Recently, I met with a colleague for lunch. For mutual convenience, we met at some national-chain restaurant just off the highway. It was the kind of place that runs ads featuring beautiful, fun-loving, sexy people bonding enthusiastically over plates of sizzling food.
Our waitress approached and asked if we’d like to start out with some mozzarella sticks or their new blooming-onion appetizer. We declined the deep fried snacks. We declined sodas in favor of water. Then we started scanning the menu. It wasn’t pretty. Everything seemed designed to give you a heart attack and a spare tire – swimming in cream sauce, triple-battered, jumbo-sized, cooked to death. The few raw vegetables on the menu (even those in the salads) seemed relegated to playing glorified garnish roles. At the time, I was knee deep in several books: two that we reviewed for our new Reading List department (Fast Food Nation and Eat, Drink and Be Healthy), plus Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill by Udo Erasmus (our expert source for the EFA article), and a pre-publication galley of The Warrior Diet (a just-released book by Ori Hofmekler, who authored this issue’s double feature on metabolism).
Given all the in-depth nutritional information I had lodged in my brain that day, it appeared I had wound up in the wrong restaurant at the wrong time. Dishes that might have once sounded delectable now seemed like so many nutrient-poor, metabolism-thwarting gut bombs. I knew it was highly unlikely that anything here would be organic or locally grown, and that nearly everything on the menu would have been trucked across the country, packaged for maximum shelf life and processed for fast preparation.
Suddenly, I felt as though this restaurant’s menu, ads and add-on sales pitches were part of a much larger brainwashing effort – one we’ve all been exposed to so often that we no longer really see or question it. What disturbed me wasn’t so much that the restaurant was trying to sell me a particular food item. It was that the restaurant was trying to sell me the idea that all these obviously health-compromising offerings were perfectly normal, standard fare. Like, “Why wouldn’t you want to ingest 2,000 calories worth of deep-fried, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids and simple carbohydrates before your entrée even arrives?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for indulgences.
But it occurred to me that if you actually ate this way on a daily basis, you’d be malnutritioned and seriously overweight in no time. And this was just a normal lunch. I mean really, should a deep-fried onion and a caramel-brownie-cheesecake sundae be part of a normal lunch?
There can be no doubt that our willingness to devour what is advertised – to eat whatever tempts us instead of what actually nourishes and fuels our bodies – is partially to blame for our nation’s obesity, chronic disease and cancer crises, and perhaps even for the increasing incidence of depression and mood disorders. But how are we to know what our bodies really need? After all, no one is going to come up to our table and say, “You look a little EFA-deficient today—would you like some flaxseed oil added to your salad?” No one, that is, except us.
In stressful, anxious times, simplifying our lives, cleaning up our diets and taking care of our nutritional needs offers a certain amount of comfort. It feels right to trim out the unnecessary and the excessive, and to focus more on the real and important. It feels good to take responsible, mindful care of the things that are within our control.
I do believe that it is possible to relish food, to enjoy one’s share of delicious indulgences and still be a good steward of one’s body. It just takes some know-how and a healthy dose of common sense. That’s what we’ve tried to pack into this issue of Experience Life. I hope that what you discover in these articles inspires you to learn more—about how your body fuels and repairs itself, about how you can live a life that reflects your own ideals, and not someone else’s idea of what passes for normal.
After all, if we really are what we eat, there are better things to be than a deep-fried onion.