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What is Food For?

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Old 07-18-2003, 11:38 AM   #1
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I fully believe that food is more than fuel. It is a celebration of life, a centerpiece for building family, community, and friendship. Every culture uses food in their celebrations. Why else do we think of food as "treats?" Because it is a celebration of life, of the bounty of the earth, of the hard labor that we do each day to bring food to the table. (Just think of the idioms for work and you'll see how basic it is: bring food to the table, bring home the bacon, make the dough, be the breadwinner...)

Everyone eats. And when everyone has to go off to work, off to school, off to errands, off to whatever, the one place we come back together is around the dinner table. No wonder there are so many "comfort" and "nurture" emotional connections to particular foods.

(Interesting sidenote: I was reading an article about what is "comfort" food to men and women, and for men it usually was something home-cooked or reminiscent of home-cooked, like meatloaf, while for women it was more often something that needed little preparation, like ice cream or candy or chips.)

I think this is one of the reasons it can be SO hard to lose weight. We have SUCH a culture of plenty. Think about meat, for example. Fifty years ago in America, and currently in many countries, people just didn't GET meat more than a couple times a week. Here and now, we can eat meat every day even if we're not well off. I usually eat meat twice a day. And cakes, cookies, and candies, which used to be reserved more for festival/holiday treats, are seen as normal everyday things. Vegetarianism in our current culture is much more of a choice than a necessity. This hasn't always been the case.

There are things I've read that really make me ashamed of how much we have, and how little I appreciate it. Angela's Ashes is a book (and movie, but the book is more detailed) about a young boy growing up in the slums of Limerick Ireland. He loses three siblings to poverty and starvation. One of the images that sticks with me was of him licking the greasy newspaper that had been used to wrap someone's fish and chips and then discarded. The fat and salt that he licked off the discarded newspaper was his dinner that night. He'd have fried bread and sweet tea for his meals for days on end. He dreamed about having an egg to eat. For luxury, he dreamed about having butter for that egg.

Another was an article from the Post early this year, about a woman in an African country who sold tomatoes in the market each day, hoping to earn the few pennies she'd need to buy meal and some vegetables for dinner that night so her children wouldn't go to bed hungry again. The reporter stayed with her all day long. It was a powerful article.

For people like that, cookies and Poptarts and icecream are once-a-year luxuries. A hamburger is more meat than they have in a month, or a year. And I sit here and scarf them down like there's no tomorrow, and call it a mere "treat?" Shame on me! Sure I can say I'd be one of the people who survived a famine because my body holds the calories tightly in its greedy little hands. But what comfort is that in a time of such plenty? What right have I to be so rich in calories, shown in my body for all to see, when so many through history and the world would love to eat for one day just what I had for breakfast this morning!?

Food, and fat, in almost every time before the industrial age, has been a symbol of wealth, of prosperity, of health and happiness. It is the most basic "have". Those who "have not" can dream of nothing else.

Sorry, I'm waxing a bit philosophical this morning. But the 'food as fuel' comment in the "non-food rewards" thread really got me thinking.
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Old 07-18-2003, 12:04 PM   #2
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oh my synger! you ARE waxing eloquent, and philosophical, and poetic this morning!

but you're also right on point. my question is, though: so, what do we do with this guilt we have for eating? do you think we should go for control of our food and eating habits? the flip side is that we would be revered in these famine cultures for our size!

have to go. wish i could write more. this is such an interesting topic!!
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Old 07-18-2003, 02:14 PM   #3
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Hey Synger,
I totally and completely agree with you... Food is more than just fuel, but at the same time that is its basic function. Granted, we don't have a party around every time we fill up our car gas tank, and its not usually a social occasion. Actually, even when other people are in the car I usually end up standing outside by myself watching my life savings get sucked into my gas tank. *sigh*

I digress.

I think the problem for most of us is we forget that although we've turned food into a social thing, it really is basically just a fuel thing. We give ourselves any and all permission to eat, when really we only need to eat when our body needs more fuel. I've had lunch already, I'm not hungry, I've eaten healthy things my body needs to survive, do I really need to eat that piece of birthday cake that is really just garbage that tastes sweet? Just to celebrate someone else's birthday?

It is tough though... I've often said that a food addiction (which I have) is THE HARDEST to overcome. It's possible to avoid cigarettes, beer, drugs, whatever for the rest of your life. However, if we want to remain on this planet instead of 6 feet under, we have to eat to live.

