Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Stop Drinking The Diet Pepsi

When I met David, I started every morning with three cans of Diet Pepsi. It had to be the cans, because the bottles never had enough fizz for me. And it had to be Diet Pepsi, because although similar, I preferred the taste to Diet Coke. Coffee didn't do it for me. Hot tea didn't either. And the diet part of it made me feel happy that I wasn't taking in any extra calories. Diet Pepsi was my long and trusted friend.

But David started calling it "The Cancer Juice". It was annoying, really. He was bludgeoning my morning routine. I mean, there was nothing more hopeful, more expectant, more intense with possibility, than the moment I heard the crisp cracking open of the can, as I pulled back the tab, and the bubbles pinging my nose. That first burst of effervescence on my tongue, and later the hit and rush of caffeine. Seriously, I'm smiling just writing about it. It was my morning ritual for years.

David was not wrong, however. There is a strong link between brain tumors and aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Pepsi. As it turns out, I had a brain tumor in 2000. I'm not saying Diet Pepsi gave me a brain tumor. Seriously, I'm not. For all I know, the tumor was pre-coded into my DNA in the womb. But it is weird and kinda nutty that I had a brain tumor and all that aspartame in my system for all those years. I mean, it probably didn't help things.

I'm fine now. The tumor was benign. Nothing that couldn't be fixed by cracking open my skull and canoodling around in there for 10 hours, and ultimately developing a host of mildly-annoying neurological deficits that will stay with me the rest of my life. Not that knowing any of this would've deterred me from drinking Diet Pepsi. I was always of the "Something has to kill me, why not this?" school of existentialism.

And besides, that beverage was a fundamental part of who I was. I'd been drinking it since I was a teenager. Maybe even before, although I don't remember. It was what I did, and how I got my day started, and what I put in my body. I never questioned it. I just did it.

Until David. And then, I had to question it. Mostly because he was a nattering pain in my ass about it. And when we had kids, which was remarkably soon after we met, I really had to look at it. He forced me to. I had no choice. My choices would be Lucy's choices and now, I was choosing beverages for two.

That is, I think, how many people make food choices. They just do what they learned growing up. Or they make up their bad habits all by themselves in adulthood. They don't question or have inner debates about food choices. They're just trying to pay the rent, and keep their job, and hold their marriages together, and be happy.

Unless you are a food lover, food writer, or food advocate you probably aren't sitting at your desk day-dreaming happily about what you're going to make for dinner tonight. And if you grew up with Gortons' Fish Sticks as a typical meal, there's a good chance you're going to think that's a pretty easy, tasty, affordable meal that the kids will eat up. That might be a no-brainer after a crappy day at the mill.

It seems to me that people choose fast and pre-packaged food over whole, cooked foods because they don't even see it as a problem. It's not that they know better and choose to buy their kids Happy Meals for dinner anyway. It's more that they like the Diet Pepsi. They drink the Diet Pepsi. They don't even see that drinking the Diet Pepsi is a problem. And if you never end up falling in love with a man who starts maligning your beverage of choice every chance he gets and telling you everyday, "That shit's gonna kill you" well, then, maybe you drink the Diet Pepsi for the rest of your life and never ask the big questions.

So, that's why all this discourse around food - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, people cooking with their kids, food bloggers showcasing easy recipes for home cooks, Rachel Ray, and even the much-maligned and beaten-up star of Semi-Homemade, Sandra Lee - it all matters. It all means that someone somewhere is maybe going to sit up and say, "I never thought about that. I can do better. Hey, let's make macaroni and cheese from scratch tonight." Or "Hey, Alton Brown's crab dip looks easy. I can do that."

That's why the discourse matters. That's why the kitchen disaster stories matter. That's why the food love matters. That's why messing up your kitchen with your kids and writing it down for people to read, matters. Because what will change things is the talk, the trickle down, the stories, the images, the work in the community, the idea that cooking is not just for extremist cooks who think the only way to eat food is if it has been doing time in a sous vide machine.

And so, I'm not for all the food nazi rules that make people feel like they are children - rules about what people can or cannot eat on food stamps, how many sweets a kid can have at a class birthday party, or whether a school can host a fundraiser with bake sales, or pie eating contests, or the towns that ban fast food, or people who want to zone fast food restaurants out of poor neighborhoods. This is stuff that the boring people can fight over. The uninspired. The bureaucrats. The talking heads. The non-artists.

