Alibi V.15 No.1 • Jan 5-11, 2006 

The Year in Food

All the News That's Fit to Eat

Newsflash! You are fat.

"C is for calorie, that’s good enough for me."
"C is for calorie, that’s good enough for me."

The Food Pyramid Gets a Facelift

Government health officials unveiled a revised food pyramid in 2005, marking the first major overhaul since the pyramid was introduced 12 years ago. The new model is built for a sedentary information age where 2/3 of Americans are overweight. Smartly, the pyramid embraces a "one size doesn't fit all" philosophy, and features an online component that takes the individual's age, sex and activity level into account for a customized pyramid (get yours at—something nutritionists have been crying out for since Day 1. Unlike the previous pyramid, which was more of a rough outline for achieving adequate macronutrients, the new model is specifically geared toward achieving and maintaining a sensible weight. The guidelines spell out how to make healthy choices through portion control and physical activity, and stress whole grains over refined, and whole fruits and vegetables over processed ones. (The previous chart made no distinction between the two.) It's still common sense, just more clearly spelled out.

Preemptive Trans Fat Labels Hit the Shelves

In July 2003, the FDA announced that, as of Jan. 1, 2006, all packaged foods that are sold nationally in the United States must list trans fat content on their nutrition facts labels. We've seen this thing coming down the pipe for a while now, but 2005 was the year that food manufacturers really started scrambling to fulfill their end of the bargain. In some cases, food manufactures have decided to do away with trans fats completely rather than face a negative public impression, as in the trans fat-free Oreos that hit supermarket shelves early last year. Many foods that never contained trans fats are loudly trumpeting that fact in an attempt to appear more healthy (à la "cholesterol free!" peanut butter). Don't fall for it. They're still bad for you.

The new and improved food pyramid
The new and improved food pyramid

New Orleans Food Industry Hit Hard by Hurricane Katrina

Just a few weeks after Bon Appétit named New Orleans one of the top five restaurant destinations in the nation, the city, along with its bustling tourist and hospitality industries, was almost completely wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. Many of the restaurants and cafés clustered around New Orleans are historic properties that were ruined not only by weather damage, but by excessive amounts of rotten food. Landmark eateries like Commander's Palace will have to be gutted and rebuilt before they can even consider reopening to the public. Of the 3,400 restaurants in the greater New Orleans area, just over a quarter were operational as 2005 came to a close.

Atkins Nutritionals Goes Belly-Up

It was only a matter of time before the chips hit the fan, so to speak. 2005 was the year that the Atkins craze finally fizzled into the unpopular demise that all fad diets are bound to succumb to. Why? Because low-carb diets are too extreme (not to mention nutritionally unsound) for people to stick with over a sustained period of time. Good thing founder Dr. Robert C. Atkins never lived to see his low-carb pot of gold, Atkins Nutritionals Inc., turn into a $300 million pile of outstanding principal and interest. Take it as a cautionary tale, folks: Even if you've got one of best-selling books of all time, you can still end up in Chapter 11.

Cookie Monster Curbs His Sweet Tooth

The long-cherished furry blue monster on "Sesame Street" is changing his tune about his favorite food—namely, from "C is for Cookie, That's Good Enough for Me" to "A Cookie is a Sometimes Food." (I'm not making this up.) Cookie Monster can still be seen scarfing down his namesake carb cakes, but you might notice some healthier foods—apples and broccoli, for example—are in the mix now, too. Yup, the Cookie Monster is learning to eat better. That's because the focus of "Sesame Street" changes from year to year, and 2005 kicked off a "healthy habits" storyline that stresses nutrition, exercise, hygiene and rest. It's no accident that the show's new emphasis coincides with the highest childhood obesity rates we've ever experienced in the U.S.

Trans fats in plain view
Trans fats in plain view

Manufacturers Pull Back on Ads That Target Kids

Several high-profile food manufacturers are easing off of direct advertising to kids, a billion-dollar market within the manufactured foods industry. The "voluntary" withdrawal from television and other media outlets comes after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a report showing how foods that are marketed towards kids tend to be high in calories, fat and sugar, and that increased advertising is contributing to a rise in unhealthy American children. IOM panelists called for companies to change their marketing procedures within two years, on what they describe as "good faith efforts"—or face subsequent Congressional intervention. Kraft, the nation's biggest food company, was one of the first to follow through on some of the panel's suggestions.

Martha Stewart: Back in Beige

2005 was the Year of Martha. After a damaging insider trading scandal, 10 months combined confinement through prison and house arrest and a $30,000 fine, the domestic media mogul earned back her public stock in 2005—and then some. Almost immediately after her release, a noticeably humbler Martha sprang into action with two new television shows (daytime Martha and lukewarm primetime The Apprentice: Martha Stewart), two new books, including The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Grow, or Manage a Business and a 24-hour satellite radio network with Sirius.

The U.S. Supreme Court OKs Wine Without Borders

You may not have even noticed it in the first place, but several state governments used to have laws that banned the shipment of wine produced at out-of-state wineries into their respective states. New Mexico wasn't one of them. Anyhow, all that changed in 2005, when a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling found similar laws in New York and Michigan to be discriminatory, opening the floodgates to interstate wine commerce in 24 states. Those states not directly affected by the change in legislation can rejoice, though, because more open competition among wineries means more selection and lower prices for consumers.

A Woman's Place in the White House Kitchen

In August 2005, Cristeta Comerford became the first woman to hold the position of White House Executive Chef. A naturalized citizen from the Philippines, Comerford is also the first minority to get the job, which is arguably the most prestigious culinary position in the country. Her appointment by First Lady Laura Bush is a clear indication of changes taking place in the food service industry, where women make up more than half of the workforce, yet hold only four percent of the top jobs. Comerford's experience includes 10 years as a White House chef.

Rich People Are Getting Fatter

Surprise! We're all fat. Kids, minorities, you name it. And now, rich people are fatter than ever, too. (I know, collective gasp, right?) Why does the media even give a rat's ass? Well, you see, historically fatness has been a condition reserved for poor people in America (you know, minorities and their kids); and nobody seems to like them much anyhow, so of course their health never merited serious media attention. But in 2005, researchers at an American Heart Association conference stated that obesity rates in households with incomes of more than $60,000 per year have almost tripled over the past 30 years. Rich people tend to be pale people, and suddenly obesity is a hot-button issue. Super size my vomit bucket, I think I'm going to hurl.