The Certainty Famine

December 19, 2011

I’m hungry. I don’t know what to do.

I would like to spend many decades on this earth. Most people with this goal agree that it is achieved by maintaining exemplary health. Any semblance of independence is hard to preserve without it, plus it bestows upon you a certain brightness and briskness of being.

A healthful diet is important to overall wellness. Everyone knows this, but everyone disagrees on what it means. Unfortunately, in my Internet explorations last night, I stumbled upon a nutrition debate. These unravel as soon as they are stitched together. They fill me with anxiety because there is no edible or potable substance in the world that someone doesn’t think carries the grim specter of death.

Society’s relationship with food, or at least how it forces us to develop a relationship with food, feels like this.

  • Monday: X is bad for you, eat Y.
  • Tuesday: Y is bad for you, eat Z.
  • Wednesday: X, Y and Z are all bad for you.
  • Thursday: Y can actually stave off the advancing shadow of cancer
  • Friday: Y is bad for you! Z, I’m telling you, eat Z!
  • Saturday: X, Y and Z are all fine in moderation. Just make sure you get enough W.
  • Sunday: W is bad for you. Eat X.
Then the arguments start on Saturday between people who haven’t read Friday’s paper or even Tuesday’s.
This honestly fills me with a Kafkaesque dread. This issue is replicated for almost any lifestyle choice, such as career or religion, but food is a physical object that I have to make a decision about every few hours, so it feels much more concrete and confrontational. Every report of a food’s saintliness or belligerence seems to have at least the veneer of scientific soundness, so calmly resorting to reason doesn’t help either. Grains are a huge section of the food pyramid (I’m sorry, MyPlate) but cavemen didn’t eat wheat and neither should you because we haven’t evolved to handle it. Milk is the active person’s magic potion, packed with vitamins, calcium, and calories to help you bulk up – oh, and cow pus, and blood, and the gamy goat-sweat of Satan himself.
Even things that were once universally acclaimed, like vegetables and water, are tainted by bitter controversies about genetic engineering, pesticides and fluoridation that are often more motivated by economics than biology.
At some point the argument becomes personal. Vegans are apparently really tired being blanket-generalized as hipsters (the one subculture everyone denies being a part of) or of speciously sympathizing with animals. There is even a mildly amusing Bingo board out there a vegan can use to make interactions with the incredulous more bearable. One square may be covered with a token if the omnivore “says something about eyeteeth”, their logic being, since sharp teeth are for tearing flesh and humans have sharp teeth, we are supposed to eat meat. As a person interested in both evolutionary in biology and sharp things, I feel that this is a discussion worth having. But no, not this time. This time we are so frustrated we will just play Bingo. And that’s understandable.
I am in a state of cynical despondency. Any one of you loyal readers could swoop in and be like “Don’t worry, I’ll help you clean up your crappy eating! Here is the no-flour no-sugar no-wheat no-water diet that the Paleolithic guru of Bahrain used to win an ironman race at the age of 130, complete with references to respectable scientific journals.” That would be great until someone posted something claiming the opposite. Not that this should stop you. I’m sure that a lot of people and I would enjoy having this flood of information cut down to a few manageable drops.
You’ve now figured out that this isn’t one of those hokey “7 ways to fix your diet” self-help posts, and certainly not one that I’ll follow a month later with a “Stop caring, enjoy life” throwaway post. I don’t have an answer for you yet, but I’ll be looking into it.
One of the comforting things about the lifelong process of inquiry, which I will now co-opt into the main point of this post, is that we are built for it. If you read Fear.less, you probably also read things that tell you how important failing, taking risks and being wrong are. Just last week I talked about how our primal nature seeks to annihilate the urge to take those risks – which a lot of us find existentially painful. No matter where you end up, you are going to be taking a lot of abuse. Fortunately, the human mind and body are miraculously durable. For the most part, and with some smart, active direction, they can handle a beer here and a candy bar there, a blown presentation here and a personal tragedy there. We do have some time to figure things out.
By the way, I really was hungry at the beginning. I ended up making scrambled eggs. I can’t remember hearing anything too ghastly about eggs, although I am sure I am due for a reminder. Bon appetit.

photo by Sean MacEntee

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avrum Nadigel December 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

Well designed, well written. Thoroughly enjoying all aspects of this site/blog & PDFs.

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mazza December 23, 2011 at 8:15 am

The solution for me is to ignore it all and eat what I feel like, as long as I only eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. Most of the time that includes things like cereal, milk, fruit, whole grains, veggies and meat. Sometimes butter and sugar and chocolate. My body tells me when I’ve lost my balance. Honestly, look within and not outside for this guidance. Trust yourself and follow the mantra: everything in moderation, including moderation. Works for me. :-)

PS I lost 60lbs this way–moving my body regularly, eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full. We have all the internal wisdom to nourish ourselves wisely. It’s when we question and judge ourselves and look to outside “experts” for all the answers that we lose our way.

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