Food – we need it to live.

In the comments to this post, there was a lot of conversation about how we can talk about food in a HAES-centric way. That’s an important discussion to have!

As I see it, here’s some facets of the conversation as it has happened so far:

People want to talk about the food they eat as they pursue their own individual health.

This is awesome. Food is such a loaded topic – and any conversation that acknowledges, hey, this is my personal food choice and this is how my body responds to it, without making any sort of moralizing or universalist claims, is brilliant.

People want to talk about what foods are “healthiest” or “more healthy than other foods”.

All sorts of dangerous alarm bells go off in my head when this sort of thing crops up. Not because all foods are, in fact, created equal, but because it is edging dangerously close to implying that there are “universally” healthful foods. While it may seem like common sense to say an apple is healthier than a candy bar, that’s attaching a lot of food judgment to the people who, for whatever reason, choose the candy bar instead of the apple. Not to mention the people who don’t have access to the apple in the first place!

HAES is about individual health and choices. That means the idea of health isn’t going to look the same from person to person. Which means you can’t do a strict nutrition analysis of any given food, plunk it down next to another food, and then make some sort of generalized judgment – the idea of “health” is far too variable.

The key is that, from a HAES perspective, you are concerned with your own body and how it feels.

We live in a really damn judgemental society – I’m sure you’ve noticed. And the idea of body autonomy, from a fat acceptance view point, is really about getting away from that judgment – it’s about standing up and really enforcing the idea that bodies aren’t public property. And so, for me, to think about HAES and FA while I contemplate food is to think about food in terms of ME, without making generalizing statements. It’s kind of a radical shift in thought. We’re conditioned, in large part by the diet industry and food science in general, to think about food in terms of its components – its vitamins and minerals and all that.

That’s one of the arguments against processed foods – the natural food versions of processed foods have things going on in them that food science still doesn’t understand, as much as we might try to duplicate the nutrient content in something.

It’s tempting, based on that, to make some sort of absolute statement about how natural foods are better than processed foods.

But, uh, people can be practicing HAES and still eating processed foods. For a whole LOT of reasons.

We need to be less judgy. We need to make sure our language reflects that. It’s easy to say “I’m not judging other people’s choices” but when you follow that up with “processed foods are poison”, well… You ARE actually judging other people’s choices. You just told them they’re eating poison!

Another issue we have to keep in mind is that food discussion can be really triggering for people who have trauma regarding food. That can mean people with active eating disorders, people in recovery, people with an abusive history of dieting, people who have all sorts of experiences. When we use judgmental food language, we bar people from the conversation. The diet industry and the way our cultures encourage dysfunctional relationships with food have a lot to answer for; a lot of damage has been done to a lot of people.

That’s kind of the issue for me – you can’t ever “just” talk about food because we aren’t a society of people who can look at food in a metaphorical vacuum. (We can totally look at it in an ACTUAL vacuum, though – home vacuum sealing is kind of ace.) Food, including food in a HAES context, must be examined intersectionally – we have to talk about class and we have to talk about disordered eating, and we have to talk about the emotional response people have to it. We have to talk about the value of food as a community binder – humans have been sharing feast days as long as we’ve been able to find something worth celebrating, after all.

As much as we might want food to be as simple as “this food is healthier”, well… that reeks a little too much of “calories in, calories out” for me to be really comfortable with it as a HAES and/or FA way of running a discussion. I’m not saying people need to put a disclaimer on every sentence; I’m saying people need to consider the way they talk about food (this totally includes me) because we all have a lot of unexamined stuff going on with it. Why let the diet industry – or a health industry that barely seems to think of fatties as human beings some times – dictate the framework and language of our discussion? Screw that.

It’s also vital to remember that HAES is for EVERYONE. That includes people with things traditionally labeled as health issues. That means fat people who have diabetes. That means people with high cholesterol. We don’t want to replace fat hate with healthism – and a lot of food conversations that focus on “this is good for everyone” does just that.

We need food to live – while there are eating disorders that get labeled as food addiction, even people with those eating disorders need to eat to live. You can’t go cold turkey (ha!) and just never eat again.

Food – yes, let’s talk about it! Let’s just talk about it in ways that are as radical and paradigm busting as fat acceptance is when it comes to bodies. Let’s talk about food with the full awareness – or as much awareness as we can manage at last – of all the issues surrounding it. All of that stuff influences our health, too, after all.


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97 Comments

  1. Posted August 18, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this! I am currently struggling with how to incorporate HAES into my life, while also being mindful about food and how it affects my physical and mental health. It’s quite a struggle sometimes. I can talk the talk about fat acceptance, but I find it hard to treat myself with the same kindness. Your blog is always an inspiration.

  2. Posted August 18, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    this is ringing so true for me right now. i’ve got lupus, and there seems to be some evidence that various diets can sometimes reduce the appearance of symptoms: predominantly fresh fruits and veg, very little meat or other protein, no dairy, few/no grains. and i’d love to try it for a while, but man, my body NEEDS protein. and i love cheese like… well, you know. CHEESE. and i normally don’t feel any kind of judgement about food, but i feel like by not at least trying this way of eating that i’m failing myself and other lupus patients. it skeeves me out that i’m falling victim to this way of thinking. i’m not used to feeling badly about my food choices.

    i don’t really have anything important or thinky to add, just rambles. :)

  3. Greta
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad you posted this, because I’m struggling with changing my patterns of thought and speech around food. After spending a few years working for a gym, these days I hardly ever think of food in terms of anything other than its caloric/nutrient density. It’s hard for me to communicate with others in a way that doesn’t reflect that.

