Sunday, August 5, 2012

Of Crackers and Cabbage

Our friend Judith gave us a package of Kim’s Magic Pop that she discovered on a recent trip to New York. Korean wafers of puffed wheat, brown rice, and corn, about six inches in diameter, the critical feature of which is that they are a fun snack and only 15 calories each! While that particular brand is only available back East, Debbie and I decided to take a short spin down to Sunnyvale where there is a large Korean population and correspondingly large Korean markets. We love walking into an environment where there are virtually no English conversations to be overheard, where we are among the few, if not the only Caucasians, and where we can pretend we have just taken a mini-vacation to Asia. It’s a cheap thrill.

It took all of about 16 seconds to determine that puff wafers of the kind we were seeking were plentiful along aisle 5A. There were many to choose from—lots of variations on the theme. I read every label for ingredients and calorie content and selected a few to bring home and sample. To take full advantage of our virtual trip to Korea we decided to peruse the rest of the store in search for other interesting Seoul food (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Making the highlight reel was a tank of slug-like creatures wiggling around in a tank of water. We didn’t buy any of those. We did pick up a few types of vegetable noodles some of which claimed to have zero calories. Those should make the remainder of my ersatz high protein Optifast chicken soup meals a tad more captivating. Later I lingered at the kimchi case a while noticing that an entire jar of the spicy fermented cabbage had 200 calories! As much kimchi as I would likely eat in one sitting would barely make the radar screen of my daily intake.

Now that I have all these crackers and cabbage I wonder: is this a good thing? Our weight management facilitator/coach has encouraged us to start reading labels and searching for healthful choices as we start to reenter the world of real food. The products I just purchased may cause little harm. On the other hand they provide little nourishment, and the big question for me is: does grabbing a snack of these demonstrate a sensible way to respond to the need to munch on something crunchy and tasty, or are they reinforcing old bad habits of thinking I gotta eat something just because I wanna eat something. In other words, would I be better off postponing this oral gratification, benign as it may be? or is this a reasonable response to a natural desire?

I will pose this question to our aforementioned coach. Meanwhile I will imagine what her response will be. Let’s see how close I come…. The answer is outside the boundaries of the question. Whether it is responsible or irresponsible depends on the mindset with which one approaches the behavior. Is eating kimchi and puffy wafers part of a conscientious eating plan? Have their nutrients been accounted for in advance as either part of a planned meal or snack in the context of a full day’s intake? Are the snacks measured out, eaten consciously, and logged in a daily eating journal? If all of these are true than we’re good to go! If, on the other hand, one were to stand before the open refrigerator with fork in hand, eating out of the kimchi jar, or grab the bag of wafers and mindlessly munch on them while watching a Top Chef season 3 marathon—not so good! What I am telling myself is that it almost doesn’t matter what food I insert into this question—lo-cal, hi-cal, Korean, Mexican, whatever—is it planned? is it conscious? is it recorded? These are what it takes to eat responsibly.

Did I get it right, Coach?  

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