Home Conscious Consumerism The Comforting Side Of Food

The Comforting Side Of Food

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Sent in by a friend:

I’m with Mark Bittman on the awesomeness of oatmeal, and especially with him on the notion of not overloading it with sugar, and, consequently, not ordering it from McDonald’s. But I wonder about this:

Others will argue that the McDonald’s version is more “convenient.” This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher. (If you’re too busy to eat it before you leave the house, you could throw it in a container and microwave it at work. If you prefer so-called instant, flavored oatmeal, see this link, which will describe how to make your own).

If you don’t want to bother with the stove at all, you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you’re walking around getting dressed. And then talk to me about convenience.

I often hear this complaint from people who cook directed at people who don’t. The notion basically holds that cooking isn’t as inconvenient as people make it out to be. I don’t know. I make my oatmeal in a pot at home–there’s something blasphemous about microwaving it–but I don’t own a dishwasher, and cleaning up actually is work. Moreover, I’m assuming people standing in that McDonald’s line can, text, tweet, e-mail or whatever while they wait.

The bigger thing here is understanding why people go to McDonald’s in the first place. I strongly suspect that the entire experience is comforting. In a day of constant work, pushes and pulls, you have this one clean place, which is the same everywhere, dispensing joyful shots of sugar and salt. That’s just me thinking about how I’ve eaten the past–and also how I eat when my brain is crowded with everything besides what I’m eating.

I think what Bittman urges in his writing is is consciousness. He wants people to think hard about what they’re eating. I strongly suspect that people go to McDonald’s for the exact opposite reason–to get unconscious. Understanding why that it is, goes beyond our food. It’s about how we live.

One of the reasons why I find the dialogue here, at BGG2WL, to be so valuable is because its an open and honest place for us to discuss our feelings about our own health, wellness and how our habits either contribute to or harm both. We are a collective of individuals actively concerned with our health, and we stand together to try to help one another by way of enlightenment. Take what you can use, leave aside what you cannot. We do that pretty well, here.

That being said… a very important element of emotional eating is brought up here, and that’s the issue of “someone else taking care of you.” That’s what he’s referring to, right? The idea that, in the middle of a long day, you can unwind and not worry about this one thing for this allotted time while these [trusted] people give you what you want exactly when you want it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging and admitting to that.

Yet and still, you have to consider what you sacrifice when you make these kinds of decisions: you’re ultimately entrusting your health and well-being (and, ultimately, your weight) to someone else who does not care more about you than they do their profit margins.

I can vaguely remember reading a book and hearing about this kind of feeling – the feeling of liking someone catering to you – as a draw that restaurant companies use to their advantage. In fact, it was in reference to a… let’s just refer to it as a massive coffee (and pastry… and oatmeal?) chain that’s almost as prevalent as the golden arches. When asked why the chain was so successful, the response was “It’s about warm milk and a bottle; if I could put a nipple on it, I’d be a billionaire.”

I understand the feeling. It’s nice to “not have to do [something],” for once. It also serves the problem of leaving yourself open to having to deal with someone else’s standards in regards to what is acceptable to feed you when you ask for it. McDonalds’ fruit and maple oatmeal – which was actually sued in Vermont because there’s no maple in it – isn’t just fruit, cream and oats. It’s all kinds of stuff that isn’t, for our purposes here, clean:

Whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, food starch-modified, salt, natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, caramel color.

Diced Apples
Apples, calcium ascorbate (a blend of calcium and vitamin C to maintain freshness and color).

Cranberry Raisin Blend
Dried sweetened cranberries (sugar, cranberries), California raisins, golden raisins, sunflower oil, sulfur dioxide (preservative).

Light Cream
Milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan. [source]

And looking at the details, the oatmeal in and of itself has almost as much sugar as the fruit blend, which should be the natural source of sugar in the list, anyway. At 32g of sugar total… 14g of it existing for very little reason… I question whether or not its worth it to take steps backwards from my goal just to “be taken care of for once.”

