The Evolution of Food or the Regression of Eating?

Food Science. Enough said.

Once upon a time, food was necessary for survival. It was a promise of seeing another day. Food was obtained through basic human skills.  You didn’t have to tell a hunter that if he was hungry he needed to hunt. He was hungry and he figured out a way to get the job done. Followers of popular diets love to draw upon the examples of early man to pattern their eating habits and, even though I don’t agree with that logic entirely, I do believe that they had something right. Back then the relationship with food was a lot more simple, ‘”I have to eat or I am going to die.”

The reason why I don’t think looking back in time and developing a menu after the diet of, say, cavemen is logical is that they ate what they could get. They ate to survive. I can pretty much guarantee without need of a study that if someone went back in time and laid out a few gluten-infused cookies alongside a chilled glass of cow’s milk there would have been a riot of epic proportions to determine who gets to claim the feast. And he’d probably spend the rest of his days thinking about that meal…not because he is now one of us ‘sugar addicted zombies’ but he can’t for the life of him figure out how he scored such an easy and delicious meal.

My point here is, in the beginning things were much more simple. Portion size meant how big of an animal you killed or how many berries ripened that day. Carb cycling was done seasonally, in regions where fruit was suddenly available. ‘Hungry’ meant your body needed sustenance and not ‘I ate over three hours ago and I’m going catabolic.’ I’m not saying that they had it good, I’m just saying that their relationship with food was pretty basic and required little to no thought outside of obtaining, then preparing (if even), the food itself.

Flash forward to the dawn of agriculture. Things were still relatively simple. Food was still earned through work. No, you didn’t have to perform valiant sprints and learn to throw a spear like Odin but farming, for example, was plenty work. Not to mention that most food was fresh and needed preparation. There was still an appreciation surrounding the commodity of food that was also encouraged by the seasons, and even traditions surrounding food. There was also still no ‘apple a day’ recommendation because apples were not available every day and if you said that you’d just sound plain stupid.

Move forward, once again, to the era of importing and exporting food. Now you can have your pick! Now you don’t have to wait or travel miles to get what you want! Food went from a necessity to an entitlement and due to its abundance could now be wasted, abused, marketed, refined, genetically manipulated and even consumed in gut-busting proportions to earn a prize. Now this didn’t have to be a bad thing but some bad mentalities came along with it. Let’s go with marketing for a moment. If we use the example of early man, I’m pretty sure that no one randomly sprung from bushes ‘pop-up style’ promoting the nutritional value of this berry over the next. They didn’t need a study to tell them about the benefits of the Omega 3s in the fish they caught to justify eating it. They were hungry and that fish kept them alive. There was no marketing team trying to sneak walnuts into your diet but if you came across some you’d be grateful for them. It seems to me that the ‘smarter’ we got about food the dumber we became about eating.

Food is so abundant that we have even taken the time to dissect it in order to ‘understand’ it. We now know the inner workings of the orange;, what makes a tomato red, the fat content of beef and it’s varying Omega 6 to Omega 3 profiles depending on the diet of the animal (we even mess with the ways our cows eat?). We can follow sugar through the human body, explaining the breakdowns and its ultimate forms of storage. Some of us even try and manipulate the storage of said sugar molecules.

Again, pretty cool, but look at what is happening. Food has moved from something that is necessary to something that is now confusing. These studies now show that there are harmful compounds in things that we thought we knew were beneficial (like broccoli). We think that the unsaturated fat in butter messes with your heart so we get all ‘wise’ and try and fix this. We’ve made ourselves ‘unsaturated’ fats that turn out to be even worse and now we are sick all over again. Sounds to me like all of this information is making us smarter for sure…

How did we get ourselves into this mess? Do we blame the food or lack of information about food? Maybe, the sheer amounts of food available lead to a different problem called over- consumption? Maybe we should focus less on the minute details of the food and focus on asking ourselves ‘how much is enough?’

