We Should Be Deriving Our Sanity From Our Environment Not From Food
We’re pre-disposed to making unhealthy choices in a productivity driven world.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of food? Ooey gooey delicious melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts, or crunchy fresh garden green salads? Is it oily fries and chips, or is it ice creams, cakes, and other baked confectioneries? Do you stick to your traditional diet or belong to the clan of cosmopolitan upwardly mobile individuals, ready to try out everything under the sun?
Our food preferences may have originally been cultural, traditional, and local, but there’s no denying the influence modern day comfort food has had on our palates, completely altering the way we eat. Our diets are now plush with artery-clogging deep fried food, diabetes inducing sweet treats, and high-carb comfort food loaded with salt that puts you to sleep instantly. You aren’t going to run a marathon anyway. Not when your environment doesn’t allow it.
We don’t live in nature anymore, with vast grasslands or forests to run about and expand our energy. We live in choc-a-bloc cities, where people have to push and jostle their way through hordes of other people just to go about their daily duties.
In a world where we can come first only by putting ourselves last, there isn’t a sliver of a doubt why we face an epidemic of lifestyle diseases today, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and kidney failure. We’re sacrificing our internal organs so that we can be our best selves in the office, forgetting that the offices might let us go at any moment, but our organs will always be ours.
We’re putting exercise and healthy eating second, and spreadsheets and team meetings first. We’re sacrificing sleep, and willing to live in a stuffed overcrowded world, adding more to the stuffing ourselves at that opportune moment in our lives which we call “starting a family”.
Gone are the days where we stuck to our traditional diets and ate only locally grown seasonal produce.
Gone are also the days where you’d only find seasonal produce at grocery stores. Today, most produce is available all through the year.
The problem with this is that over the course of millennia our bodies have adapted to consuming only in-season, local produce, which helped our ancestors considerably in buffering against the vagaries of the weather. Our ancestors worked with nature, not against her, doing the hard physical hard labour that we were born to do for most part of the day.
We toiled and sweated it out in the sun, so ate according to hunger and what the weather permitted, not according to convenience. If our subsistance farming ancestors ate any of the processed stuff that city people eat today, they would have never been able to get any work done.
When weather and terrain is no longer a concern, we are free to eat whatever we want, isn’t it?
The double whammy of consuming unhealthy food
But consuming the wrong food has a domino effect. The downsides of unhealthy food consumption does not end at organ deterioration and lifestyle diseases, which are of epidemic proportions today. It also alters the way in which we eat this food.
Binge-eating, eating too fast without chewing properly, eating at the wrong time, overeating, talking and eating, wrong food combinations, eating while engaging with technology, and going to bed immediately after dinner are just some of the downstream effects of consuming the wrong kind of food.
More than half our health problems would be solved if we just listened to our bodies and ate according to our own metabolisms instead of eating to please others or to belong to a particular crowd.
We know we shouldn’t be consuming heat-inducing or acidic foods in the summer, yet we do.
We know we shouldn’t be drinking alcohol too late into the evening, yet we do.
We know we shouldn’t reach for that third cup of coffee at work, yet we do.
We know our kids get jittery with too much sugar, yet we get them addicted to the stuff.
We know that some of our favourite foods, which are high in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol will make us bloated, give us stomach cramps, and force us to take the next day off from work. Yet we keep going back to the stuff week after week. It’s almost like we’re biologically wired to destroy ourselves.
Current state of the world
The current state of global health is poor and dismal. Our work culture is set up in such a way that it predisposes the individual to choose the unhealthiest, most processed junk meals instead of fresh, raw, nutritious food bursting with life. It’s a systemic problem and has nothing to do with individuals themselves. If someone calls you lazy for not getting up to go for a run early in the morning, make sure you remind them of their privilege. Privilege buys time.
Privilege buys mental resources to do difficult things.
The very things that will prevent you from getting an angioplasty 20 years from now.
Privilege buys access to knowledge and resources no common man can ever have access to. It gives you back a “normal” life you should always have been able to access in the first place without having to work so damn hard. That’s not the way it should be. I shouldn’t have to choose between going for my morning run and keeping my job. Or taking the weekends off for leisure without dealing with the terrifying thought of getting passed over for a promotion at work. If organizations didn’t place such a high premium on work culture and bottom lines and instead placed employees first, we would never have been in this predicament in the first place.
