My Plate Does Not Have to Be the Same As Your Plate

Published February 3, 2013 by sleepydumpling

I’m having one of those “What is so hard to understand about it?” moments.  You know the drill, someone says or posts something judgemental, you call it out, and then they turn themselves into knots trying to justify their actions/attitudes.  And you just realise that it’s not going to get through, but you can’t understand what is so hard to understand.  I have those a lot, I shouldn’t, but yeah… the willful ignorance just boggles me.

The current puzzler is about food judgement.  I’m really struggling to understand why people can’t see that what other people eat is none of their business, and what they choose to eat doesn’t need to be moralised or proselytised as though it’s the only way to eat.

It’s really simple.  Worry about what’s on your own plate, and what you put in your own mouth (and your own children’s).  If you choose not to eat certain foods, that’s ok.  If there are certain foods that make you unwell, that’s ok.  If there are certain foods that you simply don’t like, that’s ok.

But let’s quit broadcasting messages about food as though there is one true way to eat.

What does this mean?  Well, let’s start with the old social media post.  I am sure you’ve ALL seen them.  The link to some article denouncing sugar as poison, or carbs as the scourge of society, or meat as unnatural.  Or then the new one is the infographic.  Some thing that tells people not to eat processed food, or how many greens they should have, or how much sugar is in something and so on.  Those “pithy” little jpegs or gifs that scatter around Facebook or Tumblr spreading their judgement all over the place.  Why do people post those?  To prove that the way they eat is somehow morally better than people who make different food choices?  To “convert” people to eating the “right” way?  I’m not sure, all I see when they pop up on my social media is someone telling others what to do with their own bodies.

Then there’s the social situation.  There is food available.  Someone doesn’t eat that food for whatever reason.  They don’t just say “No thank you”, instead they say things like “Oh no, I couldn’t, I’ve already been a little pig!”  Or “Oh no, my hips will never forgive me!  I’m already getting fat.”  Or “No, I don’t eat sugar/processed food/carbs/whatever – it’s poison.”  There’s the conversations in the office about what diets people are on.  There are the questions like “Are you sure you need that?”  The outright statements “I can’t eat that, too many calories.”  Or even “Go on, have another slice, you know you want to.” or “Come on, just try some, I’m sure you’ll like it.”

The scenarios are endless, I’m sure you’ve all had examples of your own plenty of times, and you are welcome to share them in the comments.

The thing is, food is such a loaded subject in our current culture.  It has become a moral measure to so many people, and that moralising is now a way people bond.  Recently when challenging someone’s attitude about food moralising I was told “Well if  you don’t talk about anyone other than yourself, you can’t avoid casting judgement.”  I call bullshit on that.  While yes, it’s very easy to slip back into the dominant way of thinking about food and loading it with morality, it’s also easy to be conscious of that judgement and nip it in the bud.  It’s like the matrix – once you’ve taken that red pill and are aware of the reality of just how fucked up judging people for food (and other arbitrary measures), you see it all over the place.  You CAN look at your own thoughts and behaviours and curb them when they’re inappropriate.  You CAN train yourself out of that culturally dominant way of thinking, you just have to be willing to let go of being judgemental of others for abitrary reasons.  Sometimes I think people don’t want to let go of that.

But you CAN let go of that.  You can talk about food (even foods you don’t like or can’t eat) without loading it with moral judgement on others.

To give examples of myself – it is a constant source of teasing from my USian and Canadian friends about how squeamish I am about pumpkin desserts.  The quickest way to get a reaction out of me is to post a pumpkin pie or pumpkin-spiced latte on FB and tag it with my name and they get rewarded with me going “Ewwwww, I can’t!”  It’s just something I personally cannot bear to eat, despite loving pumpkin as a savoury vegetable.  I made friends roar with laughter when I was in the US and I announced, on tasting pumpkin ice-cream that it was “the most disgusting thing I had ever eaten and that’s saying something because I’ve eaten scorpion, grubs, and two different types of testicle!”  But that isn’t saying that it’s “bad” to eat pumpkin desserts, or that other people shouldn’t – just that I don’t like them.  In fact if I’m not getting all squeamy I usually just say “Please feel free to eat my share of pumpkin desserts of the world, I don’t want them!”

Another example is allergies.  I am allergic to sheep.  Yes, I know, I’m weird.  I can’t wear the wool, come in contact with lanolin or eat the meat.  Now if lamb is on the menu somewhere, I simply ask not to have any, because I’m allergic.  The same goes for avocado, which I am also allergic to.  A simple “May I ask if this has avocado in it?” followed by “No thank you, I’m allergic.”  Almost every time the host or other folk will point out something that is avocado free, and then we’re all good.

Or if you really want to make sure you’re not loading food talk with moral judgement, my other method is to just keep repeating myself with a polite “No thank you.”  No matter how many times someone tries to pressure me into eating something that I don’t want, I just keep saying “No thank you.”  If they push you to give a reason, just say “Because I said no thank you.”  They’re going to be the one who looks douchey for pushing the issue, not you for politely refusing.

That doesn’t mean that the topic of food is off the agenda – talk about food.  Talk about how delicious it is, where you found the good stuff, where the food wasn’t so great, who made that delicious recipe, how cute the presentation is, the foods you’ve tried around the world, even the foods you don’t like.  Just don’t load it with moral judgement as you do so.  If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you don’t eat gluten or dairy or sugar for whatever reason – that’s ok.  But please, don’t tell the rest of us we are “evil” or “greedy” or “lazy” for eating differently to you.  A simple “I choose not to eat meat because I don’t feel right eating animals.” or “No sugar for me thanks, it makes me feel really unwell.” is acceptable.  It makes it clear that you have made choices about the food you eat without heaping judgement on anyone else.

Besides, how often do you know who is hearing that moralising?  How often are you sure there’s not someone with an eating disorder around that is triggered by that kind of talk?  Or someone who has a serious medical issue, or someone who is simply broke and can’t afford to pick and choose foods as much as others?  Do you really want to be the douche who makes people feel bad about food when they have enough to deal with already?

