In my imaginary world, I would bathe in a vat of dark, luscious chocolate on a daily basis. I would luxuriate in the satiny feel of it cascasding down my body. I would have a small cup next to the vat so I could periodically sip at the warm, creamy concoction.
In addition, I would like to live in a house of gingerbread in which all the furniture is made of some kind of candy/chocolate. Instead of making the bed, I would take a bite of the graham cracker sheets, along with the marshmallow pillow, and the chocolate comforter. Then, I would brush my teeth with chocolate syrup and floss my teeth with cotton candy.
Next, I would eat a real breakfast of bagels, cream cheese, and lox. In my fantasy world, I am not allergic to any kind of food. I would drink my cup of Mud Pie coffee (Deans Beans, yo!), and have a piece of chocolate.
Hey, it’s my fantasy world, so I get to eat whatever I want.
Why the hell am I writing about my food-porn fantasies? Because I have noticed a resurgence in the “eating is not for pleasure–it’s a necessity” school of thought, and I am rebelling against it. I know food is a necessity. I know that we can’t shun it the way we can cigarettes (another vice that has been thoroughly villainized, but that’s for another entry), but why should we even want to be able to shun food?
Let me backtrack. On Saturday, I heard on NPR’s food program from a guy who said that we need to surround ourselves with people who bring…the host cut in and said, “Goodness?” She quickly retracted herself and said, “Positivity into our lives.” See, the guy (I think he’s a doctor, but I’m too lazy to look it up) said that if you surround yourself with obese people, you have a blankety-blank chance of being more obese yourself.
Putting aside the idea that being overweight is harmful to your health (I’m not convinced it’s the be-all end-all that many doctors claim it is), this guy was advocating shunting fat people from your life. People who smoke, too. Not people who drink, though, oddly enough. So, he did say that goodness was the right word for it. We should only hang around people who bring goodness into our lives.
Got that? If you are overweight or you smoke, you are bringing badness into the lives of the people around you. I could take that one step further and say if you are the CEO of a major bank and making three hundred times the amount that the janitor is making, you bring badness into the lives of the people around you. Why is that ridiculous? It’s no more ridiculous than what this guy is saying.
I am not suggesting that our friends and family do not influence our behavior or our habits. However, I am protesting the labeling of these behaviors so concretely as bad or good. Ok, I am bringing the cigarette thing into the discussion because the guy I listened to today on MPR (I will link this guy as he’s a big muckety-muck) was saying we’ve succeeded in making cigarettes the enemy and that people no longer think it’s cool to smoke.
He wants to change the public perception of fast food so it mirrors the new public perception of smoking. I have issues with this because not only have we broadcast the fact that smoking is bad for you, we have promoted the idea that if you smoke, you are a bad person to boot. The tolerance for smokers is so low, that if a person smokes, he or she usually feels the need to apologize or defend the habit. In addition, the hefty taxes on cigarettes and the banning of smoking in all public venues (in MN) place an undue amount of the burden on the poor. I’ve written about that before, so I’m not going to rehash the points. What I do want to say is that our black and white way of looking at things doesn’t help. I smoked a cigarette a day for a while, and my doctor said it didn’t do any real damage to me. Right now, I smoke four cigarettes each time I go out with my best friend, which is once a month or once every other month. I have one drink at the same time. Yet, while the drink would be viewed as natural and perfectly fine (indeed, I’ve been teased for being such a lightweight), the same could not be said of the smoking.
Ok. Back to Dr. David Kessler on MPR. First of all, he is annoying. His voice is whiny, and he is joyless. This matters because when he talks about eating and food, he sucks the joy out of it. He kept repeating his mantra of ‘salt, sugar, and fat’ until I wanted to punch him in the mouth. His book is about the science of overeating and how we have triggers and cues that make us want to eat. I have no argument there. In addition, he was saying that fast food restaurants have perfected the best way to trigger us to want to eat more, to never be satisfied. I can agree with him there as well.
Where I differ is he seems to view eating for emotional reasons or for pleasure as a weakness. He thinks we should only eat as much as we need (whatever that even means) at any given moment. He would like to go back to the three meals a day scenario as well. He thinks you should never be quite full and that it’s good for kids to feel hungry. One caller said that his doctor gave him the advice to always have hunger pains between meals.
Now, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television, but as someone who has battled eating disorders most of her fucking life, I would like to say something here. Much of what this doctor advocates (including having your kids read all food labels, constantly questioning what your body needs at any given moment and not what it wants) is something that I did when I was trying to starve myself to death. I am not saying that people shouldn’t be nutritionally aware of what they eat–I am saying that one should not become obsessed with it as if it’s the only thing important when it comes to food.
The good doctor also said that if kids are informed about their food and involved in the process, they won’t want the fast food any more with its sugar, salt, and fat. Does he have kids? I have a niece. She knows much more about the process of food than I did at her age, and yet, she still likes her McDonalds every now and again. My mom restricted what food was in the house as I was growing up (put me on my first diet when I was seven), and it didn’t make me any less apt to want to eat rich foods. If anything, it made me more apt to reach for the sweet stuff.
To be fair, Dr. Kessler acknowledges that your children can’t feel like they’re deprived otherwise, they will gravitate towards the forbidden. However, in all his talking about food, I never heard any…desire for food itself. It was depressing to hear him talk about food as though it were the enemy, and I’m afraid that women know all-too-well that way of thinking.
One other thing Dr. Kessler said with which I agree: It’s difficult to know when you’re hungry because we have so many external cues that war with our body’s instincts. As I have said before, if I truly try to eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full approach, I get frustrated because my instincts are all fucked up. Still, I don’t think taking all the joy out of eating is the answer. Portion control is something I can get behind. Put a certain amount on your plate and only eat that. I don’t countenance any kind of calorie counting (or fat gram counting, for that matter) because in that road lies misery and obsession.
What Dr. Kessler doesn’t seem to grasp is that for many people, there is an emotional aspect to eating. What’s more, not everyone sees that as a bad thing. You get together with a bunch of friends and one of them cooks a lovely French meal? What could be better than giggling, gabbing, and eating fine food? There is a communal aspect to eating that should be savored, not shunned.
What I am trying to say is, I don’t want to have an adversarial relationship with my food. I’ve been there done that, and all it does is create more problems than it solves. To me, when I can shunt aside my own eating issues, food is wondrous, beautiful, glorious, and nourishing. It would be a shame to reduce it to nothing more than fuel.