The Fifth Food Group by smilesinky
September 2, 2010, 7:40 pm
Filed under: Thoughts | Tags: ,

People have all kinds of names for it, from “junk food” to “mystery meat,” each as unappetizing as the next.  One of my favorite descriptions of such questionable digestibles is a term coined by the beloved Dr. Paul Farmer, whose tales of adventuresome eating are chronicled in his biography, Mountains Beyond Mountains.  After hiking many miles through the Haitian wilderness to visit a sick patient, he was presented, as a token of appreciation (not just once but on many unfortunate occasions) with a lovingly prepared bowlful of completely unrecognizable slop, which would soon be known to readers as “the fifth food group.”  However, as greasy and parasite-laden as those meals were, they had one redeeming quality: they were prepared by hand, as an expression of love and immense gratitude.  Despite the high-def-worthy appearance of most of our modern foods, how many Hostess cupcakes can claim such honorable intentions?

This leads me to ask a question that, in generations past, would have been an obvious one…who makes my food, and what the heck do they make it from?!  Of course, this line of questioning has recently become the spark for such movements as the locavores (only local foods, please!), the farmer’s market addicts and the raw food purists, among others.  Don’t misunderstand me, these folks are wonderful.   Enlightened.  Even downright cultish in their dedication to responsible eating.  My only beef with them, if you’ll pardon the bad food humor, is born out of pure distaste for rules.  And these movements have them in spades…

“Only eat foods grown within one hundred miles of your house.”

“Don’t buy anything processed unless it has five ingredients or less.”

“You mustn’t cook anything over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or you risk

breaking down the nutrients in your food.”

…but perhaps I like my nutrients a bit broken down from time to time, or maybe I really don’t prefer the bouquet of Kentucky wine, or even (gasp) I would like to purchase something with a dreaded sixth ingredient.  It seems that all of these new-fangled rules have appeared to encourage a basic food sensibility that past generations had no need for, or perhaps with which they were innately equipped.  So, I propose a new rule: eat food.  That’s it!  Now, there’s a caveat, and that caveat contains (if you will allow me) a definition.   First, we must define “food,” which in the simplest terms is edible material that satisfies hunger and provides the body with nourishment.  And thus, the caveat is: eat whatever you desire, so long as it fits the definition of food.

It seems too easy, right?  But consider this.  The biggest screw-ups in our diet-obsessed society have occurred when food scientists attempted to flout this law.  Take trans fats, for instance.  Some intrepid chemist declared, “Ah, let’s take the basic idea of fats, which is to be a good source of absorbable calories, and turn it on its head!”  The result was a dangerous artificial compound that (shockingly) the body is not equipped to process and which may, ultimately, cause cancer.  Yum.  And yet again, in marches Splenda, the newest attempt to make food that really isn’t food.  Have we learned nothing?  When it comes to foods from the fifth food group, I’ll take slimy and homemade over “mechanically separated pork product” any day.



5 Comments so far
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Great thoughts, Kate! Have you read some Michael Pollan?
He would say “Eat food. not too much. mostly plants”. I agree that simplicity is a beautiful thing, and I hope that can be encouraging for medical students who see cooking as a great obstacle. A cabbage is simple. It makes no fancy health claims, but it’s cheap, healthy, and easy to use!

Also, I would add one more to the list of food science gone awry: olestra. I may have a post on this, but it’s shocking how much industry we can support to invent “foods” that don’t actually nourish the body. It’s pure luxury.

Comment by chefmed

I’m liking that rule!

Comment by Fatimah

As I was reading this fabulous article, all I could think of was the pink pork hotdog snack thing we gave you freshman year! Oh how happy I am that it made it into this post! Come see me and I will cook you so much homemade love filled food you wont know what to do!

Comment by Caitlin

“Food for thought” comes to mind here as well. Taking the time to prepare and mindfully eat wholesome foods in order to nourish our bodies AND minds is powerful… yet so very simple. Now, if only there was something we could eat to make up for lack of sleep?!? 😉

Comment by Moma Sandy

Well said! I like your rules. Agree with ChefMed above, too–Michael Pollan says: If your grandmother could not pronounce the ingredients in your food, it’s not food 🙂

I try to remember: WWBKD (What Would Barbara Kingsolver Do?)

Comment by Message in a Bottle Hunter

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