Pure Sophistry contributor Elizabeth lives in Miami, where she spends her time reading Churchill for fun and getting thoroughly overexcited about the Romans. Between one too many Women’s Studies classes, a job in the SAT prep industry, and a brain that just won’t shut up, she’s chronically incapable of not analyzing everything to death. If she’s not at the office or buried in some kind of book, she’s at the gym working on her powerlifting to the intense confusion of the muscle-bound dude-bros monopolizing the squat rack.

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Eat Away Your Weight: Shirataki Noodles and Food-Replacement Culture

Elizabeth Foster

0 calories! 0 carbs! Guilt free! Tucked away between the vegan “cheese” and the vegan “hot dogs” at your local grocery store, Shirataki noodles are a “food” devoid of nutritional value – and that’s their selling point. Proudly trumpeting the all-important zeroes on the Nutrition Facts panel, Shirataki noodle packages even boast a seal of approval from someone called “Hungry Girl,” which is not a confidence-inspiring endorsement.

Underneath their protective shell of capital letters and exclamation points, the noodles themselves float limply in the bag, suspended in water that smells unidentifiably starchy, like an alien variety of potato (the package advises boiling them for a few minutes to “reduce the authentic aroma”). Cooked, they toughen into an edible version of rubber bands, themselves flavorless and staunchly resistant to picking up any taste from the food around them. Let them cool even a little, and they coagulate into a solid mass that only reluctantly releases individual forkfuls. As a pasta substitute, they’re an experiment in cognitive dissonance: tomato sauce accompanied not by a rich mouthful of spaghetti, but by a semi-congealed lump of gelatinous tentacles.

As food, they fall flat – Jabba the Hutt might enjoy them, but he’s probably the only one. Shirataki noodles aren’t intended to be food or even a “food product,” the bastard-stepchild category to which the “liberal foodie intellectual” Michael Pollan relegates any modern edible that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize (Oreos, Doritos, Pop-Tarts…). At least the lowly “food products” have calories that you can digest and use.

 

Shirataki noodles can’t even claim that much: they’re not so much food as a food replacement. Like the bewilderingly multicolored array of artificial sweeteners a few aisles down, 0-calorie noodles fill a cultural need, not a nutritional one.

 

The cultural need for food replacements starts with conflicting demands. We’re all under pressure to consume. The food industry makes a lot of money playing on our biologically-hardwired desires for fat and sugar with advertising that persuades us to want more food than we actually need, and to feel deprived if we don’t have it.

Our physical hunger is finite, but our mental hunger is limitless: we learn to eat as a form of entertainment, self-medication, and stress relief –  nobody soothes themselves with carrot sticks after a breakup. But we’re also under pressure to stay thin, not only to meet cultural standards of beauty, but also as a sign of self-control in the face of those ad campaigns. Hungry Girl isn’t hungry for food. She’s hungry for eating, but how can she eat without gaining weight?

Food replacement products are the diet industry’s answer to this dilemma. The yogurt commercials say it better than they know: we always have to want, but we never get to have.

Fixated on the cheesecake, the woman in the yogurt ad bargains with herself in a tortured internal monologue, teetering closer to the edge of the cliff until her yogurt-savvy coworker miraculously provides a solution: the experience of the cake, without the guilt. All she needs is another product. With a last defiant glare at the cheesecake, she yanks a yogurt out of the fridge and slams the door to embark on her new life of 110-calorie bliss.

110 calories is good, but 0 is even better, and after you’ve cut out fat and sugar, it’s time to replace all those nasty carbs. Shirataki noodles let you eat and overeat – and even justify your cheesecake-replacement yogurt by unceremoniously bringing your digestive system to a crashing halt. The paradoxical compromise of food without calories promises a way to resolve the conflicting social pressures that simultaneously demand over-consumption and self-control.

Hungry Girl approves!

 

What’s your opinion on Shirataki Noodles and food-replacement culture? Let us know in the poll and comments section below!