The “Real Food” Fetish




I’ve been watching this year’s edition of the Diabetes Summit and speaker after speaker has preached the virtues of eating real food, and this certainly looks a lot like a religion, with so called real food as God and processed food as the Devil.

Now I certainly don’t have any problem with people making their recommendations here, but we’d rightfully expect that these opinions not become too dogmatic, and perhaps, like a religion, when you’re just preaching to the choir, to believers, then not enough people will look to keep you honest, and even when they do, you probably don’t want to listen.

I certainly always look to do my part here though and have made several comments that hopefully will have these people thinking about what they are saying more, and I decided that even though I’ve spoken about this on my own site a few times, it’s time to do another article on this.

I’m a philosopher first I guess and this always strongly influences my views of health care and everything else, and sometimes people do need philosophers, to at least try to keep their thinking in line.  These people particularly need this sort of help.

The role of the philosopher here is to question things, to examine the rationale of the beliefs involved and decide to what degree they make sense, and this is actually not some esoteric exercise in argument but does serve an important function.

A lot of our beliefs tend to be relatively unexamined and this is something we certainly want to look to correct, especially when they play a role in making recommendations to improve one’s heath.  So if we have a look we will see that both conventional and so called alternative health care perspectives are guilty of having dogma play a significant role in their views, and this whole business about diet is a real good example of where the alternative folks get messed up.

The response to questioning dogma, and dogma by the way means having beliefs that are not questioned properly, and questioning them is even frowned upon, it to simply imply that you are a heretic and look to discount you as simply an unbeliever.  What a great spot to be in here, you either believe me or you are a non believer and therefore should not be listened to.

This is a great way to promote your cause and no one does this more effectively than conventional medicine, you either agree with us or you are a quack, which just means you don’t agree with us basically, although it is used in a much more disparaging way than this.

This is just one of the tactics they use, but this is certainly a good one, and we in the so called non conventional field, the functional medical field, do not want to make the same errors, even though we may think that we’re doing it on the side of right and that makes it OK.  We may be more right than they are about a number of things but this does not entitle us to be dogmatic.

I don’t think that there’s any question that certain dietary practices are preferable over others, but what we do need to do is ensure that our claims here are valid, and when we make certain recommendations they must have good evidence behind them, or a good reason to make them based at least on what may be happening.

So there’s some speculation here to be sure, we just don’t always want to act just upon proven evidence, although evidence will still always play a big role.

So when I hear things like avoid all processed food and just eat so called real food, my question becomes, why?  I don’t think these people have thought about this very much though.  Real food is seen as healthier perhaps, and to a certain extent it might be, although depending on the food it might not.

The tendency here is to paint with way too wide a paintbrush, and to say that one must avoid all processed food, you’re taking on a lot here, and you’re going to have to show that all processed food is bad enough for you that in all cases you must avoid it, independent of other considerations here such as one’s financial abilities and one’s preferences.

So there are some things added to our foods that may not be so good, and it has to start with that if we’re going to show something, for instance looking at MSG and all its variants and then showing that this stuff elevates glutamate excessively, and studies have shown this to be quite bad for you, in a way that, in some people anyway, should probably have them limiting their consumption because the negative effects will sometimes be worse than the benefits derived, enjoying their food more for instance, or not having to cook and wanting to eat a certain thing which just happens to have a lot of MSG in it, and there also may not be a good way to counter or limit this negative effect.

That’s about the strongest claim I can make about this stuff, to be aware of the possible negative consequences of something and then take this into account when you’re doing a personal cost benefit analysis, as any rational being would, at least if they are being rational.

It is not rational at all to say that if some foods are processed with certain additives that may factor into some people’s decision to consume them, then all processed food should be avoided by everyone.  That’s just pure stupidity actually.

So we need to be specific as to the harm, and also look to quantify it as best we can, and then also account for competing interests, such as one perhaps not being able to afford grass fed beef or organic produce, or one perhaps not liking the sort of food they recommend, or one just simply not having the time or not willing to spend the time in preparing these meals.

The goal here isn’t even health per se, it’s actually personal utility, one’s overall happiness in other words, and what makes them happy does not necessarily make me happy, and I would actually find eating the kind of diet they recommend and spending so much time making it rather vile.  That’s just me though, and I do understand that, but they do need to also understand that people’s preferences do differ.

We also want to consider other alternatives to dealing with issues other than simply looking to avoid it, even in cases of food sensitivity, and for instance if someone is sensitive to grains, maybe they do want to cut down, they may want to give them up entirely but that isn’t always necessary, and they may also want to heal their bodies so that they can tolerate this stuff better, which, if they enjoy it, would be the ideal outcome actually.

So what happens when you get too dogmatic is that you end up excluding a lot of people, and when I hear, eat this way or there’s no point even talking to you, and given that only a small percentage of people would even be willing to eat that way, that sure excludes a lot of people.  There may be some good advice that can be given but we need to make sure we’re getting off our high horses first.

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2 Comments on “The “Real Food” Fetish

  1. For most of human history, “real food” was all that was available, sucrose didn’t exist, honey was a rare treat, and Type II diabetes was pretty much nonexistent. (The ancient Egyptians were probably the first to get the disease, but they ate a lot of sweet fruit–figs and dates. Later, India was the first country to refine sucrose from sugar cane, two thousand years ago, and they started developing Type II diabetes, too.) Some fetish. I know for a fact that when I eat anything with fructose, a major ingredient in processed food, I gain weight. Maybe you don’t, but that’s no reason to be insulting.

    1. There’s no question that our love affair with carbs has contributed significantly to the explosion of metabolic disease. It’s not just sugars, it’s carbohydrate period, and by focusing too much on sucrose and fructose we end up missing the big picture, and an excess of grain intake is at least as bad. Fructose isn’t a main ingredient in processed food generally by the way, although grains certainly are. There’s not a lot of sugar in processed food generally, although there is in certain types, if we count sweets of course. Sorry you felt insulted, but this to me looks like another ruse, like the focus on sugar or fructose. Many people, most people these days in fact, gain weight when they over-consume carbohydrate. It’s important to identify the culprit here though, the real one, and it’s not a little sugar in your meals. It’s actually a combination of too much carbohydrate and too high insulin levels, and too much carbohydrate is the major cause of too much insulin, it’s the sole cause actually other than pancreatic tumors which are pretty rare. I have no problem at all with those who choose to eat whatever we want to call real food but this view is actually insulting, yours is real, what some of us eat isn’t real. What happens is that the real issues get clouded over here, and I’m just trying to clear a bit of the fog :p The main thrust of this post though is to look to address those who make claims about certain types of food, processed food for instance, that are overblown, and hardly anyone bothers to think critically about any of this really, they either ignore these people or they praise them, all without much thinking going on. Sure, people may want to live off the land, eat like people did in antiquity, perhaps even pre-civilization, but turning this into what amounts to a religion where you have the believers and the rest of us are of seen as sinners, is where the problem lies. Opinions like there’s no point in even pretending to seek health unless you just eat “real food” is a pretty ridiculous one but it’s hard to tell when you spend all of your time just nodding your heads 😛

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