“I’m being naughty today”, the woman in front of me paying for her coffee and brownie says to the cashier. I grit my teeth and bite my tongue. I want to tell her that the word “naughty” does not apply to food. I wanted to tell her that being naughty is doing something wrong, and food is not a matter of right and wrong. I wanted to tell her that food is not a moral issue.
“I’m treating myself today” is another one I hear often when in the queue at coffee shops; the women looking guiltily at the cashier, wanting to justify their hesitant decision to buy a slice of cake. The underlying message is always “I’m disciplined usually! I swear it’s just this one time! I don’t usually eat cake!” And underneath that, is the belief that cake is bad.
How can a food be bad? It doesn’t make sense when you really think about it. Food fits into the category of inanimate objects. They are not alive, and do not possess a personality or a concept of right and wrong. Food cannot be good, and it cannot be bad. Food is food. Food provides energy, and different types of nutrients dependent on the type. Eating one type of food doesn’t make you good, and eating another type of food doesn’t make you bad. It just means that you are eating a food type. Having cake does not have an impact on your morality, and therefore, neither the cake nor you are bad.
Bad, indulgent, naughty, sinful – these are all words to describe a personality or moral status, and yet we – and the advertisements that we watch – use them to describe some of the foods that we eat. Why only certain types of food? Who decided that cake, chocolate, or ice cream was indulgent or sinful? Who came up with the idea that eating a burger is bad? Who suddenly felt that consuming a bag of crisps was naughty?
But what about gluttony? you ask, gluttony is one of the sins. If you are of a certain religion, then you’re right: gluttony is, in some Christian denominations, viewed as a sin. I also want to point out that, according to the Bible, wearing two types of material together is a sin, as is divorce, eating shellfish, and your wife defending your life in a fight by grabbing your attacker’s genitals (no seriously: “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.“). We seem to over-exaggerate some “sins” and ignore others entirely to suit our society. Gluttony – derived from the Latin “gluttire” (to gulp down or swallow) – means to over-consume food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste. Note that it is not limited to food and is about the immoral actions of wasting food or wealth that could be given to the needy. Note again how it does not specify certain types of foods and is not related to weight or healthy but rather to greed – having so much that it goes to waste. That does not mean eating a piece of cake because you fancy one. It means buying two cakes, eating to the point of nausea, vomiting so that you can fit in more, eating again, and throwing away the rest. (In this example I want to make it very, very clear that I am not talking about vomiting as an eating disordered behaviour. Vomiting to fit more food in was something that historically was used by wealthy citizens so that they could continue to eat more when extremely full, and I would imagine is linked to how gluttony was historically viewed in its accurate portrayal rather than our ridiculous twisted version of “gluttony” in our diet culture orientated society).
Even when I’m aware of all of this and have a healthy and happy relationship with food, it is still sometimes near impossible to not become sucked into the feeling of shame for buying foods that are considered “bad” in our diet culture, even though I myself do not feel that way. Standing in the queue at a store, chocolate in hand, I have felt anxious that I might be being judged for my choice of purchase. This is heightened by the fact that I am not someone who is super slim, and people are far more likely to judge those who are not super slim for their food choices than those who are. This type of judgement becomes more prominent the bigger the body – which is utterly inappropriate and stems from the incorrect belief that food and weight are intrinsically linked and that those who are bigger should eat less or differently to those who are smaller (check out my section on set point theory under “links” for more information), so I dread to think of the way those without any kind of thin privilege might feel at the prospect of being harshly judged for buying chocolate and the like.
I was talking with a friend recently about how people feel they have to behave in a society like ours in regards to food and exercise. My friend, for your information, is the epitome of the “ideal” woman that our society says we should strive to be: a blonde beauty: very slim but with curves in all the “right” places, but she is not exempt from the multitude of insecurities that our society pushes upon us. You can be the “ideal”, and you are still not ideal enough, and that is how the diet and weight loss industry makes billions of dollars per year, because we are always striving to change our body and make it “better”. She says, “I can be dressing up to go out on a night out, and I will have the same amount of insecurities as someone else [with a completely different body type] – they are just different insecurities about different things.” In our second year of university she was miserable, and on reflection, she now puts a lot of that negativity down to the fact that she was forcing herself to go to the gym and eat salads, just because she felt that was the “right” thing to do. She was restricting her body in the name of being “healthy” and being “good”, when in actuality she was starving her body and subsequently destroying her emotional state at the same time. She has no history with an eating disorder in any shape or form, and even so, our diet culture told her that what she was doing was “right” – something she continued to do for the majority of that year, in spite of both mental and physical effects.
The message our society gives out about food is toxic and damaging. Start trying to repair your relationship with food. It’s okay to eat what you want, when you want. You do not have a moral obligation to eat in a certain way (the same applies to exercise). Don’t label foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy” (read: “good” and “bad”), as this perpetuates a negative and unhealthy relationship with food. Enjoy your food. See it as a wonderful thing that provides for your body, brings people together, and gives you pleasure.
Food is food. Food is not a moral issue.