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Friday, July 11, 2008

Potato Chips

I grew up hearing about the evils of potato chips. My father and some in the media vilified this uniquely American snack food for all of its empty calories. The exercise revolution was just under way and an obesity problem was not yet even on the horizon. It is unclear to me what, exactly, triggered all this invective towards potato chips and not, for instance, Oreos or Tang. Years have passed and literally hundreds of new products compete with potato chips. Gone are the days when potato chips were so ubiquitous that one company, Charles Chips of Eastern Pennsylvania, used to deliver them to your home in nifty metal cans!

Now I have two daughters who are impulsive about their demand for snack foods, but don´t actually like them that much. The other day I bought them 1 small bag each of Lays Classic Potato Chips here in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. They can´t eat plaintains all the time, after all. (We are spending 7 weeks here learning the language and culture of Mom´s homeland.)

As a matter of course these days, I absentmindedly read the nutritional information on the empty bag as well as the ingredient list. I was shocked! Did you know that potato chips only contain potatoes, oil and salt? Lays apparently ignores consumers´ demand for hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate, dextrose, artificial color, sodium acetate and numerous other delicious ingredients that are apparently required to make just about every other snack cracker or chip on the market. Do you realize what this all means? As far as snack foods go, the All-American Potato Chip is the most wholesome product out there.

How did this happen? I thought potato chips made you fat, gave you zits, caused indigestion and eventually killed all those who ate them on any regular basis. Perhaps in the past potato chips were fried in hydrogenated vegetable oil, ie: dreaded trans-fats, but then again every refridgerator in America contained at least a pound of neon yellow margarine, ie: dreaded trans-fats.

We are a health obsessed nation that doesn´t eat very well. We always look for a demon in our foods to exorcise and then we rely on nutritionists and free-lance journalists to play the role of Father Damien, shouting "The Power of Our Collective Spirit Compels You,", "The Power of Our Collective Spirit Compels You,", "The Power of Our Collective Spirit Compels You,". Then the demon sets up shop in the marketing departments of the big food companies and tells them to brag about his demise. And exactly what have they bragged about over the past 25 years! Their food has no fat, no sugar, no carbohydrate or 25 grams of protein! You would think that all we humans have any right to consume are glass after glass of Shaklee´s protein shakes.

Yes, we finally identified what I do believe is a bad product, trans-fats, but the 40+ yr path we took to eliminating hydrogenated vegetable oils from our diet laid to waste just about every natural ingredient we had consumed since the beginning of time; protein, carbohydrates and most importantly to this discussion, animal fat.

Most people I speak to still assume that animal fats are by definition trans-fats. They were so indoctrinated into the notion that margarine was the perfect substitute for butter and crisco for lard that when the margarine and crisco were vilified for containing trans-fats people assumed this vilification applied to the animal fats they replaced 40 years ago. Animal fats just can´t get a break except from the late Dr. Atkins.

Go ahead and eat your potato chips and enjoy them. However, also take the advice of Michael Pollan, the great food writer and educator, who recommends that we shop only on the perimeter of supermarkets where all the whole foods are sold. In those middle aisles is where one will find all those packaged products with bright shiny labels laying claim to our nation´s recent dietary conquests. These same products in very small print on the back of the package will have ingredient lists full of formerly, currently and eventually vilified products. No one really knows if these ingredients could kill you or rats in concentrations one million times that of normal consumption. If you´re worried, ignore those products and snack on the only whole food available in the snack aisle, potato chips.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Maduros

It´s becoming clear that platanos make up a big part of a Dominican´s diet and mine. It seems everything I like is made from platanos. Maduros, tostones, mangu and mofongo. Add to that the guineos, and it´s pretty much all about bananas. Anyway, I made a short, low quality video of making maduros for you before I had my coffee. I fry up a dozen of these a day for Emilia and Lina. They can´t get enough of them. Maduros have become their one and only staple in their diet.

The video only shows part of the process. I´m just using a camera that has a 1 minute limit on video. I don´t have editing software, so I´m working on perfecting the 1 minute, single take cooking video.

video


And a Photo Montage