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25 Apr 2010

Guest Post #8: The Tyranny Of Food

When I did my Guest Post week last month, a couple of my 'guests' took a raincheck. In a way, that was perfect because it was a week for amateurs and first-timers. Gautam is a freelance journalist and writer. Having him post on my blog has just increased my blog value multi-fold. Anything I say here will just be a spoiler, so I'll clear out and let you read on...

If it’s true that a dream job must match your biggest passion, then I should have been a chef. All my other passions ebb and flow, but my love for food never sways.

Food, to me, is love. It is happiness and adventure. And when I travel, it’s one of the most vital aspects of a culture. I don’t believe one can have personal food rules and truly understand other peoples.

However, I carried it too far. My relationship with food was what I’d now describe as “reckless”. I had to have meat for every meal (I rarely had breakfast). I ate out all the time, put away huge portions, and never exercised. I almost never consumed fruit and vegetables.

When you hear that I now ride my bicycle nearly every day, covering several hundred kilometres a month, you’d guess that my eating is very different. It is, but isn’t. I agree wholeheartedly with  the quote “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” The problem in the food-loving circles I inhabit, is that even moderation is perceived as extremism.

Simply wanting a light dinner after a heavy lunch makes me the “fitness freak” who’s denying himself all that’s good in this world. And because eating is a communal event, I become a spoilsport. I’m the guy at the party who won’t drink, making everybody feel self-conscious and judged.

This irritates me because if you’re secure in your eating and drinking, you shouldn’t worry about someone else’s choices. Yet, my new-found moderation constantly gets me barbs or pitying looks or defensiveness. “No I’m not on a diet”, I have to keep explaining. “I eat everything, just that I space out the high-calorie goodies.”

Food writer Michael Pollan, whose book ‘In Defence of Food’ I consider essential reading for anyone who eats, puts it better in another of his books, ‘Food Rules’: “Treat treats as treats. There’s nothing wrong with special occasion foods, as long as every day is not a special occasion.”

And there’s nothing like regular exercise to put all this in perspective. My friends hear of salad dinners and think they’ve lost me. How do I explain, without making them retreat wounded, that when you’re on a 100km bike ride, you don’t dream of braised pork belly and cheeseburgers, but of carrot sticks and apples?

And how do I tell them, without seeming smug and preachy, that exercise doesn’t just bring about weight loss and lowered cholesterol, but that it improves every minute of every day of your life?

Their current attitude to food, identical to mine five years ago, reminds me of the cabbage joke I read in one of those Gyles Brandeth books I used to love. “I hate cabbage,” it went. “Thank God I hate cabbage, because if I liked it, I’d have to eat the stuff.”

Seeing through this self-enforced ridiculousness is like being born again. Being free from the tyranny of food doesn’t mean I love it less. In fact, this new respectful relationship means I love it more. The big difference is that for the first time in my life, I respect my body enough to really care about what I put in it.

Thanks Gautam!

To read more of Gautam's writing, click here

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