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No bread, no life

There was this song when we were kids that went something like, "You get no bread with one meatball." That was the earliest recorded sighting of the Atkins Diet.

Dr. Atkins came up with this bright idea that you could lose weight if only you stayed away from bread, pasta and cannoli. This is what passes for insight in America? This is like telling a man to stay away from fast women and slow horses and your marriage will last longer. You, too, can publish a self-help book and make a million bucks.

I know this Atkins thing is all the rage, but it can’t be catching on in South Philly, the kingdom of carbs. If everybody is on Atkins, how come I have to wait in a line a half-mile long to get a loaf of bread from one of the bakeries around here?

At an early age, you must choose whether you’re a Cacia, a Lanci, a Sarcone — well, you get the idea. Living in South Philly is a lot like living in the border states during the Civil War. Brother was pitted against brother, fathers against sons, based on whether they were loyal to the Union. In South Philly, the bread war divides families based upon loyalties to bakeries.

The dinner table becomes a battleground as arguments are waged in support of the more slender seeded loaf from Sarcone’s or one of those fat, crusty loaves from Lanci’s that looks like a NASA spaceship. Atkins doesn’t have a chance as the adherents of Cacia’s pepperoni stromboli face off against those who die for the offerings of area pizzerias. Uncle Nunzi doesn’t speak to two of his cousins because he doesn’t like their taste in bread. What happened to the business about bread being the staff of life? You’re a man, you want to do without your staff?

Sure, we can lose weight by not eating pasta, but at what price happiness? When I eat a nice plate of ravioli or gnocchi, even President Bush doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. My heart overflows with love for humanity at the first bite of my wife’s feathery light manicotti. This guy Atkins, you telling me he was a happy man? Uncle says he must have been a communist trying to ruin our way of life. What kind of a life was it, even if he was a famous diet doctor, when people argued over whether he died fat or thin? Uncle says, "Dead is dead."

What did Atkins have against a nice Italian cream cake? Uncle believes the guy must’ve gotten a soggy cannoli one time and it made the good doctor a bitter man. Was Atkins a real doctor? He became rich, but did he still make house calls? Did he say anything about the malpractice insurance being too high or was he fixated on whether a couple of rolls are "bad" for us?

Look, we in South Philly know as well as everybody else the importance of good carbs versus bad carbs. Good carbs is when it’s Italian and it tastes good. Bad carbs is like the food they serve in Irish pubs. That’s why if you live in the suburbs and you want good carbs, you come to South Philly to eat.

To paraphrase that saint — Vince Lombardi — good eating isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Our holidays would be nothing without carbohydrates. Easter is around the corner. Tell me you’re not going to eat Easter bread. Tell me you’re going to tell your wife, "No ham pies, no ricotta pies this year, honey." Tell me you’re not going to start off your Easter dinner with a half-dozen manicotti before you tackle the ham. Tell me you’re going to tell everybody at the dinner table, "Sorry, I’m on the Atkins Diet." Maybe you can get away with that in Chestnut Hill. It doesn’t fly around here.

You think Joe DiMaggio would have hit in 56 straight games without eating bread or pasta? What, was Joe D. overweight? According to Uncle, that’s why these athletes today resort to steroids to build up their strength when all they need is another dish of linguine. This Jason Giambi, he doesn’t understand this? Who’s the greatest singer in the world? Pavarotti. How long you think he was on the Atkins Diet before he went for some lasagna? Sinatra was even better once he put some flesh on his bones.

I don’t want to leave you thinking that Atkins only attacked the Italian culture with his diet. This man was even against bagels. You mean to tell me he ate his lox without a bagel? This man gave up that wonderful taste of a toasted water bagel lathered with cream cheese? Even Uncle, who is not a man to cross ethnic lines in his food tastes, knows the value of a good bagel.

Atkins didn’t stop there. He tried to get people to eat their corned beef without rye bread. You try to eat a "special" with the corned beef, cole slaw and Russian dressing, but without bread. You talk about sloppy. This Atkins, he must have had a lot of stained ties.

If all of this is not subversive enough, Atkins was anti-Philadelphia. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but what else can you call a man who was against the soft pretzel? Uncle, being a master of economic theory, also wants you to understand the ripple effect on the companies that make mustard and mayo, or worse, what the loss of bread would do to the olive oil industry. There is regrettably already a scarcity of virgins in America. We don’t want to see the "extra virgin" become extinct.

Uncle has become like one of the patriots during the American Revolution. Like Thomas Paine, he is thinking of publishing a pamphlet titled

Common Sense that will implore our citizens not to surrender to the Atkins Diet. He has asked me to be his Paul Revere and ride through our streets hollering, "No bread, no life." I don’t ride, but I have agreed to walk.

In the end, it comes down to not letting your gravy get lonely.

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