Saturday, September 21, 2013

Does Eating Really Need To Be So Complicated?

As a child, eating seemed to be so simple. People did not count calories or fat grams and not only was it simple, but food was enjoyed and savored. Meals were an experience and something we looked forward to. Growing up in an Italian family, cooking was a big deal. I don’t think I even tasted jarred sauce until I was in college and even then my grandma would freeze her sauce and ship it to me!  As a very small child, I spent hours in the kitchen with my great grandmother as she made pasta from scratch (that is until she got a bit older, a bit more forgetful and set the kitchen on fire, which promptly put an end to any unsupervised cooking and sadly anymore homemade pasta!). There was nothing from a jar or frozen package in that kitchen.
When my grandmother died, her recipe book was one of the most coveted items. However, by today’s standards, most people would likely panic at the thought of eating some of those dishes. Pasta was the center of nearly every meal in my family…nowadays carbs are our enemy!! Amazingly the majority of the people in my family were of average weight, no one even knew what a food allergy was and many of my relatives lived long and relatively healthy lives.
As daily life became busier and busier, there was a move towards speed and convenience when it came to meals. Pop a pre-made meal in the microwave and voila instant dinner. In tandem with this convenience came a massive proliferation of diet dos and don’ts, to which microwave meals and packaged foods made “eating right” simpler. Every package was perfectly portioned with the right number of fat grams, calories and as more and more diets were created you could have your pick of pre-packaged foods that fit with whatever the latest craze was. When low fat was all the rage, there were plenty of fat free cookies available…after all dieters shouldn’t have to give up cookies! Yet were people any healthier? As a society we were certainly not any thinner.

Recently there has been a perceptible shift back to the idea of eating whole, real, unprocessed foods, but that has not made things any easier; low fat vs. full fat, low carb or whole grain, gluten free, dairy free, soy is good/soy is BAD, vegetarian, vegan, raw, macrobiotic, the Paleo diet…..the list goes on and on!!  Now not only do I not know what I am supposed to eat, I am pretty much afraid of half of the food in the store. I feel like I am walking through a virtual field of land mines every time I go to the grocery store!!! I was once told by a yoga instructor that my supermarket bought ground coffee is filled with all these awful chemicals, which made it tantamount to drinking poison!!! Poison? Aren’t we being a tad bit dramatic? Needless to say, I now buy the good coffee beans and grind them myself….with all the things we have to worry about these days I don’t want to be afraid my morning “cup of joe” is going to kill me! Don’t even get me started on the anti-coffee contingency…

When did eating become so complicated?? As a child no one put this much thought and effort into what was for dinner. I can’t say that everything we ate was what would be considered healthy by today’s standards, but just the fact that it did not come out of a can or a box inherently made it better for us. It was always homemade real food, usually very balanced with a good mix of protein, carbs and vegetables and most importantly it was of reasonable size. Now I am not going to lie and say I did not have my fair share of Doritos as a child, but I also spent a lot of time in my grandma’s garden eating fresh peas and picking berries right off the vine, which quite frankly were way better than Doritos!

Growing up I was often annoyed by Sunday dinners at grandma’s every week, but I now realize how few families still have that family meal time. I think food and eating has become a chore for many people nowadays. Instead of being something we find pleasure in, it is something we stress about because we are so overwhelmed by the “rules” of what we can and cannot eat. We often punish ourselves when we eat the “wrong” thing or feel guilty when we allow ourselves that little indulgence. I sometimes think the key to healthful living is to just go back to basics; eat real food and most importantly enjoy eating - find foods you love and savor every bite.

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