I'm embarking on a quest, a mission, a journey. I'm going on a worldwide (okay, nationwide) search for something. Sorta like Kerouac, in search of himself, or America, but not. That's not what I'm doing, I don't need to find me, I'm right here, in Brooklyn.
It's the thing that I hope will solve most of my problems, at least my nutritional ones. Actually I don't really have nutritional problems, I eat extremely well; lots of leafy greens, lentils, oily fish, yogurt, lamb, apples, eggplant... what am I, Greek? No, eastern European, but that's irrelevant.
No nutritional issues for me, what I have are snacking issues. Not that I snack too much, I do sometimes, I'm American, it's my birthright, but more that I can't find the right snack. The snack that will solve all my hunger issues, my blood sugar issues, my pre- or post-workout issues. I need to see if that product actually exists. I'm looking for... the perfect snack. Not real food, per se (or food from Per Se... as if!) but a snack. There's a difference. I eat plenty of real food -- it's the snacks that are the problem.
So I'm setting out on a journey of snacking, to see if there's anything out there that passes my test. Anything I can keep in my backpack and take out before boot camp class, or while hiking, or if I get stuck between meals and get hungry and don't want to buy an $8 salad and need a fork. A quest to find a snack that's convenient, shelf-stable (meaning no refrigeration needed), isn't sweet, has protein (not from effing soy) and is made of real food. It also should be reasonably priced.
A long shot? I think so. Magical thinking? Oh yes, for sure. But I'm going into this with an open mind, or at least as open a mind as someone like me can manage. I'm ready for this, I've got my plan set. I've got protective gear, and my phone charger, and I've got a bag of almonds, just in case. I'm going virtually spelunking in the unexplored, subterranean caves of the Foodiness world.
Places no enlightened, real food eater has ever seen. Where the normally bright orange goldfish crackers are blind and albino because they've never seen the light of day; where nothing grows green and everything lasts forever. I'm going deep, deep down the Foodiness rabbit hole to see if maybe, just maybe in the past three years that I've done my radio show bashing all things Foodiness... I missed something? Or maybe things have really changed? Have Foodiness Inc. and even Food Inc. finally caught on? Have they been listening to people like me, and our raging against their corn-slurry feed machines? Have they finally come up with something I can accept, nee even embrace? Something I can proudly hold up, triumphantly, right before I eat it and pronounce it, deem it, crown it, the PERFECT snack?
Well, I doubt it. I mean, not to be a negative New Yorker, but if there is a perfect snack, it's obviously just some real food; like a handful of nuts and an apple. Or sardines on toast with avocado. But after years of nay saying, of ridiculing, of scorning and flat-out rejecting, I've decided to (sorry John Lennon) give snacks a chance, and to see what's out there.
So, in the name of research, and science, and low blood sugar sufferers everywhere, I will be diving headfirst down the rabbit hole, and attending the International Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago later this month. This is a three-day trade show, but I'm planning to steer clear of the sweets side, and focus on the snacks. I have about a day and a half to spend there, and I'll be doing some intensive research, some seriously academic snacking... in the name of science.
So, I'll be seeking the Perfect Snack. Unfortunately I think I already know the answer to my question, but I'm not going to let that preconceived idea color the outcome of the research. This is pure science for science's sake.
We Americans snack more than anyone else on the planet, we invented the snack! I mean, Europeans, especially the French, frown upon it even though they're becoming more and more Americanized in their eating habits. But the French, They're still all about their three proper meals, eaten sitting at a table, using napkins and silverware. They even train kids from preschool age to eat properly, with silverware, at a table. All kids in French schools eat a multi-course lunch of hot, cooked, real food. No giant palettes of chickenesque nuggets blasted in a convection oven and dumped on a steam table, no Jello scooped out by a mean, hair-netted, smoking old lady. Real food, like, salad and a cooked entrée and a little cheese and dessert. Eaten off dishes with forks and knives at a table so that the kids have to interact. You can fail lunch in a French school, if you don't finish or at least try your braised lambs brains or endive salad. You can get a big fat "F" in lunch. Your mom will get a phone call from your teacher about how you didn't finish your cheese course and they'll tell her that you need some serious talking to at home to get it together. Here we feed our kids pizza tots and blue yogurt tubes, and expect them to learn math.
Not that long ago, snacking used to be almost taboo. It was seen as a moral failure of mom, or of the self, a breach of her parenting or of one's self-control. The No Snacks rule was a part of our eating culture, At least it was when I was little, what were then called "between-meal" snacks were frowned upon, we had to sneak them, other than the daily afterschool snack. Which in my house was usually a mealy Macintosh apple or some peeled carrots. Seriously. "I haven't eaten anything since lunch at 11:30, it's 4:00 now, dinner is in two more hours, and you're feeding me a carrot? What am I? A rodent?" No wonder I'd sneak into town and buy giant candy bars and hide them in my underwear drawer.
