Rick Blum has been writing humorous essays and poetry for more than 25 years during stints as a nightclub owner, high-tech manager, market research mogul and, most recently, alter kaker. His writings have appeared in Humor Times, Boston Literary Magazine, and Bohemia Journal, among others. He received first place in the 2014 Carlisle Poetry contest, and honorable mention in the 2015 Boston Globe Magazine Deflategate poetry challenge. Currently, he is holed up in his Massachusetts office trying to pen the perfect bio, which he plans to share as soon as he stops laughing at the sheer futility of this effort.
Salami, Salami, It’s all Baloney
How could it be wrong when it feels so good?
In which the writer rants against what we’d be calling new-fangled diet fads not too long ago, but what passes off as ‘nutritional scolding’ today. Or could it all just be one giant conspiracy theory?
Rick Blum says it like it is.
The dietary police are at it again: the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that processed meats are really bad for our health. And when WHO speaks about meat, they’re not just talking beef and pork. Oh, no. They mean – and I quote – any mammalian muscle – which includes horse and goat. Well, there goes my Saturday barbeque plans for cooking up a couple of tender Auckland Island goat steaks. And I suppose this explains the extra bounce in my horse’s step these last few months.
But as true as the dangers of eating processed meats might be (and that’s a mighty big might, if you ask me), I’m not giving up salami for anyone, and here’s why.
Back in the early days of nutritional scolding, we were advised to substitute heart-friendly margarine for evil, artery-clogging butter – even butter that came from contented cows. I demurred. Butter is all natural, I reasoned. Margarine’s all chemicals. I’ll stick with natural, thank you very much (although I switched from butter to olive oil for sautéing, just as a hedge).
Next came the egg killjoys. “Whoa,” they said. “Drop those cholesterol-laden ovoids for corn flakes and bananas. Or at the least, make it a yolkless dish – and no cheese, either!” Yeah, right. As if an egg-white omelet can be made palatable by loading it up with steamed spinach or diced peppers. But these naysayers neglected to explain how cholesterol in egg yolks actually makes it through the gut and into the blood stream to wind up clogging arteries. So I kept eating my eggs whole but only twice a week, to soothe my cautious soul.
With eggs out of favor, somehow chickens (which are just grown-up eggs, after all) replaced cattle as the nutrition nuts’ recommended protein source. Red meat’s killing us, they brayed (though I never once heard them mention horse or goat); and the planet, too, environmentalists later chimed in. The worst offenders were the most expensive steaks, i.e., those marbled morsels of mouth-watering fat.
OK, I love a good flank steak, and extra lean hamburgers are decent with a generous dollop of sautéed (in 100% virgin olive oil) mushrooms and onions, but there’s not much that can replace a rib-eye or New York Strip steak – medium rare. Initially flustered, I soon concluded (based on profound rationalizing) that if I simply switched to grass-fed, antibiotics-free beef, the health harm would be mostly mitigated, though not the harm to my bank account.
Whole milk is also laden with fat (laden being defined as 3.5 percent, mind you), but in the form of cream. And fat in milk, dietary gurus deduced, must make us fat, otherwise why would we use the same word to describe both? Thus, we were soon advised to switch to skim milk, or maybe 1 percent if we wanted to drink something that actually stimulated taste buds. Of course, cream is loaded with vitamin A, calcium, potassium and phosphorous, all of which are important for optimum health. Furthermore, cream contains no trans fats, which has been scientifically proven to cause coronary heart disease – the leading cause of death worldwide! I stuck to my guns on this one, switching to 2 percent milk only because it was a tad cheaper than the full-fat variety, thus helping to offset my organic beef binges.
And speaking of fat – being fat, that is – weren’t we once told body weight is all about calories? It doesn’t matter where they come from, a calorie is a calorie, and thus cutting down on one’s daily intake of calories is the magic formula to achieving a Gisele Bündchen-like figure. Too bad it’s not true – at least according to the latest nutritional research, which now says protein and fat (yes, fat!) sate appetites more effectively than an equivalent number of carb calories, thus lowering food consumption, which – surprise! – makes us less fat.
Of course, the fitness gurus chimed in that the key is not to limit calories, but rather to burn them off on the treadmill – preferably one that simulates hills (just to increase our pain) – which they’ll sell you for a few grand. (It may not reduce your weight, but will definitely lighten your wallet.) But a quick Google search uncovered this disturbing fact: too much exercise (like running up hills) is dangerous. A British study found that lifelong runners have scarred heart muscles, and the Danes calculated that people who run at a fast pace more than four hours a week have the same life expectancy as people who are sedentary. It didn’t take much contemplation to decide that a brisk walk to the fridge and back several times a day should be just about the right amount of exercise to stay healthy … and happy.
And don’t get me started on the salt scolds. A spray of salt does wonders for a plethora of foods – mostly the ones colored green that otherwise would have a flavor indistinguishable from crabgrass. Taking in the right amount of salt doesn’t mean giving up the shaker. Just avoid canned vegetables – even the lo-salt poseurs – in favor of fresh produce.
Likewise, sugar scolds are ascendant lately among the health-at-all-costs crowd. Whole cities are even raising taxes on sugary beverages, e.g., soda and most sports drinks, which are supposed to provide added energy to enable you to manage more than three minutes running uphill on your new treadmill. Well, here’s what I say: the French, who create the sweetest, most sugar-laden, desserts on earth, are uniformly slender, and live longer than we Americans do by nearly four years! Maybe that accomplishment is not due to their dessert habits, but why take a chance?
Then there’s alcohol. Oh my, where to start? Alcohol’s not good for us in any amount the temperance movement purported. But that was soon rejected by a thirsty public, so a few drinks a week became most doctors’ sage advice at the annual check-up – the same doctors who smoked cigarettes during the exam. Finally, came the red wine awakening, with its magical properties for longer life. This was a long-awaited bit of welcome news, only to be surpassed by the latest proclamation: up to three drinks a day (three!) makes us all a bit healthier, not to mention a lot mellower. No lifestyle changes necessary this time around!
So history and I say fie on WHO’s processed-meat-cancer link. I’m just not buying into this latest scare. I suppose I could forgo Slim Jims without a whimper, and, just to be on the safe side, order broccoli and olives on my pizza instead of pepperoni. But I draw the line at salami – luscious, taste-buds-tingling salami, sliced thin and mixed into fully-yolked scrambled eggs cooked in a generously buttered skillet.
There are some things a man just shouldn’t have to live without, science be damned. That and bacon.