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This is interesting—Hannaford, in an effort to cut its own throat it seems, has provided a rating system that indicates the nutritional value of the food that it sells, and, surprise, most of the processed foods fared poorly because they contained, surprise, too much salt and sugar. Even those processed foods that were labeled as “healthy” got low ratings. Yes, because half the items that you pick up in a supermarket have “high fructose corn syrup” in them and other glutinous concoctions and chemical preservatives. Salt and sugar can make any garbage taste better. The last time I consumed a frozen pizza, I had to drink about a half gallon of water to get through the night. And when I looked at the package I saw why—it contained more salt than I usually consume in several days.

When it comes to food, nutrition, and diets, it seems to me that common sense, simplicity, balance, and moderation rules. I once heard a nutritionist give some excellent advice, which is to stick to the perimeter of the supermarket—first the fruits and vegetables, then the meats, then the dairy, then the deli, then the bread. In other words, whole, simple foods that are not processed or only minimally processed.

And who says that such a diet has to be spartan? Who says that you have to take such a diet to the extreme by, as it says in the article, eating for lunch, “grilled chicken on a bed of spinach with a multigrain roll and an apple.” I can think of little more unappetizing than that. It is these sorts of extremes—nutritionists encouraging people to go from a processed food and junk food diet to a spartan diet, that discourages many people from eating healthy.

Why should you be prevented from putting a moderate amount of butter on that roll? Or, for that matter, a moderate or small amount of salt on the chicken? And rather than a yucky bed of plain spinach, how about a proper salad with a bit of healthy olive oil on it and some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and croutons? And how about washing the whole thing down with an indisputably healthy glass of red wine? And rather than a disappointing apple for dessert, how about some good cheese and crackers or at least grapes? What’s wrong with a flavored yogurt that has a moderate amount of sugar in it? Such a lunch may have more calories in it than the former, but it will definitely be more tasty, definitely be more balanced, and, quite possibly, be even more healthy. And even the calories wouldn’t be an issue if you kept the portions moderate, or exercised, or didn’t eat a huge meal the same evening. If you exercised, you could even have chocolate for dessert, and dark chocolate is another thing that’s supposed to be good for you.

And while I’m at it, let me talk about vegetarianism. Organizations like PETA, despite all the good work that they do, actually discourage people from eating less meat by suggesting that they go from a meat based-diet straight to a vegan diet.  Their publications actually suggest that.  This is exactly like asking a junkie to go cold turkey, so to speak.  It is completely crazy, and it rarely works, unless the person is strongly motivated by some external factor.  For your health and for the sake of the animals and the environment, eating fish is better than eating chicken, eating chicken is better than eating pork, and eating pork is better than eating red meat. And eating organic meat from farms that raise the animals humanely is better than eating meat from factory farms.  If you want to go vegetarian, reduce the amount of red meat that you eat for awhile. Then stop eating red meat completely. Then gradually cut pork out of your diet. Then eat chicken for awhile and, if you feel you can do it, cut out even the chicken.  Or switch to free-range chicken from farms that raise the chickens properly.  But taking any of these steps, it seems to me, is better than taking no steps at all, as with most problems, including global warming.  If you can’t change the kind of car you drive, at least change your lightbulbs.

Why do it this way? First of all, in terms of your health, you’re gradually moving away from the unhealthy to the healthy and the bio-engineered to the less bio-engineered. In terms of the environment, you’re gradually moving away from the foods that add to global warming and other environmental problems through their processing and consumption. And in terms of the animals, you’re reducing the suffering of the higher order mammals first, and, regardless of what some people say, these are the animals whose central nervous systems are most advanced and most like our own and that are most likely to experience pain and suffering in the way that we do. In other words, these are the animals that are most likely to be consciously aware of their pain and suffering in the way that we are. I know that I’m treading on dangerous ground here by using human suffering as a standard and by diminishing the pain and suffering that a fish might feel, but, if people want to cut fish out of their diets, I can understand that as well.  

And as for cutting out things like milk, eggs, and cheese, I think that this is completely unnecessary and a little bit crazy, unless you’re doing it for health or allergy reasons. As long as you buy these products from local and/or family farms that treat the animals humanely and raise them in the old-fashioned way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating them. And the prices for locally produced and organic products are getting lower all the time. There is nothing more natural in the world than a hen laying eggs or a cow producing milk, and, if the animals are properly cared for, their lives can be quite good on a farm. I used to commute daily past a traditionally-run, family dairy farm, and the look of contentment I observed on the faces of the cows lazing in the field was unequivocal. We should think about diminishing or eliminating factory farming and putting into place proper animal cruelty laws for farm animals, rather than forcing people to go vegan.  The conditions on factory farms are horrific and disturbing, and anyone with the slightest bit of sensitivity to animals would be affected by observing them or knowing about them.  But dietary habits are among the hardest things for people to change, and it’s probably not going to work to guilt-trip people into trying to change overnight, as PETA seems to do.

Common sense, simplicity, balance, and moderation rules. Or just try to eat more like your Mediterranean or Asian or Middle Eastern great grandparents did.


July 2018
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