Food baddies


Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and author of the book, “Random Overthoughts: The Best (Give or Take) of the Humor Column ‘Overthinking.’” She resides in West Tisbury and is currently at work on two historical novels. Once a week, she will ponder certain Island truths and institutions in “Overthinking.”

I’m in the locker room at the Y and I hear one woman tell another about some specific ache or pain she’s experiencing.

“Whole grains,” recommends her communicant. “Cut whole grains from your diet.”

Great, I’m thinking. We’ve now officially eliminated every food. We’re down to nothing.

I realize that there is a lot wrong with food, especially food that is corporate farmed. More people seem to be allergic to more things than ever before. Wheat, a dietary staple since the Pharaoh wore knee pants, is now a gluten-glutted bad guy. Children who normally would consist of three-quarters peanut butter are deathly allergic to goobers. And beef? It’s no longer “what’s for dinner.”

If you read and believe everything that’s on the internet, discussed on Good Morning America, and attributed to Dr. Oz, you would end up subsisting on naught but home-filtered water and the occasional gulp of air.

And, yes, I do believe we need to be careful of what we eat. And, yes, Monsanto’s executives probably have hearts the size of the smallest flea in fleadom. Farm animals should be raised humanely. But here’s the thing: we’re obsessed. The subject of food and additives and nutrients and lack of same infiltrate every dinner conversation, party banter, and locker room yakfest. We bring our apps to Stop & Shop, Reliable, or Cronig’s and scan for goodness. We pour over articles and Facebook entries that warn about the newest and worst. And, instead of putting together the healthiest meals, we settle for least harmful.

But why the obsession? Why does culinary consumption worm its way into almost every conversation? Perhaps it brings us common ground. One more topic to gnaw on after we’ve exhausted the weather.

Or maybe it’s the disparity of lifestyles. Certainly there’s a great gap between those who emulate the lupine lifestyle of Michael Pollan and viewers of “The Chew” who would never hesitate to spend an extra fifty cents to add bacon. People on both sides of that gastronomical ferry ride proclaim, “I would never eat like that.”

In some ways it can be worse on the Vineyard. From E-town to Aquinnah, Islanders on one side of the coin are blowing their summer rental income on pricey meals at the best Island restaurants. They track the movements of chefs like gambling junkies perusing the ponies. Admittedly, Island cookeries tend to use fresh, healthy, local ingredients, but are not averse to slathering on a creamy sauce. And, the whiter the chowder, the better. Meanwhile their counterparts are praying at the altars of their CSAs, ahhhing over the greenness and  freshness of this week’s broccoli and discussing what, exactly, makes it organically grown.

Might it be control issues? We’ve become a fear-based society. Fortunes are made by companies who lull you into thinking you can prevent bad things from happening. Insurance companies like you to think that if “the worst happens,” (you die) your family will wave a brief farewell and be able to go back to business as usual if only you sign on their dotted line. Even the name, “life insurance” hints that a policy will prevent your demise. We slather anti-bacterials on our hands and kitchen counters, lest some microscopic germ invades. (By the way, we need some of those germs.) Home security systems assure that loved ones will remain safe if the other “worst” is attempted (home invasion). We buy cars for “safety features.”

And we obsess about what goes into our stomachs, fearful that if we eat the wrong thing, we’ll get cancer, we’ll grow old prematurely, our hair will lose that healthy glow, we’ll tire too easily, we’ll have trouble sleeping at night, we’ll have trouble waking up in the morning, our skin will flake, our paint will peel, our dog will get mange, the NSA will tap our phones, and the IRS will audit our taxes.

Me? Right here? Also guilty. I had to laugh when I realized that in a freight ferry conversation about this very thing, I ended up also discussing the latest news on the latest food baddie. And I sensed surrounding travelers itching to join the conversation.

So, if we’re talking about food so much, how much of our lives are we dedicating to planning, shopping, preparing, and eating? How much cranial real estate is branded “MEALS”?

I’m trying. I’ve decided to spend a little bit of time each week planning healthy meals and grocery shopping – concentrating, as a friend suggested, on the outer aisles. I’m going to try to make it balanced – more greens and veggies, less sugar and fat. Nothing fried. Fewer Nonni’s Biscotti for dessert. And, if I occasionally split a Black Dog Mousse Bomb with a friend, I’m not going to beat myself up.

We need to let go. No matter what we eat, some of us will get cancer. Some will get heart attacks. Some of us will have car accidents. We’re all going to die. We are not going to control everything that happens to us.

So, can we talk about something else for a while?