Jun 30, 2008
Gishmak! corned beef and pastrami on rye with mustard!
What can be better than a good Corned Beef on Rye with mustard and a half sour pickle, and a tub of potato salad on the side?
We used to go to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play ball fairly regularly during the summers (yes, even my turncoat brother who is now a White Sox fan). We would stop off at the deli on the way to the game and pick up a slew of sandwiches to wolf down at the game. Corned Beef, Pastrami, (chicken) Drumettes, Potator Salad, Cole Slaw, Pickles, the works. We were walking heart attacks.
What can be more Jewish than a good corned beef on rye sandwich! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
The Food Editor of the Jewish Chronicle decided to compare our eating habits of today to those of about 100 years ago. For two weeks he ate only "heimishe" food and see the affect on his health.
My challenge was to follow the diet of an Ashkenazi Jew of 100 years ago. In my mind’s eye, I imagined I was someone like my paternal grandfather, Harry Roundstein. He was born in the early 1890s in the East End of London and ultimately owned his own jeweller’s shop. He would therefore have been able to afford a decent variety of foods, and his diet would have been not dissimilar to the one I was to embark upon.That sounds like a great two week culinary experience.
So what would I be eating? The staples of the diet were what Eastern European Jews would have had in the shtetl, formed from a fairly small range of ingredients, which would be as available in Britain as in Poland or Russia. Vegetables were largely limited to cabbage, potatoes, beetroot and carrots. There would be a chicken for Friday-night dinner and meat for the Shabbat cholent.
Otherwise, there was a profusion of meat in the form of sausages and salamis, as well as pickled products such as salt beef. Pulses such as lentils and beans would have been important, and there were plenty of heavy breads, often made with rye flour. Fruit was available in season but often eaten stewed rather than fresh. Fat was highly prized by a population for whom calories were friends rather than enemies. The average adult had a far more active lifestyle than we do today, and needed a good dollop of shmaltz to keep going.
And the results?
On the day the diet finishes, I present myself to Dr Garry Savin at the Preventicum clinic in west London, one of Europe’s most advanced centres of preventive medicine. I am weighed and measured, blood tests taken again and my body fat checked. Having previously assured me that I would not see many changes over such a short period, he is shocked by the results. My weight has increased from 69kg to 69.8kg, my waist has expanded by 2.5cms, and my body fat has increased from 20 to 21.8 per cent.
My cholesterol has increased from 6.2 to 6.9 mmol, which is alarming, especially as LDL or bad cholesterol accounts for all the increase. There has also been a rise in my triglyceride levels (a heart-disease indicator).
On the upside, my blood pressure has remained constant, despite the salty food, and my liver is coping magnificently. But from being in the top 16 per cent of the population two weeks a go, healthwise, I now barely make it into the top 25 per cent. Dr Savin recommends I change my diet back. “I won’t be going on it,” he assures me.
So what could a nutritionist extrapolate from my two weeks of haimishe stodge? I give a copy of my food diary to dietician Joan Wides to analyse. She is worried about several things — the high fat content of many of my meals, the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and the amount of pickled and salted foods. If I were to stay on this diet, I would be at a higher risk of stomach and bowel cancers, as well as heart disease, she says. But she also points to a good level of fibre and plenty of oily fish, which could be the reason that many Jews from this era did not suffer high levels of heart disease.
So what happened to my grandfather, the model for the diet? His porridge and herring breakfast obviously stood him in good stead, as did the amount of energy he expended through walking everywhere. His weight was the same at 80 as it was at 20 and he was nearly 90 when he died. However, on this diet, I fear I may not make it to 50. Bring on the salad.
I am not convinced itis as bad as the doc says. As he said, his zeidy lived to 90.