Food, no matter how much we try to emotionalize it – “it” being the preparation and intake of food – and no matter how much we try to simplify it, serves one primary purpose in our lives: nourishment. We can never forget that, because it goes right back to the last paragraph in that quote:

I think what Bittman urges in his writing is is consciousness. He wants people to think hard about what they’re eating. I strongly suspect that people go to McDonald’s for the exact opposite reason–to get unconscious. Understanding why that it is, goes beyond our food. It’s about how we live.

The bottom line, without question, is consciousness. Awareness is what grants you the ability to spot opportunities to correct your behavior. Awareness is what enlightens us to make better choices. Really, awareness is how you develop the ability to learn new behaviors and identify how the changes you’re making in your lifestyle are benefitting you. You become aware of the problem, you correct, you notice how your corrections change your life and you develop a new system that comes complete with the reward of a changed life and, ultimately, a changed body.

So yes, you do have to understand why that is – why you eat emotionally and desire to be taken care of in this way – and what you can do to fix that… but in the meantime, that oatmeal ain’t gon’ cut it.

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Danielle February 25, 2011 - 12:40 PM

wait- did you say that one seving of that oatmeal bowl has 32g of sugar??

Shannon February 25, 2011 - 1:10 PM

I agree that the oatmeal has entirely Tooooo Much Sugar!! However, it does taste good, but in my opinion it’s not worth the 1.99+tax. I tried it this week for free (had coupons wasn’t going to pay for it) and liked it, but I also figured that I can make it at home for probably less calories, and sugar. It is convenient, but I’ll stick to making my own.

Nannette Wade February 25, 2011 - 1:16 PM

Good article as always. Now that I’ve lost 44 pounds since 1/1/2010, I can see what you are saying. I became painfully aware that I was killing myself when I weighed in at 296 pounds, changed my lifestyle to incorporate clean eating and am now eating 100% raw food. My changed life has rewarded me with more energy, focus and a greater sense of well being and I am beginning to see a changed body. This is encouraging me to keep up my new food lifestyle and step up the other side of the equation, more exercise. This feels better to me than all the comfort food in the world. My love for fried chicken, rice and gravy, fast food and restaurants was just a comforting quick fix with horrible consequences. “I was blind, but now I see.”

Melissa February 25, 2011 - 3:54 PM

I have about 5 coupons for a free bowl but your site has opened my eyes to a lot, including things like this very post. While I’m not 100%, I know that when it comes to oatmeal and McD, it will be very different from what I make at home. I’m not seeing the value in this. Sure it’s not cost to my pocket but what about my body?

Halona Black February 25, 2011 - 4:22 PM

I don’t even cook my oatmeal with heat anymore. I soak it overnight in almond milk with ginger, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried coconut (unsweetened). That process takes all of 3 minutes. The next morning I throw in some maple syrup and blueberries — delicious breakfast. That takes about another minute. I now prefer the heartier texture of soaked oats as opposed to the mushy, cooked texture.

CJM March 1, 2011 - 1:11 PM

I’m half soak/half heat apparently. I take a cup of steel cut oats, a half cup of dried cranberries, 2 T grated ginger root (yes tablespoons, I like ginger), and the juice of an orange half that I’m about to eat and stir that up in a bowl that can be microwaved. Then I pour 3 cups of boiling water over it and let it soak overnight. In the morning I put the whole thing in the microwave for a few minutes (significantly less than the time on the box since I soaked). I take that morning’s serving out, add a little dairy, and put the other four servings in the fridge to be eaten for the rest of the week. My topping is diced apple (diced night before and sprinkled with lemon juice to keep from browning). Total time: 10 minutes for a week’s worth of breakfast. Even the double drive-thru super efficiency of my closest Mickey D’s can’t beat an average of 2.5 minutes per breakfast.

JazzFest January 4, 2012 - 12:43 AM

This is awesome. I am not a breakfast person (I know, I know it’s LAZINESS, I’ve already read about all the benefits of starting the day with a good breakfast!) so this would be a great option for my school week, to make sure I’m eating something healthy. Classes start back up tomorrow!

darlin artiles June 21, 2012 - 10:19 AM

Nice! I am totally going to try that soaking method. Sounds delish!

Daphne February 25, 2011 - 4:23 PM

Love it!

