My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Wed, 07 Jun, 2006

Surrounded by Goodies and Guilt

I feel guilty because I hardly ever cook. The cooking magazines and even this week's issue of TIME feature endless articles about how one is supposed to eat. Here I am working in a gourmet store and I still can't figure out what to eat. Certainly it's not because I don't have enough choices; it's because I have so many. I walk the aisles dumfounded by so many good things that I might eat. If I go to a major supermarket such as Safeway, it's even worse. There is too much, and I can't decide.

A good socially conscious person would always keep in mind the brute fact that a supermarket shopper in America probably has more food available to her than anyone in any other country, and that her trip through the aisle is by itself a horrific reminder that in the other half of the world, where not even Safeway can reach, people are starving. The guilt is even more pronounced because other than throwing money into an envelope for some worthy cause (and receiving thousands of address labels and pounds of junk mail in return) there is nothing you can do about it. This creates stress, which at least in my case makes me lose my appetite.

The nutritionists who are ever busy telling us what we should eat follow me like shadows as I wander down the aisles. No, you can't have that, it has too much salt. No, you can't have that, it has too much sugar. No, you can't have that either, because it is fatty and loaded with empty calories. How about this? It has too many processed food chemicals. Don't eat that. You should eat salad, salad, salad. The nutritionists all agree that I am supposed to eat leaves, vegetables and grains. Lots of them, kind of like a browsing animal. Unfortunately I am not supplied with a cow's digestion so cow food does not agree with me. And all vegetables and most fruits taste bitter to me, for reasons I have never been able to fathom. Only if I overcook it the way the English do does a vegetable taste halfway decent to me. But then, as those nagging nutrition shadows say, it has far less nutritional value. And put down that bottle of soda. Guilty again.

So because I despair of cooking, with its greasy splatter and mess in a small kitchen, I go out to eat. Unfortunately, I have enough money to afford this. But the nagging shadows say that restaurant portions are too big. So don't eat it all, take it home in a styrofoam container (which pollutes the environment with its trash, by the way.). But even then, restaurant food is too rich. And I should have prepared it myself, as a conscious eater. Paid the bill, gained more guilt.

I have often wished for some universal food, instantly edible and portable over long distances, which fulfilled all the myriad health requirements and required no preparation other than opening up its package. It has to be low-calorie and nutritious, and have vegetable elements but hardly any salt or fat. Tofu, that staple of pallid vegetarians, comes close, but it has to be refrigerated. Bananas also come close, but I don't like them. There is a disturbing amount of meat jerky in stores these days, but I'm not that desperate, and it's really salty too. And then my own gourmet store carries a wide array of protein bars, which also come close to my desired ideal, but they are filled with sweets, nuts, and chocolate flavoring, when I really want spinach and garlic flavoring.

Somehow, those other countries where people are worse off have solved this problem by having lots of small street food stands or little stores where you can get things like meat or spinach pastry rolls, roast corn on the cob, slices of coconut, skewers of toasted chicken, or tacos. But these things depend on a way of life and urban arrangements which just don't exist in most parts of the USA. To get the snacks, you have to have a city or village concentrated enough for people to walk through on their daily business. McDonald's takeout in the car is not an equivalent.

So there I am standing paralyzed in the aisle of Safeway, or even in my own workplace, faced with both an overload of choices and an overload of cautions. Instead of being the consumer, I am consumed by indecision and overcaution. Most choices will taste good, but no choice (other than those hated vegetables) is right. Perhaps I will lose weight on this diet of guilt.

Posted at 2:27 am | link

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