Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Forbes: The Rhetoric of Food Addiction

Thanks to Steve Milloy for sharing the link to Glenn Lammi's Forbes op-ed:

It's all about the money, Gentle Readers. But I would like to remind everyone that even when concern about what we eat comes from people who are genuinely concerned about our welfare, e.g. our own mothers, it can still be counterproductive.

My mother was born gluten-intolerant; she had symptoms before she had children, and her symptoms became more debilitating after each child. I loved my mother, but living with her, especially as she became unable to work and turned into a Sick Helicopter Mom...let's just say it made me pray that I would never be able to give birth, so that I wouldn't grow up like Mother.

My mother was able to get some health benefits by eating the "health food" of those days. The bread-and-cheese Diet for a Small Planet, that is. My mother pushed that good brown whole-grain bread and cruelty-free cheese. I didn't realize that the bread was making me ill, but there was never any room for doubt that the cheese made me sick. This did not stop my parents (and other adults, in those unenlightened days) telling me that it was all in my mind and my brother, who could keep cheese down, was a better child, and if I were a good child I'd try to eat cheese again. Sometimes I did. It never stayed down.

As I grew up, I absorbed the popular "health food" messages of the day even though I was walking proof that they weren't completely true...Chocolate caused acne. I seldom ate chocolate. I had acne.

Low-fibre white bread caused irregularity. I ate only whole grains. I was irregular.

Sugar caused sluggishness. I seldom ate sugar. I felt sluggish most of the time.

During most of my school years I just avoided eating in public. Lunch was mandatory, but after eating we could go outside, theoretically to play. I brought lunches from home and usually wasted them, or let my brother eat them as snacks on the way home from school.

In college, however, everyone was away from home and tried to replicate their family relationships with their school friends. There was no tactful way to avoid eating with friends and listening to stupid observations about how it was possible for someone so health-conscious to be so, well, unhealthy. I knew I couldn't eat cheese. I knew better than to look at mayonnaise while eating. I didn't realize that, at that Seventh-Day Adventist school that actively marketed Adventist-made soy-and-gluten "meat analogs," all that healthy low-fat S.D.A. protein was making me sicker, faster, than a diet of pure junkfood might have done. This was true; that didn't mean it was something my school friends had any business discussing with me. They didn't want to hear how I felt about things they ate, nor did I want to hear similar thoughts coming out of them.

I was thirty years old before I finally accepted the truth. One person's food really is another person's poison. Wheat is poisonous to me; although it may stay in my body, as long as wheat is inside my body I won't get much benefit from any other foods or medicines I may be trying to absorb. All that wholesome wholegrain bread was what made me a skinny, sluggish, sickly child.

Better yet, wholegrain bread turned out to be the only thing that had been making Mother a fat, sluggish, sickly old woman before her time. When she finally kicked the wheat habit, she lost a lot of weight, got off medication she'd been taking for years, and would have been a fantastic advertisement for a health spa if she'd visited one. She went back to work. She's still working, and still working younger people into the ground, today.

Each person still needs to balance the nutrients in what they can eat, from day to day. I'm glad that Mother's "health food" studies gave me some information about doing that...enough to know that my instincts are a reasonably reliable, if not perfect, guide to the nutrients I need for balance, much better than some friend's or worse yet some advertiser's opinion about what might be "good for me." I have clues, if not total knowledge, about what's "good for me." You don't even have a clue.

Because I know how much meat I've eaten lately, I know whether nuts are a luxury source of extra fats that I don't need, or whether they're a valuable source of the protein, fats, and magnesium I do need. I know whether I should avoid garnishing a salad with nuts, or should make the nuts the main part of the salad. Other people don't have that information.

Because I know how well my body tolerates cow's milk products, I know that I should stay away from even a salad bar where cheese has been spilled into a tray of vegetables. I once drank a glass of water that had a sliver of cheese sitting on the bottom, and the cheese didn't float and stayed on the bottom...and I was sick. I know that drinking milk with meals or garnishing things with cream is not usually a good idea. I'm casein-intolerant not lactose-intolerant, so I can use milk products in moderation and can still enjoy ice cream or yogurt, or things cooked in dishes lubricated with butter, every few weeks; this is likely to change within the next five or ten years. I can't rely on cows to provide my main source of calcium. Other people are willfully oblivious to that information.

Because I know how many simple carbs I take in from other sources (and most days the answer is none), I know that I can "afford" the simple carbs in a bottle of soda pop; in fact they allow me the benefit of the caffeine I drink soda pop for. Maybe I shouldn't use caffeine, but I do. I also know that my body doesn't react well to NutraSweet. I actually gained weight, and felt rotten, when I switched to diet soda for a few months in the 1990s; I lost the weight and felt much better when I switched back to regular soda pop made with sugar. Other people don't have that information.

So one thing that consistently turns my stomach, every time, is anybody trying to tell me (or other people) what they imagine is "good for you." They may, occasionally or accidentally, be right. They are still out of bounds--socially, scientifically, and ethically. Only a trained and trusted nutritionist who has access to complete, accurate information about everything you've eaten or drunk, any medication you've used, how much rest and physical activity you've had, and how many toxins you've been exposed to, during the past two weeks, could possibly know enough to say what's "good for you."

Other people can, of course, observe and report what substances are in food products, and you can use that information to find out where any imbalance is likely to be...but other people don't have a clue what is "good for you."

I've developed such an intolerance for Food Bullies that it's put me off buying something I would otherwise have wanted to buy. Recently a popular garden supplies company sent out advertisements for dwarf blueberry bushes. If they'd focussed the advertising on how convenient it is to be able to harvest blueberries from potted bushes that can be moved out of reach of deer, which are a huge nuisance in my orchard, I might have ordered a dozen of these bushes. They headlined the ad with "Not Only Delicious, But Good For You." And so, although blueberries do seem to be good for me--I eat them every summer and like them--I didn't order any of the bushes...because that ad was way out of line.

And I even composed a little song, to the tune of a popular commercial jingle, on the theme of "This [junkfood item]'s For You [the food pusher/preacher/bully]." It'll probably show up here one day.

It's far from the intention of this web site to interfere with anyone's making better informed decisions about what they should or shouldn't eat. On the contrary, we welcome information about the nutritional properties of food, and encourage people to use it as it works for them.

At the same time, we encourage everybody to resist the self-appointed nannies who try to tell total strangers what to eat.

A line I used on one of them--that worked--was "Can you please control your mouth! I don't need to eat this candy bar right here and right now, but I'm going to have to eat it if you don't shut up!"