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Forbidden Foods

Note: This piece contains some religious references, but hopefully in an inoffensive way.

With the arrival of fall, we’ve been getting an unexpected treat at work – apples! One of my co-workers has been bringing in a large bag of them every Monday or Tuesday for the past few weeks. An even happier surprise is seeing that people are eating them pretty regularly, so by last Friday, only a few were left. Then that morning we got our usual supply of Dunkin’ Donuts. Seeing the two offerings side by side was an interesting contrast, especially when it got down to just one of each.

9-24-11 Apple and dougnut.jpg

It got me thinking about what makes a food forbidden, and the implications of that.

Take the apple. According to some traditions, this is the original “forbidden fruit”*. I have to wonder how long Eve resisted the urge to eat it, how long she tried to be “good” and restrict her eating habits, before finally giving in to temptation.

Consider also “Snow White”. One of the times Snow White succumbed to her step-mother’s plots was by eating a shiny apple. The princess knew that she wasn’t supposed to accept anything from strangers, but the apple looked so good and delicious, she couldn’t help herself.

Prohibitionists weren’t that fond of apples, either, since when Johnny Appleseed went around planting apple trees, it was to make hard cider, not for eating. In more recent years, apples are off-limits on some low-carb diets, or for those people who eschew food altogether.

Happily, most diets these days put apples into the “good” category, especially if it’s an organic apple. And most of us are familiar with the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The apple also features positively in some religions; last week, as part of Rosh Hashanah, many Jewish people celebrated with apples dipped in honey so that they could have a sweet start to their new year. (See this YouTube video for a fun song about it.)

The doughnut’s history is not quite as illustrious, since I’m not aware of any religious texts referencing it. (The holy book of the Cat people in the “Waiting for God” episode of Red Dwarf, who considered Lister their god and thought the idea of heaven was a hot dog and doughnut stand, probably doesn’t quality) Doughnuts have probably only been around for a couple of centuries. But they are also more widely categorized as a “bad” or “forbidden” food. Most diets, after all, condemn anything with lots of sugar and fat, and any of the rules that restrict people from eating apples would also apply to doughnuts.

As with apples, making doughnuts forbidden has not stopped people from eating them, at least in the majority. They still sell quite well, and when they show up at work, they disappear with sometimes frightening speed. This is despite the fact that the consequences of eating a doughnut are typically more pronounced than those of eating an apple. For instance, you might have a sugar crash and feel sleepy later on. Or you might have consumed all those calories but still feel hungry. Or both. If you’re diabetic, it could spike your blood sugar. Not that this is always the case – in certain circumstances, eating a doughnut might be exactly what you need. But realistically, those situations are less frequent than with apples.

Despite the current trends towards both foods, which do you suppose disappeared first from the kitchen, the apple or the doughnut? It’s a rhetorical question - I’m sure you can guess the answer. And I think it’s in part because the doughnuts are forbidden. They’re just so much more tempting that way.

I personally don’t consider doughnuts off-limits, and I suspect that’s why Dunkin Donuts variety leave me cold. If I’m going to have one, I want it to be really good, such as one of my dad’s homemade varieties, barely cooled from the oil, perhaps rolled in a little sugar. That I consider worth eating. But given the choice at work, everything being equal, I’d go for the apple, because I know that I’m going to feel better after eating that than the radioactive pink doughnut. And that, for me, is what food should be about.

*Note: I’m aware that it’s unlikely that the original fruit was an apple, but for whatever reason, that’s what people envision these days.

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