Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.
It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.
Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).
On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.
And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”
Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.