UNITED STATES—People barely tear open a bag of potato chips and they say, “I open a bag. And once I start eating potato chips, I just can’t stop.” That knee-jerk spoken reaction is as harmful as the actual fact of not being able to stop before finishing the whole bag of chips.
These remarks, uttered usually with a sly grim, do a disservice to a whole dimension of eating which deserves celebrating. We as humans enjoy contemplating and consuming foods that mimic the grains of sand in their number: potato chips, grapes, heaps of shrimp. Call it a rendezvous with bounty, with cornucopic abundance. Dieticians don’t or can’t deal with it because it doesn’t fit into their neat model of rational eating habits.
Love of bounty is ingrained in the eating experience. From the palpable bounty of a bag of potato chips or M&M’s our fingers can grab a little and it can still seem that there is plenty left. Potato chips or M&M’s flatter the human longing for the infinite. And it is found over and over in nature, in the stars in the sky and in bunches of grapes. We keep picking away and bringing the grapes to our mouth in a kind of Bacchanalian trance til the vine is stripped.
Nuts provide this teeming pleasure too. Plus, there is a satisfying mechanical exercise involved in freeing nuts from the shell, be them walnuts, almonds or peanuts. On the one hand it may hark back to the ancient memory of ourselves as hunters and gatherers, the tribal imprint from when we spent our days, hands, eyes with greedy gaze trained on the plants and animals around us. Then too is could be the ancestral memory of sweet sweat, which was and is anything but sweet, and the skill it took to accumulate a basket of cherries or to spear a sockeye salmon.
The convenience of having everything shelled and picked for us has robbed us of a degree of eye-hand coordination and blunted acuity much as the prohibition of jaywalking has dulled pedestrians’ senses. You have to be wide away to cross the middle of Cahuenga Boulevard, likewise you can’t sleep while hunting and gathering. And a whole skill set is there waiting to be developed.
When the empty peanut shells mount in a bowl, I am returned to the primal hunting and gathering state to zero in on the peanut-bearing shells yet uncracked amid the empty husks. To find one more intact shell as one invariably does in a mass of empty shells is to feel the ensuing thrill of the prize that follows the hunt.
Sunflower seeds were naturally endowed with husks that have to be chewed and spat out. Today human ingenuity produces pound bags of seeds already husked, and that gives consumers a new industrial-sized way to take a bag of infinity and devour it. That is the risk to our pleasure, going into a robotic trance where the grabbing and the munching overtakes other sensations and, before you know it, that pound bag that would have fed our ancestors for days, is gone.
The corrective to this is to stick to mealtimes as well as possible, and stick to times of fast between mealtimes; turn off this faucet on the sunflower banquet. This puts bounds on the delectable consumption of cornucopic foods. And maybe some grapes and sunflower seeds remain for later. Also, measurements help. Instead of the whole bag, how about a half a cup of shelled sunflower seeds or half of a bunch of grapes. However, the chief reason for this article to to illuminate rather than moderate our habits.
One thing is undeniable, these supernumerous food items—popcorn, grapes, peanuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, almonds—present a unique and true facet of the eating experience that owes not a little of its charm to the rendezvous with bounty it presents.
Grady Miller’s “Lighten Up Now: A Diet for Your Mind and Body” is available on amazon.com. Please reach Grady at email@example.com.