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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.

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.
That sounds like a great two week culinary experience.

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.

13 comments:

  1. He should point out that 100 + years ago people walked everywhere, there was no such thing as a couch potato.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Also, in the bitter cold of the Russian/Polish winters, with no electricity or proper heating, a good layer of fat was needed to keep you warm...
    No need for that in sunny Israel :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. sounds a lot like "super size me" with a shorter period of time and what must be objectively a better diet (i'd take cholent and kugel any day over mcdonalds burger and fries!)

    ReplyDelete
  4. where in ISrael can you can a good deli sandwich like they use to have at Kosher Karry Humgarian Kosher or Romanian Kosher?

    ReplyDelete
  5. does not exist.
    many years ago, when Bonkers Bagels was at its peak of success and had a chain of bagel stores, they opened up a deli in downtown Jerusalem. That was decent, although nothing like a deli sandwich you can get at Romanian or Hungarian or KK..

    the next best thing today is Matam Chafetz Chaim deli in Jerusalem (you buy the deli and make the sandwich yourself at home. I do not think they make sandwiches. But the deli is decent compared to everything else around - and the owners are originally from Chicago).

    Maybe there is another place I am not aware of. Anybody?

    ReplyDelete
  6. The writer forgot to add in the full day of physical labor that probably accompanied the diet. That would have changed the final results. It's the same as the food down south in America, with meat for brakfast and high caloric and fatty foods eaten. When they used to work on the farm for 10-12 hours a day, that type of diet was needed. When you spend the day staring at a computer screen, a different type of diet is needed

    ReplyDelete
  7. RAFI:

    this reminds me of the experiment conducted for the documentary "supersize me."

    you should really see it. you'll never eat all that jewish food again.

    but anyway, interesting points about how a different lifestyle may have kept people relatively healthy even with such a bad diet.

    ReplyDelete
  8. LOZ,

    I saw the movie and his new shows. The problem is, NOONE eats like that everyday. his test was to eat that food every meal for 30 days. well, duh, of course it's bad. once in a while though, with exercise, isn't so harmful anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  9. SHAYA G:

    "once in a while though . . . isn't so harmful"

    yeah, like maybe once a month

    you are correct in that probably very few people, if anyone, eats supersized meals at fastfood chains 3 times a day.
    however, many people do eat supersized fast-food TYPE meals 2-3 times a day.

    there is a reason why there is a rapidly growing rate of obesity, juvenile diabetes, etc. in america. a sedentary lifestyle is part of it, but so is the fact that we eat like voracious gluttons.

    and while you can argue that his experiment took it to the extremem, this is irrelevant. even a diet half as bad as what he did is still dangerous.

    ReplyDelete
  10. while this food (not the supersized mc donalds type foods, but the foods described in the article) might be bad for you because of the fat and high cholesterol, it is unfair to compare it to the Mc Donalds style food.

    Mc Donalds style food is processed meats, and foods with plenty of additives. It is fast food.
    The jewish foods described are all fatty, but they are not fast foods.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Theres a place in russian campound in jerusalem called hesters? its on heleni hamalka.. you can get real deli.. also new deli is pretty good.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have been to Hess. It is very good, but very European. Not the same as a good corned beef on rye.

    ReplyDelete
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