The Recession Diet

Is our bad economy making us fat?  There’s a growing concern that the deepening recession could inflate America’s waistlines.  Are we in store for “recession pounds” as cash-strapped shoppers seek cheaper food?

Sure, the dollar drive-thru menu may look appealing.  But as Adam Drewnowski says, the answer lies in affordable but nutrient-rich foods that give you the biggest nutritional bang for your buck — real foods that people relied on during the Great Depression,  such as beans, rice, potatoes, milk, cheese, carrots, canned tomatoes and soups.  He’s calling it  “a diet for a new Depression.”

photo credit: Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition

photo credit: Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition

And Depression-era foods are back in a big way.  Perhaps the best evidence is the latest sensation on You Tube called Great Depression Cooking with Clara, a series of 10 videos featuring 93-year old Clara Cannucciari.  Her filmmaker grandson created the videos of Clara demonstrating the meals her family ate during the Great Depression.

Here’s Cannucciari making a “Poorman’s Feast,” a Depression-era version of a celebration meal featuring salad and lentils, rice and a little bit of meat cooked in lemon and oil.

So how are people changing how they eat based on these tough economic times?

  • The recession has brought back home cooking — or at least eating at home.  It’s hard to say home much cooking is actually happening, but 71% of consumers say they’re eating  out less. The most popular entree at dinner :  sandwiches!  That’s according to research by the NPD Group.  When people eat at home, they’re apt to eat better.
  • Some evidence suggests people look to health and wellness in a recession — they are increasingly focused on ways to avoid becoming ill during these uncertain times.  But instead of high-priced functional foods, wholesome real foods cooked at home are the likely approach.  It’s the back to-basics bailout diet.
  • The casserole is making a comeback.  An article in Advertising Age says this one-dish wonder has become a lot more popular lately among cash-strapped and often culinarily challenged consumers anxious to save bucks while getting dinner on the table.  But the modern-day casserole is being re-invented with more fresh vegetables and spice.
  • Less expensive cuts of meat are quickly growing in popularity, including the cube steak, which is the hottest cut of beef in the country now.  An article about the resurgence of cube steak was recently featured in the New York Times by Kim Severson, who lovingly profiled this “wallflower among meat cuts” that brings her back to her childhood dinner table…when “life was safe, steady and predictable.”
  • NPR food commentator Bonny Wolf says the recession will have a big impact on food trends in 2009 — it will be all about comfort, value and simplicity.

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