As an exercise in self control, I told myself I would not eat any more Halloween candy today. Within an hour I had convinced myself I didn’t need to exercise my self control and dug into the candy anyway. Worse, while I usually reach for two of the small chocolate bars, this time I ate four.
Usually my diet is very healthy: simple, whole foods that I try to buy locally. But I have a powerful sweet tooth and I find the more sugary treats I eat, the more I crave. I must also have a fat tooth, for if the recipe includes some fat with the sugar… well, I’m salivating just thinking about it.
If I have any addiction, it is to sugar. I have been known to dip a (clean) spoon in the honey jar to satisfy my after dinner cravings. Like the tobacco smoker, I no longer get any perceivable “high” from my consumption, but somehow I just don’t feel satisfied without it. I crave.
I have tried all the techniques I teach: deep breathing meditations, delaying with a walk and distracting myself with writing; but nothing seems to work for long. I find myself meditating on how I’m very active and will burn the extra sugar, I get back from my walk hungry, and I’m on the verge of opening another candy as I write this line!
If I can keep the sweets out of my house by leaving them at the store, I can avoid eating them. With time, my cravings diminish. Usually I avoid the grocery store as much as possible; most of my food is from the local Farmer’s Market. Whole foods have the benefit of breaking down slower and don’t give the same addictive sugar high of processed foods; and shopping at the Farmer’s Market supports my local economy.
We still have to go to the store for milk and staples. With my last trip to the store, I noticed the aisles are filled with displays of candy. Halloween, Christmas, Easter: the candy-makers use holidays to overwhelm us with marketing.
What is Halloween without candy? I don’t want to be the guy on the block that gives out apples.
Or do I?
Do I risk my house getting egged because I know in my heart it is morally wrong to give children the very drug that threatens to consume my soul?
What is it that makes me feel compelled to buy candy for children when studies are starting to prove it is as addictive as smoking? What if I chose to give out cigarettes at Halloween? Somehow there is a difference: society has made a moral decision, a conscious choice, that cigarettes are worse than sugar and fat. However, the obesity epidemic may prove otherwise.
The truth is that the values we accept are not always good for people. Like candy at Halloween, many of our accepted social norms were created by a trillion dollar corporate marketing industry. It is an industry that is designed to keep us consuming despite the negative consequences. In other words, they market to our addictions.
Cigarettes, alcohol, fast food, passive entertainment, gambling, sex: all are marketed to us relentlessly; irrespective of the lung cancer, liver disease, diabetes, obesity, poverty and oppression that result. Marketing is so pervasive that it is more than controlling our culture, it is creating it.
Since I have cancelled my cablevision, I am able to see the marketing more clearly. The less time I spend in the grocery store, the more I can see how the aisles are designed to pull you in – the items look so good, you can’t help but make the impulse decision to buy! As I try to make conscious consumer choices that improve my health and invest in my community, I find myself with more power to resist the temptations that are marketed to me.
People are social creatures by nature; we have evolved with the tendency to conform. Not too long ago, it was dangerous to go against the grain of culture, to speak about change. Today, more and more people are disconnecting from the consumer culture; more and more are speaking up. People are concerned about health: personal health, the health of their family, their community and the planet.
Once enough people embrace an idea, that becomes the new culture. The very conformity that trapped us will pull us together into a new collective vision. I believe we each know intuitively what the right choices are. We just have to individually make the conscious choice to turn those ideas into action.
This year had record numbers of people at the Farmer’s Markets. More and more people are planting gardens. Parents are cancelling their cablevision and telling their kids to play outside. Maybe next Halloween, it will be acceptable to give out apples?
Yet in the end, I still find myself struggling to avoid the candy bar I know is in the next room. How can I, in good moral conscience, give such an addictive substance to children? It would probably be best for everyone if I just ate it myself.
Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor.