Over the past few million years, various species of lower animals have been striving to take over the world. At some point in the not-too-recent past, one such specie woke up and found that they had done it. The human race had arrived. During our ascent to the position of domination that we now occupy, we had been exceedingly busy trying to kill off the competition before they accomplished that aspect of survival on us. We also had to attend to the business of provisioning ourselves with sufficient food to keep ourselves fit, healthy and ready to kill anything that looked like competition. As we drew ahead of the competing species in the survival game, there was a fair bit of competing with each other, and a very short food chain emerged in some places. Fortunately, the advantages of cooperation overcame the convenience of cannibalism, and the first dietary restrictions began to emerge.
The Primal Concept of Food
Early dining was simple and direct. There were no supermarkets, cookbooks, cafes, pizzerias, snotty waiters, menus, chefs or all-you-can-eat-for-some-amount-of-money specials. We killed it, we ate it. Nobody thought much about health because everybody was either healthy or soon dead and, before the emergence of dietary restrictions, food. If we ate food that wasn't good for us, we threw up if we were lucky or died. Food was stuff that kept us alive, like air, water and good weapons. Of course there were some downsides to early food.
- It was often covered with very tough husks, shells, skin, feathers, hair and spiky things that made eating less convenient
- The husks, shells, skin, feathers, hair and spiky things usually tasted lousy
- Once we got past all that stuff, the insides were tough and often tasted lousy as well
- Sometimes the thing that was inside the husks, shells, skin, feathers, hair and spiky things fought like hell before we could eat it
The March of Cuisine
One of the most notable things about humans is that we are lazy. Feed humanity for a day and we will expect to be fed for the rest of time. None of us wanted to waste all that time fighting something to the death, getting hair and spiky things stuck in our teeth, grimacing at the taste of it all and often barfing afterwards. Noticing that prey that had been freshly burnt to death in a wildfire was an improvement, we began the long march of cuisine by lighting wildfires and learning to always stay upwind. With just the right exposure to that previously terrifying combustion, a lot of the stuff on the outside was either burnt off or much easier to remove, and the stuff on the inside wasn't as tough. From still-warm prey to the Mexicana pizza, it has been a long and hard journey, but one eminently worth it.
Food and Health
On the journey to the Mexicana pizza, we took a lot of side roads. We devised housing, sanitation, motorized transport and satire. All of these things were good for our health, so good that we now live almost three times as long as our distant ancestors with the hair in their teeth. Why doesn't this make us happy? Phil Brickman and Don Campbell pointed out that our feelgood meter, like us, is lazy. We can push it up, but it kind of sinks back down, leaving us feeling pretty much the same as before we had pizza and the other good stuff. If you can dig this and convince yourself that you can be reasonably healthy without being happy, life is okay. Lots of us can't manage that. This failing drives people to fundamentalist religion, serial killing, condemnation of anything that is fun and, to get to the point of this article, healthy eating.
There you are, tooling homeward in your Lotus Elise with a steaming Mexicana pizza and "Not the Nine O'clock News" lifting your spirits. Do you wish you were sitting at a bus stop reading the New Internationalist while waiting to get home to your nice bowl of millet porridge? Unfortunately, some people want to convince you that you should. They will try to convince you that your ileum, which is something on the way to your asshole, will be ever so much healthier. They don't look that healthy. They will claim that your enhanced spiritual outlook will make you happier. They don't look that happy. How can this kind of pathetic bullshit stand up to a Mexicana pizza?
The sad truth is that they have a point. Not a very good one, as by the time your ileum coagulates, you will probably be too old to enjoy the pizza anyway. In economics, this is known as the discount rate, and is familiar to anyone who looks at old people and decides that he or she had better get it while they can. There are a lot of old people, though, and their desperate struggle to get it just one more time has repercussions. Plastic surgeons, cosmeticians, dieticians, herbalists, quasi-medical quacks and life trainers have made fortunes servicing these geriatric fantasies.
The Health Food Industry
Not surprisingly, anything that makes money will be taken up as a means of making a living. Where you once had to live in a yurt in Outer Mongolia to get yak milk that had gone off in a container made from a bear's bladder, you can now pick up a packet at the local supermarket. We spent thousands of years learning how to get the husks off stuff, so why are the husks reappearing on our plates? Old people, sick, unhappy, old people. They have created a market that operates on the Three Shit Principles of Healthy Food.
Putting the shit back in
We started by cutting the guts out of prey before burning it and went all the way to the cappuccino in pursuit of getting the shit out of food. The cappuccino, with just the right proportions of sugar, fat and dimethyl xanthine, is one of the pinnacles of cuisine. No shit. Shall we convert to drinking stuff made of funny smelling leaves with the leaves still floating around in it? Sure, if you are so old that you don't notice how bad it tastes. Take a long, hard look at a package of muesli, especially the sort that advertises itself as natural. Do you know what those little brown bits are? A simple experiment will illustrate what I mean. Take a package of muesli, the healthiest sort you can afford. Open it and tip it on the floor. Haven't swept the floor lately? Good. Now sweep it all up and put it back in the package. Can you tell the difference? Check out the latest health supplement and you will probably find out that it is made from some slime that grows on rocks in the intertidal zone.
