Column What if the solution to our health and environmental problems was a matter of just making more delicious food?
“Why eat one donut when I can eat all six in the package?”
I was having a tongue-in-cheek conversation about the standard American mindset to food with a couple of friends, who both happen to love donuts.
Instead of savoring one quality donut, many opt for the cheap, $2.99 box of six industrial donuts. Because six is always better than one, right? And so we stuff ourselves, because in reality, those donuts are disgusting, and after we eat one, we’ve failed to be satiated, so we eat another, and another, in the hopes that just another bite will leave us feeling the way we want to feel.
You can replace donuts with essentially any food product, and the result is the same: in the Standard American Diet quality and taste are our last qualifiers for what food we buy and eat.
This is problematic, an approach to food that’s not only harmful for us as humans, but our environment as well.
There is a growing group of researchers now starting to make a link between taste and overeating, the idea that the more delicious food that we eat, the less likely we are to overindulge. For example, in 2009, researchers in the Netherlands studied participant’s cravings after eating certain foods, in this case, a portion of cottage cheese and a portion of chocolate mousse. Cravings were significantly less after eating the chocolate mousse than the cottage cheese, leading to the conclusion that people were less likely to overeat if they ate foods that they liked, as opposed to more boring, neutral foods.
It has also been shown that the more we eat of a food, the less we like it. That is to say, if you eat one piece of chocolate cake, you’ll be thrilled. You’ll go back for another one. But with the second piece you will be less satisfied than with the first, and so on and so on.
I don’t mean “delicious food” in the sense of just baked goods. I mean “delicious” in all forms of food. The carrots that you pull from the ground, rinse off, bite into and are so surprised by the crunchy sweetness. The loaf of bread, pulled freshly from the oven, and made with a natural starter. The roasted butternut squash that almost tastes like eating a dessert. The lentil soup on a cold winter day that has been simmering on your stove. Food that blows you away because of its simplicity. Food that is delicious because all of the ingredients that went into it were natural, and good to begin with; no need for additives and preservatives. Food that is real food.
If we focused on quality, rather than quantity, there’s a chance that not only would the food on our plate taste better, but we’d be healthier too. The same goes for the environment.
This is well-discussed in famed-chef Dan Barber’s book “The Third Plate” (if you haven’t read this yet, hop to). As a chef, when focused on good quality produce, he begins to connect the dots between tasty fruits and vegetables and how they were grown. “When we taste something truly delicious, something that is persistent, it is most likely originated from well-mineralized, biologically rich soils,” writes Barber. He continues a few pages later, writing, “chemical farming – and bad organic farming – actually kills soil by starving its complex and riotous community of anything good to eat.”
In other words, our entire system of agribusiness has always operated to reduce costs and increase output, yet it has all come at a serious costs to our health and the environment. Taste has never been a part of the equation in this system – or it’s only part of the equation when food companies, working with base ingredients that have no taste to begin with, have to add a variety of fats, sugars, and salts to get any taste into their product, leaving us with grocery shelves worth of unhealthy food (and even then, I am sure no one is going to argue that it’s “delicious food”). It’s because taste isn’t part of the equation from the ground up that this system has depleted the earth, while keeping our waistlines growing.
As Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, a company that grows and mills organic heirloom grains, is quoted in Barber’s book, “food and cuisine have to be an important part of our culture, and not just something that fuels the culture in one way. Food as fuel is a dangerous concept. That’s where we are right now – food as fuel. It’s why nothing tastes good, and why our farming systems are collapsing.”
Taste equals diversity, and when we focus on diversity (which means first and foremost, focusing on the soil), instead of one where only a few crops reign, we are better for it, both for our own health and for that of the environment. So think of food not just as fuel, but as the chance to indulge in something amazing. When you cook with good ingredients, or buy foods made from good ingredients, ingredients that are produced with respect for the environment, you need less of them to be happy with your meal. And isn’t it nice that focusing on something like taste can have such positive ramifications?
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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: Susy Morris