I had never heard of processed food while I was growing up. I left India in my teen years to study in Toronto. While going to school in Toronto, it never occurred to me to look at the list of ingredients in the food I bought. The idea that there would be something else in my food other than food was foreign to me. So, I happily ate those Kraft cheese singles thinking that they were made only of cheese.
I am certain my story speaks to many of us. Today, some 35 years on, we have a plethora of food plans, diets, guilt-free and zero-calorie foods, calorie-logging programs and apps, and an epidemic of illnesses never heard of before. Coincidence? I think not! Moreover, the information overflow and limitless choices we face around food keep us wondering and worrying whether we’ve got it all, whether we really know everything there is to know. Regardless of how hard we try to wrap our heads around food, we keep missing the mark.
How did we get here? On one hand, we are fortunate to have an abundance and variety of foods, yet, on the other hand we are anxious and worried and we struggle to eat healthily. Is it the information overflow? Is it the ease with which we can obtain so much food? Is it our sedentary, stressful and push-button lifestyle?
In a world of quick and easy recipes, power foods and shakes, groceries delivered to our doorsteps and meals prepared and dropped off for us, we are saving a lot of time, yet the biggest dilemma of our times is our perceived lack of time. With the most nutrient-dense foods possible available to us, the worry about nutritional deficiencies remains. Hand-in-hand with that is fear, anxiety and confusion. I have often wondered if having too many options isn’t part of the problem. Those who love the “options” world—and don’t get me wrong, I do too—may frown upon this idea. I am certain this is a problem, although I’m not sure what the solution is. But it makes me want to say, “Wait a minute!” When a so-called solution (endless information) comes with another set of problems (confusion and anxiety), then perhaps we are better off with the original problem. Either way, going back to the basics may be the way to solve it.
Knowing less and applying what we already know may be what’s needed, instead of figuring our way out of this mess with another miracle food, more recipes, or another diet plan. From the beginning of time, food was meant to sustain, to nourish, to heal, to connect and to celebrate life. Perhaps much of the food-related illnesses we are suffering as a society are the result of not just the “bad food” but rather from the lack of emotional and psychological nourishment we receive. Is there something we are bypassing when we don’t chop, cut, stir and prepare our own meals? Our body is made up of a complex set of processes that occur step by step. Can we really outsmart our bodies and skip steps just for the sake of convenience and time?