Everywhere I turn I see commentary about food.
Myriad diets are available to reverse any disease you can think of; some probably even claim to reverse aging itself. Then there are those who disdain dieters and aim to debunk these weapons of mass destruction: the Atkins diet, the 28-Days-To-Lean plan, the Lose-20-Pounds-Fast guarantee.
Some ideas attempt to discredit a singular food or type of food, like gluten-free or vegan approaches to eating. Then there are those who scoff at gluten-free and vegan menu options; “surely people who eat this way are following some sort of trend,” they postulate.
There’s fast food and slow food; there’s Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation in 2001 and Michael Pollan followed with The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2006. Fear Factor and The Biggest Loser took food and eating into the realm of reality TV in the early 2000’s and the trend continues today.
There’s organic, cage-free, pasture-raised, and non-GMO options. There’s Monsanto and there are farmer’s markets. 10-day cleanses offer to refresh your internal organs with paprika and lemon juice. And, let’s not forget this amazing scene from Portlandia.
What these celebrities, actors, leaders, and writers have in common is a goal to become healthier, and everyone defines health differently. (I actually think the real goal is to avoid death, but let’s save that topic for a future post.) We’re well into an era of food awareness, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that as a new parent I have the opportunity to teach my child joy and empowerment around growing, cooking, and eating foods of choice.
That being said, there is an important idea missing from the food conversation: the idea that as long as it takes willpower to achieve health, we will always feel a conflict between our goals and our desires.
As long as we are still talking about types of diets, rather than ways to make the diet the default, we’re beating around the bush. We need to start acknowledging the way our brain has changed over the last half-century with respect to food: we now like the taste of sugar and processed foods.
The Institute for Responsible Nutrition and the Open Truth Now campaign, among many others, talk about decreasing sugar consumption; what they don’t talk about is the fact that sugar tastes good. Fast food critics talk about decreasing fried and processed food consumption; what they don’t talk about is the fact that Big Macs and French fries taste good. In fact, we’re all accomplices in allowing some of our most talented and innovative scientists to create chemical alterations to food that specifically target our taste buds.
Instead of relying on a constant stream of willpower to avoid what we like, why not talk about how to start liking what’s good for us?
In an age of automation, why not automate diet?
What I’ve experienced lately, after a few months of drinking primarily water, milk, and black coffee, is that now juice tastes really sweet. Where I used to easily chug a large glass of OJ, now I can only manage a small one before my taste buds tell me they don’t need any more sugar. In my household we’ve also switched from salted to unsalted nuts. In the beginning, unsalted nuts tasted extremely bland. Now I can’t eat very many salted nuts before my taste buds tell me they are done with salt.
I’m also curious to explore decreasing the seasonings on food I cook for my family. By adding less sugar and salt to meals, each of my family members can develop a stronger desire for the real, simple tastes of plain food.
This way we won’t have to hope and pray for change; we can automate it.