This is true in more ways than one.
Certainly it is a gift from the earth and from those who work hard to bring it to your market, store, table, etc.
However, it also possesses other "gift-like" qualities. Bare with me for a moment and it should all make sense.
Think about gifts at Christmas time - especially during those exchanges where you're given numbers and everyone selects gifts to open and you're able to swap/steal as part of the game. Now this is where food and gifts become similar.
The Appearance of the Package
When you're choosing a gift to open, often the most appealing gifts are the ones that are wrapped well. The one in pretty paper or the one adorned with a fancy bow. Same goes for food. You're more likely to pick up food that looks appealing. When we're talking about processed foods, this is where the marketing experts get you with their eye-catching packaging (think Golden Grahams versus Corn Flakes). When we're talking about fresh foods, this is where we see brightly coloured, blemish-free fruits and veggies being chosen over duller, less vibrant choices (think fresh red strawberries over a waxed rutabaga).
When it comes to fruit and veggies, fresher, undamaged pieces are certainly preferable. However, much of the time it is valuable to heed the traditional advice: "Don't judge a book by its cover."
Do you choose the biggest gift in the pile? Or the smallest? This is where we're often split on our preferences in terms of selecting gifts. However, when it comes to food, more often than not, people are going to choose the bigger food option. We're always trying to get more bang for our buck because it makes us feel like we're being wise (but are we?). I think it depends on the type of food we're purchasing. Sure - maybe it's a good choice to purchase a big bag of carrots over a small one if your family enjoys them and you eat them up before they spoil. But do we really need the family-size bag of chips or cookies? There have been many studies to show that when there's an abundance of something, we tend to eat more than we normally would. Same goes for when there is less of something. I'm sure you can think of an example in your own life. The one that comes to my mind is cookies. When I first make a batch, I gobble them up - not even counting how many I've eaten. We rely upon visual cues and if the pile of cookies is big, my mind sees no reason to slow up on the cookie-eating until the pile looks noticeably smaller. Sound familiar? Alternatively, if you receive a small tin of cookies from a friend (say with 6 cookies in it), I'm going to bet you'll make them last a little. Six of 48 cookies disappears a lot quicker than 6 of 6 cookies. Know what I'm saying?
The Tricky Package
There's often one of these in the pile at the gift exchange, and this is the point of this entire post. The large gift that is just a fooler because the gift inside the large box is either tiny, or it's a dud. Another way to think of this is to think of a gift from your significant other. I'm sure many of us would agree that we might prefer a small box with a high quality, thoughtful, and potentially expensive gift in it (hello diamonds!) to a large, bulky gift containing the opposite (I'm thinking a tin of stale popcorn or a mega package of tube socks).
So what would you prefer? A small box filled to the brim with quality? Or a large box with lots (or a small amount) of low quality stuff?
You can think about food in a similar way. Try to make choices that are full of quality. For example, when you're hungry for a snack before dinner, try having a small handful of almonds and a piece of fruit rather than a couple of handfuls of nachos with salsa. Why? Well, there's a good chance the fruit and nuts will satisfy your hunger better, but beyond that, it's higher quality food. You can get more nutrition - vitamins and minerals - from the fruit and nuts, with less calories compared to the nachos and salsa. See? Vitamins and minerals = quality, calories = gift box size.
Here's an even better example: 2 fried eggs vs. 1 hot dog
The 2 eggs will give you approximately 11 grams of protein in 178 calories, while the hot dog will give you only 10 grams of protein but for 242 calories.
Next time you're forced to make a food decision (and believe me - you make many in just a day's time), think about one or all of these points. How are you being influenced by the appearance of the package? Are you being wise about the size? And how does the quantity compare to quality (in terms of serving size, but also just the nature of the food and the amount of calories it delivers versus the nutrition you get from it)?
And if you want a real kick in the butt on this topic, have a look at the Hungry for Change film. If this post doesn't get you thinking about all the extra calories we're eating to get a small amount of nutrition (nutrients like vitamins and minerals), that film will!