Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cognitive dissonance

In response to another post, twistie wrote this about a Thanksgiving meal with her family:

I wanted to cry and my stomach rebelled at the cognitive dissonance.

The meal in question was one of those faux dieting meals--you know the kind, I'm sure. Where the "mashed potatoes" were really pureed cauliflower. Where the "lasagna" was really zucchini cooked in butter.

II can't count the number of faux dieting meals I've eaten in my life. I still remember some of those old Weight Watchers recipes, like the one for bread pudding that consisted of cottage cheese, almond extract, cinnamon mixed with Sweet 'N Low, and "lite" bread, mushed into, well, mush. You get the idea. It gives me the willies just thinking about it.**

At some point I simply could not eat another one of those meals. Could not. It's not because I'm such a gourmand that I couldn't bring myself to eat fake food. It's because, as twistie says, of the cognitive dissonance.

Lovely concept, cognitive dissonance. It refers to the mind-blowing distance between what is and what should be. In this case, food should be substantive. It should have enough calories to make you feel satisfied. It should taste good. It should look appealing. Faux diet meals do none of the above. Hence, they trip you right into cognitive dissonance.

So now I have an intelligent-sounding answer to offer the next time I am sitting at a potluck table and neighbors start whipping out the Weight Watchers "brownies," made with applesauce, cocoa powder, and aspartame: "No thanks, I'm allergic to the cognitive dissonance."

**If you're a veteran of 1970s and 80s WW and haven't seen Wendy McClure's hilarious take on those recipes, you are missing the laugh of a lifetime. Check it out.


Anonymous said...

Cauliflower is great. Sometimes mashed cauliflower might actually be what you want, what your body is asking you for. But it's not mashed potatoes. And asking people to spend their entire lives pretending that it is, is ridiculous.

I don't know if most people who demand that we fatasses "stick to our diets forever" understand exactly what it is they're demanding of us. But among the things that they are demanding of us is that we have no functioning taste buds whatsoever. You are right, "Weight Watchers 'brownies,' made with applesauce, cocoa powder, and aspartame" taste like ASS. Please, if you're going to make "healthy" dessert, make it fruit salad or something real, and if you're going to make brownies, don't insult the very word "brownies" by making something brown that tastes like ASS. I will not be fooled.

Anniee451 said...

Haha! Fake foods - blech! I was watching an episode (the only one ever I've watched) of "You Are What You Eat" where this smug, skinny English woman shames the fatties into losing weight. The man in question was a pastor, and single, and his congregation consisted of mostly elderly women. They would always have him over for dinners and lunches, they would send him homemade, home-canned jams and jellies - they loved him, and like any loving person, they wanted to feed him. Well Ms. Smug threw out all those beautiful little jars of home-canned jams, even the ones with the pretty little gingham covers and bows.

But the worst part? The church had a bake sale, and she made him concoct some vile dish that was called something like "Carob-Fudge Brownie shit." It proudly announced, "No flour, no butter, no chocolate, no sugar." The old women looked at it and incredulously asked, "What's IN it??!" The answer? Nothing. What the hell could be in it? As they discreetly spit it out into their napkins, they nonetheless *pretended* that it was just (gag) wonderful. One of the elderly husbands? Pulled no punches and declared it vile. As I'm sure it was.

Even worse, he described the fact that he had become quite lonely - that prior, he had always been invited over for and enjoyed lunches and meals with his parishioners. But now, since he wasn't allowed to, you know, eat, he couldn't do that anymore. So she made him invite some of them over and had him cook up a batch of fat-free ratatouille. Now ratatouille is definitely good, but since noodles were off limits I don't know what the heck he put in it. But at least he got to enjoy their company again. He's still forbidden to visit THEM, but at least he can have them over, and they can pretend to like whatever crap he has to serve up.

Then she gave him a beautiful bike, and if he wanted to keep it he had to give her his car keys. Which he did. Yes, he lost weight. But at what cost? And what the hell is in those fake foods?

