Snacking – A modern habit?
Snacking – A modern habit?
“75% of the world consumes snacks to satisfy hunger or cravings inbetween meals.”
Do you snack? Would you be amazed to know that 60 years ago snacking (and indeed high rates of obesity) did not exist in western culture? It is also clear that in the past 60 years there have been massive changes to our relationship with food, meals and eating and as a consequence, our weight. Snacking is not just a modern habit, it could be viewed as a modern disease.
Snacking has changed over time
It is certain that our relationship with snacking has changed over time. Now it is something we do every day, perhaps almost every hour, but it was not always like this. As Alison, from the UK observes:
"I am from the post-war generation and can distinctly remember when you were at the dinner table you had to eat everything that was on the plate, you were not allowed to leave (waste) anything.
We had three meals a day and rarely were we allowed to eat between meals. Snacks were not thought of – in fact, it was just the opposite – you would hear most parents say, “You can’t have that now because you won’t eat your meal.” I don’t ever hear this being said by parents now, you see them giving kids snacks to keep them quiet.”
In the 1960’s, processed foods began to be mass-produced and the food industry began to sell the idea of snacking through advertising. The ad campaigns of the 1960’s and 1970’s are still remembered today by many of us in our 50’s and 60’s:
One woman from Australia (52 years old) recalls:
“I remember in the 1970’s the ads for snacks, such as the ‘Milky Bar Kid’ or ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’ – although how this ‘help’ was achieved by a sugar-laden snack, with arguable nutritional benefits and enough sugar to make rest only effective when the sugar-rush finished, is difficult to fathom. It is preposterous that a professor in a white lab jacket with a blackboard and pointer, ‘educated’ us on the health benefits of chocolate that contained ‘a glass and a half of full cream milk’, and mothers in western nations were persuaded that kids’ lunch boxes were not complete without some kind of sweet concoction. Snack-like treats ruled and they still do. Today we have the ‘healthy snacks’ of muesli bars or fruit drinks – no school lunch is complete without a popper juice that actually contains more sugar than a coca cola.”
What makes modern snacking different from its past origins is that once it was an occasional occupation, a treat here and there, but today snacks are readily available everywhere and consumed 24/7.
"Snacks came into our lives in the 1960's in Melbourne, Australia – with loads of fizzy drinks – and treats like Wagon Wheels after swimming lessons . . . lots of sugary stuff like that, often given as a reward for being good.“
Television had come to Australia in 1956 and with it a greater emphasis on physical appearance and, of course, advertising of non-essential food items – the treats!
In the fifties it was a matter of personal pride to always offer homemade cakes and biscuits for guests. In the 1960’s, TV introduced to our living room an array of breakfast cereal jingles, instant cake mixes and chocolate advertisements with a close-up of a chocolate poised sensuously on the lips of a beautiful woman. TV also created a desire for sugary fizzy drinks and cordials and sweet treats that were promoted as making life ‘better’ and giving a boost of youthful energy and enthusiasm.
The relationship with snacks by many of us is clearly observed by Alison (UK); it has now become an instantaneous fix available and encouraged 24/7 – it’s an everyday normality.
“I work in a supermarket and at the checkouts you see children waiting for their chosen item to come through the till and they grab it straight away – quite often it is a bun or a cake. So from a very tender age children are now expecting treats and in fact the supermarket set-up is artfully designed to encourage us all, young and old, to sneak a few treats into the basket.
In the supermarkets there is now a whole section catering for ‘eating on the go’ . . . so they are creating or perpetuating the awareness that it is ok to eat while on the move, rather than stopping and enjoying your food.”
How and where we shop has changed the availability of food and what we shop for, as Alison again recalls:
“Supermarkets weren’t around in my childhood – just the corner shops – so there wasn’t the variety or choice that there is today, or the super-sized quantities. The corner shops were often small and limited for space so they tended to stock the main essentials such as bread, sugar, butter and tinned food. For example, ice cream was a special occasion treat, but once the supermarkets appeared and big family tubs came out, it soon was an every night occasion.”
An online search of ‘snacking’ reveals the disturbing trend of global food marketing to harness a trend towards ‘healthy snacking’ – the food industry plots consumer spending and accordingly adjusts its approach to mass produced ‘snacks’ to ensure the consumer is satisfied and keeps buying. The ‘buzz’ today is nutritional, healthy snacks ... but they are not so ‘nutritional’ or ‘healthy’ – they are simply marketed that way.
According to a Nielsen survey quoted by Jeff Fromm, Contributor, Forbes:
63% of the world’s consumers snack for nutritional reasons
Considerations that are making the consumer choose snacks are market driven – value for money combining snacks with healthy ideals such as weight management, digestive health or greater brain health, fortification of products with nutrients to give the impression of nutritional value, and even if they are to be calorie or portion controlled they also need to be indulgent. The snack is never likely to be that ‘healthy’ since the food industry quest is to present products that allow the consumer to ‘have their cake and eat it too.’
Snacking can be seen as part of the global obesity crisis, with record levels of disease linked to obesity such as diabetes, heart disease and certain kinds of cancer, yet in most western cultures there are more diets, health and nutritional information available and year round access to quality food and exercise experts than ever before.
World populations are unhealthy in a way not seen before now. People have a whole relationship with food, and food products, that seems not to be feeding the body at all. What they do seem to be feeding is the part of us that is constantly hungry, tired, empty and craving something from food that it can never deliver, no matter how much we consume.
There are some possibilities to consider about what snacking offers us if we accept that we do not need snacks for nutrition:
- Is that ‘snack or sugary treat’ an attempt to relieve the tension we feel? A constant tension that we know is just not right, or does not feel right or comfortable in our digestive system or body, but we never stop to work out what it is; it is easier to eat and see if we can forget or get away from that feeling.
- Is snacking actually a form of 'self medicating' to get through the day –
a self-medication to make life a little sweeter or a bit more comfortable? We might find that we use chocolate, cake, cereal, or whatever, to not feel what is making us uncomfortable or uneasy.
- Are we addicted to sweetness and forever needing a regular hit?
In this case we might be missing the true sweetness in our lives; or, seeking a little energy because we are tired, exhausted or fed up. In these cases it appears that sugar will carry us through. However, sugar is a highly addictive substance ... once we get a taste for it we often cannot stop.
Why do we use food as a reward?
What is going on when we eat for reasons other than what our body truly needs?
Food and snacking has been presented in so many ways that it now seems normal to reach for food to ease many burdens and ease some of the discomforts of life, yet food just gives a temporary fix, a very temporary stop to the tension, the discomfort or the sadness.
Is it possible that we could live in a way that does not require us to be on this treadmill of consuming food to cope with living?
We can return to a pattern of eating that supports and nurtures us rather than one that makes us sick and obese. There is another way to live and removing the habit of snacking leaves us free to decide for ourselves.
We can opt to be aware of how we have been sold snacking for every occasion and choose differently and then bring a deeper awareness to how we are with food and snacking, so that we can acknowledge that food, even though it might offer fleeting relief, will never satisfy what we are seeking. It is a poor emotional suppressant, it is not an anti-depressant, and in large quantities over a long period of time, it is potentially very, very dangerous.
We can bring understanding and awareness to the drives that push us towards overeating and snacking and see that it is not just snacking. It is possible to CHOOSE to deal with the tension and thus heal the discomfort, sadness and all the things that drive us to food. There is another way.