The egg-white omelet, America's reigning symbol of bland dining and misguided nutritional advice, died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. It was 42.
The cause of death was unclear, though longtime fans of the egg-white omelet cited a recent study that found dietary cholesterol played a much smaller role in overall health than many had thought. In late February, medical experts admitted that there was no basis for the long-held assumption that such items as egg yolk, avocado and shrimp played a significant part in cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
Cholesterol is no longer a "nutrient of concern," an advisory panel of health experts told the federal government.
On Friday, news of the demise of the ubiquitous egg-white omelet sent much of the nation into nutritional turmoil. One expert noted that the widespread cholesterol warning, like much dietary advice, was "never supported by science."
Separated from its yolks at an early age, the egg-white omelet spent its early years in California, then moved on to fashionable eateries across the country. For health-conscious baby boomers, egg yolks were soon regarded with the same disdain as secondhand smoke and sleazy CBS sitcoms.
Though still legal in most states, egg yolks fell out of favor with cooks hoping to lighten overly rich foods. Despite the yolks' sunny hue and textural supremacy, few supporters stood up in defense of them.
Yet, in kitchens across the nation, expert cooks found there were no real substitutes. Egg yolk added the sort of creaminess cooks and diners craved across all spectrums of culinary creations, from frostings to frittatas. Despite offering a divine spiritual alchemy that no other ingredient could ever really match, egg yolks were often dumped with the coffee grounds and cantaloupe rinds. The collective palate of the nation seemed to suffer.
Meanwhile, the egg-white omelet became a pseudo-health superstar, despite remaining so bland as to be almost inedible. Even better cooks found that no matter what you mixed in, egg whites remained only slightly satisfying, offering the same level of gastronomic happiness as gnawing on your own elbow.
"No one ever smiled after finishing an egg-white omelet," one chef recalled last week.
Despite it all, the egg-white omelet still managed to change the food industry, part of a health-obsessed zeitgeist that led to such publications as Cooking Light and to ingredients no one ever considered eating before, like kale and skim-milk ricotta.
Over the years, the consumption of supposedly healthful but awful foods took its toll on Americans at every level. They became increasingly hostile and suspicious toward one another, and the ill will spilled into politics, business and everyday life.
The simmering frustration over egg-white omelets eventually made its way into new media and was credited for much of the growth of the Internet. The constant vitriol on Internet forums, many thought, was a direct result of the unsatisfying egg-white omelet.
Nora Ephron, the late screenwriter and journalist, was one of the few significant voices to take on the ridiculousness of such omelets. In 2010, Ephron wrote: "You don't make an omelet by taking out the yolks. You make one by putting additional yolks in. A really great omelet has two whole eggs and one extra yolk, and by the way, the same thing goes for scrambled eggs."
In recent years, consumers desperate for sound nutritional advice were increasingly baffled by the seesaw nature of what they were hearing. Decades of government warnings about fats and oils proved increasingly shaky. After years of shunning butter, consumers were told that margarine was even worse, described by some as "chemical gunk."
The findings on their beloved morning coffee were even more confusing. One day coffee was good for you; the next day it was the worst thing since nuclear sludge.
Other questions surfaced: For instance, if one glass of red wine a night was good for someone's health, wouldn't two glasses be twice as good?
"What about an entire bottle?" some wondered.
"Or a case?"
The purported health benefits of dark chocolate, meanwhile, led to some extreme behavior. One young mother in Santa Monica recently ate her weight in Ghirardelli's Intense Dark Chocolate, then collapsed from an endorphin rush during yoga class. Authorities reported that it took six paramedics, all aspiring actors, to revive her. She eventually ran off with one of them.
Survivors of the egg-white omelet include lettuce wraps, tofu lasagna and fat-free sour cream.
Services are pending.