So I have this piece up on Adios Barbie today. A post I was asked to write after commenting on the piece about Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) a couple of months ago. I would have had it written back then but between major work projects, disaster-zone flooding and various other life events, it took me far longer to write than I normally would. Every time I picked it up to work on it again, it would bring me back to thinking about food and how we as a culture treat it, perceive it, moralise it and fear it.
Plus I’ve been home on annual leave from work for the past two and a half weeks, so I’ve had a whole lot more time to prepare, cook and eat food than I normally would have. It gives me a lot of space to think about this stuff.
My eating habits are radically different when I have all this spare time. I have the time and energy to shop, to prepare and cook food, and to sit down and eat it. And when I have this time, my relationship with food is far better. I’m not feeling guilty or shameful about eating at all. I’m enjoying planning each dish, of writing shopping lists for the things I need to make something, and I’m eating pretty much exactly what I want at any given time, and eating the exact amount I want.
But the reality is, this is a vast luxury for me. Even with the fact that I have a good wage and can afford pretty much any foodstuffs I want, which is a huge privilege to have, I only have that because I spend huge swathes of my life working. When I’m working, I just don’t have the time to prepare and cook or even shop for the foods that I’m enjoying just now.
And I’m one of the lucky ones.
There’s also a vast kind of snobbery to being able to buy, cook and prepare foods. Where once the work of feeding people was passed off to servants as “housework” by the privileged few, now it’s seen as incredibly chic to source your food locally from organic growers, choose it yourself, and take it home and prepare it in your expensive kitchen. Time has more value than it has ever had, simply because it is becoming a more rare commodity. And of course, that means those who have it, look down on those who don’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way food is demonised. No matter what the food, at some point, somewhere, there’s someone talking about it as if it’s the stuff of evil. Carbs are bad for you. Sugar is poison. Fat is going to kill you. Fruit and vegetables are covered in pesticides. Meat is clogging your arteries. Milk and it’s derivatives aren’t supposed to be eaten after we are weaned. Processed food is all chemicals. Fast food has “zero nutrition”. X food is “not what it used to be”. Blah blah blah blah blah.
But what it usually boils down to, is the belief that “food makes you fat”.
I had a bit of a rail on Facebook the other week at a cultural phenomenon of young women who moralise food as something that they have to earn, something that they’ve been “good” for avoiding, but will brag about how much alcohol they have consumed. It seems to me to be a mighty double standard. Is alcohol not a foodstuff of kind? Does it not get consumed and digested like any other foodstuff? How is consuming alcohol different to consuming any other beverage, particularly one equally loaded with sugar?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with adults drinking alcohol (note: I currently don’t drink alcohol, but that may or may not change in the future), just that there is something wrong with a culture that allows women to “drink like a man” but not eat like one.
That was certainly my attitude for a lot of years in my youth. I used to be a BIG drinker. Not only did I drink a lot, but I seemed to be able to do so without most of the effects it had on my friends, both male and female. Oh yeah, I’d be drunk, I’d slur and stagger, but I was still standing after a bottle and a half of Jim Beam or Absolut, when my friends had passed out long ago. I would party because it would be an amazing escape from the real world. And it was the one thing I could do well. My friends and people around me celebrated the amount I could drink, cheered me on and were impressed.
But at the time, I was also starving myself of all other food. Or purging what I did have. It’s strange, but during one of my lowest weight periods, I was drinking far more than any other point in my life. Nowdays with hindsight I know that I was really ill at the time and the weight loss was a symptom of this illness, not my “virtuousness” in dieting and purging. Adding alcohol to restricting/purging made me sicker, and the sickness made me thinner. When I got well again, and stopped drinking so much, my body put back on the weight it had lost, despite me still restricting and purging. Friends, family and people around me celebrated my starvation and purging kicks as much as they celebrated my drinking. “Aren’t you amazing for having the willpower to diet? Well done you!”
Remember breatharians? I remember seeing them on TV and just admiring them so much for not needing to eat. I’d think “If only I had MORE willpower, and could be like them. Then I’d REALLY lose the weight.” What the??
Why did I have it in my head that it was ok to consume alcohol at huge quantities, but loathed myself every time I consumed anything else, even tiny amounts? Where? From the very culture around me. From the people who congratulated me on losing weight (whether they knew of my disordered behaviours or not) to those who cheered me on as I drank. From the magazines I read, the television shows I watched, the movies I saw. Even in something like Sex and The City, which was supposed to be empowering to young women, had the characters getting stuck into cocktails but demonising food.
The reality is, every single human being requires food. All food has nutritional value. And as Michelle the Fat Nutritionist says in her paper on How to Eat (In Front of People)*:
“People have as much right to judge what you eat as they do to judge how much you pee, how much water you drink, or how often you breathe.”
So how is your relationship with food? What bothers you about our cultural attitude to food? What are your challenges to eating in a way that you would like to?
Let’s talk about food folks! Radical huh? After all, it’s more socially acceptable to talk about sex these days than it is to talk about food and eating.