Making the diner shit
If there is one thing about which health food fanciers are united, it is excretion. You can't get two minutes into a conversation with them but you're discussing the ileum, or some other thing on the way to your asshole. Fiber, fiber in everything will send that food right through you. If that isn't enough, there are plenty of things that you can spoon on your food that would send the dead running for the toilet. Part of this has got to be the abolition of enjoyment. One can't sit around feeling nice and full of pizza. No, we have to be bounding off to blast it all out again so that we don't sin by being satisfied.
See, old people again. They will do anything to have a decent crap. We just don't understand the desperation of these poor elderly souls whose ileums have locked up, just because the human body was designed to last about forty years and then, absent reconstructive dentistry, orthopedic surgery, lipid controlling drugs, beta-blockers and dialysis, go straight to the bottom of the food chain. But screw them, they used to laugh at people who had to have enemas when they were young.
Making it taste like shit again
Okay, yogurt isn't too bad, as long as it's that full cream kind created by gourmet micro-organisms that don't leave it tasting like it spent the last week in somebody's shoes. You try to find it. All the yogurt containers have, in little print on the back of the container, some cheerful statement about how little fat there is inside. If you see that, put the wretched stuff back into the display so that it will finally be turned to good use as fertilizer or glue. Otherwise, you are stuck with this faintly bluish, translucent stuff that does taste like it spent the last week in somebody's shoes. Leave some of it in a dish on the floor. Do the rats eat it? Only if they are very, very hungry. Yogurt isn't the only comestible to suffer at the hands of the health-minded. Remember crackers? Those delicious, salty things that, when plunged into sour cream mixed with avocado and chili powder, became a treat that proves that the gods don't exist, because they would have killed us to get it for themselves. Taste buds flattened by crackers and exotic dips could only be revived by a hefty slug of chardonnay, to be knocked for a loop by the next cracker. What do we have now? The commercial bakeries of the world whining about how little salt and fat are in their crackers and trying to convince us that one of these pieces of cardboard with a little bit of celery balanced on it is worth putting in our mouths.
Racism, Xenophobia, Chauvinism and Health Food
It is nearly obligatory in this exalted compendium of knowledge to ridicule people who are not of your - ahem - ethnic background. Well, let's get to it. The great and noble people of China, undeterred by having been sold communism, glory in a tradition of health food fanaticism stretching back into the dim recesses of that pretentious fantasy known as history. From devising some of the worst tasting health food ever to hit the palate to slaughtering anything that moved in the search for fitness and a hard-on (see bear's bladder above), they can do the health food thing with the best of them. The Japanese tried to compete with them, but instead diverted into making art food, a much more pleasant pursuit. Many tribes of people still stuck somewhere in the Neolithic are built up to be health food fanatics. Unfortunately for their promoters, as soon as they get access to the Mexicana pizza, they eat themselves to obesity and become happy, rather than grimly gnawing at Primal Food. Europeans of all sorts pretend that they were once healthy and long to return to that blessed state. Bullshit, they have thought about nothing but refining food to its least healthy form. The Italians are the current champs. Moving northeast, the Russians laugh at health food and try to live on alcohol. Take a hard right and move quickly through the Stans, before something inedible happens. India strives to compete with Europe by mouthing sanctimonious codswallop about vegetarianism and serving up dishes that almost match pizza. Africa is still trying to get food together and has yet to make any serious contribution to health food, despite the hokum wonder cures that clag up your inbox. Finally, we have Mexico. This vastly underappreciated nation has come closer to making something that is both healthy and good to eat. Chili con frijoles y maiz. By golly, if they did as well in the economic sphere, the wetbacks would be coming down from the north. Let us thank them for nachos and move on.
The Essential Dilemma of Food
You may well be sitting out there looking at this page while emptying a packet of snack food that would send the average health food devotee into a spasm of sputtering about hypertension and metabolic syndrome. Should you worry about this? Look at it this way. Most people will say they prefer to have a shorter, happier life, at least until they suspect that there is not that much left of it. They often convert to health food at this point, hoping for one of those miracle transformations that restores health and happiness. Doesn't happen. So they become grumpy. Now they are both unhappy and feeling the chill breath of the Reaper on their necks. However, we know that happy people tend to live longer. So, if your unhealthy eating habits make you happy enough to balance out the food damage, you may be able to go out smiling. Since this enrages health food devotees to the point of apoplexy, you may see them out, all the while enjoying food that doesn't taste like shit. Remember what happened to Cardinal Richelieu.