The Most Noble Diet: Introduction
by George Eisman, Registered Dietitian
We all have to eat. What we choose to eat depends on a variety of factors, which can be divided into two categories: availability and acceptability. In most affluent nations today, availability is largely a function of affordability, but time constraints often are a factor as well – hence the popularity of fast food, cheap or not. Foods that used to be available only seasonally, however, can now be obtained almost any time of year.
Acceptability involves a greater variety of influences, some of a societal nature and others of an individual nature. In the social context, religion and/or culture dictate taboos. Devout Moslems and Jews, wherever they happen to live, do not eat the flesh of pigs; while all people living in North American and European countries are looked upon harshly if they express a desire to eat the flesh of a dog or cat. Except for a few tribal societies, there is universal disdain for cannibalism. There is also a general distaste for feeding children an “unhealthy” diet, however that is defined by any culture; yet adults are only chastised for eating “poorly” when it results in some obvious manifestation such as obesity.
The acceptability of a “new” food into a society’s diet is often determined by advertising, often done using celebrities and/or attractive models. “Exotic” fruits or vegetables are much easier to sell than are strange animal meats.
In making our food choices from the set of foods already determined to be physically/financially available and socially acceptable, there then kicks in a hierarchy of motivations that guide us. The conscious choices we make fall roughly into six levels based on the depth of our concerns for the implications of these choices:
1. Hedonism – Eating what you enjoy purely for sensual gratification.
2. Personal Health – Eating what you believe is healthy for you, in the short-term and/or long-term.
3. Political motivations – Eating (or avoiding) foods as a statement for or against a political entity.
4. Environment – Eating what is least disturbing to ecosystems, thereby seeking to maintain global health.
5. Nonviolence – Eating only what can be obtained without injury or cruelty to sentient beings.
6. Humanity – Eating only what amounts to one’s “fair share” given the limited amount of food resources available to the human population at any given time.
The following six chapters expound on each of these concerns.