There's a Moral in Here Somewhere

Many years ago, I spent a few days with a visiting Californian. We did the usual business meetings, interspersed with the activities of the Crescent City, which we all take for granted: Eating, drinking, walking around the Quarter, listening to some music, then drinking and eating.

All seemed pretty normal to me, but at the end of the visit, the Left Coaster said, “I’ve heard about this New Orleans lifestyle but did not buy into what I was told. You people really do eat an awful lot of food that is not very good for you, including fried just about anything. And you drink a lot. I mean, a lot. Haven’t you people gotten ‘The Word’ yet?”

What she was referring to, I’m sure, was our consuming lifestyle, and our penchant for living large at a time when health authorities are telling us that many of the habits we New Orleanians treasure are really not good for us, particularly for our waistlines and vascular systems.

It all came back to me recently as I have done some “studies” over the past few months. (Okay, in all honesty, they were not studies, but I was paying attention to numerous news releases and stories that I could not ignore no matter how hard I tried.) The gist was the importance of diets and alcohol, including the effects of salt, sugar, red meats, peppers, fresh fruit, vegetables and other items we put into our systems. These items can alter, positively and negatively, the length of time we spend on this earth – not in it.

Over the past few months a number of definitive health findings, fully backed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, have been released, noting in particular that processed meat in just about any quantity is bad, and alcohol in moderation is good. I guess it’s too much to ask that both bacon and a good dose of tequila every day is the way to live.

I am also jarred rudely into reality when something that seems like it ought to be in the “good” group suddenly turns out to be in the “not all that good” group. Remember the saccharine knee-jerks of a couple of years ago? We were all going to get off of sugar and head for a chemical substitute. Then a couple of lab mice testing the product contracted cancer. Of course they gave them enough saccharine during the testing to satisfy an entire battalion of sweet tea drinkers. Still, what was supposed to be good was now perceived to be marginally bad.

A new product hit the shelves not too long ago ready to satisfy our craving for margaritas or convenience or both, but without the nasty-sweet, weight-inducing aspects of a calorie-laden (up to 700 in one drink) adult popsicle . Since I’m not a fan of sweet margaritas to begin with, SkinnyGirl Margaritas® were of some interest to me. These bottles of pre-mixed margaritas, with alcohol already included, are only about 100 calories per serving. They gained quite a following, particularly among those folks who, in the words of creator Bethenny Frankel, don’t want “the guilt or the calories.”

Bethenny Frankel, you may know, is the noted author of the book Naturally Thin, as well as being a star of television’s Real Housewives of New York City. If that resumé does not qualify her as a margarita expert, I cannot imagine what would.

Noted in her promotional materials is the statement that “prepared cocktails were … very high in calories, and were generally made with high fructose corn syrup, yellow dye #5, preservatives and other ingredients Bethenny would never include in any product she would drink, let alone sell. She … realized there was an opportunity: To create a low-calorie, all natural, prepared margarita for people like her, who are concerned about calories and ingredients, but still want to enjoy a cocktail responsibly.”

So far, a laudable mission. And when released into the marketplace it appeared it was a mission accomplished. The product is now in national release and it is a huge hit.

Then along comes the anti-spoilage sports at Whole Foods market, who not only fully bought into the program but also bought into the verbiage. Particularly since Bethenny herself says that SkinnyGirl Margarita “contains no preservatives.” That was very appealing to the nice folks at Whole Foods who founded an empire on the premise that what’s in their stores is as free of added preservatives as can be. But not so fast, additive-breath.

It seems there’s the little matter of the sodium benzoate in the SkinnyGirl mix. If you look up sodium benzoate on the web, just about every description of the substance uses the word “preservative” within the first sentence.

Sodium benzoate is indeed just that, a preservative, inhibiting the growth of bacteria, yeasts and microorganisms. It is primarily used in drinks and products that need to possess a long shelf-life, and is beneficial for that purpose – particularly in products that are slightly within the acidic range. Think soft drinks, jelly, fruit pies, fruit beverages and the like.

It does not take much sodium benzoate to do the job of preservation, but then that misses the point of “no preservatives” as opposed to “some preservatives.”

That sucking sound you hear is the SkinnyGirl margarita and sangria products leaving the shelves of Whole Foods Market. How they left is a matter of some discussion, whether it happened by customer buying them or management clearing them out. Bottom line: they’re gone and they won’t reappear.

A Whole Foods spokesperson told E! Online, “This product had been offered in about a dozen of Whole Foods Markets’ 310 stores. After discovering that it contains a preservative that does not meet our quality standards, we have had to stop selling it.”

Of local interest, the Whole Foods Markets in the New Orleans area had it, and now they don’t.

Showing a touch of Real Housewives class, Bethenny responded, “With all due respect to Whole Foods, we were in a dozen of their stores and have decided not to continue in these stores. They represent an infinitesimal fraction of our business. We are, in fact, the fastest growing spirits brand in the U.S. We were bound to piss someone off and everyone loves to try and tear down a success.”

I’m thinking that my California friend is following this story and saying, “Oh yes, I’ll just pass on this product.” And I’m thinking my New Orleans friends are saying, “Who cares? Add a bunch more tequila to the mix and then you have a party, dude.”

Á chacun son propre.
(To each his own.)

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