If there’s one certainty I’ve observed in life, it is this: Rather than just eating more produce, less meat, and smaller portions of food, humans will vilify something in an effort to simplify complex food choices. Instead of accepting a “moderation in all things” approach to life — which limits superiority complexes and indulgence — they insist on inventing artificial food guidelines to live by.
For example: In the ’80s, butter and natual sugar was bad, so Americans (at least) ate lots of margarine and artificial sweeteners. But those turned out to be worse, so now butter and sugar are back on the menu. In the ’90s, it was the low-fat diet, which in many ways still influences our culture, although not to the extent the diet did in its hey day. In the 2000s, it was low-carbs: Atkin’s diet, South Beach, and other variations. Nowadays, popular grains like wheat bread, oats, and barley are suddenly the enemy. Even though we’ve been eating gluten for thousands of years, it’s just as bad for us as other fad diets. Which is to say it’s not.
These diets get even more extreme and self-righteous, though. Even though humans are omnivores by design — needing meat (but not as much as carnivores) in addition to plants — strict vegetarian, frutarian, and vegan diets always rear their eye-rolling heads. Many of these dieters cheat here and there out of necessity, of course. After all, their omnivore bodies don’t stop craving the benefits of meat. And then there’s organic, which means a tomato from the grocery store may kill you while one from the famer’s market will nourish you—as if “how” our produce is prepared is the real reason for our obesity, rather than the fact that we just quit eating veggies altogether, mass produced or otherwise.
Of course, splinter fads exist, too. Abnormal amounts of people quite drinking milk last decade. Once it became apparent, however, that milk makes everything better — especially cookies and chocolate cake — milk quickly regained its favor among these people. Same goes with injecting yourself with female hormones to lose weight fast, only to gain it back in a couple of weeks.
The take-away: It doesn’t matter what kind of food, approach, or nutrient you vilify, you just need to vilify something. Enemy foods are interchangeable and trendy. For best results, adjust, replace, and flip-flop accordingly. 5-10 years seems to be the norm.
And that, ladies in gentlemen, is food fads done right.
Anyone care to guess what makes the naughty list next? I suspect low-sugar diets will try to take off again in reaction to our ongoing overconsumption of it. But I don’t think it will be that successful because sugar is just too dang sweet to say “no” to. So what’ll it be?