For the past 12 years or so I’ve been the proud owner of the 1975 Joy of Cooking, purchased at the original (and huge) Half Price Books in Dallas.  It is largely regarded as the best edition, and with good reason – it was the last book authored by Marion Rombauer Becker, who had collaborated on every edition with her mother, Irma S. Rombauer, since the first edition published in 1931 and was an accumulation of all the knowledge and experience gained by Mrs. Becker over the course of her life. 

Joy had been revised roughly every 10 years since being originally published in 1931, but the 1975 edition remained unchanged for 22 years.  In 1997, a new “publisher-driven” edition was published, removing much of the content that had made Joy so useful (and so popular).  A 75th anniversary edition was released in 2006, returning to the original format and restoring much of the original content, including the very useful Know Your Ingredients section.

I asked for, and received, the 75th anniversary edition for my birthday.  My request was mostly due to curiosity – the new book is noticeably larger than my worn, old copy (it contains 500 new recipes and many “best of” recipes from previous editions).  It also has a brand-new section on nutrition, and it was this to which I initially, and eagerly, turned.

I should have known better.

At first I was really encouraged, despite repeating the tired (and inaccurate) old saws about life-expectancy in ancient times, which was followed by this:

Today the average American reaches a ripe old age of seventy-seven years.  That’s more than long enough to develop a litany of diseases associated with getting older.  It turns out, though, that most of these diseases aren’t the inevitable consequences of aging.  Instead, many are rooted in poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy habits.

Well, alrighty then.

It got irritating again in a big hurry, though, when it advocated Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate (precursor to the USDA’s new Choose My Plate) as a guide to good nutrition, with its admonitions to eat more whole grains and little red meat, but redeemed itself by saying, “You shouldn’t eat by the book, or by the plate or pie chart, for that matter.  Slavishly following any healthy eating guide takes all the fun out of eating.”  Then I began reading the section of fats – and damn near kissed the book.

No matter what our national fat phobia suggests, the human body needs fats and cholesterol.  Fats are a prime source of energy.  Certain kinds of fats protect the heart.  Cholesterol helps make the “skin” around cells and the bile acids needed to digest food.  It also provides the raw material for making vitamin D and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.  Body fat provides an essential energy storage depot, cushions and insulates organs and tissues, and regulates body temperature.

Then…yeah, it went there.

There are four main types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats.  Understanding good and bad fats is actually simple:  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.  Saturated and trans fats are solid rather than liquid.

*sigh*  Apparently sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats such as corn and soybean oil are perfectly fine; since they’re liquid at room temperature they can’t be a source of trans fats (you do hear the sarcasm there, yes?).  It gets even better and lumps saturated fats together with trans fats and dutifully warns us to keep our consumption of saturated fats to 8% of our total caloric intake while avoiding trans fats all together (at least we can agree on something).  The section on carbohydrates was about what I expected – eat lots of whole grains (good carbohydrates) while avoiding refined grains and sugar (bad carbohydrates), along with how things like beans and peanut butter are acceptable sources of “complete proteins,” yadda yadda yadda, world without end, Amen.

Ah, well – I won’t be tossing the book out because of any of this; the recipes from previous editions, along with the revised and updated sections of Know Your Ingredients and Cooking Methods and Techniques, make it worth owning.  It’s also fascinating from the perspective of how things have changed in the last 30 years – my 1975 edition, for instance, has a small but detailed section on cooking brains, while the 2006 edition simply states, “We do not recommend eating the brains of cows, sheep or pigs, nor any part of the spinal column, because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) known as Mad Cow Disease.”  One thing of the first things I did was look up goat recipes; both say essentially the same thing – cook it like lamb – but the 2006 edition not only tells you where you can find it commercially, but also contains several recipes for wild goat in the surprisingly comprehensive game section.

I guess what all of this leads up to is this:  I understand this book is six years old, but Mr. Becker (the original author’s grandson), please stick to what you know – cooking – and leave the dissemination of bad nutritional advice to the experts…the government.


6 thoughts on “Killjoy”

  1. I’m not sure which edition I have (the cookbooks are in the studio that is being used by the visiting kids right now) but since it was my mother-in-law’s mother’s copy I know it is fairly early. It has a section on dressing game. While I’ll never use that section it just wouldn’t seem complete without it.

  2. Happy ALMOST New Year to you Jan!
    What will you be cooking this weekend?

    I’m not sure yet ….
    But it’s a gorgeous day today so I’m pretty sure we’ll be cooking outside on the grill tonight after some beach time.

    I hate new year’s eve, but I’m looking forward to a long weekend!

  3. I have a very dog eared 1975 edition, but it claims to be “revised & enlarged” in 1980 (I think I bought it that year). It is by Irma & Marion and has the very useful “know your ingredients” section as well as charming chapters on entertaining & menus (inc advice ranging from what to float in a finger bowl to what to serve on a back packing expedition). Mine is a Great Britain printing (though the recipes are wholly American). I’m pretty sure the only difference is a section on metric and Brit conversions at the end of know your ingredients.

  4. I just got out my Joy, which seems to be the 1964 edition. On the subject of fats here’s what it says, in part: “We suggest, again, the consumption of a variety of fats from animal and vegetable sources; but remind you that fat consumption in the United States has climbed in twenty years from the recommended minimum of 20 per cent to over 40 per cent today.” I guess in those days they didn’t go into mono and poly unsaturates or trans fats and cholesterol.

    There are three ways to prepare brains. Goat is not to be found in the index.

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