Relating to the Classics

Our recent post referred to the tendency of some things to “go together,” almost as if their pairing was a law of Nature. One of those seemingly inevitable conjunctions links spectator sports and junk food. In 1908, the team of Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote the profoundly American song whose chorus goes like this:

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I ever get back.

One might think the synergy between sporting events and recreational eating could not go back much further, but one would be mistaken. For Popular Mechanics, Tim Newcomb described the landscape beneath a venerable landmark, and some of the ancient garbage found there:

A recent study of the drainage system at the Roman Colosseum shows that stadium-goers snacked on fruit, meat, veggies, and even pizza.

If the stadium had not already been officially one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the vast, intricate subterranean infrastructure would cinch the deal. A year-long study has identified (among other fascinating items) the detritus of sports fans answering the call of the munchies. Archaeological officer Federica Rinaldi told the reporter, “We have recovered traces of the remains of the meals that were eaten in the stands during the shows.” He also said,

[S]pectators snacked on a variety of meats, vegetables, and fruits… Archeologists found remnants of olives, figs, grapes, peaches, plums, walnuts, cherries, hazelnuts, and blackberries. They also believe that the meat was “cooked at the moment on improvised braziers…”

The only difference is, the Romans did not have “junk food” per se. In those days, no scientists devoted entire careers to making food more palatable but less nutritious. They worked with what the fields and orchards provided, and every item mentioned in that paragraph can be justified as making a positive nutritional contribution.

An eternal truth?

“Drug experts who now study food have learned that cravings destroy willpower,” writes investigative journalist and author Michael Moss in the Los Angeles Times. But is that inevitably true? After all, when Odysseus, who lived more than 1,000 years B.C.E., had himself tied to the ship’s mast in order to resist the deadly allure of the Sirens, he certainly acted on the principle that cravings destroy willpower.

Now, as the author relates, a substance is sold in pill form “that works a little like methadone for heroin addicts.” Gymnema sylvestreis is a woody vine from which compounds can be extracted that “keep the brain from getting overly excited for sugar by disabling the sweet receptors on the tongue… For an hour or so, brownies and doughnuts and Oreo cookies all taste like putty…”

Moss explains that we are helpless against our evolutionary drive to consume maximum calories to fuel our bodies:

We have sensors in the gut and possibly in the mouth that tell us how many calories we’re eating, and the more calories there are, the more excited the brain gets, which makes us vulnerable to the processed-food industry’s snacks…

Sugars and fats are individually quite compelling, but in combination, they grab hold of a part of the brain called the striatum, which is known to be connected with compulsive behavior. Moss writes,

In my research, I found that hyperprocessed, convenient food products can be as addictive as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, if not more so, using the industry’s own definition.

So, the important thing is to figure out how to get ahead of the cravings, to forestall and neutralize and cancel them out, which is exactly what Odysseus did by ordering his crew to restrain him with ropes.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,”, undated
Source: “Esplorazione del sistema fognario antico del Colosseo,”, undated
Source: “Here’s What Ancient Romans Ate While Watching Shows at the Colosseum,”, 11/30/22
Source: “Op-Ed: Big Food wants us addicted to junk food. New brain science may break its grip,”, 06/06/21
Image by r.passman/CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources