ColumnChoosing healthy food is ultimately a matter of life and death.
We have an unhealthy relationship with food. The kind of relationship where we will fill ourselves with bad things, then expect to find a pill to cure our ailments. We treat the symptoms, not the problem.
I remember a friend of mine who is a doctor and in a gastroenterology fellowship tell me that she’s used to people to coming to her and saying something along the lines of “when I eat pizza my stomach acts up.” This is not a “please help me to eat better” plea, it’s a “as an individual I have a god-given right to eat pizza, and there must be something very wrong with my body if it can’t tolerate it. Pill, please,” plea.
Some people have serious problems with what they can and can eat, and those problems shouldn’t be underrated; food allergies are a serious thing. But for the rest of us, when did we arrive at the expectation that we can eat everything in front of us and still be healthy?
Tell someone about how you’re eating healthy food, skipping on processed items, cutting out sugar and that you have never felt better and you’ll often get an eye roll, followed by an assortment of comments, “But I like to enjoy life… I don’t want to always be thinking about what I eat… I don’t want to feel restrictive.”
Ok, I get it. We all want to indulge in a creamy, greasy, fatty, concoction of starchy, glutenous goodness every now and then, but let’s be realistic: we do not need everything that is available to us on the grocery shelves. We have to be a little restrictive, because the alternative is literally killing us.
Walk into a supermarket. Look around. What do you see? Rows and rows and rows of processed foods, 50 kinds of breakfast cereals, 47 types of salad dressing, and 22 variations on the Pop-Tart (hey, there’s one with peanut butter now, that’s healthy food right?). Cut every single one of those things out and, most likely, you will just be fine. This is part of the reason doctors are now starting to prescribe fruits and vegetables. The illusion of choice is that you should be choosing, when in all reality, it’s these choices that are making us sick.
So why don’t we choose health?
Maybe it’s an issue of semantics. The term “healthy food” implies that it’s a better alternative to the norm. It is, but it’s also the only alternative. What if we just referred to “healthy food” as “food” and regular food as “bad food,” would that change things? It could just be a question of marketing.
Everyone wants to live well, be happy and healthy, right? Sure, but food is not only a physical thing, it’s an emotional one, and when we feel that our choices are restricted, we have an averse reaction.
Tell someone to do everything in their capacity to not think about a tree and what do they think about? A tree. Tell a child that they can eat everything in the house except for the chocolate chip cookies and what do they want to eat?
We’re addicted and we refuse to work to kick the habit. So we focus on what we can’t have rather than what we can have, and instead of framing our thoughts on food in a way that honors all of the good products and ingredients available that do keep us healthy, we get upset that we can’t have the things that make us feel awful.
Mentality check people: we have to think differently. Because no pill or magic wand can solve the problems that are associated with eating poorly. Treat the problem, not the symptom. It’s a matter of life and death, after all.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: Mr. T in DC