New trend: a cup of wine, loaf of brie, chicken with its skin

HAPPY EATER

January 09, 1994|By ROB KASPER

When I heard about the "pleasure-revenge" trend that is said to be spreading through the land, I had a piece of cheesecake in celebration. This is my kind of movement.

After suffering through "the siege of skinned chicken," the years when low-fat, low-flavor food was the rage, there at last appears to be some relief on the culinary horizon.

Basically the pleasure-revenge trend is about cutting yourself some slack. No longer should you feel guilty if you don't constantly eat bad-tasting food. It is also OK if you don't know the fat and caffeine count of your lunch. There are even indications that eating steak is socially acceptable behavior, at least in restaurants.

Trend watchers like Faith Popcorn, whose New York-based Brain Reserve company claims to have coined the "pleasure-revenge" term, contend the movement is a reaction to years of good behavior. After years of policing their diets and doing sit-ups, or at least after years of talking about such "correct" deportment, folks are giving themselves a break. They are having an occasional doughnut.

This may be a called a fresh trend, but is not a new form of human behavior. Ministers have seen it over decades and have called it "backsliding."

Just as you gotta break some eggs to have a souffle, so you have to wheel in some data to have a trend. My favorite numbers behind the pleasure-revenge trend are those saying sales of high-fat ice cream are up 8 percent, that cheese sales are at an all-time high, and that while Americans lost an average of 10 pounds a person in 1991, last year we gained an average of 2.1 pounds.

To be honest, I think the numbers behind many so-called trends have more to do with spin control than with deep statistical analysis. I suspect that rather than letting ideas float up out of one body of data, spotters go from data base to data base, cherry-picking numbers that support an anointed behavior.

Nonetheless, I am delighted that "pleasure revenge" is said be here. At last there is a trend I can sink my teeth into. I don't have to change any old-time habits, like calling cheesecake a mental-health food. This call to be less fanatical and more indulgent has a real familiar ring to it.

A couple of years ago I thought I was partaking in another trend called "cocooning." That, as I understood it, was the practice of staying at home on Saturday night and watching something on the television screen.

I stayed home. But it turned out I was closer to couch potato than cocooner. Cocooners, it seems, use caterers and watch foreign films on the VCR. Couch potatoes warm up snacks in the toaster oven and watch televised ball games.

Since I wasn't trendy, I had some difficult encounters during the era of skinned chicken. A couple of times in that period I found myself in midtown Manhattan restaurants gathered with food writers from "fashionable" magazines. "What's the big excitement in Baltimore?" they would ask me, expecting an answer like "Everybody is drinking broccoli shakes, especially in the apres-exercise-class mode." Instead I would tell my fashionable friends that the big news in Baltimore was that the soft crabs were running. My answer was a vast simplification. But I believe in fighting one vast simplification, such as the idea that everybody is obsessed with fat, with another vast simplification, such as everyone in Maryland goes to sleep dreaming of soft crab sandwiches.

The reasons cited for the pleasure- revenge trend are interesting, I think. Basically people seem to be tired and disappointed by years of good behavior. They discovered that drinking bottled water might do great things for the kidneys, but it doesn't necessarily improve your career path or your love life. -- And they discovered that while laying out the rules of a "correct" lifestyle is one thing, living it, especially on dreary Mondays, is another.

My gut feeling is that the pleasure-revenge bandwagon will move at a measured pace. Not everyone is going to start growing a gut. People will still exercise, but they will not claim it is a religious experience. And, sadly, some chicken will continue to be served with its skin off.

But more and more we will rediscover that life's big journeys, like the quest for happiness, are well served by taking short stops at its pleasure islands -- a cup of tea with cream on cold afternoon, a cold beer or a glass of wine at the end of a long, difficult day. It took us a while to learn that we have to be moderate in all things, including moderation. That, I think, is the next big trend.

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