Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside (Mark Twain 1835-1910)
What is food to one is to others bitter poison (Lucretius 96 bc -55 bc)
It’s easy to speculate from the two quotations that Mark Twain must have enjoyed his food with gusto, easily the healthier eater of the two writers. In an age when time is always on short lease and fast food joints prevail, Mark Twain would have been overwhelmed with delight the kinds of choices available right now. I do wonder though what his comments would be about dieting and fighting a losing fight against obesity, problems that seem to preoccupy most Americans in the last two decades.
Purveyors of junk foods have been intensely litigated for causing unnatural increase of cholesterols, premature developments of breasts among teenage girls and obesity. The intensity of these litigations could well match those leveled against tobacco companies. The reality nonetheless remains pretty much the same: children and adults still gorge on junk foods and fast food chains occupy more square meters in any prevalent malls. Meanwhile, the public relations machines of these food companies money their ways out of every conceivable fix and reduce concerned issues into mere rumors.
The interesting offshoot of this situation is the rambunctious growth in the numbers of vegans, vegetarian restaurants, organic food chains, diet bestsellers, Botox clinics and health food related talk shows. These days anyone who is in the market for a diet book or healthy living must be confounded by the amount of choices proffered. The male readers of this column will be the first to testify how much headache they have to suffer with this added problem about food. “No, honey, you look just fine. Swear.” “Ah come on, a few kilos will make you so much sexier, sweetheart. Really.” “Hey, seriously, you’re not going to buy another book on diet, are you? You’ve got a library of these books at home!” “You call this food. Where’s the meat?”
Maybe we should blame Oprah for this mess. Opinions about ideal weight among Oprah’s audience shift to the tune of her erratic weight. When Oprah gains weight, big is beautiful. And now, as she has successfully, again, shed some kilos, she promulgates her success by introducing another weight-loss book. In either case, Oprah swings from profit to profit with her weight. Aficionados of her talk shows are so much the worse for their checkbooks.
Mark Twain should be entitled to chuckle at this preposterous situation. For didn’t the most recent research show that it’s not what we eat that causes weight gain, but our mind that in fact controls our weight? Now here’s a theory that makes a lot of sense because it can be proven easily from our own observations. Any person who has had first hand experiences with financial or love-related problems will tell you weight loss is a matter of course. Hypochondriacs and worrywarts tend to be skinny people, whereas happy-go-lucky people are inclined to be plumb and good natured. And prosperity and happiness hand in hand contribute to one’s growing pouch and easy-going nature.
If we follow this train of thought, we should pretty soon come to the inevitable conclusion that food is never the enemy. Our body is made to ingest food in proportions that suit its needs. To force the body to ingest a miniscule or gargantuan amount will only cause it to react adversely. My youngest sister was once fed a nauseating amount of noodles at an early age. The traumatic experience has lingered in her memory. In consequence, she shuns noodles like a plaque. A German friend once told me how he prolonged his father’s life by approximately ten years, by encouraging him to eat plenty of red meat and other rich diets, all prescribed against by the doctor for his high-blood pressure and heart problems. His father lived a robust life till the age of 85.
I’m all for those vegans, or women who are determined to have great figures, but I doubt if everyone is cut out physically for it. A careful study of our family albums will be sufficient proof of what we shall end up in our twenties and forties. To fight against our genetic codes is almost certainly hell-bent toward disaster. Any attempt at cosmetic surgery or injecting unsavory chemicals to shape our figures will likewise produce only temporary narcissistic satisfaction, before more of the same treatments are required to revert to conditions prior to the treatments. It’s a vicious circle and a horror story we’ve often been acquainted with from women with deep pockets, now unfortunately saddled with misshapen figures.
Passions, I suspect, are the true ingredients of good health. Our passions are like fuels that prod us to engage life actively, thus burning all the excess fats and jolting us out of inertia that stump the rejuvenation of our cells that ultimately open doors for illnesses and dementia. Check out the farmers in the remote areas in Java. Most live longer lives with perfect teeth and well-honed bodies. City slickers like ourselves who might have little time to spare in the gyms should alternate our sedentary lifestyle with more picnics at the zoos, participation in charitable or community events.
No amount of vitamins – which incidentally have been denied time and again by researchers to have any discernible benefits for our health – can beat pleasurable and mind-engaging activities. I suspect a game of Scrabble, or a game of chess, against a sharp opponent will do so much more for your heart than a handful of multivitamin tablets. You’ll want to beat the sucker at his or her game so much that you’ll wrack your heart and mind at any cost.
Good food, not necessarily of the gourmand variety, definitely plays a key role for good health. A small portion of well-prepared dish will satiate all your senses and give the kind of satisfaction no amount of lousy food can ever offer. It’s never about the size of a meal but how well it is dished up. No wonder most good chefs are rubicund and slightly rotund; they eat little meals, but what delightful little meals!
We should mildly discredit Lucretius’s words on this matter about food, unless you suffer from an acute case of certain food allergy. Food to my mind is like most things in life: the more adventurous your taste, the better you stand to gain.
This article was published May 29, 2009, in Now Jakarta!