A Year of No Sugar: Post 40

April 14, 2011 § 3 Comments

People are funny when it comes to sugar. Last post I wrote about a fundraising event we attended over the weekend to benefit the owners of a local general store that burned down in the night: the owners, who are much beloved by our community, barely escaped with their lives, jumping out the second story windows, and managing to save only one of their three dogs. Another local man who was sleeping in a small building next door was killed.

So the fundraiser was a tremendous outpouring of emotion in response to the sudden and tragic nature of this event. In addition to a massive dinner with live music, there was to be an equally massive silent auction and two different raffles going on throughout the afternoon, as well as a bake sale.

The day before the event, like everybody else, we went to drop off our family’s donations at the firehouse. It was very social, everyone standing around and marveling at the variety and quality of different auction items, (“Have you seen this one?”) But what I reeled at was on the other table: the bake sale table. Goodies of every conceivable shape and size were crowded across two nine foot tables, jostling for space, in the process of being neatly cataloged and labeled by my friend Rhonda. Rhonda was one of the event’s organizers, and she’s nice enough to not only read my blog, but even regularly post comments and interesting sugar-related articles she comes across.

Staring at the spread of frostings, sprinkles, chips, jellies, and coconut cream, I joked with Rhonda that I should take a photo of the awe-inspiring spread to post on my blog.

“Oh no!” she said, genuinely taken aback, “but… this is good!”

I’ve been thinking about her reaction ever since, because I think it has everything to do with how inextricably emotion and food are intertwined in our culture. I mean, of course it’s good, right? The outpouring of emotion was physically visible in response to what was a truly shocking and violent event. People wanted to express love and comfort in the name of store owners Will and Eric- to literally wrap them up in all that is warm and good and predictable, in an effort to make up for the scary thing which has changed their lives forever. What better way to do this than with a nice coffeecake or tray of raspberry thumbprints? How often is dessert intended as, and taken for, a concrete manifestation of love?

Similarly, I was recently at a potluck memorial service (yes, in Vermont we can make anything a potluck) and it struck me in very much the same way: one huge, long table of actual lunch food ran parallel to an equally long and huge table filled entirely with sweets. Again- should we be surprised if the outpouring of emotion naturally gravitated towards carrot cake and not carrots?

I’m not saying this is bad, exactly, but my friend’s reaction made me realize how deep and primal our attachment to sugar-as-love-and-comfort runs. I mean, of course raising money for a good cause is inherently a good thing. But, when we lay out a football field of sugar in the name of comfort, I also think it’s important to take a step back and think about the lesson we’re teaching our children.

Because, after all, who’s going to be eating a lot of those cookies and brownies, anyway? I know this isn’t going to be a popular idea, but I am reminded of how Dr. Robert Lustig explains that handing your kid a soda is the nutritional equivalent of handing your kid a beer.

This is what we know, but don’t want to know: sugar (fructose) is a poison, just like some other favorite poisons like alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol is an acute poison, so we notice its effects right away. Fructose, on the other hand, is more like cigarettes, in that it’s a chronic poison, we notice its effects only after years of exposure, when it can be harder to pinpoint and easier to debate… or ignore.

What Rhonda’s comment made me realize is that it’s all well and good to demonize sugar when you’re talking about the Big Bad Corporations, sneaking high fructose corn syrup into our ketchup and mayonnaise; it’s another thing entirely to go after grandma’s lovingly baked molasses cookies. The problem is, nutritionally your body can’t tell the difference between the “bad” sugar (from Big Food Inc.) and “good” sugar (from Grandma)… fructose is fructose. And an excess of fructose consumption, now at it’s highest levels ever and still climbing, is making our society sick.

I imagine that one day, when the data has become so abundant as to be incontrovertible (as also happened, finally, with cigarettes) having a buffet of sugar that rivals the actual food will be considered as socially unacceptable as smoking on airplanes or littering out your car window- things which we as a society once accepted as completely normal yet now we have come to realize the destructiveness of. Nobody’s is trying to say we can’t smoke or drink or throw things away, they’re just saying we have to be careful about how we go about it. Same with sugar.

A Year of No Sugar: Post 11

January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday we had our (drumroll, please…) our first official dessert of the month– chocolate cupcakes with “strawberry” (well, okay, it was pink) cream cheese icing. And it was good. Just good. Not amazing, not oh-my-God good, but good. Fine. The unfortunate thing about waiting two weeks to have dessert is that once you finally have it, you’ve got a fairly high probability of being disappointed. The icing was very good, the cake was a little on the dry side, and my favorite part was the strawberry pieces on top- but hey- I can have those anytime!

