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Food Culture: The Relationship Between Food and Our Culture

Updated on April 12, 2012

In a culture that says yes to just about everything these days, I am finding myself constantly chanting “No.” At the check out stand paying for gas at 7-11, “no.” At the pharmacy to pick up a pre-scription, “no.” At the department store to purchase a new pair of shoes, “no.” As a matter of fact, from the point I exit the freeway to the point I turn down the street to my house (only four streets/blocks West of the freeway), I will have to say no to myself more than twenty three times! What am I saying no to? Food. There are actually more than twenty-three restaurants lining 19th street from I-35 to May Ave, I am only counting the places which are easily viewable from the street. Tucked behind these twenty-three (Braum’s, Taco Bell, City Bites, Cherry Berry, McDonalds, Ricky’s, Subway, Burger King, Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Taco Mayo, Sonic, Arby’s, Q-doba, Orange Leaf, Jersey Mike’s, 5 guys Burgers, Schlotsky’s, Cinnabon, Chicken Express, Carl’s Junior, Irish Pub, Chili’s, Pizza; 23, not to mention the 7-11’s, Walgreens, and CVS pharmacy stockpiled with 25 ft long aisles of sugary beverages and brightly colored candy bars calling my name) are numerous others (Mazzio’s, McCallisters, Buffalo Wild Wings, and more!). Saying no so much of the time makes the two or three times a day I say yes (to cupcakes or candy bars) seem reasonable, right?

I only mention these things because my recent pledge to say “no” to all things packed, processed, and preserved, has made me realize just how much food is a part of our culture.

For years my husband and I have struggled with our weight. The older we got, the harder we worked. Workouts three times a week became six. Fast food twice a week became once upon a time. ‘Sweeties’ as we called them for our children’s sake, went from plastic wrapped versions of chocolate, mixed with a ‘healthy’ dose of corn syrup, to dried fruit easily stored in recyclable mason jars. And yet, both our pant-size and patience had plateaued. This growing problem (pun intended) led us to The Raw Food Detox, by licensed nutritionist and food expert Natalia Rose ( However, this article is not about her, nor her book, but about our battle against all things unhealthy and what it has revealed to us about our cultures relationship to food, our food culture.

I know what you’re thinking, food is our friend and quite possibly, I (Christy Stewart) am the enemy. Maybe this is true. But maybe, just maybe, our culture- which is always changing and evolving, has evolved into a country full of people just like me who have become accustomed to the food culture so much so that we don’t even realize that what has become regular all around us is causing all of the irregularity inside us.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to spend 30 days avoiding any type of food which could slow down your digestive system, speed up your weight gain, and shorten your life. You will see that food culture is all around you.

Have a new neighbor? Bake them a pie.

New Girlfriend? Bring her a box of chocolates then take her to dinner for two.

Spiritual Retreat? Chocolate devotionals. This is real folks. I just received one in the mail.

Going away? Sheet cake for the whole office.

School play? Cookies and punch for everyone!

Getting married? 5 tiered cake.

Getting divorced? 5 gallons of ice cream.

Trip to the farmers market? Donut truck in the parking lot. Thank you “Fat and Sassy Mama’s” for your maple bacon donut holes freshly fried in processed lard.

These are special exceptions you protest, not the rule! Okay then, let’s go on. Are you safe at the bank? Only if you count free buttered popcorn and dum-dums for the kids as health food. Are you safe at the department store? If you consider stuffing your new dress in your purse and running for the door before you pay, you are; from food at least, although the police may arrest you for shoplifting! Because the minute you approach the register to pay (which by law we are forced to do, darn), Godiva bars, sexy mints, and chocolate covered nuts will be standing in your way (Thank you Dillards, JC-Penney, Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, Kohls, and everyone else for making sure we don’t get hungry after all that shopping ;)

Okay, okay, so it’s only the bank, the stores, the streets, and the office you have to avoid to stay clear of the temptation all of these tasty treats provide. But what about school? Don’t go there. Elementary schools now offer an assortment of sweets your child can purchase if they bring a little extra money for Uncle Sam. From fundraisers full of glossy pages selling cookie dough buckets and chocolate bunnies, to events like “Donuts with Dad” created to draw in parental support, our schools have more sugar stuffed inside of them than a Krispy Kreme Doughnut.

Thank goodness for the weekend! Before you know it Sunday is here and the family is off to church where we find potlucks, children’s church ‘snack time’ (fishy crackers and nilla wafers do not count as health food folks), and tables lined with donuts in every Sunday School room. And if you’re really lucky, your church will come with a fully stocked vending machine too! Mine did!

Alright, so it’s banks, schools, stores, offices, gas stations, churches, freeways, and neighborhoods flaunting flabby foods we can’t have, but what about home sweet home? Cleaning out the pantry is a start, but the blessing of technology (our portal to the outside world) will remind you why you need a DVR. Unless you can fast forward through every other commercial portraying some woman having an orgasm from a square inch of foil wrapped chocolate, or a triple sized patty that will prove to your male counterparts just how macho you and your appetite are, you may be in trouble.

