I think it was during his second plate of eggs and sausage — while I was lifting a bagel slathered with cream cheese to my mouth — that Andrew wondered, “Why are we doing this?”
It was our second morning on vacation in Atlanta, and, more specifically, our second tryst with our hotel’s lavish breakfast buffet. While the buffet was a convenient way to get a hungry Charlotte fed, it was also a vacation from our usual Spartan morning routine of cereal and coffee.
We theorized that we were over-indulging because we actually had the time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. There was also speculation that it all tasted delicious because someone else was doing the cooking. But when it came right down to it, Andrew and I were stuffing ourselves simply because we could.
A few weeks ago, Deb Matthews, our province’s Health Minister, introduced legislation that would compel restaurant chains with 20 locations or more to post calorie counts next to each item, whether on a menu board or on individual menus at tables. The rationale is, of course, to help curb the obesity epidemic that is increasingly stressing our healthcare system by giving people some knowledge of what they are ingesting.
Some critics believe that listing just the calorie count of a food doesn’t do enough in the war on our waistlines. There are important nutritional watermarks such as salt, saturated fat and fibre content that can affect a food’s healthfulness. Then, there are trendier terms like natural, free-run, organic, gluten-free and whole grain, and there’s not a menu board big enough to satiate our nutritional knowledge.
Others are up in arms over this perceived case of the state interfering with the stomachs of its citizens; while others say that the move will do nothing to curb people’s desire to ingest what’s widely purported to be processed junk food (a 2009 study in New York City, where a similar law was passed that same year, suggested that people actually made less nutritionally sound choices when calorie counts were listed).
Food goes beyond simple sustenance. For better or worse, we also eat for emotional and social reasons. Chances are if you’re eating at one of the big chains targetted in the proposed legislation, it’s a matter of convenience, and if not that, habit or comfort. Sometimes, you’re stuck on the 401 for hours, at the mercy of service centres; other times, you’re craving your fast food weapon of choice and nothing else will satisfy.
But back to our breakfast buffet. We try to eat fairly healthy, but willingly have our occasional lapses in judgment (the buffet also featured a waffle machine!). We don’t count calories per se, but we do know courses of sausage patties and plain white bagels and cream cheese aren’t doing much for our waistlines or heart health.
But not everyone has this knowledge, and calories are an easy place to start. Most of us know that an adult requires between 2,000 and 2,500 a day, and if you’re staring down a 750-calorie burger at one sitting (never mind those fries), it doesn’t take much to do the math.
Even if you are food-aware, restaurants never cease to find new ways to spin apparently healthy ingredients into something dastardly.
So, bring on the calorie (counts); if you need the nutritional kick in the rear while placing your order, so be it. If you’d prefer to live in ignorant bliss, I won’t judge... our healthcare system might be another story, though.
In last week’s column, I mentioned my curiosity of grits. Being in Atlanta, we were in the heart of the “grits belt” which stretches from Texas to Virginia, Wikipedia tells me. It turns out that grits are pretty innocuous — just stone-ground corn that’s often treated with lime (and thus called hominy) to soften the kernels, then boiled in water or broth.
If you’ve eaten polenta, you’ve essentially eaten grits. But what makes them special to the southern United States is that butter and cheese is often added, then served alongside those biscuits and sausages for breakfast, making a for a pretty hearty meal. Solidified grits can also be breaded in egg and breadcrumbs then deep-fried.
Hominy isn’t a grocery store staple north of the Mason-Dixon Line, so give polenta a try. Gluten-free, it can be used in place of rice, pasta or potatoes as a side dish.
6 cups water
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
Bring water to a boil in a heavy, large saucepan. Add salt. Gradually whisk in cornmeal. Reduce heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often — about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add butter and stir until melted.