September 2013

Food Fight

Author: Kitty Bartell

Thoughts of summer camp may be a few weeks, or even many years, in the past—swimming, sailing, archery, campfires, mosquito bites, and food fights. Some fond (or not so fond) memories may have faded; however, memories of the requisite camp food fights remain vivid. Squirting ketchup and mustard and decorating tanned campers are standard themes in movies and on television. While most summer camp experiences do not pass without some form of the proverbial food fight, whether flinging marshmallows at each other around a campfire or a waging a full-blown war in the mess hall, let us imagine that it isn’t the Whoahappi Cabin launching mashed potatoes and strawberry jam at the resident of the Youwantocomeback Cabin, but it is the Victory Garden Vegan Cabin flinging marinated tofu at the Live-and-Let-Live Cabin residents as they tear away at Southern fried chicken.

Food fights become more refined as summer fades and we find ourselves planning our Thanksgiving feasts. Bless the host who must accommodate the traditionalist with the health conscious, with the vegetarian, or the greatest challenge of all, the vegan. TIP: If you want to deflect attention from yourself at one of these family gatherings, mention politics, religion… or wait… if you really want to keep Aunt Martha off your back about losing your latest marriage prospect, talk about food. Everyone has an opinion, especially when their mouths are filled with butter-roasted turkey and gravy.

Regardless of what “camp” you fall into, food is forever on our minds. Lunch is planned at breakfast; dinner is planned at lunch; and breakfast is planned at dinner. In case you need to be reminded, just take a stroll through your neighborhood bookstore. A layman’s calculation of the percentage of shelf space occupied by books and magazines about food would make a literature professor weep. These homages to the hungry are shelf upon shelf of enticing photography, saliva-worthy recipes, and tales of food-focused travels. There are also how-to’s on every imaginable camp of eating: eating for athletic prowess (Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, by Scott Jeruk), or improving a health condition (Eat to Beat Diabetes Cookbook, by Reader’s Digest. If you have questions about any diet plan or any type of cuisine, every camp is well represented.

I recently conducted a man-(and woman)-on-the-street poll, asking the following questions: “What does it mean to eat healthy?” and “Do you eat healthy?” My little study wouldn’t pass academic muster, however it did produce some insight into our universal food fight.

Dan, a first-time Lowcountry visitor from Louisiana shared, “I haven’t thought about eating healthy since my foot hit the accelerator in Baton Rouge seven days ago, and I don’t intend to start now.” I spoke with Dan and his wife as they were headed for the pizza restaurant just across the parking lot. Dan’s wife mentioned that she tries to cook healthy meals, however, even when he’s not on vacation Dan’s go-to snack is a bag of potato chips.

Margaret from Bluffton summed up the responses of most of my poll participants. She said, “I know what I should eat—lots of fruits, vegetables, chicken, and fish. I know I shouldn’t eat sweets, but I can’t stay away from ice cream.” However, it was Susan from Bluffton who seemed the most savvy about what, how and why she eats. “I cut out all the sugar and most of the fat from my diet last winter because of a health issue,” she said. “A little bit sneaks back in now and then, but I feel a whole lot better when I do what I’m supposed to do.”

Innumerable food camps exist, each addressing some sort of physical or psychology school of thought. Making choices about what to put in our mouths, chew, and swallow is the most daunting food fight of all. The effects food has on body weight, disease control, disease prevention, athletic performance, environmental impact, and the ethical and moral implications of what we eat are enough to turn our brains to mashed potatoes.

Determining which of the broad categories of camps into which you most comfortably fit may best begin with identifying what you can, or more accurately, cannot live without. Are you inclined to be a meat eater, a vegetarian, or a vegan? Meat eaters vary broadly. Some eat all manner of protein from beef, pork, chicken, and seafood, to buffalo or blowfish. Others limit their meats to heart-healthy selections, staying with chicken and fish.

Vegans are vegetarians. However, to complicate matters, vegetarians are not necessarily vegans. Hmm. Let’s clarify. Vegetarians avoid eating any form of meat, fish, or fowl. Vegans take it a bit further and refrain from using any animal product for food, clothing, or any other purpose. According to long-time vegetarian Lindsey Stephens, a Hilton Head native who now lives in Brooklyn with her vegan boyfriend and two dogs, she has always been a vegetarian. Being the only vegetarian in her family, Stephens recalls, “My mom says that I ate whatever was put in front of me as long as it was raw.” She says that she did eat some meat and fish as a child, however, the meat tasted like iron, and she eventually had no desire to eat any form meat, chicken, or fish.

Making the decision to go vegan came somewhat organically to Stephens. The ethical and environmental components of her lifestyle didn’t come into clear view immediately, evolving over time as she learned more about the benefits of being a vegan, and as she listened to what her body was telling her as she delved deeper into the information. “As I realized how much better it is for the environment and how much better it is for my body not to eat meat, it became so much easier.”

The everything-in-moderation camp, known in my family as Grandma McKnight’s Approach, has been proven in study upon study to be the most effective longevity tool available. Dr. Terry Simpson, a weight-loss surgeon who readily admits that his livelihood is dependent upon surgically addressing morbid obesity, actually spends the greatest amount of his time talking with patients about their eating habits. After years of research and experience, Simpson concludes that, “Eating fish is a good thing; eating too much processed food is not a good thing. It is best to pick great parents; don’t overeat; and a bit of red wine and chocolate are not bad things.” Grandma McKnight would agree.

