This phenomenon has caused many of us to wonder what has happened. Years ago I couldn’t have named one person with an “alternative” diet or a “sensitivity”. Now, most of the people I know, including me, have a list of items they will or will not put in our mouths. It feels like a FWP (First World Problem) where we have the luxury of turning down food, when globally 1 in 8 are malnourished.
What has changed? Let’s be honest. The food we eat today is not the food our grandparents or even our parents ate. It has been altered in a variety of ways, including genetic modification and irradiation. It’s been bleached and waxed and dyed. If it’s a fruit, it’s been picked unripe. If it’s a meat, it’s carrying antibiotics and hormones and pesticides. If it’s a fish, it has trace amounts of mercury. We now eat more food out of a box or a bag or acarton than out-of-hand fresh.
The marketing machine creates or responds to our food peculiarities. Some of these food trends turned out fairly poorly. Remember when fat free cookies were first introduced? Oh happy days! But then Pringles fat-free chips with olestra ended up with a warning label that says olestra might cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. There’s the statistic that Americans eat the most low-fat and fat-free foods of anyone, but somehow we have the highest rate of obesity in the world!
Some diets have staying power, like gluten-free. According to this week’s New York Times, “the portion of households reporting purchases of gluten-free food products to Nielsen hit 11 percent last year, rising from 5 percent in 2010.” Even the poor Girl Scouts who unceremoniously travel from door-to-door, accompanied by their overworked mother who definitely has better things to do, is selling a gluten-free chocolate chip shortbread.
Choosing what to eat and why is getting increasingly complicated. For many, it’s overwhelming, so much so, that there is a level of stress involved with the multitude of choices. An apple is no longer just an apple. Selecting it brings up questions of whether it’s in season, if it’s grown locally and organically, and is it native to its region. Making these choices for everything you consume is close to impossible.
References in no particular order: