Why is our Society so Obsessed with Salads?

It’s been a rough day. So I’m going to complain about something totally mundane: salads.

I was recently privy to a conversation between two older women on why it is so hard to stay thin in the South: lack of good salads. Apparently when you go to a southern restaurant, they serve a big piece of meat (often deep-fried steak) a lump of mashed potatoes and gravy, and a finger-bowl with 5 pieces of iceberg lettuce, an orange tomato, and a slathering of dressing.

Sounds good to me.

Now, if you like salads, that’s fine. You’re still welcome here. Personally, I just don’t see the point. The darn things don’t have any calories!

From an evolutionary perspective, obviously food provides two things: calories and nutrients. There may be some foods that are mostly calorie but little nutrient (eg, honey) and some foods that are nutrient but no calorie (salt isn’t exactly a food, but it otherwise fits the bill.)

Food doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated–surely we’ve evolved to eat effectively by now. So any difficulties we have (besides just getting the food) are likely us over-thinking the matter. There’s no problem getting people to eat high-calorie foods, because they taste good. It’s also not hard to get people to eat salt–it also tastes good.

But people seem to have this ambivalent relationship with salads. What’s so important about eating a bunch of leaves with no calories and a vaguely unpleasant flavor? Can’t a just eat a nice potato? Or some corn? Or asparagus?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate vegetables. Just everything that goes in a salad. Heck, I’ll even eat most salad fixins if they’re cooked. I won’t turn down fried green tomatoes, you know.

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a bowl of lettuce if that’s your think, I think our society has gone down a fundamentally wrong collective path when it comes to nutrition wisdom. The idea here is that your hunger drive is this insatiable beast that will force you to consume as much food as possible, making you overweight and giving you a heart attack, and so the only way to save yourself is to trick the beast by filling your stomach with fluffy, zero-calorie plants until there isn’t anymore room.

This seems to me like the direct opposite of what you should be doing. See, I assume your body isn’t an idiot, and can figure out whether you’ve just eaten something full of calories, and so should go sleep for a bit, or if you just ate some leaves and should keep looking for food.

I recently tried increasing the amount of butter I eat each day, and the result was I felt extremely full an didn’t want to eat dinner. Butter is a great way to almost arbitrarily increase the amount of calories per volume of food.

If you’re wondering about my weight, well, let’s just say that despite the butter, never going on a diet, and abhorring salads, I’m still not overweight–but this is largely genetic. (I should note though that I don’t eat many sweets at all.)

Obviously I am not a nutritionist, a dietician, nor a doctor. I’m not a good source for health advice. But it seems to me that increasing or decreasing the number of sweats you eat per day probably has a bigger impact on your overall weight than adding or subtracting a salad.

But maybe I’m missing something.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Why is our Society so Obsessed with Salads?

  1. […] I was never a huge salad fan. But for most of my life I’ve had fairly close control over what I eat; in the last year or so I have needed to buy more meals, and suddenly I understood a number of food-preoccupations that seemed vaguely comic to me before. This is not to say that I have ordered a salad in the last week or two, but I believe I can explain the obsession with salad. […]

    Like

  2. I think these three quotes go together:

    “While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a bowl of lettuce if that’s your thing, I think our society has gone down a fundamentally wrong collective path when it comes to nutrition wisdom. The idea here is that your hunger drive is this insatiable beast that will force you to consume as much food as possible, making you overweight and giving you a heart attack, and so the only way to save yourself is to trick the beast by filling your stomach with fluffy, zero-calorie plants until there isn’t anymore room.”

    and

    “This seems to me like the direct opposite of what you should be doing. See, I assume your body isn’t an idiot, and can figure out whether you’ve just eaten something full of calories, and so should go sleep for a bit, or if you just ate some leaves and should keep looking for food.”

    and

    “If you’re wondering about my weight, well, let’s just say that despite the butter, never going on a diet, and abhorring salads, I’m still not overweight–but this is largely genetic. (I should note though that I don’t eat many sweets at all.)”

    As a chronically overweight (though not obese) person, let me stipulate that we have somewhat different experiences of hunger.

    I think the ‘tricking your body with salad’ schtick becomes clearer when you think about it like this: some people have bodies that want to be overweight, by societal definitions. However, they consciously do not want to be overweight, so their conscious preferences are at odds with their unconscious preferences. Thus they use their conscious abilities (e.g. willpower, strategic thinking) to overcome their unconscious preferences. In this light, tricking your body with salad is exactly that – a trick. Though I have to say from my own experience, it isn’t one that works very well.

    There’s also the idea that some hunger drives are miscalibrated for the modern environment, so when you really desire more of trace element X, you unfortunately interpret that as more caloric intake. However, I honestly think this is a much smaller problem. There are malnourished people in the First World, but they’re usually poor.

    None of this should be taken to mean that I think salad nuts are on to something. They might be, but in my particular experience, the trick doesn’t work. (Maybe it does for them.)

    Like

  3. I think the pro-salad theory is more like (similar to something Rhetocrates mentioned): Since your body wants to make sure you get enough nutrients as well as enough calories, then if the only way you can get the needed nutrients is by eating more calories than you need–IOW, high-calorie high-nutrient foods–your body will make sure you still do. So it makes sense to also want access to low-calorie high-nutrient foods, for those times when you’ve eaten enough calories but still need more nutrients.

    What’s so important about eating a bunch of leaves with no calories and a vaguely unpleasant flavor? Can’t I just eat a nice potato? Or some corn? Or asparagus?

    You mean a delicious flavor, of course. 😉 No but seriously, you’ve listed two starchy things and a…well, I hate asparagus so I’ve never even bothered to look up which of the approximate categories of nutrients the nutritionists say it tends to provide. But in general, the vegetables you said you like do tend to have *different* nutrients than green leafy vegetables do. I don’t really like potatoes or corn, I’d much rather have a nice salad (or cooked greens)…we probably just have slightly different nutritional needs.

    Like

  4. It should also be mentioned, by way of answering the title, that I think a large part of the reason people talk about salads ‘so much’ is because it’s a social signal.

    It says, “Ooh, look at me, telling you I had a salad and I regularly have salads. That means I’m a health-conscious person! And being a health-conscious person is synonymous with being a good person in our culture, so I’m a good person! And further, playing up the difficulty of being good shows that I’m an even better person, because I’m good even though it’s hard.”

    That probably has more to do with why you overhear conversations between two acquaintances about salads and their scarcity in low-class places.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s