Making the best food/diet choices for your particular needs is, at the very least, complicated. So if you’re looking to make some dietary improvements, starting with the following two goals not only intuitively make a lot of sense, but is backed by plenty of scientific evidence: 1) avoid processed foods, and 2) eat organic when possible.
Altering food from its original state to increase shelf-life or to make meal preparation easier lowers its nutritional value. Even more distressing, processed food: 1) is highly addictive, over-stimulating neurotransmitters that create cravings; 2) contains phosphates that slowly break down organs and bones; 3) causes chronic inflammation, the root of most autoimmune diseases; and 4) is loaded with pesticides.

Further, studies conducted by biogenetic scientists broadly conclude that eating an organic diet may have some benefits. It is widely accepted that chemical-free food is safer and better for us than food containing those substances, even at minimal levels. If the increased cost of organics is within your budget, eating organic is an excellent way to make the smartest food choices at the grocery store level.

Education and managing your food choices will help get your internal food fight under control. I certainly have only touched the tip of the nutritional iceberg here, but some sound tips are easy to implement: avoid processed foods; buy organic if you can; always consult your doctor about your nutritional needs whether you have a health issue to address or not; and have a little fun with your food. Remember Julia Child liked her butter and boeuf, and a food fight just might make a big mess, but a whole lot of laughter too.

Popular Diet Plans
New diets and thoughts on food consumption are ever-changing with the help of science and the media. Following are diets of every imaginable shape and size. It is by no means a complete list, but will certainly generate questions, and may set you on the path to do more research.

Weight Control Diets
Body for Life: A calorie-control diet, promoted as part of the 12-week Body for Life program.
Hacker’s Diet: A calorie-control diet from The Hacker’s Diet by John Walker. The book suggests that the key to reaching and maintaining the desired weight is understanding and carefully monitoring calories consumed and used.
Nutrisystems Diet: The dietary element of the weight-loss plan from Nutrisystem, Inc. Nutrisystem distributes low-calorie meals, with specific ratios of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Weight Watchers Diet: Foods are assigned point values; dieters can eat any food with a point limit, provided they stay within their daily points limit.
Very Low Calorie Diet: A very low calorie diet is consuming fewer than 800 calories per day. Such diets are normally followed under the supervision of a doctor.

Low-Carbohydrate Diets
Atkins Diet: A low-carbohydrate diet, popularized by nutritionist Robert Atkins in the late-20th and early-21st centuries. Proponents argue that this approach is a more successful way of losing weight than low-calorie diets; critics argue that a low-carb approach poses increased health risks.
Dukan Diet: A multi-step diet based on high protein and limited carbohydrate consumption. It starts with two steps intended to facilitate short-term weight loss, followed by two steps intended to consolidate these losses and return to a more balanced long-term diet.

Belief-Based Diets
Buddhist Diet: While Buddhism does not have specific dietary rules, some Buddhists practice vegetarianism, based on a strict interpretation of the first of the Five Precepts.
Edenic Diet: A diet based on what Adam and Eve are believed to have consumed in Garden of Eden. Usually either vegetarian or vegan, and based predominantly on fruit.
Hindu and Jain Diets: Followers of Hinduism and Jainism often follow lacto-vegetarian diets, based on the principle of Ahimsa (non-harming).
Kosher Diet: Food permissible under Kashrut, the set of Jewish dietary laws, is said to be Kosher. Some foods and food combinations are non-Kosher, and failure to prepare food in accordance with Kashrut can make otherwise permissible foods non-Kosher.
Word of Wisdom: The name of a section of the Doctrine and Covenants, followed by members of the Latter Day Saint movement. Dietary advice includes eating meat sparingly “in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”

Medical Diets
Alkaline Diet: The avoidance of relatively acidic foods (foods with low pH levels) such as grains, dairy, meat, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and fungi. Proponents believe such a diet may have health benefits; critics consider the arguments to have no scientific basis.
Blood Type Diet: A diet based on a belief that people’s diets should reflect their blood types.
Dr. Hay Diet: Developed by William Howard Hay in the 1920s. Divides foods into separate groups, and suggests that proteins and carbohydrates should not be consumed in the same meal.
Fit for Life Diet: The dietary aspect to Fit for Life, a book by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. Recommendations include not combining protein and carbohydrates, not drinking water at meal time, and avoiding dairy foods.
Food Combining Diet: A nutritional approach by which certain food types are deliberately consumed together or separately. For instance, some weight control diets suggest that proteins and carbohydrates should not be consumed in the same meal.
Jenny Craig: A weight-loss program from Jenny Craig, Inc. It includes weight counseling among other elements. The dietary aspect involves the consumption of pre-packaged food produced by the company.
Medifast Diet: A weight-loss diet based on foods sold by Medifast, Inc.
Mediterranean Diet: A diet based on habits of some southern European countries. One of the more distinct features is that olive oil is used as the primary source of fat.
Montignac Diet: A weight-loss diet characterized by consuming carbohydrates with a low glycemic index.
Paleolithic Diet (or Paleo Diet): Can refer either to the eating habits of humans during the Paleolithic era or of modern dietary plans based on these habits.

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