Can we stop the food shaming, please?

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?

Food judging and food shaming are part of our daily lives now. Here's why we all need to stop it.
Food judging and food shaming are part of our daily lives now. Here's why we all need to stop it.
Food judging and food shaming are part of our daily lives now. Here's why we all need to stop it.

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12 Comments

  1. October 2, 2017 / 11:20 PM

    This was really nice to read today, thank you. I grew up pretty differently than you did by the sounds of it, and most of my “healthier” eating habits are hard won and a conscious decision every meal of every day. After experimenting with the Whole30, I can say that how I was raised (frozen TV dinners, ice cream twice a day, etc) really impacted how my body and brain react to food, especially sweet flavors. The one thing that doesn’t help? Having my food decisions questioned by others. It’s especially pervasive around holidays or travel, since that’s when I tend to allow myself more flexibility and less guilt. I don’t need someone else to try to pick up the slack there, that’s for sure!

    • October 3, 2017 / 2:12 PM

      Yes, deeply ingrained habits have such a big effect on how we eat. That’s why it wasn’t such a big decision to give up on fast food, because it was not a big part of my life. So, I have extra respect for anyone who’s used to eating a certain way and then makes a conscious effort to make some changes.
      Thank you for reading, xx

  2. Debrah McCabe
    October 5, 2017 / 12:56 AM

    Nicely written post Viktoria. I’m on a different page on a particular issue, but for the most part, you’re right, we don’t know anybodies inner ‘back story’ so we should always be careful what we say and even how we think about the choices of others.

    • October 5, 2017 / 3:45 PM

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m all for disagreeing on particular issues, I think an intelligent and thoughtful exchange of opinions is great. I just wish most people would do this without judging and hurting others.

  3. October 8, 2017 / 5:22 PM

    Love this!

    We should never judge people on what they eat!

    I have Cystic Fibrosis and my doctors tell me all the time that I need to eat a high calorie diet because I need to keep my weight up to fight off chest infections, which is never easy because having Cystic Fibrosis means trying to put on weight is so hard!

    I feel like I get judged at times with what I eat but I’ve learnt to ignore it now and just be happy with my diet!

    Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk/

    • October 9, 2017 / 11:00 AM

      Thanks for sharing that, this is exactly what I refer to when I say we can never know what’s going on with a person’s diet and lifestyle. Always, always do what works for your health! xx

  4. Balázs Zsuzsa
    October 11, 2017 / 5:50 PM

    This is one of my favourite posts from you so far. It shows empathy and is insightful. Thank you.

    • October 11, 2017 / 10:08 PM

      Thank YOU, so so much:)

  5. October 25, 2017 / 2:08 PM

    I think there’s a lot to this. Many times, when I judge others, it’s because I am trying to reinforce my own choices. Your description of your lifestyle matches mine. At times I lean into different diets–like no meat, or no alcohol (but almost never no coffee!) But if I’m a vegan for six months then go back to meat, I don’t want to have been too strident about my choices–because now I’d appear a hypocrite to everyone I’d preached to. The point, I think, is to make our own choices for good reasons. Then share those decisions when asked without being prescriptive about what others should do. Nice job with a sometimes tough topic.

    • October 25, 2017 / 6:57 PM

      I agree it’s a tough issue, because there are so many aspects to it. As I said, sometimes we comment with the best intentions or do not even realize that we come across as judgemental. I know I made this mistake many times and maybe hurt others along the way. Thinking about our own choices and the reasons, as you said, is a great start. And then maybe share those reasons as well as knowledge, information, or our own experiences.
      Thank you for reading!

  6. November 15, 2017 / 5:31 PM

    I’ve thought this SO many times when I’ve seen comments and remarks made about what other people eat and I’ve been on the negative end of this countless times by being told I don’t eat enough, that I eat too much, that I’m too strict and healthy with my diet and that I really should try to eat healthier and I can’t stress enough how damaging those comments can be!

    Thanks for sharing this post in such an insightful and elegant way because I get too emotional about this subject to do it so next time somebody makes a comment like that I’ll refer them back to this post.

    • November 15, 2017 / 8:50 PM

      Thank you so much for your lovely words. It means a lot, especially as it took me a long time to write this – I wanted to make sure I chose the right words as it’s really such an important topic. I’ve been on the negative end of comments like these as well, and I’m aware that often they were meant in a kind way. But choosing our words carefully and thinking twice before offering unsolicited advice is really important when it comes to eating/lifestyle issues. xx

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