Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Shifting Baseline of Moderation

There is a concept in fisheries called the Shifting Baseline.  It comes about when fishery management fails to correctly identify a true baseline fish population.  You can imagine a manager saying, "Well we will say that an unfished population of cod is [insert large value here]."  The manager uses this value  because it seems appropriate given his/her experience of past cod populations.  However, if you were to look further back in cod fishing history, you might realize that the cod population was 100 times that number.  In our imaginary scenario, let's say that you, as a manger, did your research on historical cod populations and used the really large number to determine a proper catch amount.  You then tell the fishermen that they can only fish said amount.  This number will seem quite small, because it accounts for the need of the cod population to recover to actual historical levels.  The fishermen, though, will be irate.  They will tell you things like, "my family has been fishing here for generations, and we have never seen cod populations that large.  That is a ridiculous value to use." etc. etc. etc.

Your perception of what is normal or adequate is based on your personal history.  The perception of normal changes over time and over generations.

I have read a number of blogs where the author chooses to drastically change their diet for a set amount of time.  Sometime during that experience, either the author or the readers will say something along these lines, "I believe in moderation in all things when it comes to diet."  "I think having the occasional treat is o.k."  "An occasional dessert is not bad for me, and it makes me so much happier."

I don't necessarily have a problem with any of those sentiments.  However, what, exactly, is moderation?  What is occasional?  Some people think that having a cookie every day represents moderation.  Others might think that a small treat after lunch and dinner is not excessive.  Others reserve their dessert for once a week.  What you might think acceptable is strongly based on your personal history.  For example, growing up we had dessert once a week on Sunday.  I had a friend though that had a dessert after dinner every day of the week.  (And it was an actual dessert like cake vs. a mere cookie.)  I thought that was a bit crazy; she thought it normal.

Skip, the author behind the blog Word of Wisdom Living wrote:

1833, American consumption of sweeteners stood at 10 lbs per year—about 3 tsp a day.  Now, depending on the data source, we eat 21-30 teaspoons daily.  The AHA recommends no more than 6 tsp (24 grams) daily for women, 9 for men (based on their greater weight).

In the past year or so, our family has drastically cut our sugar consumption.  (And feel SO MUCH BETTER for it).  I think and feel like we eat very little added sweetener.  However, a rough calculation shows that I might eat more along the lines of 9 teaspoons vs. the 6.  To me, 3 teaspoons seems very extreme.  I find myself thinking, "why bother adding sugar at all if you are only going to have 3 teaspoons a day?" yet in 1833 this was normal.  Not to mention that any sweets they might indulge in would be much less sweet than the equivalent item today.


I mean seriously.  Does a dessert really need to contain chocolate chip coconut cheesecake, chocolate cake, chewy brownie, and coconut-pecan frosting (an actual "cheesecake" at The Cheesecake Factory).  No.  That is just ridiculous people not to mention coma inducing.

There was a time when people indulged on Feast Days and.....that was it.  As a missionary in Ukraine, I noticed that Ukrainians have cake or sweets on actual special occasions like birthdays or celebrations.  Not everyday.  Not even every Sunday.  (They can't afford it!)

I guess I feel like we, as Americans, are like those fishermen baulking at the Fishery managers.  We have no idea what it eating moderately means when it comes to sweets.  Our level of sugar consumption is just so out of the ballpark that any sort of limitation on our ingestion of sweets seems unreasonable and downright crazy.  

1 comment:

French Lily said...

I find it ironically funny that even though I really agree with you about our view of sugar being out of proportion, I have that very chocolate coconut brownie cheesecake sitting in my fridge right now...


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