But what do you do when you’re in a social setting (either online or off) where someone is going on and on about food, loading it with moral judgement?  Well, that depends on the situation and the person it is.  Sometimes you can be blunt and say “Oh pull your head in, mind your own damn business.”  Other times you might have to have your polite pants on.  Like the workplace or a social situation at someone else’s house.  If you can’t walk away (a very effective response to food moralising sometimes!) there are several things you can say.  You can simply say “That’s ok, you don’t have to eat it, but you don’t need to judge others for choosing to.”  Sometimes I say things like “Hey, eat the chocolate or don’t eat the chocolate, it’s your body, you get to choose what to do with it.” which seems to nip it in the bud too.  Or perhaps “Let’s not put a dampener on the party by policing the food ok?”

I know these aren’t always going to work, there is always going to be that situation where you can’t speak up, and walking away will make a scene that you don’t want to have.  But knowing that you don’t have to carry that moral judgement on your shoulders also helps.  If someone is crapping on about food and loading it with moral judgement, then that’s a reflection on THEM, not a reflection on you.

Your plate is YOUR plate.  Your body is YOUR body.  Keep your food morals to yourself and don’t take on anyone else’s food morals.

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101 comments on “My Plate Does Not Have to Be the Same As Your Plate

  • Kath, I would be absolutely delighted to save you from all the pumpkin-based desserts and lamb and mutton. These are among my favorite things to eat. And if you like either asparagus or mushrooms or cherries, I would be beyond thrilled to offer up my share to you forever and a week. I like helping out that way.

    When my brother was living with us for a month or two and it turned into five and a half years, he did this annoying thing where when I was cooking – and it didn’t seem to matter what was on the menu – he would come up behind me and start saying “you know x ingredient has No Nutritional Value Whatsoever, don’t you?”

    He said that about cucumber, carrots, celery, radishes, lettuce (several different varieties, too), onions, garlic, pasta, rice – both white and brown, parsnips, and green beans, and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. Then one day he informed me that potatoes have No Nutritional Value Whatsoever. Funny thing, I had just that day been reading an article on the nutritional powerhouse known as the potato. I started listing off all the lovely vitamins and minerals in the lowly potato.

    You know what? He never again informed me of the lack of nutritional value in another food.

    Too bad. Once I realized it would shut him up for ten minutes, I started reading up on the nutritional benefits of other foods I commonly cook just in case he tried it out again. All that research for nothing. I already knew there were vitamins in all those foods and, in point of fact, most things we eat and I wasn’t all that bothered to know the specifics of individual ones until I knew I was going to get lectured every damn time I tried to make a dinner my husband would eat.

    Oh, yes, and this is the brother who also got on my case for hours because one day at a garage sale I found a stack of cookbooks for super cheap and bought them. Apparently since they weren’t specifically about cooking for someone with diabetes, they were all Very Wrong of me to buy. Never mind that each one had plenty of recipes that would be just fine for someone with diabetes, never mind that long years of cooking for a man with diabetes has taught me how to balance menus and adapt recipes that might not be the best for keeping blood sugar in check, and never mind that sometimes I cook meals (GASP! CONSTERNATION!) just for me when I don’t have to consider diabetes at all. No, I was a Very Bad Person for spending five bucks on something to please me and nobody else in the damn world.

    There’s a reason I don’t speak to my brother anymore.

    BTW, Mr. Twistie heard the lecture on the cookbooks and informed my brother that I was welcome to spend my money on anything I pleased without worrying about what anyone else thought or whether it had any value for him.

    There’s also a reason I adore Mr. Twistie.

    • The phrases “no nutritional value whatsoever” and “empty calories” are the first ones to stop making sense once you pull yourself out of the food morality matrix. It’s like, do people even know anymore that human beings need energy to function? And even if a food product is “just” calories with no vitamins or proteins or whatever, that is some nutritional value right there? The way diet culture works it seems that people think that eating is something you do only when you can’t keep from screwing up your diet.

      • “No nutritional value” is ridiculous – if it’s edible it has some kind of nutritional value. Be it starch or sugars or fibre or whatever. As you say – if it gives you energy to function, it has nutritional value!

      • “The way diet culture works it seems that people think that eating is something you do only when you can’t keep from screwing up your diet.”

        Yup, definitely. And isn’t it depressing when you start looking at it like that? Eating food is not only necessary, but it’s wonderful fun too!

    • You know Twistie, I actually quite like the taste of lamb (never tried mutton) but it makes me so terribly sick. Like doubled over pains in the guts sick. I’m happy to take on the mushrooms and cherries (my favourite fruit!) but not the asparagus (or “sparrows arse” as we always called it as kids) sorry!

      The “No nutritional value” thing shits me so much, because quite often the same people will tell a fatty to “eat” meal replacements or other such concoctions that are so far away from actual food that it’s embarrassing. And I’d have hit him with the cookbooks. He wouldn’t have been eating any of my cooking, that’s for sure! And Go Mr Twistie!

  • I love your comments on this issue. I currently, for various reasons, eat a very restricted diet. And the number of people who like to comment on it really gets my back up. I try my best to be polite, and say “No thank you, I don’t eat x”, but so many people say “why not? what’s wrong with it?” etc. Perhaps even worse is not drinking alcohol. Why do people care if I don’t drink? Why do they feel personally affronted by it? Why should the only possible reason be me being pregnant (I am not)?
    Argh.
    Food is important to me, but I don’t get why it has to be such an ISSUE.

    • Jenn I don’t drink (anymore) either. Not for any moral reason, just because a) it makes me quite ill and b) I think I drank all my share at once! But people ask questions like I’ve chosen some completely bizarre lifestyle option, or they get all shitty and call me a party pooper! I don’t care if other people drink alcohol, I just choose not to.

      Mind you, I can’t tell you the number of people who lecture me about some food yet they put away a couple of bottles of wine every night! So I’m not allowed to eat, but if I was joining them in a couple of bottles of wine that would be ok? Double standards much?

