Bite Me

Everyone on the bandwagon! We're headin' down to Atkinstown and don't wanna leave nobody behind...

Atkins is everywhere these days. The eponymous diet that Dr. Robert Atkins stumped for pretty much non-stop from the moment his first book on the subject was published (Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, 1972) until his death last year at 72 has been fodder for talk shows, provided the springboard for slick marketing campaigns worth millions, and basically reshaped the food world in the image of a high-protein/low-carb gospel of which Dr. Bobby has always been the primary saint.

T.G.I. Friday's now boasts an "Atkins-approved menu." Village Inn restaurants have a low-carb, high-protein menu. McDonald's is getting in on the game, as are Burger King, Wendy's and Chipotle. Local 7-Elevens are hanging "Join the Low Carb Revolution" banners. Caldonia's on Parker Road is pushing Atkins on its billboard with the catchphrase "You can't beat our meat." Johnny's Diner, one of my Sunday-morning breakfast spots, has the Atkins moniker plastered boldly across its windows. Brother's BBQ is advertising its barbecue as the original low-carb meal. Both Max Burgerworks and Burgers-n-Sports are offering burgers in the nude -- no bun. And even a paint store on Leetsdale is having a little fun with the craze by advertising "low-carb paint" on its big, light-up billboard. I'm sure that gives all the paint-chip eaters in town no end of comfort.

Last month, Denver hosted the nation's first business conference designed to examine the "opportunities and risks in the booming low-carb manufacturing and retailing industry." Made me want to head right over with a tractor-trailer full of pasta, Ding-Dongs and baked potatoes and see what kind of trouble I could stir up. But you know what? Trailer-rental companies won't give an eighteen-wheeler to just anyone. And to fill one to the axle stops with a nice spaghetti bolognese topped with Twinkies would require 20,000 pounds of pasta (cooked weight), 25,000 pounds of sauce, and roughly 8,000 twelve-count boxes of Twinkies. The bean counters who handle my expenses here at Bite Me HQ are generous, but not that generous.

So instead, I got on the phone and had a little chat with Laurie Kuntz, the CEO of LowCarbiz -- a new, Denver-based company that publishes the LowCarbiz newsletter, an industry insider's publication on all things carb-free, and is responsible for bringing the Low Carb Summit to town.

I caught Kuntz in the basement of the Adam's Mark Hotel, on the move between lunch (provided by La Tortilla Factory, New West Foods and Junior's Cheesecakes) and the first of the afternoon panel discussions ("Low Carb for the Non-Dieter"). My first question: Why Denver?

"Just because we're here, I guess," Kuntz replied. "This is where our business is, so we decided to try it out in Denver first."

The response was beyond anything LowCarbiz could have imagined. "Honestly, we didn't expect fifty people," she said, explaining that since her business is so new (the newsletter began publication in July 2003), any guess at how many people might be interested in two solid days of marketing, networking and low-carb snacks would be a total shot in the dark. In the end, Kuntz got about ten times the fifty registrants she'd expected, and nearly a hundred business owners and diet experts spoke on more than a dozen panels. "We booked one entire hotel, then had to move on and book a second venue because we ran out of space," she told me.

So LowCarbiz has already scheduled a second event in Washington, D.C., for May. And while the purpose of this first confab was "more like a business-to-business education program," the D.C. meeting will deal primarily with policy and regulatory issues and best business practices in an industry that generated anywhere from $3 billion to $10 billion last year, according to estimates.

Kuntz put the figure at a nice, even $6 billion. "And that should more than double next year," she added. Why?

"Because it's not just a low-carb diet, it's a low-carb lifestyle," she replied. "Fifty million people in the United States are obese, and they all want to do something to change that."

If the success of this first low-carb convocation is any indication, those looking for that low-carb lifestyle will have plenty of products, programs and personalities to choose from. "This isn't a trend or a fad," Kuntz advised. "We have everything here that's for eating and drinking. And for snacking. Everything that people need. And next year, there will be more markets and more restaurants joining us. Right now, it looks like it's only going to keep growing."

That's the kind of talk I'm more accustomed to hearing from late-night AM radio preachers and extremist politicians than foodies, but food is becoming the new battleground for so many things that define us as people.

A couple of weeks ago, New York City had to issue a humbling apology to Veronica Atkins, widow of the good doctor, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- in one of those oh-so-perfect gaffes -- called the dead Atkins "fat," then went on to joke with a bunch of Brooklyn firefighters that the weight-loss guru's diet may have contributed to his death. But unless you want to count the effects of mass and gravity, the doc's weight had nothing to do with his death: He died from a nasty bonk on the melon after a slip on an icy sidewalk.

So Veronica Atkins went on Good Morning America to demand an apology, and as soon as Bloomberg got his foot out of his mouth, he gave one -- also offering to take the widow Atkins out for a steak dinner, his treat.

