Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Tragedy of Fat.

Theories of the cause and cure of ‘corpulence’ are not new. Neither is the Weight Loss Industry. Those who write about nutrition and weight loss are divided into two camps, to my mind. Those with a genuine, scientific interest in the topic, and a genuine desire to make a difference, and those who just want to make money. The latter rule, it seems, because they sell magic - which always rules over common-sense and hard-work. Oh Dear! I am cynical today, aren’t I?

My theory of the two distinct groups fell apart a bit with the discovery of Eat and Grow Thin: the Mahdah Menus, written by Vance Thompson in 1914. Clearly, the man is passionate – No!, evangelical, about his subject (being a reformed corpulent person himself). A bit of evangelism doesn’t go astray if one wants to be the sort of nutrition guru in the make-money camp. Evangelists always offer a simple solution to an enormously difficult problem, which is alluring magic in itself. So, Vance has one strike against him already. Second strike – he is horribly judgemental. Here is a random selection of his ‘scientific’ theories:
One thinks of the beautiful women one has known - loved perhaps - who have vanished forever, drowned in an ocean of turbulence and tallow ..
There is a strange kinship between obesity and financial crime - almost all embezzlers are fat.
To the scientist there is nothing so tragic on earth as the sight of a fat man eating a potato.

The fat man, to the reformed writer, is ‘A tragedy in suet’

… the fat man may clown and slap himself and wag a droll forefinger, but he is not merry at all … He knows he is ridiculous … He falls in love. (It is a destiny - like being born with the sun in Aquarius; always the fat man falls in love.) And this is his bitterest tragedy. He cannot kneel at Beauty's feet without a derrick to let him down ; and a man who goes a-wooing with a derrick looks like a fool. He cannot clasp the dear girl to his heart - for fear of smothering her. … Fierce burn the fires of love within him and the fiercer they burn the faster flees the terrified girl - for he looks like a vat of boiling oil; and that is a fearsome thing to fall into. So, wrapped in tallow, the poor lover goes his sebaceous way - wearing his maiden aunt's bracelet for a ring. …. A tragedy in suet.

Strangely, the actual advice given is eminently sensible. He warns against extreme measures, such as ‘devastating baths’:

And one had far better be fat than ruin one's digestion with drugs, weaken the body by fasting, and strip it of all symmetry by undue exercise and devastating baths.
… a fat man is an ill man — [he] can boil out a great deal of his fat in a Russian bath, but the cure is neither lasting nor safe
All the violent anti-obesity cures are touched with this defect — they work no permanent result.

He acknowledges that success can be a slow process:

You have only to persevere and week by week and month by month you will see that you are going back to your healthy, normal condition, having lost all superfluous fat and recovered pristine energy.

The choice is simple:
Either you sink, cowardly, in the sea of tallow and your life as a man is over; or, you "take advice."

The ‘advice’ is to follow the ‘Mahdah Menus’. The specific food advice is essentially sensible:
And the rule is a simple one : - Eat the right food rightly prepared.
It is axiomatic: Fat foods make fat and lean foods make for leanness.

There is a serious list of ‘Don’t’s’

Don’t sleep too much
Don't take naps.
Don't overeat, even of lean dishes.
Don't eat unless you are hungry.
Don't drink with your meals.
Don't drink alcoholic beverages.
Don't eat bread - except gluten bread toasted, and this in moderation.
Don't take a cab - WALK.

But he reassures that ‘the list of things one may eat is far longer than the list of forbidden things.’

There is one potential down-side to the regime:

There is no wine list is printed on the back of the Mahdah menus. This deficiency is not due to any “mystical horror of fermented drinks” - it is due to the somber fact that wine makes for corpulency. (Beer and ale are worse still.)

And there is one unexplained mystery. Who is Mahdah? She is female, that is all we find out.

Naturally, there are recipes, including some slightly exotic Turkis, Spanish, and Russian dishes, for those who like the idea. If not:
Regarding the Turkish, Spanish and Russian dishes given, they may be eaten or not, as you wish. For instance, the Dolmas or Turkish mutton is a very nice dish, and it has nothing fattening in it, but plain boiled mutton with mint or caper sauce will be simpler and answer the purpose quite as well - if not better.


Take the tender leaves of a young cabbage, place three or four together and fill with the following mixture :
Two pounds of raw mutton hashed through the meat-chopper, two large onions, one-half cup chopped parsley, salt and paprika. Stir in three beaten eggs, form the mixture into oblong meat balls, roll and tie in thinly-buttered cabbage leaves. Place the Dolmas in a bake dish in layers with a plate to press them down and keep in place. Cover with the stock of any meat and cook slowly one and a half hours. When done make a sauce of the juice with the yolks of eggs or simply pour over the Dolmas. The Dolmas are very good served with tomato sauce. A can of Campbell's condensed tomatoes, to which has been added a boiled onion, finely chopped, and a bay leaf for flavor, makes an excellent and quickly prepared tomato sauce.

This post has been long enough to try your patience! I will give you a daily menu another day.

Previous posts on the diet topic are HERE and HERE.

Quotation for the Day ….

The hippopotamus is a vegetarian and looks like a wall. Lions who eat only red meat are sleek and slim. Are nutritionists on the wrong track?
Erma Bombeck


Anonymous said...

I love that..." goes his sebaceous way". But, accounting for the prejudices of the day his, advice is sensible.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list of "don'ts" I love list and I love a doing dont's!

Will try dolma recipe...

Anonymous said...

I've been heard to complain that nutritionists and weight-loss experts change their tune every few years... but apparently some things never change, "don't eat unless you are hungry." :)