Monica Yant Kinney: A cease-fire in the battle over bulges

Posted: July 24, 2011

I'm all nerves getting ready to see Althea Zanecosky. My favorite summer skirt makes me look hippy, but skinny jeans feel like concrete in this heat.

And what to order when we finally meet at Chestnut Hill Coffee Co.?

I've had breakfast, but could use a snack. Will she judge me if I nibble on a pastry? Will I get credit for putting Splenda in a nonfat latte? Should I slyly drop into the conversation how far I ran before dawn?

Zanecosky arrives in T-shirt, shorts, and open mind. The 60-year-old dietitian has come to chat about the creamy Brie she had on Bastille Day and how she'd be punished for it by increasingly extreme members of the food police. My own pathetic need for her approval, sadly, is symptomatic of what ails us.

"Food," the Lafayette Hill resident declares, dejectedly, "has been militarized."

Just look at the Ivy League researcher making headlines for saying obese children should be put in foster care if their parents can't whip them into shape. Witness the blows Michelle Obama takes every time the health-conscious first lady is photographed eating meat.

Zanecosky's daughters are grown, but Mom still buys one of them a gallon of chocolate milk each week because that's the only kind she likes and science says it's far better than no milk at all.

So how come school boards keep banning items like flavored milk, giving fickle kids fewer healthy choices? Have adults who know better tossed common sense out with their Fry Baby deep-fat death traps?

"Moderation is so boring," she has deduced. "The extreme voices make the most noise and get heard. Maybe we need a better word."

A sometimes craving

I first rang Zanecosky a decade ago on the matter of a hoagie named after Mayor Ed Rendell.

Wawa declined to offer nutritional info on the oil-drenched delight, so Zanecosky, of the American Dietetic Association, determined that a 10-inch Rendelli packed nearly 1,300 calories and 80 grams of fat.

"We're really happy he's eating a Philadelphia food," she said, "but we want Mayor Rendell to think more about portion control."

Since then, she and I have talked about trans fat, the unappetizing trend of serving school lunches at 9:42 a.m., and menu labeling laws, which can be a godsend when you're craving a McDonald's shamrock shake and french fries.

"There are no 'never' foods," she reminds. (Unless it's eggplant, which I've tried 100 ways and still hate.) "If you like hot dogs, a hot dog is a 'sometimes' food."

If eating reasonably can make us healthy and happy, why must celebrities, books, and movies promote rigidity? The food police make Zanecosky gag: "What I'm seeing lately is, 'This is the way to do it right. If you don't, forget about it.' "

Who you calling a flexitarian?

So go vegan or die fat? Or eat fruits and vegetables by day and meat at dinner?

"You mean flexitarian?" she replies in exasperation. "Do we really need a word like that when we already know there are lots of ways to eat healthy?"

Zanecosky thought folks might return to reason when the U.S. Department of Agriculture dumped that clunky food pyramid for the "My Plate" concept. (Motto: "Enjoy your food, but eat less.")

Instead, critics persist in labeling Obama a hypocrite for talking up her garden while enjoying the occasional burger. And well-meaning parents pressure schools to get tough in the lunch line - a move that may sour students on ideal "always" foods.

"There are people out there who think the world will end if kids have sugar, even though we have data showing some sugar and fat actually help us," Zanecosky tells me. "And besides, think about it: How many people eat plain yogurt or salad without dressing?"

It took ages, but even Big Ed finally slimmed down. And he did it the boring way: eating less of everything, enjoying every small bite.


Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, myant@phillynews.com or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq

 

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