      • I don’t drink when I go out, because I won’t drink a drop if I’m driving (one of my uncles died drink driving), and I’m *always* driving, because my husband doesn’t drive. But after 5 years at the same company, not drinking at social events, I *still* get comments, questions, and peer pressure. I will occasionally drink at home if I’m not going out, but why does it matter so much if I choose not to? I can still be sociable and not drink. It’s a really strong cultural thing in Oz, I think.

        • I’m in NZ, and it’s definitely strong here too. I have some Canadian friends, and they are pretty much the only people who will say “Can I grab you another soda water?” without batting an eyelid. I just don’t get why people need everyone else to be drinking too. I will still dance, I will still socialise, I will still be fun. I just won’t be drunk!

        • Jenn, I think it’s everywhere not just Oz. I mostly go to punk and metal shows and am practically straightedge these days because running a business and a household by myself gets exhausting. I’m in New York and find that while I’m pretty much left alone at said shows, it’s when I go to other things for my other interests that I get looked at oddly when I politely decline booze. The last time I got really rip-roaring drunk was last summer at a big all-day punk fest, and when I woke up at 4PM the next day with $3 left in my wallet and chainsaws going off in my skull….I got a stark reminder I’m not 22 and working a rank-and-file job anymore.

          I’d rather be sober to enjoy the bands and save my money on buying their swag to help them out since I know how it is when someone buying just one CD means you get your rustbucket back home!

        • Australia has a really shitty attitude about drinking and there is a culture of awful drinkers – aggressive, violent, extreme. Binge drinking is a massive cultural meme here and there is a disgusting amount of peer pressure to go with it.

  • Brilliant post, I couldn’t agree more. I’m so sick of this “moral” value tied to food and how some people just try to make like they’re better than others because they have the time and money and/or domestic setup to home-cook all their meals and snacks.

    I was at a birthday party last summer where this happened. Truthfully, it was one of those events I honestly didn’t want to attend but I was going to get more bullshit if I didn’t go…you know what I mean. I’d met the birthday girl’s friends before and they’re OK until they start talking about their runners’ culture (which I couldn’t care less about) and obsession with organic produce and whole food cooking (which I found classist and pedantic. Not organic produce and whole cooking *themselves* but the way these women would talk about it! Yeah, a bit obvious I’m not friends with the birthday girl anymore haha.) I made nice, and one woman asked if I cooked up anything interesting lately. To which I laughed and said I hadn’t cooked in months because I’ve been so busy. She looks at me like I have three heads, I shit you not! And goes on to say something about how I’m doing myself such a disservice! Seriously?! Cue this other woman at the table who said the same thing because she works a high-power job that involves a lot of travel and she sort of got the same reaction, but not to the level I did. I guess I got more bullshit because of my size, but I take it this woman has never been poor, never had a really time-consuming work schedule, or never had to live alone in a shitty, vermin-infested apartment from what I gathered.

    FFS, I have a household of one and run a small business. (Add a cramped New York apartment in mid-summer, and slaving over a stove/oven is the last thing a sane person would want.) Cooking’s not a very effective use of my time or money. There’s countless people of all lifestyles and body types who feel the same! Why does all this moral value also have to go to HOW your meals reach you? It’s my wallet and schedule that decide if I order delivery, order takeout, go to a restaurant, buy a premade or packaged meal, or cook from scratch. I swear, if someone gets on my case again about how I should OMG cook from scratch at home 24/7, I’m going to bat my eyelashes, smirk, and say “Hey then, are YOU going to buy me said organic produce and free-range tofu and make sure they don’t rot over the week, buy me some Crate & Barrel cookware, and get a real exterminator into my building to eradicate the roaches so I can cook said elaborate meal for just one person that’s going to pupate into unrecognizable gloop overnight that I won’t want to eat tomorrow? No? Then please sit and spin on a barbed wire buttplug.” Feel free to borrow that one. :)

    But on a tangent note, I do love me some pumpkin desserts! I loooove pumpkin in any form. I will eat EVERY part of a pumpkin in any way imaginable, sweet or savory. I eat pumpkin flowers like a frog on flies haha.

    • Oh yeah Rachel, if you ever want to see privilege flaunting, start a conversation with white, affluent, able-bodied thin people about food. They are completely ignorant to the fact that their circumstances are not afforded to many people, and get all judgey about people who don’t meet the standard that their privilege affords them. It’s gross!

      You can have some of my share of the world’s pumpkin desserts too, but I think you might have to race Twistie to them!

  • I once had a long and very awkward conversation with someone about nuts. They just couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t eat nuts if I liked them and if I wasn’t allergic. Finally I had to say “My body doesn’t digest them and it gives me horrible stomach pains.” I mean, seriously, if I don’t want nuts, I don’t want them….it doesn’t matter why.

    I’ve also had a friend recently go vegan and, like most people in that situation, she tends to proseletyse (sp?) that particular lifestyle choice.

    My plate, my stomach, my body, my rules. Awesome post, Kath!

    • My dad’s ex was a super-preachy vegan and actually had the gall to tell me that the reason I have arthritis. She and her vegan pals ganged up on me on Facebook telling me I’d brought it on myself and if I would just go vegan it would cure me. Never mind that I have arthritis in my jaw and even if I did want to go vegan I wouldn’t physically be able to eat enough to get adequate nutrition on a vegan diet. It made me want to go out and eat a block of cheese just to spite her.

    • Let’s not generalize all vegans because you’ve known a few bad ones, k? It’s actually only a handful who actually proseletyze.

      It’s been my experience that mentioning you don’t eat meat leads to a string of questioning, and when you explain it, then unfair accusations of preaching or a long string of defensive justificatsions. I DON’T CARE; JUST TELL ME WHAT’S IN THIS DISH.

      I *could* go around and talk about all the defensive and preachy meat eaters I’ve encountered and wrongfully say that’s “most” of them, but that would be pigheaded of me. And we wouldn’t to make ourselves look stupid by generalizing an entire group of people, now would we?

      • Umm, not sure who is “generalising vegans”. Amie refers to her Dad’s ex and her friends, and I respond challenging the assumption (that her Dad’s ex and cohorts had) that no vegan has ever suffered arthritis. There is no “generalising” there at all, as nobody is referring to every vegan who ever existed, merely one woman and her friends.