For all of these reasons you can understand why I have spent so much of the last few weeks running between the gym and my home. Which leads me to my next point; “Friend-sip,” not only an oversized billboard displaying an icy cold coke and large fries, but also a valid statement about food culture; that food brings together friends.

I am a very social person by nature. As a woman, I thrive on relationships sprouted over quality conversation. My friends mean the world to me, which is why I make a great effort to spend time with these great women once or twice a week. Over the last few weeks though, my social life has been about as lively as a tree in winter. Without food, there is nothing to do! Can’t do a lunch date, can’t do coffee (unless they offer almond milk and stevia as an alternative to heavy cream and sweet-n-low), can’t do the theater with its ever present aroma of buttery popcorn like a salty cloud wrapping its arms around me and whispering in my ear, "It’s okay to be fat." Can’t do anything that doesn’t remind me of what I can’t do; eat fatty foods!

Sounds like a personal problem? Maybe not. Listen to WebMD’s description of a food addict and you’ll be diagnosing the Unites States of America before you finish reading the list!

Signs and symptoms of food addiction (Can we diagnose an entire country?):

People who are addicted to food tend to display many of the characteristics of addicts and alcoholics. Food addicts develop a physical, mental, emotional craving and chemical addiction (The majority of our foods are filled with chemicals, sugar being one of them, which are addictive in nature) to food. The characteristics of food addicts can include:

· Being obsessed and/or preoccupied with food. (read my article, we are.)

· Having a lack of self-control when it comes to food.

· Having a compulsion about food in which eating results in a cycle of bingeing despite negative consequences.

· Remembering a sense of pleasure and/or comfort with food (thinking about the smell of granny’s hot apple pie? Stop it you sicko! Just kidding ;) and being unable to stop using food to create a sense of pleasure and comfort (Baking brownies for your next home gathering to create displeasure and discomfort? I didn’t think so.)

· Having a need to eat which results in a physical craving. (If your stomach has ever growled and you ate because of it, this is you.)

What Are the Signs of Food Addiction?

Only the food addict can determine whether there is food addiction. The following are questions that potential food addicts may ask themselves:

· Have I tried but failed to control my eating? (No, you ordered dessert after you were full because you know when to stop, wink wink)

· Do I find myself hiding food or secretly bingeing? (I have never met a mommy who isn't hiding a secret stash of chocolate somewhere. Mine is on the top shelf, far right- eat it, you die! Not because it is bad for you, because I will kill you first!)

· Do I have feelings of guilt or remorse after eating? (Ever said, “I shouldn’t have eaten that, but it was so good.” This is you)

· Do I eat because of emotions? (Ever celebrated something by going out to eat for a big meal? Yes you have, stop lying.)

· Is my weight affecting my way of life? (How many times have you invested in a new pair of pants because your former size wasn’t fitting anymore? It’s affecting you.)

The NRA notoriously coined the phrase, “Guns don’t kill people; People kill people.” One could argue, “Food doesn’t kill people; People kill people.” Food isn’t evil. Food is a wonderful source of life giving nutrients to the body. Unfortunately, most of the foods we encounter on a daily basis have been stripped of their life giving nutrients and are actually hurting us more than they are helping us. And what’s worse is that we are used to it. Unhealthy food has become the cultural norm, making it even harder to find nutritional choices because we have all settled for less. I celebrate the occasional caramel filled cupcake as much as the next girl, on occasion. But when did it become the norm? Did cavemen, renaissance people, Native Americans, or prarie settlers have to deal with as much junk as we do? Somebody help me, I need a cookie. Doh! I mean I want a cookie. Doh! I mean I want to be healthy. Ahhhh! All this talk about food is making me hungry.

Hmmm. Which one should I choose?
Hmmm. Which one should I choose?


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    • Christy Stewart profile image

      Christy Stewart 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Bonitaanna, your name is remniscent of the spanish word, Bonita (meaning beautiful), and beautiful you are! The most important kind of beauty is that which comes from within, but oh how I strive for the kind of physical beauty that a healthy lifestyle provides. I love how you incorporate exercise into your daily life. Even your exercise is 'all natural!' I am proud of you for every "no." We are fighting the good fight and at 70 years you are a true warrior :)

    • Bonitaanna profile image

      Bonitaanna 5 years ago from Oil City, PA

      Christy everything you said there is the truth! That is very sad, what this society has become. I taught aerobic for over 25 years. I am almost 70 years old and still exercise. I, like everyone else just about would like to lose weight, but my weight has shifted somewhat from those younger years. As we age we need to have a little more weight on so we don't have that gaunt look. And we need to be health concious. Exercising in our younger years is easier than the older years. The body does not like to cooperate with us as much. Now at almost 70 I am mowing 8 acres of lawn and bringing all the wood in to heat our house, taking care of the flower beds and a large house. Making 4 afghans a year and yes sitting in front of a computer. Boy does the time go fast in front of this computer! You really made me laugh. But really it is not very funny! So many people are toteing around 50 or more pounds. If I did not say no, like you said, I would be a lot heavier too. Thanks for that very interesting HUB.

    • profile image

      Robin 5 years ago

      Ain't that the truth! If you want to be social, you end up eating junk food! If your roommate is mad at you, buy her some cookies ;) See, I was contributing to the problem!