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Outfitters of trips that are one week or longer use food as a prism for exploring culture.
Wild Frontiers specializes in adventurous destinations, and with its first food tours this year will focus on off-the-beaten foodie path destinations, including Colombia and Georgia. The nine-day Georgia trip, departing Sept. 26 and led by the food writer Carla Capalbo, will travel from Tbilisi to the wine-growing region of Kakheti and the Caucasus Mountains, where the itinerary includes a dinner and cooking demonstration in a local home (from 2,595 pounds, or about $3,620).
Two years ago, Jim Kane, the founder and director of the tour company Culture Xplorers, went to Chile to help make a series of videos on innovative chefs, foragers and food traditions. He put many of those experiences — including clamming with a local, cooking a feast in an earthen oven and eating in the home of a pair of chefs who source all of their food within a few miles — in the company’s new 10-day Chile: Fjords, Fields & Flavor private tours (from $6,995).
A specialist in South America, Kuoda Travel combines classic and contemporary food experiences in private tours of Peru. In addition to the Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley, for example, where ancient terraces are still used to grow indigenous grains, Kuoda has begun organizing itineraries around Mil, the new restaurant and research center from the chef Virgilio Martinez, that includes working on its farm.
New city outings highlight emerging neighborhoods and local storytelling.
In Portland, Me., Maine Food for Thought Tours, launching in June, will progressively feast at popular restaurants such as Union and Piccolo, where the chefs will discuss their use of local ingredients. The two-hour, five-stop itineraries aim to spotlight not just the dishes but food sustainability, from blueberries to lobster ($72).
It was a few minutes after 6 p.m., and Lim Lao Sa, a fishball noodle stand tucked into an alleyway near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, had just opened. Rain was falling, hard. A series of deftly arranged tarps sheltered patrons sitting on red plastic stools at a handful of tables. Water drizzled off the tarp edges, down the concrete walls and past exposed wiring. Fluorescent bulbs cast harsh shadows. Lim Lao Sa’s owners — a brother and sister who’d inherited the 60-year-old business from their father — bickered vigorously.
My friend Win Luanchaison, a real-estate developer and fervent culinary explorer, and I tucked into our bowls. The quenelle-like fishballs were at once springy and creamy, the rice noodles supple, the broth clear and sure of purpose. It was easy to understand why Lim Lao Sa cooked annually for the Thai princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. “She eats egg noodles served dry,” said Pawita Boriboonchaisiri, the elder sister.
In fact, given all of this — the setting, the food, the feeling that Lim Lao Sa could be washed away in an instant, by a bad mood or even worse weather — I decided that Lim Lao Sa was the platonic ideal of street food. And it was precisely why I’d come to Bangkok.
Last April, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority made international headlines when it announced the city of more than 8 million would ban street food vendors — often considered the world’s best — in order to make sidewalks more accessible. The B.M.A. soon walked back its statement, saying street food would be preserved in Chinatown and the Khao San Road backpacker district, but elsewhere it would be eliminated, the vendors relocated from “vital walkways,” as the Tourism Authority of Thailand put it, to “designated zones and nearby markets.” This would happen by year’s end. Eventually. Maybe. Sometime.
I wasn’t going to take a chance. If Bangkok’s ad hoc restaurants were threatened — not only by clean-sidewalk-loving governments but, just as seriously, by gentrification and changing tastes — I had to go before it was too late. In July, I flew to Bangkok for a week of eating nothing but street food.
Pretty much immediately, I learned that street food was a term with many definitions.
“For me, street food is only a cart,” said Duangporn Songvisava, known as Bo, who with her husband, Dylan Jones, runs the restaurants bo.lan, which received a Michelin star in December, and Err, which serves rustic drinking food with a focus on quality ingredients. When she was young, Ms. Songvisava, now 37, remembered, as many as 20 carts would line up outside her school to sell snacks on sticks to students. “They have, like, the moo ping — grilled pork on a stick, barbecue — the sausage, the fishball. It just fills you up before you have dinner.” Some were pushcarts, others bicycle-based, but all were mobile and ephemeral.
That, she said, was the tail end of the golden age of Bangkok street food. “In the old days when someone wants to open a cart or a stall, they know how to cook,” she said. “The idea was, you’re a good cook — maybe you should make some food for other people, for a living.
Now, Ms. Songvisava said, profit margins rule. “They just buy everything from the factory, use industrial processed food,” she said. “A lot of seasoning and MSG involved to produce the food because people doesn’t complain.”
