One of the most frustrating things that I deal with as part of our fat bashing society is the idea that my fat body is a signal that I need other people to tell me how to live my life – what to eat and what not to eat, how to exercise etc. In fact there is a whole lot of food policing and food moralizing by and against people of all sizes. I think it’s important that we each be able to make our own choices about what we eat, and have access to information if we want it. But I wasn’t always this way.
Several years ago I was in a very different place than I am now. I believed strongly in the moralization of food – I could have written those truly awful Truvia jingles. I shared my thoughts, opinions and judgment with others like I actually had a Food Police badge. It was at that time that my best friend Kelrick told me about his discovery of Jamba Juice. In his words I “screwed up my face and said ‘ewwww too much sugar'” We repeated this scene several times. This is the kind of thing that I’ll be hearing about from Kel for the rest of our lives. Those chickens came home to roost today when I made what I thought was a funny post to my Facebook page:
I’m told that as my training sessions for the Marathon get longer I’ll have to put more thought into hydration. Gatorade was on sale today so I bought 10 different flavors in the hopes of finding some that taste less like flavored sweat and more like anything else. But what is with the flavor names? What the effing crap is “Riptide Rush”? How about naming it something that gives a clue as to the flavor?
I have literally no idea why I capitalized “marathon” by that’s a psychoanalysis for another blog. I had intended for this FB post to be somewhere between “this is funny” and “share my pain.” Unfortunately some people took it as an invitation to lecture me about what I should put in my own body and broadly moralize about food. I completely understand how their could have been confusion since I was talking about advice that I had received. I later posted to clarify and the policing and moralizing immediately stopped.
I’m sure everyone who posted was well-intentioned, I’m sure they believe that they are right and giving me helpful information, hell a few years ago I would have done the same thing. After a lot of studying and soul searching, I’ve come to believe that food policing and moralization, however well-intentioned, are not helpful, and in fact can be quite harmful.
Food policing happens when we decide that it’s not enough to make our own choices about food, we have to help others make choices as well. Policing other people’s food is a slippery slope – who gets to decide? Does someone who believes that veganism is the healthiest (and therefore lowest cost-on-society option) get to insist that everyone is vegan? Do they get to not pay for the healthcare costs of non-vegans? What about someone who thinks Paleo is the healthiest?
Food policing can take overt forms “Your juice has too much sugar!” or subtle forms “I know you love your bod – please find something healthier to drink!” Subtle or overt, I’ve never met anyone who wanted to tell me what and how to eat, who also wanted someone to be telling them. Well-intentioned or otherwise, I think it’s a bad idea.
Food policing has any number of problems. First, it’s arrogant to assume that other people need us to tell them what and how to eat. It’s also dangerous when the policer doesn’t know everything about the policed. People recommended that I drink pineapple juice – I’m sure it’s great except I’m allergic to it. People told me that I should eat peanut butter as a snack. I’m sure it’s great, except my best friend, who is running with me, is deathly allergic and just having peanuts around him is dangerous. There are some people who can’t digest certain foods, there are food allergies, there are any number of personal issues that might inform how and what a person chooses to eat and unless someone is asking for advice it’s not our place to give it.
Food moralization happens when we assign moral value to food – good, bad, guilt-free, sinful, crap, clean etc. It’s problematic because it can cause and/or reinforce unhealthy relationships with food. It also doesn’t take into account individual needs or circumstances, some of which we may not even be aware of. What each person can afford, what they are capable of preparing, any health issues/concerns they may have, and what they like all factor in.
So how does this work in real life? We have the right to decide that food has a moral value in our own lives, but it’s not ok to try to apply those morals to someone else (just like some people don’t eat pork for religious reasons but it’s not ok to suggest that stores should stop selling bacon.) If we think that a certain company or food should be taken off the shelves, then I think we should consider focusing on the company or the law and putting information out on our own spaces (blogs, FB pages, Twitter etc) , or join spaces where these discussions are encouraged, rather than focusing on individuals and their choices and using other people’s spaces to “educate” them when it’s not been invited.
I’m off to have a Gatorade Jamba Juice.
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