“Like religion, politics and family planning, cereal is not a topic to be brought up in public. It’s too controversial.”
— American humourist Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)
“Kid, you better look around. How long you think that you can run that body down?”
— Singer-songwriter Paul Simon, from his 1971 song Run That Body Down
I don’t mean to be glib. I know there are lots of folks out there in our age bracket with serious digestive issues. In fact, I’m one of them. Still, I’ve taken to looking at the offerings at various coffee houses around town and asking for products with gluten. Sorry, but in my view, they taste better.
Everyone, these days, appears to be gluten-conscious, with some reason. There is evidence, I’m told, that the apparent epidemic of intolerance for wheat isn’t entirely a fad. It has its basis in the scientific fact that the kind we produce now bears little resemblance to the wheat of yesteryear. Until the 1870s, almost all North American wheat was so-called soft wheat. Robust winter wheat, which has more gluten, only found its way here from central Europe in the mid-1800s. The flour made from it resulted in fluffier bread and flakier baked goods. But it is also tougher on the digestive system. Now, we finally appear to be paying the price. All of us. At once. Simultaneously. Really?
Forgive my skepticism, but wheat isn’t the only reputedly indigestible culprit that seems to have made it into the cultural crosshairs. These days, dairy is deleterious. Animal fat is a foe. Meanwhile, quinoa is king.
In general terms, the steely-witted Bombeck was alighting on a trend that was just coming into its own before she passed on — our generation’s obsession with all the stuff that graces our plates. Take dinner parties. Nowadays, they require the sort of delicate negotiations previously reserved for Middle East peace talks. How can we accommodate couple “A,” raw-food fruitarians, when we also want to invite couple “B,” rabid carnivores who have restricted their diet to grass-fed buffalo brisket raised only in Habay, Alberta? In any event, we’d better stock the larder with a lactose-free soy beverage, cream and one per cent milk for the after-dinner decaf, or caffeinated, herbal tea and ultra-high-grade coffee on offer. Ours is a generation that has taken the concept of the picky eater to such heights, you could die from lack of oxygen (and calories).
Consider this: The term “foodie” was coined in 1981 by authors Paul Levy and Ann Barr, who later wrote The Official Foodie Handbook, according to Wikipedia, that font of truthiness. That decade was when many of us began embracing organics — a vestige of hippie culture and communal farms. Food co-ops, too, introduced us to ever-more-exotic produce. We learned to pronounce, and love, arugula. It was all part of a continuum that had us celebrating our bodies and ourselves while revelling in the joy of sex.
In a sense, we were still rebelling. Our foodism was just one more trait that distinguished us from our parents, who’d lived through war and a Depression and who had been happy with whatever meals they could get.
But for boomers, the 1980s was also a time when our physiques began their long decline. We suddenly became aware that the temple of skin in which we live had its limitations — and those limitations were going to be the death of us, ultimately. Ever anxious to stall the inevitable, we began to examine every molecule of nutrition that entered our systems for its negative or positive effects.
Now, being a foodie appears to be less about the sensuous enjoyment of a good meal, well prepared and shared with friends. Concern about what we consume seems to have absorbed us so much, an element of religious zeal has elbowed its way into the whole enterprise.
It’s one thing to be guardians of our own well-being. Watching our nutrition is a wise and sensible endeavour. But it’s quite another to go overboard in that regard. Compared to the rest of the world, we are vastly overfed. Perhaps we’re just a tad self-indulgent, too. That notion may be hard to swallow, but it’s worth considering.
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