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The Fruit Crusade

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So, the PI had this article about a woman
who gave up refined sugar for a year
. The thing that amazed and annoyed me
about this article was the way giving up sugar was treated as being such a big
deal. You know, a "test of willpower," a "reflection on the impossible."

The article is full of anecdotes about how hard it all was, how she
huffed doughnut smell and ran around like a maniac and felt empty and lost when
other people ate dessert and envious when people ate holiday-related sugars.
And then at some point she makes honey-only toffee and pigs out on it, and somehow
that isn’t a break from the no-sugar rule, even though she feels terrible afterward,
so whatever.

The article has a smug tone that gets on my nerves, but the kicker is that,
by the standards of this article, I haven’t eaten any sugar for almost twenty
years. And you don’t see me sending press releases to the PI. But then,
I didn’t give up sugar as part of a decision to "’create a simpler life,’
leave their jobs and spend several months helping others." I stopped eating
sugar because it makes me feel like crap.

Years ago, I realized that I have blood sugar issues — if my blood sugar gets low, I feel nauseated, disoriented, anxious, and sometimes aggressive. I turn into the Low Blood Sugar Bitch From Hell, which is a bit like turning into a werewolf. Once I noticed this I started to pay close attention to, more or less, what is now called the glycemic index of foods. One of the first things I discovered was that sugary "treats" hit my system like a semi truck.

You know how too much sugar causes a spike, then a drop, in blood sugar? I swear, for me that cycle takes about ten minutes. One cookie and I go from manic to sick before I’m done chewing.

Some of that is the result of a long-term feedback loop. When you eat less sugar, your body gets even more sensitive to the sugar you do eat. So you eat even less sugar. Etc.

I can’t say I’m one hundred percent sugar free. For example, many items which
are not actually sweet — sauces, baked goods — actually do contain a small
amount of sugar, for flavor-balancing or chemical properties or whatever. I
get sweet cocktails, sometimes, because I can’t go to New Orleans and not
sit in the courtyard at Pat O’Brien’s and if I’m sitting there I can’t not
get at least one giant hurricane in a fancy glass, and I think they make those
things by adding rum to that stuff you put in hummingbird feeders, so that’s
about a year’s worth of sugar right there.

I put sugar in very bad coffee. It’s a measurement I have. "How’s the
coffee?" "Bad. It’s creamer coffee. No, worse, it’s sugar coffee.
No, even worse than that — it’s cream and two sugars coffee."

There are a few sugary things that I like well enough to bother eating them sometimes, even knowing that I will feel like crap later. And some sweet items (like baklava) use honey, which, in small quantities, doesn’t flip out my metabolism in the same way. And I sometimes eat things (like yogurt) that are fruit-juice sweetened.

But I still have to be careful, because too much fruit juice, or honey,
is a problem. When you use fruit juice to make something as sweet as it would
be if you used sucrose, and if you consume fruit juice in the giant quantities
that people often consume things like pop, that can still be too much concentrated
sugar. So I end up eating a lot of plain yogurt.

Yes, that’s right, I eat plain nonfat yogurt. And I like
it.

When you don’t eat sugar — especially if you don’t just substitute artificial
sweeteners — your palette gets sort of reset, so that you actually notice the
innate sweetness of things like grains and milk. And, oh yeah, fruit. Because
I do get sugar cravings. I think, "mmmm, I want something sweet."
And what I want is fruit.

I’m pretty sure fruit is the reason we crave sugar the way we do. Most candy and treatlike items are like a parody of fruit — sweet, intensely flavored, brightly colored. It’s like they are fooling a very deep part of our brains into thinking they are "good." It’s like a joke. A very bad joke.

Which reminds me of cake.

Sometimes I give in to peer pressure and participate in social rituals like
birthday cake. This has led me to realize that I hate cake. For a while I was
convinced that cake was so awful that nobody actually liked it. I suspected
it was all part of a gigantic conspiracy. The cake conspiracy.

Here is this hideous "treat" that is a traditional part of all our major commemorative ceremonies, and everyone hates it, but nobody realizes they hate it because the ritual is so deeply ingrained. And part of the ritual isn’t just the fact that we have to consume this unpleasant substance, which manages somehow to be both dry and sticky, both flavorless and sickeningly sweet, part of the ritual is that we have to act excited about it. We’re supposed to go, "Oh boy! Cake!"

