all of the selves we Have ever been
The food pyramid is ancient history,
and food in its natural form is becoming an artifact, too.
We are changing shape and raising the bar. Individually packaged slender rectangles that fit in a purse, a gym bag, or a pocket are now the shape of food. Once a to-go meal for astronauts, condensed chewy food has replaced traditional farm table fixings.
From the cereal aisle to the pharmacy aisle, a growing number of bars crowd the grocery store shelves. There are bars for strength, recovery, weight loss, and calorie supplementation. There are breakfast bars, cereal bars, meal bars, snack bars, and energy bars. Each type of bar comes in a multitude of varieties: gluten free, vegan, low carb, high protein, and keto. No longer is the consumer limited to the basic flavors of chocolate and vanilla. Add to the flavor menu peanut butter, birthday cake, maple donut, orange soda, coconut, and mint chocolate chip to name a few.
I admit it; I have tried quite a few bars, but I don’t think I will live long enough to try them all. Though we are people on the run, I can’t eat fast enough to keep up with the speedy supply of emerging types and flavors.
The new magic ingredient in this food is protein. It doesn’t matter how much sugar, sodium, or cholesterol the food contains. Somehow, the protein nullifies the ill effects of the other not-so-healthy ingredients. Because this new food originated with the astronauts as space food sticks in the 1960s and was later promoted as power bars by the athletic industry in the 1980s, we assume this culinary innovation must be the brainchild of science, and therefore, it must be good for us. And who doesn’t want to be an astronaut or an elite athlete? We love convenience foods, and if we can make good health simple and convenient, so much the better.
Leave it to the powerful food industry to deliver on our other childhood dreams. Large, individually wrapped cookies are marketed as the next innovation in health food. My inner child squeals with delight. She has always known that a row of Oreos paired with a glass of milk was the real breakfast of champions. Boxes of protein cookies now sit next to the bars on the store shelves. They also appear at fast food restaurants. In a plexi-glass case displaying large soft sugar and chocolate chip cookies, there is a rack designated for the oatmeal bars. They show up on the breakfast menu. I try one. My brain says “cookie,” but the menu says “breakfast.” Life can get better with age.
Last week I discovered that the food industry isn’t stopping with the cookie. The ultimate dream of every child who ever hated long family dinners, hard broccoli, and slimy fish is now being realized. Boxes filled with small, individually wrapped squares called “healthy candy” fill the end-caps of the health/pharmacy aisles. I pinch myself, “Am I dreaming?” Move over Russell Stover and Whitman; there is a new kid on the block. I will miss the guessing game of choosing a flavor, and the tiny, ruffled paper cups, but some compromises must be made. After all, this candy is serious; it is a meal not an after dinner holiday treat.
Though my soft, sweet, innocent inner child is exuberant, the hard shelled outer adult is prone to doubt and worry. What can be next when all of your food dreams are realized? Could food go digital? Will the byte replace the bite? Will food be reimagined or just imaginary? Even my inner child would find that hard to swallow.