Food is a wondrous word. It encapsulates everything that living organisms ingest into their bodies in order to gain strength, to gain energy, to gain the sheer mass, muscle and substance required to live. It consists of any and everything from nitrogen salts for plants to ripped, raw wildebeest flesh for lions to an Instagram-worthy vegan salad for the deluded to a sumptuous roast beef for the most vociferous of carnivorous humans.
It is also, for so many people, a guarantee, in ways almost a validation that we are in fact alive: the act of consumption today is so involuntary that it barely required forethought. From pouring down a pack of sticky, sawdust-cheese covered Doritos to spooning down your ubiquitous morning cereal slathered with honey to finely slicing through a moist, tender-hearted chicken breast. Not many see it as a necessary thing to note exactly what’s happening in their digestive system because why should we? It’s all going to go out looking the same anyway.
But I stand corrected: that’s a 1914 mentality, when ration packs and a filigree three course meal were looked upon and measured equally. In today’s world, we as humans have learned to count with our fingers, see with our eyes and measure in our minds. An individual’s relationship with food in 2014, a century later, is vastly different than it was before.
Let’s consider three examples: the standard office employee, for all gastronomic purposes, still lives in 1914. There’s a marked lack of care and preparation in their daily meals – a peanut butter sandwich, fused and sticky in the center with adhesive, crusty bread and a faux-pungent aroma, is all they need for breakfast, while a quickly purchased McDonalds burger brimming with suspiciously pearly-white mayonnaise will do for lunch. Dinner what again? They’re stuck getting home in traffic, aren’t they? Even cardboard does the trick for them; it sure as hell would for anybody at that hour.
Now look at modern day teenagers. Plagued by the notion of stereotypes, with perfectly shaped bodies haunting their dreams and ghostly eyes trained diligently to their figures, they are the most volatile. The potent cocktail of insecurity, hormones, a crippling desire to be loved and appreciated by others for their material, physical existence and a gloss of pride that they are ‘conscious, self-sufficient’ individuals leads to a rather tense correlation between them and what’s on their plate.
Suddenly, the mirror knows more than the parents who’ve kept them healthy their entire lives – why drink that glass of milk? Who cares about the calcium content: do you have any idea how much fat is in that?! Suddenly, a steak of salmon basted in herb butter and served with dill cream sauce and fries dissolves into a multitude of calories and nutrient molecules that have nothing better to do but hang onto the unseemly curves on their undesirable bodies. Suddenly, there’s a certain hatred for the basic reason for good health, a particular odium for the naturally primordial act of eating: “It doesn’t help me. It doesn’t make me beautiful. It doesn’t make anybody want to love me – why would I keep doing it?” It just seems so much more comfortable to regurgitate it all away, to cleanse the heaviness in the belly that is certain to stick around somewhere else. The world seems so much calmer when there isn’t the stress of eating to bog them down.
Finally, examine the typical, gymming youth: I consider this to be the phase after bulimia, after the storm of eating disorders has quieted in the human mind. Now, there isn’t any intense detestation – there’s only apathy. Everything is consumed particularly, fussily, meticulously, choosily, selectively, accordingly and very, very correctly for a purpose. Frozen yogurt replaces an ice cream cone, deep fried pork belly is swapped for boiled egg whites, vegetables are steamed and unseasoned instead of tossed and enhanced with touches of flavour – all for the perseverance to stay healthy. To stay in form. To not lose ourselves all over again to the howling wolves of our minds that bay for a second helping or a drizzle of fat or a couple of tablespoons more of sugar to quench our insatiable appetite. At this stage, the gymmer hasn’t forgotten the sins of food – he’s just become thoroughly practiced at ignoring them.
None of these options are happy: the everyday man is unconcerned, the teenager is terrified and the gymmer is persistent. None of these three people enjoy food anymore, save the occasional abhorrent pizza or that binge, burnt-caramel popcorn at the cinema. You’ll be hard pressed to find somebody in today’s world that truly appreciated the beauty of food, which is its constant presence in our lives. The tree doesn’t care if its thick stem grows wider with sweet sap: it takes pride in it. The lion doesn’t care if the extra zebra it consumed for lunch makes it fatter: it’s just thankful for enough energy to last another cold night in the savannah. For that matter, the five year old toddler won’t care how many deep fried chicken nuggets, doused in unctuous ketchup, he’s eating – not because he doesn’t care what goes in his system, but he just enjoys how damn tasty they are.
I’ve seen myself grow rotund then emaciated then lean all in a span of seventeen years. My attitude towards food changed almost annually, along with the rest of the world. With each change of mind, with each change in pattern, I saw a different emotional, physical and mental result – I haven’t yet found the attitude that gave me the perfect balance of all three. Eating freely made me lose my mind to my shotgun-riding demons. Not eating very nearly put me into the hospital permanently. Eating healthily saw me emotionally unsatisfied with the lack of butter, sugar and salt in my life. I don’t think I ever will.
Food is something we cannot outrun. We will eat for the duration of our lives, because that’s how nature has dictated it to be. The human attitude to food is the only one that varies – no other organism cares. Every other organism is content with the way the world turns – blessed/cursed with the cruel gift of curiosity, we are not. We will always want to try something new, to restrict a comfort, family staple, to binge unwillingly on foie gras and maybe even someday to forcefully push away the healthy stuff and just be happy. We will change and change our food with us. It’s always up to us to decide how drastic we want that change to be.