July 23, 2012

Muffin Anxiety

You can see it in how they stand, how they purse their lips and avoid your eyes. There is consternation written on their face, guilt about ordering what they want. Watch a customer eye a muffin, a starchy wad of forbidden fruit, delicious, decadent, but no, so much sugar, so much fat. They glance back and forth, say that they shouldn't, hoping you'll coax them one way or another. And you stand there, neutral.

This will probably not come as a surprise to anyone that knows me at all, but to others, perhaps this needs to be made clear: I am a bit of a health and fitness nut. I have very definitive opinions on how food quality fits in to that picture. However, despite that, my role at the coffee bar is not as a personal trainer or weight loss coach. I'll answer questions about ingredients honestly and clearly, but won't offer an opinion. It's simply not my place.

And yet I don't think that knowledge would help those customers. Paradoxically, we're a society that provides access to nearly endless decadence, and yet values abstinence from those things. Our hypothetical customer may want a mocha and a scone, but will abstain simply to show that they can.

We see this in a group setting. The faces and apprehensions are more exaggerated, as are the claims of how bad they want this particular food item, and how much they love it, but they can't, just can't, and so they won't. People want you, and everyone else, to know how bad they want the muffin, and thus how impressive it is that they can resist. It's flexing your willpower, not unlike the guy who makes love to his own image in the weight room mirror.

To be sure, this is a first world problem, and decadence in itself. To have the ability to decline calorie dense food is a luxury, and moreover, a suggestion of willpower. The resolute person is thin, because they're strong enough to make it so. This, of course, is a trait to be sought, and so we do.

Of course, I say all of this as a skinny guy, and not by accident. My friends are well aware that there are many things I won't eat, so they stopped offering me hot wings a long time ago. So I am not, in any way, criticizing the pursuit of health. Our bodies are all we really own, and there is nothing more important than what we do with them, and what we choose to fuel them with. It can be a decision fraught with guilt, with media pressure and personal values all coalescing. It can be complicated, and I get that.

But while it can be all of those things, it most certainly needn't be public drama. Order the latte with skim, soy, whole, whatever. Have the muffin or don't. Have whatever you want for whatever reasons you want.

And then, having what you want, relax. The freedom of choice is a beautiful thing. That we have everything from espresso to Coke to mochas to orange juice to plain black coffee is a beautiful thing. That the hardest decision you have to make in a given day is whether or not to eat a muffin is a beautiful thing. That you can basically eat or drink whatever you want is an unbelievable luxury, one the vast majority of humanity will never know. So at the very least, enjoy it. Guilt is not delicious.

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