Friday, November 29, 2013

Reflections on food

Thanksgiving is over and done. I enjoyed the time with the family, great food, great stories, good games. This is the time of year that I reflect on times past and today, I'm thinking about food.

I've noticed that my attitudes about food have remained largely the same over my life, having formed most of my current eating habits during childhood and adolescence. For example, I've always been the slow eater at any family gathering. Especially for the Thanksgiving meal. Long after everyone else has finished, I'm still chewing away. With any meal, I take small bites, chew my food thoroughly and enjoy the flavors as they are.

I'm a slow eater because the sound of chewing in my head overwhelms the voices I'm trying to hear. I take small bites and chew slowly so that I can better hear what other people are saying. Sometimes I take a break to participate in the conversation, but while I'm eating, I'm listening. This is how I've adapted to hearing loss.

Even when I'm alone, I take my time. When I was a teenager, I'd have dinner after a good workout, alone in the kitchen. Mom would make steak and potatoes with green beans. I'd spend an hour reading Scientific American and eating, chewing slowly, enjoying the flavors and the words, together. That was during a time in my family life when we didn't eat together often.

I still carry that habit today. I wonder why people have to eat so fast when the joy of eating is in the flavor, not the swallowing. When I think about this, the pie eating contest comes up. The hot dog eating contest comes up. How anyone could think of eating as a sport is beyond me. An eating contest makes about as much sense as a walking contest. Is it really worth all that indigestion the next day? Maybe for the winner.

I often take note of advertising for food. Most advertising for food on TV promotes eating without consequences. If you're eating "lite" food, maybe you're eating too much. Children's programming on Saturday morning promotes eating without consequences, too. Cereals that are so sweet they might as well be candy are advertised as the first meal for breakfast. I used to ask my mom to get Apple Jacks or Froot Loops and was roundly denied. Now I understand why.

My mom used to keep a bowl of fruit on the dining room table at all times. Apples, oranges, and bananas were typical. She knew we were going to find candy somewhere and that if there was fruit around the house, would could make our own decisions about what to eat.

On the other side, my dad would keep a stash of chocolate well hidden in the freezer. We knew what was coming when the box was delivered from Bill's Liquor. And we knew where to find it - in the back of the freezer. Dad was apparently hoping we'd miss that chocolate. But I always found it.

When I was a kid, I used to take the bottles for recycling to the liquor store and get some candy. I started to compare how I felt after eating the candy and after eating the fruit. I began to notice that I always felt better after eating the fruit than after eating the candy. Over time, I learned to eat candy in small, yet satisfying quantities. I also learned that fruit has a feature that candy does not have. The body knows when it is full and cannot eat anymore fruit. With candy, the body has almost no way of knowing if the stomach is full until far too much candy has been consumed. This is how most packaged food is designed to work.

I used to eat from time to time at McDonald's and Carl's Jr. One thing I noticed about their food is that within about 2 hours, I was hungry for more. But I was working and could not break for more, happily. On the other hand, when I eat fruit or brown rice, the food really sticks and I can go longer without eating.

My observations on food have led me to the conclusion that if food is advertised on TV, I probably don't need to eat it. I'll never forget the the Der Wienerschnitzel ad on TV, with the hot dog training to run for his life. He is always portrayed as running for his life on those commercials but no one ever really catches him, for the grim result wouldn't be that palatable to consumers. Isn't it strange that in advertising how food is portrayed with human attributes? Do we really want to eat a character we like on TV? What does that say about our culture?

What I've learned is to eat in moderation, take it slow and enjoy the flavor, the smells, and the great company to be had at a gathering of family and friends. There's no rush, we're not going anywhere important for Thanksgiving. We're already there.
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