Obsessing over food with negative associations, such as corn, diminishes the pleasure we get from eating.
Obsessing over food with negative associations, such as corn, diminishes the pleasure we get from eating.

When it comes to food, guilt can consume us



"And that," finishes our host, "is why corn is evil." Six of us are gathered, hungry and rapt, around a table in a Mexican restaurant. We haven't even ordered yet and already the ethical and ecological implications of corn tortillas and tamales are settling thickly on our minds. We've just been administered a thorough but scathing diatribe on the dark underbelly of corn, that unassuming and omnipresent cereal whose industrialisation and insidious command of the food pyramid has been instrumental in the decline of family farming, among other unfavourable things. So, when the server returns to take our order, our table's shock at the host's request for corn flan is thinly veiled. "Come on, so what?" he shrugs, hopping down from his soapbox. "I have to draw the line somewhere. It's one thing to be informed and conscious and to make better choices as a result; it's another thing to give up most foods because they contain corn and to adhere to that principle at any expense."

I'm readily put off by almost any form of extremism. Call it a longtime fondness for playing devil's advocate coupled with a belief in the right to breathe, shift and evolve with my ideas. We have the dual burden and luxury of such staggering amounts of information at our fingertips that it can be difficult to know where to look first, especially when the last great testimony in defence of something as ubiquitous and controversial as corn is frequently trumped by an endless cycle of arguments that are sharper and fresher. Last year, I experienced a mix of bemusement and horror when the Corn Refiners Association, the Washington, DC-based national trade association representing the US corn refining industry, contacted me with both an e-mail and a press kit to my home address in defiance of a comment I'd made in writing. It was a reference to my personal preference for maple syrup over high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient that I am still loath to consume, press kit notwithstanding. And call me corny, but there's a sense of relief, for me, in knowing that what most cosmopolites eat is still a choice, whether we embrace it as a conscious act or not. Now, the hard part: how do we know what to choose?

We eat too fast, we eat too much, and we make the wrong choices; it's impossible to be perfect all the time. "Tell me what to do instead of what not to do," says my friend with the strong opinions about corn. It is incredibly easy to feel bad abut the choices we make when it comes to our diets. When applied correctly, guilt can be a powerful motivator, but its impact is limited and its shelf life even more so. You can't effectively shame people out of their eating habits. And once we start obsessing over the origin of ingredients or calorie content or cholesterol, we begin to feel guilty and that we are making the wrong choices, which in turn diminishes the pleasure we get from our food, stresses us out, makes us feel hopeless and makes us sick.

The connection between body and mind is no great secret. If intuitive eating is transformational, could it be that the only thing more indigestible than a greasy, fatty fast-food meal is a chaser of negativity? The problem with so much of the food-related debates, exposés, tirades and rants is that, much of the time, little or nothing is offered as a solution. GMOs, rBGH, MSG: there is a set of legitimate concerns, paranoid neuroses and admirable defences for every acronym imaginable. Does that make all of this information more of a liability or an asset? Are there clear-cut answers that work for everyone, or do they not exist?

Some people live to be old on a steady diet of steak and cigarettes. Others follow all the rules of eating and living judiciously, then die of cancer at 32. There are mysteries and apparent paradoxes to the human condition that often have nothing to do with our lifestyles or our attitudes. Hippocrates believed in the body's wisdom. Our generation, with all its pressures and complexities, is in danger of becoming the first to begin dying younger than our parents' generation due to health issues. We enjoy modern-day technological conveniences for which we have paid dearly; our soil is sapped, much of our food is processed or engineered beyond recognition, and the nutritive value of our food supply is waning. We're fat, we have diabetes and we're getting old fast.

The book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, presents the elementary concept of "eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full" with refreshing candour and immediacy. I read it a few years ago, then immediately bought copies for a dozen women in my life. The principles that resonated most with me included the authors' rejection of the "diet mentality", which includes liberating oneself of the idea that there is such a thing as bad foods rather than bad habits; learning to honour hunger as a biological signal; re-building peace with/trust in/respect for food, our bodies and our health, and learning to recognise and respect when you've had enough. I haven't ignored a craving since I read the book, nor have I overindulged habitually the way I did when I felt like I was trying to get away with it.

Positive changes don't take place overnight. Good health is about what we do most of the time, and for me, that means it includes allowances and exceptions. It also means a regular regimen of clean water, a varied diet of whole foods, relaxation, exercise and fun. Dine with people whose company you enjoy, chew your food slowly, eat seasonally, locally and organically whenever possible, try new things and know that it's OK to dislike certain foods. Most of all, focus on what you can eat - not what you can't or shouldn't - and when you stray from your usual plan, leave the guilt (but not necessarily all the corn products) behind.

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

Ticket prices

General admission Dh295 (under-three free)

Buy a four-person Family & Friends ticket and pay for only three tickets, so the fourth family member is free

Buy tickets at: wbworldabudhabi.com/en/tickets

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Director: Wes Ball

Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen, Kevin Durand

Rating: 3.5/5

Turning waste into fuel

Average amount of biofuel produced at DIC factory every month: Approximately 106,000 litres

Amount of biofuel produced from 1 litre of used cooking oil: 920ml (92%)

Time required for one full cycle of production from used cooking oil to biofuel: One day

Energy requirements for one cycle of production from 1,000 litres of used cooking oil:
▪ Electricity - 1.1904 units
▪ Water- 31 litres
▪ Diesel – 26.275 litres

Kill

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

Abu Dhabi racecard

5pm: Maiden (Purebred Arabians); Dh80,000; 1,400m.
5.30pm: Maiden (PA); Dh80,00; 1,400m.
6pm: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup (PA); Group 3; Dh500,000; 1,600m.
6.30pm: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup (Thoroughbred); Listed; Dh380,000; 1,600m
7pm: Wathba Stallions Cup for Private Owners Handicap (PA); Dh70,000; 1,400m.
7.30pm: Handicap (PA); Dh80,000; 1,600m

What's in my pazhamkootan?

Add:
Parippu – moong dal and coconut curry
Sambar – vegetable-infused toor dal curry
Aviyal – mixed vegetables in thick coconut paste
Thoran – beans and other dry veggies with spiced coconut
Khichdi – lentil and rice porridge


Optional:
Kootukari – stew of black chickpeas, raw banana, yam and coconut paste
Olan – ash gourd curry with coconut milk
Pulissery – spiced buttermilk curry
Rasam – spice-infused soup with a tamarind base


Avoid:
Payasam – sweet vermicelli kheer

Omar Yabroudi's factfile

Born: October 20, 1989, Sharjah

Education: Bachelor of Science and Football, Liverpool John Moores University

2010: Accrington Stanley FC, internship

2010-2012: Crystal Palace, performance analyst with U-18 academy

2012-2015: Barnet FC, first-team performance analyst/head of recruitment

2015-2017: Nottingham Forest, head of recruitment

2018-present: Crystal Palace, player recruitment manager