These initiatives are well-intended, but obnoxious. They feel bad. They have the stink of stupidity and band-aid solutions on them. They are paternalistic and short-sighted and patronizing. And I think, people will squirm, and fight, and wriggle their way up from under their smothering tenants, and run to the baked goods section of their local supermarket and fill their carts up with Hostess Twinkies in protest. Or they should.

This is not the way to get people to LOVE food, or LOVE cooking or discover the simple joy of roasting a chicken for their family and reaping the untold countless rewards for that, or inspire them to see things differently about what they are putting on the table. This isn't about the love. And it should be. Because that's how you create a culture of food lovers. That's how you get people to stop drinking the Diet Pepsi.

xo YM



Lauren Slayton said...

I am so happy I found your blog. I love your honesty and you touched on so many important points. I think having children can be a springboard for better choices even if we are choosing for the sake of the children. I think a health scare or challenge (though yours sounds scary) can make us question our habits and perhaps make key changes. And I think that advice that's positive, proactive and self motivated is always better than staunch, strict external rules. Great post.

Sylvie said...

This was a great post. I want to send it to all of my family and friends. In fact, I will.

Nmaha said...

That's such a lovely way to get people to live healthier lives. Much more effective than suing McDonald's for a generation of obese kids.

Liz the Chef said...

Brava. Kicking diet coke has been alarmingly difficult - thanks for the prompt.

Grace @eatdinner said...

Wow, I love this post. Even though I love most of your posts, I totally didn't see it coming. Expected a tirade against Pepsi (well deserved, sure) and not a message of food and love, of growing up and learning about better choices, without judging others.

I think you are so right. As some pundits are trying to make food the next culture wars, we in the foodie community have to just keep preaching the love vs. taking a puritanical stance of "what's good for you." I hope to do this with family dinner. Thanks for inspiration!

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

You know I'm with you, Kim, and I love everything you write, this included. Because, yes, food culture develops in all the lovely ways you describe. But I do need to put in a defense for the food nazis. Not that I am one, but I understand them. The prevailing food culture is just way too nutso-crazy for me, what with the endless crap being shoved at my kid. So, yes, I'm afraid I'm going to keep blogging and raising a stink about too many birthday treats in school and kids being forced to sell junk for fundraisers (stay tuned for my Girl Scouts post). But I'll count on you to keep me in check. ;-)

Lauren said...


Robin Aronson said...

Love, love love it!

Francine said...

Fantastic. I love this so much!

edamame2003 said...

hi kim-i'm new to your blog, and I am loving it! too many evangelists are humorless in the way they go about their advocacy and it's wonderful the way you are articulating your viewpoint with your positive and funny style. thank you!

krysta said...

this post makes me so happy.

Kate said...

A friend of mine talks on her blog about teaching her children about the ABC's of food, that it isn't enough to say to them 'Eat it, it's good for you' but to actually teach them what Vitamin A does, how Vitamin B helps your body and the importance of Vitamin C.

You stated in another post that it isn't about giving kids a picture of broccoli to color unless you actually talk to them about why it's perfect to eat as well. I love these types of posts. I love the dialogue, the back and forth exchange of ideas and commentaries and opinions because they're all important and necessary to get people to quit their own Diet Pepsi habits.

Great post, again. Thanks Kim.

Christine said...

Don't hate, you've got a diet coke lover over here...although gah, I guess I should probably give that and my diet Dr. Pepper habit up, eh? (Sad!) And the sugary stuff is too syrupy tasting to me. Bah, fine, seltzer water.

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

You know, I got so caught up in defending the food police that I forgot to add how frighteningly resonant your Diet Pepsi description was. Back in my college and early newsroom days, I drank Diet Coke like water. (I just shuddered as I wrote that.) Can't even remember the last time I tasted it, but it holds zero appeal now, so, yes, the attraction fades. Fast.

Paula said...

I'm glad that the tumour was benign and happy that you were able to kick the diet pepsi habit to the curb. It is wonderful that you are such a well-written proponent of healthy eating choices and I hope that more and more people find the time to feed their children the best food they can with whatever their budgets can allow.

Jen @ The Wellness Bitch said...

Hey Yummy Mummy. Loved this blog post and so glad I found you today (thanks for the RT!)

