Look, I’m sort of tired of the Food Conundrum. Bored with it, really. For most of my lifetime Americans have been whipped around on issues of Bad Foods, calorie counting and nutrient management. Meanwhile, the rest of the well-fed world kicks off their shoes and hunkers down with the same delectable cuisine their people have been enjoying for millennia without rotting their guts out or going diabetic by age 10.
Food is a problem, but I don’t think it’s THE problem. I think Americans are just vulnerable. We have a culture that offers and encourages innovation to great effect, but the downside is that we’re constantly re-inventing and questioning basic life processes like what to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and that oh-so-American anomaly, the Snack. (I don’t think any other country could feed the third world on the Pepperidge Farm Goldfish stuck to its carpets and car seats.) Our economy is driven by our willingness to doubt ourselves, try new things and gratify instantly, but it’s had an unfortunate effect on our appetites — and its gotten our goat in ways we didn’t see coming.
I took my mom out to lunch yesterday and ordered a BLT. They brought me a gorgeous, cinematic plate, toasted artisan sourdough with that ruffly green leaf lettuce peeking out from piles of perfectly charred bacon. The sandwich wasn’t huge by New York deli standards, but it was easily two full-size sandwiches disguised as one. I could have eaten one of the halves and been more than satisfied. But what did I do? I ate the other one, too, most of it anyway, unable to leave the gorgeous, cinematic food on the plate to go to waste or cart it off in styrofoam to ossify before I could eat it later.
See what I mean? And I don’t blame the restaurants. That’d be like blaming Judas Priest for those teen suicides. Restaurant food is entertainment, and good restaurant food is art — so in some way it has to be larger than life. I picked up a restaurant trade magazine once and flipped through it to find concepts like “optimal plate coverage”. A bit of research into this is good for chowhounds — it helps to know where both your food and its preparers are coming from.
In educating ourselves about how to eat well, it’d be great if we could just stop questioning the basics and get on with the enjoyment of eating, with our appetites and impulses strapped down safely in the back seat. To do this requires questioning not what we eat, but our own habits and impulses, and the rationality of our behaviors. Eating everything on my plate when my plate is too full is, well, crazy. I admit it. And it makes my body crazy, too. Eating only raw foods or fat-free foods or macrobiotic foods or vegan foods….Draw your own conclusions about these forms of exclusion, but to me when the rest of the race is still thriving, after thousands of years, on the same endless interpretations of nature — healthy balance, artful variety and moderation — I’d rather be hedonistically omnivorous right along with them. They seem to know what they’re doing.
I read somewhere that the rational brain is always contending with the emotional brain for dominance — and because the emotional brain is bigger and stronger, it can usually bully its way to the top. You have to be smarter and more patient to outfox your irrational brain, especially when it comes to hunger — which, along with the other appetitives like, um…sex…can absolutely give you a run for your money. This is one reality the food industry is way ahead of the rest of us on. Protect yourself. Get smart. Stick it out. It’ll be worth it.
And I’ve got some ideas…