Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Food And (as) Medicine

Food is both an interesting and strange thing.  It can bring a family or friends together, it can become a signifier for a greater reality or reminiscence.  It can also be the cause of strife and division, of tense dinner parties with no vegetarian or macrobiotic option.  There is no shortage of books, blogs (of which this is one), and A/V materials espousing some kind of eating principles.  Whereas I believe this to be a somewhat unique feature of affluent societies (or perhaps more accurately, affluent members of such societies) that have the luxury and time to obsessively worry about everything they eat - I don't think it is a fruitless endeavor.  

However, I don't want to get carried away with ultimately tangential material - the focus of this reflection post is on the phrase ", it's good for you."  This is a phrase usually tacked on to some other food-related statement, and followed by descriptive nutritional information: 
"I love grilled chicken breast, plus, it's good for you! It is low in fat."
"I really enjoy blueberries, plus, they are good for you!  They contain lots of antioxidants."
"I like yoghurt, plus it is good for you! It has tons of probiotic bacteria."
 It is as if our every food choice has to be qualified in some way, good or bad:
"I love bacon, but it I know it is so bad for me.  So much sodium and so much fat."
"I am obsessed with cheese, but it is my guilty pleasure.  So much cholesterol."
[Hybrid] "I love chocolate, but know that it has a lot of fat/calories; so I only eat dark chocolate because it has lots of antioxidants." 
Don't treat your food like medicine, and stop feeling as though you ought to qualify your every food choice.  This kind of thinking is the product of a culture obsessed with strange, ascetic diets, nutritional information, and a strange blend of pharmaceutical and folk medicine hidden within our food choices.

Now, what I am advocating here is not an unreflective attitude towards food.  In a world of industrialized food production, we ought to worry about butylated hydroxyanisole, hydroxypropyl methylcelluose, and propylene glycol (antifreeze...whaaaaat?) in our foods, about animals raised in despicable ways, and the myriad of other issues that go along with feeding millions of overhungry consumers.  

What I am advocating is one step beyond this first-level reflection.  If you have gone out of your way to make your own yoghurt with wonderful milk, enjoy its tartness and richness for what they are, not because of beneficial bacteria that will make your bowel evacuation more regular, or because you might lose some weight from eating it regularly.  Maybe both of those things will happen, or maybe they will not.  You can probably find a decent study that would advocate for and against each.  

Food isn't medicine.  If you feel as though you need something medicinal, go pop a few Aspirin, or take a Sudafed - neither of these are classified as 'food.'  If you'd rather go natural take some Echinacea or St. John's Wort, or Kava Kava - you'd never actually eat any of these for dinner (only with dinner in a pill form or something). If you enjoy yoghurt made with 1% milk more than that made with whole (you won't), make it that way because of your enjoyment, not as a dietary justification. 

In final apology, I realize that what I here advocate requires a good bit more expansion, but I won't continue this post a great deal more.  I realize that some people have serious dietary limits imposed by disorders and such, and that some people probably shouldn't eat delicious homemade butter for every meal just because they enjoy it.  So use common sense and moderation (which I think falls under the first level reflectiveness I outline above)!  

Most of all, the intent of this blog is to give you the tools to make some great foundational foods for yourselves, not to give you dietary advice.  So, whereas some of the results of my processes may have some health benefits, etc. I am not going to include them, not because I don't feel qualified, but because I don't think you should have to justify your enjoyment of a crusty piece of homemade bread. 

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