Actionable Ways to Avoid Diet Culture this Year

Each January brings the arrival of resolutions: “New year, new you” is peppered into media cycles, social networks, and our brains, like tea slowly steeping. Much of this dialogue can be characterized as an example of “diet culture,” a set of customs, …

Each January brings the arrival of resolutions: “New year, new you” is peppered into media cycles, social networks, and our brains, like tea slowly steeping. Much of this dialogue can be characterized as an example of “diet culture,” a set of customs, rules, and values—some of which contradict each other—that equate body shape or size with moral value and health. Often, this is done by promoting weight loss, vilifying certain foods while exalting others, and stigmatizing those who don’t match its suggested image of what "healthy" looks like.

Diet culture is bolstered by the health and wellness industry, which in the U.S. alone is an annual business of $707 billion. Yet evidence that most diets are unsuccessful—in fact, they are the leading determinants of weight gain—highlights that aiming for a certain body size is an inaccurate prescription for improved health. (Research supports that tracking BMI, a measure of body fat based on height and weight, is another faulty model of determining physical condition.) What’s more, these external rules usually come at the expense of disassociating from internal cues, like hunger, food preferences, and energy levels. And for all of the aims taken at specifying or promoting an “optimal” path to health, the term itself is innately vague: highly individual and subjectively definable by environment, income and lived experience, to name a few.

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How to Eat a Quiche, According to Legendary Editor Judith Jones

One afternoon, I found myself in the presence and home of my hero, Judith Jones. Tucked away in northeastern Vermont , we ate thick wedges of quiche draped with sour cream (it was, I learned after one curious bite, a mingling of fat on fat that accentu…

One afternoon, I found myself in the presence and home of my hero, Judith Jones. Tucked away in northeastern Vermont , we ate thick wedges of quiche draped with sour cream (it was, I learned after one curious bite, a mingling of fat on fat that accentuated the texture of cream and custard alike). We drank white wine from the supermarket that Judith kept stored, re-corked from a previous day’s glass, in the condiments shelf of the refrigerator. Her dog, Mabon, scratched a small hole in the seam of my t-shirt while saying hello, a shirt I still have and a hole I haven’t mended. Ms. Jones told me to call her Judith.

It was August 2016—almost exactly a year before Judith, venerable writer and editor behind some of the most influential American chefs and writers, passed away at age ninety-three. Benchmarks in her long career include, famously, pulling the Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl out of the slush pile; publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child after its multiple rejections; and exploding the canon of American home cooking with the works of Edna Lewis, Madhur Jaffrey, Irene Kuo, Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan Lidia Bastianich, Joan Nathan and James Beard, among many others. Judith received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, the year before publishing The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (sixty pages of which I read on the floor of a public library in Vermont).

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The Most Useful Chicken Dish I Learned at Zuni Café Was for Staff Meal

Zuni Café in San Francisco, helmed by the late Judy Rodgers, is deservedly famous for its roast chicken, one of the only things on the twice-changing daily menu that never leaves the line-up. It is, to be sure, extraordinary: a dry-brined Rolls Royce o…

Zuni Café in San Francisco, helmed by the late Judy Rodgers, is deservedly famous for its roast chicken, one of the only things on the twice-changing daily menu that never leaves the line-up. It is, to be sure, extraordinary: a dry-brined Rolls Royce of a bird, whole-roasted from raw to order in a brick oven seasoned with almost 40 years of fat and fire. Sometimes I’d split the chicken for two with a fellow Zuni cook around midnight, the juices dripping into the sleeves of our rolled-up chef’s whites; the ticket machine blissfully quiet; the hum of a kitchen closing down under quart containers of soap and water. There’s a specific kind of hunger that happens after a deep, long push on the line. Coated in dried sweat, we’d eat the chicken with our hands, standing, in a dark nook by the bathroom in the back of the open kitchen. It tasted like cold water in a desert.

Delicious though the roast chicken is, the most useful dish I learned at Zuni was the one I’d make for staff meal: warm grilled chicken salad with lemon and leftover aioli. Cobbled together without much preciousness, it was the kind of unfussy cooking I could manage when we happened to be knee-deep in the weeds. The first time I made it was during a weekend shift, when a late-lunch rush met an early-dinner rush and staff meal was later than usual. The puzzle was how to stretch some chicken breasts to make sure the dinner crew was well-fed, quickly. I was working my favorite station (the live-fire mesquite grill), and the line cook next to me already had a full oven of birds roasting. So: This simple but surprisingly good chicken dish was born.

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