Aug 22, 2011

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Exploring our interactions with what we eat & why

Social influence is something I think about a lot. I use twitter, facebook, this blog, Google+ and other social sites to get the "If I can do it, you can do it" message out there. I often think about the influence I had on others for so long to overeat.  

UTILITY / NUTRITION  
As one of my long time fiends in the weight loss world has said, "First it's food, then it's poop". The reality of food's physical purpose is very simple and utilitarian. It is very simple in nature. The purpose of food is to provide nutrition to our body and mind. It is not something evil or good. It has no agenda to make you fat. It is fuel. While the utilitarian aspect of food is simple, the complexity of the roll that food plays in our lives is much more complex.
CULTURE  
Cultures and food are inseparably connected. Food literally helps define culture. Indian, Mexican, Spanish, Scandinavian, Japanese, Chinese .... with the word "food" slapped at the end of any of these and immediately we can associate dishes, sauces, preparation methods and flavors. In a very real way food helps us define each other. 
Food is something the human race all has in common. In order to survive we have the need to eat. Where food is located, culture is cultivated. While the need to eat is universal the types of food and the way it is prepared vary greatly. Before my wife I NEVER would have tried Fiskepudding (fish pudding). While I am sure I will never eat it again, It was an adventure to explore a new food and culture in one small bite. Well I kind of spit out the bite but maybe a bite of the goat cheese ... mmm goat cheese.  

SOCIAL   

So, I am a Mormon. Many of you may know that already but why do I mention it now? No we do not have horns, no I am not a polygamist, yes we ARE Christians in every sense of the word. Now that we have that out of the way ... Mormons are notorious social eaters.   "When we meet, we eat" ... as the saying goes in the culture. When someone gets married, we eat. When someone gets baptized, we eat. When a baby is blessed, we eat. When little Suzie goes from Primary into the Young Women's program, we give her a bunch of candy to show our approval. When someone dies we eat. And we don't just eat anything. When someone dies, we make the most fattening concoction of potatoes that I believe have ever been invented. We call 'em "Funeral Potatoes". Lisa at Feminist Mormon Housewives describes the dish perfect. It's like the goal is to dull all the emotion surrounding the loss of a loved one by eating this and water logged, canned ham in order to enter a food educed lethargic state void of all emotion. While Mormons believe in a law of health called the Word of Wisdom, in practice, I think our culture and our faith often collide.  Social eating can be both good, and bad. In general I think rewarding with food is a bad idea and teaches kids incorrect principals about food. A good aspect of social eating would be cooking a healthy meal with your kids like my bud Ryan at No More Bacon recently talked about. I can't help but get people excited about food. When I ate like a 500 pounder, I would get people excited about foods that were delicious but ... well ... would quickly get you to 500 pounds. Now, I love to get people excited about sashimi, low calorie soups, Oroweat sandwich thins and eating delicious but healthy foods. Do you influence people food? I bet you do. Are you a positive influence or a negative influence in your local circles?  

EMOTION
"Relationship with food" is a phrase I use a lot. Maybe a better way to describe it is "emotional attachments that I have with food." It is a scientific fact that food effects the chemistry in our bodies and in our brains. Emotion is deeper than an urge. I understand cravings well. With chocolate deserts titled Better than Sex (if you believe this you're doing it wrong) it's no doubt that we have primal urges towards food but the emotional aspect of eating is deeper than that.
In the movie Ratatouille, Anton Ego, a Chef Ramsay style food critic, tastes a dish and is instantly transported back to childhood. Smells, flavors and textures provoke emotions of comfort, innocence and simplistic joy. In a very real way he is effected emotionally and profoundly by food.
Because of the power that food can have over our emotions, if we let it, it can begin to control us. We use it like a drug to medicate our feelings with drastic side effects. I put together a chart of the destructive & addictive nature I let food become in my life. It was so bad that I honestly believed there was simply nothing that I could do to break the cycle.
Food numbed my emotions. I was angry, depressed hopeless. This is one of the reasons I share this stuff. I know there are so many more who are where I used to be. All I can say to those who are there is that it IS possible, it IS hard but it defiantly IS worth every bit of struggle.  Feeling emotion from eating food is not a bad thing but "emotional eating" as I have experienced it can lead to a lot of problems for you and your waist line. I heard Jamie Oliver once say "fast food is the opiate of the masses". Do you use food to numb the pain like I did? Do you control the food you eat or does the food you eat control you? These were questions that were the hardest to face for me through the weight loss process.

COMMUNICATE 
My Grandpa Badger loves to cook. If ever there was someone that I felt put all of their love into preparing a meal, it would be my Grandpa Badger. When we visit Irvine, CA one of my favorite things to do is to go to his house for dinner. Grandpa was an English Teacher by trade and highly educated. If he ever learns to use a computer and reads this blog I am sure there would be more than a few face palms due to my grammar and spelling (sorry Grandpa).
The Badger family my Dad grew up in was one full of love. My Grandma passed before I was born but between her and my Grandpa, the Badger household was a pretty tight ship as I can tell. I have heard my Grandpa, when feeling melancholy, mentioned that he should have voiced his love more. Grandpa may not have always voiced his love, but he never failed to show it. Spending hours in the kitchen, constantly tasting to get it just right. Through food, Grandpa said many times what his mouth failed to speak.  In contrast, I put 1/2 a shaker worth of salt in my friend's chocolate milk at school to communicate that I didn't like him emptying his trumpet spit valve on my foot earlier that morning :) Communicating through food is not necessarily a bad thing. What is important is what message are you communicating? Are you saying "I love you only enough to make you feel a short bit of happiness while slowly killing you." while handing over a giant piece of chocolate cake? Or "I want to make you happy and live longer." With a bowl of fresh fruit? It sounds a bit harsher than I mean it too but hopefully you got the idea. Food is something that should be used for our benefit and our health not to our demise.

3 comments:

  1. mmmmm funeral potatoes! I love those... can't eat them anymore - but love them! I'm a "Recovering Mormon" as I like to call it (maybe one day I'll share that boring story with you...) - so I know these practices all too well. Mormons are feeders - and they mean it in the best way possible. My father still ascribes to this tradition. Depressed? Want me to make you a grilled cheese and fresh cut french fries? Tired? Here - have a red velvet cupcake... etc, etc, etc...

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  2. Very thoughtful post. One of the benefits in this journey is the learning that we do about ourselves and our past habits/lifestyle. Yes, food is a social experience and generally speaking it is unhealthy food that is the main course in those social situations. But, with all the publicity about obesity especially with kids, I am guessing that there will be. A change, some change, as to what is offered at social events with food seems to be something we can all become proactive with and do. In our family events and celebrations, I make sure there is fresh fruit and always a large salad. What is cool is to see how our adult kids now do the same. So, it starts small but can be done.

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  3. Southern Evangelicals are feeders, too. Every casserole you can imagine,fried stuff, cakes galore at the meetings. Donuts and Cuban pastelitos before Sunday School with the coffee/tea/juice.

    I now don't offer folks crap and say no when they offer it to me. At my nephew's wake, I brought mostly fuits and veggies to offer. I took my own food to the rosary meetings, so i wouldn't take the typical Cuban bakery crap offered.

    We do feel the people we love a lot of junk. It's nuts. Now, I buy sugar-free chocolate to offer the kids at parties. I try to make the moms conscious when the kids eat ony junk and avoid the real food. I refuse to have a traditional birthday cake.

    I have no problem with a real cultural food for a real cultural event..RARELY and in modest portions. It's when it's OFTEN and in immoderate portions and it becomes a habit that we get in trouble.

    Move forward, forge new traditions...

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