Well… not anytime anytime. Ahem. In my effort to supplant real sweets for fake ones I have filled our house with fruit: apples, bananas, cherries, watermelon, clementines. It looks a little like Carmen Miranda exploded in our kitchen. However, we all know what too much fruit can do… right? Well, let’s just say we’ve had to be a little bit careful in the fruit department lately.

And there are other reasons to beware of fruit, too. Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal Vegetable Miracle, makes an excellent case for eating locally on the basis of environmental responsibility. Perhaps just as compelling is the knowledge that other countries aren’t going to have the same pesticide regulations we do, and likely won’t define terms like “organic” the same way we do either. Sure, I can buy local apples at the farmer’s market and often at our supermarket… but the list of other available local fruit at this time of year? Stops abruptly there.

So many people I know struggle with this impossible balancing act on a daily basis: should we care more about buying organic or local? What about price: does getting a great deal at BJ’s Warehouse trump buying local and/or organic? What about if the organic produce looks like yesterday’s dish-water? Were animals tortured in the making of this product? Were they made even mildly uncomfortable? We scan the labels for increasingly long lists of alarm-bell ingredients: does it have High Fructose Corn Syrup in it? Preservatives? Dyes? MSG? What about endocrine disruptors? Hydrogenated oils? Poison? Is there any poison in it?

Since beginning this project only two weeks ago, I’ve been confronted with these contradicting forces seemingly constantly. I grudgingly put the Morningstar veggie sausage patties in my cart, feeling annoyed that a “health food” product has stuff like “disodium inosinate” in it, even while being delighted that the hundred and 12 ingredients listed do not include sugar. I purchase the shredded wheat cereal, delighted to have found it, yet irked at the use of BHT “added to the packaging material” as a preservative, (“Some embalming fluid with your breakfast cereal, madame?”) I attend the weekly Farmer’s Market and try valiantly not to blanch at the prices, only to find that when I cook my hard-won organic produce that the spinach tastes funny and the brussels sprouts have mysterious “black spot” disease. Ew.

It’s really enough to make any sane person throw in the towel altogether.

But we’re not throwing in the towel, we’re managing and that is something to celebrate, even at this early stage of the game. Maybe especially at this early stage of the game.

So, to sum up, the best thing about our daughter’s sixth birthday party was that she loved it. She was happy, her friends were happy- and to seal the deal they all had cake. If that isn’t a special occasion, I don’t know what is.

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Information About The No Sugar Project

 

A Year of No Sugar: Post 3

January 3, 2011 § 3 Comments

I am quickly coming to the realization that prepared foods are going to be pretty much off the table. I deduced this last night when I got out some of our favorite canned chicken chili to have over brown rice for dinner and gueeeeessss whaaaat. Yup- ingredient number seven, right between onion and tomato paste. Who knows how much that ingredient-number-seven sugar that really amounts to? A teaspoon? A tablespoon? Does it matter?

So, once again, we were having sugar with our dinner without really intending to. Greta, our ten year old, who got teary only the night before when we talked about starting the “family project,” was incensed.

“I can not be-LIEVE we’re having sugar for dinner,” she proclaimed loudly, with the conviction of a truly gifted proto-teenager. I found myself in the very odd position of pleading with her: “It’s just for tonight…” I rationalized, “It isn’t very much.” I promised we would do better as we got more acclimated to the new way of eating… which is to say I ‘ll be cooking more meals from scratch than ever before.

Part of me loves this idea- after all, I love to cook and bake. Then again, one of my favorite things to cook and bake is dessert. Huh. Also- the planning involved with so many home-made meals, not to mention the dirty pots and pans that result, is my not so favorite part. So a re-tooling is definitely in the cards for my meal methods.

Meanwhile, I had my first cup of tea with no honey in it this morning- cue the shrieks and screams. Oh, the horror. For me, altering one of my beloved little morning rituals, this was a HUGE step. My mind keeps waiting for that sweet kick at the end of every sip, and- alas- it never comes. Still, the caffeine was reliable, and a little milk helped too. Hey, I thought, I can do this. M-m-m-m-maybe.

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Information About The No Sugar Project

 

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