The fact that there’s a growing conscientiousness around lifestyle choices and health is a very positive thing. However, I feel that with this increasing awareness, we’re also becoming more judgmental about (and unnecessarily obsessed with) what other people are doing and eating.
Food shaming and food judging are now part of our daily dialogue, both within our immediate social circles and with complete strangers online.
“Are you really eating that?”
Btw, no side is innocent of this. Just spend 10 minutes on Twitter or in online forums and I guarantee you see at least 2 examples for this.
Vegans attack people and liken meat eating to mass killings. Meat eaters mock vegans for eating grass. Healthy eaters shame others for liking pizza. Fast food junkies preach that the road towards fully enjoying life can only go through a McDonald’s.
Organic food choices are pretentious non-organic or non-GMO choices are dangerous and careless. You’re either eating too much and thus abuse your body and health, or you’re not eating enough and are headed straight towards an eating disorder.
These comments can be the result of good and bad intentions as well. Sometimes people would genuinely like to help, support a cause they believe in, or are simply worried and would like to save others from making “bad” food choices. In other cases, they are meant to judge, belittle, and hurt.
But whatever the reasons behind it, the food judging that permeates our culture simply takes us nowhere.
You are what you eat?
In one way, the way we eat is a choice. We choose what to buy, whether to cook or go out, how to keep a balance and make healthy or unhealthy choices.
It’s even more a matter of choice when ethical factors come into play and influence what we eat or not.
However, the way we eat is so much more complicated than that. Social, cultural, personal, religious, educational, health, or mental factors all heavily influence it.
I, for example grew up in a family that cherished fresh food and cooking. The farmer’s market was near and affordable, my parents liked cooking, we never ate frozen food, we learnt about seasonality, we had a chance to travel and learn about other cultures’ food as well. I realize now that this is a privilege.
I never had to deal with an eating disorder either. My relationship with food has mostly been balanced and calm.
Others have not been so lucky.
You never know what’s behind a person’s lifestyle or what their past and present relationship with food is. So do not even assume.
Newsflash: judging will never achieve anything
My diet is fairly normal I think, healthy by most standards. It’s largely plant-based, with an abundance of fresh produce. I don’t usually drink alcohol, but I’m not against it, and I probably go overboard with coffee. I eat meat, mostly white meat, but I do enjoy the occasional steak as well.
While I usually refuse extremities in most walks of life and strive for balance, there is one small thing I could be considered extreme about: I haven’t eaten fast food in at least 6 years.
Granted, I wasn’t a huge fan to begin with, but I ate a couple of McDonald’s meals here and there. Then I read Fast Food Nation and did some research and never set foot in a fast food chain again.
My choice is due to a combination of things, from health concerns and how fast food is made (including animal farming, food safety, and synthetic additives) to the exploitation of workers and franchise owners. This is a topic I’m glad to talk about and discuss, but I also don’t go around telling everyone to follow suit immediately or how they are destroying the planet and help keep these unjust systems in place with their food choices.
Do I think all of us should be better off if we significantly reduced our fast food consumption? Yes, a 100 %. Do I think you’ll die from eating one fast food meal or you’re a bad person if you’re eating it? Of course not.
Approaching the issue of food (or any kind of lifestyle choice, for that matter) with a combative attitude, and trying to persuade people by attacking them is simply not working. Never has, never will. The only thing we can achieve with that is probably exactly the opposite we want.
For starters, people will get defensive – it’s a natural instinct. But what’s even more important, food judging or food shaming comments can set off a very destructive chain reaction.
It can lead to a growing sense of insecurity, an unhealthy cycle of deprivation and over-indulgence, an obsessive and dysfunctional relationship with food and eating, a lack of constructive debate, and a complete refusal of different point of views.
Inspiration and education
That is not to say that the choices are equally good, far from it. There are healthy and not so healthy choices, especially when we are talking about a complete lifestyle and not the occasional treats. To be completely honest, I would lie if I said I can fully accept others’ lifestyle choices and would not try to change what I consider bad habits. Judging and trying to show our truth to others are probably ingrained in our human nature. But how we handle this is what makes the difference.
There are good means for advocating our views and absolutely catastrophic ones as well. I get very mad when I see people falling into these crazy fad diets, because I know they do not work on the long run. I’m mad that some people take advantage of others’ weaknesses, insecurities, or lack of scientific knowledge and would sacrifice their health for a couple of dollars.
But food shaming the “victims” is not a valid solution for this.
+ Inspire. Inspire with your own choices, stories, photos, and tastes. Be a positive role model. Talk about the positive effects. Share recipes. Listen to others’ problems and try to offer help in a non-judgmental way.
+ Educate gently and patiently. Share information. Share stories. For example, while I currently eat meat, I respect others’ choices and I’m open to any intellectual conversation about vegetarianism or veganism, to hear health, environmental, or even ethical arguments. I am trying to reduce my meat consumption and learn about sustainable food consumption. Just please don’t draw a parallel between meat eating and the Holocaust, because that’s exactly the moment I lose all that openness (true story).
While we’re trying to become more mindful about the kind of lifestyle we’re living and what we put into our body, can we try the same with how we talk about this?