Food frenzy

What if Woody Allen was a prophet after all?

Way back before he got all weird on us, he took a comic look at the future in a 1973 film called “Sleeper.” A nerdy health food store owner ends up in the 22nd century, only to find out that scientists had declared that steaks and hot fudge were good for you.

The recent news that low-fat diets are, so the latest study says, not as good for you as a low-carb diet — full of vegetables, fruit and protein — is edging closer to Woody Allen’s insight.

It may be only a matter of time before my daughters’ most fervent wish comes true and hot fudge gets a thumb’s up, too.

Americans have been in diet hell for decades now. My folks went through their Atkins phase — popularly understood as a good excuse to eat bacon all the time, but in fact a low-carb diet.

Low-fat diets like Pritikin ruled the day for a while, and all sorts of variations — the grapefruit diet is my favorite — have come and gone and come back again.

Add to this the good news/bad news yo-yo for taking supplements meant to help us live longer and avoid all manner of medical threats. Fish oil is good! Fish oil is not so good. Niacin is great! Niacin is a no-no. Vitamin E is terrific! Except it’s terrible.

All of which brings us back to the latest findings by the National Institutes of Health that carbs — especially those made with refined flour and refined sugar — are the real villains. One simply focuses on cutting out the carbs and piling the meat and veggies high and deep.

At least until the next study finds out low-carb is really bad for us after all.

What I find fascinating is how diet obsessed we Americans are. In the most materially blessed country on the planet, all we can think about is food. Part of this obsession is that we’ve managed to make food so unhealthy. We grapple with all sorts of weight-related problems including diabetes and hypertension.

An Italian relative of my wife came to America years ago and marveled at the overweight children. Then McDonald’s came to Italy and, voila, Italy now has overweight children, too. (No need to thank us: Fast food is the gift that keeps on giving.)

But the food obsession is not just about weight and calories and obesity. There are folks who would never darken the door of a Burger King but are just as obsessed about what they put into their mouths. Take kale. Please. Kale is the wonder green beloved by the gastronomically hip. So is wild-caught salmon and “locally sourced” vegetables.

Organic is even better. Although the significance of “organic” as a label is open to wide debate, the important thing is that it makes us feel so much better when we pay that extra buck or two for it.

All of these dietary fads are a bit like modern-day kosher — rules to eat by in our spiritual-but-not-religious age. Jesus has a few bits of advice for us, just as he did for the Pharisees of his day: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile” (Mk 7:15).

Of course, he spoke before the world had invented deep-fried Oreos and Twinkies, which are pretty defiling.

We have been blessed with such abundance, and yet we so often transform our blessings into curses. We treat food as fuel, paying it no attention for what it can do to us, or we treat it as the elixir of immortality, if we just eat the right ingredients. In fact, it is a gift to be enjoyed and to be shared. And the most appropriate response is simply, “Bless us O Lord, and these, thy gifts ...”

Greg Erlandson is OSV’s president and publisher.