Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hail to the Chef

Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the inauguration this past week was a beef about the ceremonial lunch, a spread that would have made William Howard Taft happy.

Taft, if you'll recall, was the original presidential foodie, a man so rotund that he once got stuck in the White House bathtub.

This particular menu - lobster tails in New England clam chowder sauce, bison with a red potato horseradish cake and apple pie with sour cream ice cream - clocked in at 3,000 calories.

It's no wonder that following lunch, the President and First Lady walked several blocks during their trip from the Capitol to the White House reviewing stands.

Alas, the Obamas would have had to leg it for 13 hours to burn off 3,000 calories, which would have put them somewhere in Virginia the following day.

Instead of actually eating perhaps they should have lip-synched it. There was a lot of that going on during Inauguration Day.

Not surprisingly, the menu caused the wing-nut nation to go off half-baked, the juice of a thousand cheeseburgers dripping on their keyboards as they accused Michele Obama of hypocrisy because of her campaign against childhood obesity.

That argument held as much air as a flat souffle because the First Lady had little to do with the menu. It was the handiwork of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, a group that apparently has no problem embracing bipartisanship when it comes to ordering lunch.

Meanwhile, while the Inaugural food fight was taking place, a group called the Center for Science in the Public Interest was revealing that, special occasions notwithstanding, we, too, can sit down to a 3,000-calorie meal anytime we want.

The organization annually passes out its Extreme Eating Awards, which is in fact more of a warning than an honor.

This year apparently raised the bar. "We think this year that this is the worst of some of the worst," said Jayne Hurley, CUSP senior nutritionist.

Singled out for recognition was the Cheesecake Factory, offering something called Bistro Shrimp Pasta which involves battered shrimp, fresh mushrooms and arugula tossed with spaghettis in a basil-garlic-lemon cream sauce. Calorie count: 3,120 with 89 grams of saturated fat.

That same restaurant chain also clocks in with Crispy Chicken Costalgia. According to CUSP, most people wouldn't sit down to eat a 12-piece bucket of Original Recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken all by themselves. Yet the Cheesecake Factory somehow crams about that many calories into a single serving of this dish, although the bucket of KFC has less than half the saturated fat, "only" two days' worth as opposed to the 4.5 days' worth in the costalgia. In fact, this dish has more calories (2,610) than any steak, chop, or Burger meal on the Cheesecake Factory'as giant menu.

Then there's Johnny Rockets bacon cheddar double burger, sweet potato fries and Big Apple shake, 3,500 calories and 88 grams of saturated fat. The shake actually contains a slice of apple pie and has 1,140 calories all on its own.

Breakfast anyone? IHOP serves a deep-fried steak with gravy, two fried eggs, deep-fried potatoes, and two buttermilk pancakes. It's 1,760 calories, 23 grams of saturated fat, 3,720 mg of sodium, and 11 teaspoons of added sugar. CUSP says that's like having five McDonald's Egg McMuffins sprinkled with 10 packets of sugar.

How about something healthier? You may want to avoid Smoothy King's peanut power plus grape smoothy which has 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of sugar.

Chili's full rack of baby back ribs with Shiner Bock BBQ sauce comes with homestyle fries and cinnamon apples at 2330 calories, 45 grams of saturated fat and 6,490 milligrams of salt.

And finally, there's Deep Dish Macaroni & 3-Cheese at Uno Chicago Grill which has four cups of pasta; Cheddar, Paramnesia, and Romano cheeses; an Alfredo sauce made from heavy cream, cheese, rendered chicken fat, and butter; and a crushed Ortiz Cracker topping. That pencils out at a day's worth of calories, three-and-a-half days' worth of saturated fat (71 grams), and two days' worth of sodium.

We surely must be one nation, with burgers and fries for all.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Hoax Folks

Heard the latest on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre?
It didn't happen. The whole thing was a hoax.

Truth be told, it was orchestrated by the Obama Administration in an effort to promote gun control and achieve other nefarious objectives.

"You know in your heart that no one could walk into a school and start shooting defenseless little kids," writes Jay Johnson on his website, "They are trying to alter mass perception of the human condition, so that people feel insecure and trust only the government to make things safe."

If you think the above belongs in the Crackpot Hall of Fame, know this: It and other wacko theories are accepted as gospel by many "theorists" whose paranoia and venom knows no bounds, especially when it comes to President Obama.

Their rants are all over the Internet. Warning: Contents may be offensive to sensible people.

One of the leading advocates of this particular bit of nonsense is a tenured professor at Florida Atlantic University named James Tracy who in the past has also expressed skepticism about the Kennedy assassination and 9/11.

At least he conceded bad things may have happened in Newtown, Conn. But he sees something more sinister than just the wholesale slaughter of innocent children.

"As documents relating to the Sandy Hook shooting continue to be assessed and interpreted by independent researchers there is a growing awareness that the media coverage of the massacre of 26 children and adults was intended primarily for public consumption to further larger political ends," he wrote on his blog.

Not to be outdone, James H. Fetzer, an emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, pulls out an age-old conspiracy card: He blames the Jews. "This is what Israel always does, they go after the children," he wrote while suggesting the massacre was a terror ops strike conducted by agents of the Israeli government to strike fear in the hearts of Americans.

Talk about the nutty professors.

I thought I had seen it all last fall when a group of "experts" presumably attired in tin foil hats declared that President Obama had engineered Hurricane Sandy, the massive storm that devastated parts of the East Coast, as way to ensure his re-election.

