Cigarettes and chocolate

Yesterday, I tweeted the following:food addict cnn

Perhaps it was a little unkind, given that this writer was sharing rather intimate details about her struggles with self-control around sugar and carbs, like the fact that at the height of her “using” (let’s use the right language now), she was scoffing not just any old ice cream, but some of the ‘Bon-Appetit top-10-rated best-in-the-nation ice cream‘, and that in the second round of “lapsing”, it was those ‘‘50s-style red and white mini-popcorn bags’ being fed from the ‘Satanic butter machine’, aka a popcorn maker at her place of work that got her. After days of resisting, she finally ‘broke down’ and

I grabbed one of those red and white paper bags and the commercial-grade scooper and joined the crowd. I ate one bag and stopped.

Of course the “story” here is that stopping (for her) is so unusual, because her “addicted” brain wanted to keep eating bag after bag after bag.

Well, guess what. Wanting to eat more does not an addict make. It makes you *normal*. The fact that sugar tastes good, and lights up pleasure centres in our brains, does not make it as addictive as cocaine, and neither does the fact that the food industry sets out to make delicious food mean that they are trying to kill anyone.

And yet. Everywhere the chattering classes are blaming the failure of their January diets and “cleanses” on this obscure – and indeed privileged – idea of “food addiction” and sugar toxicity. Witness an NPR writer’s take:

I doubt I’m consuming 22 teaspoons a day — I’m not a soda drinker, nor do I binge on cookies or ice cream. But regardless of whether the quantity you consume is excessive by these standards, if you’re like me, the frequency and strength of the sugar cravings alone may be enough to drive you to seek help.When I eat sugar, I can feel something devilish turn on in my brain: a voice saying, “More, more, more.”

There is no troubling behaviour here, unless you think liking the taste of something is troubling. Why on earth would someone seek help for a non-condition?

The (main) problem here has nothing to do with these two women, who clearly have the means to avoid any of the really serious problems they contend sugar/carbs/food contribute to (I’m sorry, but anyone who has the resources to on a Yoga Detox and to follow a 10-day regimen of ‘no sugar, no oil or butter or fat, no meat, no nothin’ that tasted good‘ gets no sympathy from me). It is how these sorts of representations contribute to dumbing down complexities. The language of addiction, as the Philosophe has already eloquently argued, is chiefly about hyperbole,* which means it is not about understanding, but about making a noise which quite often translates as “don’t blame me!”

Disclaimers shouldn’t be necessary, but yes of course some people’s “addictive” behaviours lead to serious social, economic and health implications. But to proclaim that ‘sugar is the new tobacco‘, (or, ‘sugar IS the new tobacco’, as that headline has also been tweeted, just to make sure naysayers take note) is just wrong.

Experts said that if major manufacturers reduced the amount of sugar in their products, adding up to a 20 to 30 per cent decrease in sugar content in three to five years, the obesity epidemic could be stopped in its tracks.

Really? Obesity will simply vanish if we stop putting sugar in our tea? That’s a rather simplistic view of a condition which has been shown to be much bigger than one contributing factor.

Ah, but we do thrive on conspiracies, finger-pointing, and simple, unrealistic solutions to complex problems (let’s say it again: “Detoxing” is quackery).

Thankfully there is always Twitter for some nuance and perspective:

Lena dunham

Exactly. Or why eat chocolate if you can just smoke a cigarette? Ooh, chocolate cigarettes! Oh wait…

*(sidenote: I once thought that Hyperbowl would be a cool name for a restaurant)