Two New York Times stories put the spotlight on so-called “functional foods” this weekend. One (Dessert, Laid-Back and Legal) reported on processed snacks containing melatonin; another (Foods with Benefits, or So They Say) attempted to shed light on the murky world of health claims on food labels. Does its oatmeal really help reduce cholesterol, as the Quaker Oats Company claims? Maybe – but you’d have to endanger your health by eating gluttonous amounts before any of the claimed benefits kicked in.
NYU Professor Marion Nestle was quoted in the latter article, but apparently didn’t feel her position was fully represented there. In a post at the Atlantic’s site this morning, Nestle waxes indignant on the subject arguing that health claims on processed foods should not be allowed at all. “The claims are all inherently misleading, as would be obvious if you gave it a minute’s thought.” she fumes.
Nestle must have considerably more intellectual horsepower than I, since a minute’s thought didn’t take me very far in sorting all this out. Maybe it’s something she eats.
A second minute’s thought did yield something like results for me, however, when I realized that neither story mentioned wine as a functional food. This seemed doubly odd when I reflected that, apropos article one, many people take wine with the aim (or at least in a context) of relaxation, and that, apropos article two, some significant number of others (including me) have been persuaded by real-deal research that wine consumption has some sort of prophylactic powers vis a vis heart disease.
It seems to me that on these counts alone, wine deserves authenticated status as a functional food – and I hereby go on record as the first to claim it.
Well, not really. Since Hippocrates, medicos have consistently acknowledged the beneficial effects of moderate wine drinking and used it freely (if not always wisely) as a specific remedy against a variety of complaints. I was reminded of this while spending quality time with my other favorite functional food – coffee – this morning and thumbing through the 1920 wine lit classic Notes on a Cellar Book , in which British literary critic George Saintsbury recounts the following anecdote.
“One of my father’s sisters was a very old lady, who lived by herself in a remote part of the country on no very large income, and (as the phrase goes) in a very quiet way. Having some trouble with her eyes, she came up to town to consult an oculist, and naturally stayed with me. The oculist, finding nothing organically wrong, but only a certain weakness of age and constitution recommended her to drink Burgundy. I gave her on successive days some of [my] Richebourg, telling her frankly that it was a very expensive wine, and some of a sound Pommard which could be had for between a half and a third of the price, that she might choose and order some from the merchant who, as it happened, supplied both. I had imagined the first figure would either frighten or shock her, but she said with perfect simplicity, ‘I think, my dear boy, the best always is the best,’ and ordered a small supply of the Richebourg forthwith.’
No doubt to excellent effect.
Originally posted on Boston.com