Ms. Songvisava was telling me this over beers at Talad Saphan Phut, a night market that she considered a sad remedy for Bangkok’s street food woes. It was here, at a lonely, out-of-the-way parking lot, that the city had relocated vendors from the slated-for-destruction Flower Market, on the theory that loyal customers would follow. We were joined by an intrepid eating crew, which included Mr. Jones; Chawadee Nualkhair, the blogger, known as Chow, behind Bangkok Glutton; and the writer Vincent Vichit-Vadakan who had put me up for my stay and now edits the Michelin Guide’s Bangkok site.
“This is like a good five to 10 kilometers from where the original was,” said Ms. Nualkhair. “So the people who used to eat these guys’ food wouldn’t come here on a regular basis with this special trip.” Only a few vendors in all of Bangkok, she estimated, cooked well enough that people would follow them to new locations.
We decided to drown our concerns in the most apropos way: with street food. Along Thanon Chan, in a surprisingly quiet little neighborhood, were sois, or alleyways, full of food vendors, who had been relocated off the main street. Our gang descended upon them, ordering bowls of noodles — yen ta fo, pink rice noodles in broth with wontons and fishballs, and bamee moodaeng, ribbony egg noodles with roast pork — and watery rice porridge studded with bits of duck or nuggets of coagulated blood, and sweet braised pig’s foot, and bags of all kinds of fried things. As we crowded around folding metal tables and accentuated our treasures with chilies in vinegar, or ground dried chilies, and cracked open Thai craft beers, it all felt deliciously normal — the kind of Bangkok street-food life I’d always imagined.
That picture grew more complex over the next few days. In the mornings, I’d leave Vincent’s apartment in search of coffee — and more often than not would return with a baggie of sticky rice and skewers of sweet, fatty grilled pork from the moo-ping cart stationed outside his front door. (Vincent lives near a university, so there’s a steady flow of hungry, frugal students. Some things never change.)
By lunchtime, I would hook up with a friend for exploratory eating. With Dwight Turner, an American who’s blogged for years at BKKFatty.com, I went to the farther reaches of Sukhumvit Road, a central artery through Bangkok. Several SkyTrain stops past the glistening condos and mega-malls, the street-food crackdown didn’t seem to matter, and Mr. Turner and I had to squeeze past countless vendors — of curries, sausages, fruit, flowers, electronics — occupying sidewalk space.
For Mr. Turner, street food was not necessarily defined by mobility. “The necessity,” he said, “is that it’s convenient, at a price that people are willing to pay.”
His definition — which will no doubt enrage certain corners of the internet — opened up what I could consider street food to include Bangkok’s shophouse restaurants: boxy, frill-free dining rooms where the cooking is done up front, in a kitchen that’s often little more than an elaborate, sedentary cart. Such was the case at Sai Kaew, the duck noodle shop Mr. Turner brought me to.
“In the beginning, I worked full-time in an office like most Thais,” said Sai Kaew’s owner, Ruengchai Chartmongkoljaroen. Thirty years ago, however, he quit his job to push a cart. He set up 10 tables on sidewalk space he’d rented in front of a building, walked his cart in circles to attract attention, and of course worked on his recipes, developing the condiment that became his calling card: light, crunchy, slippery boiled duck intestines, or sai kaew. (Excellent with a slather of his vibrant green hot sauce, and a worthy foil for the sweetly rich duck.) The price for a bowl in 1987: 10 baht, or about 40 cents at the time.
“Day 1, we opened from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m.,” he said. “We sold half a duck.”
Business improved, but even so, he pushed the cart for 16 years before parking it at this shophouse, where on a good day he and his two daughters, who’ve learned the business from childhood will go through “50 big ducks.” Though his duck noodles are now well known, the price remains right: Lunch for two was 160 baht, or less than $5.
This trajectory was one I heard time and again as I ate everything from delicate pig’s brain to incendiary papaya salad to rice noodles stir-fried on a charcoal-fired wok. There might be many reasons to open a cart — a desire for freedom, a love of off-cuts — but eventually, almost everyone wants the security of bricks and mortar.
Even Pritipal Singh Sirikumar, whose stand selling crisp, yummy samosas was founded by his father some 50 years ago, dreamed of moving from his open-air nook — about the size of a couch — at the corner of a Chinatown soi. He said it would be to have his own shophouse. “Then we can put in tables and chairs. We can serve more customers. I will serve lassi.”
