When I opened up the New York Times the other day, my eyes drifted down the page and stopped cold on a feature about a trio of diet books coming out on the market.
Generally when I see the word “diet,” I wrinkle my nose and turn the other direction. But there was something about this particular book that caught my attention. The word attached to “diet” was “Manhattan,” and the title instantly drew up comparisons to some other books that have played up cultural stereotypes to sell books like French Women Don’t Get Fat and Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat.
Eileen Daspin’s book will be coming right on the heels of another book currently making waves called Bringing Up Bébé, which is ostensibly about how French parents raise perfect little angels who eat stinky cheese from birth, whereas Americans raise picky, raucous monsters who end up on reality television shows with British nannies.
Just like how not all American children will suck and spit out your will to live, the fact is that Manhattan women are no fatter or thinner than people outside of Manhattan. Whenever I go home to visit my parents in Fort Wayne, Indiana, people look just fine. There is not an excessive amount of small sizes on the sale racks, and neither my parents nor their neighbors look like rhinoceroses. Furthermore, does the book’s title mean to imply that Brooklynites are fatter? or that people from Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island might as well be reclassified as heifers undeserving of their own diets?
As the book has yet to be released, this post is not meant to be a book review; these are simply my thoughts on what I see to be a disturbing and pervasive trend in marketing books to women. In the New York Time’s blurb, they mention that the Daspin was inspired to write the book after reading another article published in the Times about how Manhattan women are the skinniest out of all the city’s boroughs.
Maybe it’s the skeptical Academic in me, but despite saying that this data report comes from the Federal Government (which has such a good reputation for reliability . . . not!), I just don’t buy it. I really want to meet the actual people who collected this data because I highly suspect two things:
1. They collected BMI’s from people who don’t actually live in New York.
Manhattan is notoriously the stomping ground of models, entertainers and industry types who all skew towards the skeletal because that is their job. Many of these people are either foreigners or recent transplants who want to make it as actresses, models, singers, dancers or something else like that.
No one comes to New York City to do amazing numbers in medical equipment sales.
There are also a lot of ridiculously wealthy people who live here and weigh nothing. Not to bring up the culture wars or anything, but these people really do live on another planet despite the shared zip code.
Regardless where these glamourous folk come from, they are all just transients who order our food and don’t eat it. To the argument that owned real estate confers “here-ness,” I say just that because your name is on the door, doesn’t mean that you can call yourself a New Yorker, let alone a Manhattanite.
I don’t want to have to resort to a How I Met Your Mother reference, but the show did lay down some very basic (and very funny) criteria for being a New Yorker. I scoffed at each and every one of these “You’re not a real New Yorker until you have . . .” statements until I realized that I had done almost all of them.
According to the show, to be a real New Yorker, you must have:
• Seen Woody Allen.
Now, I have never actually seen Woody Allen, but I know where he is: he plays the clarinet every single freakin’ Monday night at the Carlyle Hotel. So if I wanted to see him I could, so long as I was willing to throw down for his jazz band’s exorbitant cover charge.
Quite frankly, I’d rather just watch one of his older movies.
• Stolen a cab from someone who needs it more than you.
To Pregnant-Lady-With-Crying-Child-And-Dirty-Small-Dog-in-the-Rain, I am really, really sorry. Your angry finger haunts me to this day, but I wasn’t late for my dentist appointment.
• Cried on the subway and not given a damn what anyone thinks.
I have regularly cried on the subway without a damn about what anyone thinks. In fact, not only have I cried on the subway, I have cried IN A SUBWAY WITHOUT BUYING A SANDWICH.
And I am not ashamed.
• Killed a cockroach with your bare hands.
Yes. Absolutely! It is just an automatic reflex.
Because those suckers are fast.
I have even scooped a fist-sized roach OFF OF A RESTAURANT WALL WITH MY DINNER NAPKIN, GOT UP AND HANDED THE ROACH-FILLED NAPKIN TO THE RESTAURANT’S GM WITHOUT ANY RISE IN BLOOD-PRESSURE, and returned to finish my mussels and beer in front of my horrified friend like nothing happened.
Do I think any skeletal models, industry types, or socialites have done any of these things?
Well, they have probably met Woody Allen.