While I just might fall into the category of boring taking heads( I don't think I do!) I have to relate with your annoyance of the Rachael Ray's of the world and the people who swear that cooking healthier is just as easy as cooking frozen processed crap. (It's NOT. It's way harder and takes a lot more brain effort and willpower on my part.)

I hear what you are saying about making a choice on your own...But I think I'm going to keep talking (shouting) and making fun of the people who stock up their shopping carts with Twinkies in protest (jokes on them...I'll be pity laughing as they try to control their revved up kid.)

But I don't bitch about people and their choices to JUDGE. I do this in the name of LOVE. I love you. I love my fellow human beings, my fellow moms. I don't want you to have brain tumors or asthma or diabetes or kids with ADHD or cancer. And if talking about it nicely worked, people would have been making smarter choices a long time ago.

BTW: I liked your "stop drinking Diet Pepsi" post a lot more than I liked Dr. Oz's.

xoxo The WB

Jen @The Wellness Bitch said...

Oops. Scratch my comments about your annoyance. ;) I misread that para the first time around. Make that "my annoyance."

And, add, I'm going to pass this around to my friends who never read The Wellness Bitch (intentionally) because they don't "want to know" and think "they're all gonna die someday, anyway."


Oh Katie! said...

Bravo!!! So well said. Thank you.

Cheryl Miller said...

Thank you for this post. I love the message about coming from a place of positive reinforcement and love.
I work with a lot of young people and I am always commenting when they have made a good or better choice around food. It starts some great discussions where I can then share some great ideas with them and they are open to listening. Bravo!

Michelle (What's Cooking with Kids) said...

What a post! You know I love you, but I am disappointed that I seem to fall in the "boring people" category some of the time. I did write a post about whether or not pie eating contests belong at school events - and it generated a lot of heat (some personal and mean). But the point is that it got people talking. Yes, food can be fun. But it can also be bad for you. It's our job to write about it all and try to persuade people to make better choices - for their bodies and for the planet.

Bah. I'm not boring.


tori said...

Another beautifully written post- congratulations....

Melissa Graham said...

I couldn't agree with you more. With my organization, Purple Asparagus, we try not to focus on what you shouldn't eat, but making the food that's good for you fun and delicious. Just this morning, I was working with two third grade classes and the question of bacon came up and whether it's a "healthy" choice. Of course it is, as long as it's eaten in moderation. I've long said that I'm no cupcake hater. If we eat a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, there's room for the occasional indulgence. Truthfully, I wouldn't even have a problem with McDonald's happy meals eaten occasionally were they to use better meat so I too agree that the happy meal ban in SF was shortsighted.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't even realize so many of those "talking head" types came around these parts, until I read through the comments. I agree with your post wholeheartedly. And dearest talking head types...I'm larger (fat probably to a number of you, a size 14 give or take). I was raised on whole foods, that my mother cooked herself, and was not, and am not still a dessert person. I was a vegetarian for years and also at my heaviest as a vegetarian. We larger people can be healthy too. Stop hating on the fatties, seriously, it does your cause a disservice. Just eating healthier and living healthier does not make everyone thin. And by ostracizing people who are larger than you, you do nothing to encourage healthier eating habits or life style choices. People should choose healthier options because it feels good, and not with a promise of looking "better", thinner, what have you, when they may be empty promises and only lead people to troubled relationships with food.

Love your blog Kim, and love your voice! :)


Nuts about food said...


Jen said...

Christine: Love your comment. Thank you for calling out the fattie haters. Would love to hear your voice over at The Wellness Bitch.

I want to say upfront that I need to do a better job of not coming off sounding like a fatty hater. Will work harder at that. Thanks for the WAKE UP CALL

Jen Maidenberg, The WB

Maggy@ThreeManyCooks said...

Amen. Just amen. I could not agree more with everything you just said.

Teresa said...

This is such a great post. My partner gave up Diet Pepsi about six months ago and found that his health changed radically afterward. He'd been having joint pain, mental fogginess and fatigue, all of which got much better after he quit. I'm glad you've given it up and that you're writing about it, too.

I also love the way that you talk about the food movement. My greatest issue with the current food movement is that it's being identified as something that's being taught to the poor by the middle class. I think the truth is that in Canada and the US, we're all re-learning the value of fresh, whole foods.