As one of life’s necessities, food has become intertwined with practically every human emotion: We eat to celebrate, we eat to share tradition and family ties, we eat when we’re happy, we eat when we’re sad, we eat when we’re bored.
Nothing about this is wrong. But especially in a nation where 2 out of 3 American adults are obese or overweight, it’s important to remember food’s first role, to nourish and sustain, and if we need to make compromises, they must come from the emotional meanings before we toss aside our health.
To most people, this is quite reasonable, even if it’s a bit less fun. Almost always when an advocate raises a voice in the opposite direction, there is an ulterior motive, and almost always it is money.
The example of this that never stops shining is the Center for Consumer Freedom, whose name quite intentionally misleads all who behold it. Far from being a bastion of “consumer” freedom, it is a mouthpiece for loose corporate behavior, hammering on the responsibility of buyers while denying all responsibility of the sellers — who fund the lobbying front.
The most recent sample of “senior research analyst” Justin Wilson’s drumbeat denigrating healthy eating in favor of whatever will drive more sales was published under the cloak of Thanksgiving by the Boston Herald and the Orange County Register, and perhaps others. It is full of dodges and half-truths that require illumination.
The thrust is that nothing related to food can be addictive, but let’s look at how the center tries to make that stick: “The nation’s 'food police' want to classify joy as an addiction, equivalent to a hard-drug addiction.” It’s vintage CCF: Food isn’t food, it’s “joy,” and if you’re against joy, you must be evil. Argument over, no matter how sane, and supported by facts, the other side is.
A couple of paragraphs later, Wilson serves up another smear: “Whatever happened to simply being thankful for having food on the table?” As if the alleged food addict isn’t decent enough to be thankful for sustenance at a time of holiday cheer — even if for him or her, some of the dishes are the equivalent of poison.
“Poison” is a strong word, but I choose it consciously, as a recovering food addict who, after a lifetime of fatitude, is maintaining a 155-pound loss for more than 20 years. I’d tried to tackle my obesity a passel of times in my first 33 years and succeeded only in dieting myself up to 365 pounds.
The only thing that worked, finally, was conceding — quite grumpily — that I might be a food addict, and that I might need to change quite a lot if I wanted to escape the upward spiral on my scale. Certainly, obviously, changing my diet was a huge part of that.
Despite the frothy emotional appeals that the CCF relies on, a mountain of science backs up my experience, that for some people, food substances — especially the refined, processed powders and goops manufactured by Wilson’s funders — affect some people quite differently than they might affect others.
This is not a controversial idea. Everyone accepts the idea of food allergies, in which a substance is fine for some but perilous for others. And, all of society scoffed at the idea of alcoholism once, because “decent people” were able to drink and stop, so why couldn’t the hapless sot? But now alcoholism is so accepted that courts sentence people to AA or rehab instead of a cell.
Even though tens of thousands of people the world over — a drop in the bucket compared to more than a billion overweight, but still — are experiencing relief from their food-addiction issues through therapy, rehab, and support groups, we are still on the edge of the dark ages for food addiction. Perhaps the greatest reason is the relentless misdirecting mockery practiced by parrots like the CCF.
We need to start paying attention to what these people are really saying, understand that they’re merely feathering their nests at the expense of public health, and shoo them on their way.