I was thinking about this yesterday, after having met the gentleman whose friend was doing the Maple Syrup Diet (kind of a misleading name since you’re not chugging straight maple syrup… now there’s a golden idea!). The term diet really has become a bit of a dirty word. On the whole, the word just means the sum of what one eats regularly. The choices we made about what we put in our mouths used to be more influenced by regional availability, culture, religion, philosophy. We ate from a limited selection, based on these factors, to sate our hunger. We might have consumed certain things for a specific purpose, such as to cure an illness or as part of a ritual, but otherwise the whole prospect of food was pretty simple. Our diets were pretty simple. Now when we say “diet”, we imply hyperconsciousness about what we eat– “This is part of my diet because it has said physical purpose other than fulfilling my hunger”; lose weight, build muscle, detox, relieve a condition, etc. We say the word diet uncomfortably, or with disdain, because it implies that we are restricted. Or twist it around and you have those who claim they’re happy eating their special foods, that they have will power. I believe it is the Twinkie, not the pen, that is mightier than the sword. We spend a lot of time poring over what it is that should go into our bodies. And those who don’t worry are either very fortunate, or might be in a less-than-favorable physical state.
It shouldn’t be so taxing to just eat. But at some point in time, or more likely gradually, the advances of the western world gave us such an abundance of choices. (Well, some of us anyway… you know, the ones closer to the top.) Not just in food but in everything else. Vehicles, entertainment, travel, homes, appliances, clothes, pets. Whoa. Consumption. It’s complicated. The modern world has handed us a double-edged sword. We got stuff! And variety! Lots of it! Okay, so what do we do with it? Well, in the spirit of a frat party with too many kegs, chug. (Yep, just like the maple syrup… ew.) Seems that that’s what our society did/does as a whole. Take as much as you can, don’t waste, fill every space, never feel needy of anything. Luxuries are necessity. You need colorful, sugar-based cereals. And white bread. And bologna (you don’t even really know what bologna is but you’re convinced you need it. It’s on the grocery list, after all). Oh, and reduced-fat mayo (what?). Then comes the over-sized portions, the sedentary life, the weight gain, the lack of energy, the feeling-like-poo-because-I-can’t-poo. Man.
Now you need an answer. Atkins to the rescue. Or maybe just eat lots of cabbage soup. Pills are fun, too. You need to go on a diet. I don’t know when the concept of diet began to change from “what I eat” to “what I’m assigned to eat”, but it’s as early as the late 1800s. I do know that it has lot to do with our distance from instinct. Eating out of necessity has become lost. We eat out of our chaotic culture– to fit our schedules, for convenience, to be thin, to be attractive, trendy, to obey the advertisement, to support a cause. Even the simplest foods seem to require deep concentration… should I buy the organic apple or the conventional? And depending on your economic standing, some decisions are more difficult than others, or maybe even non-existent. Oy.
Apparently, our whole society is on a diet. Low carb, high protein, organic-only, juicing, vegetarian, vegan, raw, macrobiotic. We’re tired of feeling crappy, of being sick, watching agricultural injustices. Our recent revolution of conscious consumption has turned a lot of us around. But we’re not calling it a diet anymore, we’re calling it a lifestyle. It kinda means the same thing as “diet”. It’s about what you take in from the resources you have in life. “Lifestyle” just sounds better. Makes us feel whole. Obviously, this is no black-and-white issue. We seem to be phasing out the 80’s conception of a diet (cottage cheese, grapefruit and diet cola), and understanding that it is more than a temporary punishment, that it needs to feel good, and completely doable in the long run. We still have Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, people we pay to discipline us. (How long can anyone really do that?) But we’re also acquiring a taste for farmer’s markets, gardening in our backyards, cooking from scratch, reading labels. We’re learning slowly, but surely. Maybe in my lifetime we’ll all stop being on diets, and go back to just having them.