Mr. Sirikumar’s sentiments were echoed by people like Pongsuang Kunprasop, known as Note, a friend I hadn’t seen in a decade but who refused to eat street food with me. “Been sharing sidewalks with rats and cockroach at night for all my life,” he wrote in an email.
Over the course of a week, I did not see much vermin, nor did I fall ill. (I did carry charcoal pills, a gift from Ms. Songvisava and Mr. Jones, said to counteract food poisoning.) But I also came to appreciate the appeal of air-conditioning, and to understand that the romance attached to the cart, by Thais as well as Westerners, does not always mesh with reality.
It’s hard work to push a cart, and unless you get lucky — like Raan Jay Fai, a crab-omelet stall that won a Michelin star in December (and that is now so busy the owner has said she would like to return the star) — a shophouse restaurant, a permanent stall in a covered market, or even a job cooking “street food” in the food court of a fancy mall promises stability. And for Thais, entering the middle class is often about strolling down a clear sidewalk to work, dining in air-conditioned comfort and going home to a modern condo. Who’s to say they’re wrong in those desires?
Today, nearly a year after the crackdown, Bangkok’s street-food vendors and aficionados have grown accustomed to constant change. Talad Saphan Phut, the market where I’d talked with Ms. Songvisava, shut down in December, and the street-food-centric Sam Yan neighborhood is being redeveloped by Chulalongkorn University, whose projects have already displaced vendors in numerous areas. Street food in Bangkok has always been defined by mobility and ephemerality, but this is something new.
“Precariousness is the new status quo,” Ms. Nualkhair of Bangkok Glutton wrote via Facebook. “The uncertainty alone is enough to move ppl out of town.”
At the same time, street food is a long way from its demise. For every tale I heard of police clearing vendors away, I found a bamee moodaeng stall making its own noodles or heard the late-morning call of a wandering vendor selling curries and fermented rice noodles.
However endangered street food is, pursuing it remains an eye-opening way to discover a city like Bangkok. One morning, Rattama Pongponrat, known as Pom, an ebullient culinary consultant and former curator at Museum Siam, led me on a daylong binge, from a breakfast of toast with coconut jam to a sidewalk stand selling noodles with atypically thick slices of offal. There was fried chicken piled atop metal tables. There was glorious mango ice cream from a dinky corner shop.
And there was Ms. Pongponrat, overjoyed at it all. When the sun was high, we strode through the shaded alleyways of Chinatown, past tropical fruits pickled in chilies, batter-fried squid roe with a spicy-sweet sauce — until, finally, we burst out onto a bridge where Ms. Pongponrat had hoped to find one particular vendor. Instead, the bridge had been entirely cleared.
“Oh, my God, it’s all gone!” Ms. Pongponrat shouted. “I never knew it was a bridge. I’ve never seen this before in my life.” She began swearing, then looked up at a well-tended four-story building, yellow with green shutters, the crisp style at once Chinese and Neo-Classical. “What a beautiful building,” she said in wonder. Then we plunged back into the fray to find another snack.
If You Go
Finding street food in Bangkok is easy — you’ll see fishball and satay stands parked, it seems, in front of nearly every 7-Eleven — but finding the really good stuff takes a little more effort, and a bit of wandering. Addresses for many of the vendors are nonexistent or nonsensical, but this Google Map shows just about every place I visited.
Chinatown is an excellent place to begin, for its density of talented vendors and for the official protection they enjoy (at least for the moment). Yaowarat Road is the heart of its street-food zone — think rolled rice noodles with crispy pork belly, or sweet boiled lotus root on crushed ice — but if you wander a little farther afield, you’ll encounter the fishball-noodle stand Lim Lao Sa (on Song Wat Road near Trok Saphan Yuan), Natthapon Coconut Ice Cream (on Phraeng Phuthon Road), and the high-end drinking-food restaurant Err (394/35 Maha Rat Road; errbkk.com).
For a stroll through not-yet-gentrified Bangkok, take the Sky Train to Udom Suk station and head down Sukhumvit Road soi 103, through numerous vendors crowding the sidewalk. (Try them!) To the left, in the marketplace, is a bamee moodaeng stall that makes its own excellent noodles, and a few blocks northeast is Sai Kaew, the duck noodle soup shop.
To see another way street food is evolving, check out Talad Ruam Sab, known as the Lunch Market, across Asok Road (Sukhumvit soi 21) from Srinakharinwirot University. There you’ll find dozens of tiny stalls serving everything from sweet braised pig’s leg to fiery crab curry with fermented rice noodles. Bring friends, stake out space at a communal table, and order promiscuously.
