges vegetarians into cardiac arrest.

It consists of a turkey, stuffed with a duck, which is stuffed with a chicken, which is stuffed with sausage. Several Laws of Nature are broken in preparing this monolith of meat.

Credit for inventing the turducken generally goes to (no surprise) a Louisiana chef who obviously wanted to push fellow Cajuns to the top of the Fattest State in the Nation list.  And there are even some cooks intent on cramming more fat into these poultry beasts by deep-frying these mountains of cholesterol. It would be healthier to cook by just basting with high-level nuclear waste.

So how should we improve our eating habits – and our health?  We could look to other nations where traditional diets often consist of more protein and less fat.

This might include tackling a bowl of Chinese cold shredded jellyfish, sampling some Vietnamese burnt sea slug, or digging in to a plate of live Ecuadorian lemon ants (which, if you have a liking for bugs, probably taste better than dung beetles).

Asia is also home to a low-cal treat known as Baalut: fertilized duck or chicken eggs that are buried in the ground for several weeks, then dug up, and eaten “ripe.”  I believe I’d only be handling those babies wearing a Hazmat suit. Although, I might be able to appreciate their delicate flavor after some beers – many, many, many beers.

Along these lines, Australians are turning to local, leaner sources of meat, too, such as plump, juicy, tree-dwelling, witchety grubs. These are huge, chunky, white insect larvae that look like bleached caterpillars on steroids. Nowadays, these healthy treats are served in the finest Aussie restaurants and they taste like “you guessed it” chunky, white insect larvae.

While we probably won’t see bugs or grubs turning up on LA school cafeteria menus in the near future, the California Calorie Cops don’t appear to be going away any time soon. In 2011, they gave school menus a major revision replacing time-honored school cafeteria staples like corn dogs and chicken nuggets with treats such as sushi rolls and spinach tortellini in butternut squash sauce.

Perhaps hungry, soon-to-be-healthier Californian school kids will be tempted by these new dishes, and echo their former governor: “I’ll be back . . . for seconds.”