Sweet sweet

The fudgy vegan cake I once loved is distastefully treacly. The new chocolate-covered brownie bites that everyone raves about are vapid. The faux ice cream sandwich is so cloying, it’s hard to finish. What has happened to me?

I stopped eating added sugar, that’s what. About six months ago, Zeke and I made a dare that if one of us ate any, that one would have to (cue ominous music) do the dishes for a month. And, since we’re not saints, one day a month we’d have a sugar jubilee and eat whatever we want. It’s been interesting.

I was raised in the Midwest, where after lunch and dinner, something sweet was required for a meal to be complete. My parents are both paragons of moderation – impressively, unbelievably, almost disgustingly so – I’m talking one square of chocolate. The moderation gene was not passed on to me, and through the years I began considering larger and larger proportions of sweet things to be the little something at dinner’s end. Or lunch… or breakfast.

But now, on a cold day, there’s roasted acorn squash with cinnamon and a few raisins, steaming from the oven. Or if it’s hot, my man blends a banana, frozen blueberries, a handful of spinach, and enough soy milk to keep the blender from imploding, and the resultant purple shake is creamy, thick, and satisfying. Figs, apples, coconut – these are now desserts.

And on Sugar Day, flavor is key. The molasses cookie is like chewing syrup, nearly intolerable. But the pumpkin cookie is good, and the banana pie is better yet. Could it be that the taste of actual foods— pumpkin, almond, banana– is what makes something delicious?

Could be. Exhibit A would be diet products. As if it weren’t already obvious that they are an unsatisfying way to eat a lot of something that you try to convince yourself tastes just like something you shouldn’t eat a lot of. The 137-calorie pint of frozen protein dessert? Predictably, it’s going to food purgatory: the staff lounge. Exhibit B would be anything you’d find in a trick-or-treater’s pillowcase. The bite-sized lures of candy corporations taste false and overbearing to altered taste buds.

Perhaps I sound like an elitist food critic, but forgive me: I need to revel in actually having preferences regarding products containing sugar. Before, anything sweet tasted good and was worth consuming. Plants evolved sweetness to encourage animals to eat and propagate their seeds, after all. Sweetness meant safety, meant this isn’t poisonous. But in today’s food world, it may nearly be the opposite.

And perhaps I may sound like one of those health nuts who insist (er, lie) that raw broccoli with a sprinkling of brewer’s yeast is as palatable to them as whoopie pie. But on a sugar day, if I have two or three sugar-things, it’s undeniable: I begin to feel slightly nauseated. My pulse surges and bumps, confusing my body: What’s this? Is she running? Dancing? No, she’s sitting in the chair, blogging. What gives? I actually crave vegetables and water. Then there’s the sugar crash. A haze drops over my brain. There’s pasty film on my tongue. And a slightly greater inclination to be, um, a bitch. As much as being an occasional treat, Sugar Day reminds us why we do what we do for the rest of the month.

Of course, even sans sweets, I’m still irritable and twitchy at times. I can only imagine how much more serene I would be if I were a total Buddha, savoring every breath, movement, sight, word. I still charge through things, fixate on time and result, get impatient. But this is progress. Sweet, sweet progress.