Growing up in the 70’s in middle America, breakfast cereal provided me with a philosophy of pleasure. Of course the sugar, but also the sweet beauty of packaging captivated me and schooled my budding aesthetic sense on not what’s in the box, but on the bright colors, solid lettering, and promotional pitches. A “Glow in the Dark Monster,” hell yes! Recent World Health Organization studies on sugar-intake were not in my daily vocabulary back in 1973 when I’d sit down with a bowl and Captain Kangaroo or Mister Rogers. Let’s go to the Magic Kingdom!
Considering what recent scientific studies have revealed about sugar and cocaine, I’m not surprised that my brain probably looked like Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill character in GoodFellas.
But I’m here to offer words of wisdom on the third basic food molecule: carbohydrates. Harold McGee breaks it down for us:
Carbohydrates are produced by all plants and animals for the purpose of storing chemical energy, and by plants to make a supporting skeleton for its cells. Simple sugars and starch are energy stores, while pectins, cellulose, and other cell-wall carbohydrates are the plants structural materials.
Excellent, the basic unity of the world at the molecular level. Anything more about sugar?
Sugars are the simplest carbohydrates. There are many different kinds of sugar molecules, each distinguished by the number of carbon atoms it contains, and then by the particular arrangement it assumes. Five-carbon sugars are especially important to all life because two of them, ribose and deoxyribose, form the backbones of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the carriers of the genetic code.
Sugar carries the code of life. Rules governing the formation of life rely upon sugar. Harold McGee continues.
And the 6-carbon sugar glucose is the molecule from which most living things obtain the energy to run the biochemical machinery of their cells. Sugars are such an important nutrient that we have a special sense designed specifically to detect them. Sugars taste sweet, and sweetness is a nearly universal source of pleasure. (803)
So at the source and continuance of human life, pleasure ensures our species exists and thrives. Deep within our code we recite verses from The Song of Songs in The Jewish Bible. Here are the opening lines.
Oh give me of the kisses of your mouth,
For your love is more delightful than wine.
Your ointments yield a sweet fragrance,
Your name is like finest oil–
Therefore do maidens love you.
Draw me after you, let us run!
The king has brought me to his chambers.
Let us delight and rejoice in your love,
Savoring it more than wine–
Like new wine they love you!
A kiss, wine, perfume and, of course, the mouth and nose bring them together in a declaration of love, which is a pleasure that certainly aids the sweetness of our code. Our core cultural texts abound with this wisdom. For Odysseus to return home, means returning to the bed he shares with Penelope. Robert Fagles guides us in his elegant translation.
So husband wife confided in each other,
while nurse and Eurynome, under the flaring brands,
were making the bed with coverings deep and soft.
And working briskly, soon as they’d made it snug,
back to her room the old nurse went to sleep
as Eurynome, their attendant, torch in hand,
lighted the royal couple’s way to bed and,
leading them to their chamber, slipped away.
Rejoicing in each other, they returned to their bed,
the old familiar place they loved so well. (XXIII.329-338)
Of course, we began with science, the molecules that make up not only the food we eat, but who we are. A heavy notion that, and one deserving more thought. Let’s get some help, here’s Neil deGrasse Tyson on DNA. Bon Appétit