April 11, 2014

In Defense of Food. ~ Allyson Graves


Why do we stop eating the foods we love after we’ve grown up? Is this a sign of adulthood? Of maturity?

Banning our beloved boxes of Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, and Cheez-its, and condemning them to our inevitably growing judgmental lifestyles is beneficial for…who? Yes, these products are packaged, processed, and laden with high fructose everything. Yes, these, but I want to steer away from the extensive ingredient list and, for once, defend these snacks. I want to focus on our banishment of the foods we hate to love and how these restrictions affect us.

I’ll start by stating that I am a definite advocate for eating real food and living a balanced lifestyle, blah, blah, blah. There are things I ate when I was younger that I wouldn’t be caught dead eating now: Beefaroni and those little Vienna sausages from a can, for example. I loved Reese’s Puffs cereal. But though I have not had the desire to purchase a box in years, I can still appreciate its existence.

I understand that once we grow older there is a want and need to live healthily and nourish our bodies with the nutrients it deserves.

There is enough research out there to educate oneself on portion control, calorie count, diet fads, and the latest nutrition facts. It seems like everyday there is new information, often conflicting with the information from the day before. New diet books hit the stands daily.

You watch your friends fluctuate in weight. You watch your own weight fluctuate. We are, quite literally, fed misinformation constantly.

“Eat this strange fruit and you’ll lose weight fast!”

“Lose up to 10 pounds in one week!”

I’m terrified of food. I’m terrified of eating the wrong thing. I’m terrified of packaging. I’m terrified of pesticides. I’m terrified of big brand names, of sugar content, and of saturated fat.

Does it contain MSG, BPA, GMO, CGI, LSD, LOL, LMAO? I’m confused again.

“You are what you eat.”

Ouch—I doubt that; at least, I hope I’m held to a higher standard than the doughnut I just ate.

Lupita Nyong’o, who recently won an Oscar for best supporting actress in 12 Years a Slave, Instagrammed a picture of herself eating a piece of chocolate cake and she cannot weigh more than 90 pounds soaking wet. Not really the image of someone I’d associate with eating a piece of chocolate cake, let alone looking like one. Right?

Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick Instagrammed a photo of her shopping cart that included Pop Tarts, Jim Beam, and Marshmallow Fluff. My immediate thought was that I could never keep any of these products in my home for fear I would eat the entire package in one sitting. I was then jealous of her willpower and ability to buy these products while remaining so thin.

In an act of rebellion, I went to the store, bought S’mores flavored Pop Tarts and proceeded to eat the entire box. Now, I haven’t had Pop-Tarts in years, nor have I ever really craved them in the first place. I could easily walk by that section in the grocery store and never give the Pop-Tarts a second thought. However, the minute I told myself that I couldn’t and shouldn’t, I had to prove that I could. And I did.

Have you ever walked by the tortilla chips, Oreos, and Cheez-Its and told yourself that if you bought a bag you’d eat the entire thing?

And that is exactly what you do when one or any of these products wind up in your home?

You don’t want to waste it, but you have to get rid of it. There is no way this item can stay in your house. It doesn’t fit in with your diet of the week.

You’ll start over again tomorrow, but for now…

We have trained ourselves to believe the foods we hate to love are our enemy.

Instead of relishing in the fact that we have complete freedom to eat and enjoy the foods we love guilt-free, we put these impossible restrictions on what we can and cannot have. Isn’t it funny that the foods we most enjoy are also the ones to spawn such guilt and self-hate?

Shouldn’t we rejoice in how lucky we are to have the ability to buy a box of Pop Tarts and enjoy a little bit of what we love each day? That’s over a week’s worth of pure, sugary childhood comfort in the form of a strawberry-filled pastry!

However, I swore off anything that wasn’t a fruit or vegetable long ago, and even though I restrictively stick to this diet, if a box of anything resembling a snack food winds up in my kitchen I cannot bear to see it last for more than a day, an hour, or even ten minutes!

Screw serving sizes—that’ll make it last longer. It needs to be out of the house now. Also, I don’t want my roommate to see that I compulsively bought a box of Lucky Charms to pair with my frozen vegetables.

I have trained myself to rebel against serving sizes of most anything, obviously making it incredibly difficult to keep a stocked pantry. I realized the other day while in Whole Foods with a friend that I pointed to at least seven items and said, “I’d eat that in one sitting. I can’t keep that in the house.”  And that was just the first aisle.

She finally asked what I could keep in the house. Fair question.

Well, now that peanut butter, crackers, cookies, chips, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, cheese, pita bread, bread rolls, hummus, guacamole, pretzels, yogurt, protein bars, granola, and cereal are banned from the apartment, that leaves…kale.

Kale and bananas.

No wonder I spend all of the money I have on dinners out of the apartment. It gives me an excuse to eat some variety, at least. 

No wonder I find myself getting irrationally angry looking at cupcake pictures on the Instagrams of celebrities, wondering how in the world they could eat such a thing and still look like that.

No wonder I find myself roaming the aisles of the grocery store at midnight, spending upwards of $60 on all of the delicious goodies that I hate myself for loving.

No wonder I’ve gained 20 pounds in under six months with a fridge full of kale and bananas.

We shouldn’t have to apologize for loving the foods that we love, the ones that comfort us. Some of the happiest times I can remember are watching scary movies with my mother while eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with toasted Shrimp Poppers.

When did food become less about that simple comfort and more about the desperation to achieve some sort of comfort, any comfort at all? Do we all crave the simpler times of our childhood, when we ate what was put in front of us until we were content; when most of our dining choices were made and prepared for us; and when the need for companionship was filled by our mothers and fathers?

Now, as an adult, I feel more in the dark than ever. From friend to friend, career to career, boyfriend to boyfriend. It’s a bit lonely. In these moments I crave the simpler times, those childhood comforts, those Shrimp Poppers and Lucky Charms. But, now I’m confused again.

I’ve sworn them off. I’ve banned them from my house. Words cannot explain the guilt that I would feel if I ate anything like it, let alone purchased it. Comfort denied.

There is a lot to be said about our “complicated” relationship with food. I mean, let’s be real, is it really that complicated? I can sit here and list all of the foods that I love and have the complete freedom and ability to consume. Easy.

Literally, all of them. 

It gets complicated when I start judging, counting, restricting, and obsessing over every calorie that I even glance at. It gets complicated when food is all I can think about night and day, when I cancel plans with friends to sit and hate myself for liking it so much, when I feel like every day is a failure for the sheer fact that I ate that cookie.

To be honest, if we actually allowed ourselves to eat anything and everything that we wanted, our choices would pleasantly surprise us. We probably wouldn’t have insatiable cravings for chocolate or the desperate need to consume an entire pizza. Our bodies are a lot healthier than we give them credit for.

But once you deny your body, it starts sending all kinds of mixed signals. “You are what you eat.”  Damn, bro. Cut us all some slack. What you eat does not define you. It doesn’t get you a job or buy you a house. It cannot take credit for being an awesome parent or a skilled photographer.

It’s merely our foundation, our nourishment and energy, with some nice added perks…namely cheesecake.

Let’s stop being so hard on ourselves because, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.


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Apprentice Editor: Marcee Murray King/ Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Eubulides


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Allyson Graves