Is healthy food "elitist?" More political nonsense. Plus Bean and Pasta Soup.

Another food fight. This one not about whether or not the word “ethnic,” as in cuisine, is archaic at best, an insult at worst (which I posted about yesterday). This one pits fast food versus healthful food in political combat, the theory being that fast food is for regular folk while “elitists” prefer more healthy eats. I read about it in this article.

The argument has been going on for a while. Remember when President Obama was criticized for eating arugula? As if there was something wrong with eating arugula and that he could only be “regular” if he ate a fast-food burger and fries?

And how about the criticism of Michelle Obama, whose childhood obesity task force asks restaurants to “consider” healthy choices and portion size. Mark Levin, a right-wing commentator calls the First Lady a food Nazi for her efforts. Here’s what he said:

"How the hell did we become a nation of people where we need the first lady of the United States to assume responsibility for telling us how much our children can eat and how much restaurants’ food portions should be?"

Well no one is actually assuming responsibility, and no one is telling anyone how much our children can eat, so it seems that even making the suggestion that we consider healthy choices for (at the very least, our children) is somehow elitist and tyrannical. (Anyway that’s what the jerks and cranks think.)

The latest round came when Anthony Bourdain, no stranger to controversy, criticized Paula Deen, saying that she might think twice about telling her audience that the style of food she cooks is okay. And she countered that not everyone can afford an expensive prime rib of beef and that she cooks “for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying their bills.” (In case you aren’t familiar with her recipes, let’s just mention the famous doughnut burger: 1/2 pound beef burger with fried eggs and bacon on a glazed doughnut.)

Notice, she didn’t say her food was healthy. Just that it was somehow more people-friendly and affordable.

So what it boils down to is that some people will call you an elitist if you care enough about the health of your families and the nation to point out that a steady diet of supersize portions of deep-fried chicken, burgers, french fries, doughnuts and soda might not be such a good thing.

As a matter of fact, I love fried chicken, burgers, fries and doughnuts. And a big thick steak. My Mom’s fried chicken recipes was a wonder and when people ask me what I would choose if I had to pick my “last meal,” I include that fried chicken. With fried onion rings and french fries. And apple pie and peanut butter cookies and a huge bowl of BUTTERED popcorn. 

But knowing that these foods can be unhealthy if you eat too much of them on a regular basis doesn’t make me an elitist. And those who cook and eat that kind of food all the time aren’t more “regular” or better than I am. 

Frankly, I think the opposite. As Bourdain says, 

 ”This notion that there’s red state food and blue state food, or rich food and poor food is offensive and elitist in ways I could never be.”

Some of the best foods — and healthiest — and cheapest — are the ones concocted by the poor to nourish their families. So the notion that eating unhealthy high-fat, sugar-laden food is somehow cheaper and folksier is just nonsense.

Take this Bean and Pasta Soup. It’s a world-class, “regular folks” inexpensive dish. It’s full of vegetables and beans. It doesn’t take long to cook either and you can double up on the recipe and serve it again a few days later. Have it with a hunk of fresh bread. Add some leftover chopped meat or chicken if you wish. You’ll find it’s good to eat, tasty, healthy and cheaper than a burger with fries and soda.

And by the way, the elitists who think I (and people like me) am an elitist for thinking about whether food is healthy may scoff at the notion of Bean and Pasta Soup. So just tell them it’s really Pasta Fagiole, which gives it more of an authentic ethnic ring and may therefore make it more acceptable.

Bean and Pasta Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, chopped

3 medium carrots, sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick

28-ounce can tomatoes, undrained

4 cups vegetable stock

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup small tubular pasta (elbows, ditalini, etc.)

2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, including liquid

1 cup frozen peas

grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the tomatoes (break them up somewhat with the back of a wooden spoon), stock, basil, parsley and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the beans and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 2-3 minutes. Serve the soup sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Makes 6 servings