Thursday, January 21, 2016

Energy for breakfast

People have been starved to death in parts of Syria. In the preface to his novel "Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh",the Chinese author Mo Yan writes about a time of starvation in his life:

In the spring of 1961, a load of glistening coal was delivered to our elementary school. We were so out of touch we didn't know what the stuff was. But one of the brighter kids picked up a piece, bit off a chunk, and started crunching away. The look of near rapture on his face meant it must have been delicious, so we rushed over, grabbed pieces of our own, and started crunching away. The more I ate, the better the stuff tasted, until it seemed absolutely delicious. Then some of the village adults who were looking on came up to see what we were eating with such gusto, and joined in. When the principal came out to put a stop to this feast, that only led to pushing and shoving. Just what that coal felt like down in my belly is something I can no longer recall, but I'll never forget how it tasted. Don't for a minute think there was no pleasure in our lives back then. We had fun doing lots of things. Topping the list of fun things to do was gleefully eating something we'd never considered food before.

Yan, Mo (2012-01-05). Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh: A Novel (Kindle Locations 56-63). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The books "Catching Fire" by Richard Wrangham and "Paleofantasy" by Marilyn Zuk make clear what we already know: yes, the human sex drive is very powerful but not nearly as strong as our drive, our need and our pleasure in eating.  

Many adults have been schooled to believe that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day", that adequate protein, vitamins and other nutrients are important and come in a varied diet.  It is not something people I know face much but there are places and times where there is nothing for breakfast. I read a while back that the Japanese government tried to give its citizens succinct dietary guidelines with the rule "Eat 30 different foods a day."  

Because we eat quite often and we need to eat to live, we are all into food, eating, cooking, table manners and table society.  We started eating very early in our lives and have been doing it for a long time.  What our parents taught us, what we learned in school, what we have read combines with our experience and our goals to make a complex web of ideas, principles, practices and convictions.  

I have never starved to death so I haven't really checked out my need for food.  But I believe that I need it and that all animals do.  When I think of how many people, cultures, cuisines and foods there are, it doesn't seem surprising that there is a tremendous variety in ideas, practices and convictions people have about the sustenance of life.  Much of what marks our lives now seems to have developed in the last 100 thousand years or less.  But humans go back for 2 - 4 million years.  All that time, we have been eating this or that, in one form or another.

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