He did this by using a sophisticated military research program to somehow create a destructive weather system. Thus, the "experts" concluded, the accompanying disaster "will undoubtedly produce widespread chaos and present an ideal opportunity for Obama to come off as a strong and decisive leader."

But wait. Wouldn't a man who had the power to manipulate the weather just as easily control an election? Just asking.

Then there was this act of shear goofiness as reported by a number of media outlets: Republican state senators at the Georgia Capitol were told during a four-hour briefing just before the election that President Obama is using a Cold War-era mind-control technique known as "Delphi" to coerce Americans into accepting his plan for a United Nations-run communist dictatorship in which suburbanites will be forcibly relocated to cities.

This bit of news you can use was delivered by birther activist Field Searcy, who also compared Obama's rural agenda with genocide programs by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Chinese leader Mao Zedong that killed millions.

And so it goes. President Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA. Or Fidel Castro. Pick your poison. 9/11 was an inside job or officials knew of the attacks and did nothing to prevent them. The massacre at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater was the work of government agents. UFOs crashed and were recovered in New Mexico. The world is ruled by the Illuminati.

We understand that conspiracy theories have been around since the dawn of civilization. When man first emerged, so did paranoia.

The difference now is that while these half-baked theories used to be confined to letters or whispered telephone conversations, they now get full-blown exposure over the same Internet that has enlightened our lives.

Nobody ever said free speech was easy.

The other difference is that much of this vitriol is directed at President Obama, who survived four years of being characterized as a Kenyan-born Muslim socialist who hates America and wages class warfare.

Unfortunately, his re-election hasn't stopped the purveyors of paranoia from dreaming up even more absurd theories that unfold before us in real time.

As a journalist, I brought a healthy sense of skepticism to the office every day. But there's a line between inquiry and insanity.

Clearly, many of these people have crossed that line.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Fat of the Land

We are a nation of losers.

At least we hope so.

It's January. Americans from every walk of life are on a diet, embracing steamed vegetables with a side of rice cakes. And that's because we have indulged in gastronomic excesses during the holidays that would make Henry VIII look away in disgust.

Included in that group is this columnist, who emerged from a fall full of parties and assorted other celebrations looking like an inverted pear. Pass me the broccoli flowerets, hold the cheese sauce.

You can always tell when it's weight-loss season. All those jewelry ads on TV that appeared during the holidays and suggested that men can purchase eternal love and devotion for the price of a bracelet have been replaced with something worse.

Now we are deluged with diet commercials that promise to quickly make us movie-star svelte or exercise plans that will convert us from walking burritos to Navy SEALs in 20 minutes a day.

These ads are easily identifiable by their use of the words "miraculous" or "medical breakthrough" or "secret formula." Many also contain the phrase "results not typical" in small print.

But since Americans spend somewhat north of $30 billion a year on weight-loss products, the odds that diet hyperbole will vanish are, well, slim.

Let's face it. For the most part, losing weight is just a matter of using more calories than you consume. Diet and exercise will do the trick. Simple enough, right?

Sure, except for a couple of things: Counting calories might require the use of math, which will discourage a large portion of the population. And while you're trying to shed some pounds, the fast food industry in an act of unfettered self-preservation is blanketing the airwaves with commercials that ooze burgers, bacon and cheese.

Just try watching an In-n-Out commercial while sipping clear bouillon with a watercress garnish.

So we continue to search for some magic bullet to quickly and painlessly shed our excess weight. To underscore that point, here are some of the most commonly searched diets, according to the folks at Google.

» The Melissa Miller diet. Want to look like this Victoria's Secret model? Drink lots of kale juice. Better yet, be genetically disposed to be a Victoria's Secret model.

» The Feeding Tube diet. This is not a joke. The New York Times profiled several brides-to-be who used a nasogastric feeding tube, usually for the gravely ill or injured, because they wanted to lose weight fast. One New York doctor called it "appalling because it opens up a whole new world of shockingly bad ideas."

» The NV Diet Pill, popularized by Carmen Electra, promises to burn fat, tone the body and improve the appearance of skin, nails and hair. It won't. And besides, would you follow the advice of someone who was once married to Dennis Rodman?

» The P.I.N.K. Method was designed specifically for women, and stands for "power, intensity, nutrition, and kardio." While it has its supporters, one nutritionist said that "even in the best circumstances, many of the claims are overstated and not based on research. Foods are not fat burners and not everyone is going to rejuvenate skin, hair, and nails, and heighten their energy and libido on this plan."

» Raspberry Ketone Diet. None other than the wildly popular Dr. Oz of TV fame proclaimed raspberry ketones the "No. 1 miracle in a bottle for burning your fat." The problem is that the evidence for the fat-burning features comes from animal studies by researchers in Japan and Korea. Besides, a 100 mg. daily dose is the equivalent of 90 pounds of fresh raspberries. You might turn red and bumpy on this program.

» Michael Phelps Diet. Phelps won a suitcase full of gold medals as an Olympic swimmer while sucking up 12,000 calories a day. This is just the plan for you if you plan on starting a five-day-a-week, six-hour-a-day training regime. If you're not an elite athlete but want to eat like one, you may find fame in a different venue: "America's Biggest Loser."

If all else fails, try the Junk Food Diet. According to CNN, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate Twinkies, Nutty Bars and powdered doughnuts every three hours, instead of meals for 10 weeks. To add variety, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos.

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most, not the nutritional value of the food.

The premise held up: On his "convenience store diet," he shed 27 pounds in two months.

Chew on that.