Just Let Me Eat Different–I Don’t Want the DrugsPosted by Jim Newman on July 19th, 2012 – Comments Off – Posted in Uncategorized
Post by Jim Newman
Am in Minnesota, out of town. I find this trip mixed with issues of congeniality and camaraderie based on diet. While I have seen many different types of foods eaten for various reasons usually based on geography, the colonizing of the world has led to a panoply of eating decisions. It used to be if you went South in the US you might try southern foods and so forth. Now, you might visit Minnesota and be facing southern tasteless formless food instead of the more traditional Scandinavian foods–much less the even more traditional Native American foods.
People are very near and dear to their foods. It has been shown that a company wanting to get employees to go to a business meeting have more success offering a free lunch over even greater monetary or time compensation. When we imagine eating we are more like teens than fussy eaters. We respond to doughnuts. I suppose it’s because food is more direct than the abstraction of money. Or perhaps it’s a distance thing like kin altruism where it would take eight cousins to equal one brother.
At any rate I find myself in innumerable discussions over food. I have metabolic syndrome (hypertension, diabetes, big waist, bad cholesterol, etc). It’s not severe yet but it’s rolling my way. Rather than buying pills I choose to do culture changes–an act my doctor told me is temporary as I will eventually be taking the drugs. Yet, I know people who are my age that have been on hypertension drugs for 20 years and I have avoided diabetes drugs now for 20 years. But that means I have to exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, and not desire too much to choke the crap out of idiots that wish to destroy the planet (us) or turn it into a church.
This means I won’t eat what is served to me automatically wherever I am and whoever I am visiting. For old school folks this is the height of social discord–eat what is served and eat it all–damn it, or, please, if with polite people. It’s also different that it’s the US. If I were in Thailand or with a new more traditional host I would eat the local food as best I could. Up to a point.
Then begins this long discourse on why limit my diet? I usually get two responses: Why not just take the drugs? Or, I would rather die than give up fried chicken? Perspicacious hosts will note: but you drink alcohol? Wise friends will note: but you live a dangerous lifestyle (farm, construction, etc) and do drugs (only when I can get them safely–and not so much anymore).
I am blindsided by this. My granola and small farm friends are all over food choices. I don’t know how to respond. Somehow I thought this was a free country where we watch the TV shows we like, wear the clothes we wish, and pursue the careers that either stimulate us or provide money (both if you are lucky). In spite of the paean that we’re all individuals there is an overriding desire to be like others or to include them in the expanding circle of self. It’s cool we like the same things. No, apparently, it’s a fucking, goddamned necessity!
I’m sorry but if I don’t want to, should not, eat white bread, potatoes, rice, sugar, white flour, and often corn and peas. It’s not because the food is evil and I don’t like its purveyor. It’s simply because if I eat the shit it’s like taking my life clock and setting the alarm a bit more early. Why the belief that we should eat the same things? Why would I care if I do other dangerous things? Even at restaurants there are those who choose complimentary meals and those who choose to eat something the same.
Indeed, why not just take the drugs? Last night a friend said he used to help a neighbor take her insulin shots and she could eat anything. WTF. My Uncle in law says the same thing. You know Jim hypertension drugs are 4 dollars a month at Walmart (only if you have an insurance card) and then you don’t have to monitor, not eat salt, or worry about stress. WTF. Of course, research shows only 5-10% of people actually stick to a culture change over 5 years. It seems safer to take the pills.
This strong desire for alliance is no doubt part of our evolved tribalism and socializing for safety and gain. Almost always the more people working together the more productivity. But aside from that, the utility of choice for well being takes on an odd Sam Harris twist as in The Moral Landscape where he discusses Well Being and democracy. Reviewers often slam Harris by claiming his book advances classic utilitarianism and then give an example–one he covers. Something that gives a lot of people a little well being can have the same overall amount of well being as something that gives one person a ton of well being. That is the difficulty. A free loader can claim that his well being is vastly improved than if he has to toe up and participate in the cost.
Gifford Pinchot famously coined the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” in his advocacy for multiple use in land use. Though this seems to negate the free loader problem it has some of the same issues Garret Hardin mentions in his theory of the management of commons. How do you negotiate competing priorities, who speaks for future generations, how do you administer it, and how do you deal with value beyond monetary exchange or human control?
This complicated exchange is also present in personal choices. A depressed person is more likely to choose a lower reward now than be willing to wait for a greater reward later–more so than people do anyway.
