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The Real Manhattan Diet


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.

Yup.

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.

Well, duh.

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):

Breakfast:

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.

Lunch:

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.

Dinner:

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!

Or

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?”

Or

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 😉

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About the Author

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Eater. Drinker. Academic Thinker.

22 Comments

  1. I applaud the skeptical academic and enjoy the witty critic in you. But hey, why not take some of those home-cooked leftovers for lunch? I am SO with you on the hidden rotten salad leaves. I curse them with you.

    • But if I took leftovers with me, what would I ever have to complain about?!

      Just kidding 😉

      Whenever I do work from home, I happily eat leftovers for lunch. I think when I teach, or go to the library, I carry so much other stuff (laptop, books, papers, hand-outs) that another thing is just more than I can bear. Even if it’s only a few ounces!

  2. “We recognize our own kind.”

    Yes! I shop at Sam’s Club and the farmers market (during the summer months). Once in a while I’ll see another woman (calculator in one hand, list in the other) meticulously checking every single expiration date on every single product. I can tell the other woman is a conservative Christian because she’s wearing a headscarf and a long skirt. We always lock eyes and smile. There’s only a few of us, you know. We need to stick together and support each other…..even if non verbally.

    • Yes! Non-verbal communication is such a subtle art.

      Once, I was in line for the Ladies at a Barnes and Noble. There was a woman holed up in one of the stalls for a really long time. I was worried that there was something wrong, until I got closer and saw that she was READING IN THE BATHROOM! Just like that Seinfeld episode!

      But that didn’t weird me out as much as what she was reading. Included in the titles of the books stacked at her feet were two books on how to meet rich men, a book on how to be a barista, and a book on eating disorders.

      Needless to say, there were a lot of silent conversations going on between me and the other ladies in line!

  3. Let me just say this.. I was born in raised in NJ (7 minutes outside of NYC) and moved to NYC for work. I always stayed in city even when I lived in NJ. And in my opinion, since I’ve been in this area all of my life, if you haven’t flipped the finger to someone who has deserved it, than you’re not a real New Yorker lol. I don’t care about the other things, I’ve never cried on the subway and will never. People who are born here aren’t born whimpy that’s for sure LOL. If you have the courage to flip someone off.. you’re a New Yorker and you get a pass in my book 🙂

    • It’s true. We’re not wimps, but I also strongly believe that we are not are rude as the stereotype goes either. Only flip off people who deserve it! Like city bus drivers who wait until I am right in front of the bus before closing the doors and pulling up to a red light!

  4. Bunny Eats Design

    I always dreamed that living in NY would mean bagels for breakfast. Although I’m sure a black coffee would work for any sort of NY diet.

    Gross on the nigiri dismantler. That’s just criminal.

    I almost always order pork or salmon when I eat out. It’s very hard for me to stray from those. I realise because both of these are my favourite because they have a strong fatty flavour.

    I’m not the bobble-headed stick I once was, but who cares? I’d rather enjoy my life filled with delicious foods than crave and be a “has not” every day.

    I walk a lot too. I walk to/from work and also to the city and also to/from the market. I also carry my groceries home. Some people claim they don’t have time to do this, but they seem to make time to go to the gym. I don’t have time to go to the gym, I spend it on round trips to the grocery store instead.

    • Yes! My coffee is as black as my wardrobe . . . and my mordant humor 😉

      I want to kill that nigiri dismantler. To selfishly take only the fish seems to be a violation of the social contract!

      It’s so true too what you say about the gym. One thing I will say is that when I go to visit my parents, they drive everywhere. Even when it would be faster to walk. Like my mother will send my father to get the car if it’s parked across the parking lot, and drive the car around to pick her up. I don’t really understand why she can’t just walk across the parking lot too. But she always makes time to go to the Y!

  5. Malou

    Great post! I can’t help but laugh out loud while reading your assessment of the real New Yorker. I just think that those who are dieting too much are missing out a lot. I tried my best to stir away from the usual things I love to eat and tried the healthy option but I was getting grumpy so I got back to eating what I find delicious. 😉

  6. Thanks, Malou! I know, I don’t think that I could ever deprive myself. I have friends who sometimes go on these juice cleanses (especially after the holidays). They always talk about how they are dizzy and grouchy for about three days until their body acclimates to starving.

    Maybe I’m weird, but there is nothing about being dizzy and grumpy that appeals to me at all!

    I completely agree: it’s not the food, it’s making yourself feel bad that is bad for your health!

  7. We have a similar real Londoners test that involves being able to trap a mouse inside a large pint glass. Great for the biceps.

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  9. Can we go on a dinner date and eat foie gras with sauternes gelee out of mason jars? I think i just salivated. Stumbled on your blog, and love your writing style!! Ps where can i find aforementioned foie gras dish? Any recommendations 🙂

    • It’s true. I always feel like diets just fight human nature. And isn’t restricting what you eat, or limiting yourself in some way really unhealthy?! Not to mention a horrible way to develop bad habits and wrong ideas about food. And please don’t get me started on how guilty they make you feel about eating.

      I would be all about a Sabrett Diet! Just as long as it was balanced out and not just all Sabrett all the time!

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