When did food stop being fun?
My first guess is when people “discovered” kale.
Not only did they start praising this member of the Brassica oleracea species for being so dense in nutrients, they began speaking of it with the reverence one usually reserves for delicacies created at a three-star Michelin restaurant. Then again, kale is a close relative of cabbage — so it clearly can’t taste good.
Or maybe it happened when the makers of Greek yogurt stormed Whole Foods stores across the nation, claiming superior taste and texture and twice the protein as traditional yogurt — all in hopes of achieving multi-shelf domination. But whether the yogurt is from Greece, Rome, or Boise, Idaho, it’s still produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk. Does that really sound appealing?
The point is: Superfoods may be good for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to pretend to enjoy them.
Also in this category is the strange satisfaction a lot of people seem to derive from observing dietary restrictions. Whether for health reasons or out of concern for animals or the environment, restrictions are meant to feel. . .
No, instead people insist on turning lemons into lemonade or — in the case of vegans — cassava and arrowroot into faux cheese, and then raving about how mouth-watering it is. Thanks, but no thanks.
One day last spring I told my creative writing class at Emerson College that I’d bring in some goodies for the end-of-semester party. I’d planned to race up and down the aisles at the supermarket, loading my cart with mini-cupcakes, reverse Oreos, potato chips (no kale chips here!), and, as a gesture of goodwill to the healthy eaters, a container of apple slices.
It wasn’t going to be that simple. One of my students, Allie, offered to bring in some additional, homemade treats. Not only that, she seemed to care about people’s dietary restrictions. She pointed to various students around the seminar table, saying things like, “You have nut allergies, right? And you’re vegan. And you can’t eat glutens. And you prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate. And you get a rash from strawberries. And you need to combine proteins with your carbs.” (Okay, I made up the last few.) The students beamed, pleased that their diet-identities were being recognized and accommodated and eager to try her vegan, gluten-free, low-fat, naturally sweetened concoctions.
My reaction was different. When I went food shopping a few days later, I stood paralyzed in place for 10 minutes, trying to mentally unlock the magical code to the right snacks that would satisfy all palates and requirements. And then I gave up and went to the junk food aisle.
It’s not that I, too, haven’t fallen victim to the healthy eating-is-also-delicious mentality. I followed the Weight Watchers points program fairly religiously for about six months, and, during that time, I wouldn’t shut up about all those zero-point fruits and vegetables. “Wow, roasted squash is just as sweet as candy but without the points,” I’d say. Or, “If you want to add a little crunch to your salad, chop up a pear and toss it in.” I’d become a monster.
That is, until one evening when I had an epiphany. I realized I’d rather have a hot fudge sundae (nearly a full day’s points) than a leafy green salad with three ounces of tuna, two tablespoons of fat-free dressing, and a damned chopped-up pear for dinner that night. And, so, I did.
But the thrill was gone. Instead of the rush I used to experience when I’d lift a spoonful of cookie dough ice cream drenched in hot fudge to my lips, I thought about how many minutes I’d have to spend on the treadmill to undo the damage. The spell was broken.
But all was not lost. I threw out the sundae, ate the salad after all, and opened a bottle of Pinot. Red wine may not substitute for an hour of exercise, as some media outlets reported earlier this fall, but it contains heart-healthy resveratrol. And, better yet, it brought back the fun.
Meta Wagner teaches creative writing at Emerson College and is working on a book on creativity. Follow her on Twitter @creative_maven.