Last week I was at a posh restaurant, because pretending to have money with mediocre savings is this new and dangerous trend I have undertaken. Dessert being my ultimate weakness, I made a big deal out of the pre-dessert and dessert. Meringuelets shrouded in freeze-dried raspberries, swimming blissfully in Chantilly. Then, a brown sugar tart with a delicate scoop of stem ginger ice cream. The ice cream melted atop the chocolate mousse nestled under a skinny membrane of coffee jelly, and I started to think about the unspoken connections between food, body and mind.
To start, I’d just like to say that there is a need for clarification in any field of knowledge. But there are surprising twists, and in this case of course I’m talking about the wild, young, uncertain world of nutrition. There are lots of irrefutable nutrition facts, like how we as humans need certain nutrients to grow and develop properly, keep our brains and bodies optimally functional. There are different people who undertake theories in different ways and with very different behaviours. You have X, who treats this whole nutrition thing very, very seriously. He has a Vitamix to keep his wild green soul satiated in the morning, and a spoonful of blackstrap molasses mixed and heated with turmeric and perhaps just a dash of spirulina at night. Turkey is good and everything else might kill him. He gets shifty at restaurants. And all that being said, the variations of X, whatever diet culture he may adhere to, are endless. There’s Y, who likes to run and have an apple every day. He tries, but may forego the strict gym session. Then there’s people like me with incredible levity, who are interested and read up on all the latest finds, but still don’t mind the occasional cake-gorge and wine splurge (yes wine is good for you, but do you know how many bottles you need to get a desirable amount of resveratrol…?).
I guess X is the good sir I would like to elaborate more on now. His soul is bright when he churns the kale and frozen bananas at precisely 8 o’clock every morning, pouring it into a clean and wholesome Mason jar. Mind you, this is all fictional, and I’m just keeping in line with less ubiquitous letters-of-name-beginnings, so bear with me. The drink is delicious, and I would agree. He says he is better than the 18-year-old X who dined on sausages and milkshakes without a qualm, all those years ago. He’s right, and yet not quite so. Has it ever dawned on you (yes you, dear reader), that eating, despite being this magical, holistic ritual, this beautiful constant fest of discovery and perhaps healthfulness, is downright scary? No matter what you consider yourself, how healthy, how vegan or carnivorous, that we are still somewhat the same? No matter what, we must consume other lifeforms to sustain ourselves, and in doing so we transmit energy from one to the other.
Self-awareness is also awareness of death. As stated recently in a very interesting recent article in the Atlantic, once we cultivated the means to indulge ourselves in piles of grapes and doughnuts, the Ancients (think Julius, Cleopatra, Nero), decided that there was so much more to life than just having full bellies, and went on to build cultural legacies, filled with meaning and sustenance that exceeded the physical, with pyramids, recreation, and material. Food and eating went from mere sustenance to settling exactly in this category of recreation, symbolism and complicated meaning. We eat to celebrate, or use it to distract from depression, let lie fallow when we are too tired to think about it (for some people). It is true that X’s diet culture, that is clean eating, may indeed be a means of trying to harness some sense of immortality in the face of mortality, attempt to transform the body into some perfect form. As humans who dine on everything from plants to meat to chalk, we are not satisfied with the bamboo shoots pandas happily gnaw at on a daily basis.
We want variety, satisfaction and flavour. And yet, we are the only beings who, though so excited when it comes to trying new foods, are still somewhat petrified by them, out of an evolutionary averseness to toxicity. We have to think about and negotiate trivial food matters before we can walk or read, how crazy is that? Back to clean eating, X has told me about the wellness gurus he looks up to, saying how much more beautiful this wholesome life seems compared to stark, bleak facts and statistics some nutrition scientist typed up online. X will forego carbohydrates to have one more kale smoothie, no matter what the literature says about the goodness of grain for the brain.
According to the philosopher Becker, there may be a strange motive for these strange eating habits. Perhaps we as humans feel guilty for having such large, easily whetted appetites, for having flesh that takes up space just to consume more flesh, and so we succumb to regimented consumption, rules and restriction, and in doing so easily forego all the classic signs of the human condition that remind us of our inevitable immortality – ageing, illness, and maybe even just feeling old. So if we cannot escape death, at least someone like X can say, “well at least I did everything right, right?”
The pre-dessert and dessert surpassed all expectation. There is no One Infallible Diet. There is just food, enjoyment, and awareness.