You want a bunch of fake foods? Such as splenda-flavored air which is "just as good as" cocoa? Go to HungryGirl. She claims to love food, but I don't think she knows what food is anymore. Her version of chili-cheese fries (which, by the way is not something I crave - since I eat what I want when I want, I don't crave heartburn inducing extremely heavy, greasy meals anymore) is butternut squash cut to look like fries, fat-free chili, fat-free cheese, and fat-free sour "cream." What the hell is IN it? I mean, I'm all for eating squash if you like it (I don't) but damn, it's no substitute for french fries! If I want fries, I'll eat 'em. And I guarantee I'll eat less of 'em than people who are dieting so obsessively that their cravings are practically uncontrollable. people inspire me way too much. I'm practically in book-writing mode lol.

Thorny said...

My best friend attended a Thanksgiving dinner this past year stocked full of "fake foods". Apparently some of the attendees have problems with gluten, so some adjustments to the menu is only courteous. But my friend and I agreed - I would rather have a gluten-free dessert made of foods that are naturally gluten-free, than a dessert that was less baked and more concocted with a chemistry set.

I am totally going to have to remember being "allergic to cognitive dissonance" for future events where I run into fake foods. blegh.

Anonymous said...

Annie - kudos to the church ladies! If I know the Women's Institute, they'd disqualify anyone who tried that in their baking contests. (The smug skinny lady, Gillian McKeith, used to call herself "Dr" until someone discovered she'd bought the title from an online 'college' and actually had no proper nutritional qualifications at all. Which makes perfect sense.)

Odd thing: I've personally known three people with gluten problems, one of them a family member, and people who HAVE to avoid certain foods seem to prefer to just eat other stuff rather than try concocting any kind of 'fake' version. I honestly think the fakery of the slimming recipes is a form of self-torture more than any honest attempt at food substitution. The rubber brownies you get from trying to substitute mashed banana for the fat (yes, guilty!) are so not the real thing.

Anniee451 said...

I hate to ask but what the hell did they serve instead of turkey? I had a beautiful turkey this past year - yes it had fat deposits, which made it all that much more delicious. (They are from a local, family-operated, free-range farm - poor guys live a happy life and are killed humanely.) We chopped up sage, rosemary, thyme and so forth, blended it with butter, hardened it in the fridge and then stuffed the butter under the skin - end result? Moist as hell, flavorful turkey. And turkey ain't bad for ya.

Harriet said...

Ooh. Brown stuff that tastes like ass. TMI. :-)

Annie, Gah! What a story!

I have a friend who makes an incredible flourless chocolate cake. Gluten-free. She brought it to our house recently and everyone ignored my flour-filled dessert in favor of her cake. It was delish.

Anonymous said...

Oo, yuck, don't remind me of those WW fake foods. Guilty! I remember one of my mainstays, the faux "apple pie." Aspartame (which is one of the most commonly used WW dessert ingredients, IMO), apple slices, oats, and faux butter. Yeeeesh! And I used to think that was good? It sounds so disgusting, now.

I think one of my guiltiest memories was how I used to *relish* metal-flavored sugar-free Breyer's Neapolitan. I used to think, "Oh, how smart am I, I can eat this stuff all day and never gain weight!" Interestingly, back then I used to get migraines every week or so. When I stopped eating the metal-flavored, sugar-substituted ice-cream, the migraines went away. Coincidence? :p

Annie, what a story! And I agree, mashed cauliflower might be good (sounds good, if it's seasoned right), but it is *not* mashed potatoes. Don't people realized that faking reality in such a manner is psychologically unhealthy? That living in a fantasy-land of faux food is, well, really neurotic?

(I'm of course not referencing gluten-free/etc foods for people with allergies and so forth)

Anonymous said...