        This is not a vegans vs other eaters thread, please don’t make it one. You are reading something into comments that is not there, and I’d appreciate it if you back off a bit with the attitude.

        So let’s not put words in other peoples mouths, k?

        • To be fair, in my original comment, I did say “like most people in that situation.” So I’m probably who Liza was talking to. I apologize. In MY experience, the vegans I’ve encountered have all been preachy, but I shouldn’t have generalized to the rest of the world.

          • I think it’s pretty common for someone who’s just discovering something like that to be preachy about it, especially if that person was young. I’ve seen it with people converting to a new religion or deconverting to atheism.

            Also, I’m not the mod and not a vegan, but thanks for speaking up and apologizing; it gave me warm fuzzies.

          • Pange thank you, I misinterpreted your original comment, I didn’t think you were singling out vegans, just referring to people who have found a “new way” of eating… and as Closet Puritan says below, to be fair nobody evangelises like those who’ve found the “new way”!

            Thank you for owning up and clarifying, and for your apology.

  • I have an unusual (and unfortunately, currently trendy) diet due to health conditions. If it’s not someone wondering why I can’t eat X, Y, or Z, it’s someone not believing that I don’t since people on this diet “are always thin”. It’s enough to make you sign out of society altogether.

      • I am a vegetarian, and have had people say exactly the same thing. I generally respond that the mighty 3 C’s (cheese chocolate and cocktails) are available to vegetarians. I don’t bother going into the whole “but only if it is made with animal free rennet, fair trade and especially espresso martini’s” additional explanation for them though.

      • Hilarious! I mean, even apart from the fact that fatness isn’t caused by what you eat, that argument doesn’t even make sense if you DO believe in the calories-in-calories-out bullshit. It’s not like there aren’t high calorie foods that don’t contain meat!

  • My workplace is a great example of this. Last year several of the staff (all women) went on a well known diet where your food is provided each week. This was apparently to lose weight for a wedding. None of them are what you would call overweight. They have become so obsessed with what they eat that is has caused conflict at work as there are some staff who dont want to eat in the lunchroom any more because they are sick of all the diet and weight loss talk. We get 30 mins for lunch and are not located near shops or anything so most people bring their lunch and sit together in the lunch room. This used to be pleasant and relaxing – not anymore! Now the dieters congregate and wax lyrical about how much weight they’ve lost what they’ve eaten and pick apart what others eat. They have been challenged about this in the nicest way and became offended as they felt it wasnt their fault that people were bothered by the conversation and that they shouldnt feel ashamed of their weight loss efforts. It makes me sick to the point that I have started to eat my lunch at my desk( I am lucky I have an office) lest I be judged for what I am eating. I know that others feel the same. I am also blessed with a boss who constantly makes comments about how much weight people have lost and raves on about how much she eats. She is about a size 8. Some of her best lines to me have been “are you still hungry?” or “are you still eating”?. When she happens to catch my eating in my office. I mean wtf how is it her concern? Recently we went out for a farewell lunch for a colleague. This strikes fear into me however I felt I should attend. Well of course I found myself sitting next to one of the most petite ladies in our office who loves to make a show of what a big appetite she has. Well you know what she said when she turned to me? She goes “oh look how big you are I feel so little next to you, I must be sitting on a lower seat” then giggled. I felt like running out the door but responded “well I am 5ft9.” Didnt know what else to say. I am 5ft 9 and size 20-22 so yeah I am fat and yeah I know it but why cant people mind their own goddam business about others food choices/size and keep their “Oh I’m so great cos I weigh 6 stone and eat like a horse and you are just a big fat slob ” to themselves?? Sorry its a rant but its a topic that gets me MAD.

    • Janine workplaces are hotbeds of food policing! I have a pretty cool workplace, but it still happens. I once had a boss who, when I was making sure everyone got a proper lunch break so that we didn’t crack under pressure, piped up “Oh will you stop thinking about food?!” Nice way to show leadership pal! I also used to have a person, who was in a position of power so I couldn’t complain, completely stalk me and my food choices every single day, making sure to sit opposite me at lunch time (no matter what time I took a lunch break) and watched mesmerised as I ate every morsel of my lunch. It was creepy and triggering and there was nothing I could do about it.

      Rant away hon, I do know how you feel.

  • I love you’re approach to food. I receive a lot of food judgement from my sister who has Body Dysmorphia and Bulimia. I have started simply stating to her ‘It’s my body, it’s my choice what goes into that’. I’m fat and always have been and she has often expressed her own body/food issues onto me, while simultaneously telling me not to worry about it.

    I’m a fat person who likes food, I like to cook and eat out (when I can afford to). I don’t eat meat for my own reasons, and I don’t judge others that do eat it. When they ask for an explanation if I feel like it I will explain my reasoning, but if I know I’ll reason crap/flak for my reasons I will stay quiet and move the conversation on ward.

    Sometimes I tell people that it doesn’t matter what I eat, it won’t affect them, but they preach good vs. bad food choices blah blah blah… I’ve been on diets and they don’t work. I eat what I want when I want it, sometimes I choose to eat something with vegetables or fruit in it. But sometimes I feel like potato chips. Neither are bad foods, they are different foods which give my body different things.

    I love your writing Kath and admire your spirit and hope to one day be nearly as eloquent in explaining my ideals to a wider audience – you rock…

    • That one bugs me too kateontheneta, the whole lip service to “Oh it doesn’t matter what you eat” and then in the next breath they are blah-blah-blah about “good food vs bad food”. It’s so bloody transparent!

      And thank you for your kind words.

  • Great post Kath, and really interesting to hear the stories from others too. I have one of my own I’d like to share. I have a chocolate tin on my desk at work and usually have a stash of biscuits in my drawer. I like the ritual of having a cup of tea and a biscuit, it helps me keep stress under control. I also like to have something sweet after a meal. Most people in the office know about my choc tin, and so sometimes will ask me for chocolate, which I’m happy to share. There is a handful of people who like to eat a lot of my chocolate, and I don’t mind. But one of them always has to make a comment about how “bad” he is for eating them. Like “It’s so good that you can only have one or two at a time, I could never have that on my desk, I’d eat them all in one go,” something like that. Usually I just laugh him off or try to make a positive comment to counter his negative one. I’ve decided my new approach is going to be “That’s because I eat them because I enjoy them and don’t feel guilty about it afterwards!” I’ll see how that goes over. It’s so ingrained in the culture that I think a lot of people don’t even realise what they’re doing, and it’s hard to get them to notice and check their behavior, unfortunately.

