There’s a lot of talk about food lately. The Corporation of Coca-Cola has admitted to supporting science that dictates we should all exercise a lot more.
Is it too much food? Not enough exercise? What’s a human to do?!
The sad thing is, it’s not really either one, really. It is, indirectly. Too much food and the wrong foods certainly deserve the lion’s share of blame. People should be more active, too. Exercise at any weight is important, and I’m among those who doesn’t get enough exercise.
But the real problem isn’t too much food, bad food, too little exercise. The real problem is the lack of acculturation to a healthy lifestyle. People take behavioral cues from those around them and from the media they see. In the case of media, watching a food eating contest doesn’t mean you’ll try to swallow a Buick’s worth of food. But it does mean that continuously seeing commercials for foods cue a mental response that makes you say, “Yes, that grease sandwich does look devourable, even though I ate recently.”
Moreover, nobody knows what a healthy lifestyle and diet look like anymore. Is it eating the culinary equivalent of pocket lint? I’m pretty suspicious that it just might.
Our primary cues for what to eat and how much of it to eat are from those around us. If you were raised by wolves (not saying you were, mind you, though you do have big eyes and big teeth, etc.) you would have learned a wolf diet. But if you went and lived with wolves for a few months (assuming they didn’t eat you), you would also likely adopt at least some of their dietary habits (quit gnawing that bone!).
Point is, if you go live with vegan granolites, you’ll tend to eat like them. If you join up with the Barbecuists, you’ll eat like them. But if you want to eat healthfully, whom do you join up with?
Think beer. If you know people who mostly drink Budweiser, you’re more likely to, too. If your friends and coworkers like more expensive beers, you probably do, too.
Scanning sites like Instagram and Pinterest for pictures of food won’t do much good. Even visiting a site like ChooseMyPlate.gov probably won’t help. Sites like that, meaning well and based on science, still fail to distill their wisdom into actionable behavioral changes.
Take their PDF, ChooseMyPlate.gov: PDF: “Sample 2-Week Menus”, which gives recipes and nutritional information, and it is based off of recipes developed for low-income individuals. Given the know-how and the desire to make home-cooked food, resources like that and many others are useful. But it seems likely that if home cooking were particularly common, we wouldn’t have the food-related issues in the first place. If it is, then it’s a matter of mostly replacing bad recipes with good ones.
But it seems more likely that the dietary habits shy away from home-cooking in favor of processed foods and heat-and-serve options. That’s when people eat at home, versus fast food or composing meals of snack food and junk food entirely.
In any case, it seems reasonable to assume that the key feature of better diets is more exposure to better diets around you.