Finally, there is the Michelin guide, whose Bangkok edition includes 28 street-food vendors (all in shophouses, technically). Find it online at guide.michelin.com/th/en/bangkok.
LinYee Yuan’s new twice-yearly print publication, Mold, came about as an expansion of her website, and a way to explore its story ideas more deeply, around themes such as the microbiome or food waste.
“By 2050, we won’t be able to feed nine billion people on the planet, if we continue to eat and drink the way we do now,” Ms. Yuan said. “It’s kind of a downer. I understand that it’s not something everybody wants to be confronted with in their daily lives, but I think it’s so urgent.”
Mold is driven by this sense of urgency — telling stories at the intersection of food and design that look to the future. Though Ms. Yuan, 37, was quick to note that she was the magazine’s only employee, she didn’t see this as an obstacle.
Ms. Yuan raised more than $35,000 on Kickstarter last year and pulled together the first two issues of Mold in her apartment in New York City; she now prints about 5,000 copies of each issue and sells them locally, as well as in Britain, France, Germany, Singapore and Taiwan.
“A magazine that has a full-time staff of one can still find a global audience,” Ms. Yuan said, “It can make some sort of impact in the world.”
Credit Jake Michaels for The New York Times
Stephen Satterfield, a former sommelier who used to run the food site Nopalize, was frustrated with the food coverage in traditional food magazines, which he said often suffers from a lack of diverse viewpoints, and a lack of context.
“I knew we were going to ask where things came from, and that was going to be the point of view we brought into conversations about food,” he said of his new quarterly magazine, Whetstone. Mr. Satterfield, 33, lives in San Francisco, but produces the magazine on the road, where he spends most of his time.
Since his first issue last year, collaborating with freelancers all over the world, Mr. Satterfield has covered the origins of corn, coffee and winemaking in depth, with reporting from the Republic of Georgia, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia.
“The new democracy in media is that if you have a flagship product and grow a following around that, you’re able to leverage it into more ambitious, larger projects,” said Mr. Satterfield, who aims to expand Whetstone into video production.
His own readership is steadily growing, and he will print about 2,000 copies of his summer issue. Mr. Satterfield said it wasn’t unusual for him to text back and forth, candidly, with new subscribers.
“People are showing up for the real version of you,” he said. “That’s the beautiful thing about this fractured marketplace.”
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At stake is the fate of thousands of supermarket workers, many of whom belong to labor unions and are owed pensions when they retire.
Working with the production company of the Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville, Mr. Chang and Mr. Meehan dress up “Ugly Delicious” with stylistic flourishes that recall Mr. Bourdain’s shows as well as “The Mind of a Chef,” which Mr. Chang and Mr. Bourdain originated. The restaurant visits and chef interviews are broken up with fake commercials, animations, film clips and parodies of Japanese TV comedies or the “Saturday Night Live” Julia-Child-bleeds-out skit. The season finale is structured as a debate between Mr. Chang and the chef Mario Carbone over the relative merits of Italian filled pastas and Asian dumplings.
Video by Netflix
These techniques, and a generous Netflix budget, are on display in the pizza episode, which was filmed in Brooklyn, Tokyo, New Haven, Copenhagen, Naples, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Demonstrating his trademark contrarianism, Mr. Chang praises Domino’s — even donning the company vest and delivering pies — and declares New Haven and then Tokyo as the homes of the world’s best pizza.
The visual curlicues and the attempts to impose a larger thematic structure and narrative — there’s an awful lot of tired talk about how food tells stories — don’t hide the reality that there isn’t a whole lot new or surprising about “Ugly Delicious.” (The exception: the openness with which it discusses racism as a fundamental force in culinary culture.) Its primary influence, as with other food shows, will probably be to max out reservations at impossibly cool-looking restaurants like the Tokyo pizzeria Seirinkan or the locavorish Salare in Seattle.
What the show is really selling is the Chang attitude and mystique, a combination of ego, exactitude, foul-mouthed rebelliousness and self-deprecatory nerdiness. With the opening of Momofuku Noodle Bar 14 years ago, he fortuitously caught the waves of both millennial casualness and fangirl-fanboy-style fetishization (of ingredients, of methods, of chefs) that swept through the restaurant business.
An important part of Mr. Chang’s persona at the start was his outsider status, casting stones at (or at least making withering remarks about) the bastions of haute cuisine where he had learned his trade. That became problematic as he built an international restaurant empire that recently added the 200-plus-seat Momofuku Las Vegas.
