In the last half of the 20th century, the captains of industry and the flight attendants of culture invested considerable energy and additives into making food fun. For most of mankind’s existence, food had been a daily struggle of growing and harvesting, hunting and gathering, choking and gagging. Then suddenly we had Tang.
Imagine: powdered orange juice, just like the astronauts drink! Simply add healthy, chlorinated tap water. Enjoy it with your morning waffle that you – is this a dream? – heat up in the toaster! Why not plop on a dab of Cool Whip made from genuine petroleum by-product!
Of course Cool Whip isn’t made from petroleum. My brother and I, though, were convinced it was. And here’s the thing: we didn’t care. As long as the food entertained us with colours, marshmallows and prizes inside, we were happy consumers. Plus, we had a good dentist.
But it’s the 21st century, a century of technological marvels and almost no fun at all. We know too much. And what we don’t know, the authorities make sure to tell us. This is the age of Foodland Security.
Take that miracle of tasty convenience, the frozen pizza. We grew up thinking this was the ideal food, covering all the food groups: grain, dairy, meat, vegetables and goo, the goo group, of course, being the most fun of all the food groups.
Thanks to nutrition labelling, I now know that one slice of my Delissio Thin Crispy Crust Deluxe frozen pizza contains 28% of my daily recommended saturated fat and 25% of recommended sodium. I see that. I shake my head. “That’s a lot of fat and salt,” I say. And then I eat three slices.
I always had my suspicions about pizza, but the truth about tinned soup felt like a betrayal. “Soup is wholesome!” No, tinned soup is essentially gelatinous salt. The only reason you should offer tinned soup to someone is for the insurance money.
I’m not saying that ignorance is bliss, because, in this case, ignorance is type 2 diabetes and premature death. But those chastising nutrition labels are destroying every morsel of pleasure. Canada made nutrition labelling mandatory only in 2005, and it’s probably no coincidence that since then we’ve been a far grumpier nation, yet not the least bit healthier.
Similarly, because I’m made aware of livestock conditions, eating meat has become increasingly unappetizing – and no fun at all! Except lamb. I feel no remorse for lamb. Those tasty baby sheep can gambol into my mouth any old time.
It goes on: last week, the World Health Organization recommended that sugar should represent no more than 5% of daily calories, down from its previous recommendation of 10%. That’s about 25 grams of sugar a day for an adult of average weight eating a healthy diet, i.e. no one.
As I write this, I’ve just eaten a cookie, a lovely, moderate Peek Freans with 5 grams of sugar. It was delicious. So were the four I ate in the afternoon. And the two brownies. Plus a chunk of chocolate. And some Ike & Mikes. And Good & Plenty. Now I’m Guilty & Remorseful.
In defence of my sugar intake, I stopped drinking alcohol three years ago when I developed an allergy to hangovers. It’s natural to replace alcohol with sugar cravings. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Another side effect of abstinence is that I drink a lot of tea. Tea is lovely. Tea is sophisticated. Tea goes really well with Peek Freans.
But just days after the WHO made us feel even worse about sugar, CBC reported that traces of pesticides in commercial teas regularly exceed acceptable Canadian standards. But don’t worry; the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says that a person would have to drink 75 cups of tea a day over his or her lifetime to suffer any adverse effects. At 75 cups a day, I think the tea would kill you before the pesticides.
But that’s not the point. The point is that knowing this fact has taken all the fun out of tea, and let’s face it, tea wasn’t much fun to begin with, certainly far less fun than tequila.
The only fun food you can get away with guilt-free these days are smoothies, which are the educational toys of food. In the end, we’ll maybe add 2.3 years to our life expectancy, but those will be 2.3 years of smoothies when all we want is Tang.