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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pyramid Ponderings

The food pyramid has been niggling my grey cells recently. Setting my "phew" up in his first apartment and The Princess'’s second year of domestic bliss reminded me of food quagmires that young adults are thrown into by falling out of the nest and into their first apartment. By now they have mastered doing laundry-in fact The Princess was quite tired of my turning her delicates weird shades of chartreuse and relieved me of her laundry duty early in high school. I recently taught my "“phew"” about my secret cleaning weapon when his Polo was stained by a broken bottle of aftershave. The secret? "“Shout"” it out or throw it away. He bought a big bottle to combat his dirt demons. Now we are faced with fuelling the learning machine.

My "“phew"” arrived on our doorstep needing help in this final transition. What does he eat? What does he know? Can he follow a recipe? Will he call for help?

I made copious notes, pondered quantities and variety. Could I get him organized for independence? Then panic set in and I called my worldly Princess. "“What do you think? Should we get eggbeaters? What about spices? Kosher salt?"” my voice was rising as I estimated the set-up charge and thought about our car filled to the brim.

“Mom,"” her tone dripped of forced patience. "“Listen, boys eat anything that comes in a box- so get cereal, Rice-a-Roni, box Mac and Cheese. If he'’s interested get him some Hamburger Helper to create with. But forget the Wondra and chicken broth."

"“But what about veggies or fruit? Can we get frozen...?"”

"“Ma-its overkill- he'’s a big boy and believe me he won'’t go hungry."”

I sighed as I hung up on such sage advice and crossed off a few items on the list as I added canned tuna, sponges, and dish soap.

There we were, The Ant, Uncle, and "“phew"” hurtling down aisle after aisle pondering what to stock in the larder. We were informed that a trip to Costco was necessary for the survival of the "“phew"”. And true to form, steroid enhanced boxes jumped off shelves into our pimped out cart. Part of me was in heavy nesting for him and another part was in Costco denial. It was a tug-of-war down the aisles. He won with the gallon of salsa, and frozen orange juice (make note-need to buy pitcher); we won by talking him out of 96 rolls of toilet paper. He was captivated by a case of Ramen Noodles and eight pounds of penne pasta. We suggested frozen hamburger patties and double loaves of bread.

Then it was off to Albertson'’s to fine tune the chicken breasts. I was in my glory with The Princess slapping my wrists when I reached for a bunch of celery or other non-boy food. We settled on 24 rolls of toilet paper and in the box section I reached for one of our family favorite items- Near East Rice Pilaf Garlic Pasta. With a knowing look I snagged his attention and told him to save it for a special dinner with his GF. My dear "“phew"” flashed me the most wonderful smile and I knew he would survive.

I called The Princess later and regaled her about our adventure.

"“He bought a case of Ramen Noodles! Will he really eat all of that? And he only wanted one can of fruit. How will he... survive…"”

"Don'’t go there Mom, he'’s a big boy. And the Noodles? Trust me Mom, it'’s one of the boy food groups- remember boxes- he will eat them all- Trust me."

Now back to the pyramid. I recently discovered that the first food guide for children was published in 1916 by Caroline Hunt who divided food into five groups: milk and meat; cereals; vegetables and fruits; fats and fat foods; and sugars and sugary food. Now granted the term vegetable includes starch and non-starch vegetables it was a guide that was relatively easy to follow.

Reality struck a blow to the food guide in the 1930'’s. The government decided to change the guide into twelve categories which recognized different "“nutridense"” foods suggesting a balance between "“protective" foods that furnish essential nutrients, such as milk for calcium, and vegetables and fruits for vitamins A and C and high energy foods such as fats and sweets. At a time when any food on the table was an achievement for many I wonder how many were balancing the big twelve?

1943 turned the basic twelve into seven food groups: green and yellow vegetables; oranges, tomatoes, and grapefruit (interesting food group…); potatoes and other vegetables and fruits; milk and milk products; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dried legumes; bread, flour and cereals; and butter and fortified margarine (I guess olive, corn, and peanut oils weren'’t discovered). Since it was war time, portion and substitution suggestions were patriotically addressed.

The simplicity of suburban life and life with Ike was felt in the food guide and in 1956 those tiresome seven groups were reduced to four- much easier to follow- when foraging in the new brimming frozen aisle and burgeoning convenience sections. This is where my history begins with the food guide and those colorful posters with food divided into dairy, meats, fruits and vegetables, and grain products. I do understand that a lot of what we eat these days is hard put to fall into any of these simple categories. Life just isn'’t that simple anymore. Where does sushi go? But wait- it was easy to follow and figure out if we were listing toward a healthy meal.

Those heady days of 1979 brought back a whimper of moderation with the "“Hassle-Free Guide"” (how perfect is that title?) adding a shame-on-you fifth category; fats, sweets, and alcohol to drink sparingly. This still was a guide that any American could understand and connect the dots on healthy nutrition.

Much fanfare introduced the 1992 Food Guide Pyramid. I guess our growing sophistication rallied the USDA to create a guide that takes a nutritionist to interpret. The food pyramids of today have micromanaged our eating habits to the point of exhaustion. Each tablespoon of butter and ounce of oil can be pigeon-holed on the color-coded triangle. Now the pyramid is replete with a running figure dashing up the side of nutrition and what pretty colors our food groups are! We can even interact with our own private food pyramid on www.mypyramid.gov!!

I find this all well and good but getting back to my young adult relatives. I think a basic four or at the most five guide (they do need to know where the beer fits into the diet) is all they need to put basic nutritional components on the table. Once the rhythm of eating is established and the novel idea that a variety of foods makes for a healthy body, a pyramid can be slipped in with more nutritional fine tuning.

For now I hope that a bowl of fortified cereal is eaten each day, a can of tuna occasionally eaten, and the Ramen Noodles holds out until the next Costco run.

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