Friday, March 6, 2009

The Joy of Cooking is Not Why We're All Fat

Those who know me well know I'm a little obsessed with The Joy of Cooking. And I'm not convinced that the problem with our food system can be boiled down to, "People are just eating larger portions, therefore they're getting fat." So I was thrilled to see blogger Sweet Machine call bullshit on a recent "study" showing that the calorie counts of the "average" JOC recipe had gone up an astonishing 928 calories, or 44 percent. As she notes, that's only true because the study focused ONLY on recipes that had remained in every edition of Joy since 1932. That narrowed it--in a cookbook that now includes hundreds of recipes, everything from cucumber salad to cheese souffle to borscht--to: beef stroganoff, waffles, macaroni and cheese, goulash, Spanish rice, brownies, sugar cookies, and apple pie. That's hardly representative of current American eating habits, as Sweet Machine points out:

I’m not trying to universalize my own eating habits here, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most of these, to quote Obesity Propaganda Cookie Monster, a sometimes food? I know the phrase is “American as apple pie,” but how often do you actually bake an apple pie? I just can’t work up much excitement that a list of foods that were basically already vehicles for enjoying some fat and/or sugar may now contain more fat or sugar. This is not to demonize fat and sugar–far from it!–but just to point out that these may be staple recipes, but that doesn’t mean they’re staple foods.

I wonder what would happen if you compared the cream-and-gelatin monstrosities that passed for "salads" in 1932 to the salad recipes included in Joy's recent 8th edition. My guess is that the result would be just about as enlightening.

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