And in “Ugly Delicious” he moves with a band of insiders that includes Mr. Meehan, the superstar Danish chef René Redzepi and Mr. Ansari, Mr. Chang’s fellow Netflix star. It’s also a boy’s club. An episode about home cooking is the only one with an equal representation of women and men among the significant speaking roles. In all the others men outnumber women by 2 or 3 to 1; in the pizza episode it’s 8 to 1. This may reflect the state of affairs in the food industry, but it’s surprising for a series that wants to talk about diversity and representation.
(African-American chefs and commentators are even less present, appearing almost exclusively in an episode about the coded meanings and cultural signifiers of fried chicken.)
The show often allows Mr. Chang’s rough edges to show, and sometimes its picture of him is unflattering in ways that don’t seem intentional. His jibes can cross over into meanness, and his pontifications can appear oblivious, as when he compares the art of barbecue to the art of jazz in an episode focused entirely on white and Asian cooks.
“I don’t know how the hell it all happened,” Mr. Chang says, contemplating the franchise that he has become. The claim seems unlikely, and one way to see the show, with its focus on pizza and tacos and dumplings, is as a branding exercise — a pivot away from high-intensity cooking toward the ugly deliciousness of comfort food. The penultimate episode ends with him holding a plate of kimchi and Spam fried rice toward the camera. In the Chang vernacular, it looks bonkers, and you’ll want to crush it.
In our conversation, David Chang said it had been frustrating at times to see that Korean food — beyond bibimbap, barbecue and kimchi — was still so inscrutable for so many people he encountered during the Olympics.
Among his pet peeves, he said, was how non-Koreans used Japanese names to describe Korean dishes: Hwe, sliced raw fish, is not sashimi, he said, his voice rising again; dduk, rice cakes, can be pretty different from mochi; and kimbap, rice rolled inside seaweed with various vegetables or meats, should never, ever, be called maki.
“It’s like having to explain that French and Italian food are different,” Chang said.
Still, Chang concedes, sometimes people might need reference points.
Credit Andrew Keh/The New York Times
At the opening ceremony, for instance, Chang bought eomuk, or fish cakes, at a concession stand, which provoked some bewilderment among his non-Korean companions. “I said, ‘Have you ever had a pike quenelle? It’s basically the same thing,’” he said with a laugh.
I’ve been lucky to have the company of Chang W. Lee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer raised in South Korea, and more important for me, a soul mate in gluttony. He and I have started a lot of our dinners here the same way: getting into a cab with a restaurant in mind and ending up at a different place after a conversation with the driver. And a lot of the dinners have ended the same way: with a second dinner.
It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, just beyond the halfway point of the Games, that Lee first betrayed a hint of fatigue.
“I’ve never had a food marathon like this,” he said, his chopsticks in a bowl of noodles.
It was true. The past week had felt almost like an athletic pursuit. But as far as I was concerned, we were conquering it.
I know that Triscuits and pita bread are our friends. They have only a few ingredients, and no sugar. Wheat Thins and most packaged sandwich breads, on the other hand, have an ingredient list that evokes high school chemistry class, including added sugars.
See if you can stay under a healthy limit.
If you give up sugar for a month, you’ll become part of a growing anti-sugar movement. Research increasingly indicates that an overabundance of simple carbohydrates, and sugar in particular, is the No. 1 problem in modern diets. An aggressive, well-financed campaign by the sugar industry masked this reality for years. Big Sugar instead placed the blame on fats — which seem, after all, as if they should cause obesity.
But fats tend to have more nutritional value than sugar, and sugar is far easier to overeat. Put it this way: Would you find it easier to eat two steaks or two pieces of cake?
Fortunately, the growing understanding of sugar’s dangers has led to a backlash, both in politics and in our diets. Taxes on sweetened drinks — and soda is probably the most efficient delivery system for sugar — have recently passed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, San Francisco and Boulder, Colo. Mexico and France now have one as well, and Ireland and Britain soon will.
Even before the taxes, Americans were cutting back on sugar. Since 1999, per capita consumption of added sweeteners has fallen about 14 percent, according to the Agriculture Department.
Yet it needs to drop a lot more — another 40 percent or so — to return to a healthy level. “Most public authorities think everybody would be healthier eating less sugar,” says Marion Nestle of N.Y.U. “There is tons of evidence.”
