Food is Fuel, but It Can Be Delicious

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For most of human history, we have eaten to stay alive. While food had celebratory aspects to it, humans were stuck in cycles of feast and famine. Weddings, religious celebrations, funerals, feasts, were times to over-indulge. The success of any of these is still judged by the food offered, just try to hold a wedding without a feast. Need I mention Christmas and thanksgiving? Good food goes with a successful family get together.

Toasting to the dearly departed is also common across human cultures. So are special foods reserved for these special occasions. Incidentally, at one point chickens were reserved for holiday feasts, because in older food systems they were reserved for egg-laying. Old chickens take a long time to cook. They are best in stews as well. These were also easier to do, in kitchens that had open hearths but often lacked ovens.

We also had a closer connection to our food. Many of those chickens were part of a family coop, and they were raised from chicks, all the way to the pot. Most of the population did not live in cities. In fact, urban centers were only able to thrive when there were successful farming communities that produced a surplus. Without that surplus, specialists could not exist.

Cities, like the countryside, still were subjected to cycles of feast and famine. Crop failure was bad news, and people died. This is not in olden times. The Great Depression came with massive food insecurity and starvation. The school lunch program is a direct result of this since many depression-era children could not join in World War II, due to Rickets.

This is why successful harvests came with ceremonies thanking the gods, later god. This is why state granaries were built. Those were insurance against a bad harvest. We are far from immunity to this, and we kept strategic reserves until recently.

We are well beyond this point, at least in the West. With the climate emergency, we may very well be back, but for the moment Americans enjoy a feast every day. This is where our relationship with food has been completely distorted.

It’s a business, and this should be no surprise. We have a food system not just feeding us, but concocting calorically dense food designed to be addictive. We know this. The ratio of fat, sugar, and salt in potato chips (for example) is meant to make you crave them. It’s hardly just marketing. You truly should not want to eat just one. That be bad business, and it has little to do with your will.

Many other highly processed foods are designed the same way. These foods lack good nutritional values in many respects, well except for the number of calories.

Then there is the general dislike of fresh foods and vegetables that we have in this country. Salads are rabbit food. We believe that having a cookie for dessert is better than a piece of fruit. Americans are exposed to this from school. While the school lunch program is a good source of calories, especially for children suffering from food insecurity, it lacks an appreciation of healthy food. It also is eaten in a rushed way out of industrial kitchens. Compare and contrast to other nations where these are consumed in a more sedate setting. It even includes china and good silverware.

But kids like pizza and will not eat a piece of fruit! Mac and Cheese they like. Pasta and burritos, maybe Nachos are common offerings. Fruit comes in canned or packaged form. Yes, it’s cheap, but children do not learn about healthy eating. And let’s be honest, when they gain weight later in life and are told…salad, they have trouble with this. The American Standard Diet, SAD for short, is indeed bad for you,

Oh, and apple sauce is cheaper than apples. How we got to this point is not that hard to comprehend. Apple sauce was the only way to get apples in the depth of winter. At the age of just in time, we can get apples and apple sauce to the supermarket at the same time, even in the depth of winter.

Which brings me back to our relationship with food. Too many people, food is something to have to find comfort. We do this during feasts with family. But now we are expanding this to every day. We have also learned that delicious food is fattening. Some are, however, not all are.

We need to change how we think about food. In-season fruit can be delicious. An orange provides important nutrients, can be refreshing, is a source of water…and is utterly enjoyable. Commercial orange juice many times is not. Partly due to the processing it loses something. Give me a fresh orange any day, instead of the commercial stuff.

The same happens with apples.

One of the things that happen when we eat processed is that we lose something. First, processed tends to have a lot of salt. So natural taste is harder to enjoy. Then there is sugar. There is an addiction to it. Even though this remains somewhat controversial, there is some evidence:

In a narrative review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine the authors write that sugar could act as a gateway to alcohol and other addictive substances, adding that like sugar, like cocaine and opium, is refined from plants to yield pure white crystals — a process they say “significantly adds to its addictive properties.”

The article was co-authored by cardiovascular research scientist James J DiNicolantonio and cardiologist James H O’Keefe, both from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas, together with William Wilson — a physician with the nonprofit US group practice Lahey Health.

”Consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure, leading to the seeking out of sugar,” they write, citing rodent studies which show that sweetness is preferred even over cocaine, and that mice can experience sugar withdrawal

So if you find yourself having trouble kicking the habit…

But how can I learn to eat veggies? Learn to appreciate the taste and textures. Avoid adding things like butter for everyday cooking. It’s fine for a feast, by the way. A fresh salad is great for lunch, and think of it as a source of nutrients that your body needs. It is not rabbit food. Get over that thinking.

Some of this is in the mind. Some are how you grew up eating. For me, a piece of fruit for dessert was the norm. Ice-cream was a very rare treat. Why it’s critical to teach young children to enjoy fresh fruits and veggies.

I personally eat four to six small meals a day. I am a grazer. It works for me. But I also enjoy some almonds and blueberries as a snack. In season blueberries are sweet.

We have a veggie with every dinner. Sometimes cooked in the winter in a nice mole de olla. This is a nice spicy soup.

Our distorsión though also goes into what we think is healthy and a healthy weight. According to CNN:

28% of Americans said they weighed 200 pounds or more between 2010 and 2019 — a four-point jump from a 2001 to 2009, according to a new Gallup poll. Still, fewer Americans now consider themselves overweight or obese.

That might reflect changing attitudes toward weight, but the pollsters said it doesn’t bode well for health. Local and state programs to address obesity haven’t been enough to stall its spread across the United States, despite the increased risk of deadly diseases that accompany excessive weight gain.

From a public health perspective, this is a problem. But it is a reflection of where we are. Distorted views of what is healthy food, what a healthy portion is, and a healthy weight are part of our eternal feast.

Good food can be healthy and delicious. It is not just limited to salads or fresh fruits. But they certainly are part of it. The internet memes making fun of these choices are a problem as well. They reinforce this very unhealthy relationship with good food. Try different things. For us this year it was Swiss chard. I cooked it with some salt, onions, garlic, pepper, on the skillet with a little oil. It makes for a great tasting, colorful, side dish.

Enjoy an apple. Get some blueberries, and appreciate food when it’s not highly processed. It’s good for you. Cook at home, and enjoy these gifts of the earth for taste, texture, health, and family.

You need to eat to live. But that does not mean you should deprive yourself of good food. However, it’s time to learn how to cook. It does take time, but the results can be delicious. Even when you go for less calorie dense goodies.

There is another benefit. When you eat healthily you have more energy and feel less dragged down. My experience is that a bag of chips gives me a quick high, and then I crash. This is actually scientifically proven. Getting quick highs can be addictive, but it is not healthy.

Here are good selections for that mid-day and mid-afternoon slump. These days a handful of edamame is good for me as well.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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