Fuel and Medicine

Everywhere you turn, it seems as though there is someone else talking about how food is “medicine” or how it is simply used as “fuel” for their active bodies. But why does food get to be reduced to such simplicity?

Food is food and nothing more. When we place other values on our food, it leads us to dichotomize food, along with placing moral and psychological restraints.

When we think of food as only fuel, we miss out on the other wonderful aspects of it. The social and cultural significance of our meals provide so much more than merely “fuel”. There is taste to consider, seasonality of the meal, who you are eating with, and any occasion that it may happen to be. When food is thought of as only fuel, we lose the best parts of eating. Eating becomes for calories, macros (macronutrients: carbs, fats, protein), and nutritionism. People eat foods they don’t actually like the taste of because they think they need to. Food is placed in the dichotomous categories of “good” and “bad”. It is broken down into nutrient content, such as eating one option because it provides more of a certain nutrient, regardless of the form the nutrient is in. For instance, certain non-dairy milks will boast how they have just as much, if not more, calcium than regular milk. People will then drink these because they have more calcium and not realize that the calcium in dairy-alternatives is less bioavailable, meaning less calcium will be absorbed and actually used by the body, when compared to regular milk.

Similar issues arise when food is thought of as medicine. While food can contribute to the diagnosis of a disease, food will not cure a diagnosis. Again, food alone will not cure a diagnosis. It can absolutely improve one’s condition, but attributing to it this power of “medicine” may lead people with diseases and other chronic issues to beat themselves up when they didn’t eat a certain way or they ate something that is considered “bad”. When their condition doesn’t improve, even though they’ve been eating “perfectly”, they blame themselves for not being as strict as they thought. “Maybe I should have had this instead”, “I shouldn’t have had that one thing”, “If only I ate this way, then I’d be feeling better now”. If you find yourself thinking along these lines, only to be discouraged rather than empowered by the way you eat, you are giving food too much credit. One meal will not change your diagnosis, for better or for worse. This is because food is food, where as medicine is medicine. Of course there are stories out there about people who are now free of a disease like cancer or diabetes because of food, but these are few and far between.

We need to break free from the habit of giving food more power than it has. We use it to nourish our bodies, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy life. Of course it provides us fuel, of course it can improve health, but to reduce it to simply “fuel” or “medicine” is not only disrespectful to both food and to medicine, it also places too much responsibility on food to act in a way it does not.

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