Mr. T in DC/flickr
"Americans Urged to Give Family Meals an 'Upgrade'" proclaimed the headline of a press release that recently found its way into my inbox. Like most of the myriad PR announcements that come my way, this one was headed into the Gmail trash folder until something further down the message caught my eye.
Shape Up America and the National Turkey Federation had joined forces to launch a "Meal Upgrade Calculator," which would help families improve the health of their meals by replacing other kinds of poultry and red meat in standard recipes with turkey. Pork chops could be upgraded to turkey tenderloin, for example. Such swaps would enable families to avoid an average of 108 calories per "eating occasion," the announcement promised, therein making a dent in the nation's obesity epidemic.
Hilary Thesmar, the senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Turkey Federation, was quoted in the press release saying, "The calculator brings to life what we in the nutrition community have always known—that turkey is a positive and simple step consumers can take to lower the fat and calories in their diet while not making tradeoffs in taste and convenience."
Although the calculator gives minimal attention to other ways of reducing calories (switching to higher fiber breads, making changes in condiment use), clearly this diet tactic is all about the gobbler. But while the notion of going (and please forgive me for this) cold turkey as a means of weight loss might seem a bit facile to some, this press release piqued my interest because about six years ago, I myself had dabbled in a turkey diet. Well, sort of.
I was a couple of years out of undergrad, still saddled with 10 extra pounds of collegiate weight, when on the recommendation of a friend I signed up for Weight Watchers. In theory the Weight Watchers model encourages diverse menu choices, but in practice, the points-based system yielded, at least for me, a pattern of repetitive eating. I stuck to a pretty ritualized diet, focusing on repeat encounters with low-fat microwave popcorn, fat-free yogurt, baby carrots with mustard, pineapple, and above all turkey sandwiches. The system worked. I counted points, dropped pounds, and have managed to more or less keep off the weight in the subsequent years, having since adopted the food writer's diet—eating a little of a lot and exercising more than I'd sometimes like. While the other staples of my stint on Weight Watchers have fallen out of my regular rotation, the turkey sandwich has become, after my fiancé, my most constant companion.
Yes, I'll admit it. For the last six years, I have eaten at least one turkey sandwich almost every day.
I eat them for breakfast on English muffins. I eat them for lunch with hummus and mango chutney. I eat them for dinner with grilled peppers and onions and melted cheese. At Passover they're on matzo; at Subway they're on toasted whole wheat. When I worked on a farm in Ireland, they were on Irish brown bread. I think I even managed to find one while working on Easter Island. (I didn't finagle one in Inner Mongolia, but you can bet that as soon as we touched down at JFK, I stopped at Au Bon Pain for a quick snack on my way to the baggage claim.)