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.