One of the greatest Serbian poets of the twentieth century, Vojislav Despotov, said that the greatest monster of them all is bacon, the kind we, in northern parts of Serbia, call “soapy,” without any meat, just pure fat. He unfortunately proved this true, because he died at the age of 50 of cardiac arrest. However, after publishing more than twenty collections of poetry, fiction, essays and translations, one could not argue that he led an empty life, nor that he would have been more proliferate had he lived according to the rules of a healthy diet. Or, to put things in perspective, the guy who “invented” jogging, James Fixx, died at the age of fifty-two, but the guy who “invented” Nutella, Michele Ferrero, almost celebrated ninetieth birthday. Are people who are eating healthy smarter, prettier, happier, or there is another logic behind all that hype of proscribing and insisting on the right way to spend our time on this tiny planet? Happiness is a warm gun, said the Beatles almost fifty years ago, but to repeat that today would be even worse than a call to eat human flesh, meaning we know how a happy person and/or family looks– it’s on the commercial for the new cereals.
The argument that I would like to propose is the following – we (humanity as a whole, from Australia to Alaska, and from North Korea to Norway) are living in very strictly-controlled societies, and the things are getting worse. The real monsters are not in the things we are eating, but in the instances that are telling us what to eat, drink, inhale or digest, because you ought not to think, you just listen and buy. And the more you are doing this, the happier you would be.
The syntagm healthy food industry sounds contradictory because industry understands mass production, while our notion of healthy food most of the time means ecological farms with very limited production, people working with handmade tools, and food that does not look like it does in the commercials. However, the industry of health is not some mystical thing, but a real business which, like many other modern businesses (computers, for instance), stemmed from the different New Age movements that, at the very beginning, had some ideological consistency. As the saying goes, the hippies knew it all. However, as it was and is the case with other similar fashions, it was very quickly internalized by capitalism, and what was once “bio” and/or “eco” is now widely merchandized. One gets the impression that there is not a single food product that is without its “bio” or “eco” counterpart. Even Coca-Cola and McDonald's recently changed or adapted their colors to green, or greenish. In Serbia, they started selling new bottles of Coke with green tabs, since green is the color of ecology. And I am not going to mention their “low fat” or “sugar free” products that have been with us for decades now, equally deadly because they are full of artificial sweeteners.
Naturally, one cannot, if one is sane and sound, neglect the need of proper diet. Eating healthy is not a matter of fashion, but of common sense. The famous book and documentary by Morgan Spurlock, Supersize Me showed, through humorous and ironic self-experimentation, all the dangers of junk food. But still. Have we ever thought about how healthy health food is? A friend of mine told me an interesting story from a food market. He bought some “eco” apples from an old lady. They were not big, red and round, as in the Disney's rendering of Snow White, but looked as if they were grown on an eco farm – small, stained, and slightly bumpy (the kind that no Snow White from the late 30s would ever have taken from the evil witch, but those of today probably would). He needed not to say that the price was a bit higher, but since he was buying fruit for his children, who have to eat healthily, he did not hesitate a minute. Though, when the market ended and the cleaners started to clean the place, he saw the old lady messing around the garbage cans. He came nearer and saw that she was pulling apples out of one of them. Then he realized that she simply sold as healthy the dropped, half rotten, non-ecological apples, the Snow White friendly ones, exactly those filled with insecticides, fungicides, and all the other poisons that are widely used to keep them so beautiful. He approached her and informed her that he knows what she's doing. But she was calm and said that it was the only way she can earn some money, and survive the merry capitalism in Serbia. Think just what the big health food corporations and markets are doing, and please do not be naive to believe everything you read in small font.
Health was always imperative, but more so in today’s world. Only a healthy person can be productive. Only if you save yourself from the dangers of bad diets/habits can you work till you die and, paradoxically, you will die healthy. Isn't that kind of odd? I really don't want to die healthy. And I really don't want to work till the day I die. In other words, the whole health industry, and the health food industry along with it, serves not to make you safe and sound, but to invent new ways of enslaving, in order to perfect your body so you can endure and produce more.
We must not forget another logic behind the curtain of perfect muscles and shining teeth of mannequin bodies that pose for the commercials – healthy food is expensive. When Novak Djokovic published his autobiography, a journalist tried to copy his dietary habits. It lasted two and half days. Not only because the man did not like the food, but because of the fact that his pay could not match monthly consumption of avocado, cashew butter, natural fibers and grains, as well as organic and bio chicken and beef. You want to be like Novak, you have to spend big. And if you cannot do that, then rot in hell. That is the logic of capitalism – it produces needs and then they’re pumped up out of proportion, so that only rich can fulfill them.
Another thing that we seem to forget is that today’s world is filled with stress. The needs it produces really do not exist. One gets into a mania of fulfilling them, only to be accepted in the society of tall thin and beautiful people, as if the notion of beauty is not socially-conceived. This need for uniformity is rather frightful and, at the same time, our minds are filled with the need for diversity. So, this creation of false desires that are produced daily is the main cause of the stress, which leads to other illnesses, lethal ones, such as cancer and cardiac diseases. You have to look beautiful, you have to be skinny, you have to be this and that – the real question is why? We don’t need that. That will not make us happy, that will not put us in a state of internal peace and calm. The production of the new models of mobile phones, and the fast changing of dietary models – chia seeds, black sesame, acai juice, lentils etc., are the same. Every day you can find lists of superfoods that can change your life, that could give you energy and, at the same time, you will lose weight, just as the new iPhone will give you experiences you did not have with the previous model.
I do not want to sing praises of the past, of socialist era Yugoslavia. I won't be trying to convince you that there was a golden age of any kind, in which the state and other elements of power did not try to rip us off, and sell us short, but it was rather different when there was a sense of an objectified world and its truth in our minds. It was rather different when people had jobs and did not starve on the streets and pull food out of the garbage cans, whether for selling or for eating. In the days when everybody smoked in TV studios, the world looked like a more promising place. The discrepancies between those who have everything and those who have nothing were much vaguer. However, we lost that feeling of unity of mankind somewhere along the way. Once, the food was scarce, but there was general feeling that things would change for the better. Today, when there is food in abundance, healthy or not, it’s just a question of perspective, what we lost is hope. And that is really monstrous.