Thanksgiving always has been a classic approach-avoidance holiday. We give thanks for all the bounty of food and then feel guilty about eating it -- from the butter in the mashed potatoes to the eggs in the pumpkin pie. Even turkey, a low-fat food, is often hidden under thick, high-fat, high-guilt gravy.
But just in time for the holiday feeding festival, Julia Child, the doyenne of the butter-and-cream school of good food, and The American Institute of Wine & Food called together 50 of the nation's top food and health authorities to talk about balancing good tasting food with good health. The institute is a non-profit educational organization with members ranging from chefs to dedicated amateurs.
This alliance met recently in Boston to draft a food-health policy and holiday menu suggestions that will allow even nutrition compulsives to eat tasty food and finish the holiday week in compliance with the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The guidelines, announced last week, advise selecting a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol; eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and grain products; and using sugars, salt and sodium only in moderation. They also urge maintenance of a healthy weight and moderation in consumption of alcoholic beverages.
"The pleasure that one had around the table is disappearing because of guilt," says Jan Weimer, food and health alliance project coordinator and former executive food editor of Bon Appetit magazine.
"I believe that we can still eat what we want and consume a diet that has the recommended less than 30 percent of calories from fat. We don't have to eat a fluffy pumpkin pie or a Queen of Sheba chocolate cake at every meal. If you eat something that is so intense and pure of flavor, you will be satisfied with a smaller amount. You won't be satisfied even if you eat a huge amount of ersatz food."
This conflict over enjoyment of food has been escalating the past couple of years, fueled by the Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health and recommendations from health authorities such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
Ms. Child became concerned because she says many of us have been haunted by the "fear of food." And although it was her idea to call this food summit, she admits she was a little worried that the foodies and the health people would have a problem coming to an agreement.
"I was worried about the diet people," she said. "They don't want to have any fun. We finally got them to admit that butter could be used for pleasure. They allowed that you could binge if you paid for it by counting up your calories over several days."
Dr. C. Wayne Callaway, associate professor of Medicine at George Washington University and leader of the health contingent, said fear of food is fueled because of people who don't have much expertise in nutrition and divide the world into good foods and bad foods. The trouble with this thinking, he said, is it tells people what not to eat. It doesn't tell them what to eat.
"How can you achieve health and good taste at the same time?" he asked. "The answers are not that obscure. If fat is an issue, use it where it matters. Put butter only where it enhances the flavor."
You can retain that pleasure in eating and stay on a healthful diet with this advice from Ms. Child and company on balancing your diet for the holiday week.
* Figure out what you really want to splurge on for the week, including Thanksgiving dinner and eating out.
* To compensate for what you want, plan your other meals based on lower fat foods such as seafood, pasta with vegetables, even something as exotic as quail.
* Consider low-fat preparation methods -- steaming, braising, stir-frying, broiling.
Here is the menu for the Thanksgiving holiday meals. The nutritional breakdown for the day includes: 2,534 calories, 31 percent of calories from fat, 14 percent from saturated fat. All recipes are from "The Way to Cook" (Knopf, $50) by Ms. Child; recipes are given for starred menu items.
Corn bread, sage and sausage stuffing
Makes stuffing for 14 to 16 pound turkey.
1 pound sausage meat
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery stalks
5 cups crumbled yellow corn bread
1 cup lightly packed crumbs from fresh homemade type white bread
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon sage or to taste
1 stick melted butter
Break up the sausage meat and saute in a frying pan for several minutes, until the color changes from reddish to gray. Scrape into a large mixing bowl, leaving the fat in the frying pan. In the fat, saute the onions until tender -- 5 to 6 minutes; add the celery and saute 2 minutes more. Blend the onions and celery with the sausage meat in the mixing bowl, adding the crumbled corn bread, white crumbs and eggs. Season nicely to taste and fold in the melted butter.