When Natural is Unnatural and Unnatural is Normal
From the time I could feed myself, I’ve had a quirky way about eating that for the most part drove my parents insane. Eating peas one by one, carving perfectly round holes in the skin of my apple with my thumbnail until it was completely covered in polka dots before biting into it, I had a number of ways to eat apples that confounded onlookers. The act of eating has always been an art form for me and at times an obsession full of rituals, dissections and quirks that makes it an activity that I confess is beyond normal, at times unhealthy but always a love that is constant and a path of self exploration and discovery, how and what you eat tells a great deal about you.
When I lived in Melbourne occasionally I would indulge (yes, guilt free) in an amazing cup of coffee at my favourite spot not far from my home, they also made these killer (mwhahaha) cupcakes with just the right amount of everything, the density of the butter cake was perfect, moist while still having a lovely crumb, real vanilla flavour and the icing had a bit of cream cheese that was just the right amount, freeing it from the sin that wrecks most cupcakes….not too sweet and sugary, it was balanced and clearly made from quality ingredients.
I had this ritual of eating the cupcake that was not too big but for a quality made cake, it was a generous serve. I would begin by unveiling the cake from its casing like the clothes from an object of desire, the casing would be covered with moist crumbs that would be scraped off with my knife at the end of my ‘procedure’. I would then cut the cupcake horizontally into four layers, take a quarter from the top icing to spread on each layer of cake, then assembling my four layer cake I would cut it into quarters, (sometimes when I had more time I would cut it into six sections) and I would eat and savour each little bit with the perfect amount of creamy icing to each layer of cake that when it hit my tongue would already have the perfect ratios of fatty creamy icing to the drier crumb of the cake allowing me to taste the perfectness without having to combine it by chewing which somehow intensified and prolonged the pleasure to my palate.
This ritual of mine became normal to me over a period of years, so much so that I remember walking into my groovy den of gustatory pleasure and seeing a man who was just served his cupcake casually pull back the casing and just bite into it. I swear my response was visceral and instantaneous. I thought “what a weird way to eat a cupcake” only to catch myself realising that in fact ‘he’ was eating the cupcake ‘normally’ and I was the abnormal one.
I think of this experience often when I observe so much of how we do life has become normalized when in fact it is completely unnatural, not just around food even though this is probably now one of our least natural activities. Things like drinking out of a tap is considered normal, for many of us growing up in industrialized countries, it feels natural and drinking from a stream or ‘untreated’ spring feels unnatural like there is something wrong with that, even dangerous. we are kinda upside down.
Returning to nature and eating naturally now seems counter intuitive, awkward and unnatural even though nothing could be better for us. The same adaptive evolutionary process that worked in our favour in nature works against us when it comes to industrialised food choices. In nature neophobia food wise made us cautious about potentially eating something that could make us sick or kill us. Cultures developed over thousands of years to identify edible, from medicinal and noxious from poisonous, that information was passed down and we had knowledge combined with experience to source food that was good, healthy and life giving.
Growing up with the supermarket to source our food designed to feed millions without the threat of food poisoning due to the myriad of complications that can come about from mass agriculture, farming, processing and manufacturing has created a hyper hygienic sanitised food system where living things that once provided us with ancillary nutrients (like B12 from soil) and built our immune systems have no place in industrialised food system for good reason, on mass they can wipe out hundreds of people quickly, today we do our best to remove these elements from our food to prevent instantaneous food poisoning while allowing chemicals and extreme processing to change the molecular structure to our food so that it is indeed poisonous only it will poison you slowly, so that you don’t notice it, the myriad of chemicals are in low doses so that you are rarely struck down immediately making it hard to differentiate which bit is causing the itching, twitching, drowsiness, irritability, headache, runny nose, shortness of breath, heartburn, nausea, sneezing and numerous other ways your body is trying to communicate to you that something is amiss, something we call a symptom that drives us to a chemist to buy a highly processed drug to treat, which often creates its own set of problems called side effects, also known as ‘effects’ which is now normal but hardly natural.
Sugar comes from nature but the refined stuff on our tables is not natural nor could the processes used to make refined sugar be replicated in a natural environment. The same applies to refined flours, salts, oil and chemicals riddled throughout the industrialized diet. Thus, I make no attempt to justify my cupcake dissection as healthy and although it had become my norm, I acknowledge that it is neither normal or natural. I do though, continue to question what is normal and natural.