Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Mother Unload: Substitutions

When you embark on a new way of eating, this often involves the sacrifice of components of your previous diet. Newly converted vegetarians say goodbye to all things meat. Vegans go completely cruelty free. Raw foodists begin to use their ovens for decorative purposes only.

For people like me who are suddenly interested in controlling unnecessary carb and fat intake, well, about half of what we used to eat is no longer okay.

The amazing(?) thing about America is that no one has to go without their favorite things, no matter what diet they happen to be adopting. Whether you're giving up meat, dairy, sugar, or white flour, someone, somewhere has worked his or her entire life to create a suitable(?) substitute.

When you're new to the diet thing, substitutions are welcome. It's not about the food, of course. Oh, no. You just want the experience. I don't want pasta. I just want to feel like a real Italian mom. I don't want hot chocolate. I just want that special time with my husband at our favorite corner cafe. I don't want a burger., I do want a burger.  Dang.
After days of being strong, avoiding the processed, unhealthy, fatty, or sugar laden foods Americans eat too much of, someone presents you with an alternative.  You CAN have your organic, gluten free, sugar free, flax seed-filled, omega 3 cake and eat it too! 

The first time someone told me a substitute was available...well, it was magical.

"Honey! The cafe has sugar free hot chocolate!"

"Really?  Sugar free?"

"YES! Made with Pegasus wings and unicorn horns and blessed by a shaman!  What are you waiting for?! Get your coat on!  I want to have an experience with you right now!"

Did you ever watch "Lost"?  Do you remember when they created a little golf course on the island where they blew off steam driving rounded rocks across a meadow all the while knowing they could die a gruesome death at any minute, what with all the smoke monsters, the Others, fully loaded guns, crazy, recently disabled survivalists with one kidney, and Matthew Fox's frequently overflowing tears?

Eating a substitute food is like that.  Only death equals melancholy and the various island dangers equal taste...or the lack thereof.

Some substitutions are better than others.  The whole grain pasta I just had with my lunch tastes pretty close to the real thing.  Sugar free hot chocolate? It's filled with Dr. Shepard's tears and smoke monster vomit.  I think there's a stone golf ball and a nuclear warhead in there too...and a bit of the ranch dressing Hurley kept hoarding.

Okay, maybe that's the crazy me talking.  It's probably not that bad.  It just isn't hot chocolate.

And therein lies the truth of the whole matter.  People can sell you fake food and tell you it's like the original, but if you have taste buds, you'll know a phony before it reaches your tonsils.  Substitutions are not the real thing. They don't taste like the real thing.  They should never be called the real thing.

Case in point: Turkey bacon.  I know bacon.  You don't get to be my weight without a very up close and personal relationship with bacon.  You just don't.  Turkey bacon is not bacon.  It should not ever be called bacon.  It should be called turkey strip of rubbery, salted chewiness that can be used in placed of crispy, delicious, mouthwatering bacon but could never aspire to be bacon itself.  I call it NOTbacon for short.

(Reminds me of that kid who's going to fill the lead role in the "Footloose" remake.)

BUT, and this is a really big one (like mine!), once you settle in to the fact that a substitute is not the real thing, it CAN have a place in your diet.  It's all about strategy.  NOTbacon on the side of your whole wheat pancakes and egg white omelet?  No go.  NOTbacon hidden in a lovingly made NBLT?  Lovely!

Non fat, dairy free cream cheese as part of a plain cheesecake? BLECH!  Hidden among berries, raw honey, and a whole wheat pastry?  Mmmmmmm!

And what of the sugar free hot chocolate?  That's going to be one of those things I just let go.  It tastes awful, and there are other things I can do to have a quiet experience with my husband.  Sharing a frozen yogurt, for instance.

Besides, I've offered the sugar free hot chocolate to the smoke monster in exchange for tracking skills, and there is just no beating that!