In the world of Architects, whose egos make Chefs look like cherubs, Le Corbusier is among the immortals. And yet, when the tenants of one of his buildings objected to certain details—ceiling heights, wall textures—he agreed to some changes, remarking: “Life is never wrong.”
This is a big step towards balanced nutrition. Life is never wrong means that whatever it is that you like, is not wrong.
The Clara Davis , “Wisdom of the Body” experiments shined some light on the matter. Babies are never wrong, but also are not always right.
Gustibus non est disputandum: Taste Is Not Arguable.
But, that doesn’t mean that taste isn’t accountable. Not being wrong is different from being right. There are reasons for everything, and every taste choice we make was initiated buy some minute event in our past, however obscure. That’s one of the mysteries of taste: it’s always accountable, but never arguable.
The Yin and the Yang Of Taste
We may ask : Do we like our food, (the Yin), but we also have to ask: Does our food like us? (The Yang.) If it doesn’t, then it’s fools gold.
Taste starts out as a tool of survival. Only later, both evolutionarily and personally, does it become a tool of pleasure. So, to respect both, we have to use a scale of survival, as well as of pleasure, to judge our own tastes. This means that we should try to “like” those things which “like” us. It’s that easy.
The food we eat shouldn’t kill us, and we shouldn’t like things that do. Luckily, tastes are naturally constructive, they only harm us when we abuse them.
Can Tastes Be Changed? Should They?
Our most basic tastes, those which are received genetically, probably can’t be effectively changed, and that’s OK. Those culturally acquired, like the accent of your hometown, we can change, if we choose to. Tastes created by marketing almost always need a closer look.
But to change your tastes requires motivation, and that motivation must be reinforced by reason. It may be no easier to give up soft drinks than to give up heroin, but people do it all the time, and it may be as worthwhile. The difference is that a drug habit is seen as sinful and criminal, while soft drinks are…FUN!.
The simple tonic which we know of as Coke began as a minor curative and refresher. It was of no significance as a drug until marketers got in the way and the dosage became abusive. Many cultures have used sugar for centuries with almost no harmful effects. But if we ignore the rules of dosage, we have an epidemic.
Now read that last paragraph again and replace marketers with traffickers, and sugar with cocaine, then reverse them again.
Even the means of ingestion are key. Natives of Peru have chewed Coca leaves for centuries. But when it’s refined and concentrated, then injected into the vein, things get weird. Same with sugar. Naturally sourced sugar will rarely be a problem for humans because the accompanying nutrients and fiber of a fruit will key the body to a reasonable dosage. That’s one of the sublime details of a natural diet: The ‘keys’—those ingredients which cause our natural limiters to kick in—are refined away. That’s why we overdose on Coke, but not on oranges. Refined and concentrated in a ‘soft’ drink, the body is clueless and confused, so overdose becomes far more likely, and so does diabetes and weight gain, and playing Dungeons and Dragons into the night.
In other words, to really know what you like, you have to respect your body, know what it likes and needs, and how much.
The Cultural Womb
A human being is a cultural sponge. This accounts for much progress in our biology and our society. Change is driven by random mutations and then by imagination, curiosity, and chance.
As the human race began its colonization of the earth, creative eating and cooking, especially cooking, were powerful elements in our strategy for domination. Cooking of meats allowed us to preserve what we hunted and to thaw it out over fire, allowing us to live in frozen parts of the world, storing our resources for later consumption. Diversification of our diet allowed us to free ourselves of geographical restrictions. Humans, the voracious omnivores, adapted to any and all conditions and never looked back. We’ll eat anything, and therefore we can live nearly everywhere. We may seem fragile, but we’re able to survive in the most extreme condition thanks to our willingness to adapt.
Strategies for survival end up as part of the culture. That’s the beautiful dance of cultural evolution. And that’s the key to its success: it’s an evolution. Because that means that each point of its development is useful and worthy, or it would be discarded. We incorporate a local herb into our stew and discover over time whether its good for us. And only those things that work, The Fittest, survive. Our tastes evolve along with the discoveries we make about our environment, (our Terroir). When that evolution is guided by market opportunity, we can end up with horrifying results.
Do you really think that when the miracle of inter uterine bio-luminescence is achieved The Coca Cola company won’t try to co-opt birth itself?
Geophagy and You
Animals are bound to the earth in ways we hardly think about. Parrots lick clay deposits for minerals, and Elephants burrow deep into ponds with their trunks to seek nutrition from soil deposits under them. Humans, too, eat clay and earth, with almost no cultural encouragement. This demonstrates the depth of our relationship with the earth and a natural understanding of our needs. Not liking dirt doesn’t change that. We need it, and our bodies know it.
And, it turns out we don’t need as much Coke and mayonnaise as we thought. “Liking” it doesn’t change that either. Deciding to not like it is where we have to begin.
We need to train our desires, naturally, by the use of our instincts, or unnaturally by the use of our brains.
The first thing our brains can tell us is that we must never listen to food marketers. They don’t want the same things we want.
It’s up to us to design our own tastes.
Forget, for the moment, about Carbs, calories, candy, colas, or cauliflower.
Let’s get simple.
Of all of the rules which we might follow about our cuisine and our culture, one stands out:
Avoid anything that’s advertised.
Advertising exists to inform, (facts), and to persuade, (opinions).
All advertising works between these two points. To inform is to provide information. It can be about the updating of a service, or the transfiguration of a product. To persuade is more subtle. It can be to get your business from a competitor or just to get more of your business. Both are prone to abuse, because the truth is not always convenient. (See last week’s post on Orange Juice).
Now, think about your food. What information do you need about it? Are you likely to get that information from the ad?
As for persuasion, what do you need to be persuaded about? What opinions about your food will be valuable to you? Would these be likely to come from its maker?
This is a framework to build on, and it’s important because it will help you shape your diet dramatically and rapidly. Nothing will serve as a more reliable guide than to choose your diet based on its media presence. Even the phrase media presence should help steer you in the right direction. Why does an apple need a media presence, or a steak?
So now the question is: what will you not be eating, and what will you be gaining.
The apple you eat will cost less if its grower doesn’t have to pay for ads. The potato chips made by a local artisan will cost less if they don’t have to pay for pictures of it, and spokespeople to speak for it.
When you buy a box of cereal, 20% of what you pay goes to TV commercials which help sell the stuff, even if you don’t watch them. You pay for TV commercials, not Cheerios. They just collect the money from you and give it to ad agencies and TV stations. So when you buy bulk oatmeal, or granola, or cream of wheat, you’re saying that you know what you want, and you don’t need to see pictures of it or hear opinions about it. You just want to eat it.
Your palate should tell you what to eat, and your stomach should tell you when.
That’s simple, isn’t it?
This is not a beverage and it’s not a food. It’s Hydration.
After breathing, hydration is the most important thing for your body.
When your body needs hydration, there’s no reason to give it food.
Milk, Colas, Beer, etc are all food. They contain calories and put demands on your system which have nothing to do with hydration.
Water is simple.
Why this is important.
We’ve allowed the body’s most basic need to be converted into a snacking opportunity. What’s basically the liquid version of breathing has been co-opted by beverage manufacturers and twisted around their spread sheets so that up to 30% of a child’s calories are now provided by drinks which should be water.
‘Should’ is not a matter of taste, it’s a matter of biology.