I like old cookbooks. I baked cookies out of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook circa 1960 as a kid. I was quite happy to find, at a library book sale, a cookbook with just the desserts out of that old cookbook, complete with all of the pictures of cookies and meringue cakes that I remembered. I also am amused/aghast, as I think most women are, by old mid-century books on etiquette, housekeeping, etc. etc. for the proper lady. I like to laugh at the advice on the number of ash trays a hostess should put out at a cocktail party and things like that.
So I was proud of my find from the dollar table of a used book store in Jackson while on my Tahoe Adventure. It is called Stay Slim for Life: Reduce with low fat, low calorie menus and recipes by Ida Jean Kain and Mildred B Gibson, published in 1958. I was prepared to laugh at a 50s housewife diet fad and to be properly grossed out by the recipes (like Weight Watchers recipe cards from 1974).
But I was wrong. Everything I read could have been written in any diet web site today: eat whole grains, eat less fat, and just eat fewer calories because you don’t need them with your lazy lifestyle (I am paraphrasing here).
Let’s start at the beginning of “Chapter 1: New Approach to Weight Control”:
Everybody loves to eat, nobody wants to be fat, and reducing is the talk of the times. We are in a dilemma. Out food habits and basic recipes no longer match our way of life.
There is no valid reason why fifty million Americans should continue to be burdened with surplus poundage. We have the scientific knowledge that makes it possible to eat well and be a desirable weight.
It is obvious that we have not dealt intelligently with out number-one nutrition problem, for obesity is on the increase. Faddy diets are not the solution…
I could go on, but you see what I mean. It goes on to explain empty calories, good fats, weight goals (it was right on for me), exercise, and preventing heart disease. How to handle parties and drinking are also covered. The book doesn’t talk about trans fat or fiber specifically, which are today’s hot topics, but it does warn against eating hydrogenated oils and encourage lots of vegetables and whole grains. Good enough for me.
Then it gets into the menus for “slimming,” as they call it. The book gives two side-by-side menus: one for Mrs. and one for Mr., explaining that unfortunately, women just don’t need as many calories as men. This was where I got my first big shock of the book, after getting over the book be totally right on about weight loss and nutrition. The “Mrs.” daily calories count is about 1050. For “Mr.”, about 1300. That’s hardly anything! But that’s how you lose weight. (For comparison, a Big Mac cheeseburger and medium fries are 1055 calories.)
The menus don’t look like they are only 1050 calories. They are all three meals a day, plus a snack. And they include pats of butter, whole milk, and steak. But then you look at the details: a slice of bread, I guess back in 1958, is only 50 calories. Your average slice of whole wheat bread today is 120 calories. The Oroweat “Lite” whole wheat bread is 40 calories and close to half the size of a regular slice of bread, and I have found no other bread that comes close to that. A serving of juice is 4 oz. in the menus, as opposed to our typical 8 oz. glass. And a “bouillon cup” of soup is only 6 oz. Yup, it just comes down to eating less and not eating crap.
The second part of the book, aptly titled “Adventures in Low-Calorie Cooking”, is the recipes, and I have to say, I did get my dollar’s worth of gross-outs, mostly in the salads chapter. Some of the appetizing names:
- Grapefruit and green pepper salad
- Celery stuffed with cottage cheese
- Molded [ed. Jello] cucumber salad
- Tomato aspic salad
Honestly though, aside from the Frankfurter kabobs, nothing else was really that gross (again, compare with 1970s Weight Watchers).
So much to my surprise, I recommend the book! I was entertained and motivated to eat healthy. I probably won’t make any of the recipes since they are all rather meat-focused, but I’ll end by quoting the piece of advice that really clicked with me:
Weight control is 90 per cent attitude. If you prefer desirable weight to excess food, that attitude prevails and there is no need to make a separate decision over every hors d’oeuvre or fattening dessert. When social eating is determined by habit rather than momentary choice, it becomes a matter of second nature to be moderate.
This is by no means the same as going to a party grimly determined not to partake of the delicious fare. That plan would be doomed to failure, for it accentuates the negative and takes away the fun. On the other hand, having made the wise decision to get down to a proper weight and stay slim for life, you will not be tempted to overinduldge. This new point of view is surprisingly freeing.