You don’t have to cut out sugar for a month to eat less of it, of course. But it can be difficult to reduce your consumption in scattered little ways. You can usually find an excuse to say yes to the plate of cookies at a friend’s house or the candy jar during a meeting. Eliminating added sugar gives you a new baseline and forces you to make changes. Once you do, you’ll probably decide to keep some of your new habits.
My breakfasts, for example, have completely changed. Over the past few decades, typical breakfasts in this country have become “lower-fat versions of dessert,” as Gary Taubes, the author of a new book, “The Case Against Sugar,” puts it.
Mine used to revolve around cereal and granola, which are almost always sweetened. Now I eat a combination of eggs, nuts, fruit, plain yogurt and some well-spiced vegetables. It feels decadent, yet it’s actually healthier than a big bowl of granola.
How should you define sugar during your month? I recommend the definition used by Whole 30, a popular food regimen (which eliminates many things in addition to sugar). The sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables and dairy is allowed. “Nobody eats too much of those,” Nestle says, “not with the fiber and vitamins and minerals they have.”
But every single added sweetener is verboten. No sugar, no corn syrup, no maple syrup, no honey, no fancy-pants agave. Read every ingredient list, looking especially for words that end in “-ose.” Don’t trust the Nutrition Facts table next to the ingredient list, because “0 g” of sugar on that list really means “less than 0.5 g.” Get comfortable asking questions in restaurants. And avoid the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas, too.
Part of the goal, remember, is to relearn how a diet that isn’t dominated by sweeteners tastes. I’ve always liked fruit, but I was still pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was during the month. When I needed a midday treat, a Honeycrisp apple, a few Trader Joe’s apricots or a snack bar that fit the no-sugar bill saved me.
Finally, be careful not to violate the spirit of the month while sticking to the formal rules: Have only one small glass of juice a day, and eat very little with added fruit juices.
There were certainly times when I didn’t enjoy the experience. I missed ice cream, chocolate squares, Chinese restaurants and cocktails. But I also knew that I’d get to enjoy them all again.
The unpleasant parts of a month without sugar are temporary, and they’re tolerable. Some of the benefits continue long after the month is over. If you try it and your experience is anything like mine, I predict that your new normal will feel healthier and no less enjoyable than the old.
However, they also found major flaws in the reporting of findings. People were consistently biased in interpreting their results in favor of a relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity. They improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited others’ results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others’ results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad.
Good reviews of all the observational research note the methodological flaws in this domain, as well as the problems of combining the results of publication-bias-influenced studies into a meta-analysis. The associations should be viewed with skepticism and confirmed with prospective trials.
Further confusing the field is a 2014 study (with more financial conflicts of interest than I thought possible) that found that getting breakfast skippers to eat breakfast, and getting breakfast eaters to skip breakfast, made no difference with respect to weight loss. But a 1992 trial that did the same thing found that both groups lost weight. A balanced perspective would acknowledge that we have no idea what’s going on.
Many of the studies are funded by the food industry, which has a clear bias. Kellogg funded a highly cited article that found that cereal for breakfast is associated with being thinner. The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence (part of PepsiCo) financed a trial regarding consumption of oatmeal or frosted cornflakes (if you eat it in a highly controlled setting each weekday for four weeks), and found that only the no-breakfast group, which lost weight, experienced an increase in cholesterol.
What about the argument that children who eat breakfast behave and perform better in school? Systematic reviews find that this is often the case. But you have to consider that much of the research is looking at the impact of school breakfast programs.
One of the reasons that breakfast seems to improve children’s learning and progress is that, unfortunately, too many don’t get enough to eat. Hunger affects almost one in seven households in America, or about 15 million children. Many more children get school lunches than school breakfasts.
It’s not hard to imagine that children who are hungry will do better if they are nourished. This isn’t the same, though, as testing whether children who are already well nourished and don’t want breakfast should be forced to eat it.
It has been found that children who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight than children who eat two breakfasts. But that seems to be because children who want more breakfasts are going hungry at home. No child who is hungry should be deprived of breakfast. That’s different than saying that eating breakfast helps you to lose weight.
The bottom line is that the evidence for the importance of breakfast is something of a mess. If you’re hungry, eat it. But don’t feel bad if you’d rather skip it, and don’t listen to those who lecture you. Breakfast has no mystical powers.
Correction: May 26, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the result of a study by the Quaker Oats Center of Excellence. It showed that a no-breakfast group had higher cholesterol levels, not that those eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes had lower cholesterol levels or lower weight.