In appreciation of macaroni and cheese.

August 31, 2008

It is true that macaroni and cheese will not stop a pancreatic tumor from metastasizing. It cannot save a marriage rendered asunder by infidelity. Eat as much as you want — your adult children will continue to regard you with quiet contempt.

Yet in spite of its flesh-tone hue and health-threatening starchiness, the dish has an undeniably salutary effect on the soul.

Macaroni, regarded by many as the Ford Escort of pastas, provides the base. Processed cheese, the flavor. Together with a little table salt and pepper, these rather bland ingredients combine to create a heroically delicious dish that even the most inept culinary artist must struggle to ruin.

Even the off-brand, boxed version of mac ‘n cheese provides deep satisfaction. And when a particularly gifted American cook brings his or her own flair to the dish, the possibilities are mind-bending. Take, for example, my girlfriend’s mother’s mac ‘n cheese: Boil a couple of pounds of macaroni in a large steel pot. Saturate it in Velveeta. Don’t stop there, though: Throw in a couple of dozen of chunks of cheddar cheese, and then layer the top with a shredded version of the same. Bake it over an open fire, outdoors. Finally, serve — and warn your dinner companions to shield their dishes from the forthcoming tears of gratitude.


Home of the drive-by wants to curb drive-thrus.

August 1, 2008

Back when I had the opportunity to shoot off at the mouth in print on a weekly basis, I wrote a column arguing for the regulation of junk food, saying it should be confined to stores only adults could patronize. I was being facetious.

But I do think the obesity epidemic requires us to consider some audacious solutions to the problem. Most people will tell you education is the answer. But education only works if people are interested in the curriculum. And although I don’t have statistical evidence, my gut tells me most people who aren’t already actively seeking information about the nutritional value of their food aren’t going to respond to education that’s thrust upon them.

Having said that, regardless of what I’ve written in the past, I shudder at the thought of the government regulating fast food. Isn’t it our natural right to eat whatever we want? I think so.

Unfortunately, Americans, especially poorer Americans, gravitate toward fast food because it tastes good, is easily accessible, convenient and cheap. And we as a society collectively pay for this both economically and, I think, spiritually.

What we end up with is a whopper of a conundrum: Fast food flourishes in low-income neighborhoods where residents aren’t inclined to seek healthier alternatives because of lack of education and access. How do you fix the problem without some really creepy nanny state stuff?

If you’re California, you don’t. Instead, you implement creepy nanny state stuff by zoning fast food sales. And how do you justify this? By invoking racism, calling it a response to “food apartheid”:

“There’s one set of food for one part of the city, another set of food for another part of the city, and it’s very stratified that way,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, executive director of Community Coalition, based in South-Central.

According to William Saletan at Slate, New York City’s city council is preparing to zone fast food too. If this trend goes anything like the smoking ordinances of recent years, we can expect it to slowly trickle from the coasts throughout the rest of the country. And while I’m not convinced the end result will necessarily be bad for America, I feel deeply uncomfortable with the means. But like a vegetarian at Hardee’s, we’re dealing with seriously limited options.