This article with the oh so clever title of “‘Joy of Cooking’ or ‘Joy of Obesity’?” describes a study that hilariously mischaracterizes the evolution of everybody’s favorite cookbook. Researchers have found that some recipes now have higher calorie counts and that’s why Americans are OMG SO FAT:
Published as a letter Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the report examined 18 classic recipes found in seven editions of the book from 1936 to 2006. It found that calorie counts for 14 of the recipes have ballooned by an average of 928 calories, or 44%, per recipe. And serving sizes have grown as well.
When we talk about obesity, people like to plant the source of the issue on away-from-home dining,” said Brian Wansink, the study’s co-author and director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. “But that raised the thought in my mind: Is that really the source of things?. . . . What has happened in what we’ve been doing in our own homes over the years?”
I’m gonna state up front that the main reason I’m blogging this is that it’s an excuse share the pictures that are behind the cut, so I’ll try to cut to the chase. Still, about this study and that quote: gender is not mentioned in this article, but I can’t help but be suspicious of this study as contributing to the “blame the moms” aspect of our culture. I’m actually fairly impressed that no one in the article explicitly mentions women (perhaps “impressed” is not the right word), but the phrase “what we’ve been doing in our own homes” sets off alarm bells for me, as it’s used so often as a prelude to returning to the glory days of when women didn’t have pesky things like careers and hobbies that would interfere with cooking the most nutritiously correct meals ever seen on earth. And, as the book’s original cover shows, the intended audience was clearly women: holy women being attacked by monsters.
Now, about those recipes. They had to pick recipes that were present in each of the published editions, so they ended up being American classics: the article lists beef stroganoff, waffles, macaroni and cheese, goulash, Spanish rice, brownies, sugar cookies, and apple pie. I’m not trying to universalize my own eating habits here, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most of these, to quote Obesity Propaganda Cookie Monster, a sometimes food? I know the phrase is “American as apple pie,” but how often do you actually bake an apple pie? I just can’t work up much excitement that a list of foods that were basically already vehicles for enjoying some fat and/or sugar may now contain more fat or sugar. This is not to demonize fat and sugar–far from it!–but just to point out that these may be staple recipes, but that doesn’t mean they’re staple foods. And the idea that the serving sizes have embiggened, honestly, who uses the serving size guidelines who is not already on a diet? I mean, if that beef stroganoff is yummy but way richer than you remember Grandma making it, probably you won’t want quite as much of it as you did at Grandma’s house.
Happily, the book’s editor exhibits some sense about the whole thing: “It’s such a tiny number of recipes. It’s really a non-event,” she said. Anyone who has a copy of the Joy of Cooking knows that it is massive, so 14 recipes — especially 14 recipes that have been in circulation since 1931 — cannot possibly be representative. To wax nostalgic over how 1931 brownies used less butter (perhaps because of that little thing called the Great Depression, maybe?) is to construct a fantasy world where people were never fat but never went hungry, and when all food nourished all bodies the same way.
Now for the real meat (ha) of the post. I had the great fortune to inherit my parents’ old copy of the Joy of Cooking a few months ago. It’s in pretty good shape, considering it’s been in continuous use for at least 40 years, but sadly I don’t know exactly which edition it is, because it had to be rebound, and some of the front matter is missing. FJ and volcanista and I concluded that it’s either from the 40s or early 60s, but I’m not positive which. It seems to be the 1964 edition (thanks, Katia!) Whenever it was published, in the spirit of drawing wild conclusions from unrepresentative samples, I’d like to share with you some helpful tips from the glorious, pre-OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA, Joy of Cooking. (Warning: this post gets picture-heavy behind the cut.)
First, something we’ve all wondered from time to time: how to skin a squirrel.
Gray squirrels are the preferred ones; red squirrels are small and quite gamey in flavor. There are, proverbially, many ways to skin a squirrel, but some hunters claim the following one is the quickest and the cleanest. It needs a sharp knife.
To skin, cut the tail bone through from beneath, but take care not to cut through the skin of the tail. Hold the tail as shown [below] and then cut the skin the width of the back, as shown in the dotted lines. Turn the squirrel over on its back and step on the base of the tail. Hold the hind legs in one hand and pull steadily and slowly [...] until the skin has worked itself over the front legs and head. While holding the squirrel in the same position, pull the remaining skin from the hind legs. Proceed then as for Rabbit, cutting off the head and the feet and removing the internal organs, plus two small glands found in the small of the back and under each foreleg, between the ribs and the shoulders.
Some of you may have skinned squirrels before. This is why you are fat.
Other important information:
Never forget to remove the musk glands from your peccary!
Some useful information about marrow. You can totally substitute marrow for brains in your favorite recipes.
Finally, some old favorites, sure to bring back memories of your younger, pre-obesity days.
Who wants chicken farce? It’s cool your family calls it forcemeat.
Nothing says “well-liked” like head cheese. Make sure to brush the calf’s teeth after you quarter its head.
And for those of you with birthdays coming up, I know what you want! Birthday Bread Horse is way less fattening than baby donuts.
For fancy occasions, consider making gallinule! “To use the entrails after cooking, sieve or chop the intestines and flambe them briefly in cognac. Mix with pan drippings and spread on a crouton OR OVER THE BIRD AS A GLAZE before serving” (emphasis added).
The point of all this, of course, is that cultural traditions are malleable, and nostalgia for a golden era of the past papers over the fact that our grandparents lived in a complex and untamable world, just as we do. For every 14 recipes in the Joy of Cooking that indicate we’re all going to die of heart attacks from making our mac and cheese too cheesy, we can find 14 recipes that suggest that our grandparents subsisted on brains and bread horses. For cooking to truly be a joy, you’ve gotta like what you’ll end up with. Go ahead, fatten up those brownies if that’s what you like. I’ll slow-roast you some wild boar.