Limiting snacks is a good idea, unless your kid is starving. Once I became a latchkey kid (remember that term?) I'd come home and cook up a pile of spaghetti, or reheat old pizza, or toast a bagel. No wonder I was a fat kid. I remember once reading the small print on our toothpaste and along with the exhortation to brush twice a day it said "limit between-meal snacks." See? It was part of the culture. You were morally superior and had good self-control if you could wait for that pot roast or pork chop at 6:00, after your 20-calorie carrot at 4:00.
It's now been estimated that Americans consume an additional 500-700 calories a day, just from snacking. If all you need calorically to maintain your current weight, without doing any exercise at all is 2,000 calories, it's no wonder we look like the people from Wall-E.
Three meals a day, and an endless graze of snacking is what's killing us. Although there's no science behind the idea of three structured, standardized meals, that's simply a tradition, a cultural convention that we created to organize the day around. When we were still hunting and gathering, but settled down and started cooking our food, long about 100,000 years or so ago, it made more sense for everybody in the clan to just sit down around the fire and eat together, instead of continually grazing on foraged nuts and berries and roadkill all day, like we do now IN ADDITION to our three (or four!) meals. Eating meals together socialized us, made us less primal and more human, and may have been what facilitated and expedited the development of language. If you're sitting around eating together, or have to organize the collection, hunting, storage, cooking and eating of food, being able to discuss it really helps. Now, our mouths are so full of cheesy poofs and microwavable taquitos that we're losing our spoken language. It's hard to articulate new ideas when you're in a poof-induced stupor.
I think we're regressing. We don't speak anymore, we just text. I'm guilty of it. I'd much rather send a text than ever make a phone call anymore, let alone send an email. Are emoji the new hieroglyphics? Have we lost the written and spoken language? Kids now sit at the cafeteria table, right next to each other, and text. They don't talk. It's way easier to text if you aren't holding a knife and fork. Frees up your thumbs for the important stuff.
So we don't really need to stick to the three meal, artificially imposed feeding structure of most humans, but we do it, for convenience and to keep a basic framework to our day. But Foodiness likes to keep us eating all day, three meals plus snacks, in an endless foraging and fressing. The new American eating pattern is one, long continuous graze that dawns with donuts and lattes and ends with chips and ice cream before bed. And in between, we're consuming 50 percent more calories than our grandmas did, not too long ago. The food biz needs you to buy food, that's what they're selling, and they've got a ton of product to move. So, we get stuff like the "4th meal" and the snack wrap. And toddlers and babies and kids, with their ever-present little bags of oaty-o's and goldfish, always stuffing some kind of processed crap into their mouths. Mom brings a snack everywhere, to every event, every game, on every car ride.
And absolutely everything is available in cutlery-free versions, so that eating doesn't interrupt our driving, our working, our meetings, TV watching, and of course, our digital communicating. If the line between a meal and a snack becomes so blurry you can't tell the difference, then what difference does it make what it is? Well it's not like the snack has a pile of vegetables and some good protein and maybe some nice cheese all rolled into one. It's more likely to be made from the enormous stockpile of commodity soy and corn we produce, processed and flavored and sweetened and salted and extruded and wrapped and sold at the gas station.
I eat an almost comically righteous breakfast: quinoa, a farm egg, turmeric, chia, nori, pumpkin seed oil, sesame seeds. I know, its like Portland and Brooklyn pooped in a bowl. It keeps me going for a good four hours, but I usually work out around 12:30, which means if I eat breakfast at eight, then by noon I'm getting hungry, but I don't want to eat right before the gym, and if I wait until after I get too hungry, the blood sugar starts to drop, and I get shaky and "hangry." So, I usually eat what I call "pre-lunch" at about 11:45 if I'm home. If I'm already out, that's the first empty slot where the perfect snack could fit in. It can't be sweet, it can't be too big, or too salty, and it has to be really easy and convenient. I am still an American, after all.
Then I eat lunch. But by 3 or 4:00 I need another snack, before dinner at 7:00. And despite how large my meals are, my body burns them up and here comes the low blood sugar. I know what to eat to keep it steady, but once I'm hungry... well, I've never seen the Hunger Games, but in my mind, it's all about me at 3:45.
So what I really want is this; my perfect mythological beast of a snack, the unicorn of snacks. A handheld, non-refrigerated block of some kind of protein, (not from soy powder), maybe like a firm, chewable form of Greek yogurt, layered with a thick band of pureed broccoli or spinach and maybe some seeds in there for more protein. Not sweet, not too salty, no fridge needed. Perfect. Does it exist? No. Has anyone come close? Well... I tried some new energy bars recently, made from lamb and cranberries and turkey and sweet potatoes and stuff, basically exactly that, shelf stable, not sweet. And they were DISGUSTING. Like dog treats for a dog you hate. Didn't work for me at all. So, I'm putting it out there, to the world of food and Foodiness, are you up for a challenge? Can someone invent this perfect snack? Maybe I'll have to do it myself, open up a little lab and test kitchen down here in the Foodiness fallout shelter, start experimenting. Stay tuned...