    • Oh the office choc/lolly/bikkie tin! What a trap that one can be for the food police! The one bugging me lately is the office lolly jar (that I rarely bother with because it always has cheap yuck lollies in it) that people like to say “Wow, your team goes through a lot of sugar!” No, some people do, and that’s their business. And stop looking at me like I’m the fatty culprit.

      Keep me posted on how the new approach goes. I hope you can shift that office culture a bit.

  • Ah. This is so timely for me. I’ve recently started a second job where EVERYONE is on a diet or guilty because they haven’t started it yet. I get the guy on Friday who brings fruits and veggies to save our souls, and then I hear women complain when another guy brings donuts and then they sneak away to eat one crouched over in the bathroom. I actually ha a dream two nights ago that I was fighting with just about everyone about dieting ad trying to say that I just didn’t want to hear about it. In my dream, I was getting more and more aggressive because no one “understood” me and I felt like they positioned me as being socially out of bounds. Made me realize how much I feel that way in real life. I’m goon to try a few of your tactics. Hopefully it will bring some peace to my office AND my dreams!

    • I hope the situation eases for you and you can get some peace. It just adds to the general stress of a workplace, and helps no-one! And yes, it’s interesting how many of the food police have some dodgy practices around food.

  • My family was terrible about this. When my late father turned out to be lactose intolerant, the rest of us were Verboten from consuming any dairy products as well, because if it was bad for him, it must be bad for everybody. My brother and I eventually made such a stink about it that we were allowed to have our own stash of milk and cheese.
    I always resolved that I wouldn’t ever do this to my son. At this point in my life I can’t drink milk or eat ice cream unless I take a Lactaid pill, although I can eat cheese all day with nary a problem. But I’ve never told my son that he can’t have milk in his fridge because milk is the libation of the devil! ;-)

    • You can’t win either way, can you The Real Cie? Either you get policed out of ever having dairy in your house, or you get policed for not eating dairy! I personally prefer lactose free milk as full cream tends to make me feel ick, and man, the people who make comments about it! I can only imagine what it’s like if you have to avoid all dairy products.

  • My cousin is one of those people who truly lives by the idea that food is just fuel for your body. She doesn’t believe in enjoying it and to her eating is just a chore she needs to get done. Although I can’t even comprehend never wanting to enjoy food, it’s her body and her rules really. The problem is she feels the need to police everyone else and acts as if her opinion is the on true way to live. You cannot so much as pick up a treat around her without receiving a lecture on its nutritional value.

    The most worrisome thing is I see her 6 year old daughter is starting to police the other kids in a similar fashion. I don’t know why these people think that they are somehow entitled to give the rest of us rules to live by.

    • Clara it is such a worry to see children mimicking this behaviour. It’s just putting pressure on a kid that they don’t need, let alone the kid casting that out to other people.

  • Great post, Kath, and a breath of fresh air I needed right now.

    I am very much struggling with all the food judging and healthism rampant even in fat acceptance circles. Even a lot of bloggers I really like and respect otherwise are perfectly fine with food shaming so long as fat shaming isn’t involved as well. Hating on processed foods/foods with “chemicals”/HFCS and the companies that make them)is very popular right now and I feel like I’m already exposed to this over and over in real life, ad nauseum, why do I still have to keep hearing it in places that are safe spaces for me? If you don’t want to eat these foods that’s fine, but it is extremely frustrating and triggering for me hearing food I DO eat called crap/poison/junk – “I think we can all agree NOBODY should be eating ____”!

    • Thank you! I (and a friend of mine) been saying the same thing for years and it’s good to know that other people are coming out and saying likewise. With food shaming so wrapped up in fat shaming, it blows my mind the willingness many fat activists have to engage in it, as though they want to differentiate themselves from those OTHER fat people.

    • I know. I too hate the “junk food judges.” Sometimes I work a lot and I don’t feel like cooking. Sometimes I do hit the freaking Burger King drive thru for a Big Fish. Then I come into work where I see the “health bulletin” signs posted, saying things like “It isn’t food if it came through a drive thru window.” Probably healthier than friggin’ Top Ramen, not that it’s any of their business if someone wants to eat Top Ramen either. Last time I checked, fish is indeed food, and so are the potatoes of which the french fries are made. The Sprite may be questionable, but I wanted a damn Sprite!
      I despise the food police.

      • I own a Thermomix (super-fancy kitchen machine) and all the Thermomx forums. Facebook groups etc are FULL of this stuff. Because having a Thermie means you can make a lot of stuff at home (like mill your own flour and stuff), people get preachy about only using organic this and whole that and Himalayan rock salt blah blah blah. If I want to use table salt, I’ll use freaking table salt!

        • Salt! Don’t get me started on “Wow, that’s a lot of salt!” when I add salt to my food. I have low blood pressure and my doctor told me to eat salt, alright? Yeesh!

        • Ahh yes Jen, we’ve talked about the fucking pink Himalayan salt before, haven’t we. What was that tweet “You can shove your pink Himalayan rock salt up your arse!”

          You’re right, the Thermomix forums (and many Thermomix blogs) are ROTTEN with food policing.

    • Thanks Lindsay for your kind words, I’m glad this post has resonated with you.

      I can promise you that in this space, there will be no food policing and I won’t tolerate anyone laying snark on one way of eating over the other. You have at least one food judgement free space!

  • I have a question not entirely relevant to your topic, but it did stem from your writing: what age do you think children get to have food autonomy, that is, power to decide what and how much to eat (and how to feel about it)? I started thinking about this because I’m one of the many people who’ve suffered a lot of food policing from my family, especially during my teen years when I started to get fatter. I understand that parents get to (and maybe even have to) moderate what little children eat and when and how much, but surely it can’t be a “this will continue as long as you live under my roof” sort of thing? I haven’t seen much discussion about this, but admittedly I haven’t been reading a lot of HAES/intuitive eating blogs ’cause they haven’t been my thing.

