Published in Broadsheet, May 2, 2009
Looking to chow down on “Sweet & Cap’n Crunch Chicken,” “Cheeseburger Quesadillas” or “Swirls Gone Wild” cheesecake brownies and still fit into your skinny jeans? Well, now you can, thanks to “Hungry Girl: 200 Under 200: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories.” The recipes come drizzled with cheeky editorial and smothered in ooey-gooey corporate interest, all for the low price of $19.95 plus tax. And, as a bonus, you get all the health dangers of overly processed food and energy crashes from depriving yourself of your caloric needs.
Apparently plenty of women think this is quite the diet quick fix: The book debuted at No. 1 on the current New York Times bestseller list. Author and mastermind Lisa Lillien, also known as Hungry Girl, has made quite a dent in the so-called guilt-free dieting world by dishing up tips on eating convenience (read: processed) foods redeemed by their low caloric value. Artificial sweeteners, liquid egg substitutes and canned goods galore are some of the ingredients used to make these shame-free mini-meals.
The queen of processed food has nearly 700,000 subscribers to her daily e-mail newsletter, can bring about a manufacturer’s biggest sales day by hyping a product on her Web site and, apparently, can sell 200,000 copies of a book. Calories may be negligible in the food, but what fills the void is America’s big fat disordered relationship with food. Hungry Girl’s mantra is, predictably enough, “I’m hungry!” Well, then eat some real food, damn it!
New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle told the Washington Post that she’s skeptical about the Hungry Girl approach and all the “pink freneticism and exclamation points.” The truth, she says, is that there are two different kinds of American food consumers: Over half are like Hungry Girl, and the others fall in the sometimes-snobbish foodie camp. Of the latter, Lillien says: “They say, ‘Shop the perimeter of the store, never eat anything that’s not organic,’ but it’s B.S., because people can’t live like that forever.” True, not everyone can follow Alice Waters’ strict gastronomic regimen, but instead of a mini happy meal, how about a happy and healthful medium?