“When someone exposes himself as a slave in the market place, what wonder if he finds a master?” —Simone Weil (1909–1943)
I was recently reminded of this famous remark by French thinker Simone Weil, and it got me thinking about Cheetos and Coke. Weil’s remark was part of a lament about modernity’s substitution of utility for truth, but immediately I thought of another application: food. To wit: when we present ourselves as hapless victims at the supermarket, what wonder that Big Food steps in as master?
We allow ourselves to be seduced and enslaved by the food industry in so many subtle ways.
- We rely on slogans printed by manufacturers on packages to guide our purchases. “Natural”? Must be good for me. “Whole grain”? Same. Forget about the fact that “natural” can be slapped on any box and literally means nothing, and “whole grain” printed on a loaf of bread can refer to nothing more than some some seeds having been sprinkled on top of what is otherwise merely a loaf made from white flour. Even words like “organic,” which are better regulated, are misleading. I see “organic” stamped on all sorts of things, from cookies to potato chips. Don’t assume that that moniker necessarily means “good for you.”
- We get sucked into the center of the supermarket when we shop, oblivious to the billions that have been spent designing it to lure us toward fake food—which it reliably does, especially when our kids are in tow. Did you ever notice what happens during a shopping trip when you remain at the periphery of the store? That’s where the whole food is: produce, dairy, meat, fish, etc. Now picture the center aisles: cereals, mixes, chips, cookies, etc. If you doubt this, form a picture of your own store in your mind and test it out. Know thy store and enter the vortex carefully and only when necessary.
- We fall pray to the media’s relentless pushing of this or that fad nutrient, thinking that if we swallow a few supplements, all will be well. But pills cannot deliver nutrition in the intricate manner nature designed, and though they may be helpful in some contexts for certain deficiencies, they can never be a substitute for eating well. Moreover, they pose a distinct health hazard when taken incorrectly.
- Our fear of cooking makes us vulnerable to the lure of highly processed prepared food. But always remember that time “saved” with quick, unhealthy food will eventually be lost at the doctor’s office. Those who find home cooking intimidating often just don’t know where or how to start. For ideas, Google “quick healthy recipes” and check out such sites as: bbconline, whfoods, cookingchanneltv, and realsimple. YouTube offers thousands of simple instructional cooking videos. The New York Times has a terrific recipe site, and you can search up “easy” and find thousands of things to try. One concept that I’m seeing a lot of lately is that of a full dinner roasted in one shot on a single baking pan. Finally, a crockpot can become your best friend, delivering a nutritious hot meal the moment you walk in, exhausted, at 6pm.
Gloria Steinem once quipped, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Go ahead, get angry at the food culture, at yourself and even at me! But when the dust settles, take heart from George Washington’s observation that “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” Getting started is always the hardest part, but once we reclaim our food freedom, rejecting Big Food becomes progressively easier, a simple matter of habit. “Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from.” (Vernon Howard)
(P.S. The above photo depicts the brain fuel that was laid out at the snack break at a recent high school debate tournament in which my teenage son competed. Says it all.)