This is the introduction I wrote for Rita Harris' Book, "America's Favorite Foods, Cooked the Way You Like Them," available through Amazon.com
This is life in a nutshell--"You're born. Someone slaps you. You cry. Someone gives you milk. You stop crying."
From that moment on, food is more than just "something to eat," it's the thing that makes you stop crying.
As living, breathing animals (yes, that's what we are), food is comfort and has been for as long as creatures have been on this earth. It's not just people, you've seen a dog smile after getting a "treat," right?
Even psychologists will tell you that the most basic thing people seek in life is not money, sex, or thin thighs--it's comfort. But what about health-aren't comfort foods those bad things that we're supposed to learn to live without? Maybe not:
Jim Fixx ate nothing but green vegetables for years, spent half his time running in those little short shorts that aren't attractive on anyone, and he died before he was 50. James Beard was a giant of a man who made fresh bread every day and ate it hot out of the oven, slathered with butter. He ate mountains of butter, gallons of cream, rooms full of chocolate. He lived to be 82. Plus, who do you think had a better time?
OK, so maybe it has more to do with genetics than food--what does that tell you? When it's your time to go you'll go--no one is sitting in heaven tabulating the grams of fat you've eaten and whisking you away when you reach a certain number. If they did, Julia Child would have died at 21 and Ghandi would have lived to be 150.
Why what you want is also what's good for you.
My mother always told me, "Enjoy today--you could be hit by a bus tomorrow." Those are words to live by, and they've never been more true.
The truth is that no matter how little fat we eat or how much we run, we're all going to die sometime. It's sad, but true and there's no escaping it (even if you try to turn yourself into a popsickle so you can come back when they've perfected that genetic stuff that currently makes fat rats thin--and applied it to people of course, because who cares about overweight rats and why do they always get this stuff before we people do... but I digress). So enjoy yourself.
Every week so-called "dieticians" appear on the news and tell us that Italian food is deadly. Mexican food is lethal. Deli food is like putting a corned beef to your head and pulling the trigger. Movie popcorn is poison. It's rumored that their next big announcement will be that even vegetables are toxic--they contain pesticides and besides, you can choke on them.
Well, let's look at the facts. There are plenty of extremely old Italians, Mexicans, Jews, and movie patrons of all races. Our parents didn't know Cholesterol from Chimichangas and most of them lived to a ripe old age. The non-kosher among them even ate bacon every day for breakfast and lived to tell about it.
More facts--Italians, Mexicans, and Jews (who all eat this supposedly deadly food) tend to be happy people (well, Italians and Mexicans perhaps more than Jews, but that has less to do with food and more to do with guilt).
Let's contrast these groups with dieticians. Have you ever taken a good hard look at a dietician? They're well-meaning to be sure, but do they look like a happy bunch? You can always spot them at a party: they're the thin, pasty-faced ones, with the corners of their mouths turned down in disapproval as you head for the chips and dip. They're responsible for hospital and airline food--get the picture? These are the same people who spent the last 30 years telling us that margarine was better for us than butter--which of course has turned out to be completely untrue. Case closed.
Don't get the wrong idea-comfort food isn't about gluttony--it's about the comfort and joy that certain special foods can bring us. Eaten in moderation, even the richest foods can be healthful--not to mention emotionally and spiritually uplifting.
The food in this book
Everybody has a different comfort food--we tend to have sentimental feelings towards what we ate as a kid--even if it came from "The Coronel." It reminds us of a time when other people took care of us and all we had to do was look both ways before crossing a street.
So while every recipe in this book may not press your particular comfort button, you'll surely find some that do--and when you do, treat yourself to the luxury of indulging yourself.
You deserve it--we all do.
If you still feel too much guilt about eating real food that makes you feel good, or have such a low self-esteem you think you don't deserve it, then you can always tear out the pages of the book and suck on them. They're entirely fat-free and should appeal to the masochist inside you (which, in turn, should make you feel comfortable, so there!). And besides, unless you try it, you'll never know what flavor ink we used!