Saturday, September 15, 2007

Modern Day Famine

If you have not read the book "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, it's a pretty good read. One part in particular stood out for me, and I wanted to write about it here.

The book is a humorous take on the Apocalypse, and gives us a modern-day view of such things as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of whom is Famine. The "evil" characters have noted that humans are more capable of coming up with horrifyingly evil things to do to one another than the demons could ever dream up. This is counterbalanced by the human ability to demonstrate grace that even Heaven's inhabitants were unable to conjure.

So, Famine, recognizing that the human mind is a powerful tool for destruction, comes up with a way to spread starvation far and wide, even--nay, especially--in the wealthiest nations in the world. All Famine had to do was convince humankind to voluntarily starve itself, to perversely suffer from hunger in the face of plenty*.

We don't need much encouraging, of course--just one little push to make adipose tissue equivalent to a scarlet letter, and we're falling all over ourselves to find new and interesting ways to induce famine in ourselves and our society. While in the book Famine invented a line of "zero calorie foods", in real life, we are constantly seeking a magic bullet that will quell the pangs of hunger while we refuse to nourish ourselves. Drugs, zero/negative-calorie foods, purging, all of these little tricks we use to deny ourselves sustenance without the agony of starving are a modern-day inducement of famine.

Famine, people, is NOT a positive, healthy thing. Remember, famine is part of the Apocalypse! Do you think the Irish were saying, "Thank god we're getting thinner!" when they had the potato famine? Do you think those suffering from droughts in Africa are happy that they're able to stay slim? Your body needs food. Being able to eat and have some adipose tissue is a sign of peace and prosperity. It is a way for us to survive when things aren't going so well.

If you've ever had a relative that lived through the Depression, what do they say when you leave food behind on your plate? They tell you to eat it all, of course, because these people know what it is to truly starve. They know what it is to be thin against their will. We are an astonishingly fortunate generation in that very few of us in developed nations have ever had to go truly hungry because we did not have the resources to eat. It is a slap in the face to those who have suffered these things for us to fret and wring our hands about being too well fed. There is a reason that hunger is an unpleasant feeling--it is a signal to tell your conscious fool self to go and eat something already, because your body needs nourishment!

Recommended reading:

*And to boldly split infinitives. Yeah, get over it.


Vive42 said...

good omens is such a good book it's almost obscene. i adore neil gaiman and terry pratchett individually but when they came together it was as if douglas adams had returned from the dead to help them.

RioIriri said...

I've never heard a more apt description. You're absolutely right!

Conni said...

Douglas Adams was still quite alive at the time Gneil and Pterry were writing Good Omens...

Let's not forget that a subset of modern Americans are overfed and undernourished: high calorie, high fat, high carb (=high energy) food, with little nutritive value, like Big Macs, fries and a Coke, which costs less than a home-cooked meal.

Ever looked at the Swanson HungryMan XXL? 1.5 lbs of food. Something like 90g of saturated fat, 4g sodium, and enough calories for a day (for the average person.) And that's just breakfast!

I don't disagree that the obsession with sacrificing food on the altar of "health" (defined as looking like a toothpick regardless of CV fitness etc) is bad. But there's a paradoxical obsession with getting the most food for your money (so-called value) regardless of the quality or nutritional content of the food.

I think we can both agree that a plate of veggies with a lean protein source (baked chicken, tempeh, tofu, fish, eggs, or whatever) is a choice with better nutritional value than a BigMac, fries, and a coke, without thinking about calories, fat, or what have you. All foods aren't created equal.