Building culture event by event 

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If I am what I eat, I could be you by midnight."

Okay, admittedly it was the cheesiest of pickup lines. But the sexual revolution was swinging only reluctantly toward the end of its arc, AIDS hadn't become humanized yet, Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land was a must-read best seller and, well, everyone was groking each other. More to the point, it worked as often as it didn't.

Alas, as with so many other things, the seemingly simple thought behind the expression has, in the ensuing decades, become anything but simple. If we are what we eat, we may all be on the road to perdition.

It was bad enough when we finally realized food science was, if not an oxymoron, at best a nascent field of study. When the alarm was raised and we were all warned that eating butter was harmful, we dutifully held our collective noses and switched to margarine. When it was subsequently discovered margarine would kill us even faster than butter and, in fact, pure, sweet butter was better for us, we switched back and felt a close kinship to our Catholic friends who were still reeling from the papal revelation that eating meat on Friday was no longer sinful.

We'd barely had time to become smug before we were warned about the devastating health effects of bovine growth hormone, trace antibiotics and the raging incidence of lactose intolerance traceable to all dairy products, leading us to the grim realization that, at least as far as butter was concerned, Marlon Brando had shown us a better use for the stuff than Julia Child, thus giving rise to the popularity of tango lessons.

But as far as food wars go, that was only the opening salvo. Food is in serious danger of joining religion and politics as a subject best left unspoken in polite company. Dinner parties are minefields. There is no food you can safely enjoy, let alone serve today without pissing someone off. Vegetarians believe flesh eaters are savages, vegans believe vegetarians are poseurs, raw food cultists believe anything hot has been cooked in the fires of hell, antiglutenists believe wheateaters are glutenheads and chronic cleansers believe running anything at all through your pipes is simply crap.

What's a guy to do?

Rather than join any side in the crusades, I've become a culinary atheist. I don't believe in anyone's recipe for salvation. I eat what I like and spit out whatever tastes bad. I welcome others to do the same.

If you think dairy, wheat, meat, shellfish, inescapable GMO grain, edible oils, non-organically grown fruit and veggies or anything else is going to ruin my health, light a candle for me and leave me the heck alone. I'll join the 100-mile diet as soon as someone within 100 miles starts growing citrus fruit, pressing olive oil, catching anchovies and harvesting capers. Until then, I'll continue to prepare food from ingredients — regardless of their pedigree — and enjoy the bounty of the world.

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