    • You might be interested in Ellyn Satter’s work. She is a child nutrition and feeding expert who advocates the “division of responsibility”, where parents decide when meals/snacks will be and what food is offered, and children decide what, how and how much they eat of what is offered — not even forcing the child to “just try one bite”. Autonomy around eating increases as the child gets older. There’s more to it than that of course but that’s the basics. Food policing is certainly not allowed! Michelle (FatNutritionist) has been trained in her methods I believe. Some adults find Satter’s methods helpful when learning to eat after a history of dieting or disordered eating. I wish I could go back in time and give my parents Satter’s books.

    • Have you read anything from Katja, the Feeding Doctor? Here is her blog: http://thefeedingdoctor.com/blog/

      She follows Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding, which is that the parents are in charge of when and where food is served and what foods are available at the meal; the child is in charge of whether to eat any given food and how much of it.

      Here’s a summary:

      http://www.ellynsatter.com/ellyn-satters-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding-i-80.html

      Hope that is useful to you!

      • Thanks for the recommendations. I have occasionally read Fat Nutritionist, but that’s the furthest I’ve gone. Of course if parenting is done “right” from the start, these kinds of issues are not so difficult to tackle, I was mostly thinking about my own childhood with a fat-phobic forever-on-a-diet mom and other children in similar kinds of situations. I would have benefited from some boundaries for sure. At some point strict food policing and restriction become abuse, and it would be right to be recognized as such instead of the pure encouragement from doctors/media it gets for “fighting childhood obesity”.

    • Beep I’m the wrong person to ask about children and food autonomy. I am single and childless (by choice) and really can’t speak for parenting, only the perspective of the child. I do know that food policing and restriction did a lot of damage to me, and created a lot of disordered behaviours that later became a full blown eating disorder. I think that my best friend’s approach of providing a variety of foods all in moderation and suggesting that they at least taste everything before rejecting it (that’s how he re-taught me to eat as a 17/18 year old, even if it did take 15 or so years to “stick”!) seems to be the wisest.

      That said, when I was nannying the older of the two boys went through a very restricted stage of eating (turned out to be ear problems diagnosed some time later) and the best advice I got from a doctor when I took him was “Look at him, bright as a button and full of energy, if that changes, then we’ll worry.”

  • “I just keep saying “No thank you.” If they push you to give a reason, just say “Because I said no thank you.””

    This is an “actual” technique that I’m learning in the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of the DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) group that I go to. It’s called “broken record”. It’s one I’m desperately trying to learn because I allow myself to get pulled off topic when people start changing the subject, and I allow myself to escalate when people don’t listen the first time – neither of which works. You are “supposed” to do exactly what you mentioned here – keep repeating your initial response (or request, you can be on either side of the negotiation), calmly and without changing the point (or even the wording much), until they either calm down or go away. ;) It’s actually a VERY useful technique when applied correctly (I have seen it, even if I haven’t gotten there yet).

    (random comment there…)

  • Agree with you. Food is not a moral choice. There’s been lots of this going on around my office lately which I successfully shut down with a simple “No”. It went like this:

    Person: I’ve been soooo bad lately. What are you having for lunch? Salad? Are you trying to be healthy too?
    Me: No.
    Person: Then why are you eating vegetables?
    Me: I like vegetables.

    Never asked me again.

    It’s just not hard to not care what other people are eating. Unless what they’re eating is really delicious and you must steal some from their plate, that is. ;)

  • Excellent post, and such an important lesson for everyone to get through their heads.

    I remember many years ago when I was dieting – in the height of my eating disorder days – I was feeling faint on the way to a choir rehearsal so I bought a cheeseburger burger on the way. I agonised over it, but I was broke and it was cheap and reasonably small so I felt I could cope with eating it. When a friend at the rehearsal saw me walk in with a macdonald’s bag, she said loudly in front of everyone: “oh, that’s a really healthy dinner!” It was the first food I had eaten in two days, and I almost threw it away uneaten, I was so triggered and humiliated.

    Now when people comment on my food choices I cheerfully tell them to fuck off and mind their own business. Obviously that isn’t viable in a work context, or when it will cause a scene to be blunt with people, but with my friends it’s turning out to work quite well! Still, it has taken me a long time and a lot of work to have enough confidence in my own ideas about food and my body that I can dismiss the nosey comments other people make.

  • I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 15 and just recently decided to give veganism a try. You would not BELIEVE the amount of policing I encounter just from those. People seem to think your choices not to eat meat (or dairy or eggs, etc) is some kind of personal affront. God, the pieces of steak I’ve had pushed in my face and the stupid “jokes” I’ve had to politely smile at over the years. Not to mention the lines of questioning. You just ask what’s in something because you want to know if you can eat it and good lord, do people think that makes you fair game for interrogation. I have to wonder if people feel defensive or something. One person once encountered a veg* who was mean to them and put it on the internet so now everyone thinks we’re all like that? I don’t know. Just let me talk about my food like you do without calling my entire lifestyle into question. Oy.

    • I very much believe it. I was vegetarian for many years myself and it drove me up the wall, and I’ve seen it escalate even further with vegan friends. It’s gross the way people push foods on to anyone, whatever kind of eating pattern/style they choose. It’s so not hard to work around vegetarian and vegan (and most other dietary needs), really. Clear communication around ingredients never hurt anyone and factoring in everyone if you’re organising catering is only good host skills.

  • I’d love to know what people think about this re moral judgement. I’m a vegan plus extras. I seem to have intolerances to many many things and make all my own food. I believe this is best for me and try to impart ‘healthy choices’ on my children. Junk food makes me nervous. Why? Because I have a lot of trouble saying no to it then when I eat it it makes me really sick. Anyway that’s the back ground…. When my relatives come to stay which happens regularly as we live interstate from everyone. They bring their own food…. Food I have a big problem with because I don’t want my children exposed to it and food I know will temp me. It also feels like a slap in the face when i go to the trouble of making meals for e wry one then they by take away or something …. My house my rules??? I don’t know but I find it really stressful trying to find a food balance. What do others think???

