Why is Food a Hot Topic?

Twenty or thirty years ago, who would have guessed that food would become a hot topic, perhaps even an obsession? It’s difficult to pick up a magazine, have a conversation, or open a computer/tablet without finding a reference to food. Pictures of food dominate many social media sites, specialty television channels feature cooking programs, websites and blogs dedicated to food or recipes abound, and Anthony Bourdain’s travel/food adventures attract legions of viewers. Food and wine and craft beer shows offer tempting ideas for combining foods with various alcoholic drink.

Most people have definite ideas about food.  Almost everyone has food preferences and food habits. People love to talk about food. We meet friends for lunch and invite people to our homes for dinner. We patronize gourmet coffee and tea shops. Children discuss favourite foods and not-so-favourite foods. Restaurants, supermarkets, farmer’s markets, delicatessens, and magazines promote culinary creativity.

I have always been interested in food but consider myself moderate in terms of food preferences. I’m not anxious about the food I eat. Indulging in french fries, burgers, chocolate, and ice cream are pleasures to enjoy from time to time although eating pure, wholesome, real food is the daily routine.  I avoid purchasing processed foods, preferring to cook from scratch. My menus vary with the seasons:  soups and stews in cold months and barbecued meats and salads in warm weather. Until retirement, I cooked only on weekends; now, I cook everyday. I bake bread, rolls, pastries, cookies and dessert treats because I like to control the ingredients, especially salt and sugar. Most of the sauces and salad dressings used in my kitchen are made at home for the same reason.

I’m old enough to remember when pasta wasn’t a bad word, when men felt free to order and enjoy quiche, and when TAB soda was the dieter’s drink of choice. I’ve survived food fads — bacon, butter tarts, muffins, lattes, cupcakes, gelato, sweet potato fries.  Diet fads have not escaped attention.  Whether it was Dr. Atkins diet, a version of Mediterranean diet, the Palo Alto diet, or weight watchers, I tried all of them when I carried those stubborn extra 10 pounds.

Why is food such a ‘hot’ topic?

As food became plentiful and relatively inexpensive, it became a ‘hot’ topic. Everyone needs to eat so there is no surprise that a focus on food goes along with living in a society.  People living in the Western world have enough disposable income to select a diet based on judgement about best available choices.

Abundant Food Choices -- photo courtesy of Alexandr Podvalny
Abundant Food Choices —
photo courtesy of Alexandr Podvalny

Nutrition education has underlined the importance of food and health. As we grow older, good health is a primary concern. Healthy food choices and a healthy lifestyle are daily considerations. It’s easy to become passionate and rigid about selecting foods as food choice and good health converge in our minds.

The cultural and social aspects of food also contribute to it’s ‘hot’ topic status. Food is central to societal celebrations and festivals.  Marketers know that turkey supplies in grocery stores should be timed to arrive for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  Family traditions often revolve around food as anyone with memories of grannies home-made cookies or pickles can attest. Organic foods are chosen partly for taste and to avoid contamination from pesticides or antibiotics which may cause cancer.

In the Western world, vast food choices have became the norm. With few exceptions, food production happens in large factory style farms. Modern transportation systems bring out-of-season foods from around the world to local supermarkets. The food industry markets prepared foods and easy-to-prepare options for the dinner table.

Unfortunately, cheap foods and fast foods have resulted in poor eating habits and unhealthy weight gain for many.  While the food industry pushes calorie-rich food, fashion idolizes thin bodies. This has caused a certain ‘snobbery’ about food which often results in food shaming and food guilt. Normal enjoyment of eating is gone. Foods are evaluated as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to the point where sometimes people, especially women, refer to themselves as ‘bad’ for eating a high calorie food like a peanut butter fudge sundae. For example, when I went to lunch today with a group of 24 women, nobody — including me — ordered dessert although lovely selections were offered.  Too often the focus on what we should or shouldn’t eat leads to self-denial and a dysfunctional relationship with food.

It’s understandable that some people must focus on the food they consume because of food allergies or intolerances.  Almost universally, schools have banned peanut products in lunch boxes due to extreme reactions from children with nut allergies.  Gluten-free diets are required for people who have celiac disease although large numbers of people shun gluten products as a weight control technique or because of perceived intolerance. Others choose low-carbohydrate/high protein diets. Some choose the dairy-free route, perhaps due to lactose intolerance.  Others are vegetarian or vegan, usually based on values of environmental protection or preferences not to support mass meat production.

Almost everywhere, there’s social judgement about the foods we eat or don’t eat.

Food is an area of life where we can exercise some control. We live in challenging times where we have little control over what happens in the world.  By controlling food intake we attempt to re-gain some of the power lost in a complex world.

The capacity to listen to needs of our bodies plus the joy of eating what we want,  however, is lost. In a culture that values a thin body any food believed to be fattening gets eschewed. Self-control over food gets linked with positioning in the social hierarchy.

A healthy relationship with food allows enjoyment of food without a sense of guilt.  Eating need not become an all or nothing choice. I’ve resolved not to obsess about food.  Rather, I’ll enjoy the bounty and revel in the many choices offered!

NOTE to readers — this post is not meant to ignore the real problems with food for people who suffer from allergies, hormonal imbalances, or eating disorders all of which are serious health issues and should be treated by physicians and professional dieticians.

3 Comment

  1. Your essay offers lots to think about. I have always had a complicated relationships with food, due to my family’s dysfunctional attitude (“the clean plate club”) that required children to eat everything on their plates, whether they liked the food, were already full, were sick, were allergic to it, etc. Having been forced to eat when I did not want to, I now jealously guard my mealtimes and rebuff any comments that anyone might like to make about what I choose to eat. I enjoy cooking for myself, and count myself as a good cook. I use nutritious ingredients and rarely eat anything that would qualify as junk food. On the other hand, I eat a McDonald’s meal once a week, and love Hostess cupcakes but eat them only once or twice a year.

    Rin

  2. Joy says: Reply

    Jeanette, the popularity of reality TV shows and the many food channels , cause a greater awareness of home cooked meals. Perhaps more people are cooking from scratch these days

  3. The composition and presentation of food has changed drastically in our lifetime. We’ve gone from enjoying locally sourced, simply prepared homemade dishes to craving genetically modified, antibiotic enhanced, highly seasoned and processed foods. I attempt to make thoughtful choices daily while enjoying the occasional sweet treat without guilt. Life is too short to avoid a few bites of chocolate cake!

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