The convenience, the “not thinking about it” aspect of food is what underscored my unhealthy eating habits. It was so nice to have someone else prepare my processed, usually fried, food. Come home from a long day at work (or heck just bumming around the house during the weekend), and I can order in! Fabulous. And I had such skewed thinking that I once believed purchasing a meal was cheaper than grocery shopping. OY.

That said, I’m still not quite there yet with enjoyment of cooking (but, I almost always enjoy the result). But since I decided to be conscious of what I ate, I knew I had to prepare it myself, as otherwise, I wouldn’t know what the heck was in my food. Definitely co-sign on the awareness.

Power Up Learning February 26, 2011 - 11:06 PM

You know, Erica, I tricked myself into thinking this was a healthy option for me when I’m super busy and don’t have time to prepare my own oatmeal at home. I did look at those 32gram of sugar and told myself that I’m cheating me. :< Thanks for the reminder!

T.R. June 4, 2011 - 2:11 PM

I LOVE LOVE LOVE oatmeal. I cook mine at home and add my own stuff. Personally I can’t stand those “instant” oatmeal’s. No flavor for me.

Truth be told I haven’t stepped into a McD’s in over 6 months. Since I committed (in action as opposed to just words) to a new lifestyle McD’s hasn’t been in my life and that’s a big thing because I could do some serious damage at McD’s, which was my all time favorite fast food restaurant. I’m shocked I haven’t even gotten the urge to go in, even though there is one right around the corner from me which I pass EVERY day. Hell, I’m just proud of that alone. :O)

BTW I’d love to hear more people’s oatmeal techniques especially making and storing for future meals. I don’t know if that can be a separate post. All things oatmeal. :O) Especially since you have it as one of our main meals on the meal plan. just a thought.

Jem June 4, 2011 - 4:43 PM

I grew up on homecooked oatmeal. I have an aversion to instant. I did try the McDonalds oatmeal. I thought it was too sweet, but at the time I thought it was a better option than the other stuff on the breakfast menu.

I noticed Starbucks was mentioned. They serve their oatmeal plain I believe, and give you a choice of toppings (brown sugar, fruit, nuts).

I do agree that it does not take much time to microwave some oats you bought from the grocery store. You can do it at home or at work if you have a microwave. But I also know the illusions that fast food provides. I can see how someone would rationalize that they “don’t have time” or means to boil water for a breakfast meal. The issue is definitely comfort. Has anyone ever read “Where The Heart Is,” or seen the movie. There is a reason the protagonist had her baby in a Wal-Mart….the same reason as why people go to McDonalds for food.

McDonalds is like American iconography. It’s a cheap way that almost anyone can get waited on. I understand the feelings of attachment people have. But you’re right, we need to really get to know why we do what we do.

Stefanie August 3, 2011 - 5:29 PM

I’VE BEEN FOOLED!!! I could argue why I visit McDonald’s, but no need; I’ve been going there for a LONG time. But I thought, ‘hey, they actually have something healthy that I can pick up on my way to work. It’s filling enough and doesn’t have too many calories.’ But to find out there are a lot of processed ingredients in there doesn’t upset me, but is very enlightening. Although I have not been to McDonald’s in about a month to purchase this oatmeal (only b/c one is not easily on my way to work, LOL), I will not be getting it again. I am one who does not cook ALL the time and I like pick up and go foods. So, along with making healthier choices, one of the most challenging things for me to do will be preparing all of my meals at home. I’m taking steps, though. I start with dinner, and work my way to breakfast, LOL.

Thanks for the post.

Erika November 6, 2011 - 1:00 PM

Geez, the fast food joints are killing us slowly. Even healthy oatmeal is now tainted. Just proved to you wear fast food joints hearts are, your wallet.

Vee April 17, 2012 - 9:27 AM

I used to always eat instant strawberries & cream oatmeal. Once I began eating clean I looked online for healthier versions of eating oatmeal.

I came up with the idea of making protein pancakes with oatmeal. I love it. My ingredients are 1/2 cup of oatmeal, a pinch of cinnamon, fresh fruit (strawberries or blue berries), and a scoop of protein powder. I love it. One of the most flavorful ways for me to now eat my oatmeal without the added sugar and additives 🙂

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