In speaking with the many people I know who have given up a dependency there seem to be two major types: those who quit cold turkey and those who wean themselves off. I relate this to personality, disposition, and environment issues but it would be difficult for me to insist on one way or the other, though increasing evidence is showing that weaning isn’t as effective. Wray Herbert writes in Mind about research that shows you have to have more than one way. You may choose the one for immediate change and another to resist growing temptation later in the process as you grow more lax in willpower. And yet more research than ever involves drugs that will allow you not to miss the chemical. Dependency has, until the last decade or so, been a moral issue and been denied research funding needed for finding medical prosthesis. So this is a great change I guess. It may come to be that if you wish to not be tempted by sugar you take a pill every day and voile, no desire. Im sure alcohol, smoking, and other drugs will come first and set the stage.
Those who say they would rather die than stop eating sugar or fried foods or whatever mystify me. But my personality is such that I change habits a lot anyway. I do feel that way about other things but not that much. Those who rely on routine, consistency, and certainty for success are less likely to want to change habits.
I quit eating white bread 25 years ago and, yes, it was hard to find decent whole grain bread but it wasn’t a disaster. It still is except for the ubiquitous Arnold’s. Other food choices followed. Perhaps it was because I like so many different kinds of food that it didn’t bother me to switch to oatmeal, whether cooked, raw, or irish style, for white flour pancakes or sugared cereals (as an aside to economy, white flour pancakes are the cheapest breakfast food to make from scratch by far) because I liked them all enough to switch between them.
Ditto vegetables. Having always liked vegetables, it didn’t bother me so much to give up mashed potatoes and gravy for salads. Lemon juice as salad dressing seemed fine compared to oily dressings. Perhaps because I made these later changes over time, these choices seemed less threatening to my psychological well being. Sugar is tough as is salt but not insurmountable. I don’t feel like I have any great will power but these choices seemed less painful than paying for and taking pills everyday. Pizza is tough to pass by but these rules aren’t absolute. While you aren’t supposed to skip a pill, I can and do make food exceptions. just have to be careful to not always be on vacation or some other psychobabble excuse to keep eating crap food.
Same with exercise and sleeping well. Why would I hate exercise and sleep? Yeah, watching movies can obsess me in winter as can reading all the time. But I just feel better anyway when I sleep enough and exercise.
There’s something about adapting to the environment instead of having the environment adapt to you. There is a kind of arrogant helplessness to say you’d rather die than change when it comes to food. I can see that with a big ideology like liberty, freedom, minority rights, wrong wars, etc but food? Who gives a fuck? I do get that people get themselves twisted up so far in their difficult lives that any change seems insurmountable but then, for me, I say stop the lifestyle and change it. Feeling trapped is such a negative emotion that that needs t be the first priority, through action and not wishful thinking. If you’re too depressed to move, take the drugs, change the life, and then quit. Of curse I speak of moderate depression (and health) issues–the kind of mild depression that makes fortunes for pharmaceutical companies.
But Jim, you’re full of shit. You like recreational drugs and you drink alcohol. Ok, then this is more like the exchange basis. I do value the mental state involved. So much so that I would be willing to make other changes to compensate. In the same sense that diabetics can slow the absorption of carbo’s by eating more roughage, I am willing to make tradeoffs. But if that became impossible and alcohol became the pivot food for life then yes, I might eliminate it. If it were clear pot were leading to emphysema, ditto for it. But why not even more drastic food changes? I am a cook and I love food so it’s not that I value food less. I just don’t like a drug I have to take or one from which I can’t come down. I don’t feel superior. I will probably shorten my life. I just don’t get the pressure to be a sheep.If we graze together are we more likely to trust each other and not fight?
My social point remains that we can be different and not be alien to each other. Undoubtedly I have a less social gene combination and trade off social benefit for creativity. But if it’s genetic why care what people do either way? Individual morality is different than morality applicable to all–Kant can go to hell unless he changes the resolution of the categorical imperative. Freedom is about adjudicating your own moral lifestyle. If someone wishes to smoke themselves to death OK. If someone wants to not smoke and live longer, OK. That is why utilitarianism fails. On the individual level there isn’t a clear cut answer to justifying one position over the other. If someone values a long life versus another choosing a shorter life and they do both based on perceived well being, it is virtually impossible for the one to trump the other.
This means living in harmonic disagreement–a rather sophisticated situation. The inevitable dissonance leads to social clusters based on mutual views of well being–virtual villages. It’s part of evolution. Even though I think moral realism is correct, freedom is a bigger tent. Moral realism is for the big acts like theft, murder, fraud, etc. Little moral acts are value based, feeding into personal morality which meets varying evolutionary niches. The environment dictates choices but that doesn’t apply to our modern grocery store food ethic of eating the same bread because it’s universally available.
I don’t know how the hell to discuss healthy food choices over the dinner table but it just gets old for people to say I should just take the drugs. It sounds a lot like how I should just go to church.
Jim Newman, bright and well
www.frontiersofreason.com and www.brightpride.com