I think the real trick is figuring out what triggers are, and getting over the fact that there are just some foods out there we can never eat again. That was the reason behind my "McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts" funeral comments. (Although the new McDonalds Grilled chicken salads are PHENOMENAL!!) As much as I hate it, there are foods out there I CAN NEVER EVER EAT AGAIN, because when I start, I just can't stop. And if I sit around thinking that "Well I don't want to not allow myself anything" I end up going to dunkin donuts, having not a donut hole but 2 filled donuts, and a Coolata to go with it, and whammo in 10 minutes there go 2000 calories. So I've realized for myself these things:

#1 I can't eat donuts anymore.
#2 I can never drink another coolata.
#3 Stuffed Crust Pizza = thighs looking like uncooked pizza dough.
#4 I can't have Ben and Jerry's ever again.
#5 Oreo cookies are not allowed in my house...

And the list goes on.

I hate it, but I know that if I want to succeed, I have to do it. I'm only 26. I have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me RIGHT NOW, and I'm not going to let it go one more time.
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Old 07-18-2003, 06:36 PM   #4
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I saw Angela's ashes, it was a powerful movie that's for sure. I guess getting fat is our punishment for living in a plentyfull world. It's very hard sometimes knowing that many ppl still havn't food to eat and many ppl starve.
For me losing weight has been about unlearning what I've been taught about food, that's it's O.K to have a treat when your down or even just for the **** of it. I eat to live now and am much more aware of what I put into my body as it is fuel. You wouldn't fill ur car up with tainted fuel that was going to cause it to run badly or even break down. Why do this with your body? I have fallen in love with vegetables and know everytime I eat my fill of them I am doing something good for my body rather then bad. It's much better then being guilty all the time.
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Old 07-19-2003, 12:27 PM   #5
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Great topic. My main goal in life is to learn that food is really just fuel for the body. I have used it for comfort, to celebrate, as a drug to even out my feelings, to punish myself for everything I think I do wrong, as a friend...sometimes my only BEST friend. I bestow magic powers on food...if I only eat this then I will get healthy (or happy, or strong, or...well just fill in the blank). I think we all start out knowing that food is fuel, but at a very young age "wanting" something to eat overrules "needing" something to eat. I for one have completely lost touch with hunger. It all gets confused with craving and wanting, but I call it "hunger" when it really isn't. It's so hard and I wonder if it's something you can ever re-learn - eating from hunger instead of everything else.
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Old 07-20-2003, 08:07 AM   #6
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Don't get me wrong. I didn't write above to show how guilty we should feel because we live in a culture of over-plenty. We cannot help when we were born nor the culture in which we live. (Just as I refuse to feel too guilty about what my ancestors have done to others in the name of religious zeal, or white superiority, or Manifest Destiny, etc. Learn about it, learn from it, apply the lessons to your life. But guilt alone isn't productive. But I digress...)

Instead, I find that I use such images and situations as powerful reminders to my "inner Veruca" that I DON'T need to have it all and have it now. I get strength when I feel munchy but know I'm not really hungry from remembering that boy licking salt and fat from newspaper for his dinner. Or thinking about medieval farmers eating barley and vegetables for most of their meals. If they can eat so little and survive, I can certainly turn up my nose at a box of Oreos when I've just had a good healthy dinner a couple of hours ago. /grin

I use similar logic when my little angelic Gem gets her normal two-year-old fits and I'm tired and hungry and don't want to deal. I think about all the women before me who have had not one angelic child, but multiple not-even-tempered children. They have survived. I can, too.

I think it helps me put it all into a healthier perspective. Makes me not think so much of myself -- that my struggles aren't really the center of the universe, even though they may feel that way right now.

I know that when I'm hungry, all I can think about is food. On my way home at night on Metro I think about what I'll make for dinner. I mentally catalog the food in our pantry and refrigerator and decide exactly what I'll have. I watched a show once that chronicled some WWII experiments on how soldiers performed on severely limited calories. One universal was that they dreamed of food and thought about it all the time. I can believe it.

Anyway, thinking about those now and in history who have not been as fortunate as I when it comes to caloric plenty helps me put my own struggles with food into perspective a little better, and gives me another tool to use when temptation rears its ugly head.
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