Peter Shanosky highlights the connection between food and corporate work in his article, “The Great Resignation Understands This Much: Your Career May Literally Be Killing You”:
“Now once you’re in that corporate career, keep climbing. Make it clear you put work first and your own life second. Stand out to middle management. Become middle management. Reach for department head/director. If you survive your first two heart attacks, go for the chief-level positions.”
“Others may have their career issues manifest in different but equally deadly ways — crippling anxiety, severe depression, overeating, stress. Any given one of these ailments are unpleasant on their own and can grow into something far worse if left unchecked. They can also all be linked to mental health issues caused by our careers.”
If the majority of humans are deriving their sanity from comfort food, we’ll get next to nowhere in solving the food crisis that’s destroying the planet one virgin forest at a time.
With the majority of humans only working selfishly to get to the highest rungs of the corporate ladder, their sole focus becomes self mastery and self-sufficiency. On such a brutal system, the planet, underprivileged humans, and animals will always come last. The only way to get out of this predicament is by changing the system itself. No amount of beating around and thrashing about inside the system is going to change the system itself. We have to get outside the system to do that. And that takes a lifetime of dedication and painstaking work with a lot of grassroots activism and grunt work involved, something that very few people are willing to commit themselves to.
The environment connection
Our environment is messed up.
Our walkways, which were once meant for daily evening strolls, to fill up our lungs with fresh air and to luxuriate in nature, now allows only motorized transport on it, forcing humans to share space with others clumsily on the “sidewalk”. Our food, which used to once be traditional, local, seasonal, and organic, is now instant, processed, pesticide-laden, imported, contains ingredients whose names we can’t even pronounce, and crosses two oceans before it can even get to our plates.
Our houses, which once used to be surrounded by verdant trees and dense foliage on all sides, now reside in a concrete jungle of their own, being just another dwelling among a row of other dwellings for as far as the eye can see.
Our forests and verdant grasslands, which used to once be bursting with life, are now fragmented dead zones that have either been mined to death or have roads and agricultural villages cutting through them, bringing with them all the attendant issues of deforestation like forest fires, floods, loss of animal habitat and reduction in species diversity.
Our water, which once used to be drawn from “the stream nearby” now comes from borewells sunk so deep into the ground, the underground acquifer gets depleted every summer.
It’s no wonder the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide have skyrocketed over the past decade, almost tripling and showing no signs of recovery.
As I was riding along one the main arterial roads of my area this afternoon, and the Tabebuia flowers rained down on me signalling the onset of a dry brutal summer, the thoughts started flitting around in my head like fireflies in a glass jar. The area I was passing by was a commercial one, lined with eateries on both sides that were packed with people. At that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder what must make these many people want to naturally gravitate towards comfort food all the damn time.
While food is meant to hydrate, nourish, and energize the organs of the body, there is no denying the psychological aspect of eating. At least in today’s industrial society where many of our illnesses come from a place of abundance rather than of destitution, the question no longer is “did you eat sufficiently today?” Or “did you have a full square meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?”, but more about “what did you eat?”.
When our physical comfort is met by our heavily modified indoor environments, then there really is no need to eat for health or according to the season, is there? So we eat for the next best reason we can. We eat emotionally. We eat to wash away the drudgery of the present day so that we can start the next day on a fresh note. We eat to get over a break-up or to get over being laid off from work. We eat to drown out the feelings of existential dread, mental discomfort, physical pain, and psychological abuse. We drown our sorrows in food every single day.
Artificial environments working hand in glove with wrong foods?
We are no longer slaves to the darkness. Not when our nights are illuminated with bright lights from our modified indoor environments, city lights outside, and our electronic devices, all sending out the wrong signal to our primitive minds that it is still daytime.
This creates a double-whammy of sorts, as we’re now not only dealing with the downsides of eating unseasonal, imported, and processed food, but also with night time lights, indoor air-conditioned environments, and how they all come together to comprehensively alter our sleep patterns. Consume too much alcohol, coffee, or sugar close to bed time, and you’re guaranteed a suboptimal night of sleep. Or even no sleep at all.
There maybe outliers to this, but many people cannot handle any stimulants post lunch time. Not if they want a full night of uninterrupted sleep at least.
We should be eating according to the environment we live in. But we’re not.
Our environments have become so noisy, cluttered, and chaotic, that food seems to be the only place our minds can seek some solace and psychological comfort from the hysteria of the daily grind. But it isn’t any food our minds rush to for comfort when in a difficult or painful situation. It’s always the unhealthy junk meals that our minds gravitate towards in our search for comfort.
Ever heard about someone having a compulsive addiction towards Broccoli? Yeah, me neither!