2. The government’s data collectors have averaged these un-average figures with the rest of us who actually live here.
If you include unreal figures from unreal people with that from normal folk, it’s going to look like the whole island is filled with Amazons and Vikings.
But Manhattanites — just like the French, the Japanese, or any other demographic whose geographic location evokes exotic images of whippet-thin women who are way more chic and together than you will ever be — are really just like everyone else.
There are fat French people. There are fat Japanese people. There are fat and old Japanese people. There are French parents who raise terribly behaved children just like there are Chinese people who are bad at math and Ethiopians who are shitty runners.
People in Manhattan lose weight and maintain their weight just like everyone else on the planet: they exercise more and they eat less.
It is not a secret, but what I find strange is that every single pre-review that I have read of Daspin’s book names the following formula as being the key to Manhattan-like sylphitude:
• Walk a lot.
• Cook at home.
• Eat small portions.
I don’t know why any publisher would give a book deal to someone claiming that this diet was privileged information until the author decided to investigate and reveal it for the good of the masses.
Also, anyone who actually lives in Manhattan knows that this “secret” is a load of bull honky because most people who live in Manhattan do not cook. At all. Or hardly ever.
Out of my friends, the overwhelming majority like (some even love) cooking, but don’t get to do it very often due to time and space constraints. Most New Yorkers eat out, if not for most meals then at least for many. Eating out might consist of a slice of pizza or a cheap falafel, but it’s still not cooking at home.
Unfortunately, I can only count myself and two or three other friends who cook at home on a regular basis. Evidence for this can be found by observing people in the check-out lines at any Whole Foods in the city: there are either a lot of prepared foods in baskets or — especially if they are girls — a couple of protein juice drinks and a lone container of blackberries or blueberries.
Those who have a lot of groceries? Look closely: their carts are usually filled with four or five vials of spices, some endive, some fennel, and a big cut of meat. This means that they are cooking from a recipe, and that they probably haven’t cooked anything in a long time (hence all the spices).
Because people who cook regularly tend to buy pantry staples like flour, sugar, crushed tomatoes, Parmesan, butter and dried beans. We see each other in line and we nod. We recognize our own kind.
So with that lengthy preamble, I give you the my REAL Manhattan diet (and I say mine because I cannot speak for all New Yorkers):
Coffee. Extra black, extra strong.
Milk is for pussies.
I slurp my coffee as carefully as possible while running to the train because I generally wake up late.
I dream of eating breakfast, but sadly only really get to eat it when I am on vacation and there is a complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel. Sometimes I will choose sleep over the breakfast buffet.
I curse when
. . . I see that once again some jerk has removed all the pieces of raw fish from the sushi bar at the Korean deli, leaving only fishy-smelling logs of sushi rice behind.
. . . when I have to chuck half of the salad that I have brought back to the library into the trash because half of the leaves are disintegrating with rot.
. . . I chew on the crappy scone that I bought with my extra strong, extra black coffee, muttering that this must be the worst baked good to have ever crawled out of Elizabeth, New Jersey.
. . . I chew on the weird fair-trade spelt bread that my friend has offered as a replacement. Bought from the newest artisanal bakery in town, it has matcha and spirulina, and tastes like sourdough pond scum.
. . . I lament the lack of decent lunch options that are under $12 in a city where you can get everything else that you could possibly want at 4 o’clock in the morning.
Calories consumed by swearing? About 30.
On fancy nights out, I can become that obnoxious guest who complains about the cloudy ice in my cocktail. I know. It is flat-out ridiculous, but the air tastes bad.
I am also that crazy person who will order the foie gras in a Mason jar topped with Sauternes gelée, the pork rinds and vinegar, the local Brussels sprouts in brown butter with Pecorino, the pork belly three ways, and the lamb burger with sweet potato fries. I will wave away any bread basket until I see that it comes with a tub of whipped lardo because, come on, it’s whipped lard!
Sometimes when I am too tired to cook, I scan of all the take-out menus that I have collected with the following thought in mind, “What is cheap, filling, not totally unhealthy, and still meets the $10 delivery minimum?”
I eat my leftovers. With fried eggs on top.
This is usually what I do. I make a whole lot of something amazing, and then I eat it every single day until it’s gone.
Have I lost weight? No. I am sadly not the bobble-headed stick I was in college.
But I’m not huge and neither are most people I know both in and outside of New York.
I do walk a lot though 😉