Sunday, July 22, 2012

Food relationships

I hear the phrase "my relationship with food" a lot.  Usually, it's in the context of "fixing my relationship with food" or something similar - undergoing some kind of mental healing so that one can enjoy food without overindulging and gaining excess body mass, or actually enjoy eating without feeling guilt, or something along those lines. (Usually the word "moderation" comes into it somewhere.)  I've gone through those phases, too - the attractive thinking that the problem isn't the food, it's me, I just have to "correct" my thinking and become fully in love with myself and accept myself and de-stress and whatever and magically I will eat appropriate portions all the time and enjoy food an appropriate amount.

The thing is, food isn't a monolithic, homogenous thing any more than people are.  You would never talk about your relationship with people in general - you have relationships with individual people.  Likewise, you have relationships with animals that differ from subject to subject (I really hope you don't have the same relationship with your dog as with the spider in your drain, the cougar in the woods or the deer in your back yard), relationships with different kinds of music, relationships with your clothes, even relationships with different vehicles, kitchen utensils, computers... the list goes on.  In every other aspect of our lives, we accept that there are individuals within groups of items and that our relationships with those items are based more on the individual than the group.

So why the homogenous "food"?  Why the pressure to have the same relationship with a bag of potato chips as with a nice green salad?

I have a very different relationship with a steak or a pork chop than I do with a plate of cookies.  They both look and smell delicious.  But when I eat the steak, I can stop when I'm full and save the rest of it for lunch tomorrow.  (Thinly sliced steak on salad... mmmmm)  The cookies? Not so much.  I know they will be just as delicious tomorrow, but somehow I would rather eat until I feel sick than leave them.

And you know what?  I'm ok with this.  It doesn't mean that I have underlying psychological issues.  It doesn't mean I'm broken, any more than if you're in a relationship with a guy who is super hot in bed but a jerk everywhere else, that there's something wrong with YOU when he's mean to you and you cry.  YOU are the normal one, HE is the jerk.  Likewise, I am a normal person, and cookies are jerks.  Delicious jerks, but I'm not going to crawl back into bed with them just because they're awesome that way.

Now, in the same way that not everyone is susceptible to getting into romantic relationships with jerks, not everyone is susceptible to to cookie jerks (or potato chip bastards, or chocolate bar meanies).  (Some of my ex-boyfriends now having seemingly completely functional relationships with other people indicate that "jerk" is an entirely subjective term, too.)

But if you regularly eat too much - if you finish most of your meals stuffed, rather than full, if you find empty bags of snacks beside you and you feel yucky (or alternately, you go look for more in the cupboard), if you eat when you're not hungry because someone left something yummy lying around, you probably have some unhealthy food relationships in your life.  And like unhealthy people relationships that affect the healthy relationships you do have, unhealthy food relationships affect the healthy (or potentially healthy) relationships you have with other foods.

That's all pretty inevitable in today's foodscape.  There's packaged crap everywhere, and many of us (myself included) are perfectly capable of crafting our own little jerk-asses in our own kitchens.  Some of us have families who can get along fine with cookies, but who consume the friendly, kind and healthy beef jerky we make far, far too quickly unless we hide it behind the booze or at the back of the fridge.

Here's the thing.  If you're *really* healthy - like, you're at a weight that works really well for you, you can do everything you want to do, physically, and you don't have any conditions typically associated with abnormal reactions to food, like eczema, bad acne, extreme seasonal allergies, asthma, type 2 diabetes, loads of cavities, persistent infections, etc. and you can manage your food jerks, then ignore all this.  Otherwise, in the same way that you owe it to yourself to ditch a partner who makes you feel sad or angry or like shit all the time, you owe it to yourself to ditch foods that do the same thing.  It's not you, it's them.  There is NOTHING wrong with getting rid of foods that don't work for you, any more than there's anything wrong with freecycling that toaster that you can never ever set right.  It just didn't work for you.

We have the luxury of having the broadest selection of foodstuffs available to us at any point in history.  This doesn't mean we HAVE to eat all of them.  Some of them mess with your brain, and that's not YOUR fault.  Just don't eat them.  There are plenty of other foods to eat.

I just finished reading a really good book that outlines how to really "fix" your multiple relationships with foods - it's essentially a pretty lenient elimination diet, focusing on typical culprits and explaining the mechanisms by which they can (not necessarily DO) mess with your brain and your body, but goes on to reintroduce foods to see how they interact with you.  The book is called "It Starts With Food" and does a good job of pointing out that there are wide groups of foods that are problematic for large numbers of people, but that everyone reacts differently to stuff and it's worth it to figure these things out for yourself.   It's a good read, well-written and organized.  I highly recommend it if you're not entirely happy with your relationships with foods.  Yes, it means dropping some foods from your diet for a while, but if they're really ok for you, they'll be there when you're done.  It's 30 days, and it's totally worth it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Yuppiefied" meat

Yesterday I was cruising through the health and fitness blogs and came across a blog written by an M.D. on the use of the Paleo (or Paleoesque) diet for treating diabetes.  This doctor is pretty much all for this, but he trots this out as a description of Paleo eating:
"Fresh, minimally processed food.  Meat (lean or not? supermarket vs yuppiefied?),..."

I've seen this appellation before, but never in a pro-paleo context.   Yuppiefied??? 

What he's referring to is meat that's raised in an ethical, biologically appropriate manner.  And frankly I find it horrifying not only that this is the norm - I've known that for a long time - but that attempts to provide meat in such a fashion are belittled and designated elitist and equated with buying a Range Rover instead of a Toyota.  By people who should know better.

Industrial meat production should be criminalized.  Yeah, it'll make meat more expensive.  Oh noes people might have to eat ALL the bits instead of just the steaks!!! Oh noes no more 12 oz chunks of meat on a plate!!!! I am all for meat consumption, but most people simply eat too much.  And yeah, it'll wipe out a massive market for subsidized grain.  Bummer that.  Maybe we could grow actual food on all that land previously occupied by heavily fertilized grain monocrops - after we restore it by sensible rotational grazing for a few years to rebuild the soil.  Hey, let's stop those stupid grain subsidies, too - subsidize VEGETABLES - you know, those things that are actually good for people to eat? 

It really, really bothers me that the food system is SO messed up that even people who know better consider decent-quality food to be not only less affordable but less necessary.  It's disturbing because everyone who cares about food, nutrition and health ought to care a LOT about how food is produced and distributed, and how food policy is made.  Accepting the status quo - that quality meat is only accessible by those with the economic means and social connections to procure it - doesn't help anyone.  Millions of people are suffering from calorie surpluses and nutrient deficiencies and doctors of all people ought not to be labeling a potential solution as "yuppiefied", and those who can and do choose to spend their money on quality meat rather than supermarket swill need not be belittled for making that choice.

And honestly - the price difference between the pasture-raised meat in my freezer and the stuff that Costco churns out is not that great.  I need to do some actual comparisons, but my suspicion is that the difference would turn out to be, on a monthly basis with MODEST meat consumption, approximately the same as what it costs for full cable TV service.  Priorities, people, priorities.  I don't wanna hear about how you can't afford good meat if you've got cable TV.