One thing I wish people who made "fake" desserts knew about or cared about: some people get migraines from ingesting aspartame. I am one of them. I can always tell when someone has "tricked" me with a sugar-free dessert, because not only does it taste wrong, but I feel like Hell the next day. (And even a small amount - like the bite or two I eat before I realize "wait this is fake" is enough to do it)

And the so-called "sugar alcohols" (including Splenda) cause gastric disturbances in some people. Including me, yay! So all my dieting friends, in the name of being "healthy," wind up kind of poisoning me. It's gotten so I won't eat stuff at some people's houses.

The whole "fake foods" thing bugs me.

BESIDES: I refuse to walk around starving myself and eating poor substitutes for real food when I might get hit by a bus tomorrow. Sure, we can do health-enhancing things, but life is uncertain enough that I don't want to gamble that I might live a five extra years (five extra years in a nursing home?) by never enjoying chocolate, or real apple pie, or the occasional grilled cheese.

Anne said...

This post reminds me of my hate/hate (not love/hate) relationship with WasaCrisp.

It makes me think about all the times I was doing Diet Center(or Weight Watchers or any of those things) and "regular" bread was off limits but I could have this horrbile, cardbord-ish crunchy sh*t called "WasaCrisp". I still see it in the grocery stores today sometimes, and it still turns my stomach. Not only because of the taste (which is dreadful), but also because of what it represents to me and the period of my life that it comes from.

I do know people who swear that it's fabulous with cream cheese and pepper jelly on it. It probably is ... just about anything would be good with cream cheese and pepper jelly on it!

But even when I encounter it like that at a cocktail party, just the smell of it makes me gag. I can't help but think about all the times that I choked down dry pieces of it -- because of course Diet Center didn't let you put anything on it -- and tried to convince myself that it was just as good as regular bread and that I was so virtuous for making that substitution.

And guess what? I lost weight. And guess what else? I was miserable, and eating-disordered, and I gained all that weight back and then some.

So I will eat a Wheat Thin, and I will eat a Triscuit, and I will even buy the low-fat versions of those because they don't really taste that different to me.

But I will be DAMNED if a piece of WasaCrisp will ever pass my lips again.

Anonymous said...

"But I will be DAMNED if a piece of WasaCrisp will ever pass my lips again."

Great! More for me!

(I actually LIKE the various WASA crackers - probably partly because I have no bad dieting history with them. I never tried substituting them for anything else - I look at them as "crunchy high fiber grainy tasting crackers that are easy to throw in my lunch kit first thing in the morning" and they work for me. They are also good with butter on them but I don't like having to find a place to refrigerate my lunch kit.)

It's funny how one person's "will not eat, ever" is another's "I really enjoy this."

Anonymous said...

thank you in advance for providing the fodder for tonight's nightmares. i remember my mom experimenting with prune puree in place of butter in brownies after my dad had a heart attack and the whole family cut out saturated fat. luckily i have a mother who has little patience for shitty baked goods, so those brownies were a one-shot deal, but the taste still lingers in my mouth 15 years later.

viajera said...

OMG, I had totally forgotten about that awful bread pudding!!! I think I'd suppressed that memory...thanks for the reminder...I think ;) I was in WW back in the mid- to late-80s. I remember the WasaCrisps too, and eating seemingly endless Saltine crackers (still can't touch those with a 10-foot pole), and lots of faux "desserts" involving low-fat yogurt and Sweet'n'Low. Arrrghhh - never again! I do still like, even prefer, some reduced-calorie/-fat foods, e.g., diet colas, baked chips, low-fat Triscuits. I can't drink the HFCS full-strength colas you get here, they just taste sickeningly sweet to me. The only time I'll drink the real thing is when I'm in Central America and can get Coke made with real cane sugar...yummm. But no more nasty-ass faux bread pudding for this girl!

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, it's much easier to make a great-tasting chocky cake without flour than it is to make one without sugar. It may be more like "fudge" than like "cake" as such, but it's still pretty damn tasty. But you see the difference between the two. One does not eliminate flour from the cake in order to "cut calories," since flourless cake has at least as many.

And while I understand that some people do have to avoid sugar, including diabetics whose blood glucose always runs high, I can't help thinking that if I was one of those people I'd rather not have chocolate at all than eat artificially sweetened "chocolate" WW cake. I think doing so would just make me way too sad for what I was missing. Give me a nice bowl of blueberries instead.

