I want to make an argument for choosing food for what vital nutrition it supplies more than by how it pleases the taste buds or entertains you.
But first, I want to acknowledge that meals are an important part of social bonding and a daily, centering activity in many cultures. That is not to be diminished in any way. There are certainly occasions that food should be treated as an art, with great effort put into making it special. But not all the time, nor even most of the time.
Most of the time we need to choose foods that supply the body with what it needs, not choose foods our misguided minds crave or those that the cultural setting dictates.
It is not hard to build a scientific or philosophical case that the first and foremost purpose of food is to nourish the body, not to entertain us nor create an opportunity for socialization. Those may be its secondary purposes that came along later, once food was easier to obtain and safer to consume in relaxed settings.
Nutritional Investment Over The Years
I do the grocery shopping for my family. And I am the one preparing breakfast and lunch for my two youngest children most days. When I look at them I see my purpose is to raise them up like a farmer tending his precious crops. My first priority as a parent is to nourish their bodies (and their minds, and their hearts) and train them in certain views and values for health. I am training them, not entertaining them. So I select and prepare food with nourishment as priority, and I put great effort into indoctrinating them into this mindset. That is not an easy task with kids because of all the programming they get from the culture at large. I don’t win nor do I fight every food battle, but I am working on winning the war for their mindset.
Since they enjoy science fiction like I do, I use the analogy of a spaceship’s force field, out of a scene from Star Trek. Imagine the Starship Enterprise being slammed with enemy torpedoes. The force field is gradually losing strength, with impending doom to the ship. Upon urgent inquiry from Captain Kirk, Scotty the Engineer replies, “Ay, Captain. The force field can’t hold out much longer! I’m giving it all the extra power we’ve got!”
I tell my boys that their immune system is like that force field and it needs to be built up, starting now, and maintained over the whole life span. The foods we eat either strengthen that force field or weaken it – no food is neutral. We don’t notice the consequences much in our younger years, whether eating healthy or eating crap, because there is some initial strength to that field that everyone takes for granted. Unless we get ill more than our peers we assume all is OK with our health and don’t make any connection to the food we eat.
But after 30 or 40 years of eating crap, that force field becomes very thin and fragile. Just when we need the force field the most, our lack of nutritional investment over the years is exposed, we start showing these signs of rapid aging and systemic deterioration. By this time its really too late for most people to reverse much of the damage done over decades, especially with destructive eating habits deeply entrenched in the culture and personal patterns. It takes quite a scare to motivate people to climb out of those deep ruts.
Because we live in a sedentary, calorie-abundant environment, flavor has become more important than nutrition. It seems apparent from media and popular culture that most meals are regarded as some form of entertainment or emotional comfort. As a result, our food and eating habits are often working against our health and longevity and we have gone along with it out of total ignorance – literally ignoring the easily accessible science that has been warning us of this problem.
This calorie abundance has created an illusion of nutritional adequacy. We eat more than enough, so surely we should be getting more than enough nutrition as well. No?
Calorie Restriction and Metabolism
No. On the whole, most people are eating too many calories and getting too little nutrition.
According to metabolic theory, a calorie restricted diet – granted it is still highly nutritious – is strongly linked to longer life span, up to 10% longer. A longer life span implies a healthier body which enables it.
To dip into this topic, there are some strong (and nerdy) arguments for this metabolic theory of calorie restriction:
Check out Chapter 4: The Fourth Dimension Of Life: Growth, Aging and Death’ in Geoffrey West’s book Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies.
For athletic performance as well as just all-around general healthy, we can train our bodies to be more efficient with less volume of higher quality nourishing food. If we are eating junky food, our bodies crave more calories – not because they need the calories, but because they are still starving for nutrients that those junky substrates are not providing much of. If we eat clean, diverse, nutrient-dense calories, our bodies will feel satisfied with less calories.
But however tasty or traditional they are, most meals are not prepared with nutrition foremost in mind, especially when we eat out at restaurants. Profit is not made on health that takes weeks to manifest, but taste and entertainment that are delivered immediately.