    • Your house, your kids, your body, your rules Vege Freak. If we all remembered that rule, then it would be a whole lot easier for everyone. It’s bloody rude for people to come to your house and violate your food standards under your own roof. Unless they have food issues of their own that they know you may have trouble catering to and cover their bases (vegos and vegans often have this one – easy to bring a dish that covers their needs than turn up and not have anything available, I used to have to do that all the time because everything had meat in it). Otherwise, perhaps they should eat out first then come visit later.

    • I would like to put in another recommendation for Michelle the Fat Nutritionist here, if you are feeling that your nervousness around “junk food” and trouble saying “no” to it are worrying you. Her approach to food and eating takes, as has been said elsewhere, Ellyn Satter’s approach to eating competence and I have found it very helpful as a conceptual framework for approaching food and breaking up cultural “baggage” that we tend to pick up as we go. She also has recently shared a post about dealing with relatives over the holidays that you might find helpful.

      Here is her website: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/

  • I’m an acupuncturist and I think that every body has different food needs. I also think there is something to be said for enjoyment, because it’s the energy of the food. This isn’t just the energy of the food when it is living (say a grass fed cow versus a CFO cow), it’s the energy we bring to eating it. For instance, perhaps pumpkin pie became the next wonder food. Chances are, given your adverse reaction to eating it that it would not do anything for you (other than perhaps make you vomit). I know what I don’t do well eating and what I should stay away from. I’m not always good about it, but that’s my business not someone else’s.

    I find it so interesting that food is so charged. I worked with a woman who was really really into the Law of Attraction. I mean REALLY into it. You couldn’t say anything negative because you might manifest that. At any rate, I was REALLY hungry one day and there is a Burger King near us. I really enjoy a good chicken sandwich meal with a Dr. Pepper. I was too hungry to “be good” so I decided I was going to go there and enjoy it–you know manifestation. I told her about this and she was immediately saying that no it couldn’t have been good for me anyway. I said, but you say I can heal myself with happy thoughts. I was having some pretty happy thoughts and I made sure I enjoyed that food. She just couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that she was saying one thing but when it came to food she was making a different judgment.

    Third point, given the field I’m in, I hear a lot about everything that is supposed to be bad for. Ultimately the joke that life results in death is the final word because if we try to avoid everything that is bad for us, we wouldn’t even be breathing… You pick your poisons and hopefully you pick the ones you love the most and make you feel the least bad.

    • Bonnie I reckon you’re on to something with your theory of the energy of food. After all, you’re not going to get much real benefit from something that you cannot stomach, are you?

      And yeah, I’ve worked with people like your ex-colleague too!

  • I’m right there with you. I am very particular about what I eat because I have a tendency towards hypoglycemia. I am so sick and tired of people commenting on my food choices that I now eat ‘in hiding’. I avoid eating in front of others at work. People just feel the need to comment and critique my food choices. I didn’t ask for advice, thank you very much. And I especially hate the “oh, just have one…why not, are you on a DIET…you know diets aren’t healthy, blah blah blah”. It’s like food bullying. I guess I didn’t realize just how angry this makes me. I recently went out for breakfast with a co-worker and ordered something I wouldn’t normally eat so that I wouldn’t have to explain (or have her gossip about me). People need to focus on what’s on their on plate and keep their opinions to themselves.

  • Hi there, I actually found this post off of a friend’s Facebook feed. I am so glad to find so many like-minded people. It’s hard enough being a larger-sized person — the stares from people who seemed to have forgotten that their parents taught them not to stare, the outright prejudice from complete strangers. But then the add the moralization of eating. It’s so very annoying. I eat what I eat for a million and one reasons. And it’s no one’s business. It’s just another avenue that people use to feel superior to someone else.

    My best friend has been a vegetarian for 14 years while I eat all kinds of fruits, veggies, meat, etc. Never once has food been an issue for us. Even when I go to her house I know I will enjoy whatever is available. And she feels comfortable spending time at my place because I have tons of options for her.

    I wish a “No thank you” worked all the time, especially at my job. But it’s getting to be easier for people to understand. Like it any other situation, no means no!

    You’ve gained a follower with this post!

    • Thanks Sharon! You are lucky to have your relationship with your friend that doesn’t have all that food judgement. I think I have TWO friends in my life who don’t do that!

  • Just found your blog from a link from The Fat Nutritionist – I love it!
    The allergy thing! When did asking someone the gory details about their food allergies become a thing? I have an anaphylactic allergy to shellfish. Whenever I ask about the ingredients in certain foods someone has to ask if I’m “really” allergic or if I just don’t like it. Or if I’ve tried to eat it since then. That lobster tried to kill me. I’m not willing to give anything with a shell another chance.

    • I hear you on that! “But how allergic/intolerant are you? You should try it again and see!” Um no! I don’t feel like spending my week curled up with acute migraines and running too and from the toilet with acute stomach cramping feeling like I’m dying! Or why I should have to explain in great detail why I only eat 1or 2 types of meat. Or why should I have to explain why I want a plate of veggies for dinner? Or better yet, “arnt you ment to be loosing weight? Should you really eat that? ” um yes I should cause if deprive myself I’ll go ob an all out binge and moderation is key for me. On top of this we have friends that try to constantly peer pressure husband into drinking. He doesn’t like it, no he didn’thave missive night once that put him off, he just isn’t interested! Now piss off with all the judgement!

    • bodhisattvaonritalin it terrifies me when I hear of people being flippant about allergies. Do they not realise that people can DIE? I read a blog post a while back about a young woman with a nut allergy whose mother-in-law decided she was just making it up, and put peanut butter in something she was cooking for a family meal. The young woman came perilously close to dying and STILL the MIL can’t understand what she did wrong. FFS!

  • I’m not sure if anyone has commented on those infographics, but I have a bit of insight on them. I wondered why anyone would put so much time and effort designing those things, because it seems like a lot of work for very little reward.

