Goldilocks, Cornucopias, and the American Diet

by Kim   |   October 29, 2009

As mentioned in an earlier post, there is a common vocabulary related to food, and it doesn't always relay qualities that are intrinsic to foodstuffs: think "crazy" fruit flavors and "sinful" chocolate. Another issue seems to preoccupy us, or at least food advertising: wanting "more"--whether more volume (super sizes) or more flavor. "Mega" "super" and "ultra" are such common descriptors in our products that I wonder if this tendency to hyperbole is an essentially American trait. I remember a college professor once remarking that the Thanksgiving story--a formative tale of American identity--centered on the cornucopia, a vessel overflowing with, as he described it, "not just enough, but more than enough." Maybe our yawning appetites can be traced to the endless bounty of the frontier. In the search for nutritional balance there are some other traditions we can look to.

Jonathan Bloom's Wasted Food Blog recently mentioned the Swedish term "lagom" which means "just enough" or "just right." This is not the "snack size" swindle performed when manufacturers make tiny cookies that induce you to eat more. This is a different value, a state of mind that is as choosy about the right fit of a meal as one would be about a shoe. A food that is not "mega" or "ultra" is even better for being just right.

Then there is the Okinawan idea of hara hachi bu, or eating until you are 80% full. Okinawans are known for their longevity, so they must be doing something right. Can you imagine a restaurant advertisement here that touted "you'll be 80% full after one of our meals"?

As the seasons change it is even more important to take a conscious stance towards food consumption. Cold weather tends to bring out the hibernating instinct in all of us: comfort foods soothe on bad-weather days while hot beverages and soups can sneak in extra calories as they warm. Wherever we get the inspiration, our culture needs to start valuing the "just right" and the "almost-full." Like Goldilocks, it pays to be discerning, pursuing the state of "just right."