Revisiting the Rock — Plymouth

New England, Photography, Surf N Pixels

plymouth-rock

We visited Plymouth Rock when I was a kid, and I certainly don’t remember the crack, but it’s apparently been visible for centuries. I could also swear it was bigger, too.

While we were there, my mother told me that my grandmother had a souvenir piece of the rock. Which I wish I had known when I could quiz her about it. Apparently there have been souvenirs floating around New England from various moves of the historic rock.

‘Stuffed’: Not nearly tasty enough

books, New England
Norwich Inn: Their burgers are just right

Norwich Inn: The burgers are just right

When I went to New England not that long ago, one thing that struck me was the retro portions restaurants served. It seemed so old-fashioned — and so right.

A sandwich at a Woodstock, Vt., luncheonette evoked childhood meals made with Pepperidge Farm slices, easily a third smaller than those from typical loafs these days. A burger at a nearby historic inn was properly proportioned as well, and accompanied by tasty greens and a smattering of chips. Even the bakeries in New England seemed like throwbacks: No huge gobs of icing or ridiculously large portions, as commonly found even in supposedly diet conscious L.A.

Naturally, it made me wonder: Did flinty New Englanders simply reject the Super Size trend? Are their waistbands smaller as a consequence? A quick check of national obesity levels confirmed my suspicion: New England has the lowest level in the country, tho sad to say it is on the rise there as well. The South wins the dubious honor as most obese; individual states like California have pockets of greater and lower obesity.

stuffed“Stuffed,” a book by a former General Mills and Coca-Cola exec, attempts to explain why America has grown so fat. With the zeal of a reformed smoker, Hank Cardello points his finger at a wide array of culprits: packaged good companies, grocers, restaurants, schools and sedentary consumers who just don’t know how to say no. He outlines the economic reasons behind upsizing and school deals with fast food companies, as well as the cautious resistance to any change in status quo.

Sprinkled throughout are his well meaning, but at times dubious suggestions for ways to reduce Americans’ caloric load. He spends a lot of time, for example, outlining his efforts to convince fast food restaurants to switch to healthier frying oil, and his failed attempt to convince General Mills to create a healthy kids food line under the Sprout name. But it’s not clear how much a difference either would have made. He also suggests a healthier type of Nestle Crunch bar while seemingly endorsing the recent changes in chocolate standards; never does he acknowledge the fact that the “improved” chocolate tastes much worse. Nestle Crunch bars, like so much American chocolate these days, taste waxy and devoid of flavor; not much of a treat to eat.

People like to eat in Stockton, Calif.

People like to eat in Stockton, Calif.

In other parts of the book, Cardello acknowledges that foodies pay more for smaller portions made from better (and tastier) ingredients. Is there no way to move back in that direction, rather than tinkering with the formula of oils and sugars used to make popular junk food? Why can’t more food purveyors take a page out of New England’s book?

The other drawback to “Stuffed” is the prose itself. Cardello, who co-authored it with journo Doug Garr, is regrettably earnest. And even when he’s addressing a topic with much comic potential — as the “Cupcake Wars” at schools — he plays it lamentably straight.
“Will the cupcake survive the obesity wars, or will it suffer the fate of other, less worthy, food casualties?” he queries, somewhat portentously.

Nonetheless, Cardello should be lauded for shining a spotlight on this perplexing problem, and sharing his insider’s take on how it got so huge.