Long Live Farro!

As published in The Rye Record on September 22, 2012

My sister had an electrician working in her home, and, after a long day’s work, she said to him, “Would you like some farro and chard?” He replied, to my delight, “I don’t know what any of those things are.” She had obviously hired an electrician who was not up to speed on super foods.

My sister’s a foodie. By that I mean that she cares deeply about the quality of the food she prepares. She’s not a lunatic, but you’d have a better chance of finding Waldo in her kitchen than anything containing partially hydrogenated oils. One’s natural inclination may be to tease her about it, but if you saw how great she looks you would (like me) do pretty much anything she says.

Trust me. I’m up to speed on farro. Everywhere I went this summer someone was serving me a heaping bowl of it. And it really is super. In addition to having twice the protein of wheat, farro is rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, lignans, and betaine. My sister serves it to me with kale like it’s medicine. She hands me the bowl with two hands and a bowed head. The thoughtful presentation is accompanied by a knowing, “It’s an ancient grain.” Always grateful to be served food that I did not prepare, I know enough not to remark that in ancient times the people died at like 30.

Farro and quinoa (ancient buddies) have become what sundried tomatoes and pesto were in the ’80s. During that decade it was impossible to order a meal that did not include one of those items. You were sure to eat your sundried tomatoes with a half pound of pasta and, of course, a nice crisp baguette on the side. It was the age of the carb. Back then, the knowing line was “It’s not the pasta, it’s what you put on it…” The ’80s gave way to specialty bread stores and kiosks where you could buy nothing but soft pretzels. All of this was okay as long as any topping was low fat.

With pasta as the food police’s health food of choice, even the actresses were a little heavyset in the ’80s. I’m above naming names, but rent any movie from this era and you will be shocked. Fashion responded by offering us the long bulky sweater that, when worn over our dangerously snug jeans, hid the fallout from the farfalle. Our hairstylists helped balance our hips by perming our hair to give our heads a few more horizontal inches on each side. Plus the jeans rode high enough to catch any spillover, and the legwarmers gave us a nice tapered looked around the ankle. These were kinder times.

The pendulum swung during the ’90s and we became heroine-chic and low-carb. Even beer was offered with low carbs, as a sort of alcoholic health food. It was okay to eat fat again (rejoice!), and even potato chips were sanctioned as long as they were laced with a healthy amount of Olestra and we stayed close to a bathroom.

I’ve noticed that the same big long sweater is back this year. What’s different this time is that it is there for its own sake, not necessarily to hide anything. Sadly, the big sweater has not brought us back our carbs. In fact, the carb crackdown has gotten dramatically worse. At a buffet where someone had prepared a fresh corn salad,  I was nudged and admonished by a friend, “It’s loaded with carbs.” Et tu, corn? Thou hast forsaken me!

Wheat gluten, it goes withoutsaying, is out. You’d be better off just chugging a gallon of Red Dye #40 than eating wheat gluten. But if you don’t mind paying for it, you can buy pretty much anything gluten-free. (Farro, you’ll be happy to hear, contains only a particularly weak type of gluten molecule which is much more easily digested.) It seems to me that the gluten-free movement was brought forward by very smart health professionals, but then may have been sullied by some very smart marketing professionals. For example, my supermarket displays a particular brand of water with a sign that reads “gluten-free.” Gluten-free water? What will they think of next?

All this information has made me a bit suspicious. In one day I read two articles citing these nutritional studies: 1. Women who drink seven alcoholic drinks per week have twice the risk of getting breast cancer as those who don’t. And 2. Women who drink one glass of red wine every day have lower instances of breast cancer than those who don’t. Can you see why I can only trust my sister?

As with so many things, it all comes to going with your gut. My gut feels pretty good with a heaping bowl of farro and chard, and even better if I wash it down with a glass of red wine. Spaghetti makes my gut strain against the waist of my jeans until I wish for a really big sweater. See, I can change with the times. Just don’t mess with my coffee.