Yesterday I shared a post in my Facebook group which suggested that feeding a child a bowl of sugar for breakfast may not be a great idea, which seemed like a sensible observation. Most of the comments on it were along the lines of, no food is bad food and that children should be intuitive eaters. I disagree with both ideas but maybe not for the reasons that you may think…
TL:DR: intuitive eating is impossible, and maybe some food actually is bad food, but not necessarily for our health, for way bigger reasons than that.
1) IN OUR CURRENT FOOD CULTURE NEITHER CHILDREN NOR ADULTS CAN BE TRUE INTUITIVE EATERS.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the idea that we could intuitively eat; that we could naturally decide to put down the chocolate or the Pringles. But so many of us can’t. You know the slogan, “once you pop you can’t stop”? That’s almost like a sick nod to the truth.
Companies pour billions, and I mean billions into creating what is known as a bliss point in their food. A bliss point is the perfect combination of flavours, textures, scents, and colours to quite literally make their food irresistible. Flavourists (yes, that is their job title) are paid to create and field test food that’s designed to bypass satiety signals, override hunger ones, and light up the brain’s reward centre to turns us into metaphorical kids at Christmas. No, I’m not saying that food is addictive, but I am saying it can be damn fucking close to it in some people.
Yes, tonnes of people can resist cravings, and not eat the second half of the share size Mars Bar, but many more of us can’t. And no, it’s not because we have no willpower or need to intuitively eat harder. It’s because extraordinarily rich and clever people are conspiring against us to create food that is almost impossible to put down.
What sucks is that we expect kids to resist food like this, when many adults can’t. This is especially hard for them as kids have a bliss point which is far higher in sugar than adults do (by about 20% by memory). So when you offer them the choice between Coco Pops and a less sugary alternative, they’re likely to pick the sugar option. It is unfair of an adult to assume that a young child is going to make decisions based on wisdom when it comes to food. Yes, we have to give them the experience of getting tummy aches if they eat too much or feeling hungry if they eat too little. But very few children have the wisdom to connect their awesome sugar high then crash with the breakfast cereal that they picked. I mean, not many adults are able to associate their bad moods, or heightened emotions, or gut issues with what they eat, and we expect kids to?
2) SOME FOOD IS BAD FOOD
Hear me out on this one. We absolutely do not have the science or research to connect one food with long-term ill-health. However surely, we understand that there is a difference between the benefits of eating an apple, compared to a bag of apple flavour gummy sweets with added vitamins. I’m not saying one is good nor one is bad, but they are different, and there will certainly be a difference in how you feel if you overeat apples compared to overeating sweets. Obviously, there are differences between people, but I feel confident using that as a sweeping generalisation to highlight my point.
We also don’t owe any our health, and the aim of life is not to live forever. It is your life, and you are welcome to eat what you like, and I genuinely hope you enjoy it. But I also hope that it makes your body feel good. Whilst hedonic pleasures are amazing, we cannot live well on them alone, and quality of life must play a HUGE part too.
But I actually believe that all of what I have just said in this point is moot anyway. I think what we really need is to stop being so selfish in our food choices. I think we forget that what we eat doesn’t just affect us. It affects our entire planet and everyone else on it. And I’m frankly fed up with the suggestion that we can carry on doing what makes us FEEL good, everything else be damned.
When we were cavemen (which wasn’t that long ago), the energy we took from the world and the energy we expended to get it was perfectly in balance. It still is for all other undomesticated species. But we’ve fucked it. Now, the estimation is that it takes us 10 energy calories to create 1 food calories. That’s 10 energy calories used in the preparation, labour, travel, and everything else that goes into our food, and that is a truly unsustainable model, and one of the many reasons why our planet is crumbling.
Following the depression and food shortages of the war, people put all their energy is creating as much food as we possibly can as cheaply as we possibly. And unfortunately, we still have that same attitude. Food quantity is far more important to society than food quality, and I believe we are suffering because of it in so many ways, not just with health.
And so whilst the ability to eat whatever we want whenever we want is great in theory, in practice it is destroying us, and we need to recognise this.–I don’t think I have been vocal enough about my beliefs on all this mostly because I genuinely don’t know what kind of reaction it will get. I am fully expecting a tonne of comments about privilege, but honestly, there’s no need. I am fully aware that there are plenty of people who can only afford poor quality ultra-processed food, and for that reason, it has its place right now. But in my mind, that’s a reason to be even more vocal about the need for change, and if I can’t use my privilege as a voice for change then what’s the point in me having it? Shouldn’t the aim be to reduce the need for cheap food instead of justifying its existence?
The change that needs to happen isn’t the neoliberalist and capitalist bullshit about us making better food choices or taking more responsibility, that of course will be part of it, but the odds are stacked against us. The change has to come from government and industry, and the pressure to change will come from us, after all, they only sell us what we think we need. I’m not entirely sure how we can affect this change yet, but I’m working on it. But I do know that we cannot continue the way that we are.
Other people may tell you that we have to change to stem the f*ckery that is the “war on obesity”, but you should know how I feel about that by now. Or they’ll say that we need to eat differently to protect our health. But honestly, neither of these lies represent the change we need. I think that as humans we need to move towards being as unselfish as we possibly can as we move through the world.
OK phew. I feel better now!