Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Fat Ones Are The Healthiest

Last week, I wrote about Whole Food Markets, and how despite the widespread perception, they aren't really health food stores at all -- they're basically just high-priced supermarkets. This week I'd like to write about something you'll care about even less.

I'm referring to the use of the term "health food." It's a great term -- it's descriptive and unambiguous -- but unfortunately, it's led a lot of people to think about foods in terms of how healthy they are, when they should be thinking about how healthful they are.

Everyone makes this mistake. It's very common. I'll even make it myself sometimes, depending on who I'm talking to. But when I make the mistake, I do it consciously, just like I do with a lot of other common mistakes (such as using "who" instead of "whom" and ending a sentence with a preposition, as in the phrase "depending on who I'm talking to"). I do it because unless the mistake is particularly egregious, I generally like talking to people in a manner they're familiar with. So I might be more inclined to say "Raw broccoli is supposed to be very healthy" instead of "Raw broccoli is supposed to be very healthful." (The truth, of course, is that I've never had occasion to say either, but for the purposes of this discussion, that is irrelevant.)

So if someone comes up to you and asserts that "fish is healthier than chicken," even though the intent of that statement is pretty clear, you'd be absolutely correct in replying with something like, "If you're talking about food, that isn't true, because the fish and the chicken are both dead (or soon will be), and therefore neither of them is particularly healthy." Or you could just let it pass.

I usually just let it pass. But every now and then someone uses the term in such a comically awkward way that I can't help noticing it.

I was watching some cooking show last week. I'm not a chef, and I'll never aspire to be, but I do enjoy watching cooking shows from time to time. I don't always listen to them -- sometimes I'll watch them with the sound turned down so I can listen to music instead -- but in this case, I had the sound on. The chef was preparing fish, and in his discussion of various fish, he stated that fish with the highest fat content are the most delicious. He went on to say that since fish fat is mostly Omega-3 fat, which is known to have health benefits for humans, the fattest fish aren't only the most delicious, they're also the healthiest.

So the fattest fish are also the healthiest. I wonder if that's true of other species, such as humans. Maybe the rise in the percentage of obese people in the last couple of decades isn't something we should be worrying about. Maybe being obese isn't a health risk at all. Maybe all those fat people are actually the healthiest.

I'm kidding, of course, since unlike fish, the flesh of humans doesn't contain a lot of Omega-3 fat. However, while eating human meat may not confer any particular health benefits upon the person consuming it, the elevated fat levels of the obese may actually make them much tastier than people of normal weight. (To illustrate, cow flesh doesn't have a high Omega-3 fat content, but it's commonly believed that the fattier the beef, the better tasting it is, so the particular type of fat isn't a factor where taste is concerned, and therefore the fattest humans will probably taste the best.)

Of course, despite the lack of any apparent health benefits, there may be other advantages to eating fat people. Most notably, they have more meat than other people, so you don't have to worry about bones so much.

And with that helpful tip, I'll end today's column. I started out talking about a minor but common lexical error and ended up talking about human cannibalism. I don't know how that happened -- I'm certainly not an expert on the subject. I don't even eat meat. Well, I eat fish, but I used to not even eat that. I just started eating it because I heard that all the Omega-3 oils in fatty fish were supposed to be good for you.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

In the Bag

Well, gas prices are on the rise again, and whenever gas prices go up, a lot of people start acting like it's some kind of national emergency. For some reason, people love to complain about the high cost of gas.

But oddly, no one ever complains about the high cost of food. I don't know about you, but I spend a lot more money on food than I do on gas. So when food prices go up, I feel it more than when gas prices go up.

Of course, if I really wanted to do something about it, I guess I could stop shopping at Whole Foods Market and start shopping at the less expensive normal supermarkets instead.

For most of my adult life, I did all my grocery shopping at health food stores. I'd still shop at health food stores today, except that over the years, the Whole Foods corporation has bought them all and converted them into high-priced supermarkets.

A lot of people have the misapprehension that Whole Foods stores are health food stores. It's an easy mistake to make, I guess -- you name something "Whole Foods" and most people are going to assume the stuff they sell is probably good for you. And a lot of it is. But they also sell a lot of things that aren't particularly good for you -- things like wine, white sugar, refined flour, coffee, and hundreds of other foods that are overly processed or full of salt or sugar.

