I love good cakes and pies and other calorie-rich baked goods. I’m an award-winning baker (admittedly, the Lane County Fair is a small pond) with an international reputation due to having taken my offerings to numerous potlucks for international students and civic functions over the course of the years. Yet, despite the potential unlimited availability of premium chocolate cake and homemade strudel, I rarely overindulge, and I’ve never felt I came close to having an eating disorder. I’ve lost my youthful figure, but I’m not seriously overweight. Food of the most tempting description doesn’t seem to be addictive for me.
Over the last decade I’ve rented out rooms to people, at least three of whom did have significant eating disorders. The behavior of these women puzzled me. I would leave my homemade cakes and cookies out on the common kitchen table, with an invitation to all my housemates to partake, and invariably the normal eaters helped themselves, while the overeaters and bulimics avoided what was offered. Being a recovering alcoholic, I can understand why a person would want to avoid temptation, lest it lead to compulsive overeating. I did ask these housemates if they would prefer I not display the goodies so openly, but they indicated they had no problem with them. Evidently they didn’t, at least with those particular items, because I never noticed mysterious after-hours disappearances.
I did notice large numbers of empty containers for commercial bakery products in the garbage. My housemates were eating glazed donuts and Twinkies on the sly and secreting the evidence in the trash, in much the same way that an alcoholic will dispose of beer cans. I’m not notably snoopy, but these things come to light when I’m trying to make room in a communal trash can that is overflowing. I also noticed that the products were mainly things that I would not personally eat even if I were fairly hungry, because I find them cloyingly sweet, with a flavor undertone that’s disagreeable.
There was no obvious reason for my housemates’ classic addictive behavior. I’m not a food puritan and I don’t offer unsolicited advice on other people’s poor eating habits. Neither were the normal eaters in the household. Why would an otherwise sane person have no apparent trouble walking past a freshly-baked delicious cake made with natural (though not necessarily healthy) ingredients, only to go to great lengths to furtively consume a commercial additive-laden product?
I have concluded that the evidence points to the deliberate introduction of addictive additives into commercial bakery products, and that the culprit or culprits are not traditional dessert ingredients, in the proportions recommended by the Joy of Cooking. My mother came from good German stock, and she had a repertoire of family recipes, heavy on the butter, eggs and sugar, that she whipped up for special occasions. The people on that side of the family tended to look a bit “corn fed” but nobody was markedly obese and nobody was prone to other eating disorders.
There is no shortage of advice on the Internet about how to avoid food addiction, and no shortage of pontification about the obesity epidemic. The problem, to my way of thinking, is that most of this advice ignores the fact that the majority of Americans and (except in wartime) Western Europeans have had abundant access to sugar and animal fats for at least the last century, but the obesity epidemic and the proliferation of addictive eating behavior in general is much more recent. That points to some factor or factors that became prevalent only recently – and also tends to rule out, as a major force, factors so recent that the epidemic was well under way before they came into play. It may be, for example, that genetically modified corn and soybeans adversely affect human health, but a direct link to eating disorders, as is claimed by some nutritionists, is unlikely.
Whatever that something is – and high fructose corn syrup is highly suspect, though probably not the only factor – it seems it is not in my award-winning sugar-laden applesauce spice cake, but is in the stuff our local supermarket bakery churns out because whatever the craving that drives my housemates to compulsive addictive behavior, my cake doesn’t feed it.
Photo by Martha Sherwood. All rights reserved.