Here come the holidays! And in case you haven’t noticed, Halloween candy was out on the shelves on the first day of school. At least it was where I live. Two months ahead of schedule.
Halloween always was the silver lining for me when I faced down the dread of a new school year. And the prospect of chomping on a bunch of bonbons was definitely a big part of it.
Other than this obvious encouragement, aka “pushing”, of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup by Big Candy and their lobbyists (wanna talk about “gateway” drugs…let’s start here), why do we crave sweet, especially during the holidays?
According to Chinese Medicine, sweet is the taste of home. The Stomach and Spleen organ networks comprise the Earth element, and sweet, as in a sweet potato, not a candy corn, is the flavor of the Earth element.
This natural sweet taste is equated with the sweetness of feeling held, contained and loved in a safe, cozy, home. Like the life of a normal hobbit. It’s the sweetness of breast milk and the connection that can form between mother and infant. It’s a sweetness that many Americans and other diaspora people yearn for in the wake of leaving their ancestral homes, even after many generations of living on their new continent. It’s the sweet used in Passover, of returning back to a homeland.
When the holidays come around, if we are fortunate to have a family to whom we can, or want, to visit, we are usually greeted with gobs of sugary options that we might not keep around during the rest of the year. “Everyone’s doing it” kicks in along with this innate craving for any readily available association with the sweetness of being in a home, in a homeland, surrounded by homies. Yes, that’s right my homies.
“Homies” originally meant a child who had grown up in a group home like my Dad. He often shared the story about the rare occasion of eating a tootsie roll when he was a kid. In a sense, most Americans are homies. Even if we grow up in relatively stable, successful families, we are raised without a strong sense of homeland and history regarding where we actually live. The average American moves 13 times in a lifetime, according to Deborah Tall in her book, From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place.
So, without a real sense of a homeland, a genuine sense of the Earth upon which we stand, our body compensates by trying to nourish the Earth element via naturally sweet foods. And we are provided with aisles-worth of fake substitutes that I forsake in this moment but will lust after at some point in the near future, if only to remember the excitement of being a kid who craved silly orange and yellow and red and purple packaged junk. Awareness is always the first, and often, very long step.
The problem with the high-octane, toxic mimics of natural sugar is that they are highly oxidative. Oxidative is a confusing word because even though its root is the word “oxygen”, it actually means oxygen is being used up. Which means that when we eat this sexy junk, it burns a bunch of the oxygen in our bodies cells in the same way that a high combustion, rocket fuelled dragster consumes fuel and oxygen. That’s what combustion is, fire + oxygen. Sugar is the fuel that ignites and, thus consumes, our cellular oxygen. Here is a recently published article from the NY Times about the sugar industries efforts to manipulate public opinion by paying two influential Harvard scientists to publish a major review paper in 1967 that "minimized the link between sugar and heart health and shifted the blame to saturated fat."
Living a healthy life is about a slow, steady burn. The drag racing lives we’re encouraged to live burn up oxygen unnecessarily leading to cancers, auto-immune conditions, chronic fatigue, etc. This is why anti-oxidants (foods that help restore and build cellular oxygen) are so commercially popular as cancer preventatives.
So, when we eat a bunch of sugary things during the holidays, we are depriving our cells of oxygen, also known as oxidative stress, leaving us much less able to fight off infections of any kind. Unbalanced stress is the root of dis-ease, even etymologically.
The irony is that a large part of the sugar craving is a deep desire to feel less stressed, to feel at home with ourselves and our families. That’s the toxic mimic part of this disease; we crave a toxic substitution for a genuine human need. We have a genuine need for a safe, contained, familiar environment. Even if that house has wheels, which is probably where I'm headed. “It’s so satisfying” pretty much sums it up. A false taste of home wrapped up in plastic.
During disjunctive moments when an old family pattern of domination or negligence rears it’s whatever head, we might find ourselves topping off a drink (alcohol is processed by our bodies back to the refined sugar from whence it came) or grabbing a cookie or something else devilishly delicious to compensate for the turbulence. Maybe try throwing a cookie in stead.
I guess what I’m saying is that this is a conspiracy. Not intentional. But we are breathing the same air, con-spiring. And for most of us, except a few like my friend Ethan’s family out at the Possibility Alliance, that means not really feeling at home. And craving the sweetness of belonging. In the words of my favorite wordster, Carolyn Casey (The Visionary Activist Show), we are tasked with tapping into our endogenous indigenous. Becoming rooted. Falling in love with where we are. And staying put.