Potato chips can be absolutely addicting. The marketing of processed foods in America has brilliantly caught us in our weakness for tasty, addictive foods. Most of us have been there – when we really couldn’t eat just “one” of those crunchy, starchy, salty snacks. And we live to regret it.
Starch, sugar and salt – all staples of the American diet, have attached themselves to us, as addictions and excess body fat. The more sugar and starch we eat, the more we want it. And it is not just “junk food” — pasta and bread made of processed white flour, and cereals made of highly processed grains and lots of sugar have weakened our willpower. Low in nutrition, these “foods” fill us up but don’t feed us, leaving us wanting more, and more, and more.
The problems with the American food system are numerous, but the challenge to our health and well-being begins with our addiction to foods whose quantity and quality are not good for our bodies.
It’s a hard problem. It’s easy to say we should have willpower. Getting there is another thing.
I was raised in a 1960-70’s household that, like my peers’ homes, fully embraced the glory of processed foods. My mom was very petite, nicknamed “the bird” by my paternal grandmother because of the small portions she ate (defying my grandmother’s understanding.) But my dad, who had shot up to six feet tall in adolescence, never shed his teenage boy’s appetite. As a result, he packed on the weight until he was diagnosed with diabetes in early middle age. I got my father’s genes, never petite like my mom’s side, and always struggling with weight like my dad’s side. Of course, I didn’t realize how much the deck was stacked against me by the food choices that were regular in our household.
As a young adult I was drawn to Jewish observance, and kashrut in particular – the system of Jewish dietary laws. I sensed that a discipline of holiness would make a significant impact on my life. I gave up one food after another – Philly cheesesteaks, bacon, shrimp, and other treyfe (forbidden foods) that were a staple in my childhood home. As I did, I felt strengthened by the experience of the discipline. Eating became more thoughtful, more mindful, and more deliberate.