Monday, December 05, 2022

Bring Back Wonder Bread: The Dietary Industrial Complex and the Food Allergy Crisis

The other day, I opened my refrigerator to retrieve the cream to put in my coffee, only to discover that there was, in fact, no cream. Instead, I was confronted with oat milk. Someone had been staying at our house and there turned out to be legitimate reasons for it being there, but it reminded me of something I have been bellyaching about for a few years now: the current prevalence of food allergies.

It seems like every day I run into someone who has lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, or a peanut allergy. Every food group seems to feature something that makes you break out in hives or restricts your breathing or sends you into anaphylactic shock.

You go to a restaurant and are warned on the menu that there is peanut oil used in the cooking of food;  you go to a coffee shop and are offered some sort of alternative to milk products; you must make sure you have something gluten-free on the menu of your dinner party to accommodate guests.

It's enough to make you hypersensitive to hypersensitivity.

I do not remember hearing of anyone with any kind of food allergy until I was in my thirties. Attending school in California in the 1960s and 70s (did I mention I am now allergic to California?), I cannot remember a single fellow student—elementary, middle, high school, college—who ever so much as mentioned that he was allergic to anything, other than possibly disco.

Movies and television contained no references to any kind of food insensitivity. If you watched "Gunsmoke," you never saw a chuckwagon cook offering a cowhand coffee with oat milk. Lucy never baked Ricky gluten-free cookies. The castaways on "Gilligan's Island" never complained that the bread was not gluten-free. And Jessica Fletcher never wrote about a murder committed with a dairy product.

I can just imagine what Ralph Cramden would have said if anyone had asked him whether he wanted almond milk in his smoothie (or, for that matter, whether he wanted a smoothie).

Did some weakness enter the gene pool over the last two generations?  What does it say about us that we are hypersensitive to so many things? Why do we all now feel like we must answer the question, "Do you have any food sensitivities?" with a list?

Has our food changed or have we changed?

I have a theory to explain this explosion of intolerances. It has to do with an underlying attitude about life that requires us to be intentional about everything, especially food. Food peculiarities have become a part of the modern obsession with the self. I realize that this will sound like I am demeaning those with legitimate food allergies, but I do think a lot of people seem to feel some kind of obligation to be allergic to something. In fact, it seems to be actually fashionable to have at least one food allergy. Not to have a food allergy marks you out as odd or anti-social. It is one of the things (along with exotic gender categories and colored hair) that we now think contributes to our uniqueness.

Having a food allergy today almost seems to be the dietary default position. We might as well just consider it a new party game to compare your food allergies with those others at your table.

Back in the Golden Age (defined as the sunny and superior period of history in which I grew up) you were expected to eat what was put in front of you and like it. And if you didn't like it, you pretended you did. No one asked whether the beef was corn fed: all we cared about was that it came from a cow. We never stressed about whether our vegetables were organic: We thought, strangely, that all vegetables were organic because, in fact, they were. By definition. Check out an old dictionary, before the biological definition for 'organic' was replaced by a dietary definition. If it was meat, or vegetable, or fish, it was organic. Ipso facto.

We did not consciously ask ourselves what we might be allergic to. Today, we are asked so often whether we have any kind of food allergy (I was asked twice just last week), we start to wonder whether we are in fact supposed to have an affirmative answer to the question and think it might be more polite to go along with it all and just make something up.

Part of the problem here is that we are way too aware of what our food contains. And we feel beholden to find out exactly how many calories, carbs, cholesterol, fat, sodium, and protein each spoonful contains. We now walk around (getting in our daily steps), with a running dietary count in our heads.

When I was growing up, food did not contain ingredients. A Coke was Coke. A sandwich was a sandwich. A twinkie was a twinkie. We did not think about what food contained or what went into its production. If people were trying to poison you, they would use poison, not genetically engineered corn. And if someone decided he was too fat, he would take the precaution of eating less. No one outside of the biology department at the local college had heard of carbohydrates or cholesterol. And if anyone had made mention of anti-oxidants, we would have wondered what an oxident was and why anyone would opposed to it.

Of course we all became morbidly obese and lethargic, but at least we didn't stress about it. Stress can kill you. Or so we are now told, although I try not to worry too much about it.

For health reasons.

And besides, we have exercise now to deal with the obesity problem. That was another thing we were innocent of back in the 60s and 70s. Then Jack LaLanne came along and ruined everything. Exercise. Don't get me started. It would require me to talk about Richard Simmons.

Then came the came the "health food" craze, which resulted in the catastrophic elimination of Wonder Bread. Wonder Bread was white, which as we all now know, is bad for a number of reasons. According to health authorities, when we eat white bread, the digestive system breaks down carbohydrate molecules into smaller glucose molecules which are then rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream via the stomach and small intestines causing blood sugar levels to rise resulting in the pancreas releasing insulin which triggers the absorption of sugar into the cells.

It's a wonder we survived at all.

In fact, we should ask ourselves why it is that, when everybody was watching the Wonder Bread commercials during the commercial break of the Andy Griffith Show and learning how Wonder Bread helped "build bodies 12 ways," at least no one was apparently allergic to half the food in the kitchen cabinet.

I wonder how much of this phenomenon is actually medical and how much is a dietary affectation.

The point is that we are all now slaves to the dietary regime which has solved the problem of people selling us unhealthy food by having the same people sell us healthy food, which, I'm willing to bet, is unhealthy food with a "healthy food" label on it. In fact, you can count on the fact that, if the past is any guide, everything we now think is healthy for us will one day be discovered to be fatal.

There are also the things which used to be bad for us that now, unaccountably, are good for us: Coffee, eggs, butter, salt, wine, beer, whole milk, chocolate, red meat. Twenty years ago they would have killed you. Now they are the secret to a healthy life. But that could change next week.

According to the dietary authorities, we are supposed to be eating beetroot, white kidney beans, bee pollen, whey protein, blueberries, vitamin B, and shark cartilage. Feeling low? Try ginseng, goji berry, grape seed extract, or green coffee beans. Vitamins have taken over the alphabet. There are probiotics, branched-chain amino acids, and glutamines. If aliens ever come to earth, these would undoubtedly be good things to feed them, since they all sound like they, too, came from outer space.

There are various specific foods that are supposed to be especially healthy for us.  I recently heard algae is all the rage.

Garlic is one of the most highly touted health foods. I understand it also serves profitably as a vampire repellant and my guess is that the scientific basis for both is about the same. In fact, the prevalence of dietary scams has to be one of our cultures least savory aspects.

Even water has not escaped the dietary onslaught. In the case of water they couldn't convince anyone it was bad for them, so they tried to convince you that it was so good for you that you had to drink lots of it. In order to get the full benefit of water you had to drink like a fish. Remember ten or fifteen years ago when everyone started walking around with water bottles strapped around their waists or dangling from lanyards around their necks? "Research" had "shown" that you needed to drink eight glasses of it a day. Then it turned out the so-called research did not really exist at all. No one could find the study that said you needed to drink eight glasses of water a day.

In the meantime, half your friends had died from drowning from the inside.

The irony here is that the original impulse that produced the health craze was a return to nature. But the Dietary Industrial Complex, instead of encouraging us to eat more fruits and vegetables, is now hocking products that "contain" fruits and vegetables. Why do we think that the most healthy way to eat healthy is to turn everything into a pill or a powder?

I have the revolutionary idea that we should eat healthy, basic natural foods when we're hungry, and drink water when we're thirsty. But that probably doesn't make anyone any money.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Antibiotics, glyphosate and an onslaught of numerous vaccines would be my theory. I agree to just eat real food and clean water.