Don't forget to put out the `lite'!

NEW products have entered the market bearing the awful word ``lite.'' The ear hears a cute, artificial chirp, as from the lips of a metal canary. How ``lite'' weighs upon the literate heart! In addition to ``lite'' milk and ``lite'' ice cream and ``lite'' cocoa mix and all the rest, we consumers now have the dubious delight (or maybe ``delite'') of ``lite'' bread.

Like all serious ``lite'' products, ``lite'' bread is strong on nutrition, you bet, but short on calories.

How do our ingenious bakers make bread ``lite''? What, in this age of post-technology marvels, is the secret ingredient? Powdered cellulose, otherwise known as washed wood pulp.

The dieticians call it ``nonnutritive fiber,'' which has a nice healthy ring to it. But there you are -- yesterday's recycled newspaper could become tomorrow's loaf of bread.

What yummy headlines a good editor might whip up from that!

Well, probably this isn't quite the way it's done. But a lot of us handymen are going to sweep up our sawdust pretty fast before some chap in a white chef's hat comes around with a dustpan and broom.

``Lite'' breadmakers have defended their recipe by pointing their doughy fingers at others. Do consumers know, one spokesman has asked, that ``lite'' margarine is made ``lite'' by pumping air into it? Do ``lite'' beverage drinkers understand that all those wet calories are diminished by simply adding more water?

``Lite'' gets us into heavy trade-offs. To leave the subject of food for just a minute, automobiles became ``lite'' by substituting aluminum and plastic for steel so gas could be saved, thus satisfying one government standard at the expense of another: Some of those ``lite'' bumpers can be bashed by a kick from a used-car buyer, to say nothing of a sledgehammer at the federal testing center.

The Federal Drug Administration says washed wood pulp is innocent, and nobody really doubts it. Still, ``lite'' doesn't exactly set the taste buds tingling. ``Lite'' vibrates to the same charmless resonance as ``lo cal'' -- a phrase that seems to suggest half-thawed cottage cheese salad on an economy airline.

Even when combined with ``lively,'' ``lite'' is not likely to provoke a record amount of lip-smacking.

Certainly a phrase like ``lite snax'' is guaranteed to kill the appetite and ensure the success of any diet.

A good euphemism nowadays is hard to find -- there's plenty of the other kind.

Once we get out our ``lite'' computers and figure how little difference there is between the calories in ice milk and ice cream -- between ``lite'' or ``lo fat'' yogurt and the regular -- we'll stop behaving in this ``lite''-headed manner anyway.

``Light'' is such a rich word that it doesn't deserve discounting. In its adjectival sense of weightlessness, light is a dancer's word, full of grace, buoyant, immaterial. It's the stuff bird's flight and lyric poetry are made of.

As for light, the golden noun, it crowns the universe as sun and moon and stars -- trickling down to banish the darkness even at supermarket bakery counters. ``Truly the light is sweet,'' as the author of Ecclesiastes said. Light, that is -- not ``lite.'' A Wednesday and Friday column

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