Friday, February 12, 2010


“All things in moderation, including moderation.” – Mark Twain

Eight-and-a-half years ago, I moved from Long Island, New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eight years ago, I felt my daughter moving inside of me for the first time. Eight years ago, a woman I know had butter expire in her refrigerator.

In 1984, this woman tumbled down the stairs into the basement, and fell into a coma. It took her about four months to recover enough to return home. But she was never back to her baseline of “normal”. For one, her ability to taste was never the same. But she didn’t lose her love of sweets, and perhaps even gravitated towards them more because some other taste sensations had diminished.

Around 1994, this woman read an article that alleged butter was bad for one's health. From that moment on, she cut it out of her diet almost completely. This woman eats the same foods over and over so it wasn’t that difficult ignore the stick of butter. As I mentioned, her cravings are for sweets. Besides, she hardly makes anything from scratch, eating almost all of her meals from packages she purchases at Trader Joe’s. Nearly all of her desserts are also bought in a store with the exception of two apple pies she bakes for Thanksgiving, with pre-made pie shells, so no butter needed.

In 2000 or 2001, she purchased the infamous butter. There it sat in her fridge for the same period as a two-term United States President. That baby kicking in my belly is more than halfway through her second-grade school year - she is now seven-and-a-half years old.

Nine days ago, the woman had a “craving” for butter. She took it out of the butter cubby on her fridge door. Took a knife to it, spread it on bread, and ate it. No, it didn’t look funny. No, the texture wasn’t off. No, it didn’t taste bad. I asked. But later, she got sick, and was sick for three days. “Did you save the butter?” I wanted to know, not because I didn’t believe her, but just to see and sniff it for myself. She replied, “No, I threw it out.”

Several years ago, I read, Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Here’s part of the review*:

Vianne Rocher and her 6-year-old daughter, Anouk, arrive in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes--"a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bourdeaux"--in February, during the carnival. Three days later, Vianne opens a luxuriant chocolate shop crammed with the most tempting of confections and offering a mouth-watering variety of hot chocolate drinks. It's Lent, the shop is opposite the church and open on Sundays, and Francis Reynaud, the austere parish priest, is livid.

I recommend reading it to see what denial does to the priest.

Food is not meant to be “good” or “bad”. I grew up in a household where food was seen in those two terms. There were many treats I had to sneak because I wasn’t allowed to have them, and then I went to Confession so I could absolve my sin of eating forbidden foods. Luckily, I had extended family, friends, and an allowance to make sure I was still allowed to eat sugary desserts. Let me be clear that I was NOT diabetic.

For the past sixteen years, since I’ve been cooking, I have tried to eat healthy and well: stopping when I’m full, eating a variety of foods, cooking from scratch as much as I can. And every day, I have butter. My family cooks with it, we spread it on bread – the best bread possible. We’ve even been known to buy local, fresh butter. Trust me, it tastes better. We eat in moderation and we don’t feel guilty over what we eat (At least my husband and I try). I’ve made no secret about my admiration for Julia Child**.

The television show “The Jetsons” aired from 1962 to 1963, and was supposed to portray life in 2062. Why was it that the measure of progress was flying cars (cool), robot maids (awesome), women still running the household (short-sighted), and pellet meals instead of real food (Abominable)? Can you imagine food being reduced to a dehydrated, oversized vitamin?

In 2008, Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto was published. I recommend reading it to see what we’re putting into our bodies when we buy margarine, consume fast food, make our bodies endure diet fads, and let industry create our food. To get a glimpse of what pleasures we’ve lost by adopting the American diet, read, Why French Women Don’t get Fat by Mirielle Guiliano. My week in Serbia and France was the most decadent eating week of my life and I lost five pounds***.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I often felt like the black sheep of the family. I rebelled quietly and not so quietly over rules that seemed arbitrary or contrary to common sense, many of them food-related. Food is not meant to be a battle within a family or within us. When food doesn’t bring family together and provide pleasure, something profound is lost.

