Telling people “don’t eat that” doesn’t seem to have had a huge effect in the past. When Americans were told to fear fat, fat consumption dropped only slightly, while consumption of carbohydrates increased. Between 1971 and 2000, average daily calories from fat decreased by a mere 46 calories, while carbohydrate consumption increased by 240 calories. At the other extreme, some took the recommendation to limit fat and turned it into a prohibition, just as paranoia about fructose is now fueling a taboo on eating fruit.
Perhaps extremism, not sugar, is the real enemy. If that’s the case, the best approach to fixing our culinary culture doesn’t involve demonization or government regulation, strategies that promote dichotomous thinking – clean or unclean, toxic or safe – which experts warn may contribute to eating disorders like binge-eating and orthorexia, while having marginal positive effects on overall public health.
There are other strategies available. We could recognize that a healthy attitude toward food needn’t involve worrying about which foods are healthy. We could focus on making convenience food fresher, more diverse, and more affordable, because not everyone has a local farmers’ market, or money to shop there, or time to cook, or a backyard garden in which to grow heirloom vegetables.
We could also strive to make home cooking more feasible by funding community cooking classes and reintroducing home economics. Culinary students – children and adults alike – could learn to prepare and appreciate delicious meals without feeling coerced, guilty or frightened. And they would do so in kitchens equipped, as all good kitchens are, with sugar.