Is the Standard Diet Good for You ?
Depends who you are. If you are a soy latte drinking metrosexual, or a career cat lady, then yes, it was made for YOU.
I'm being a bit naughty here, strictly speaking the diet recommended in the official Dietary Guidelines is NOT good for anyone, it will make you sick, fat, weak and infertile. But this assumes that health, strength, being lean, and reproductive are things of value, and that assumption is by no means safe in our current social order. Just look around if you don't believe me.
My point is that the debate over nutrition is an ETHICAL one. Yes, there are truth claims made over various diets that assert the science is on their side, even vegans play this game, so do Coca Cola (just exercise more and you'll be fine), but really what is at stake here are VALUES, what we think is important, what our conception of 'the good life' is.
The dietary guidelines reflect the value system of things as they are. They have produced the world we live in, and they codify it in the foods and eating patterns they recommend. This is not simply a society of processed junk consumers, for the standard diet does not actually recommend junk or fast food, what it actually promotes is a high carb, high fibre, low fat, low meat, predominately plant-based intake, and its the PROMOTION of this diet as 'healthy' that is the problem.
My argument is that the dietary guidelines are responsible for the obesity epidemic even though large sections of the population do not follow them, and eat junk instead.
How does that follow ? Well, my reasoning is this.
First, the foods they do recommend are disgusting. I mean really, brown bread over white ? Broccoli over a burger ? A salad roll over a pie ? Faced with such choices, most people go for the junk option, even though they know its bad for them. They do so because they are hungry, and want to be filled up, and they want something tasty and enjoyable, not rabbit food. Processed junk will always have the upper hand here, because it has been designed by chemists and perfected in laboratories to know exactly the right buttons to push in people's palate, a combination of fat, salt, or sugar.
Second, they encourage overconsumption by recommending carbs. Sure, they mean greens and fibre, but the reality is they are pushing an eating pattern that makes you always hungry, as your blood glucose rises and crashes following a high carb meal. This means people constantly graze, all day, eating carbs, and getting fat as a result. Breakfast cereals are the worst for this.
Third, this sits nicely with the consumer society we live in, and with consumerism. Our course textbook, for example, openly approaches diet from the perspective of a 'consumer', who makes food choices. It is true the guidelines argue for restraint, 'moderation', but so do MacDonalds. The result is the same - deniability - its not MacDonalds' fault if people eat too much of their fries, this is just the result of poor decision making by consumers. The guidelines adopt the exact same approach. (more on this to come)
They also leave consumers completely vulnerable to sugar addiction, because they deny sugar is a problem, and to all kind of eating patterns where the motivation is other than nutrition, ie to improve mood, for a treat, a social occasion etc. Essentially, they say its OK to do all of this, you just have to 'balance' it out later. Consume to your heart's content, give in to your cravings, just even it up tomorrow with some low fat options.
That's the impact on those people who don't follow the standard diet. What about those who do ?
First of all, who are these people ? For the most part, they are the affluent, educated, middle classes who are benefiting most from our globalised, corporate, knowledge-based economy. They live in suburbs with clean air, they have access to good medical services, they don't smoke, they do sport or go to the gym, and in general they are in good control over their lives. This means they are resistant to the appeals of junk food, they know its processed crap, and they have the self-control to 'eat healthy', or what they think is healthy. They can also afford to be choosy, pay a higher price for organic if they want to.
These are the people whose values and belief systems endorse the current globalised corporatist order. They work in air conditioned offices, using their intellect or creative abilities, or else their social skills, which means they understand health largely as the absence of disease, of something that would interrupt their intangible, immaterial social and economic existence, negatively affecting their ability to bang off emails or sit in meetings. Physical strength, or any other such positive conception of health, plays no part in their worldview. They are alienated from their bodies, just as they are from the natural world, they spend their days in the car, the office, the shopping centre, or at home, each one a perfectly controlled, artificial environment. They 'balance' this out with a spell in the gym, on some machine or other.
I think its no accident that the 'Calories In, Calories Out' model sits so well with this mindset. The body is just there in the background, nutrition is simply about fuel intake, get your settings right and you can forget about it, concentrate instead on the things that are more important, like that so vital corporate career move, or what you are going to buy for the house on the weekend.
These people get fat and sick too, but not as quickly. I recently sat in on a conversation at work between three managers. These staffed the Incident Control Centre, while we were out in the field. All of them complained about putting on weight over the summer, because they hadn't been able to get out of the office. It was a hectic season.
There were days when I was with the Incident Management Team, and I saw what they were fed. Nothing but the best, all according to the Guidelines, they had heaps of salads laid on, mixed in with some lasagnes or other pasta dishes, there were lots of wholegrains, and stacks of fruit. That was lunch. It came on top of a big breakfast of cereals, maybe some fruit and yoghurt, morning tea of some muffins, more in the afternoon, just to keep people going, with an endless supply of muesli bars and more fruit on hand. And in the evening another big meal, the main one, as the crews (us) came in from the fireline. No wonder these people were putting on weight, they were constantly eating, and doing nothing physically, although they were working pretty hard and at times under some pressure.
These same people, however, who are the ones doing best in our current social order, also reflect its values. They are firmly for gender equality, and actively promote women into senior positions whenever they can, and believe that differences between men and women, between the masculine and feminine, are just so much social baggage or antiquated biological constraints that can and should be overcome. So this means females work long hours, they have no time to cook, and they also don't value the ability to prepare and provide healthy meals for their families, their careers are more important. They also don't teach their daughters how to cook, or pass on the traditional cuisines of their ancestors. This in turn makes them more reliant on processed, packaged foods from the supermarket, and vulnerable to the advice contained in the Dietary Guidelines. After all, who are they to challenge the current wisdom ? The same social order that produced this wisdom also 'liberated' them from domestic drudgery.
Among the men, the managers sitting in offices all day, not only were they getting fatter by the end of the season, they were also getting softer, weaker, and more feminine. You could hear it in their voices, something you can notice everywhere. Men in our society are more effeminate by the day, their testosterone levels are plummeting, and it shows, you can see it in their physiques, how they move, their gestures, you can hear it in how they talk. And at the same time, the women are being encouraged to take on more masculine characteristics, and to measure their own worth in male terms, career, outward success.
One result is the plummeting birth rate, which in a way is kind of a good thing. It means that this way of living will not last long, its proponents will die out soon enough.
The argument I am trying to make here, is that the Dietary Guidelines are an ethical statement - they celebrate a diet that produces people like these, soyboys, career cat ladies, processed junk and sugar addicts, consumers who have no connection to their own bodies, to the natural world, and are absolutely vulnerable either to fast food marketing on the one hand, or the standard dietary recommendations on the other. Its all a package, its a totality, its the world we live in.
I think its fucked up, which is also an ethical statement. This is NOT a good life, people, this is a horror show.