Anonymous said...

Just commenting to say thanks for the T-shirt! :D it's made a nice, comfy bedshirt and I love it :D

Unknown said...

Heh, it's sort of like something I said when Elastic Waist had the last of those "Get a Guru" posts:

"I love me some Elastic Waist, but apple butter, cottage cheese and cinnamon sounds like the most depressing way to satisfy a sweet tooth that I've ever heard of. Same for the agave idea."

Because, yeah, if you want dessert? Have dessert. If you want to eat something that has the look and texture of vomit, eat some apple butter with cottage cheese.

Anniee451 said...

Meozer: "Yes, yes, it's much easier to make a great-tasting chocky cake without flour than it is to make one without sugar."

Oh, I've no doubt - sounds like a super-fudgy treat! Mmmm.

"And while I understand that some people do have to avoid sugar, including diabetics whose blood glucose always runs high, I can't help thinking that if I was one of those people I'd rather not have chocolate at all than eat artificially sweetened "chocolate" WW cake. I think doing so would just make me way too sad for what I was missing. Give me a nice bowl of blueberries instead."

Or, far worse, artificially-sweetened CAROB. No, carob does not taste like chocolate. It tastes like brown armpit sweat. Just because something's brown doesn't make it taste like chocolate. Jeez.

Harriet said...

Lindsay, Glad you liked the shirt! Bed is a fine place to wear it.

Annie, You're right about carob. Gah!

Sass, you made me laugh on a day when I sorely needed it. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm of the opinion that the chemicals required to 'fake it' are incredibly noxious, and (apart from the whole taste and satisfaction thing) you are better off eating whole foods anyway. Like the whole "fat reduced" thing? Have you ever read the ingredients list on "fat reduced" yoghurt, for instance? Just give me a good yoghurt made on whole milk, any day.

observer said...

1.) Yes, eat the real yogurt...If one can even FIND real, full-fat yogurt these days (hard to do).

2.) What's wrong with calling mashed cauliflower that?? It's actually quite tasty, though, IMHO, it will never substitute for REAL mashed potatoes. :)

3.) I agree on the fake foods bit; the real stuff is always better:

The most awful stuff I have dared to try to eat so far? One of these affronts to dietary sanity is that "Smart Balance"(tm) buttery...half-melted plasticine in a tub! A spread it isn' certainly won't melt on hot foods. A greasy-looking, yellowish blob on nice veggies just does not cut it for me.

It tastes like crap, too. Give me real butter any day!

Another is "fat-free" cheese. If I want to eat rubber, I'll cut up my expired bike tubes and eat those.

Again, real, full-fat cheese is the way to go.

Never you mind "high fiber" cereals (which are too "carby" for me anyway).

All I can say about those is...if you ever wondered where all the sawdust and recycled cardboard goes to? Some people eat it with blue-white water (called "fat-free" milk) for breakfast and call it a meal...:P

4.) Since I am a type 2 diabetic, I do have to cut way back on the carbs, so I try some of these things anyway. Occasionally, I find something I think is decent in its own right that I can eat in a decent amount and not send the BGs through the roof (Arnold "Carb Counting" bread, for instance.). However, most of the "substitutes" are...about as appetizing as the contents of a used cat litter box!
And those same garbage (in)edibles often send the BGs into orbit anyway...really.

The way I see it, if your health is so bad that you cannot tolerate enough of some foods to make them worth eating? Don't eat them. (Cheesecake, I miss thee! :( )

Anniee451 said...

I was recently working in a wine and cheese cold storage facility, and we would get freebies - the Jarlsberg was totally awesome, and we made (among other things) some kick-ass fondue. Then at Christmas, we got a big hunk of Jarlsberg, tried to make fondue, and all it did was coalesce into a big blob of unmeltable rubber. You couldn't even really chew it. Turned out it was a low-fat version. Blech.