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Al Martinez

Eating a burger with a soy bean base is like eating finely ground cardboard. : Dining With Hoover

June 09, 1988|AL MARTINEZ

I was eating a healthy breakfast the other morning when, after the third tasteless bite, I put my fork down in disgust and said, "I'm just not going to do it anymore."

"Good for you, dear," my wife said, getting ready for work.

"You don't even know what I'm not going to do."

"No," she said, "but I'm sure you'll be saner and happier for not doing it."

"Suppose I stop showering and brushing my teeth?"

She smiled sweetly. "You and the dog will be very happy sleeping together."

She was out the door before I could reply.

I looked at Hoover, who was lying on his blanket in a corner, staring at me. His eyes were filled with anxiety.

"Don't worry," I said, "we're not sleeping together." He seemed relieved.

Then I compared the unattractive food on my plate to the rich gravied kibbles on his plate.

"But," I added, "we may be eating together."

I'm tired of good health and substitute foods. Before me at that moment was a breakfast composed of semi-eggs and a tofu meat patty.

My coffee was decaf, my sugar was an artificial sweetener, the cream in my coffee was soy milk and the seasoning before me was sodium-free. Nothing was what it seemed.

I have been on this kind of diet for two years. The sins of the past caught up with me in 1986. Life was no longer a cabaret, old chum.

For awhile, I belonged to the Pritikin Health Center, but surviving on wheat toast and sesame spread was not my cup of herbal tea.

Also, I was not crazy about treadmilling, which is a major Pritikin activity. I recall looking down rows of overweight people walking in place like fat chipmunks and thinking that hell must be composed of just such an eternal pastime.

In fact, there was very little about Pritikin I did like, including most of the trainers. One was a chirpy, bouncy woman in her mid-20s composed of muscle and bone and 0.00 milligrams of fat. Her favorite phrase was, "We are what we eat!"

I think a lack of protein had affected her ability to concentrate. She had an empty look in her eyes and often gazed off to an astral world of good health that others couldn't see. Nancy Fitness with a Shirley MacLaine vision.

I was standing in my underwear one day while she calibrated the fat on my body. There was nothing sexual about it. Fitness nuts are too involved with the Yoga of Inner Light to think about pawing and grappling.

Nancy Fitness was measuring my stomach.

"We're going to have to work on that," she said with a Great Big Tofu Smile.

She was talking about my excessive fat.

"OK," I said, "I'll work on the stomach, what part do you want?"

She stared at me quizzically for a moment, then blinked and bounced like Tigger onto a plane of organized aerobics and holistic foods, never to be seen again.

However, I continue on a modified health regimen to this day due primarily to the efforts of my wife and son to keep me alive for at least one more summer. If I can make it through the summer, I can make it to Christmas.

But is life worth living on tofu burgers?

For those who have not tried one, eating a burger with a soy bean base is like eating finely ground cardboard. I don't care that it's a natural substance and I don't care if it's low in fat and high in carbohydrates, I say it's cardboard and I say to hell with it.

Ditto ersatz cheese.

I wandered through a couple of health food stores yesterday. Its customers were gaunt young men with beards and painfully skinny women clinging like pit bulls to their fading 30s.

It was in Mrs. Gooch's that I discovered calcium caseinate cheese.

Calcium caseinate, according to a brochure, is pure milk protein with the lactose removed. I'm not sure what lactose is, but I guess I can do without it.

The brochure points out that "Calcium Caseinate is added as a binder to hold the product

together and to give it cheese characteristics . . . melting, slicing and shredding."

But am I ready for something with "cheese characteristics"?

A woman at the cheese rake said, "It doesn't have cholesterol."

There is a kind of camaraderie at health food stores. We share the secrets of high fiber foods and organic vegetables.

"That's good," I said.

"Forty-eight million Americans suffer from heart disease," she said. "Cholesterol is partly to blame."

She was holding a container of carob soy milk. Her head bobbed back and forth as she spoke, like a character in a Mickey Mouse cartoon. I realized suddenly she reminded me of Nancy Fitness.

"Twenty-five million Americans suffer from some form of mental disease," I said. "Talking is partly to blame."

I bought the fake cheese and took it home. It was lousy. So I poured a martini instead.

The martini was low in fiber and high in vodka. It was delicious.

Merry Christmas, in case I'm not around.

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