You are what you eat

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eatmemeI meant to write on this topic some time ago but I wanted to read my copy of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to see if it yielded me any additional insights as it relates to diet and food. It’s definitely an interesting book (though a bit hard for me to get through) and if relevant, I’ll pull in points during this post.

So a good six months ago, I wrote this post about my ex-coworker– a woman that I wasn’t fond of and who for me represents kind of the worst of people you can work with or encounter in your life. To recap, she was acting in a way that made members of the team feel bad / uncomfortable and just generally speaking, most of us did not like her (I am yes, speaking for myself but her name has also come up independent of my opinions during conversations with ex-coworkers, who have described her with words like “cold,” “mean” and “unappreciative.”

One of my biggest pet peeves with this woman was that she claimed to be on the Paleo diet and would force this conversation topic on everyone though none of us cared. She went so far as to tell three of us that we should also be on the Paleo diet though we were all thinner and in better shape than she was. I am lucky in that I am naturally thin. I will be the first to admit that. But even being thin, I would never think it appropriate to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t be doing related to their diets. It’s just rude.

What was even more irritating, though, was that she and the other partiers weren’t really staying on this diet that they so trumpeted. Nearly every weekend, they would go on these big alcohol binges. When I told my friend about the hypocrisy of it all, he pointed out that being on a stringent diet and then binging on alcohol is probably one of the worst things you can do for your body. Your body goes from being starved of calories to being overwhelmed with empty calories. The only result is that your  body will go bananas and gulp up all the extra calories which will effectively sabotage your efforts of training your body to rely on a regimented diet of whole foods. I’m not a dietician or that fitness-focused but even I think that this makes sense. And I wouldn’t have judged it (I frankly don’t care what people do with their time or bodies) but being served with the daily hypocrisy was pretty annoying.

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” takes an economic and dietary look at American food, showing that the way the food world is structured has less to do with what is good for us and is instead focused on doing things that make sense money-wise. There are lots of “cuts” (that’s a meat joke) to the book but the one part that I honed in on is the “fakeness” of the foods that we eat. All the production and chemistry and science that goes into producing the food that we buy on our shelves cannot possibly bode well for our individual and collective health.

This was something that I thought a lot about when I was living abroad. I lived in Brazil during a quarter of graduate school. We were drinking quite a lot and not necessarily living how we had back at home. We ate all-you-can-eat beef buffet (churrascaria) quite a lot. But all of us noticed that for our bacchanalian ways, we didn’t look so bad. In fact, we looked great!

I don’t have a scientific explanation for it. But one thing that I did think about was the amount of processed food that I might eat at home in the US versus what I was eating in Brazil. Except for maybe spaghetti sauce, I was actually eating a very clean diet when I cooked food for myself. I would buy vegetables and fresh fish from the food market at Osorio square once a week. And food at the stands, like the sandwiches, were made fresh. For breakfast, I would walk down to the corner supermarket and buy two pieces of fresh bread.

I’ve long though that one of the major things making Americans fat is all the processed foods we eat. In France, a piece of bread that you buy at the local boulangerie is rock hard within a day. Bread you buy at an American supermarket stays soft for WEEKS. That cannnot be normal.

Because of this and also because eating out is so expensive, I try to make my food whenever possible. I eat out with friends to socialize but if I’m home, I make myself food and from scratch whenever possible. I was raised during the 1980s and 1990s, when the consumer packaged foods industry blew up. My mom was a working mom so when we got home, we would often eat Tuna Helper (which btw, I will still admit I find delicious) or some other pre-made meal. I think back on that somewhat grossly– like all that crap I consumed for all those years. Today, I buy groceries from the Asian supermarket which keeps my food costs super low but also, I think eating solid foods like rice and fish and vegetables is how you should be living in other to keep good stuff going into your body. I think every meal I prepare for myself is probably $2-3, maybe $5 at the most. And I try to make everything from scratch, being able to identify each part to the most basic ingredient.

I don’t know that the main point of this post was for me to share advice or tell you what you should be doing as it relates to your diet. I do think stuff like this is a personal choice. But I do think that it’s important that people educate themselves on how their food choices impact their health (and finances). You should know so that you can make the right choices. I don’t personally believe in fad diets like Paleo diets– I think anytime you are cheating with binges or going off the strict script, you are only setting yourself up for failure. You should stick to a regiment that you can stick with and that gives you the right fuel to maintain good health. That’s it.

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