Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Here is a (not so) Faddish Diet Tip

Food is energy. There you have it. Now what on earth does that mean? Well, you may find it ironic seeing dietary advice from a blogger who also wrote a brief ode to Cheesy Nuggets. Also, you may object that the statement has little meaning, or even that it is incorrect, since in addition to energy, food contains other important things like vitamins, trace elements, fiber etcetera. This is all very true. Well, this three word statement is not much good on its own, that is true. Where I found it useful as as a 'handle' for referring to a whole lot of other thinking around diet and around values associated with diet. Please bear with me while I explain.

The term 'energy' here can be read not as a nutritionist may read such a term, but as a physicist may do so. Energy is the potential to do work. The potential to make the human body operate, with all that that entails, but meeting all of its very complex requirements. It is that simple, and that complex. Now, if the term is including all of that meaning, then what, if anything does it exclude? What other dialogue exists around food that is not at play here? Well, there are several and they relate to the social and aesthetic properties that food also carries. Food is a signifier. It is part of systems of communication and of the forming of culture. 

Now hang on a minute, you are saying: how can any way of viewing food exclude those very important qualities, which determine so much of what food actually IS?! Well of course it can't. We are social and aesthetic beings. That is key to our identity. It is what separates us from the auditors (meaning no offense anyone in that line of work. I imagine if you are reading this you are not there by choice). So what then? What possible use can a term devoid of this meaning possibly be? 

Well, it can be of use for one thing: It draws into focus the dual nature of food. Food is both nutrition and meaning. By being aware of this and by carrying with us this three word phrase that can be instantly called to mind to remind us of it, we equip ourselves with the ability to interrogate our food choices as follows: Is this my hunger for meaning or my hunger for nutrition that is calling  to me and to what extent do they coincide? That ability is absolutely fundamental to bringing about lasting dietary change. Most dietary advice focuses on what to eat, rather than on actually changing one's self so that one will naturally eat differently and that is arguably where it fails. Use the three words. Think differently. The eating and the interest in what is known of nutrition will follow. 

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