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Culinary habits
Iranian vs. American

By Ali A. Parsa
February 12, 2002
The Iranian

What to eat and what not to eat? When to eat and how much? It is ironic that these are still widely misunderstood questions in America even during Information Age. The truth is that excess greed and unethical practices of some food producers and marketers and the mainstream medica have mercilessly penetrated not only the human minds, but also their bodies so deeply that it has become next to impossible to correct the situation especially in the absence of effective public education.

A bit of history helps. Does anyone remember that in 1950's the American families were adamantly against their children to drink coffee or tea for the fear of ingesting caffeine, only to find out many years later that the so called soft drinks the kids were drinking were actually loaded not only with excess sugar, but with caffeine and even with some cocaine to make the addictive?
Recall also the recent testimonies by the giant tobacco companies that cigarettes were not addictive.

We can add to that the on-going ridiculous snake oil claims such losing weight while eating all you want without exercising; the dangerous side effects and such as obesity and diabetes aside from their exorbitant costs and you will find it very difficult not to feel sorry for the innocent public that is being exploited to bankruptcy both financially and health-wise.

I always find it amusing to compare the Persian culinary habit with that in America. As an example, in grocery store check-out line in America, I often see people buying only a single tomato, a single cucumber, peach etc., each in a separate plastic bag! Then I think of what reaction such shoppers would face from the store keeper and the public if they do this in Iran! They would probably be laughed at, ridiculed and refused service or given that item for free by the shop owner since that saves him money and time

Who would buy a single tomato, a single cucumber or a single peach when those items cost 300-2000% less than they cost in America? Moreover, cheap fruits and vegetables sold in Iran beat their American counterparts. This is even true about organically grown fruits and vegetables in the U.S. and their skyrocketing prices.

On the other hand, here in America, at certain shops in most cities one finds the prices of ground beef, chicken, pork, and organ meats far cheaper than those of fruits and vegetables. Since the chief determining factor for what people eat is the price, in the long run, cheap vegetables and fruits in Iran happen to be a blessing whereas cheaper meat and meat products in America can be considered a curse. In short, as far as I know we are mainly been fruit and vegetable eaters, whereas Americans gorge themselves mainly with all kinds sugar, meat and meat products.

I once read a book by a British physician(left the book in Iran and don't recall the author) comparing the diets in the so called third world with that of Western world. He had concluded that simplicity, low meat consumption and heavy consumption of starches, fruits and vegetables in the third world was superior and saved them a lot of health problems specific to Western world that makes them candidates for surgical operations and type two diabetes.

He had also found that the rich people in the third world who had mimicked the Western diet faced the same problems as the people in the West. So, the ones who could not afford meat were healthier at the end. This reminds me of the fate of affluent people in Roman Empire who thought they had the novel idea of using lead pipes for plumbing in their mansions and their contracting lead poisoning whereas the poor who could not afford that luxury survived.

This is a reason to rejoice for those who confront inferiority complex because they are not able to put up with the Joneses and consume excessively rich foods. It also appears that older cultures have, through centuries come up with more sensible eating habits than the so called modern world. In fact an Iranian nutritionist at a well-known American university had come up with such conclusion about Iranian and Middle Eastern diets. The recent scientific data on antioxidants have further proved that heavier consumption of fruits and vegetables is the best way to ward off many ailments including cancer.

Stating these facts, of course is not to say that taking the consumers for long rides is not common in Iran. It is, but far less people fall into such traps.

Confusing messages in eating habits of the West is also adversely affecting the developing world because for a long time the world has developed the habit of following the West even if the latter jumps off the cliff. I recently have had a request to take some liquid protein for a young man who is getting into body building in Iran and has heard the diet in the media. The most devastating adverse effect of excessive greed, the mad-cow disease is the defiance of the nature's law that there is a difference between the diet of carnivores and herbivores. Welcome to the modern world where making the most money in the shortest possible time and by any means is the main issue.

During some fifty years of exposure to America, I have seen the most contradictory claims about such things as eggs, butter, margarine, meats, vegetable that leave the public totally confused and a more fertile ground for exploitation. Those who say this is how the capitalistic system and market economy works, I say bull! Capitalism is the best system provided that it has human face and keeps unethical practices in check. In the absence of informed public all systems are the same and hypocrisy and deception prevail and the public is the loser.

As a friend of the Americans, I feel sad to see a country with the most obese people who eat because the food is there, but they do not exercise even though they have the space! Recently 60-minute showed some people who are so fat they are selling their possessions to attend a weigh losing club in North Carolina for a few months a year at an exorbitant price. They do this in spite of scientific reports that about 90 percent of the ones who lose weight gain it back after they get out of their expensive diet.

To me, most of these so called weight loss programs are nothing but health and wealth loss programs-not speaking of the time loss. Yet I have noticed that the same people drive for ten minutes in a store parking lot so they find a space by the entrance and do have not walk for 2-3 minutes.

This reminds me of the saying fool and his money soon part. My late mother in Iran used to say as long as there are fools in the world one should not expect to find beggars - Taa ablah dar jahaaneh, mofles dar nemimaaneh! I qualify that traditional advice by saying that if the jobs related to harmful or unnecessary changes in food and diet are eliminated, the unemployment rate in the U.S. would be about twice as high as its present rate. My mother used to refer so this kind of useless or dead work as pouring water in a mortar and beating it with a pistil! Or, koobidaneh aab dar havan!

I also remember an expression I read in America in which I change the word happiness with food. It goes like this:

If health was a thing that money could buy,
A poor would not live and a rich would not die!

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Ali A. Parsa


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