True confession: I have made a great brisket from the same recipe every Passover for the past 28 years. I've made my daughter the same birthday dessert for 23 years, the same latke recipe since the beginning of time, and my lattice-top rhubarb and strawberry pie is the stuff of almost-legend.
I make them knowing full well the prescriptions that would put an end to all of this. Heart specialists now say that even the leanest cut of beef puts my extended family at greater risk of heart disease. The birthday dessert gets no points for its fresh produce -- lots of apples -- because they're layered with a vanilla cream sauce and brioche brushed in melted butter.
Don't even mention the pie to advocates of the wheat belly diet; they'll accuse me of trying to kill them.
What a lot of ways to eat for immortality, or as close to it as mortals can hope to get. And what an information hash; to quote Kris Kristofferson completely out of context, much of the contemporary cookbook landscape is "a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction."
Have a helping of adamant polarities:
The newest food pyramid pushes whole grains, the more the merrier.
The wheat belly diet says, Avoid grains like the plague.
The paleo diet says, Go ahead, have the rib eye.
The heart docs, as I mentioned, say, Have anything but.
The brain experts say, Eat fish for the omega-3 fatty acids.
The environmentalists say, Not the ones that are laden with mercury, or not if you're very old, very young, pregnant or thinking about it, which covers a lot of waterfront.
Some of theses debates have been going on for decades, and yet we spark to the latest finger-wagging instructions, as though abstinence -- from something, from anything -- is going to take us anywhere but down the well-trodden path to recidivism, or buy us as much as an extra week.
Anyone who's ever tried to lose even a little weight, or to break any bad habit, for that matter, knows how it goes: You take an absolute stance, you spend way too much time thinking about the thing that has become a taboo, and then, eventually, unfortunately, most of the time, you cave. As for the promise of longer life, well, it's an easy claim to make, because there's no way to disprove it; no way to tell if you lived to 98 because you gave up burgers or because you were going to live to 98. We'd need two of you, eating differently, to have a decent clinical trial.
How about a different point of view, which boils down to the most boring yet satisfying notion: Eat everything in moderation, and, while you're at it, in a slightly lower gear than speedy, so that your brain has time to find out it's full. I am not about to deny myself foods laden with memories, which, by the way, is not the same thing as emotional eating, of the pint-of-ice-cream in bed variety. It's Proust and his madeleine: Eat a cookie your aunt used to share with you and unleash a happy stash of memories.
Seriously, since none of us has a hot line to fate: Do you really want to be the single, solitary person who isn't sharing your niece's delectable homemade birthday cake, the one from grandma's recipe, because you think it's going to buy you another couple of years to be out of the gustatory loop?
I'm not saying make a fool of yourself at the table, and anyone who knows me knows my stern feelings about the obesity epidemic and my equally fond attitude toward fresh produce. Don't be irresponsible -- but reconsider the latest food fad, just as you might hesitate before buying this season's most outlandish fashion statement.
If somebody can prove that life without a particular food means life plus 10 good years, I might rethink this. Until then, the pleasure of good food -- consumed at a reasonable level -- is more compelling.
Karen Stabiner is the co-author, with Chef Michael Romano, of "Family Table: Favorite Recipes from Our Restaurants to Your Table." Find her on twitter at @kstabiner or at www.karenstabiner.com.