Food, the new religion

At lunch today we had a loaf of utterly delicious bread. My wife commented “Aren’t you glad you aren’t gluten-intolerant?” Indeed I am!

Her question prompted me to reflect on the absurdly high percentage of the Australian population which claims to be gluten intolerant; roughly five times higher than the scientifically verifiable incidence. Western society is still, it seems, in the grip of the GFC, the Gluten-Free Crisis! There are plenty of entrepreneurial food manufacturers out there, of course, making big bucks out of the gullibility of the masses.

It’s even more absurd to contemplate the number of idiots who have embraced the paleo diet, or the blood-type diet and their ilk, which have no evidence to support them and which can also be damaging to one’s health. Again, unscrupulous charlatans are cynically cashing in on the mindless, faddish behaviour of consumers.

Do the people who embark on these ridiculous dietary regimens have no basic understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet? Manifestly not. Witness the standard diet of the average western or westernised family; basically highly processed foods, snacks, soft-drinks, confectionery, predominantly fried, fatty meals, prefabricated TV dinners, or take-away, or McDonalds. Shitty food and way too much of it. Better-off families vary principally from this pattern by eating in restaurants rather than fast food franchises.

As a doctor, I long ago stopped asking mothers about the family diet, but began to ask them if they ever cooked at home, to which the answer, in a majority of cases, I swear, was no! Look at the supermarkets. Coles and Woolworths sell 80 or 90 percent of the food consumed in Australia, but their fresh food sections are shrinking steadily, as are the aisles containing basic cookery requirements. I recently spent a frustrating ten minutes looking for flour in my local supermarket. Eventually I was guided to it, in the the pasta section. There were only ten packets of flour! I’ve seen modern apartments in which the kitchen contains only a refrigerator and a microwave. Small wonder, then, that obesity is the new epidemic and nutritional deficiencies rife!

Then we come to “food allergies”. Significant food allergies do exist of course. Anaphylactic reactions to peanuts, avocadoes and shellfish spring to mind, but millions of people, it seems, claim to be allergic to certain foods, often quite illogically, as in “I’m allergic to strawberries. I’ll just have a small slice of the cake.” A dislike of of the taste of eggplant, or a bit of flatulence after eating beans does not constitute allergy.

Vegetarianism is a valid dietary choice, on moral or religious grounds, but it carries with it certain manageable health risks. Veganism is a form of fanaticism I’m afraid.

I have no objection to kosher and halal diets, as cultural and religious imperatives, though I know many jews and muslims who only observe the restrictions on holy days or within their families.

Food snobbery also really irks me. Because one has sufficient money and too much leisure does not give one the right to look down upon those who have neither the means nor the inclination to maintain one’s own lofty epicurean standards. In the presence of such food narcissists I can’t help but muse that they have obviously never been hungry in their lives. The same may be said generally of most the aforementioned people with their ludicrous food fetishes.

Food has become the new religion in western society. Christianity,  judaism and all of the other codified, mythologised, institutionalised belief systems that have arisen and flourished to varying degrees over the past few millennia have become increasingly irrelevant, except among the zealots who have retreated into the psychological fortress of fundamentalism.

Noone wears their religion on their sleeve anymore, but you never get far into a conversation without being told about food preferences. Diet might easily be seen as the new religion; a set of beliefs with little or no historical, scientific or other evidentiary basis, but which confers upon the adherent a sense of belonging and self importance, which gives, even, purpose and meaning to an otherwise undistinguished existence. I once dined with a rabbi, who declined the prawns, but said that he didn’t mind if the other jews present partook. The kosher diet, he said was just a way of making jews feel special unto themselves.

Food is one of the delightful variables in our humdrum existence; seasonal flavours, ethnic cuisines and endless culinary possibilities. How sad to restrict one’s palate to the pitiful gustatory palette of the latest food fad.

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2 thoughts on “Food, the new religion

  1. A lot of truth in this Peter. And add to this the addiction to complementary medicines. While many do get relief from these, methinks much the same applies here as to your view on food.

  2. Don’t get me started on complementary medicines, and bogus health practitioners in general! Admittedly there is some benefit, as you say, occasionally, but how are naive consumers meant to sort out what’s worthwhile from what’s worthless?

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