Aug

27

 Did you know that eating in the dark apparently means one consumes fewer calories? A recent study says that's so.

Wonder whether that means it is an eye-mouth-salivary thing, so if you don't see 'em, you don't feel like eating 'em? Or whether you are not induced to feel the lust for, say, dessert because you don't make the connection of pretty colors and icing and chewy configurations? I think there is much more research to be done before we understand the mechanics behind this finding. It seems that the wiring could be broken when in the dark–but does that not fall of its own accord since everyone in the modern world knows we delightedly chow down on snacks in the dark–particularly in a theatre. I went recently with a swain to the movies in a museum, to a venue where they forbid food. Unacquainted with museum policy, he looked at me, concerned: Where is the popcorn? Do you mean we can't eat candy or goodies here? Why not? To many of us, movies and popcorn are inextricably linked. Smell popcorn, and, like Proust, the mind harks back instantaneously to the womblike coziness of a theatre palace or movie-plex. That is always in the dark.

Living across from the biggest and most popular movie house in the country, Sony Lincoln Centre on 68th Street, I am a test subject: Delicious hot popcorn smells waft at passers by as they amble the nether side of the theatre: Is that why I love movies so much?

I hypothesized the museum sponsors don't want vermin from food crumbs. In various countries I have lived in, there were indeed rats and other undesirables in the theatres where food and snacks were encouraged for obvious reasons (profit margins are far higher on food than for entry admission for the films themselves).

But the mind swirls: What if the appestat that controls our hunger is depressed in the dark, hard-wired from antiquity to eat in daylight, sleep in darkness? Thus it would be depressed automatically when we enter a darkened chamber for any length of time. Or what if the body prepares for a different activity in circadian terms, and slows down all processes, including that of the salivary response to food, or the mind/stomach's cues of hunger? Does it matter how much physical labor one does in the light or dark? Or if the work is strenuous mental work, versus sweaty physical labor? What about celebratory occasions, medication addenda, post-op, coming out of some grueling task?

Certainly, the darkness also engages for many the erotic impulse, but maybe that is linked to learned habit from a life of erotic endeavors in bed in the dark. Were we to have a lifelong habit of erotic engagements in the daylight–would that change our current tropism? When I was among Papua New Guinea natives, the Azmat, they separated the men from the women, all the males above about 8 or so living in a men's long-house, a thatched hut like a bivouac/dorm. The women lived in their own detached cottages.

When men wanted to couple, they visited the women's homes. But did they couple in the daylight, or the night? They are an interesting tribe because, for a long interregnum, they also experiment tribe-wide with polyamory, and men experiment with men and women with women, in tandem with their coupling with members of the opposite sex. They seem to come to a heterosexual norm after their teen years. But no opprobrium or disfavor attaches to homophilia at all. And since these are overwhelmingly lean people subsisting on taro and ambient greens, even if they ate night and day, they would not put on much in the way of Sumo wrestlers. And do Sumo mountains eat only during the day, to maintain their prized avoirdupois?

(Margaret Mead's Samoan recollections are also germane in connection with sexual behaviors among tribal peoples, though she made a number of protocol and research misjudgments that have been carefully examined, and her pioneering work in Samoa has been largely debunked from its shock-value onset. She did not record night-eating habits of 'her' Samoans. Subsequent studies have revised most if not all of her research. I was privileged to work on her Samoa collection in NYC's American Museum of Natural History archives, under her tall crook and ornery instruction, just before she died.)

Getting back to food.

It seems such a study requires a massive sample, double-blind, preferably, and cross-correlated cultural comparisons, in order to be valid at all. If the same variables are true for the Inuit as are true for Trobriand Islanders–if all people lose calories or interest in eating in the dark, then we have something of scientific merit. What of those people who, for exigencies like the Holocaust, lived in the dark for years–my former dentist and his parents lived in a sewer in Austria for years. They emerged barely alive, blinded by the street colors and light of the sun, he told me. Would they have been more robust if they had eaten in the light? And noted human rights champion (Christian) Brigitte Gabriel lived underground for years in the Middle East when her family was hunted by muslims. Yet they ate whatever food they could find or scrounge, any time, mostly found at night. Of course, such examples are extreme, as one must eat, and they would have been forced to eat whatever they could, whenever they could.

Do Scandinavians in their long, dark Arctic winters lose weight? Do people in the Antarctic gain weight because when they are doing their research, in the Antarctic summer, they are in bright light 24/7?


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