I’m not sure what it is about road trips that make me feel like whether we are traveling for five hours or five days we need to stock the car full of provisions for the trip. Maybe it is some sort of evolutionary survival instinct that has been passed down from our ancestors that whispers into our consciousness, “bring food, and lots of it!”
But as Kerri and I packed the cooler for our drive to Redding, Calif. for father’s day with her family, the food we put in was quite different than what we would have brought last summer. Beyond a few leftover slices of pizza, we packed apples, strawberries and almonds. No chips, cookies, or other prepackaged foods would make the 10-hour journey with us to northern California. It isn’t that those foods are inherently bad, but since the “dollar diet” our eating patterns have changed.
As we work on our latest project in the economics of eating well, which we’ll fully recount in the book (due out in early 2010), the process of experimenting with our dietary patterns is starting to pay off. In general we tended to overeat before, now we know when to stop. We used to eat far more processed foods, now we cook from “raw” ingredients. The biggest challenge that remains however is eating in social settings with others.
Kerri’s family eats a fairly typical American diet. At gatherings the guys grill up burgers and dogs, and the women cover the tables with bowls of chips, Ritz crackers with dips, some assorted fruits, soda, tea, bottled water, and some type of dessert. This year it was cupcakes, compliments of Kerri’s younger sister.
I struggle during these trips because the chips, cookies, soda, cupcakes, and other high-calorie foods are difficult to resist. I was raised to overeat, and this habit, in combination with calorie dense junk foods, is a disaster for my health.
Today I did my best. When we arrived before lunch I resisted the barbecue chips and the crackers when they came out. But as everyone around me started munching away, the crunching of chips came in like surround sound. Resisting the snack table amidst the crowd of consensus eating made me feel like that lone man standing in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square 20 years ago.
I stayed strong for a couple hours, but soon the rationalizations clouded my will to defy. Kerri said it was o.k. to snack on carrots. Then we took a long calorie-burning walk, which made it fine to have two veggie burgers instead of one (besides, who wants to bring frozen food home on long drive?).
Then Kim came out with the cupcakes and it was game over.
Rationalizations grew into philosophical platforms: eating is an act of communion – if I don’t take part I’m rejecting a shared experience, therefore rejecting her family; Kerri’s sister went out of her way to make elegant vegan cupcakes – abstaining this accommodation would be blasphemous and just plain rude. And of course the all time favorite way to indulge “bad” behavior: “Everything is o.k. in moderation.”
As the food was put away things got easier, but each day we are here is a challenge. Eating well is hard work, and although possible, there are moments when resistance is futile.
Trying to stay strong,
P.S. If you didn’t hear about it, Nestle has recalled all of their cookie dough as 66 people in 28 states have contracted E.coli 0157 from it. If you have some in your fridge, THROW IT AWAY. Cooking it won’t help, because the minute you open it you will have contaminated your kitchen.