    Then I got contacted by a group. I’m not sure what their agenda was, but they wanted me to publish on my blog the infographic they’d made up about the latest awesome/evil item. I said thank you, but I don’t do free advertising for other people, so they offered to pay me to post their infographic.

    Sorry, no. I may be broke, but I have no interest in selling a tiny piece of my soul to preach about people about their food choices. But there you go- that’s why they’re everywhere, because they have PR people asking bloggers and pinners and whatnot to post and repost and tweet and whatever.

    Kinda shady, yea?

    • Often they are made by diet companies, gyms, and other businesses interested in cashing in on fat shame. Sometimes they come from public “health” campaigns. The last one I saw was made by a company trying to promote eating fresh fruit and veg… by shaming fat people. Wherever they come from, they’re douchey!

  • Food policing of any kind really gets on my nerves, particularly the *looks* I get, when I – as a fat woman – dare to eat in public. I’ve decided to not let it stop me, bur sometimes it just feels creepy, for lack of a better word.

    But there are two kinds of food policing that get on my nerves in particular:

    1. The food choices around my work place are not very varied, so about once or twice a week I take something homemade with me to re-heat, and eat for lunch. Cue in the food police officer of the day: “Oh, that looks yummy, but I could never eat something like that. I’d be on my hips in seconds and stay there for years.”
    Actually, dear food police, no it wouldn’t, as it’s just veggies, cooked and properly seasoned. So not only do I get the food police, but a food police that has no idea about food or cooking, either.

    2. The food police/agony aunt combo: Someone you’re hanging out with wants to eat something they deem “bad”, the usual suspects are chocolate, cake, fries, crisps, pizza and sometimes even pasta. I have already decided whether to have something of the aforementioned (or not).

    And then the dance begins: “Oh, I’ve already been so bad today/this week/this century, but it looks so yummy, But I don’t know if I will make it to the gym again today/this week/this century, so I really shouldn’t, but… repeat ad nauseam.

    They clearly expect some kind of response from me, usually – as I am the fat one – something along the lines of “Oh no, I am the one who shouldn’t, but look at you, so thin and pretty, it really wouldn’t harm you.”.
    Newsflash: I am not your mother, you don’t need permission from me, or anyone else, if you want to eat a friggin’ piece of cake. Just do it or don’t, but for the right reasons. If you feel like it, have it, and if not, then not. End of story.

    Sorry for getting a bit ranty there, but this has been getting on my nerves for years.

    • If people said that to me, I’d ask them, “Do you want to eat it?” If they said yes, I’d say, “Well, eat it, then. It’s just food.” And if they said no, I’d say, “Okay.” And I would refuse to respond further about any weight- or diety remarks.

    • Printe71, I think the “fisherman” is the worst kind of food police. The ones that are fishing for you to either give them “permission” to eat something (because if the fatty says so, then they can just say they have been led astray) or to compliment them with the “Oh you’re not fat!” line. Either way, that is one of the quickest ways to make me see red!

  • But, my Dear, you just don’t understand. “I am better than everyone,” ergo sum. If I can’t convince myself that I am morally superior to everyone else, how will I know I am alive; I might just fade slowly into a DesCartesian wasteland of non-existance.

    • Man, being allergic to bananas must suck, I live on them!

      I get big red welts if I even touch avocado, and the one time I got a tiny bit in my mouth, my lips, tongue and inside of my mouth all swelled up.

  • One thing about Korean eating customs that took some getting used to: in the cafeteria at lunch people sometimes at off each other’s plates. I hate seafood and know enough of the language to ask the cafeteria workers not to put it on my tray. Sometimes a coworker will look at my tray and insist that I eat some of her chicken or pork. I like that nobody tries to push me to eat squid or shrimp, etc.

    • On the other hand, sometimes old ladies at the pool tell me to eat less meat and more kimchi so I can lose weight. I make polite noises and end the convo.

  • I really enjoyed this post. My husband has a thing where every time he eats a burger or something with a lot of fat, he will savor it but immediately after he’ll be guilty and give himself crap about it. I tried to tell him last night that maybe the stress over eating something bad could be as harmful as the burger itself. I have had so much freedom in not policing myself. Also last night in yoga my teacher made a joke about “eating a ho-ho” and then corrected herself as if that were something one who does yoga would never eat! I did yoga then had mac and cheese & a southern pulled chicken sandwich. And a beer! I didn’t have a “ho-ho” but who’s to say I might not want one some time.

    What a world we’d have if we took the advice that Kath is offering – if we applied that to so many of our life’s choices. Why do we need to police the choices of others so much!? I don’t know, but I will definitely tune in to this more as I think about this blog post, in case I’m doing this to people but not realizing it. Thanks for this.

  • Here’s a follow up to my last post. I went out for breakfast this morning with the same co-worker and ordered what I REALLY wanted to eat. When the waitress came back, she asked if I wanted/needed anything else. Before I got a chance to answer, my coworker yelled out “yeah she’ll have a coronary bypass surgery after breakfast”. How do you respond to that? I wish I was one of those witty people who can always think of great little combacks. Sadly, I just smiled and ate my food.

    • I like Captain Awkward’s advice in situations like that. Just say, “Wow.” and look at them like they just took a giant dump on the table. (i have occasionally added, “Did you really just say that out loud?” but that’s optional.)

    • You know how I respond to it Jessica? By saying to that person “Have you always been a fucking douche, or did you just wake up one this morning?” Jesus wept, what an arsehole!

      • The more I grow and become enlightened about body acceptance, the sadder I feel about the world around us. I notice people’s comments more and more and realize just how jaded our society is about body acceptance. It’s like a veil has been lifted and I see just how bad things really are. There have been advances against racism and sexism but I thing an awakening needs to happen around size-ism (not sure what to call it because it’s more than just about size). I was saddened that last night when a friend of mine on facebook blasted Adele for her dress at the Grammys. Adele is a beautiful, talented, young women and she looked lovely last night. I feel like she gets blasted for not looking like Jennifer Aniston. It’s a sad, sad world and I hope sites like yours will be the spark to change our social views. Thank you and please keep doing what you do. Your site has become a safe haven for me. Thank you.

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