“A baby is born, it cries, it is fed, it is content.” (In the Shadow of Cooks: iUniverse Publishers)  So…the baby cries and cries until it’s body aches from the effort.  When the baby is finally fed, it feels better.  The connection is quickly made that to feel better the body needs food.  This goes way beyond hunger and the need to sustain life.  Food is a fixer.  Throughout life, we tend to lean on food as a fixer.  When we are sad, we eat; when we are mad, we eat; when we bored, we eat; and when we are happy, we eat to feel even happier.  Now do I have scientific proof to support these statements?  Look at your own life as I look at mine – food is more often than not – your best friend.

My wife is a dietitian.  She is smart, physically fit, and in control of her eating habits.  I can’t attest to how smart I am, but I am not really physically fit and definitely not in control of my eating habits.  I am not proud of this and can certainly spout out reasons, the fact is I use food just like millions of others – as a fixer.

When I was a restaurant chef I would tell my wife that what we serve and the size of what we serve is strictly based on what the customer wants to buy.  The restaurants job is to give the customer what they want, not try to teach them what is right.  Now I have a change of heart.

Look around you and try to think about what real problems abound in America today.  Diabetes has increased exponentially and even impacts on very young children.  Obesity is at epidemic levels from coast to coast (in fact the military is finding it difficult to identify enough volunteers who are even borderline physically fit).  The number one prescription drug in the U.S. is Lipitor (or other statins – I have been using Lipitor for 22 years) and although heart disease is better controlled today than it ever was, millions of Americas have high cholesterol and high blood pressure.  Kidney dialysis units are cropping up from New York to California and more and more Americans are opting for stomach bypass surgery as a means to control their weight.  All of these health issues can be controlled by watching what we eat.

If you have ever turned on the television between 4 and 6 a.m. you would note that there are a dozen or so channels that focus on exercise programs.  I wonder how many people watch these while they are eating their Sugar Smacks.

We are the land of the free and as a result truly believe that everyone has the right to choose how they live their lives.  Since many feel that their health is an individual decision, the cost of health care has grown exponentially.  This “out-of-control” cost impacts on everyone, even those who choose to live a healthier life.

So, back to the restaurant.  Do we have a responsibility beyond “giving customers what they want to eat”? Recently, the city of New York banned those super-sized soda drinks in restaurants.  The reason, excessive consumption of beverages containing significant amounts of high fructose corn syrup are a prime culprit in the obesity epidemic.  The out cry was interesting to watch.  Again, many claimed that this was an attempt to take away our right as Americans to make a choice.  Remember, food is a fixer.  The larger the need, the larger the fixer portion.

I am not sure that government regulation is the answer, but I am certain that, as restaurant professionals, we do have an obligation to teach our customers through example.  Reasonably, a 4-5 ounce portion of protein is more than sufficient, especially if it is complemented by an array of properly prepared, healthy fresh vegetables.  The real creativity in a kitchen comes from demonstrating how to bring out flavors and work with those great ingredients that come from the garden.

It is refreshing to see the efforts that many chefs are placing on “farm-to-table” initiatives and re-learning how to work with fresh, local ingredients.  Sure they can be more expensive, but as a good chef friend of mine said; “eat less and eat better”.

For my part personally, I need to learn how to eat slower and enjoy my food.  Sometimes it takes the stomach a minute or two to catch up and say “I have had enough”.  I can easily blame it on 40 years in the kitchen where taking time to sit down and eat simply did not happen.  Grabbing something while continuing to work was and still is the norm.

Addicted to food?  The answer is, yes we are; but like any other addiction (in this case behavior) it can be modified with real effort.  Let’s play a role in helping to improve the health of people in this great country and give some real thought to the menus that we design.

What are your thoughts on this heavily debated topic?