Food as a Form of Medicine


For most of humankind’s existence, food has been a source of fuel, of calories. Humans as hunter-gatherers had to live on whatever meat they could catch, what berries they could collect, what grains and grasses they could find, and what fish or shellfish they could extract from the water’s edge. Food was simply a source of calories; it was about survival. The average diet of a poor person consisted for thousands of years of gruel.  This is a grain which might be rice, barley or millet, boiled with water and perhaps a little milk. It formed what we might call a thin broth, and served to supply the caloric intake that kept most people alive. 

In a few areas, for a tiny minority, food became a luxury, something to which refined tastes could be applied.  Especially after the industrial revolution alleviated subsistence poverty for so many, food became part of life’s enjoyment, such that ordinary people could look forward to meals as occasions for indulgence, savouring the delicacies they favoured.

For many now, however, food has become part of medicine.  It is a minefield sown with sugars, salt, saturated fats and all kinds of consumables that are both attractive and appalling.  The rule seems to be that anything you like is bad for you.  That full English breakfast contains eggs (cholesterol) fried in fat (clogs arteries), bacon (processed meats – cancer), sausages (unspeakably bad fats squeezed into a handy tube), tomatoes (fried in saturates), mushrooms, charred at the edges (cancerous), fried bread (processed grains plus yet more fats), and maybe fried potatoes (excess starch to soak up all the other bad stuff).  You might as well eat strychnine laced with cyanide.

Earnest people in white coats act to limit our intake of sugar, salt, alcohol, and anything tasty.  Even those of us who avidly follow the food-as-medicine diet have problems, in that the instructions keep changing.  It is difficult to remember if it is carbs bad, fats good, or the other way round.  No doubt they will soon tell us that bean sprouts in brown bread cause rats to develop exotic and hitherto unheard of ailments.

Maybe, just maybe, there will be a reaction back to food as enjoyment, to lowering stress levels by doing nice things, and to appreciating that the quality of a life in not measured in years.

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