What Passes for Food

September 22, 2009

I have no real content to post, so here’s a link to an interesting blog, Food In Real Life, billing itself as:

Preaching truth to packaging. Pictures of packaged food, cooked to specifications, compared to the photo on the box.

Two things to think about:

1. How few of the packaged foods depicted look like what’s on the package (or, in the case of fast food, on the menu board). We travel through a world of delectable images but disappointing products, speaking of which…

2. How few of the package pictures – to say nothing of the actual foods – actually look like real food that might be put together using familiar ingredients. Some entries are less offensive in this regard (the rice, for example), but others are grade-A frankenfoods (Jeno’s pizza, Pop-Tarts).

One take on these images states the obvious: that we are trained and acclimated to eating the foods that we do, for better or for worse. No one is born with a genetic craving for Pop-Tarts, or, for that matter, a Pringles addiction. (Cos even they admit – once you pop, you can’t stop.)

The equally obvious corollary to this point, however, is anathema in certain circles. For all the fanfare around “intuitive eating,” (aka “eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full”) the approach makes no sense in a world where eating for one’s health has been entirely cleaved from eating by one’s instincts. Anyone who has ever craved soda, or chips, or instant noodles, or, hell, any of the foods featured on FoodIRL, understands this on some level: in the present food environment, our eating instincts often lead us away from food and towards “food-product.”

And so, many people live their lives oscillating in an unhealthy Catch-22: when they eat intuitively, their eating is as disordered as the food culture at large; but when they try to “order” their eating, they end up with overly-restrictive, insufficiently-nutritious diets. If there is a way out from this, it will necessarily include curtailing to some extent our eating instincts, bent as they are towards unhealthy (and at times even unsatisfying) choices – but it cannot be so severe as to rob us of the pleasure and utility of food.

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