I wrote yesterday about people’s bad behavior around fat friends and family at the holidays. I got a bunch of e-mails telling me that discomfort around food is the worst, so I thought I would re-post this piece examining the ways that our culture screws us up around food, and some things we can do about it.
I think that our current society seriously messes a lot of us up around food and eating, and that goes for people of all sizes. One of the places where I often notice the results of that mess is the way that we talk about food. I’m not talking about the way that we talk about liking or not liking food, or letting someone know what food allergies/sensitivities/needs one has, I’m talking about the way that we perform around food when we eat with others.
Sit at a restaurant (or holiday) table for 20 minutes and I can almost guarantee that you’ll hear some version of each of these (possibly triggering) phrases:
- This is SO MUCH FOOD, there’s no way that I could eat it all!
- I’m going to have to do two hours on the treadmill to make up for this cookie.
- I skipped lunch so that I could eat here tonight.
- I’ve been so good, so it’s ok for me to cheat and eat this.
- I exercise because I like to eat!
- I did an extra mile on the treadmill this morning, I deserve this!
- This fits into [my weight loss diet] for [these reasons].
All of these things might be true and I’m not trying to tell people what they should/should not feel or do around their food. The ideas of “earning” food through exercise, or why we make food a moral issue (sinful, guilt free etc.) is the topic for another post. My question today is more about why we feel the need to talk about this out loud.
We make lots of personal decisions every day without talking about them out loud. Many people who would think nothing of saying or hearing any of the above phrases at a business meeting with a catered lunch would never be comfortable in the same meeting hearing or saying “I kind of have to pee but I don’t have to go that badly so maybe I’ll finish this TPS report and then head to the bathroom.” or “I really have to poo but I’m hoping the bathroom will be empty so I’m going to wait until the meeting breaks up and people get off this floor.” (Some people might be very comfortable with these things and of course that’s totally ok, I’m speaking from a a cultural perspective.)
I think that a lot of it is the way that our society places value, even morality, on food – “sinful” dessert, “guilt free” baked chips, eating “clean” – leads to us treating decisions around food as a public performance that justifies our choices often at the expense of (purposefully or inadvertently) shaming or triggering others others.
If I get a plate of food and I decide that it’s more than I want for whatever reason, that’s fine. If I decide to vocalize that, I may inadvertently shame the person next to me who ordered that same plate of food and does intend to eat it all for whatever reason, and I add to a world where food decisions need to be justified and rationalized out loud and I’d rather not be a part of that. Just like I don’t want to engage in negative body talk, I also don’t want to engage in negative food talk. I want people to be free to make their own decisions about food for their own reasons without feeling like they need to justify those choices to anyone.
At the end of the day I think that since I never know what’s going on with the people around me (lots of people are dealing with disordered eating and eating disorders, food sensitivities and allergies, health issues etc.), I would rather be safe than accidentally triggering or shaming. So while it’s happy to talk about food – what we like, what we don’t, allergies and sensitivities, recipes and preparations etc., It’s ok for us to eat what we eat for our own reasons and not feel the need to talk about those reasons at the meal. Besides, there are lots of other (more interesting, I think) things to talk about!
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