When I travel on airplanes I often indulge in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: trashy magazines. Nothing makes the time fly like most-embarrassing-first-date stories and completely impractical fashion advice. And of course, always, the diet dos and don’ts. Which ten foods you should eat to melt fat and have more energy. On a recent trip I came across an article warning about the Danger Foods for Dieters: the hazards of hidden calories and craving triggers, revealed in a tone I’d thought was reserved for shows like Unsolved Mysteries. Would I even be able to sleep that night for fear of an 800-calorie smoothie (disguised as a healthy fruit drink) jumping out from under my bed and pouring itself down my esophagus? Yikes!!
Can we really be this afraid of the stuff that sustains human life? Of where our food comes from, and what it might do to us? We can, we are. TV dinners and neon blue Jell-O are unsolved mysteries. As far removed as most of us are from the processes of growing and preparing our food, it makes a certain kind of sense to see food as the enemy. It’s very natural to fear the unknown.
The first step toward valuing and trusting food is probably eating food that has some integrity. People who hold their traditions of food preparation and presentation in high regard don’t tend to bargain-shop for cheap calories. Associating food with emotional comfort can lead to a life of scary habits and pitfalls, if the training ground is candy bars for good report cards and suckers for bravery during a booster shot. But there are other ways to go. Some of my happiest family memories involve making and eating elaborate meals for special occasions. Food turns events into celebrations. It’s not just about the food, but the experience of creating and then consuming it. People need families and communities for this kind of experience. Kids need parents, or some kind of guide, to lead them toward the food routines our bodies need. Becoming familiar with the process of food production generates both respect and a greater sense of calm about the whole idea of dinner.