Man, are we ever a food-preoccupied culture.
At one end of the spectrum are the finger-waggers admonishing us about calories, nutrition and the fact that North Americans are alarmingly fat. At the other is a massive media deluge of all things food, from Food TV and Top Chef-style shows to foodie blogs chasing restaurant openings to endlessly crafty rebranding. Have you noticed that the Mars bar is now being sold as an energy snack?
Meanwhile, while concerns grow about eating sustainably, niche food fixations like cupcakes and bacon are sweeping the market. We get it. It's cool to like cured pork. Can we move on now? Oh, no, wait... what's that? First you have to Instagram a picture of your bacon?
Now it appears you have to listen to a narrative about your food before you get to eat - or at least tweet about it.
Is it body-wise to be so entirely obsessed with what we ingest, and how can we enjoy foodie culture and still be kind to our bodies?
What The Experts Say
"The most food-obsessed people, those who watch the TV shows and go to trendy restaurants, tend to have things under control in their food lives. We do have a tortured relationship with food, though. It's one of the coolest, most fun indulgences, but it's tough to draw the line on when we're satisfied, and marketing often determines our tastes - right up to the waiter talking about the prairie-grass-fed meat on the menu. The waiter markets the special by describing it; you do the same thing when you use china instead of paper plates. Most people make about 200 food decisions a day. If you ask them, they recollect 20 or 30. Most people are busy; they're not going to eat a pea and say ‘Am I full yet?,' so I don't recommend mindful eating. The solution is to change the environment so you can mindlessly eat less without having to think about it - like using small plates."
BRIAN WANSINK, professor of applied economics and management, Cornell University, author, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Ithaca, New York
"The food movement can be unhelpful if we develop orthorexia, an obsession with eating correctly - correct number of calories, correct nutritional balance, carbon footprint, no factory farming - and suddenly there's nothing left to eat. But paying attention to food can have a good outcome. We have to learn the difference between satisfied and full. With mindful eating, I could eat 10 cheese puffs and be satisfied if I'm really present. That's like the Japanese or the French experience of eating something small but exquisitely presented. You're nourishing yourself through your eyes and other senses, and you eat with full appreciation and have a feeling of satisfaction. But if I sit at my computer with cheese puffs, I'll turn my mind to my email and suddenly the bowl is empty. If we're not paying attention to an experience, it's as if it didn't happen. People are disconnected from their bodies. Eat a few cheese puffs and really enjoy them. Then put them down and pay attention to your email. When we're doing mindless eating, we're missing intimacy with the food. When we're intimate with it, we're satisfied much earlier."
JAN CHOZEN BAYS, Zen teacher, author, Mindful Eating: A Guide To Rediscovering A Healthy And Joyful Relationship With Food, Clatskanie, Oregon
"A lot of food is created to impress, and the most impressive ingredients are those that aren't health-supporting: butter, cheese and sugar. You don't have to have any interest in entering the kitchen to enjoy watching others make fancy edibles on Food TV. But people who want to adopt a healthy diet need to make good eating a community thing to get habits to stick: take a class, have a cook date with friends. There's still a division between popular food and wholesome food. Places that have a mission to accommodate folks who want to eat healthily are more expensive, and the general population doesn't want to pay the difference. We think we've scored if we find a good bottle of wine for $10, but I'd scoff at being asked to pay the same for an equal amount of kombucha. Now, a niche resto with an emphasis on kale - I'd love to see someone run with that."
JAE STEELE, registered holistic nutritionist, author, Ripe From Around Here: A Vegan Guide To Local And Sustainable Eating (No Matter Where You Live), Toronto
"The artisanal farm-to-table movement is everywhere: ingredient-driven cooking, seasonal food, local and home cooking. You can use sugar, salt and fat for flavour or you can use great ingredients, the best you can afford, and prepare them well. Much as I love restaurants, a steady diet of eating out or ordering in is not healthy. You need a few simple techniques like learning how to develop a crust on meat, or how to braise, cook slowly and diffuse flavours. When you try to be a Top Chef contestant, you're not going to eat healthily. Read labels: if it's got a lot of ingredients that end in ‘-ide,' ‘-ate' or ‘-ite,' it's probably not healthy."
PETER KAMINSKY, author, Culinary Intelligence: The Art Of Eating Healthy (And Really Well)), Brooklyn, NY
"It can be tough when you're frequently faced with temptation - whether it's co-workers bringing in their latest baking masterpiece or the new cupcake shop around the corner. Take this advice: identify the triggers that cause you to eat when you aren't hungry and answer the following: Do you feel pressured by others to eat when you aren't hungry? Do you eat when you're bored? Do you eat when you're tired? Do you eat automatically when you see food? Use a journal to track where you are, what you're doing and how you feel when you're eating."
TARA ANDRESEN, naturopath, Toronto
"Only in the last few hundred years have the vast majority of people, even those considered poor, had access to the flavours and preferred foods that would have been rare previously: sweet foods, salty foods, fat. Our preferences are in part predicated on the fact that they were relatively rare. But our underlying preferences aren't instinctual. As we grow up, we develop the way we eat. Learning a new way of eating is like learning a second language. People do successfully diet, but so many more are unsuccessful. Those who succeed do so in part because they tie it to an ideology. Vegetarians or vegans or those who take on a religious-based diet can have success."
JOHN S. ALLEN, neuroanthropologist, Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and Brain and Creativity Institute, U of Southern California, Los Angeles, author, The Omnivorous Mind