There’s been a good two and a half months distance now between the No Sugar project and us, and I think every day about what it all means… What were we trying to do with our year, exactly? Did we do it? Does that mean it’s “over”? What place does sugar have in our lives, if any?
Normally, I’m overly analytical anyway, but since January I’ve been pulling together what will be my book (insert trumpet call here!) about our Year of No Sugar, so consequently I’ve been doing an awful lot of backward looking and thinking, even as everyday we are moving farther and farther away from 2011. It’s kind of giving me vertigo.
Most fascinating to me is the wide variety of reactions to the end of our project from friends, acquaintances, and readers. Many people have said “Congratulations!” which is lovely, and many more seemed simply relieved that we aren’t doing “that sugar thing” anymore, just in case it might rub off on them or something. Half the people seem to expect us to now be on a permanent sugar binge in order to make up for lost time, while the other half seem to think we’re terrible hypocrites if we so much as pause to consider reading the dessert menu.
The fact is, for us it’s ever so much more complicated than “All Sugar All the Time!”or “No Sugar Never Ever!” My kids still want to get a dish of ice cream after dinner the way they always did. And me- selfish, guilty parent that I am- I often really want to give them that dish of ice cream as if it were a nice, compact serving of normality I could hand them, with a pretty cherry on top. “See!? We’re not so weird, after all!”
But, the thing is, we are weird. We were weird before- not eating at McDonalds and avoiding soda, and we’re weird now- avoiding juice and crap sugar food (donuts, cookies, free lollipops), as well as anything that’s sweetened when we know it needn’t be: dried fruit, chips, crackers, tomato sauces.We’ve become much, much more selective about the sugar we do consume- and in a culture like ours which is utterly saturated with sugar, that’s weird.
Then again, we’re much more mainstream than we were last year: we’ve stopped flipping out about things like orange juice in the salad dressing or sugar in the bread. We no longer give our waitress the Spanish Inquisition, which is nice for everybody. And anyway, after a year of questions, we also already know which items will have the sugar in them. Sometimes we have them, and sometimes we don’t.
I was also fascinated to find that for about the first six weeks of 2012, sugar actually didn’t taste good to me. It tasted saccharine, syrupy sweet, and usually resulted in a bad aftertaste as well as a rapid headache. This was a phenomenon I had particularly noticed toward the end of our No Sugar Year, when I had begun to enjoy our sacred monthly “treat” less and less. I wondered how long this would last- would I ever enjoy sugar again? Or had I inadvertently removed all the joy of sweet from my life? Given myself a tastebud-ectomy?
But after having small amounts of sugar on a regular basis- a teaspoon’s worth here and there- I have found that my taste for sugar has gradually returned: I can now order the Mango Sticky Rice at the Thai place and simply enjoy it.
Which I view as a good thing. After all, alcohol is a potentially addictive poison, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a glass of it with dinner on a regular basis. Likewise, I want to be able to enjoy a bit of fructose- potentially addictive poison anyone?- in the occasional dessert. For me, that’s part of the joy of life.
So I’ll have my glass of wine and maybe a small dish of the amazing gelato at that Italian restaurant. But I’m walking right by ninety percent of what’s for sale at my local supermarket- row after row of sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks, candy and convenience entrees. We drink water, snack on whole fruit, rudely ignore candy and cook from scratch. It’s not as simple as “Yes Always!” or “No Never!” but that’s fair, I guess. Food is what keeps us alive, brings us together every day, and gives us the means to celebrate and enjoy. If it isn’t worth our serious consideration, I don’t know what is.