The Uncomfortable Problem Most Restaurant Critics Aren't Talking About
We’re asking real people for the little things they do to stay sane and feel good amidst an overload of often confusing health-related information.
Today, we talk to Adam Platt, the restaurant critic at New York Magazine, about the extreme measures he’s taken to stay healthy when he’s paid to eat.
It’s been nearly ten months since Adam Platt went where few food writers have gone quite so explicitly before—into a dietician’s office and onto the scale—and yes, he’s still eating “those goddamn crackers.”
The bran crispbreads are a snack sanctioned by the high-fiber diet known as F-Factor that Platt, with the help of dietician Tanya Zuckerbrot, espoused for his September 2016 tell-all “Platt vs. Fat: Can a food critic diet successfully?“
In that piece, he called them “distressingly tasteless,” with the flavor of “dried lawn-mower clippings and […] the texture of flattened Brillo pads.” A great sell!
And still, Platt eats them every day. After a morning trip to the gym, where he bikes for about an hour, and a bowl of cereal with almond milk for breakfast, he makes a lunch of four “Appetite Control Crackers” topped with cold cuts or salmon. “I’m a convert to this fiber diet,” he told me over the phone, “so part of that is that your insides fill up with this fiber and then you have some more at 4 PM so you don’t eat like a crazy pig” when it comes time for dinner. The day’s grand finale, in line with Platt’s professional duties, is a restaurant meal (“but I don’t attack the bread basket,” he specified).
Platt uses this regimen—a strict diet for two-thirds of the day’s meals—to keep his weight under control. “I tend to think going on binge diets is not the way to deal” with achieving a healthy weight, Platt told me: “You have to have a routine.” Platt’s own schedule is not for the sake of vanity (exclusively), nor is it an attempt to vault onto the wellness bandwagon (“What is the point of kombucha?” Platt shot back at me when I asked him if the hype around this particular fermented beverage bugged him), but rather, for tangible medical concerns.
In his September essay, Platt shared a recent conversation with his family doctor, who warned him of his skyrocketing numbers and prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins and “horse-size pills to control [his] suddenly diabetic blood-sugar levels.” These concerns are not unique to this particular food writer. New Yorker writer AJ Liebling “famously ate himself into the grave at age 59,” Platt wrote, and Mimi Sheraton gained seventy pounds during her tenure as the chief Times restaurant critic and had to spend five years recovering. “Don’t let this job kill ya,” she once told him. “It’s not worth it!”
Since the article was published, Platt’s gained back ten of the forty-some pounds he lost since embarking on the F-Factor. His doctor and nutritionist would like him to lose double what he’s gained, but Platt believes he’s “much healthier than [he] was.”
He sees the real issue as how the lifestyle affects his palate, his money-maker. “When you go on these diets,” Platt explained, “you lose your appetite and you lose your interest in food, and that’s the big sort of complication and the trade-off.” While he’s less interested in eating than ever before, the silver lining (or is it a cruel irony?) is that his experience of the limited amount of food is more intense. “If you spend most of your waking hours ingesting these cardboard-like crackers, your taste sensations are going to come alive.”
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When you’re getting paid to reflect on what you eat, Platt told me, it’s advantageous to “moderate your palate. And that’s one of the reasons I still do it.” Now if only that taste intensification didn’t go hand-in-hand with food apathy.
But when writing about what you’re eating is your livelihood, writing about what you’re not eating can be just as valuable. I asked Platt about the craziest diets he’s ever tried. He told me about a summer he ate only cottage cheese and little pieces of bologna (“it was the seventies,” he justified) and lost fifteen pounds. And his stint at The Ashram in LA, where he felt the toxins “popping out of [his] mouth” and lost fifteen pounds, only to gain back five upon his first week back to reality. He went on “a survival program, which some people use for diets” in southern Utah, which was a sort of reenactment of the treks of Mormon pioneers.
“Whatever the fad is, I will do it.” And you can bet that he’ll tell us all about it. “I’m all for ‘wellness’,” said Platt, when I pushed him to name the trends he finds annoying. “I think it’s more of a function of prosperity and the new generation’s obsession with how things taste, and how they look, and quality of life.”
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The one exception to his try-it-all philosophy? Juice cleanses and colonic cleanses. “Ridiculous.” And the all the colorful fresh-squeezed juices in the clear plastic bottles? “Forget about it,” Platt advised me. “When you get rid of the pulp, that’s the stuff that’s good for you. The pulp is what’s really good for your system.” Spoken like a true fiber fanatic.
What do you think would be the biggest challenge of working as a restaurant critic? Tell us in the comments below.