Monthly Archives: December 2011

BACON MANIA: because we can always resolve to lose weight and get healthy next year

The sugarplums are no longer dancing and the fat man in the funny red suit has drifted off into the cinematic sunset.  It’s now time to turn the page on the ‘ol calendar and prepare for the coming year.  That means that it’s also time to resolve to accomplish a specific goal or change a longstanding habit over the next twelve months.

Nearly half of the country will make a resolution this year, and many will pledge to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Unfortunately, as few as twelve percent of people who make resolutions will succeed in accomplishing their goals.

Frankly, I blame the pigs.

It’s clearly their fault.  These little even-toed ungulates are dirty, raunchy and mean.  For centuries, they’ve been carrying nasty parasites and infectious diseases such as trichinosis, taenia solium, cysticercosis, and brucellosis.   Their most corrupt aspect – and perhaps the biggest impediment to the success of our resolutions – may damn well be the cured belly of their carcasses, otherwise commonly known as bacon.

I’m guessing that I don’t need to spend much time introducing the world to bacon.  We should already know that it’s tasty, delicious, and readily slides down the esophagus even when it’s burnt to a crisp.  We should also already know that bacon isn’t necessarily the most nutritious meat.  An ounce of bacon contains around 30 milligrams of cholesterol, and somewhere around 68 percent of its calories are derived from fat, with almost half of those calories are classified as saturated fats.  It gets worse, though: each serving of bacon may increase the risks associated with heart disease by 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent.

Logic and reason necessarily dictate that we should limit our consumption of bacon or simply eat it in moderation.  Heck, even Apu Nahasapeemapetilon recognized the dangers of cured pig belly, and he’s not necessarily the most venerable or sage fictional character.  Still, Abu once famously remarked:

Let’s see-Farmer Billy’s smoke-fed bacon, Farmer Billy’s bacon-fed bacon, Farmer Billy’s travel bacon… Mr. Simpson, if you really want to kill yourself, I also sell handguns!

If a cartoon character can figure it out, anyone can figure it out.  That’s not happening, though, and Bacon Mania is now spreading like a contagious disease… or at the very least like trichinosis, taenia solium, cysticercosis, and brucellosis.

Foodies are maintaining blogs and authoring books.  Organizers are creating not-so-secret societies.  Retailers are selling themed apparel, scented candles, action figures, flavored tooth picks, christmas tree ornaments, board games and dental floss.  Distributors are marketing bacon gift baskets and memberships to bacon-of-the-month clubs.  Kids are trick-or-treating while disguised as bacon.  And, of course, the culinary maestros are crafting recipes that highlight greasy strips of swine.

The hallmark recipe of the bacon mania movement is undoubtedly the Bacon Explosion.  This nefarious creation is the size of a football and consists of strips of bacon wrapped around spiced sausage and crumbled bacon.  It weighs in at around 5000 calories.  That’s somewhere just south of two pounds of additional body fat.

Of course, there’s always the family-sized Fool’s Loaf Sandwich.  This scale-busting concoction is nothing more than an impending heart attack masquerading as a warm, hollow loaf of bread filled with one jar of peanut butter, one jar of grape jelly, and a full pound of bacon.  Rumor has it that this sandwich was part of the meal that killed Elvis

These recipes aren’t limited to main courses, however, because bacon knows no boundaries.  A handful of rather remarkable, artery-clogging desserts have been designed to compliment the Bacon Explosion, the Fool’s Loaf Sandwich or the bland but healthy green salad that’s a fundamental part of your new year’s resolution.  These dishes can easily be paired with bacon ice cream, bacon pie, frosted maple bacon cupcakes, or bacon chocolate candy bars.  And, of course, we can’t forget about pig candy.  It’s the perfect combination of smoked bacon and pecans coated with caramel and sugar.  Apparently, everything’s better with caramel and sugar.  Even swine.

The phenomenon of Bacon Mania isn’t even confined to solid foods and meals.  Hell no.  Bacon Mania universally embraces drinks, beverages and other refreshments.  Dr. Frasier Crane wasn’t too far off when he prophetically exclaimed

Yes, I’ll have a non-fat, decaf latte, please. Oh, what the hell? Look, make it a full-fat mocha with extra whipped cream. What the hell, put a slice of bacon on it!

