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#42: Against Food
Imagine this: you’re blessed with opposable thumbs and breathtaking mental faculties. You have a notion of object permanence. You can use language, do mathematics, and decipher the world around yourself. There is no question that you are the pinnacle of evolution, a simply amazing, staggeringly rare thing to exist, the very poster child for the best that Mother Earth has to offer. And how do you spend your days? Drinking lattes and eating cheeseburgers.
Day after day, I swipe the Hinge profiles of girls endowed with the greatest gifts known in the universe, only to find that their hobbies are sleeping and eating. The last million years of evolution has been wasted on them; they might as well live with orangutans.
I joke, but there’s something profoundly depressing to me about the centrality that food has in our modern lives. There’s so much that we could be doing with our incredible gifts as humans, and yet we choose to fill our time with the most basic activity, common to all species: eating. We do it for hours every day, chasing that simple, sensory pleasure, and – perhaps worst yet in its irony – poisoning our own bodies in the process as we mindlessly fatten ourselves up with seed oils and industrial sugars.
It makes me sad when I find myself running to the grocery store to get a snack, realizing that my action is in abject slavery to my body’s most unsophisticated primal cravings. Doubly so when I’m not eating because I’m hungry, but just because I’m bored. That’s embarrassing. I can do multivariable calculus, recite Plato, dream of sending rocketships to new planets, and yet I can’t stop myself from buying Butterfingers at the grocery store and then chowing them down like some kind of marshmallow-test-failing monkey? Pathetic. You’d think that ultra-educated homo sapiens would rise above the tyrannical slavery of the gut,but nope.
I walk around town and see storefront after storefront, advertising smoothies, bubble tea, coffee, pastrami sandwiches, you name it – and I cannot help but think isn’t there more to life than this? Again, we’re born with a simply amazing, unparalleled set of mental faculties, and yet much of our capacities seem to go to satisfying our primitive cravings in new and ever more efficient ways, finding techniques for delivering more and more fat and sugar to our bodies. Why all the croissant shops? Is this really what we’re dedicating our prime real estate to? Where’s the stuff that really makes life worth living? I’m left asking, only to find that perhaps for many, the stuff that makes life worth living is the satisfaction of these bottom-tier-of-Maslow’s-hierarchy-items: make money so you can buy a nice house and then eat caviar all day, blowing up like a balloon of gluttony until it kills you like Elvis. Good lord.
I was so excited when Soylent hit the shelves around 2014. Finally I would be freed from these base cravings. But it never really caught on. Eight years later, Soylent is a footnote of history, yet another meal replacement shake that couldn’t bridge the gap to mainstream adoption. Even I can’t bring myself to drink it. I’m about to go out for breakfast, pick up coffee and a pastry from the local prize-winning cafe. I will hardly enjoy eating it, and I will detest the abstract fact that I am compelled to eat, but eating anything else I will almost certainly enjoy even less. And so I remain trapped yet another day.
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I mean this quite literally, considering the now well-established evidence for interactions between gut bacteria and brain.