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Eat cheap and live!

By Larry Dreiling

Frequent readers of this occasional column know I’m trying to lose weight. I’m down 63 pounds at last check. It’s hard to give up immoderate eating and being more of a couch potato, but I’ve done it and am pretty proud of the loss so far.

That is, until that day a couple of weeks ago when I walked into the nearby Supercenter and found “them” right at the front entrance.

Like the beautiful Lorelei, brushing her long, blonde hair and singing her siren’s song to sailors from a cliff along the Rhine, causing them to lose their senses and crash their ships into the rocky shoreline, I heard “them” call to me in all their golden goodness.

OK, OK, enough with the poetry.

I bought a box of Twinkies, all nicely baked down the road in Emporia, Kan., for their comeback. Over the course of a week, I ate all 10 in the box.

I crashed my diet into the rocks.

But, you know what? I don’t care. I heard the siren’s call. I gave into temptation. I’m happy.

Hostess Twinkies are back.

Still, I’ve eaten my fill. I’m back on the wagon.

I can understand why people love them. For one thing, they still taste pretty good. They really don’t cost much. For a few folks, cost is a big deal.

In the weeks since my fall from food grace, I’ve been covering the farm bill debate in general and—because of the prospect of it derailing the bill—the nutrition title in particular.

There are a lot of arguments out there for keeping the nutrition title as is. Things like the widening gulf between the very poor and the rest of us. The other side of the argument is defined as the greed of takers.

Be that as it may, I’m seeing a lot of discussion about how folks are getting inexpensive nutrition these days, some centering on our fast food industry.

Two examples come to mind, both are anecdotal but one is more fact based.

Take, for instance, the argument on freakonomics.com in which a contributor named Ralph Thomas argued the McDonald’s McDouble sandwich is “the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in history.” Thomas said the sandwich had 390 calories, 23 grams of protein, substantial portions of calcium and iron, and “costs only a buck or two.”

I admit to dining this way myself. A McDouble, combined with two packs of apple slices (ditch the fries) and an unsweetened beverage are just 10 Weight Watchers points. Really, it’s not too shabby a lunch.

The other, more anecdotal example is the story told to me by a reliable individual (he lives in west Texas, so he ought to be reliable) who drives by his local KFC store on Wednesdays to see lots of seniors lined outside the door to purchase multiple orders of KFC’s near-national special of an inexpensive chicken fried steak meal, complete with mashed potatoes and gravy, cole slaw and a roll.

“Where for about $2.50 can you get a meal of meat, potatoes and a fairly fresh vegetable-based dish?” He asked. “I’ve seen people cart out bags of those things. I’m betting those folks buy a bunch of them to freeze and nuke in the microwave later in the week.”

By KFC’s own analysis found on the company’s website, the chicken fried steak meal carries a little over 900 calories. My reliable Texan friend said he knows of seasoned neighbors who buy these meals and split them in half for their significant other, so their caloric intake is still a reasonable 450 calories.

This is apparently how America really eats today. Unlike the folks on the coasts, they don’t go crazy in their desire to relish in Alice Waters’ foodie emporium Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Cal. They haven’t the dough to dine at Nobu of Tribeca in New York.

The rest of us eat Twinkies and McDoubles and KFC chicken fries.

We like them.

We try to eat them responsibly.

It doesn’t matter if we’re a nation of makers or takers, poor or middle class (earning far less than having to worry about the Alternative Minimum Tax) or rich. We need our farm bill to be united so that producers and—especially—consumers may understand how our food security system really works to protect all of us.

It needs to help those who can’t afford to eat much more than one McDouble or half a KFC chicken fry a day.

It needs to provide a safety net through a good crop insurance program that also offers a fair return to those who administer it for the government.

It needs to deliver the right things to help rural America prosper, things like high-speed Internet, loans specifically targeted for small-town businesses and programs to help those businesses save energy and natural resources.

When Congress returns after their break, they’ll have just nine days until the farm bill reverts to the old permanent law. Let’s urge them to get to it ASAP.

Once we get it passed and signed into law, I plan to celebrate. I might even open my wallet a little wider than usual.

How about a 4-ounce top sirloin with steamed broccoli and a nice side salad?

OK, maybe half a Twinkie for dessert?

Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at ldreiling@aol.com.

Date: 8/26/2013

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