Thursday, July 26, 2012
From the universal to the purely (or impurely) human, last post. And here, if humanity is what humanity eats, then we must look at the ingredients of our food.
We've all been taught that major food groups are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. These are no idle assignments, but chemical divisions — carbohydrates, literally carbon-with-water, are sugars and their polymers such as starches; fats are the esters of glycerol, a substance that can add up to three long chains of carbonaceous substance, forming triglycerides; proteins are polymers made by stringing together large numbers of amino acids. Carbohydrates are fuel; fats are complex materials that serve to insulate and protect (and in extremis, be broken down to make more fuel); proteins are the building blocks of most of our working parts.
For bone and our electromechanical systems, we need inorganics with our organics. Mineral matter, the kind of stuff that the crematorium attendant sweeps out into an urn after the black grease of our passing has tainted the air. Without the minerals, we'd be goo, and rather insensate goo at that.
Yes, we are impurities in water, but the water would not have form without the stuff we use to shape it. Our impurities are to water as the structure of a building is to the air and light within it.
And that brings me to the issue of food safety. Food is mostly safe, and in the cases when it is not, we have only ourselves to blame. But the human body and its main metabolic organs — mostly the liver and kidneys — are able to clear most of the unwanted chemicals. The rest, presumably, consists of wanted chemicals.
Of all the carbohydrates, glucose is most prized. Without it, nothing works, since our bodies are designed to store and burn glucose. Of all the fats, animal fats are most prized, since our bodies are most equipped to move it around — after all, our own fat -is- animal fat. And of all the proteins, animal proteins are most prized, for the same reasons. We do not have the mainly-vegetable-diet construction of the ruminants; we can't digest fibre and we find it hard to extract value from plants.
However, the detractors are right to say we should cut down on animal-based food, simply because we eat too much of it. A steak should last for weeks; we shouldn't be eating a steak a week (or worse). Fat is good, but not more than a heavy spoonful a day or so. And if we aren't labourers on a farm or athletes in the Olympics, we don't need 5000-10000 kcal a day. We can get by on 1500 or so.
What I find amusing is the desire to have impure food instead of pure — sea salt instead of pure sodium chloride, honey instead of pure glucose, organic vegetables instead of those grown on ammonium nitrate and carefully-calibrated mineral content. Like the making of steel, pure foods ensure no unpleasant surprises compared to what is expected: no pollen-induced asthmatic attacks, no haemolytic attacks from allergy to added Vitamin K, no bone fractures from drinking too much added calcium and not having enough sunlight and fat.
Not that I mind impure food, perish the thought. It tastes better, even if it's not necessarily healthier.