The New York Times bestseller lists are packed with diet books, and magazines, talk shows and even news programs are dominated by talk of organic this and low-carb that. Used to be that back in the day, you could strike up a conversation with anyone by asking where he was from or what he did for a living or what that weird smell was coming from his suitcase. Now you'd be better off asking about his ketosis levels or if he prefers the Zone diet to Fat Whackers.

Last week I got the chance to chat with Dr. Udo Erasmus (no, I'm not making that name up), author of Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill and a contemporary of Dr. Bobby, who claims that Atkins's gospel of "It's the carbs, stupid" was an excellent start, but only went halfway. "Atkins is just a marketing thing now that the pioneer is gone," Erasmus said. "Where Dr. Atkins went wrong was, he didn't pay attention to the quality of fats people were consuming."

Which means that all those people who hear about the Atkins diet and think, "Wow! All the fried bacon I can eat! Sign me up!" are sadly mistaken. "He was right about the problem of carbohydrates," Erasmus says. "But what I like to say we need is a 'right-fat, carb-conscious' diet." And "right fat," according to Erasmus (who holds a Ph.D. in nutrition from the University of British Columbia), means big doses of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids -- things Americans are lethally short of.

We were on the phone for twenty minutes, during which time Erasmus scared the crap out of me. Pretty much everything I eat -- from fried foods to hydrogenated oils to cooking oils damaged by processing with "Drano, window cleaner and bleach" -- is filling my body with tiny little genetic time bombs that, as we spoke, were giving me chronic fatigue, dry skin, prostate cancer, diabetes, ADD, hypertension and high cholesterol; doubling my risk of a heart attack; making me fat, ugly, dumb and brutish; and inflaming each and every vital organ in my poor, essential-fat-deprived body. Ninety-nine percent of the population is affected by fatty-acid deficiency, he claimed, and "if the deficiency goes on for long enough, you die."

Just what I wanted to hear.

But luckily (and really, not surprisingly), Erasmus had a solution to my impending mortality: Udo's Choice Oil Blend, his custom cocktail of Omega 3 and 6 -- available locally at Wild Oats, Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage and other select health-food retailers. "The one thing that gives you everything you need," he said, the equivalent (in good fats and healthy oils) of eating 123 pounds of green vegetables a day.

And before all you cynics out there start shouting "snake oil" (which Erasmus is also a proponent of, particularly Chinese water-snake oil, very high in essential fats and minerals), let me say that the man did make a convincing case for our current human predisposition toward fat and the genetics and biology involved in the molecular cha-cha going on in our bodies every day. He's got a bit of that doomsday-prophet vibe about him, sure, and a huckster's talent for making you think he's got the answer to all your worldly ills, but he also spins a good yarn and has seventeen years' worth of research in the field to back him up. He'll share that research from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, February 5, at the Jaycee Depot, 2275 30th Street in Boulder; you can also read all about it on his Web site (www.rightfatdiet.com).

As Laurie Kuntz said, it's no longer just about what we eat. It's about how we live.

If you need me, I'll be down in my basement hoarding Twinkies for the protein apocalypse.

Leftovers: After six years, Simone and Christine Parisi have moved Parisi, their much-loved Italian restaurant/deli/pizzeria originally located at 4408 Lowell Boulevard (a space soon to be home to Café Brazil), into bigger digs at 4401 Tennyson Street. But even with a 55-seat dining room, the place is packed. "Honestly, we never imagined we'd be dealing with this kind of volume," Christine says. "We'll be full and still have a line out the door. But we don't want to take reservations. We don't want to put names on a list."

So instead, she and her husband, son of a foodie family in Florence whom Christine had to "drag kicking and screaming" to the States in 1997, try to make people happy by explaining that the new and improved Parisi "is really a quick and casual kind of place."

"So even if they have to wait a little," Christine says, "it still won't be as long as it would in a normal restaurant."

What's inspiring this flood of the foodie faithful? Good grub, made and served the way it's done in Italy -- which is not necessarily what Denverites are used to. "When you go to a pizzeria in Italy, they serve way more than just pizza," Christine says. So in addition to custom pies, Parisi offers page after page of pasta, gnocchi, sandwiches and risotto. "And this isn't frou-frou food, like it is at some restaurants," she adds. "I respect what the other, more traditional north Denver places are doing, but my husband, he takes a lot of pride in his culture. He's into satisfying his own ideas of what we should serve. We just had to do our own thing." She laughs, then says, "The biggest thing is just not to sell out."

Cheers to that. Parisi is open daily for lunch and dinner, is crazy busy on Saturday and is closed on Sunday, so that Simone and Christine can rest.

From the real taste of Italy in north Denver, we move on to the real taste of Japan on South Colorado Boulevard, where Sushi Basho has rolled out the Oriental carpet at 2188 South Colorado in the weird little A-frame right next to that meat-eater's haven, Crown Burger. Early reports coming in on the Bite Me HQ red phone rave about the sushi rolls -- tiny, masterful works of art that can be yours for just a buck a pop.

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