Flash in the Pan 

The return of Chef Boy Ari cleans his desk

The snow swirled around his flip-flops as Chef Boy Ari finally stepped onto his beloved western Montana earth. Home at last, after braving the wilderness of Brazilian carnaval and all of the requisite pulsations, libations, gyrations, and lacks of moderation that characterize that legendary event.

I arrived in a country that is preparing for war. Airport telecasts of people fighting over rolls of duct tape in hardware stores, while thousands of students walked out of their classrooms in protest of American imperialism. Meanwhile, CNN economists argued about whether we are entering a new recession, or if the first one just never ended. After facing the mountain of Snowbowl, mere hours after touching down and warming up his feet, Chef Boy Ari faced a mountain of mail on his desk. Floating to the top of the pile was a tip from Deep Montana Throat, who wrote from Silver Peak, Nev. regarding a Judy Martz culinary scandal of such epic and scandalous proportions that George Ochenski will surely cross his legs in envy at not having broken this story himself.

Meanwhile, the new issue of New Scientist printed a chilling report suggesting potential danger for children whose mothers ate soy products during pregnancy. The concern is due to the fact that soy contains a chemical called genistein. Genistein is a phytoestrogen, a naturally occurring molecule that mimics the hormonal affects of estrogen. Synthetic estrogen-like compounds—from things like cosmetics, plastics, and birth control pills—have been blamed for changing the sex of fish in polluted streams and even lowering human sperm counts.

This week, a British scientific advisory panel warned that there is “clear evidence” that soy-based baby formula could pose a risk to babies, citing the possibilities of immune system suppression and cancer. Meanwhile, a study led by Sabra Klein at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland reports serious consequences for male lab rats whose mothers ate a genistein-laced diet while pregnant. In terms of body weight, the genistein levels fed to the rats were intended to mimic the genistein levels in the soy products eaten by an average western or Asian vegetarian woman.

Male rats who gestated with exposure to such levels of genistein in the womb “grew up to have larger prostate glands and smaller testes. Their sperm counts were normal, and when placed with females they behaved as if they wanted to mate, but none was able to ejaculate.” These results were not affected if the rats ate high- or low-genistein diets after weaning, reinforcing the pre-natal and breast-feeding nature of the impact.

It should be noted that in people, there have been no such dramatic effects noted on the sons of Asian and vegetarian women. Still, these recent results might indeed have relevance. Tolerance to different foods is often racially linked. Asians and Africans, for example, have less tolerance for lactose than Europeans. It is conceivable that some people might respond differently to genistein than others. Indeed, there are published reports that a vegetarian diet during pregnancy results in an increased risk of hypospadias—a condition where the urethra emerges along the shaft of the penis rather than at the tip. Some researchers suspect genistein from soy as the culprit.

Beyond genistein, Chef Boy Ari is sensing that there is a lot to the soy story that is worth telling. If you have any scoop on this issue, please don’t hesitate to e-mail.

Speaking of scoops (and alternatives to the vegetarian diet), dig this letter from my desk pile:

“Dear Chef Boy Ari,

That was a fine article you ran (see “Judy’s quick pot roast,” Jan. 16, 2003), and it jogged my memory. For your edification I am enclosing a copy of the first recipe for Sweep Steak from Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book, 1960. Hard to believe that, among her many other faults, Judy Martz is guilty of plagiarism. Of course, copying someone’s recipe and passing it off as one’s own is a much more heinous crime than ordinary plagiarism. Here’s your scoop, Boy. When you expose this latest scandal you will become the next star reporter, and I will be your Deep Montana Throat.”

Wow. And all this time I had assumed that Martz’ breakthrough pot roast recipe was her own creation. But a close inspection of the two recipes reveals certain indisputable commonalties.

Consider the ingredients: pot roast and package of instant onion soup mix, in both cases. Consider the directions: Sprinkle soup mix on meat, cover, bake.

Tsk tsk Judy. Shame on you. Does this blow of humiliation mean that I too get to be banned from your office? Me and George Ochenski can sit outside the door, eating my new favorite dish, Lap Dog Jerky.

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