Notes & Essays

There Is Nothing Left To Eat

Food trends come and go, but common sense should always be our guide when we eat.
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I grew up in a household where you ate whatever was on your plate. When we were kids, my siblings and I would occasionally beg our parents for a treat—fried chicken, hotdogs, spaghetti, basically “birthday” food—but for the most part, I remember the whole family gathering around the dining table during mealtimes and pretty much gobbling everything up on sight, down to the last morsel.

Which is why the concept of the picky eater is alien to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve since developed my own eating quirks (still can’t stomach stomach, or intestines, or most offal), but I’ve always found it strange how some people voluntarily choose to avoid certain foods that seem perfectly, well, edible. Then I realized it’s not simply about being “picky.”

A reason not to eat

In a thoroughly modern idiosyncrasy, many of us force ourselves to eat things we don’t really like, because we’re told they’re “good” for us. We also learn to reject food that we find generally palatable because “experts” say they’re “bad.” We’re bombarded with countless messages through different channels, from subtle suggestions to blatant orders, urging us to go on fancy diets or “miracle cleanses,” to help us live longer, become stronger, be more beautiful, or that general, catch-all phrase: be healthier.

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So we become more vigilant about what we eat. If it’s not the adverse effect on our health, or environmental concerns, it’s ethical dilemmas surrounding their production and consumption that cause us to put these food items back on the grocery shelf/market stall/artisanal shop counter. But if you look hard enough on the Internet, you’ll find a reason not to eat every conceivable thing human beings have thought of as food for thousands of years. A sampling:

1. Beef

2. Pork

3. Chicken

4. Salmon

5. Tuna

6. Fish in general

7. Tomatoes 

8. Broccoli/Kale/Brussels Sprouts

9. Lettuce 

10. Vegetables in general 

11. Apples

12. Oranges / Orange Juice

13. Grapes

14. Bananas

15. Mangoes 

16. Fruits in general

17. Beans/Legumes

18. Horse meat 

19. Lamb meat 

20. Goat 

21. Red meat in general

22. Frog meat 

23. Insects 

24. Milk 

25. Ice Cream 

26. Cake and biscuits 

27. Beer 

28. Wine/Vodka/Whiskey/Other Alcohol

29. Soy/Tofu

30. Shrimp 

31. Lobster

32. Shellfish 

33. Popcorn

34. Potatoes

35. Turkey

36. Coffee

37. Chocolate 

38. Butter 

39. Sugar 

40. Salt 

41. Rice 

42. Corn

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43. Quinoa

44. Bread 

45. Yogurt 

46. Eggs

47. Nuts 

48. Canned Food 

 

So what’s left for us to eat? 

The answer is nothing, if we choose to believe everything and everyone in this list. Where does that leave us? Gulping water and praying we don’t keel over and die from starvation?

There is nothing more intensely personal than our relationship with food; we put it inside our bodies and it literally becomes a part of us. While the latest fitness celebrity may insist otherwise, nobody knows our bodies better than ourselves. Sure we learn a thing or two from all these health gurus and personal trainers and chefs and food scientists (who all are pushing their own agendas) and parents and friends (who mean well, of course), and it’s not entirely illogical to get some expert advice on what to have for our next meal that could help us with our health goals, whatever they are. But in the end, as with most things, I think common sense should always be our guide.

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Eating is functional, sure. It serves a purpose, which is essentially to replenish expended energy. But human beings have evolved from savage club-carrying hunter-gatherers into civilized, knife-and-fork-wielding diners. People don’t just eat for sustenance or because we’re basically sentient machines that need fuel to keep ourselves alive. We derive pleasure from taste and flavor. There is beauty and romance in that dish before it gets whisked away into our mouths and down our throats.

When food first comes in contact with our tongues, most of us immediately decide whether we like it or not. We learn to distinguish between the satisfying and the objectionable, the glorious and the mundane, the delicious and the disgusting. And all things being equal, the body will always have a hankering for that which brings fulfillment and joy. 

So I don’t think we should ever be made to feel guilty about what we choose to consume. Other people can offer suggestions, but as long as I’m not throwing up all over them, what I eat is nobody else’s business but my own. 

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This is an expanded version of a previous blog entry.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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