Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cutting Calories and Saving D'oh: 25 Lessons "The Simpsons" Taught Me About Cheap, Healthy Eating

The Simpsons TV show turns the big Two-Oh next year, making them older than Miley Cyrus, post-Soviet Russia, and everything I own, save a dearly beloved 5th grade softball jersey. Like all good Americans, I adore the show, and always have. I owned a Bartman tee in 1990, can quote “Treehouse of Horror IV” word for word, and even as an adult, model myself after eight-year-old Lisa, who is everything that’s right about our society.

What amazes me most about The Simpsons (beyond the college classes and bible studies) is the effect it’s had on my vernacular. Each day, I’m guaranteed to quote a four-fingered Springfieldian at least once – usually unconsciously, usually “D’oh!” (“Excellent,” and “You don’t win friends with salad” creep in there, too.) And when a show’s been around for so long that it actually CHANGES THE WAY YOU SPEAK, you’re bound to pick up a lesson or two along the way.

So today, sweet readers, CHG is taking a temporary pop culture detour. With the assistance of the characters themselves (or at least their dialogue), here are the 25 rules of cheap, healthy eating I’ve gleaned from 19 years of watching Homer & Co.

1) There is such a thing as being too frugal.

Marge: Lisa, I made you some homemade Pepsi for the dance; it's a little thick but the price is right.

2) Keeping a budget and paying with cash are two of the easiest, most effective ways to regulate expenditures. Without them, you might not be aware of how much you’re spending.

Moe: Say, Barn, uh, remember when I said I'd have to send away to NASA to calculate your bar tab?
Barney: Oh ho, oh yeah, you had a good laugh, Moe.
Moe: The results came back today. You owe me seventy billion dollars.
Barney: Huh?
Moe: No, wait, wait, wait, that's for the Voyager spacecraft. Your tab is fourteen billion dollars.


3) Mass-market food companies are there to make money, not to make you healthy.

[Marge has decided to go into the pretzel business.]
Marge: What's my territory?
Frank Ormand: Your territory? Well, let me put it this way: wherever a young mother is ignorant as to what to feed her baby, you'll be there. Wherever nacho penetration is less than total, you'll be there! Wherever a Bavarian is not quite full, you'll be there!
Marge: Don't forget fat people! They can't stop eating!
(passing by) Hey! Pretzels!

4) Those same corporations spend billions marketing junk foods towards American consumers, and despite our best intentions, we’ve become both accustomed and prone to their suggestions.

Homer: Hey, it's the first day of the month. New billboard day. [Drives by, reads first billboard] "This year, give her English muffins." Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard.

5) It helps to stay current on news about food, nutrition, cost, and cooking, but don’t believe everything you read.

Marge: I don't have e-mail. (crowd gasps)
Homer: Oh Marge, you got to get on the Net. It's got all the best conspiracy theories! Did you know that Hezbollah owns Little Dolly Snack Cakes?


6) Diet and exercise are the only consistently proven, non-surgical paths to weight loss. Everything else is bunk.

Marge: Homer, has the weight loss tape reduced your appetite?
Homer: Ah, lamentably no. My gastronomic rapacity knows no satiety.


7) Portion sizes have increased tremendously in America over the last few decades, and are a giant factor in U.S. weight gain. This is especially true for restaurant food and takeout.

Homer: Is this the biggest steak you got? 72 oz.? I thought this was supposed to be a steakhouse, not a little girly, underpantsy, pink doily, tea party place!
Waiter: Well, we do have one steak available upon special request. We call it Sir Loin-A-Lot. It's the size of a boogieboard.
Homer: Ooh, I'll have that one! And to drink ... meatballs.


8) Eating at home as much as possible is a simple way to regulate nutritional intake and save money.

Apu: Poor Mr. Homer! Could it be that my snack treats are responsible for his wretched health?
[A customer enters.]
Customer: Gimme some jerky.
Apu: Would you like some vodka with that?


9) Planning menus and shopping ahead of time will prevent last-minute supermarket sprees and oft-pricey impulse purchases.

Marge: Homer, I have to go out to pick up something for dinner.
Homer: Steak?
Marge: Hmm, money's too tight for steak.
Homer: Steak?
Marge: Eh, sure. Steak.


10) When grocery shopping, it helps to look for whole foods and stick to the perimeter of the store. It’s healthier and less expensive overall.

Homer: Olive oil? Asparagus? If your mother wasn't so fancy, we could just shop at the gas station like normal people.

11) Instead of purchasing pre-made sauces, mixes, and dressings, create your own at home. The end product will be way tastier, and it’s often cheaper and better for you, as well.

Homer: Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?
Apu: Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.
Homer: Oh. Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.


12) Cutting down on meat will make a significant difference in your food budget and calorie intake.

