Wednesday, 3 December 2014

You Are What You Eat

Now here's an interesting little thought on free choice, what choices do we have, really, on what we eat? Hmm.

Let me tell you my background. My mother was a semi-hippy, I won't go into that in depth, but despite being many things that hippies are not, she fed me strangely, for the times. She was a widow who worked full time in a demanding job, and she couldn't cook anyway. At that time you couldn't just walk into supermarkets and buy meals, so she would pick stuff up on the way home. Takeaway. "Take-outs" to you lot.

But you can only do so much of that, and it's only dinner. So, partly to balance this out and partly, as I said "semi-hippy" I also ate a lot of yoghurt, fruit, nuts, salad, salad, and more salad, and anything else that can be bought, and just eaten. As recommended by the health magazines she bought.

I wasn't the only child in this situation, obviously. Although few of my friends' mothers worked, those that did, and plenty of those that didn't, would serve up less than wonderful food. Their "home-cooking" consisted mostly of high carb, high fat rubbish, and any vegetables were overcooked to the point of losing all colour and taste - so then the kids wouldn't eat them at all, and what little nutrition remaining was missed.

You know that reputation for Britsh food being awful? Well, it was. It was garbage in the 1960s. Dreadful. It's fine now, but that's because everyone eats foreign food. Well, in the 1960s, I ate foreign food too. Take-outs. I was eating red peppers happily, by people who knew how cook them, while the only red food my friends ate were Smarties.

So while I chowed down on raw veggies supplemented with vindaloo, my friends were eating some revolting mess of grey mystery meat cooked to death with no seasoning and boiled soft indistinct vegetable matter, and then filling themselves up on sweet stuff and white bread.

What I didn't know then was how much worse it was in the United States. (And still is.) Where ketchup is a vegetable, hot dogs made from GODKNOWSWHAT are a staple food and not just something you eat at the fair, and the amount of sweet stuff eaten is about ten times that of the British diet, including sugar and even fucking marshmallows on vegetables. The type of vegetables, I should add, that are already naturally sweet.

Once a week, on Friday evenings, I went for a special treat, a bottle of cherryade and a packet of crisps. American children had a coke with every meal and treated chips as a side dish with LUNCH.

And so on.

It's not a contest. It's bad both sides.

Things have improved, of course. We are far more conscious of what we eat now, and only the laziest, stupidest parents feed their kids junk, but it's too late for us old ones.

Now we are reaping the rewards of the food choices made for us years ago. Habits formed early on and long-term dietary choices based on nostalgia, or whatever....well, those chickens are coming home to roost.

I still eat yoghurt and raw veggies every day. I still eat a lot of foreign food. Nowadays so does everyone else. But for some of them it's too little, too late, the damage is already done. Their teeth are full of cavities, their digestive system is shot, their blood pressure is through the roof, and they are dieting like crazy.

All those things they said about "who cares" - they regret it now.

So, I go around saying "Ner, ner, ner, ner - told you so". No, of course I don't. Here's why.

1. Parents. You eat what your parents feed you. Where's the choice there? It's not just "damage done". Bad habits start early, and are very hard to change. Food cravings are weird things and they stick around.

2. Authorities. It's bad for you. No, it's good for you. No, it's bad for you. Eat this. No, don't eat that, eat this. Eat margarine! No, don't! Cut out carbs. No wait, you need them! Eat 10 portions of veggies a day. No, hold on, some are too high in sugar! Yibble.

3. Hedonism. I don't care what anyone says, bacon tastes nice. I'm not a whacko who buys it as ice cream or jam, but I eat it on Sundays and I bloody well enjoy it. I don't like brown rice. I do like egg fried rice. We have taste buds for a reason.

4. I'm not exactly in perfect physical shape myself. I'm overweight, and although I did manage to fix my chronic acid issues, very rich food will still send me straight for the Tums. I'm aging, just as everyone else is. Stuff wears out.

No, this is not an area in which any of us should judge. These are personal choices, or non-choices, and if there's one thing that raises us above subsistence, it is enjoying our food. Even if it isn't always good for us.


There's a limit.

There comes a time when as an intelligent person, you have to have some self-discipline, and you have to use some common sense. So, I'm already sated. If I eat one more slice, I'm going to suffer for hours. What should I do? If you can't answer that easily and obviously, you may be suffering from a disorder. It's called greed.

Going back to my childhood we talked about greed a lot, now, not so much. Now we are more likely to talk about "fat shaming". I'm not into fat shaming either but we do seem to have gone from one extreme to the other.

Instead of a bit of common sense, a bit of restraint, a bit of change here and there, like most things in modern society we follow two extremes. Loyally. How you can walk right and left at the same time is beyond me, but it's probable that this paradox is why everyone is stark raving mad these days.

So, we have a fashion industry that insists you need to look like you were just liberated from a concentration camp. Women so thin that they need surgery to have breasts. Teenage girls dying from dieting. Plus, dentists on every street corner. Not to mention that these folk pay a fortune to be thin and have perfect teeth, while half the world can't afford to eat.

At the same time we have portions in restaurants that would feed a whole third world family, we have eating contests, obesity rates over 50%, people who look like sumo wrestlers having to buy two seats on aircraft because they eat junk food 3 (or 4 or 5) times a day, washed down with a gallon of pop and a triple latte, and festivals where the objective is to stuff as much sugar into your body in as short space of time as possible. And you get the day off to do it.

You needn't worry about aliens. They'll take one look at this planet and bugger off. And if you had one inside you, you'd never notice, there's plenty of room.


And it doesn't end with those choices, there are others. Talking of extremes.

Every few years we have a new demon food. Since we learned that saturated fat wasn't killing us, we needed a replacement to blame all our woes on. A scapegoat. A foodstuff that causes every ailment we suffer from. Currently it's gluten.

If you suspect gluten is harming you, get proper tests. Otherwise just reduce your carb intake to a reasonable level, and improve the rest of your diet. And for pity's sake do it one step at a time.

I am so sick of being preached at by neurotic people who have switched from junkfood to organic macrobiotics (this week) and then try to tell ME how to eat, that I've stopped being nice about it, and you know how hard it is to push me to being uncivil.

Get a grip people. Balance.


  1. said my favorite "b-word." Look out, world, this is serious stuff. <3 ~ Blessings! :)

  2. "I'm not into fat shaming either but we do seem to have gone from one extreme to the other." This appears to be a characteristic of Murcan culture. Wildly swinging from one extreme to the next. And the waves of reaction and counter reaction overlap, so you end up with a lot of turbulence and chaos. I loved Michael Pollan's "In defense of food".