Monday, June 27, 2016

Decadence

I've always been aware of food in slightly different ways from most. My childhood was filled with avoiding eating, and parents desperately looking for ways to get me to do just that. Biscuits, cake, fruit, anything to get food into me at pretty much any time. In those days before formula, I was a baby who 'wouldn't' breastfeed, and who didn't tolerate milk. I have an idea of the reasons for my rejection of both, but that's a whole 'nother story with no factual basis. I was painfully skinny all through school, accompanied by much name calling and many sneers. I finally put on a little weight when I went to boarding school for two years, but didn't make it out of the 'underweight' category until I was 27, just before I got pregnant. By the time I emerged from having babies (I was almost 39 when I had my last) I had moved firmly into the overweight zone, and by my 64th birthday in September last year was only just under the obese line.

Because one thing I loathed eating was meat, shortly after I left home in the early 1970s, I became vegetarian. In those days it was pretty unheard of in our culture and I had to work hard to learn about how to eat. No internet back then, so my best resources came from the Seventh Day Adventists. Later, when I became pregnant and had babies, I had to go through more learning, but by then there were a lot more books, though still no internet.

Just over three years ago, in a desperate attempt to become healthier and resolve some health problems, including severe depression, I was advised to remove gluten from my diet. This time my investigation of how to eat both gluten-free and vegetarian was made considerably easier by having access to the world via the internet. Now, as a a diabetic, gluten-free vegetarian, I won't say it's easy, but it's still achievable.

What I have recently noticed is the change in the way we, as a culture, regard food. 'Back in the olden days' when I was a child, food was about nourishment, with an occasional treat. Dessert was a piece of fruit. In summer when the trees in the orchard were dripping, it was a bowl of fresh fruit with cream. If there were visitors, we might have fruit and trifle and jelly. Occasionally - like a couple of times a year, Mum would make ice cream but it was never all that nice as she was way too busy to keep taking it out to beat it by hand, so it was always a bit icy. Pavlova at Christmas time. When we went into Hamilton every 2 or 3 months, we'd have lunch out - which pretty much meant a sandwich. Thin white bread. Single filling - egg or ham or cheese n onion. A cream bun. A cup of tea for Mum and Dad, a glass of lemonade for us. Coffee barely existed, and no juice. The main focus of food was having good square meals.

 When I was first seriously investigating food, as a new vegetarian, again, it was about how to get a good square meal, but a few years later when I had small children there was an additional question: how could we give our children healthy treats? 'Healthy treats' didn't just mean healthy stuff for birthday parties, those tables were still spread with sugar and food colouring. No, 'healthy treats' meant everyday sweet stuff filling kids at morning tea time, lunchtime, afternoon teatime, dessert time, and every moment in between time.

And so it has progressed. 'Healthy' has come to mean a regular diet of carrot cake, chocolate zucchini cake, paleo treats filled with almond flour and coconut flour and masses of dates. There are seemingly endless books and tv programmes and blogs and internet sites, some just about things that taste divine, but increasingly about 'healthy' things that taste divine - always with 'divine' defined, albeit unstated, as 'sweet'.

Recently, in my hunt for nice, but diabetic friendly, recipes, I bought a magazine specifically aimed at diabetics. About 80% of the recipes in it were carb filled, artificially sweetened desserts and cakes! Then I visited a a vegan blog and found this description of a recipe: "Creamy, decadent, thick, smooth and very tasty." This was the moment I realised that our attitude to food has become one where 'decadent' has been redefined as a positive.

At dictionary.com I found the entry for decadence:

  • The act or process of falling into an inferior condition or state; decay: Some historians hold that the fall of Rome can be attributed to internal decadence; moral degeneration or decay; turpitude.
  • unrestrained or excessive self-indulgence.
Okay, so I'll admit it: I have been excessively indulgent. I could make excuses, I can even give some 'good' contributing reasons (eating habits taught in childhood, depression, blah blah blah) but the bottom line is that I have been 'decadent', even though I know my eating choices have been healthier than those of many others. Unfortunately, this decadence has combined with my genetic inheritance and other factors and led to acquiring this horrible present and future called diabetes.

But seriously? Isn't it time to realise that healthy eating, especially in this age of sedentary living, does not involve sweet and carb-filled yummy stuff? That this obsession with treating ourselves  several times a day is indeed decadent?

I wish the rest of society would realise it so that I, having fallen into decadence and decay, wouldn't have to face constant temptation, guilt and resentment. I wish for the people I love to realise it before they too find themselves in a 'fall of Rome' experience.


Oh, and just as a post script: despite being a 'devout' atheist, I acknowledge that the bible has some wise words, and so I ask you to consider this before you respond when I speak of my depression, diabetes and other conditions. "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Matthew 7.1

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