Since then, I have been convinced that there are people who sincerely enjoy cake. So, maybe I’m alone, but I still feel strongly about this. Dear world, please do not ever give me cake for my birthday ever again, thank you. I will accept pie.

Like the woman in the article, I have become very sensitive to how much sugar permeates our daily lives, but unlike her, I’m kind of angry about it. I resent sugar. I see it as an adversary, me against sugar for all eternity.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t be angry. People aren’t deliberately bugging me
by bringing in a box of donuts instead of bagels or croissants, or by putting
a sugar frosting glaze on top of an otherwise acceptable cinnamon roll, or by
buying the kind of peanut butter that, oh God, why, has sugar in it.

The fact that sometimes if I’m really hungry and there’s nothing around except sugar, and I eat the sugar anyway, and then later I feel sick and like I want to kill everyone, really, that’s my own fault for not planning better.

But sometimes it feels like a constant uphill struggle against the world — no, I don’t want any sugar, thank you. No, I still don’t want any sugar. To tell the truth, I am never going to want that sugar. Honest, you can stop considering me when you offer people sugar. Please, God, would you stop offering me sugar!

And it bugs me that sugar, especially mass-produced factory sugar, is still
considered a "treat." Sugar is cheaper than food, people! It’s cheap
and, let’s face it, usually terrible. Fruit is a much better treat — it’s pricier,
yummier, and still has a bit of seasonality about it, so that you can think
"yay! they have those little Christmas oranges again!"

I am on a crusade, probably pointless, even in this world of rampant childhood
obesity and type II diabetes, to de-sweeten the notion of what constitutes a
treat, to de-ubiquitize sugar, to de-cakeify our social rituals. We have to
replace it with something, and I don’t want this to be only a negative crusade,
so… fruit. It’s about the love of fruit. It’s about rescuing fruit from its
dull "good for you" reputation and restoring its slightly naughty
image as an object of indulgence and temptation.

The Fruit Crusade. Pointless, probably, but at least it involves fruit.

Simulcast at gothhouse.org

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22 Comments

  1. I am SO on your side. Cake is not my biggest issue — there are a few kinds of cake I like — though they’re all invariably homemade. But I positively abhor brownies and doughnuts and 99% of all mass-produced sugar treats. And I totally understand the feedback loop — I used to be able to eat those tiny snickers and mr. goodbars, for example, but now even those taste dreadful to me.

    I like pie. Especially fruit tarts. I will happily eat pie for breakfast.

    (It also drives me nuts when people assume that refusing sugar is some sort of moral choice you’ve made; that secretly you crave it, but you want to display how upright and sacrificing you are…/end tiny rant)

  2. I’m with you on the sugar thing. I don’t put sugar even in very bad coffee, I just can’t stand it.

    I do like pie and cake, but as an occasional treat. I have a sweetness level. I like stuff that is sweet, but not so much that it makes me feel ill. As I twittered the other day I had a banana scone in a cafe the other day that was so sweet I found it intolerable.

    I too love natural, plain yoghurt. I don’t like sugared cereals, museli, etc. We don’t even have unrefined sugar in our house – it’s honey, and brown sugars like muscavado, cane, or palm.

    I was making a sweet and sour veg & tofu meal the other night and viewed the amount of sugar listed for the recipe with scepticism. I cut the sugar (and used muscavado) in third, and it was sweet enough for me.

    In this regard I don’t consider myself unusual or weird, but merely conscious of the kind of thing my body prefers.

    I suspect there is also a difference between American & European culture. The prevalence of sugar in everything in the USA is on a level not in evidence over here. Don’t get me wrong, the advance of American-style fast foods over here has brought more of it in, but having lived on both sides of the Atlantic I would say that America is far more sugar-addicted than over here.

    Fruit is lovely. I add a variety of dried fruit to my porridge in the morning to give it sweetness (I don’t even like honey on porridge), and it’s good for you.

    • right, ditto unsweetened unflavored yogurt, and ditto dried fruit! Both those things are awesome.

      Lately I’ve been having hot cracked wheat for breakfast with dried cherries and walnuts. Excellent….

      • Thinking about it, I realised I like tart, as well as sweet, dried fruit on my porridge: sour cherries, apricots, raisins, and cranberries are my current mix (not handfuls, a few of each). Since I added the sour cherries and cranberries I find I enjoy my breakfast a lot more (I also put a dab of plain yoghurt on top, along with a sprinkle of grated seeds). This is the breakfast of champions.

