February 4, 2009
Recession hits the Times Dining section
Hard times seem to have arrived all at once at today's Dining section. The main articles include a piece on the desperate measures expensive restaurants are taking to get people to come in; peanut butter as a recession-proof source of protein that everybody loves, salmonella be damned (though I was stunned to learn that smooth far outsells crunchy in American homes. I'm a superchunk girl.)
The other main feature is about NBC's "The Biggest Loser", which appears in the Dining section although the main involvement that the show's contestants have with food is that they don't eat any of it. Also odd that they chose to cover the show now, when it's been on for 7 seasons, but I guess now is a good time to report on a show that encourages viewers to alternately fast and eat nothing but asparagus (which makes you pee your weight off, apparently.)
I've never watched a whole episode of "The Biggest Loser", and the only bits I've seen consisted of overweight people suffering through byzantine and painful-looking physical challenges. The Times focuses on the diet part of the competition, and uncovers all kinds of really freaky relationships with food that contestants have, which are probably intensified by having to lose hundreds of pounds with piles of money at stake, while on national TV.
Some especially crazy highlights from the article:
- "The first two weeks, you're throwing up so much from working out, you're so tired, the last thing you want to do is eat," said Ed Brantley, a chef in Raleigh, who in the last season lost 139 pounds (more than 40 percent of his body weight). [This is because they work out SIX TO TEN HOURS A DAY.]
- Soon, food becomes the devil they love to control. Every contestant is required to eat a minimum number of calories each day and is supposed to keep a daily food journal to prove it. But many of them actually eat less. "It gets so you crave that feeling of going to bed with hunger pains in your stomach," said Erik Chopin, a Long Island deli owner who won the show in 2006, going to 193 pounds from 407.
- During scheduled "temptations," contestants are bribed to eat junk food with prizes like cash and calls home, sometimes while locked in a dark room with mountains of candy. "We want to simulate the real world in there," said Dave Broome, a co-creator of the show. [Mountains of candy? That's a real world I want to live in.]
The upshot of the article is that once they're back in the actual real world, the one with food other than broccoli and kale in it, most contestants put the weight back on.
Though this is definitely the most belt-tightening Dining section I've ever read in the Times, it also features a Frank Bruni review of the Oak Room, "A Waltz of Gilt and Truffles", that contains this: "My fork sank into tender venison in a classically dark, rich, winy sauce as my eyes traveled up, up, up the sculptured oak walls toward a ceiling more than two stories high. That ceiling was framed by yard upon yard of gold molding and trim. If heaven is wood-paneled, it probably looks something like this."
The rest of us will just stick with our peanut butter and carrot sticks.
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