At the very least, bacon vodka should help folks better cope with unsatisfied resolutions and unfulfilled expectations.  Anyone who chooses to indulge in a couple of Pigs on the Rocks or a half dozen Mitch Morgans with that special someone should, however, at least consider the almost inevitable consequences of consuming the meaty libations.  Be prepared.

FOUL FEET AND A HOLIDAY TREAT: a timely recipe for inconvenience and frustration

You’re tired.  You’re cranky.  You’re cold.  And you’re late.  The crowds are overwhelming, and you somehow found yourself stuck behind a series of yahoos who are obsessed with playing with their smartphones while slowly strolling through a mob of people who are also tired, cranky, cold and late.

The airport is the last place that you want to be during the holiday season.

You’ve removed your belt.  You’ve emptied your pockets.  The crowds are still overwhelming, and the line that you selected doesn’t seem to be moving.  Unfortunately, you’re also stuck behind an overweight gentleman who nearly cleared the area when he removed his shoes and freed whatever demons lurked beneath.

The security checkpoint at the airport is a yet another milestone in your yuletide journey through hell.

You stomach is growling.  You didn’t have time to eat.  You’re hungry.  The crowds are still overwhelming, the line still doesn’t seem to be moving and the fat man’s demons have yet to retreat.  You’re well aware that you’re not going to have the opportunity to pay a king’s ransom for a hot dog, a bag of chips or some other exotic delicacy sold by a vendor near your gate.

The beast in your belly is fightin’ mad, and his guttural roars are a constant reminder that you should have packed a few leftover cookies, cakes and other holiday treats.

Therein lies the problem.  These little nuggets of fun contain a disproportional amount of calories and an unrealistic amount of sugar.  They obviously pose an almost irresistible threat to our health and an unfortunately obstacle to the fulfillment of our upcoming resolutions.  They’re dangerous, but the hazards don’t necessarily begin at the waistline and end at unfulfilled resolutions.

Instead, holiday desserts may well constitute a clear and present danger to everyone’s safety and potential threat to national security.  This means that the last place that anyone wants to be caught red-handed with a cookie, cake or iced concoction is the security checkpoint at the airport.

Wait.  Holiday desserts may constitute a threat to national security?

Of course, and recent events at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, only serve to illustrate this concern.

Several days ago, Rebecca Hains, a 35-year-old communications professor at Salem State University, was trying to catch a ride on an airplane.  Unfortunately, she attempted to clear the security checkpoint at McCarran International Airport while carrying a red-velvet cupcake.  The red-velvet cupcake was topped with a hearty amount of icing, and this was a problem.  A serious problem.

A federal agent reportedly concluded that the gel-like icing violated federal regulations.  She was therefore forced to surrender her cupcake to the Transportation Safety Administration.

Ms. Hains was obviously not happy.  She believed that the TSA agent encroached upon her civil liberties.

Regardless of the claims and concerns, however, this entry isn’t meant to spark a debate on the lawfulness or appropriateness of the actions of federal screening officials.  It’s simply a recounting of an incident that involved a passenger, an agent and a cupcake… and a warning about yahoos with cellphones and noxious beings lurking in shoes worn by overweight gentlemen.

LEGISLATORS, LOBBYISTS AND SCHOOL LUNCHES: heroic efforts to save our children, one frozen pizza at a time

Scientists are constantly identifying new species.  These plants and animals are often discovered in remote parts of the world, such as uncivilized and unexplored rainforests or deep within uncharted oceans.  For example, we recently welcomed the aquatic Rogue Mushroom (Psathyrella aquatica), Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini) Attenborough’s Pitcher (Nepenthes attenboroughii) and the edible Udderly Weird Yam (Dioscorea orangeana).

These new species haven’t received nearly as much mainstream attention as the latest discovery: an edible vegetable commonly known as a frozen pizza.  This vegetable is hardy and versatile; it can be found thriving in a wide range of harsh environments, including school lunchrooms and the coldest parts of grocery stores.

Alright, this isn’t necessarily a new discovery.  Federal regulations have historically classified frozen pizzas as vegetables so long as they contain at least 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce.  The reasoning for the classification is probably pretty darn simple: frozen pizzas are made with tomato sauce, and tomatoes are vegetables, and therefore frozen pizzas must be vegetables.  It’s a straightforward and nutritious application of the transitive property of mathematics.

The reasoning and the application are also arguably erroneous.  Tomatoes are generally not classified as vegetables; they are generally considered to be fruits.