We now have studies showing that the fats in butter were fine in the first place and are, in fact, the bee’s knees.  In fact, now you have people drinking it. Yes, they are literally drinking butter…which, is okay I guess…but why are we doing that? Because, again, we want to be ‘smart’ about our eating?

In a world of availability, is tailoring your day to a very limited list of foods sensible?  It would be smart if you were starving and all you had was a stick of butter left in your fridge. That’s survival and so I think it qualifies as ‘smart’ eating. Trying to trick your body into ‘fat-burning’ mode by buying over-priced oils, isolated, concentrated and encapsulated compounds, eating within windows (and I don’t mean enjoying the breeze on a window seat) and glorifying one food source over the next isn’t my definition of smart. It’s my definition of a headache.

It seems to me that all of the availability, all of the noise of marketing hype, all of the helpful information proving the benefits of this over that has lead to us losing touch with one very vital source of information: our intuition. How is it that, despite our built-in knowledge on the subject, all of a sudden people are confused about ‘how’ to eat? And I don’t mean proper table etiquette either but rather the ‘right’ way to eat.

For the record, I feel food science is amazing and I follow it myself. I love learning about food…seeing how we as humans challenge ourselves to new levels through knowledge of the human body and the effect food has on it’s processes and appearance. I dig that. I find it fascinating! However it makes me a little scared for humanity when people get confused about the motive for obtaining the information and especially also how it is sometimes used. It helps to be aware that some individuals take it upon themselves to take advantage of your newly found confusion and use it to their benefit.

Sometimes when people cite studies it is to sell a product, or even to sell themselves.  They want to confuse you enough into thinking that you’ve been eating the ‘wrong’ way the whole time and now their knowledge will show you the ‘right’ way.  Sometimes food becomes black-listed because a single nutrient of the food source was observed in isolation (and in some cases exaggerated doses).  It may have shown some negative effects and therefore it must be Satan in food form. All of the information about the good and bad of food has now turned our cues for eating inside out. Instead of saying, ‘I’m hungry. I should eat.’ we say, ‘I’m hungry. What should I eat?’. Instead of saying ‘I like this. I’m going to eat this today.’ we say ‘I like this but I have to eat it after my workout or else I am going to store it as fat or going to get diabetes or lose my gains or lose my hair or my sh*t won’t float or I’ll go over my macros or poke holes in my gut or go out of ketosis or fail at life or….you get the point.

I wish we could go back to the time where we were hungry and ate. Where we were full and stopped eating. Where we noticed we felt better and/or didn’t get as sick when we ate certain things so we ate them more often. Where we cut a huge slice of birthday cake and enjoy it instead of having to tell ourselves that we deserve it. I wish we could go back to the time where a calorie was a calorie and not a unit of life itself. Where food was more than an equation but an experience of taste, texture, smell with life enhancing benefits such as energy and stamina.  I wish that we could study food and its effects without losing touch with the reason that we consume food in the first place. Not because it’s there, not simply because of its nutritional properties or promotion of certain processes, but because we need it and we enjoy it.

Now let’s top that off with the fact that we’ve been smart enough to figure out how to produce enough food to feed the entire planet, eating should be simpler than ever. However, eating has moved from just another aspect of our day to the bane of some lives. It’s become a career. It’s become an enigma and is rated on a scale of 1-10. It’s become something that causes shame and self-condemnation as well as arrogance and self-righteousness. Eating has become the problem and the cure. When does it end? When do we move back to ‘I’m hungry – I’ll eat. I’m full – I’ll stop. I’m gaining more weight than I’d like – I’ll eat a little less. I’m a little underweight – I’ll eat a bit more. I feel for this – I’ll have it. I don’t feel good when I eat a lot of this – I’ll eat a bit less of it. When do we realize that we already KNOW how to eat…and all of this information around food is just to enhance and not to rule our lives?  When does food become food again?

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