Apu: Let's see ... Farmer Billy's smoke-fed bacon, Farmer Billy's bacon-fed bacon, Farmer Billy's travel bacon ... Mr. Simpson, if you really want to kill yourself, I also sell handguns!

13) The surest way to diet/budget defeat is to make absolute changes without allowing for the good stuff. Don’t forget to indulge every once in awhile.

Lisa: (to Homer) Is it really worth risking your lives for some sugar?
(from kitchen) Dessert's on! I steamed some limes!
Lisa: Godspeed.


14) Read labels and be wary of health claims. A lot of times they’re just plain bogus. Whole, untouched foods will always be the best way to eat.

Homer: Wanna bite of my doughnut?
Lisa: No, thanks. Do you have any fruit?
Homer: This has purple stuff inside. Purple is a fruit.


15) While you’re at it, don’t forget to check expiration dates. Especially on bargain-priced foods. Sometimes it’s been marked down because it’s about to go bad.

Homer: Apu, I'm returning a yogurt I wasn't completely satisfied with.
[opens the bag] OH MY GOD! If a dead fish and a homeless person had a baby, and the baby puked, and the dog ate the puke, this smells like the rear end of that dog! I'll give you any yogurt in the store just take that thing with you when you go!

16) Know that fat isn’t always a bad thing. There are good ones – usually naturally-occurring – like those found in avocados, peanuts and eggs.

[Homer has just snatched and stomped on Lenny’s egg sandwich.]
Homer: I saved your life! That egg sandwich could have killed you -- by cholesterol.
Lenny: Sheesh -- forget it, Homer. While it has been established that eggs contain cholesterol, it yet has not been proven they conclusively actually raise the level of serum cholesterol in the human bloodstream.
Homer: So, one of those Egg Council creeps got to you too, huh?


17) Just because a food is fat-free doesn’t mean it’s low in calories or better for you. Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners can be just as deleterious to your health.

Dr. Hibbert: Sugar is not only fattening but it's also terribly, terribly addictive. … Uh, is my carton of Pixie Sticks in?
Apu: No, it hasn't come in yet.
Dr. Hibbert: Dammit. When they come in you call me at this number.
[hands over a card]
Apu: 911?

18) Condiments, toppings, and add-ons are a quick way to pile on fat and calories.

Homer: I'm on a bit of a health kick, so I'll take the low-fat vanilla. With the following toppings: Snickles, Gooey Bears, Charlottesville Chew, Nice 'n Many, Kat Kit, Herschel Smooches, Mrs. Badbar, and Milk Dudes.

19) Parental habits are key (if not THE key) in how kids learn to eat. Children mirror what they see at home, so it’s important for moms and dads to model healthy behaviors.

Homer: Don't fill up on those vegetables, kids. Save room for nachos!
Lisa & Bart: All right!
[disapprovingly] Mmm…

20) Make eating an experience rather than a chore. Use all your senses to enjoy it fully. The overall slow-down means you’ll consume less.

Homer: I smell cake! Cake that says (sniff sniff) "Farewell" and (sniff sniff) "Best Wishes"!
Nelson: Your old man has an awesome nose.
Bart: Oh, that's nothing. He can hear pudding.


21) Buy recycled grocery bags. They’re frugal, better for the earth, and you never know when they’ll come in handy for something else.

Belle: Are you wearing a grocery bag?
Homer: I have misplaced my pants.

22) Speaking of a frugal item with several applications: buy white vinegar. It’s more than a foodstuff. It’s an EVERYTHING.

Mr. Burns: I need to have my eyes re-balled and my brain flushed out with vinegar.
Smithers: Oh and your legs will be back from the shop tomorrow.
Mr. Burns: Excellent.


23) Read reviews. For all things, everywhere. Restaurants, cookware, recipes – you name it. You might not unilaterally agree with a commenter, but an unbiased opinion (or several hundred unbiased opinions) will keep you from wasting valuable resources and time.

[Homer has become a restaurant critic.]
Sea Captain: I had enough of Homer! His bad reviews are sinking our businesses!
Akira: Then why did you put yours on the window?
Sea Captain: Yarrrr. It covers up the ‘D’ from the health inspector.

24) Food is almost always tied to emotions. Exploring how and why you eat is vital to understanding issues you may have with it.

Comic Book Guy: Oh, loneliness and cheeseburgers are a dangerous mix.

25) Remember, true dietary or financial change is possible only through repeated action. It takes a lot of tries to change a behavior fully, so don’t panic if you foul up. Of course, you have to commit in the first place.

Homer: [after watching Barney's movie] Wow, I'll never drink another beer again.
Vendor: Beer here.
Homer: I'll take ten.

And that’s it. Readers, do you have a favorite Simpsons quote that taught you something valuable? Post away!

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