I’ve mentioned several times that when I was a youngster, the “waist trimmer” meal served in restaurants was a burger patty with cottage cheese and tomato slices. It was common knowledge (or a common belief, if you prefer) that bread, pasta and potatoes are fattening, so the way to lose weight was to cut those out of the diet. I recall our high-school health teacher, who was also the wrestling coach, telling us in class that if we wanted to shed a few pounds, we should cut out sugar and starch. (What the heck did he know? He only helped hundreds of wrestlers over the years get down to their preferred weight categories.)
When I was channel-flipping late last night, I came across a movie I remember seeing in high school: Silver Streak, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. It’s a comedy-murder-mystery set on a train. Two of the incidental characters are big fat guys who are (of course) played for laughs. In one of the early scenes, we see what they ordered for dinner. Take a look:
There’s the waist-trimmer meal, along with a bottle of TAB, the forerunner to Diet Coke. That’s what people considered a “diet” meal in 1976, when the film was released. No pasta with fat-free marinara sauce, no hearthealthywholegrains, no vegetarian burrito. It’s fat and protein. The audience in 1976 sees that meal and has a little chuckle of recognition: Oh, look, the fat guys are on a diet! By the time Seinfeld was the #1 show 20 years later, that meal would prompt a joke about arteries slamming shut.
Which is exactly why the “waist trimmer” meal is a thing of the past. In Good Calories, Bad Calories, there’s a chapter titled The Fattening Carbohydrate Disappears. Taubes describes how the common belief that breads, potatoes and pastas are fattening was pushed aside after the McGovern committee released its Dietary Goals For Americans. Since fat was now the dietary devil, grains and other carbohydrates had to be rehabilitated as health food — after all, we have to eat something. So fat became fattening, and carbohydrates became slimming … at least according to the USDA.
Since then, of course, we’ve all so gotten incredibly lean, the AMA decided to declare obesity a disease.