I think a lot about food’s role in my life. I lift weights, which is an activity that benefits from eating a lot, and well, and often. I have done the meal prepping and the tracking and the eating of the proteins and fibers and enough carbs. I have also backed away from these things and not done them, which is almost worse because I know how much eating right can do for you — it is worth the effort, which is what makes it so annoying that we are supposed to do it correctly for our entire lives. But eating healthy is way too difficult and requires balancing too many disparate forces — what I have on hand, what I can buy, what I feel like, how much time it takes, how all the various pieces of a meal fit together both in terms of taste and nutritional content. It takes entirely too much thinking, and I resent it.
Consider this scenario: I’m hungry in the morning. I feel like eating eggs, but I don’t have any eggs. I could Seamless an egg thing, but that costs money — more money than an egg thing I would have made at home with store-bought eggs, plus tip and delivery, and it would take forever to arrive and would probably be cold when it did. I could go to the store, but it is far, and what if it starts to rain? I could eat oatmeal, because I have that in my kitchen, but I don’t want it. I could eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which I also have in the house and which is slightly more palatable to me, except it would not be as nutritious or filling as eggs. If I eat cereal now, I would have to eat something healthy later to balance it out, but I REALLY don’t feel like having some kind of salad with meat on it later when I could just eat eggs now and feel pretty good about it. I have… turkey bacon? I could make that, but I still wouldn’t have any eggs. I could have bacon and oatmeal, but then I’m going to all this trouble of cooking bacon to eat bacon without eggs, and with oatmeal, which doesn’t make any sense, but I’m at least fortunate enough to be able to do it in the privacy of my own home. And so goes this at least 20-minute thought process every time I have to eat, where I inevitable land on something I only sort of feel like eating, that probably has no cuisine-oriented coherence.
Food really is a spectrum, and if the companies that make food tried a little harder, they could probably make something that tastes 90 percent as good as a Pop Tart but is 50 percent more nutritionally sound that I really could eat for every meal (do not say the word Soylent to me; Soylent is terrible). But it would cost them more money to manufacture something that is not just various kinds of cheap garbage sugar mixed together, and why do that when they can make me be the one who has to bear the cost of those “savings” down the line. And this is all to say nothing of the fact that eating mostly correctly is, for me, is relatively easy; it’s an absolute minefield for people who don’t live and/or work near places at which fresh produce is available, or can bear the cost of buying, storing, and even preparing such food.
Not only are we all trying to thread a nutritional needle every single day of our lives — one without a very large margin of calories or nutrients — but a mysterious one: our metabolisms and feelings about food are all over the place. Trying to align my biological needs, my aesthetic wants, my practical capacity and ability, and the limits of time and space, I argue, is too much. The wild popularity of millennial-targeted food literature that pushes meal prepping and frugal grocery shopping as antidotes speaks to the anxiety we are all feeling about trying to “eat right” constantly.
Let’s rewind for a second. I’m not saying that processed foods can’t exist, only that some other correcting force than our willpower should be policing them. I do not want to subsist on Soylent. I do not want Snowpiercer nutrient gel, and I do not want individual artisanally crafted grain bowls; I want something in between, like… pre-packed meals that show up already nutritionally balanced and edible enough and ready-to-eat. Why is the subset of food I should be eating so vanishingly small compared to all the food I can buy? Why is it so hard to make normal, healthyish food, and why is there so much other irresponsible livelihood-endangering food all in the way?
We shouldn’t have to live in a world in which eating Pop Tarts for one meal means you have to eat a salad for the next; or if you accidentally eat Pop Tarts for a meal again, or maybe several days in a row, that’s Bad. This line of thinking is harmfully reductive: it doesn’t take into account if any other food is available to you besides Pop Tarts, or if Pop Tarts are all you can afford. I love Pop Tarts and the type of food that encompasses Pop Tarts as a dietary category. I eat them all of the time. But the economy that has produced Pop Tarts is criminal, and makes eating healthy too damn hard.
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