(originally published on here on Medium on 1/28/20)
Every mom who has ever switched handbags knows exactly what I’m talking about. The blind grab into the ne’er talked about abyss at the bottom of the purse. Frantically rummaging for car keys, we retrieve the treasures of the deep:
One uncapped ballpoint pen.
A couple of stretched out ponytail holders.
2.7 meters of wadded up CVS receipt paper.
Eleven loose half-wrapped pieces of gum studded in pencil shavings and fuzz.
The “good lipstick” you bought from MAC in 2006 for the date night you are still holding out for.
And then the sine qua non cornerstone of your expedition to the nethermost region of Planet Purse…
Still hermetically sealed yet regrettably pulverized within an inch of its very shelf stable life… so thoughtfully tucked away just in case.
I, too, raise my hand in solidarity with every mother in the universe that has coveted this prize.
I don’t advocate for trying this at home, but I’ve even been guilty of checking the expiration date, bending it back into some semblance of its original shape, and considering whether it could find another day in a 5-year old’s lunchbox.
Nonetheless, the more I’ve matured in my knowledge of food and the human body, I’ve spent more time pondering what exactly is the horrific nutritional doomsday for which we are preparing?
We carry around the granola bar just in case… and it begs the question, just in case of what?
I suppose in the event of some unforeseen commercial food industry apocalypse, we will be well prepared to command victory with our private stash of all things Soft ‘N Chewy.
But in reality, the answer is more like this:
Just in case the meeting runs late…
Just in case you don’t like the school lunch…
Just in case we run out of time before baseball practice…
Just in case the traffic is bad…
Just in case we miss breakfast…
Just in case the drive thru is too crowded…
Which really all boils down to the continuous dialogue that we speak to ourselves telling us to be prepared:
Just in case we get hungry.
At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I’m going to make the assertion that 99.9% of us reading this article have not even once experienced true hunger.
As in, complete and total food insecurity I-don’t-know-where-my-next-meal-is-coming-from type of hunger. I know I have not, and I realize in the scope of humanity — that is a tremendous privilege.
Sure, I’ve said I was hungry when I had to work through my lunch break or been at the wedding reception that didn’t serve dinner until 10pm, or even fasted overnight (gasp!) for surgery…
But those first world inconveniences do not true hunger make.
Going from time to time without food temporarily is evolutionary, natural, expected, beneficial, and dare I say — even trendy — in the wellness sphere right now. But despite our proclivity to accept a health coach’s advice that intermittent fasting is cool, missing our lunch break at work is decidedly not.
However, I encourage you to loosen your grip on the granola bar culture. It’s an at-the-ready stance for a catastrophe that will, thankfully, never really come.
If you go a little while without food, you may be psychologically troubled, but I assure you that you will survive and daresay — even feel better.
And please know, in my years as a physician, to date, I have yet to pronounce dead a patient that succumbed to the much-feared malady of granola bar deficiency.
Just in case you were wondering.
Now to address another nutritional doomsday prediction: the fear of fat.
I understand how we got here. Really, I do. I lived through the 1980s as did many of you.
The glory days of acid washed jeans, mix tapes, big hair, and the Rubik’s cube. We saw the invention of cordless phones, the birth of yuppie culture, and the proliferation of fat-free everything in the food industry.
At the time, it seemed sensible…
Eat fat. Get fat. Drop dead of heart attack.
On the heels of the revolutionary 1977 Dietary Goals for the United States, that may have been what Americans demanded in the market. However, after four decades of time has passed, our phones and our bangs have gotten smaller. Our pant legs and our morals have gotten a little looser, but we are still clinging onto the unfounded and antiquated 1980s nutritional dogma that eating fat will make you fat.
Even today, on very public websites, like this one that belongs to the American Heart Association, we are encouraged to run from fat in our diet like a vampire avoiding sunlight.
This is not a pleasurable sentiment to most eaters, nor has it been supported adequately in the most unbiased, probing scientific literature.
And if in fact, there is a macronutrient we should brood over at all — it is most surely carbohydrates — as there is no essential carbohydrate in the compendium of human nutrition, whereas there are both essential (to life) amino acids and fatty acids.
But in truth, we are not getting fat from eating one macronutrient or another.
We are getting fat from eating tons upon tons of ultra-processed, mass produced, seductive, hyper-palatable, inflammatory fake food-like products.
If you aren’t familiar with Michael Pollan, the cultural activist, author, and real food advocate, you should be. He makes a statement (that I’m loosely quoting here),
“Learn how to read labels, and then pick as many foods as possible without them.”
It’s probably as good advice as you’ll get anywhere about eating.
I can only aspire to be as progressive, enlightened, and active as the greatest thought leaders in the field of nutrition. There are many things still to learn, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that Americans have gotten nothing but fatter in the last forty years of time since we demonized fat in our diet.
Let’s not blame the butter for what the granola bar did.
Maybe it’s not really the fat after all.
Just in case you were wondering.
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Honesty. Reality. And lots of good food!