Sunday, January 12, 2014

Curmudgeon Corner: a humble bowl of oatmeal.

I swear I'm not going to turn this into a dieting blog.

It's nearly the middle of January, which means your New Year's resolutions -- assuming you made any -- are probably just a distant memory now. But some of us are just now getting going on our, uh, annual goals. One of my annual goals, pretty much every year for the past three or four decades, has been to lose weight. Sometimes it works; sometimes it's an epic fail. This year, it needs to work.

But the photo shows what I'm up against.

When I was in my 20s, I went through a period when I ate oatmeal for breakfast every day. The recipe from the side of the package was 1/3 cup of dry oats (quick-cooking or regular -- we didn't have any of your crappy instant oatmeal product back then, no ma'am) to 2/3 cup of water. I'd cook it on the stove (this was also before microwaves, okay?) and then I dressed the result with a little milk and brown sugar.   I distinctly remember this recipe because I used to keep my 1/3-cup measure inside the oatmeal container so I wouldn't have to hunt it down every morning.

Not long ago, I decided to start eating oatmeal again. Not every day, but a fair amount of the time. It's nutritious (if you don't pour a ton of sugar on it), it takes two minutes in the microwave for the quick-cooking kind, and it's cheap. (I can't believe the price of a box of ready-made cereal today. Five bucks? For processed flour and sugar with selected vitamins put back in? Seriously?)

So okay. I go to make the oatmeal and.... Here, I would like to direct your attention to the photo, which I took tonight. Pay close attention to the line under "Nutrition Facts" -- the one that says, "Serving size."

See that? A serving of oatmeal is now 1/2 cup of dry oats. Then you mix it with a cup of liquid. So the proportions are still the same -- 2 parts liquid to one part oats -- but the amounts have changed. And don't think it's due to the fact that I bought the store brand; the serving size is the same on the package with the guy in the porkpie hat on the front.

A humble bowl of homemade oatmeal has more calories today than it did in 1982.

This upsizing of American eating habits has been going on right under our noses. Dr. David Kessler, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, wrote a book called The End of Overeating. In it, he talked about the science behind our food -- not just the nutrition, but the food marketing, too. Food R&D has determined the best ways to convince us to stuff the maximum amount of food down our gullets so that the processed-food conglomerates and fast-food companies can maximize their profits. It's no accident that processed foods are high in sugar, fat and salt, or that they're often sold in bite-sized pieces (chicken nuggets, popcorn shrimp, etc.) or in slurpable packaging (Go-gurt, anyone?). All of it is deliberate. After all, chewing takes time. Delicate flavors encourage people to slow down and savor their food. It's far better, from the manufacturers' point of view, to have us scarfing marginally tasty food that doesn't really fill us up, but that we can eat as quickly as possible -- way before our stomachs can signal to our brains that we're full -- so that we'll eat more. Because the more we eat, the more money they make.

I think It's pretty well known that restaurants do this -- and I'm not just talking about McDonald's. Any standard menu item in most mid-priced American restaurants will give you two, or maybe even three, actual serving-size servings. So people are on guard when they go out to eat, at least to some extent.

But come on -- oatmeal?

America has a huge obesity problem today. Gee, I wonder why.

Wish me luck, guys.

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Now that I've got that rant out of my system....

Undertow has gone to my editor (whoo hoo!), which means we're on track for an early spring release. (That also means I need to come up with a plot for Scorched Earth here pretty quick. But I digress.)

The Crosswind tour is underway, and I'm having a blast. The stops are listed under the "Tour Dates" tab up top. Please come by! And be sure to enter the contest -- you could win one of two autographed paperbacks, a Navajo dream pillow, or a $10 Amazon gift card. I've got to give 'em to somebody. Might as well be you.

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This moment of bloggy oatmeal has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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