Regardless, the classification is important for several reasons. First, applying this transitive property of nutrition, I can sprinkle trace amounts of a green, leafy substance on dozens of chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries and feel as if I’ve consumed a healthy and nutritious meal. That’s one heck of a breakthrough, and I already feel noticeably thinner and far more athletic.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the classification impacts the administrative of federal cash subsidies.  Under the current law, schools qualify for federally subsidized lunches only when they serve food to students that meets certain nutritional guidelines.  Schools that serve frozen pizzas that qualify as vegetables are more readily able to satisfy these nutritional guidelines and therefore qualify for federal subsidized lunches.

Simple, right?  Maybe.  The United States Department of Agriculture is much better at explaining this:

[p]ublic or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.

Well, the USDA recently attempted to raise the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  Frozen pizzas would therefore require more tomato sauce to qualify as vegetables, at least in the eyes of the law.

If the proposed regulations were officially enacted, schools would have a financial disincentive to sell traditional frozen pizzas to students.  They would likely only sell frozen pizzas that met the heightened threshold, because otherwise the schools would have greater difficulty in meeting the nutritional requirements for cash subsidized.

Manufacturers of frozen pizzas were that concerned using 1/2 cup of tomato sauce to prepare frozen pizzas would increase the costs associated with production.  They’re probably right, and they were angry.  Some responded by hiring lobbyists.  This made the lobbyists happy.

The happy lobbyists complained to Congress on behalf of the angry manufacturers.  Congress acted upon their demands by including a provision within H.R. 2112, a recent minibus funding bill, that prevented the USDA from raising the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  On November 17, 2011, Congress passed the minibus funding bill and the President signed it the very next day.

The new law ensures that schools likely will continue to sell frozen pizzas containing only 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to students.  These frozen pizzas will also continue to be classified as vegetables, and students will therefore continue to consume the frozen pizzas at school.  Adolescents rejoiced.

Manufacturers no longer needed to worry about the potential for increased costs of producing the frozen pizza.  They were no longer angry.  They rejoiced.

The American Frozen Food Institute was the primary trade organization that lobbied Congress to maintain the traditional standards for classification of frozen pizzas as vegetables.  It may have represented frozen pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods Inc. and Schwan Food Co., but it was really working for the best interests of children.  Don’t believe me?  Consider that the trade organization:

  • stressed that children would benefit from this “important victory,” because any other action would “force companies… to change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students,”
  • noted that “we believe we can improve child nutrition by ensuring that schools are able to provide vegetables in any form… It’s a little bizarre for us that in trying to improve nutrition, you take items from school cafeterias that do provide vital sources of vitamins and nutrients.”

I’m not necessarily sure that I’m buying the trade association’s claim the frozen pizzas truly provide vitals sources of nutrients for students.  The nutritional values may vary from school to school and from pizza to pizza, but several fairly reliable sources indicate that frozen pizzas sold to children are the equivalent of intestinal garbage.  According to LIVESTRONG, for example, generic school pizzas contain around 530 calories per slice.  Each slice also reportedly contains 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat, 81 milligrams of cholesterol and a whopping 1333 milligrams of sodium.

Holy freakin’ bloated bellies, Batman!

Whatever.  I’ve ranted about childhood obesity in previous entries, so I’m not going to jump on the soapbox this morning.  Suffice it to say, though, we really shouldn’t be surprised that incidents of type 2 diabetes among children have been occurring with increasing frequency and childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past thirty years.  These are disturbing trends, and it appears that the trends are going to get worse before they get better.

I also don’t think that I’m over-exaggerating the severity of the issue by claiming that this act is indicative of the manner in which federal government caters to the interests of corporate America above the health of the nation’s children.  This isn’t necessarily shocking, simply because I’m not really surprised by any action taken by the federal government.  Heck, I wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if the federal government attempted to classify hot dogs and sausages as vegetables so long as they contain a modicum of ketchup.  That’s pretty unrealistic, but even far-out and far-fetched ideas are becoming more and more commonplace.

Wait.  What?  A previous administration already attempted to classify ketchup as a vegetable?

Oh brother.  I feel another rant coming on.  It’s probably best to just grab a pinch of a green leafy substance and get back to my hordes of healthy and nutritious chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries.  I need to work on my figure, anyways.

FAST FOOD OR FRESH FLESH: monsieur, could I trouble you for a fine merlot to compliment my friend’s buttocks?