We no longer lived in the quaint, pastoral, idyllic villages which we once used to call home. At least the majority of us don’t. The number of suburbanites and city dwellers is only increasing everywhere with each passing day. There seems to be a major shift towards suburban living, especially after the pandemic.
Nothing like a bit of nature along with a sprinkling of modern day amenities as well, isn’t it? Having a little of both is the idea that shines the brightest for today’s millennials.
Go too deep into the woods, and you risk losing yourself.
Live right at the center of town, and you’d have already lost half your senses just trying to navigate city life, isn’t it?
What use are any of those “modern day comforts” then? You’ve got to be sane in the head to enjoy the gifts of the city in the first place, isn’t it? City life shouldn’t be so hard as to cancel out the benefits accrued from modern day conveniences that have been incubated with the power of investing, the boatload of knowledge capital passed over from previous generations, and our collective piggy bank that is the stock market.
We must be allowed to use and feel at the same time.
Again, like Shanosky says:
“Long-range financial planning will only benefit you if you live long enough to reap its rewards.”
Implying that we can only reap the rewards of our productivity driven lives if we are virile and young enough to enjoy the spoils.
“Imagine clearing vast tracts of forest just to grow all the ingredients for processed and comfort food that will most likely be going into a rich person’s stomach. We could be ending world hunger twice and over if we used the very same land to grow grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables to feed the appetites of the needy, instead of cultivating animal feed, coffee, chocolates and wine to feed the egos of the rich.”
The problem with dependency
Many of us are dependent on some substance or another to get through our over loaded plates of work. Most of us cannot fathom a day going without them. Some people are addicted to tea, coffee, soda and energy drinks, indicating a caffeine addiction. Some others are addicted to greasy, fattening, junk food that contain heaping loads of sugar, refined ingredients and refined oils, signalling a junk food addiction. And some others are addicted to meat, and processed animal products, signalling a complex carb addiction. There’s no denying the fact that all of us find some kind of mental solace in these foods.
Ask any of these people to go a day without their favourite substance, and they’d rather be shot in the leg. Let’s be very clear right from the start. This isn’t their problem. This is because of the environment we’ve created. We’ve managed to create an environment that is such a blatant assault on the senses, that the only thing remaining for the body to look towards for comfort and solace, is food.
So what’s the problem with dependency you ask? Well that exactly is the problem right. You’re “dependent”!
You’re dependent on the substance to function normally in everyday society. Without it, you’re a complete mess. You can’t think straight. You can act right. And you can’t get in a proper day's worth of work in without being fuelled by the stimulant you call home. You’re jittery, anxious, nervous, and feel like you’ve constantly got the hives.
So still, what seems to be the problem? You might ask.
The problem is, that all of these comfort foods that we’re so dependent on? They’re bad for the planet too!
They’re unustainable for the health of the earth as much as they’re unsustainable for our own long term bodily health. Isn’t it amazing how everything is so interconnected?
When we eat the right food that is biologically suited for us as human beings, we not only heal our human bodies, but heal the body of the planet we call home too. What is sustainable for our bodies to be healthy and thrive in the long run, is also sustainable for the health of the soil, the health of our forests, grasslands, lakes, natural freshwater streams, rivers, and oceans too.
Imagine clearing vast tracts of forest just to grow all the ingredients for processed and comfort food that will most likely be going into a rich person’s stomach. We could be ending world hunger twice and over if we used the very same land to grow grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables to feed the appetites of the needy, instead of cultivating animal feed, coffee, chocolates and alcohol to feed the egos of the rich.
If only we could create an economy that allowed the planet to thrive as well.
If only we could put nature back into our residential neighbourhoods.
If only there were a way to make major intersections and thoroughfares less chaotic.
If only we could create work cultures that pre-disposed us to behave altruistically and kind to each other instead of ones in which being diplomatic with our co-workers is the only way to maintain the peace in the office.
If only we could create harmonious living working and leisure environments that were so in touch with the human spirit, may be, just maybe…… we wouldn’t be so darn addicted to comfort food after all.
Whether it is the clear-cutting of forests in the Amazon for animal feed, or destruction of Orangutan habitat in Indonesia for palm oil, the unsustainable nature of so many of our treasured foods such as coffee, alcohol, and chocolate, or the inherent human and animal cruelty involved in the production of them all, something's got to change. We cannot continue with our wayward and spendthrift lifestyles that come at the cost of the planet and fellow human beings forever.