“Consuming Passions”: The PB Diet

apple At this time of year, when you’re thinking about dieting to squeeze into a bathing suit in summer, think peanut butter.

“Too many calories,” says a friend, as if I’d suggested a meal with Satan himself. But peanut butter is way in. PB diets litter the internet; there is The Peanut Butter Diet book, PB is heavily promoted in The South Beach Diet, there are serious studies noting that it can curb your appe-tite, that people who snack on it self-adjust their caloric intake.

It may also help your soul – Incas put peanuts in with mummies to help the journey to the spirit world. Yeah, yeah, but what about the fat, you’re thinking? Aha, PB is the new olive oil! PB, it turns out, has good fats – the kind that say hello to your arteries – and none of those bad transfats, evil as an atheist in Bush’s America.

Weird how we label foods “good” and “bad”, as if some were sinners to be exiled, others awaiting sanctification. From time to time, foods move from one category to the other, a kind of redemption. And so, peanut butter. A spoonful of PB has as much fibre as half a cup of broccoli (how virtuous); it is an easily digestible protein (in case you’re a vegetarian or have no teeth). Stick your fingers in the jar for fun. Smear it on baked sweet potatoes, celery or apples. Smear it on a banana and freeze it. PB – 190 calories in two tablespoons – is so cloying, how much can you eat? And satisfying. Call it sin-free, or call it the porn of foods.

You must, of course, eat the pure rather than sugar-laden (really yummy) peanut butters on many supermarket shelves. Never mind, gourmet peanut butter – PB made without much except nuts – has now reached Tesco, as well as littering the wholefoodie stores, along with every other kind of nut butter. I was recently turned on to new and various joys of up-market peanut butter by my belated discovery of the Peanut Butter & Co on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village.

A few blocks from my house, this charming sandwich shop purveys its own yummy PB in a variety of flavours; Cinnamon Raisin Swirl, White Chocolate Wonderful and Dark Choco- late Dreams are not recommended for Phase 1 of your diet. Still, there is the smooth, the crunchy and, my favourite, The Heat Is On – PB made with chillis and cayenne pepper. Oh God, is it good! So you’re eating a few spoonfuls a day instead of a rare cheeseburger dripping grease and, presto, you’re fit as a flea and thinner than ever. A veritable halo shines above your head. But you’re addicted. I’m addicted. It’s time to chow down.

Currently many people – the gastronomically PC – are doing fancy things with PB. They make vinaigrettes with it and slather it on chicken for a Thai effect; they marinate meats in it, make African soups and vegetarian curries. Frozen things full of chocolate and PB appear on menus at some of the foodiest temples in town. Peanut butter and jelly muffins or PB waffles or peanut brittle or ice cream are dandy. Jerry Seinfeld eats his PB on a toasted bagel with cinnamon and honey, which just goes to show what the sinful denizens of New York get up to. But when God invented peanut butter, he intended it for a sandwich.

On Sullivan Street, you can experience one of the great examples of US cuisine: The Fluffernutter, a sandwich made with marshmallow fluff and peanut butter. Incidentally, bread for a PB sandwich should be the mushiest store- bought, presliced white bread, a slice of which can can be rolled into a ball the size of a marble. We’re talking God-fearing all- American white bread here. The classic, of course, is the PB&J, most famous among sandwiches.

To make a PB and jelly sandwich, slather PB on one side of a slice of white bread and jelly (grape), or possibly jam (strawberry) on the other. Then slap them together. Me, I like my PB sandwiches with bacon, and there are those who like it in a BLT. But the ne plus ultra, of course, is the Elvis. At Peanut Butter & Co, they make an Elvis, a grilled PB, banana and honey sandwich (with or without bacon and with butter on the outside). I think this may be a revisionist Elvis. I’ve long been under the impression that the King ate his sand- wiches deep-fried. In fact, the original was first served in Denver and called the Fools’ Gold Loaf. A loaf of Italian bread was hol- lowed out, stuffed with PB, bacon, banana and jelly and warmed up or deep-fried. Elvis bought the recipe. It did not make him thin. He did not use peanut butter as a diet tool. He ate a lot of the stuff, though. Then he died. ✦