Food Noise — An Essay
Chicken breast, chickpeas? Chicken breast… chickpeas..? The chicken breast or the blo*dy chickpeas? The dangers of Food Noise in 2020.
“Food Noise”, as defined by myself at least, is a feeling of unease, worry, or nervousness surrounding your food choices and decisions. Whether you’re at the supermarket, staring perplexingly into your refrigerator, or out at a restaurant, Food Noise occurs simply due to the overwhelming choice and staggering amount of information within the public realm on the age-old question, what to eat?
While food and cuisine are arguably the greatest cultural phenomenons known to man, providing true and incandescent happiness, satisfaction, and adventure; the opposite of this euphoria can be just as prominent, causing undue stress, anxiety, and misery. Perhaps our stomachs would be easier to navigate if there were less contradicting information out there, Paleo vs. Plain Protein & carbs, Omnivorous vs. Vegan, Pescatarian vs… you get the picture. When did we become obsessed, captivated, and at times haunted by our food choices?
Speaking with my mother recently, she detailed how Food Noise and anxiety surrounding cuisine hadn’t been an issue for her until the last 20 years. As there simply wasn’t the choice nor the means in having the luxury to debate and mull over what one would eat in a day. She goes on to discuss how there were set days every week for baking or making certain meals when she was a child. I likened this to trendy meal prep videos available to watch online, where one makes all of their lunches for that week in a single afternoon. I’m aware meal prep now is done out of convenience over necessity unlike the days of my mother’s childhood.
Our increasing fixation over what we put in our mouths has no doubt been influenced by food trends and diets in the last century. The ’70s saw the introduction of French recipes as Boeuf Bourguignon, Black Forest Gateau, Fondue, and Crepe Suzette impacted on British plates. Somewhere along the way here, the focus changed as food increasingly became about restriction in popular culture, rather than enjoyment. Throughout the 80s and 90s, we saw the explosion of health and fitness trends from Jane Fonda’s workout tapes to fat-free everything, thus catapulting the obsession with weight and wellness into the stratosphere. In recent years it seems there has been a shift, the pressure isn’t just introverted anymore, as we are acutely aware of the impact our food decisions have on the environment and animal welfare. This is not a bad thing, but it can cloud our judgment causing us to feel conflicted when making the correct choice for ourselves.
It is thought by myself that the increasing choice, judgment, and ever refuting opinions are major contributory factors in Food Noise. Continuing the conversation, my mother stated “it’s massively confusing”, in discussing the information that is out there. And she is right; it is increasingly difficult in the modern world to discern which opinion matters and whom to believe regarding diet. Take ‘gluten-free’ for example, a genuine intolerance experienced by some, yet swathes of many have adopted in efforts to reduce bloating or weight. When I have cooked socially over the last four years, I have noticed the list of dietary requirements and intolerances given by my peers fluctuates individually but increases collectively. To tell the truth, at many of the dinners I have had with people in my generation recently, the carnivore is in the minority now. Some of those I cook for have genuine intolerances or commitments to veganism for instance, but others are hiding a more morbid infatuation and potentially eating disorders.
My mother’s take-home message, “Go back to how it was!” Now, that would be near impossible given the dying independent greengrocers and butchers that once lined the parades of housing estates in the 1960s. But she does have a point, applying her food ethos and supporting locally grown, seasonal food may be romanticised and would require work in 2020, however it is absolutely possible. Remember the economic baseline is supply & demand, demand the right food, the supply will follow.
In the question of indecisiveness at the grocers or supermarket and what to buy, it is mind over matter. One should never think of their meal as restrictive or cutting out meat, for example, simply view the meal from the point of adding more vegetables or supplementing the traditional meat & two vegetables. Your stomach will catch up eventually.
As for the anxiety with food decisions and always making the “right choice”, whatever that means. Say on the day in question, you are craving a juicy steak, it’s the only thing on your mind and you have been unable to shake the notion since noon. I wouldn’t restrict, perhaps you’re low on iron? Eat the damn steak Brenda! Afterall François de la Rochefoucauld once said “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art” interpreted by many to truly savour your food, enjoy it and on a personal note, resume regular programming with your healthful eating afterwards.
Who is to be believed then? It seems that every diet or food philosophy has a scientifically-backed study to state that it’s the best choice for your health. My advice? Look at who funded that study. Did a large dairy producer pay for the study that shows calcium is best absorbed by drinking milk? If so, you may want to adjust where you source your information given the deceptive motive. Be food smart.
Candidly speaking, if you are healthy and eating mostly whole, natural foods, buying food for their nutritional values, and less as a product to be consumed, you are on the right track. Simplicity paired with variety should provide rather exciting nourishment. My philosophy is as follows; modern life has its ups and downs and it seems there simply aren’t enough hours in the day at times to plan every single meal to the nth degree. Avoid beating yourself up, nobody is perfect and if we succumb to convenience, a cheat, or treat day every so often then that’s okay. In fact, it’s good to let go at times. I often tell others to think of their diet as a bank balance, so you had that pizza, you spent a little more today, try to spend a little less the next day, just as you would exercise moderation with your bank account. Equilibrium is key with food, it is not the falling down that matters, but how you get back in the saddle!