Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Food as "Medication"

I'm trying to think at what point it was, some years back, that they started promoting food almost as if it were medicine. You know, "Sodium free!" "A good source of vitamins A and D!" "Low in heart-clogging fats!"

It was probably at the point where the baby boomers, those notorious perpetual centers of the universe, reached the age where they finally had to start worrying about their health.

Some of it is pretty ridiculous. Pretzels loaded with salt are advertised as "Fat free!" Candy which is mostly sugar is billed as "Low in sodium!" A tin of caffeinated mints I've got sitting here on my desk informs me that these mints are "Sugar free!" It's a dietary shell game.

And some of it is downright schoolmarmish. My box of pancake mix bears a banner on the front which proclaims, "A Good Source of Calcium and Iron!" Yeah, right. That's exactly why I wanted pancakes this morning, to make sure that I'm getting my recommended daily dosage of calcium and iron. That's why I wanted pancakes, not because they're the most enjoyable breakfast food this side of pizza, not because pancakes are heaven when they're slathered with "caffeine-free" butter and "nicotine-free" maple sypup.

In case you didn't really understand why you like maple syrup, it's because maple syrup is "nicotine-free." Plus, no doubt, it's a good source of vitamins B1, B12 and D. Yeah, right.

And then there's the cardboard canister of oatmeal, which smugly admonishes, "Oatmeal Helps Remove Cholesterol!" Yes, "May reduce the risk of heart disease!" (Just in case you didn't get it, the lid of the canister carries a little message from the American Heart Association.) You sinners! Eat oatmeal, or have a heart attack! Repent! Take your medication, in the form of our food product, or die! Die! DIE!!!

There's just something sick about a society which can no longer enjoy food as food, a society which has to look on food primarily as "a source of" nutrients and quasi-medicinal ingredients. It's almost as if every food in the supermarket had been turned into spinach. "Eat up your spinach, it's good for you!"

No, I say eat, drink and be merry. Or, if you recall the full form of that saying, it's "Eat, drink and be merry! For tomorrow we die." Whatever happened to the days when moralistic attitudes over what people eat were the exclusive province of vegetarians? H.L. Mencken was right. God save us from those who are out to "improve" us, God deliver us from the lofty attitudes of "the Uplift"!



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