May 13, 2020
During the lockdown, one of the weirdest challenges I have taken on has been keeping my kids from eating nothing but junk food. If they had their way breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, supper, dinner, and every snack in-between would consist purely of processed sugar, corn syrup, chocolate covered, and deep fried stuff. I use the word “stuff” because most of what they would prefer to eat never qualified as actual food at any point so it requires a label that reflects the artificial nature of their foods of choice. There is a reason that they prefer junk food over actual food: it tastes good and it’s easy. All of them are capable of making basic real food items, but they like the way junk food tastes. They aren’t so concerned with the nutritional content or whether this steady diet of nothing will meet their nutritional needs or help them grow into happy healthy people. They really only care that it tastes good and is easy. As easy as it is to get frustrated with this tendency, which I expect is common for all children, I’ve discovered a similar tendency in my own life. I’m not referring to a preference for junk food, which I do have. Rather, I have noticed that as I am more and more limited in my daily choices by the lockdown, I tend to drift more and more toward the junk food options in my life. I have a piles of books in my office, next to my bed, and in my living room that I keep saying I will read when I have time. I suddenly have more time, but find myself scanning news sites and scrolling through Twitter and Facebook more and more. I don’t believe I am the only gorging themselves on social media and news during this time. The lockdown has given many of us more time than we know what to do with and limited social interaction. Facebook solves both of those problems and consuming the news scratches the itch of wanting to know what’s going on with the situation that forced us all to have too much free time. Of course, the problem is that neither does anything to fill us up, challenge us, grow us, or do anything other than fill time and get us angry. Social media interpersonal interactions aren’t real. We need to be social. It is hardwired in our DNA. However, our DNA needs face-to-face contact and meaningful interactions. Facebook doesn’t give us either. It is a cheap substitute, like Pop Tarts for the soul. Like Pop Tarts, Facebook has an invisible impact on our health. People who spend more time on Facebook tend to be less happy and more inclined toward depression because they inevitably compare themselves to the folks who they see there. Happy families, fit people, clever craft ideas, delicious food, and everything else we aren’t doing in our own lives makes us feel bad about ourselves. Of course, no one puts photos of burned meals, crying kids, or how big a disaster their houses are right now. It’s only a snapshot of the perfect moments in their lives. We can never live up to that any more than we can look better than the airbrushed models on the covers of fitness and fashion magazines. But we continue to stare at Facebook because we want social interaction, and it is easy to do. It’s not all that different than my kids passing up sandwich making to feed themselves in favor of Skittles or chips. Sadly, constant consumption of the news isn’t all that different. News stories are more and more designed to inflame our emotions against the bad guys in our society, rather than simply reporting the news. Worse, most of it is relevant for a very short period of time and is never useful. It gives us something to be angry about for a few days, but we can’t do anything about it. It keeps us busy, gives us an emotional high, then we need to find something else to snack on. Nutritionists solved this problem a long time ago. They advise us to consume junk food in appropriate quantities, rather than as a main staple of our diet. If we learn to consume social media and news in healthy portions, we can enjoy them without starving our souls. There are plenty of options for replacing them in our daily lives. I recently spent a couple of hours of free time learning to cook a perfect egg from world class cooks on YouTube. There are a handful of techniques and tricks that are easy to master if we just take the time to learn. Believe it or not, making better eggs in the morning has done more for my quality of life than hundreds of hours of Facebook scrolling. YouTube is full of instructional videos that make it possible to learn anything. There are also tons of books to read and think about. Taking my dog for daily walks has amounted to far more in my daily contentment than any news story. There are also tons of free/cheap classes available online to learn skills or knowledge of different subjects. There are more novels written every year than is possible to read in a lifetime. The hard part is choosing to eat the sandwich or fruit rather than Twinkies and frozen pizza. The first step is making a choice to do so and a plan to make it happen.