  3. “yay! they have those little Christmas oranges again!”

    I love the little Christmas oranges! I’m eating one right now!

  4. I like a balance of tart and sweet, and many things are too sweet for me to even think about eating, so yes fruit is my sweet food of choice.

    This year I dried apples and Italian plums for a pick-me-up snack. (I prefer them fresh, but dried plums are pretty good, and dried apples are more portable and don’t bruise.)

    I confess, though, that I love cake. I always have and I don’t know why. There’s a bakery in town here (actually one of the partners is a friend and I met him through the poetry crowd) that does amazing cakes. A little goes a long way, though, and a bad cake that is only sweet is always worse than no cake.

    Actually, anything that is only sweet is worse than nothing at all. Yuck.

    We’re lucky to live in a world where fruit is available all year.

  5. I think I’ve eaten my weight in satsumas this year. Mmm.

    And nothing beats plain Greek yogurt! I can’t abide the sugary, fruity American stuff, except for possibly plain Brown Cow.

    Cake, though. I like good cake. Not gummy, overly sweet cake, but nicely done cake. Pie still trumps cake, though. Good berries are even better, but satsumas are heaven on earth.

  6. I can’t see myself ever giving up sugar entirely; I enjoy it too much; my metabolism doesn’t crash that hard, that fast.

    However, it’s getting harder to find foods these days that are actually sweetened with sugar. Even leaving aside the conventional artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and goodness knows what other chemical trends, I can’t abide this “glucose-fructose” stuff — for most of the reasons you mention. It hits me much harder, much faster, and much less pleasantly than honest sugar. And that’s brought me to reading the ingredients more and more carefully on my sugar-craving snacks to make sure that I’m actually getting sugar. It’s becoming harder. I haven’t wholly given up on glucose-fructose yet, but I think this may be the year.

    There are of course levels of sugary refinement, each with its own level of semitrailerality. In my home baking I’ve given up white sugar so completely that I didn’t at first notice I had typed, “shite sugar,” in this sentence. I’ll use demerara, honey and/or molasses, but the white powdery stuff bakes into cookies with no reason to live.

    And plain yoghurt? It’s the only kind to eat! My response to the flavoured stuff mirrors your interpretation of cake: I still cannot understand why anybody would voluntarily consume it, unless it was the only form of sustenance available, and for years I did not accept that anybody else might actually enjoy it. –I do like cake, though. Except the weird fluffy things with more preservatives than flour which people occasionally bring home from Safeway and call cake. In fact, it occurs to me only now that perhaps that’s what you meant by “cake”; maybe there’s a cultural difference?

    • I can’t tell if “glucose-fructose” stuff is the same as High Fructose Corn Sweetener, which pollutes nearly all of US foods. I get the impression that, in Canada, HFCS is only one of the sweeteners label(l)ed “glucose-fructose.”

      I assure you, Julie does not like good cake either; although I do understand the distinction you make — like the difference between pizza and frozen pizza, or juice and Sunny Delight. Or Rocket Donuts and do(ugh)nuts.

      In the US, Budweiser is very different from beer, too.

      • Oh, sure, if you don’t like cake, then it doesn’t matter if the quality is high or low. Give me the best licorice in the world and I’ll still chuck it in the garbage. Good grapefruit versus bad grapefruit? Doesn’t matter one bit–all grapefruit (and licorice) are banned from my taste buds.

      • Yes, it’s a corn syrup derivative, and it’s been polluting ever more American import food for the past couple of years. If there are other sweeteners grouped within a larger “glucose-fructose” rubric, it wouldn’t surprise me at all, although I might weep for transparency in food labelling.

        I shall make a note to offer Julie pie, and not cake, if ever I should succeed in luring you folks up north. That she simply doesn’t like cake is very much the impression I got from this post … but halfway through my final paragraph I was struck by the recollection that American parties always seem to have some variety of Safeway-cake present, and the sudden doubt that the word “cake” means to Americans what I think it means. Thanks for reassuring me!

