Have you noticed that food is getting more delicious and appealing all the time? Food blogs and cookbooks are works of art compared to even a few years ago, and every recipe promises a mouthgasm. I unfollowed a very popular whole food, plant-based (wfpb) meal plan provider because I actually got sick of hearing about how tantalizing, finger-licking, and luscious every dish was.
I think it’s wonderful that people can create healthy recipes that are enjoyable, and that some people are eating well as a result, but I wonder if the focus on scrumptiousness doesn’t play into the larger issues that got us into trouble in the first place.
Food companies have been using science to discover better and better ways to make our food hyper-palatable. Processed food has precisely calculated amounts of salt, sugar, fat and flavouring agents to trigger all of the pleasure circuits in our brains. It’s not only the big, bad multinational corporations doing this, though. We are doing this to ourselves. I’m old enough to remember broccoli being an exotic vegetable and green peppers (because red peppers weren’t invented yet) being considered too strong-flavoured for children. Supper consisted of meat, potatoes and something from a limited selection of vegetables. Gravy and ketchup were the only sauces that were added. Somewhere along the line, we all broadened our tastes and learned new cooking techniques. We also started expecting everything to taste good. Really good.
A lot of people worry that if they were to adopt a wfpb diet they won’t enjoy their food anymore. The standard response from those of us trying to promote this way of eating is to issue plenty of reassurance that a wfpb diet can be full of mouth-watering, delectable dishes that are every bit as satisfying as the food you’re used to.
What if I were to say that it’s probably not true? Let’s face it, the food you are used to eating is highly-flavoured, high in salt and sugar, and high in fat. That stuff hits all the checkmarks and you love it. The whole foods you really should be eating just don’t have that power. You probably just won’t crave it the same way. And that’s a good thing.
It’s asking a lot of food for it to not only nourish you but to entertain and delight you as well. The problem is that the standard for what is exciting keeps getting higher and higher. The food that surrounds us looks nicer, is higher calorie and is more exotic than ever. We used to be ok with the school Christmas recital in our mouth, but now we want Cirque du Soleil. Or a mouthgasm.
You’ll find lots of whole food, plant-based recipes and meal plans that attempt to reproduce these gastronomic experiences. It’s wonderful to have food that looks and tastes appealing. The problem with that is that many people simply transfer their need for food excitement over to the wfpb world and find it more difficult to keep getting that food high.
It is absolutely non-negotiable to eat enough food, but it is not necessary to eat thrilling food. It is perfectly ok to eat a simple meal of a starchy vegetable or whole grain, some sort of legume and some vegetables. Top everything with a simple dressing and there’s a meal. A meal you could eat every day forever. Will you love it? No, you probably won’t even like it at first. But you will learn to appreciate this nourishing food that doesn’t require fancy meal planning or a lot of weekend prep.
It turns out that it is deeply satisfying to eat simple healthy food that actually makes you feel better for eating it. Tomorrow’s dinner doesn’t need to be saltier or greasier or sweeter to fire the pleasure circuits. It’s a great gift to yourself and your family to learn to be content with wholesome food rather than seeking ever greater and higher calorie epicurean delights.