A friend of mine once had this to say about elevator music: “It’s sort of music and sort of not music.” In other words, it’s music without a lot of substance. It certainly has some essential properties of music: it’s melodious sound with something rhythmic about it, but…it lacks soul. I remember the day my maternal grandfather called the house, wanting to take my brother, sisters, and me out for ice cream one hot summer day. This was the grandfather who spoiled his ten grandchildren with lunch at Wendy’s for square hamburgers, bikes, a trip to Europe, and (on this occassion) a frozen dairy treat. When we heard the news that grandpa was picking us up, there was only one place that we could go: Frosty Boy, the soft serve ice cream stand a couple miles from our northeast side home. But, grandpa objected to our suggestion on the grounds that soft serve ice cream wasn’t real ice cream. You can imagine the incomprehensibility of the statement. “What do you mean Frosty Boy doesn’t serve real ice cream!?” We went to Frosty Boy that day. Well, grandpa, I finally agree with you. Frosty Boy served something that was sort of ice cream in the same way that elevator music is sort of music: soft serve ice cream is cold, sweet, and has a creamy texture. But, with all that, it too lacks some essential property, some very real substance. There’s just something artificial about it all.
In search for an answer to the missing quality in “fake” ice cream (and, by extension, processed food: let’s call it “elevator food”), I think back to a week that my family and I spent on Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had just been introduced to a book by nutritionist Janet Smith: Eat Well, Live Well. Smith had inspired me by her idea that one’s quality of life could be improved by what you put in your body. Her book included an extensive recipe section, and since I had the time (being on vacation), I used her book to prepare an entire dinner for the family. On the menu that evening: homemade wholewheat bread, nine bean soup, pasta primavera, and a desert likely of fruit smoothies. I think my sister Maureen would still remember the meal. She loved it! I did, too: not only did it taste good, it tasted fresh. After dinner, I remember not only feeling full, but feeling more, well, alive: my mood was evelated; I had more energy. For lack, then, of a better term, what “elevator food” seems to be lacking is vitality. Perhaps what science would call that quality is “nutrients.”
Gradually, over the years, the way we eat has gradually been shifting more and more in favor of foods that are nutrient-dense. We shop, mainly, at Farmer’s Markets, beliving (and with very good cause, I might add) that locally produced foods contain more of this vital substance as opposed to foods that travel thousands of miles to reach the produce section of the grocery mart. And what we can’t get from our local farmers, we purchase at the grocery store.
I’d like to end with a final thought, though it sounds like heresy to utter it: I believe that we are not just material beings, but are constituent beings comprised of body and soul (or spirit). Moreover, I believe that there exists an inseparable union between the body and the soul. Following from this, what affects the body would affect the soul. Conversely, what affects the soul would affect the body. If this is true,what we eat (and what we listen to, watch, and read), I submit, can effect that aspect of us which is non-material, either giving us greater substance (or depriving us of it), making us more (or less) ontologically dense. Again, if this is true, it certainly makes sense of one phenomena in modern-day America, that accusation levied against some individuals as being “plastic” (i.e. “fake”, shallow, lacking substance). In other words, “You’re ontologically light.” Perhaps a move back to greater human density (gravitas) involves, at least in part, a move toward real foods. For after all, maybe that maxim that “we are what we eat” is much more profoundly true that we’ve ever realized.