  7. Mmmm, fruit. . .

    Biblical scholars have gone on record that the “apple” Eve offered her husband was more likely a nectarine. I can really sympathize at that point.
    We live and die by the glycemic index around here, so the naughtiness of fruit already has a solid foothold in our house. Those little Christmassy oranges, in particular, were what Mister would scream and cry for, and eat three or five of at a sitting, his first Yule. This wound up requiring compensatory doses of insulin that were terrifying to me, and we would have to hide the mandarins/buy them in smaller quantities (and send warning emails to relatives in advance of visits.) Those and grapes are what we’ve used to rescue him from overdoses, when, even with his blood sugar plummeting to coma-levels, sugared stuff is just too icky for him to eat. You can’t argue with that other than by IV-dripping glucose into him, so grapes it is. (I watched him grimly chew through three pounds of them one morning at the hospital when grandma had accidentally given him the wrong dose, while hospital staff tried in vain to ply him with the “forbidden” (sugary, brightly coloured ) popsicles. At the tender age of two he already knew they were a lie.)
    Carry on; you’re not alone.

  8. I had no idea you didn’t eat sugar. Something to keep in mind, I suppose. Also most cake is awful. I can only think of a couple of cake types that I actually like… Serena makes a cake with booze that is really quite good, and um…

    I think tiny oranges are a cruel, stringy abomination. Come the revolution, they’ll be first against the wall, as far as I’m concerned. They’ll be like “we caught these counterrevolutionaries,” and I’ll be all, “to hell with that, get me all the Satsumas!”

  9. As a massive and unrepentant cake addict, I’m here to tell you that there is an awful lot of bad food in the world.

    Most of it contains refined or processed sweeteners.

    My current economic difficulties aside, I could live the rest of my life eating nothing but fruits and nuts (and their derivatives), and be happy and content, never wanting for new taste experiences or opportunities.

    Fruit is good for you. It is important. It is EXACTLY what your body needs and wants at any given time. Every thing you eat is churned and processed and then burned to produce something resembling what comes naturally out of a piece of fruit.

    Luckily for us, Homo Sapiens Sapiens has forcibly relocated colony upon colony of helpful bacteria in our guts that assist us in our campaign of dominance over the rest of the food chain. Occasionally, folk like myself are lacking or are unable to host such benign parasites.

    Or we have let them die.

    When I was young, I ate what my parents ate, what my friends ate, and I was constantly sick, underweight, and miserable. I stopped drinking milk regularly around age 16, and began packing on strong, heavy muscles as my body stopped fighting itself for air.

    When I moved away to college, I stopped eating poultry, and then all meat in general, and for the first time in my life I could breathe free and clear. I became healthy, tall and strong, and remained so for as long as I had enough money to eat “properly”.

    Jobless, homeless, free of foreign entanglements, my diet changed rapidly into what food was cheap, available, and met minimum daily standards.

    In other words, I got sick, underweight, and miserable.

    If I don’t eat some kind of fruit every day (even the expedient and not very fruit-like substitute of Juice) I feel myself starting to die.

    Fruit is your friend. Kill some today. Tear into its tender flesh with your sharp, cutting incisors. Feel its solid strength break apart under the pressure of your stronger, grinding molars, and then let its corpse slide down your throat into the furnaces of Abdominia.

    Show those Bacteria who’s boss!

    • Yes, your sincere love of cake was one of the things that convinced me that it wasn’t *just* a big conspiracy…

  10. Anonymous Anonymous

    My Year Without

    Hi there, I am the one who was written about in the Seattle PI. Sorry that you did not enjoy the article! I think we have more in common than not. Have you checked out my blog? (myyearwithout.blogspot.com) One of the reasons I gave up sugar (ALL refined sugar) was because it seemed so hard to do…not just because of willpower, but because sugar and corn syrup seem to be in most packaged products. It was incredible how much sugar I found in things.
    Like you said, I agree that fruit is a much better treat. Because I’ve eaten so much fruit, I’ve learned how to get over my sugar cravings for the white stuff. I would be interested to know what you think of my actual experiences of going without sugar. Again, the article may have portrayed me in a way you didn’t like, but I’m pretty sure we would relate as people!

    • Re: My Year Without

      Well, I found the topic very interesting, which is why I read the article. I was just disappointed with the execution.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Ha, you and the Bhagwan. Yes, both of you convinced me that there are genuine cake-lovers out there.

  11. This series of posts convinced me to go eat twinkies.

    Reduction is much easier than abstinance.

    • Um…. twinkies?

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