|By Tamar Haspel|
|WHATS IN A SHAME?|
Theres a long-running series of television commercials for Kelloggs Frosted Flakes featuring adults, faces obscured by shadow, confessing like criminals to a craving for the sugary-sweet cereal. The adults are understandably embarrassed to admit their passion for a cornflake breakfast candy designed for (and marketed to) children.
Do the commercials sell a lot of Frosted Flakes? I dont know. But those TV spots certainly spark a deep-seeded, guilt-ridden emotion inside of me (and you, I suppose ). The Kelloggs people have successfully tapped into a curious little emotional flaw regarded as heresy to the increasingly health-oriented society surrounding us. Its that God-awful shame associated with having the nerve to actually like, even crave, any food thats bad for us.
Heres how I think this whole mess got started. Way back in the Garden of Eden, everything was going great until Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and experienced the very first negative emotion shame. From there, the emotional pantheon grew to include things like greed, envy, annoyance, sibling rivalry, and road rage. But shame was first, so lets give it its due.
I and I bet you, too have food shame. Maybe not about Frosted Flakes (although if you leave me alone at a hotel breakfast buffet...), but about other foods equally, or more, embarrassing. Cool Ranch Doritos. Those fluffy, sweet, faux bagels. Mayonnaise. Even my Mom, who claims her favorite food is lentils and brown rice with mushrooms, admits to harboring soft spots for Big Macs and cotton candy.
And if youre not yet impressed with Haspel Family Embarrassments, how about this: my father likes those cellophane-wrapped coffee cakes with the white goo on top. Or, for that matter, anything with white goo on top. Put white goo on a hockey puck, and Dads there.
Take a moment now to inventory yours. You dont have to say them out loud, just make a mental note.
Now think back to the last time you indulged in a food of shame. How did you do it? In the full light of day, among friends? Or at home, alone, in the dark?
Although we all have food shame, most of us all find ways to eat the foods of shame anyway. My Dads tack with the coffee cake is reverse snobbery. Hes not ashamed at all (he says). In fact, hes proud. Proud that he doesnt allow the hoity-toity pronouncements of the food elite to interfere with his enjoyment of stale, tough, preservative-laden coffee cake with white goo.
I take a different approach with the fluffy bagels. I rationalize. I also like the authentic, dense bagels (I say), but the fluffy kind are an entirely different food. I dont think of them as bagels at all, just a tasty kind of roll. I also add that Im not so bad that I like them hot, when they still have the texture of dough, not bread. I use a variation of this tactic with York Peppermint Patties. Theyre genuinely good, I insist you just dont understand.
But no matter how effective our food shame strategies are, we end up eating less of the food in question. Our shame limits our indulgence.
Should we feel food shame? After all, weve only had it since someone probably someone French ate from the tree of snobbery. (The Hebrew is unclear, but experts suspect it was one of those heirloom apple breeds.) Who decided were not allowed to like Twinkies? Is it in the Talmud that bagels are small and dense, and only mustard goes on pastrami?
In snobberys defense, its only fair to point out that one mans snobbery is anothers genuine preference. The question is who is that man? And why do we have to his preferences? As it happens, I share many of that mans preferences I honestly dont care for Twinkies, or KFC, or raw cookie dough. Im fortunate that the food snob charge has seldom been leveled at me, mainly, I think, because its an accusation usually reserved for people with better table manners.
Im inclined to think that food snobbery and its step-child, food shame, are just plain bad. They make eating about something other than food itself. They put food in the same category as cars, clothes, houses, and magazine subscriptions things that are generally regarded as saying something about the person who made the choices. Show me a Twinkie eater and Ill show you a Yugo-driving, t-shirt-wearing, tract-house living, National Enquirer subscriber.
On the other hand, a lot of the foods that shame keeps me from eating (most of the time) are things my health and my waistline are better off without. Fruits and vegetables, grains and beans are never the objects of shame (damn!), and anything that keeps me away from Cool Ranch Doritos cant be all bad.
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