As I’ve stated in the previous post, I’ve now moved to Chicago. With a bit of brevity, I’ll say that I’m back at Whole Foods, and I am part of the meat department.

Why? Well, for the time being, I was done with seafood- done with the city of Seattle (not in my heart, mind you, but done with that chapter), most definitely done with the smells (sorry, but I got rid of my seafood clothes dresser), and just…done. I find it interesting, though, that I was first in Fish in Chicago, then Fish in Seattle, and now Meat in Chicago.

Seafood is appropriate for Seattle. Chicago is a meat town. Boy, is it ever.

So far, I’ve gone through hundreds of pounds of brisket, dozens of pork shoulders, a fair count of lamb chops, and, for some ungodly reason, thousands of pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

I can understand why people think they want it: It’s simple and healthy. Here’s why they really buy it: It’s boring, it tastes like nothing, and it’s so bland that if it’s messed up, you can blame it on the recipe. It is the tilapia of landmeat.

What makes people think this is okay? In the service case, we have whole chickens, ducks, split breasts with the bones in, boneless breasts with skin, and thighs, drumsticks, wings, all of which are infinitely more tasty than a boneless, skinless breast. Not everyone who eats these things is on “doctor’s orders”.

Oh, “Doctor told you to eat more boneless, skinless chicken breasts?” No, they did not. They said eat healthier. Here’s a newsflash: You can still eat healthier without sacrificing your chicken in a flurry of feathers and discarded fat.

It’s really difficult, because I see people coming in buying pork, and buying bacon, and buying a steak, and buying beef jerky. People whisper in my ear as I pass them their Andouille Sausage, “Doctor said I shouldn’t have this, but I love it anyway.” Guess what! You’ve just made me feel bad, because I’m not helping! I was more able to serve people in their eating choices in Seafood, but from behind the meat counter, I realize that Chicago, and the Midwest in general, has got an eating problem, and they’ve got it bad.

Whenever someone is looking at ways of making their diet more heart healthy, they most often fail to account for the handful of snacks that they eat, the samples that they chow down at the grocery store (that piece of brisket that you just ate? 100 calories) or that they add five times as much salad dressing as they need (just a thought-that extra salad dressing alone can add 1-200 calories to your meal, and that’s not even Ranch). What a nutritionist or a doctor needs to do, rather than sending someone home with a tablet to analyze their eating habits, is to actually see where it is that they’re getting hung up. People need to know if it’s the salad dressing, the pats of butter (nothing is ever a pat anymore. It’s not even a smear or a smattering. It’s a slather.) and cheese (nothing wrong with cheese, just the proportions of cheese to other stuff) on the baked potato where you scoop out and eat everything but the skin. The only reason you eat the potato at all is because of the butter. And the salt. And the cheese. And the bacon.

Now, with the chicken breast, the skin is not the problem. Nobody says that you have to eat the skin. Still, the skin browns, and crisps, and imparts flavor into the meat. With the boneless, skinless variety, you have to marinate it in oil, salt, sugar, etc, usually putting on too much, and then adding too much oil to the pan, thus shallow frying your meal hoping for it to brown, which it will never do. The only way that you’re going to get a deep brown on your chicken breast is from the sugars in the marinade that you put it in.

When viewing your diet from the standpoint of a healthy breakdown of caloric intake, a healthy mix is going to be, on average 30% of your calories from protein, 30% from fat, and 40% from starches and carbohydrates.  Now, fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein only have 4 calories per gram. You’ve probably been made aware of this a few times, and it’s probably somewhere in your head, but it’s important to note for a couple of reasons:

1) If something says that it is 96% fat-free, that means that it is 4% fat. 4% fat has almost 2.5 times more calories than 4%protein or 4%carbs. In a 4 oz. serving of something, something that says that it’s 96% fat-free can have 50 calories from fat alone. It’s not that fat is bad for you, because everyone needs some in their lives. However, by reading and understanding what’s on the label of your food, you can get a better grasp of why you may feel poorly when trying to eat healthier.

2) When you think about it, chicken skin does not take up that much of your dinner plate, but what it does is add a buffer to an otherwise boring dinner. How many times have you served those boneless skinless chicken breasts to a reception of “Chicken? Again? Auuuuugh!” (yes, Charlie Brown is at your dinner table. Just go with it). Just because a chicken has skin does not mean that you have to eat it. The skin of a chicken is healthier than you might think. It means that you don’t have to put much, if any, oil in the pan. It serves as a vehicle for making a healthy pan sauce after deglazing, thanks to the caramelized bits it leaves behind. And nobody says you have to eat it. Use it during cooking, and take it off at the table if you don’t feel like eating it. It’s a far better thing to not eat the chicken skin than it is to not eat the potato skin left sitting on your table.

I write all this down for a couple of reasons. First, I loathe American eating habits. It goes back to my return trip to America from a stint in Italy, where I was sitting, bleary-eyed on a bus from O’Hare back to Madison, watching a woman cry as she pawed through a box of teddy grahams at 11:30 at night. 11:30 at night! I can understand if you work 2nd shift as I sometimes do, and you have to get a bit of energy. Still, you don’t need to be eating an entire box on a bus trip merely because there’s nothing left to do. Turn on the overhead light and read. Listen to music. DON’T EAT WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A MEAL SCHEDULED!

Get up and walk around. Realistically cut calories and portion sizes wherever you can. Please try not to eat so much fried food. Today’s Chinese food is not healthy. Remember when something that came out of a wok meant healthy and crisp food which retained its health benefits? That doesn’t happen anymore. I heard the statistic the other day that some exorbitant percentage of children under the age of one year old (50% or above, I think) eat french fries on a regular basis. It costs less to buy a bag of frozen vegetables that feeds two to three people heartily than it does to buy a large order of fries which will usually be consumed by one person.

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I made the mistake of eating McDonald’s on the road out here in Sioux Falls, SD. I could only finish half of it. It didn’t fill me up in the way that a meal should. I was not satiated. I had the feeling that I didn’t want to eat anymore, but not for any good reason. Since when does our appetite dictate that we can’t taste anything but salt? I was left wanting.

Sadly, on the other side of the spectrum, when it comes to a boneless, skinless chicken breast, I am also left wanting. It doesn’t mean that I won’t eat it- It’s food. It is calories, and energy, and lean protein, but like the fries, I won’t be satisfied.

You can still have the skin and be content. If the skin is on, it gives flavor and, yes, calories, but it still falls within the realm of healthy eating, assuming that you maintain a good ratio of protein-fat-carbs. If you need it to be healthier, take the skin off after you cook it. Just don’t let me come over to your house and find three half empty bottles of Hidden Valley and bottles of soda.

I want you to eat healthy. I want you to eat right. I want you to make the right choices when you eat, and when you do, to enjoy the flavors that you’ve created. I want you to enjoy eating, but most of all, I want you around.

And So Does He

And So Does He

 

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