Yesterday, I posted an entry on this blog that discussed the surprising relationship between National Hamburger Day and the belief that the world will end on December 21, 2012.  That discussion was laced with a bit of unintentional irony:  there’s always been a strong correlation between the consumption of greasy hamburgers and impending death.

The proof?  Look no further than the fast food industry.

Medical professionals generally recognize that hamburgers, french fries and soft drinks are not the hallmarks of a healthy and nutritious diet.  Researchers have, for example, observed a strong correlation between the consumption of fast food and obesity.  Not surprisingly, approximately two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese.  They now face increasing risks to their health, including significantly greater chances of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, liver and gallbladder disease, type 2 diabetes and various cancers.  The aggregate medical costs associated with obesity for adults has been estimated to be as high as $147 billion, which is roughly equivalent to the cost of 39.6 billion Big Macs.

Blah, blah, blah.  And blah.  I know, I know.  This isn’t anything that hasn’t already received a significant amount of coverage.  This isn’t anything that isn’t already well know.  This isn’t anything cutting-edge or insightful.  This post is boring.

Fine.  You know what concerns me more than fast food and obesity?  Eating my friends, my colleagues and my peers.

The thought of cannibalism among co-workers didn’t terrify Dennis Storm and Valerio Zeno, the hosts of the Dutch television show Proefkonijnen, which translates to English as Test Rabbits.  During a recent episode of the program, they ate each other.  Literally.

The whole thing sounds a bit surreal.  A butcher provided advice about the best cuts of human flesh and a surgeon removed a strip of flesh from Zeno’s gut and a chunk of meat from Storm’s butt.   A chef fried the food…er…. flesh in sunflower oil and served it to the hosts, along with a side order of asparagus.  Zeno and Storm then proceeded to feed on each other.

Eat your heart out, Martha Stewart.  Not literally.  Figuratively, dammit.

The meal may have conjured images of Armin Meiwes, but Zeno and Storm didn’t necessarily experience any significant problems with the cannibalistic feast.  Storm, for example, remarked that his healthy lifestyle may probably caused his ass to compare favorably with Kobe beefHe also explained that

There’s nothing really special about human meat… It is weird to look into the eyes of a friend when you are chewing on his belly. It was just a few centimetres of meat – and now I have a good story about the scar.

At least Storm didn’t claim that his buddy’s belly tasted like chicken.  I hear that everything tastes like chicken.

Regardless, I’m still not really sure what to say.  This isn’t a situation similar to the nightmare thrust upon the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, who lived through the crash of a chartered flight and reluctantly turned to cannibalism to keep from starving while awaiting rescue.  The hosts simply decided to taste each other and, their dining habits notwithstanding, at least appear to be fairly normal.  That means that there’s nothing to suggest that they share any commonality with Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert Fish or any other well known connoisseur of human flesh.   They’re just two guys who hosted their own Donner Party and gave a new meaning to the phrase “Bite Me!”

That’s just really freakin’ weird.  And it sure does make fast food look a little more appetizing, and obesity suddenly seems like a minor consequence of an otherwise convenient lifestyle.  It even makes the Food Network appear to be high-quality cable television.  I’m pretty darn sure that Rachel and Guy wouldn’t swap a buttocks for a belly, and that alone puts them in the conversation for an Oscar, the Nobel Peace Prize, or whatever award is typically conferred to a program that doesn’t involve cannibalism.

ONE LAST HURRAH: our final opportunity to celebrate the beauty of burgers

December 22, 2011, marks the Winter Solstice, an annual astrological phenomenon that occurs on the shortest day and the longest night of each year.  Many civilizations and cultures have recognized the Winter Solstice through holidays, celebrations and other observances.  It has been tied to the Japanese celebration of Amaterasu or the Requiem of the Dead, the Celtic Mummer’s Day, the Saami celebration of the Beaivi Festival, and Korochun, a Slavic holiday that is similar to Halloween.

The Winter Solstice also roughly coincides with National Hamburger Day.  December 21st serves as an annual reminder of the inherent joy that can be derived from an appropriate combination meat, buns, condiments and a creamy substance commonly known only as the “special sauce.”  Raymond Kroc would be proud.

Unfortunately, this may be the last year that we’re able to properly recognize the beauty of the tasty little marvels.  The Mayans have currently scheduled the world to end on December 21, 2012.  Unless they chose to cancel their appointment, we’ll likely perish in a galactic cauldron of fire, brimstone and explosive destruction.

That means that we’ll never enjoy another National Hamburger Day, because we’ll be dead.

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