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War and peace and cup cakes

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

At the risk of giving a little offense by mentioning a little French person, I recall Napoleon once observed that "an army marches on its stomach" (un armee marche sur le tummy).

That raises the question: So what about the rest of us who are following the war on the home front?

Apparently, an army of TV viewers has been marching their stomachs to the fridge to fortify themselves for the Iraqi campaign. For this insight, I am grateful to a story that appeared last Thursday in the Personal Journal section of The Wall Street Journal.

The story -- headlined "America's Wartime Diet: Finding Comfort in Cup Cakes" -- reported that comfort foods rich in calories are surging in demand across the country, fueling Americans as they hunker down on their sofas. Trend watchers and Weight Watchers are alarmed.

It is true that certain foods are a soothing presence during depressing times. Many is the occasion that a sensitive hot dog, or an empathetic bag of potato chips, has subliminally murmured to me: "Hang in there, big guy."

Nevertheless, I feel the need to challenge the Journal story, no easy task seeing that it is the Official Newspaper for Fat Cats and thus speaks authoritatively on the subject of rich diets.

But, I say, how much more of this we-are-all-getting-fatter stuff can be believed? For years now, experts have told us that Americans are living, breathing tubs of lard. Enough already. If the obesity reports are to be believed, thin people are so rare that they have to stuff their clothes with rags just so they can go out in public without being stared at.

But perhaps I have become oversensitive from living in the Pittsburgh area, a veritable kingdom of kielbasa, where amply proportioned people are among our civic treasures.

Indeed, it always amazes me that this city, which is perpetually fretting about its inability to keep or attract young people, does not capitalize on its large advantage.

Young women, in particular, surely would respond to a marketing campaign that said: "Come to Pittsburgh, where you can always look thinner by standing next to someone."

But can I get the city's movers and shakers interested in such a bold plan? Of course not. They are all out to lunch, figuratively and actually.

While young women should feel free to stand next to me in order to look thinner, I myself am not obsessed with food. Of course, my wife insists that I am obsessed, and when I try to refute this slander, she says, "Don't speak with your mouth full." I tell you, that darn woman thinks she's Oscar Wilde's sister.

The point I am trying to make is that people like myself have healthy appetites, and it doesn't take a war to make us reach for extra Ho-Hos.

I don't see anything in the war coverage that would make a person want to snack down or think of food. The premise of The Wall Street Journal article is clearly preposterous.

Let us consider what people are watching on their TVs. It's hard to sort through all the baloney from the different commentators, but now the main course seems pretty much set.

At first everybody thought it was going to be a cakewalk, but some Iraqi forces became sandwiched between the advancing forks of our attack, promising to give us some indigestion before our forces could bring home the bacon.

Of course, generals making their war plans never want to put all their eggs in one basket. By the same token, you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

I feel sorry for the troops who have the bread-and-butter job of confronting the enemy. That dessert terrain is the color of custard, and the wind blows harder than the air going out of a souffle. Now and then, of course, a bomb falls and barbecues the whole scene.

It also must be hard for the journalists, embedded there like raisins in a pudding. They have to be careful not to spill the beans about the unit's position. In war, there's no crying over spilt milk.

I could go on, but not tonight, Josephine. Hey, it's almost lunchtime.

Reg Henry can be reached at rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.

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