Good-bye to the quick bite

Now sandwiches are something I thought I knew about - I come from the land of the sandwich.

sandwich 88 (photo credit: )
sandwich 88
(photo credit: )
Israelis are subject to the same struggles as most people in the Western world. The incessant battle of the bulge - the tension between overeating and the compulsion to exercise and diet. But all that is about to change according to the latest scientific evidence. When I look back in my diary to when I first came to Jerusalem, just two years ago, the truth is that I was overwhelmed by the sense of the history here. I felt acutely aware of being part of a powerful and evocative historico-religious continuum. It's not that those feelings can't still be conjured but the truth is that when I walk around this city what I mainly feel is... well, to be really honest... it's hunger. Wherever you walk the sight and smell of a whole range of different foods beckons insistently. As I saunter through the endless maze of corridors on the Mount Scopus Hebrew University campus, my journey is regularly punctuated by food bars. And in the absence of any sort of groundplan they become the navigational landmarks for identifying location. In town wander along Jaffa or King George or meander down any nearby side street; go to the Ministry of Absorption; the Income Tax Authority at Givat Shaul; visit the new mall at the Hadassah-University Hospital, Ein Kerem; trudge through the Central Bus Station. Wherever you are, you are not far away from glistening pizza slices, pyramids of pastries, pitas stuffed with falafel, shawarma, trough loads of ice cream, shelves of crisps and racks of chocolates. And you don't have to be on Emek Refaim to find restaurants and coffee shops that beckon temptingly and provide the biggest bowls of salad and the hugest sandwiches I've ever seen. Now sandwiches, they are something I thought I knew about - I come from the land of the sandwich. It was John Montagu himself, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who, in 1762, seems to have had the idea of this simple construct to sustain him during a night's heavy gambling (there are other variants on this story, though the earl remains unchallenged as the inventor of this portable meal). But here in Israel there is no thin sliced white with its smear of butter and slivers of cucumbers, carefully cut along both diagonals to form four dainty triangles, scarcely more than a mouthful each. Even England's northern sandwich variant, the jam butty, which uses wedges of bread merely divided down the middle to form two chunky rectangles - doesn't come near the Israeli sandwich experience. Here large rolls are filled by people whose culinary wisdom is clearly guided by a single principle, espoused by generations of Jewish mothers - the more the better! These superstuffed edifices boast fillings of fried eggs, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, peppers, onions, pickles... and that's all in just one roll. Only last night on Israeli TV we were treated to the definitive method of making the ultimate sandwich: take one over-sized roll, remove the bread and pack the crusty shell with layer upon layer of roasted vegetables and sliced meat, remembering to compress each layer so as to squeeze out any pockets of air. Voila. But the problem is the more you eat... the more you eat. There is a whole industry making a great deal of money from our gastronomic vulnerabilities. And there is another industry making a whole heap of cash by tempting us with perfect and perfecting diets. Atkins, South Beach, the Zone, to name a few. Not only do they boast, without much that you can call scientific proof, to return you to some fantasy of a former sylph-like self but they will also prevent aging, illness, and the general decline which any self-respecting person accepts as part of the package when accumulating the years that come with old age. And of course their worthy initiators make a fortune publishing books of their particular scientifically unfounded wisdom which relies on a whole range of specially manufactured food products, all endorsed with their own logo of course. Demonstrating that nature has clearly failed us in the provision of good nourishing food. Well the time has come for them to all eat humble pie... and perhaps Atkins should roll over in his grave. The diet is out and slow eating is in. It's not a completely new idea. In the early 1970s a hypothesis was put forward that suggested by eating slowly the body would have the necessary time to develop the feeling of fullness that makes us stop longing for the next mouthful. The theory has been oft quoted and recommended but there was no scientific evidence to support it. Although lack of scientific evidence hasn't prevented all sorts of mythology becoming part of received wisdom, for example the benefits of large doses of vitamin C. But this particular recommendation has never hit the big time. Of course, the reason is simple - it's free. In fact, worse than that, it will actually save the consumer money and reduce the bottom line on several thriving businesses. Some of the early research in the 1990s did try to explore how effective it was if food input was controlled by providing only small mouthful portions. That made no difference. Then experimenters imposed pauses between each mouthful and that only served to increase overall consumption. The latest research (carried out by the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Rhode Island and recently reported at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity) did something much simpler. They got two groups of college students, who are always happy to have a free meal, and gave them big plates of pasta. One group was told to eat quickly and the others were told to eat slowly and chew each mouthful 15 or 20 times. The slow masticators ate 579 calories in 15 to 20 minutes and the rapid eaters ate 646 calories in 9 minutes, an increase of about 12%. An hour later the feeling of fullness was still reported by both groups. Now it should be noted that both groups were allowed to drink waater and those eating slowly did drink more and that might be responsible for part of the result. But in a way that doesn't matter. Slow eating reduces calorie consumption. So grabbing a quick bite is a definite no no and leisurely munching is the secret to slipping into the size smaller that is still hanging menacingly in the wardrobe. Well, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating... just remember nice and slowly does it.