Usually, when I see posts about food on Facebook or on Twitter, I tend to scroll right past them. I have a precarious relationship with food and a lot of what I read can bring up feelings of needing to control and monitor every bit of food I put into my mouth. It can make me feel inadequate, sad, and not good enough. But sometimes I can’t ignore the constant click-bait articles, scare-videos, and alarmist comments that some of my friends post on their social media accounts. I don’t believe that they should only post things that suit me, but it does make me sad that it doesn’t seem to be only me who has a bad relationship with food. It seems to be everyone’s issue.
There are real problems with the way that food is produced and consumed in our society. Leaving aside the “obesity epidemic”, which is a rant for another day – I am not a disease because I’m fat, nor do I appreciate my existence being drilled down to a bunch of characteristics that are fear-mongered into something horrible – people do seem to be getting sick from the way that our food is grown and produced. While the jury is still out on GMOs, there is speculation that they could be correlated with an increase in allergies and illnesses like cancer and diabetes. High-fructose corn syrup, along with other preservatives, is in a lot of food in the United States, and we eat too much salt and sugar as a society. Those things are true. I’m not going to argue with those facts.
However, my beef, if you will, is with the way we talk about these things. I read a comment on a friend’s status today that stated in a very superior way that people “need to learn to read labels and make good choices for themselves”. I’ve read other comments that suggest that people who eat boxed and canned foods are stupid, deserve what they get, and are asking to be fat and sick. I’ve read comments that celebrate the fact that their children are making “good food choices” and “turn their noses up” at fast food because they were given organic foods from the time they were babies. And I want to ask these people – why is this so important that it makes you think that you’re better than someone who likes to go to McDonalds or drink a can of pop? Why has this suddenly become a moral fight, as opposed to a fight for good food and good health?
I can only think that it’s because along with calling out the food industry’s transgressions, we’ve also assigned moral value to food and how it’s consumed. Someone who is fat must be stupid and not know to read labels, to count calories, to consume the right amount of veggies and fruit in a day. Someone who eats at McDonalds must have not seen “Supersize Me” or watched those horrible videos about animal slaughter, and therefore, they’re just being blind and stupid, not near as smart as the “enlightened” population. People who buy fruits and vegetables from Walmart must just be cheap and dumb, not trying to find an expensive farmer’s market to buy organic from (though there is no real evidence to suggest that eating organic is any better for you than eating conventionally-grown foods is).
And if you get sick, or you’re fat? Well, then, it was your own fault that you didn’t read labels and educate yourself. No matter if you work three jobs or are a single parent. No matter if you don’t make enough money to afford locally-grown and sourced food. No matter if what you’re seen eating is a treat, or something you eat daily. You’re stupid and well, people who can do those things are just better than you.
This attitude makes me angry.
It makes me angry because while we do have to take some responsibility for how we eat, our government doesn’t take any responsibility for how accessible good food is to poor populations that don’t have a car and can’t afford monetarily or time-wise to take three buses to a farmer’s market, let alone to buy the food there. It makes me angry because someone who enjoys McDonalds or a chocolate bar isn’t morally bankrupt or uneducated, and those who have never tasted refined sugar or French fries are not better than them. It makes me angry because obesity and fatness is always blamed on what people eat or how much exercise they get, and the fat people who eat in a healthful way or exercise a ton are always overlooked or scrutinized to find the “real problem”. And it makes me angry because we shouldn’t have to answer for how we eat. We shouldn’t have to be judged for the things we enjoy. The food we consume shouldn’t be a factor in how our character is judged.
Food is not inherently good or bad. We are not inherently good or bad for the things we eat. And while it’s great that you try to eat gluten-free, your way of doing things is not necessarily the way that everyone should do things. People are individual, and how and what they eat is between them and their doctor. If you are a professional that helps people to choose food that works for their lifestyle and body type, then you should definitely not be bitching about them on Facebook behind their backs. You are not morally superior because you are in a position to educate people on how to choose healthy foods. And if you’re tired of seeing people eating foods that are not nutritious, help to change that bureaucratically. Lobby the government to stop subsidizing corn and to start subsidizing fruits and vegetables. Insist on healthier options in schools. Teach children that they can choose a high-fat or high-sugar food as a treat and that’s okay, but that the bulk of their food should be food that builds muscle, brain matter, bone, and blood.
I’m sick of the food culture we live in. I’m sick of seeing young children worrying about getting fat, of scrutinizing people and their food the exact way their parents do, and of hearing “Should you really be eating that?” I’m sick of battling with my own demons surrounding food, of being afraid to eat in public, of being asked why I’m eating/not eating, of being told of better things I could be eating, of being congratulated on eating well. I’m sick of people being judged for their food choices, for being told they should “read labels better”, of being scare-mongered into feeling horrible about the fact that they don’t have access to or can’t afford healthy options. I’m so sick of it.
Stop assigning a moral value to food. Stop assigning morality to eating. Stop perpetuating this cycle of hatred and judgement surrounding food.
Let’s just try to eat without judging. Food is fuel – no more, no less. Let’s just start there.