I'm not complaining -- I eat some of that stuff myself from time to time, but I realize it isn't especially good for my health. Most real health food stores realize it as well, and that's why they don't carry it.

I'm not even sure why I shop at Whole Foods. It might be just force of habit. On the other hand, even though they sell a lot of junk, they also sell a lot of organic produce. Still, I don't think they sell enough of it. As a matter of fact, a couple of times when I've been there, I couldn't find a single head of organic cauliflower in the entire store. That's really pathetic for a store with health food pretensions. I've seen the same thing happen with apples and oranges. They always have some, but on more than one occasion the selection was minuscule compared to the all non-organic fruit they had.

And I don't know why this is, nor do I know if it's true of all Whole Foods Markets or just the one I go to, but they always seem to be rearranging things so you can never find what you want. One time they made the produce area smaller so they could start selling fresh flowers, but unless flowers are considered food these days, I don't think they should even be selling them. If I want to buy flowers, I'll go to a flower store.

But sometimes they rearrange things for no apparent reason. And while some people may enjoy the extra bit of adventure this adds to the shopping experience, I tend to find it rather annoying after a while. When you wheel your cart up to the check-out counter, sometimes the person at the cash register will ask, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" I have no proof of this, but I suspect that if enough people answer "yes," they'll know it's time to rearrange the store again.

And while I'm on the subject, a while ago, the Whole Foods store I go to stopped offering paper bags. Now they carry only plastic. Since I always asked for paper bags in the past, I asked the cashier why they stopped carrying them. She said it was to encourage recycling. I guess they didn't know that paper bags can be recycled as well as plastic ones.

But the thing is, Whole Foods used to offer heavy-duty plastic bags which you could reuse over and over again. They even deducted a nickel from the cost of your purchase for each bag you reused. But that isn't why I used them. What I liked is that they prevented the proliferation of grocery bags in my kitchen cabinets.

And just as a side note, recycling is a big joke. Don't get me wrong -- you should still recycle everything you can instead of just throwing it away, but have you ever wondered why even though all the plastic products you buy have that little triangular "recyclable" logo, those products are never actually made from recycled plastic? If so, you might be wondering where all that recycled plastic ends up. I don't have a definitive answer, but in my own experience, the only products made from recycled plastic that I've ever seen are those salsa bowls and containers to keep your tortillas warm that you sometimes see in Mexican restaurants. They're made from a really low-grade kind of plastic -- I don't even like to touch them.

Okay, now back to the grocery bags. When I was a kid, and even when I was a young adult, the supermarkets only carried paper bags, since those flimsy pastic bags hadn't been invented yet. And back in those days, bagging groceries was almost an art. They guy would have to ensure that no bag was too heavy or too light, and that all the heavy items were on the bottom and all the easily bruised items were on the top. I'm not sure, but I think they had to have special training back then to learn how to pack things in a grocery bag.

But now, that skill is all but lost. Grocery baggers are no longer concerned with the safe and efficient packing of groceries. They just grab things as they roll down the conveyer belt and put them in the nearest bag. They don't do anything really stupid, like putting a quart of orange juice on top of a container of fresh strawberries -- instead they'll just put the orange juice in a new bag. And since the plastic bags don't have the capacity that the paper ones had, every now and then you'll end up with some of your bags containing only one item. I have seen this happen. It has happened to me many times.

Another thing I don't like about those plastic bags is that when you put them in the trunk of your car, they don't stand up like the paper ones. So by the time you get home, you often find a bunch of empty bags with their former contents strewn about your trunk. On the other hand, you don't have to fold plastic bags after you've unpacked them. You can just crumple them up and stuff them in another bag. For some reason, I hate folding paper bags. I don't even know why. It might be some kind of irrational hatred, but I don't like folding them. It takes too long and it just seems like a huge waste of time.

But getting back to the subject at hand, whatever I don't like about Whole Foods Markets, I probably won't stop shopping there anytime soon. Each time I go there, I'm a little disappointed in the variety or quality, but I keep going back anyway, hoping it will be better the next time. But it never is. So for me, Whole Foods is the M. Night Shyamalan of grocery stores, because the promise is always greater than the reality.

It's also farther from my house than the two or three nearest supermarkets, which means that unless I stop there on my way home from someplace, I have farther to drive, which means I have to spend more money on gas. I don't really mind, though -- the difference is pretty negligible, despite all the recent increases in gas prices.