Western vs Eastern Food Choices

A colleague recently asked me what the difference was between Chinese and American cuisine, besides our bread staples. I told her our general attitude toward eating is different; Americans trust science, Chinese trust tradition. I told this young, thirty-something English professor that we often make healthy choices based on what science reports tell us is healthy. (The media often attempts to play the “honest” broker… which is equally damaging.)

She replied, “But isn’t science better?” To which I replied, “when children born after 2000 have a 1 in 3 chance of developing childhood diabetes, then we are doing something wrong.” In fact, its also a matter of household income. If you are a minority born after 2000, you’re likelihood of getting Western diseases diabetes increases. Watch Food Inc here, which is a documentary explaining this problem in more depth.

Although we owe a lot of advances in society to science, the use of science as a general method of dictating food choices to the mass audience has been a failure. When the PR of Frito-Lays defends consumers’ right to enjoy “fun” food, it starts to define us as a nation. There’s nothing fun about diabetes and heart failure, which has touched every single family in America.

Nutrition Science and Overeating

Its no secret that the Western Diet has led to larger waistlines and that eating our diet tends to give people higher rates of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. This comes from the scientific community, but we also learn loads of very detailed nutritional “factoids” about our food from them too. Eat more of this food for the amino-acids, and less of that because of the fats… blah blah blah. I believe the complication of our food choices has caused the problems. Things only get worse by simply patching the system here and there, rather than scrapping it all together. Read Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” for a deeper understanding of our broken food system which shows that the current system is good for profits, but bad for people.

One of the major problems with our food system is that it is based on efficiency, which really doesn’t sound like a bad idea! (Improved technology = increased food production = a good thing, right?) But in fact, the more food you grow, with the same amount of available nutrients, actually causes a reduction in those nutrients per item/bushel/whatever. Then, you must eat more in order to get the nutrition you need…. that’s probably true and can cause some people to eat more. However, the more likely situation is a less cognitive one; Pollan explains it well:

… a body starved of critical nutrients will keep eating in the hope of obtaining them.

Meaning that a national food system that is mainly consisting of corn, wheat, and soybeans will create a natural craving in our bodies for something more! Of the 50-100 nutrients and compounds needed for healthy living, we probably don’t consume more than a couple dozen in a given week…. thus, our bodies tell us to eat more in hopes of someday getting them! That is one of the major connections I’ve realized recently between the folly of nutrition science and the natural occurrence of overeating.

So, eat more colorful food and other varieties. Spend money on exotic veges and fruits. Cook with different ingredients. Make meal time an exotic part of your day, rather than a chore. As you eat better, you’ll feel better.

Remember: variety is the spice of life, and then some!