One inescapable characteristic of post-modern society is the plethora of “diets” being pitched 24/7 to the residents of Obesity Nation as quick and easy solutions to a physical deconditioning that typically took years of poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles to achieve.
In no particular order, such plans include the South Beach, Mayo Clinic, MediFast, Atkins, Paleo, Flexitarian, Mediterranean, High-Fiber, Low-Glycemic and High-Cholesterol Diets. There’s also the Zone System, the 30/10 Weight Loss Plan and the Ketogenic Diet.
For people who want someone to provide the food itself, there’s Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. And for people dealing with specific ailments, they can choose from the Heart Healthy Diet, the DASH Diet for Diabetes, the Low-Cholesterol Diet, the Arthritis Diet and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
Unfortunately, these dietary schemes are based on a mere slice of the broad discipline of nutrition science. But who wants to wade through the complexities of the digestive process and the interactions of micro- and macro-nutrients as they impact human metabolism?
I had to do it in order to earn a college degree in Health Education, but most people prefer to have “A Diet” handed to them on a proverbial platter, preferably a program that doesn’t require much thought, delivers immediate results and won’t require any significant lifestyle changes, like regular exercise, proactive stress management or attention to sleep duration and quality.
Turns out that binge watching reality TV while slumped on the couch wolfing down snacks doesn’t actually melt off the pounds most dietary gurus promise will happen if you follow their prescriptions.
But in terms of A Diet handed down by An Authority, a new entrant to the category might be the ultimate in perceived credibility: The Biblical Diet.
As reported in The Washington Post magazine, a husband-and-wife team operating a restaurant at the D.C.-based Museum of the Bible have not only named their establishment “Manna,” they intend to make the mythical substance the star of the next big foodie fad.
A Biblical Bistro
That raises a basic question, however: What is manna? Is it even a thing?
As the story in the Book of Exodus recounts, the Israelites were facing starvation in the desert after escaping from Egypt. “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt,” they complained to Moses, “when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
You’d think the people would be grateful for having been led out of slavery — including getting to waltz through the parting of the Red Sea, while the pharaoh’s army got snuffed out — but kvetching about their situation kind of came with the territory in the Old Testament.
Anyway, in a dramatic scene captured in the 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments,” Charlton Heston receives word from the Almighty that it will “rain bread from heaven; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day.”
As the Book of Numbers described it, “The people gathered the manna and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots.”
I don’t think they teach “seething” in culinary school anymore — although the technique is on display every time some chef gets stiffed on a vendor’s invoice — but while Biblical scholars debate what would appear on the ingredient panel if manna were packaged for retail sale, Todd Gray and his wife Ellen Kassoff, founders of the new Manna restaurant, are readying a menu of “biblical food.”
Manna the restaurant, described by The Post as a “fast-casual concept eatery where [Chef Gray] connects you to history through food,” features falafel made from green garlic, sweet peas and roasted kabocha squash; pistachio and golden lentil hummus; flatbreads with fig and walnut toppings; and rotisserie lamb and fish, presumably straight from the aforementioned “flesh-pots.”
But is manna on the menu at Manna?
Did Moses listen to The Voice from the burning bush?
Gray, relying on scholarship conducted at the Museum of the Bible, identified manna as the “sweet resin that appears on certain shrubs in the Middle East, such as camel’s thorn and tamarisk.”
The product is for real and is sold in crunchy, semi-translucent clumps that look like Grape-Nuts and taste like molasses, caramel or honey, the article noted. Gray said he envisions manna as the next big food trend, suitable for seasoning roast chicken, dusting on a grilled fish kebab or even sprinkling on vanilla ice cream.
Perhaps if the Israelites could have enjoyed a daily serving of ice cream with their manna from heaven, that whole “worshipping the golden calf” thing might not have become a red flag on Moses’ permanent record.
Meanwhile, I’ll stick to perusing the Bible for occasional inspiration, rather than as a divine Michelin Guide to what’s trendy next time I’m dining out.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.