This week when I heard that this woman ate eight-year-old butter, I don’t know what troubled me more. Was it the fact that she didn’t realize that she’d bought it that long ago until after the damage had been done? Was it because her sense of taste is so altered that she can’t perceive rancid butter? Was it because she didn’t let herself enjoy a pat of butter on bread for at least 2,920 days in her own home? It was all of the above.

*Here’s the link to the book and the rest of the review:

** My previous post about Julia Child:

*** Here’s a little more about my trip in France:


  1. Hi

    OMG, that poor woman! Is she ok now?

    I always think that fresh food and good home-cooked food are always better. Every day it seems that some science paper would be news saying this is bad for you, that is good for you etc. All could be so confusing!

    I think eveything has to be consumed in moderation and with a balance of all the foodstuff - proteins, carbs, vitamins, minerals... bread, butter, fruit and veg. If you can grow your own all the better. If not then read the label! Buy seasonal foods. It always annoys me when I cannot buy an apple during autumn (apple season time in UK) grown in the UK. Apples are not exotic fruit from a UK point of view! I appreciate bananas and sharon fruit need to be imported in, but apples??!


    Ok, I better stop now or else I'll never stop rambling!

    Take care

    p.s I'm sooooooooooooo happy for you (re your previous post!!!!)


  2. Old Kitty, the woman is okay now. Thanks for asking.

    Michael Pollan encourages people to eat from packaged foods that have ingredients our great-grandmothers would recognize. I get upset when I see imported apples in the fall too! That's why I buy from the farmers market during growing season. But what was life like before we could get imported tropical foods?

  3. Very thought-provoking post. Glad to hear that the woman is okay.

  4. I completely agree that food is not meant to be a battle. With the prevalence of eating disorders these days, it's more important than ever to have a heathly attitude towards food, especially when children are involved. Thanks for an intriguing post.

  5. Crazy. No butter? Crazy.

    And why is it food that often becomes a manifestation of control necessities? My oldest and I battled for years over the food thing until I realized that it was her way to feel in control. Now I'm not so demanding that she eat this or that and certain amounts of each.

    I have a good friend that after her hysterctomy could not taste things properly so began to eat very little. The only thing she really enjoys eating anymore is Dove chocolate. Weird.

  6. Thanks, Susan. I agree.

    Jackee, food definitely becomes a control issue. That's also what they say anorexia is about. That's a strange story about your friend.

  7. I love your attitude towards food and agree that it's something to be enjoyed, savored and shared! Most of my favorite memories of travel or time spent with family and friends involve a great meal,wine, cocktail or dessert: fried mars bars in Edinburgh, homemade grappa & pasta in sicily, matzoh ball
    soup (and hundreds of other great meals) at my sister's, etc.

    It makes me incredibly sad to hear about that woman; even more disturbing than her eating 8 year old expired butter is her apparent inability to enjoy food. We've become a fast food nation, no one eats together or eats homemade meals. I love this blog!

  8. Thanks, Kathleen. For my trips to only a few countries, I found it striking in not only what they ate, but how they ate.

  9. Ms. Milstein, would you please email me at - I have a question for you.

    You sound like an awesome sub! I subbed before I taught and patterned my sub instructions after the ones I liked, avoiding what I hated.

  10. Thanks for the compliment, Ricochet. I make extra copies of handouts when I think they'll be useful in the future, either subbing or in my own classroom someday. Why reinvent the wheel?

  11. I love your food philosophy and it is one that my husband and I pretty much adhere to as well. One issue for me is that there is still so much pain and baggage left over from my formative years that I sometimes "rebel." This means that since I can now eat and do whatever I want, sometimes I revel in this freedom a bit too much. Not always, but sometimes. I try not to beat myself when that happens. But, it is an ongoing struggle.

  12. I'm glad you mostly have a good handle on your baggage. We all struggle with issues from our youth from time to time.