Nutrition and calorie count is overrated

The Oracle

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By Melia Dunbar:

Loosen up, Palo Alto. There are far greater evils in this world than French fries. If you think sequestering yourself in Whole Foods will make you a better person, you need to think again.

Please don’t take this assertion the wrong way. I am not trying to make light of weight-related health problems, and I am not trying to belittle the plight of individuals who suffer from adult-onset diabetes, hypertension or coronary heart disease. Rather, I’m trying to reach out to those of you who mistakenly believe you can’t enjoy an Oreo once in a while.

To be fair, I know where your food paranoia comes from, and I know that it’s not your fault. I recognize that it’s a cultural phenomenon over which you, as an individual, have little control. From our Palo Altan pedestals, it’s easy to criticize the artery-clogging atrocities America has to offer.  It’s so easy, in fact, that it’s become almost a cliché; we all know how to play up our aversion to junk food.  There’s something vogue about working ourselves into a frenzy every time someone deigns to mention the Big Mac: “700 calories and 50 percent of one’s daily sodium? Quelle horreur!”

Yes, it’s easy for us to criticize.  But is our criticism productive?  It’s no secret that some foods are terrible for us.  Given the heavily publicized findings of investigative journalists such as Eric Schlosser (author of “Fast Food Nation”) and Greg Critser (creator of “Supersize Me”), I just don’t see it as a point of contention.

Anything taken to extremes can be unhealthy, but I think, in this case, that this “anything” is not food awareness, but self-righteousness. Don’t get me wrong—I am not arguing that McDonald’s is good for you. I don’t even think that’s a tenable argument in the first place.  I just think it’s unfortunate that we have an insatiable appetite for stale controversy, and that we continue to regurgitate statistics that have long since lost their juiciness.

Maybe acceptance is healthier at this point: there is an abundance of unhealthful food in the world, and there always will be. Could you eat a hamburger for breakfast every day of your life? Yes. Could you go down the street to Dairy Queen and expend your entire daily calorie allowance on one milkshake? Absolutely. You can rest assured, however, that you will not earn my sympathy for being the ten-millionth person to throw a tantrum. Not all food is good for you.  It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s not worth losing sleep over.

Maybe it seems counter intuitive to forsake health-consciousness for the sake of health, but that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to strive for a balance—in this case, a balance between awareness of your personal well-being and awareness of the world around you. There are instances in which food obsession will prevent you from enriching your life with new experiences. I’ve mentioned McDonald’s and Dairy Queen, but I am not suggesting that those are only places you’ll be faced with unhealthful food, nor am I suggesting that all unhealthful foods come from fast-food restaurants.

Here’s a personal example: I am half Japanese-Hawaiian, and our local cuisine isn’t exactly grade-A, farm-fresh, certified-organic nourishment. In fact, most of our meals fall into that artery-clogging category I delineated earlier. Even the relatively low-fat foods are quite terrible for you. Take shave ice, for example. What is shave ice?  It’s high-fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring.  It is also an invaluable part of the island life: you have not experienced Hawaii until you have experienced shave ice.  If you aren’t willing to step down from your pedestal and venture a taste, you may as well pack up your bags and go home.

I’m not implying that we should stuff our faces with Spam; rather, I am suggesting that we adopt a broader outlook. If we spend all our time counting fat and calories, we will miss out on some of the wonderful opportunities other cultures have to offer. We will insult others, and, though it is hardly our intent, we will come off as narrow-minded elitists.

I think it’s great that we’re aware of what we eat.  At some point, however, it would behoove us to balance our health awareness with a small helping of social awareness. Now there’s food for thought.