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Diet and temptation

Those ignorant of Mediterranean food culture are unaware that it lets you pig out once in a while

This article comes in two parts: different, although a subtle thread joins them. This warning is for those who think the thread is bit tenuous. Well, so what?

1. We all know the porcine individual who tells you something grossly offensive, then pats you on the back and says, “but it was a joke,” thus not only disgusting you but implying you have no sense of humor. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled Our Inalienable Right to Snarf Junk Food by Joe Queenan, who describes himself as “writer and humorist,” thus hedging himself against readers who might think it isn’t particularly funny. The first thing I thought of in reading it was Machado’s line about people who “despise everything they are ignorant of.” Queenan’s joke is an old one among people who trot out the word liberty whenever there is talk of instructing parents on how to feed their children properly. They are the same ones who speak of liberty to finance your own medical care when you suffer diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular diseases. Do poor people choose to be obese? When you read of the diabolical way in which junk food is designed to be addictive, you doubt the existence of any such free will.

Mr Queenan is apparently scared that, if the “communist” Obama government imposes a monastic Mediterranean diet, he may be deprived of his sacred right to stuff his face in Hooter’s, a chain in which fried chicken wings are served by waitresses with big tits. He adds that if the people in Spain ate junk food, they might not have 27-percent unemployment. Split your gut laughing!

2. Meanwhile, The Lancet notes that the “Spanish are hard hit by the crisis, but they have the longest life expectancy in Europe.” Those who don’t know what the Mediterranean diet is about are unaware that the best thing about it is that once in a while we yield to temptations. My temptation is not exactly a hamburger, but the bagels with cream cheese and salmon in New York delis. After about five hours, a bagel is as hard as a stone. As a means of suicide, you could hang a big bagel around your neck and jump in the river, for example.

My favorite place for this particular temptation is a place called Barney Greengrass, of which I have written other occasions. The waiters are a touch surly, just on principle, but they always treat me like a princess. One of them, Julian Tepper, is a young writer who a year ago left me the proofs of a novel, Balls, so called because it deals with the story of a man with testiclar cancer. Now a second is on the way, but some months ago he played a role in an anecdote that put his name in the culture sections of some newspapers. Julian wrote in The Paris Review of how Philip Roth, a regular customer, showed up one day to eat his usual scrambled eggs with salmon, onion and bialy (similar to a bagel). Julian, a Roth fan, ventured to give him a copy of his book. “Balls,” said Roth. “Why didn’t I think of that?” Then he tried to dissuade the young man from writing, describing the future that awaited him: a hell in which most of your material goes into the bin because it’s not good enough. “A torture. Quit now, you’re still in time.”

Julian's story went viral on the web, reaching the culture pages of The Guardian. Fortunately, Roth’s words did not daunt this good-looking, enthusiastic young man who could write a thousand stories on the peculiar clientele of Barney’s were it not that the owner wants the customers to see it as a quiet place of refuge where you can fill your stomach with chicken soup and smoked fish that fortify you against the extreme cold of the New York winter. Substantial food, and greasy, but not junk food. The food of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Roth’s forbears, a food to which the curmudgeonly writer is faithful.

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