Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Food rules (it really does)

If I could make a nomination for catchphrase of the year, it would be “You’re doing it wrong.” If I could further make a nomination for catchphrase that everyone needs to stop using, it would be “You’re doing it wrong.” Why in the world do we click on links that trumpet this phrase at us? Why do we want to be told that we are driving, dressing, traveling, exercising, having sex, raising children, and peeling bananas in a way that deserves public berating? But we do want to be told these things, we do. We are terrified of being the rube that can’t tie a scarf properly, wears cotton to go running, pays full price for things that can be had dirt cheap or even free—if we should be such simpletons as to want those things in the first place—so we anxiously await the latest article that shows us in no uncertain terms exactly how we suck.

And in no topic is there as much “doing it wrong” as eating. When it comes to food, we are always doing it wrong. We may not think we are—we probably, smugly, believe we’re the ones doing it right because we read this article or that book or heard his lecture or saw her video—but trust me, give it time, and you too will find out that the meals you thought were splendid displays of your nutritional and culinary superiority have actually been ensuring your early demise. Sucks to be you.

I’m not going to tell you that eating is simple. It isn’t, and because of this I respect people who are thoughtful about their food, whether it’s because they want to be healthy or because they want to take an ethical stance. It is too easy to make fun of people’s food prohibitions, too easy to point out our hypocrisies. I’m not going to do that, even though I was sorely tempted to do so based on a series of comments on a facebook thread I viewed this week. (What did I do for blog post material before facebook? Oh wait, I didn’t have a blog. What did I do when I wanted to express every insignificant thought that ever crossed my mind? It was a darker time, I tell you.) This was one of the most depressing threads I’ve seen lately—and if you’re even remotely aware of the current events being discussed these days, you might think that statement is pretty ridiculous. It was depressing, though, because every comment on it was about how Food X is bad because of this, Food Y is worse because of that, and Food Z, well, hell, you might as well just put Food Z on a cancer stick, dip it in cyanide sauce and roll it in arsenic sprinkles before you eat it. Everything is bad. Everything is something you should not eat.

Yes, I realize that some people genuinely cannot eat some foods without compromising their health. I also realize that taste is not something you can force on people. The BF hates broccoli. This makes me sad. It does not make him wrong. (Don’t tell him I said that, though.) What bothers me the most about all these food rules isn’t what they tell us but how they tell it to us. Everything is punitive. All the rules focus on right and wrong, mainly wrong. Where’s the fun in that? Eating can be fun, and here’s the bonus: you have to do it. How many fun things in the world are mandatory on a daily basis?

Generally this is where I do a running analogy, but given my bum ankle and resulting woeful lack of running activity, I’m going to do a writing analogy. (My analogies tend to be about either running, eating, or writing, and I can’t analogize eating with eating, so yeah, default.) No creative writing activity produces worse writing than giving students a blank piece of paper and telling them they can write whatever they want. Give them a few “rules,” however—write a story in second person, write a story in multiple points of view telling the same event, write a sestina, write a sonnet—and watch their imaginations go wild. The rules are not there to be restrictive; they are there as a challenge, as a way to try something new that you might not have thought of before. Why can’t we have the same attitude about food? Some people do have this attitude, and their culinary experiments end up changing the way we eat for the better. This is not because we’re healthier or more ethical, even though we may very well be. We’re better off because now we have something new to try, a new edible adventure.

The vilification of wheat led me to try quinoa, which I like very much. (It also led me to try millet, which was less satisfying and garnered some chuckles from the BF, who gently informed me that millet is a major ingredient of the unappealing stuff we feed our macaws.) The scorning of high fructose corn syrup prompted me to buy plain yogurt instead of presweetened and experimenting with various flavorings, not all of them sweet. When only cretins and morons were purported to still be on low-fat diets, I found all kinds of cool uses for bacon. I still eat wheat, I still don’t eat a whole lot of fat, and I got to believe there’s still plenty of HFCS coursing through my blood vessels, but now I also have a lot of other options. I like that. So please don’t pissily tell me all the things I’m doing wrong by eating these things or not eating others, and I won’t tell you that you’re doing it wrong either. You aren’t. Carry on and keep eating.

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