    For the most part, I’ve been latching on to Ellyn Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs to try and reframe myself – and although I think it smacks a bit of judgement, it seems to be helping.

    This next part isn’t meant to be a derail, so please let me know – but I find it difficult to bridge the gap between allowing for personal autonomy in food choices, and supporting the argument for food quality regulation. A part of me feels that the two are directly related.

    • TR
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      That does have to be hard – it’s a really radical thing to shift away from that kind of lens for food. I think you’re doing great just being aware of it.

      I’ve not done a lot of deep reading about the Hierarchy of Foods, but I actually really like it because it doesn’t list SPECIFICS. “Enough food” is not any particular food – it’s simply enough food for the people involved. “Acceptable food” is going to vary from person to person as well. I think by moving to categories that can be applied on an individual level, it moves away from the judgment implicit in the way some people want to frame movement from processed foods to “good” foods. Those “novel foods” might be processed, too, you know?

      Talking about food quality regulation isn’t derailing at all! But I do want to make sure we’re both talking about the same thing. Can you unpack what you mean by the term a little but and why you think it’s related to personal autonomy in food choices?

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      the argument for food quality regulation

      My mother grew up on a farm with an icebox. (Not a fridge. A cupboard with ICE to keep the contents cold.) Mom loved canned foods because they didn’t go bad in just a few days, and loved condensed milk in her coffee in part because “I’ve never had sour canned milk from the store”.

      My grandmother was even more so.

      I agree that there are things that need improvement in the food system. Just find it odd to reflect on how things that were WONDERFUL a few generations ago are seen as tired now ;)

      • Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        Well, tired and/or in need of improvement. I DO think that more enforcement would reduce the need for recalls, we need more humane treatment of animals, etc.

      • TR
        Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        I’m cool with “food quality regulation” in these terms – I just want to make sure we aren’t talking about, like, banning transfats because they are bad for people. That’s NOT the kind of food quality regulation I’m interested in supporting because I’m not really into the nanny state.

        • Novel
          Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          Yes–”is this apple really an apple” is a very different matter from banning apples because they’re mostly sugar, for example.

  4. silentbeep
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    What would you say about the role of someone like the Fat Nutritionist? As you know, she’s pro-HAES and is about as understanding about various food choices as I’ve read anyone, anywhere to be. She is very careful to say all food has nutritional value, and the most important thing, is getting food in. However, there is a role for thinking about nutrition, but NOT before the basics of eating competence are gotten down first.

    For me, I will often try foods if I know it has say a high fiber or Vitamin C content (just as one example). I at least try things that I think may be of some health benefit to me, and see if i like them, and see if I can incorporate them into my diet somehow. I don’t know what I will like, if I don’t try stuff, and one factor amongst many, is nutritional content for me. Certain “heatlhy” foods don’t sit well with me very often (like kale) so I don’t eat them a lot – it doesn’t matter how “healthy” they are. But I tried it, so now I know how it works for me and now I can work with that in my diet, or not if I choose to. Certain “healthy” foods I just really dislike, so I won’t eat them (there’s a couple of vegetables in this category).

    I mean, that’s how HAES runs for me at least. I kind of do care what’s in my food. I think other people can make their own choices according to what’s best for them – I think people can work this stuff out for themselves, and if they need help a la a Fat Nutritionist, that’s cool too. And if others can’t afford the way I food shop, that’s none of my business. I am my own full-time job just trying to take care of me.

    • TR
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I think Michelle is a really vital service provider. She approaches nutrition from what I would consider to be a very HAES- and FA-conscious position. I don’t think there is anything that works in opposition to FA when you go, hey, this food has more Vitamin C and I need that to feel better. I don’t think there is anything that works in opposition to FA when you go, hey, I feel like crap and I need help figuring out what food might make me feel better. You know?

      Michelle’s approach, with the emphasis on eating competence, seems to be a very healing thing – I have a lot of food resentment and I’ve thought about working with her on those issues because I often don’t get enough food in a day, you know?

      We aren’t obligated to eat “healthful” foods if we hate them. I will never eat English peas – I loathe them with the white hot passion of a thousand firey suns. That’s independent of my allergy stuff, too. And if there is something in them that I think I need to feel better, it’s useful to know what other foods can serve that purpose. I’m not saying there is no value in knowing what’s in food – but that the value is going to be different from individual to individual. Shellfish have zero value to me because they will kill me. *grin*

      • Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

        Wanted to speak up and say that I’ve been working with Michelle all summer and I come from a family with really fucked up relationships to food. She has been so incredible and totally HAES approach and FA and everything. I had an eating disorder for a long time and am still learning how to feed myself so I don’t, you know, die, and I absolutely cannot sing Michelle’s praises enough. I am actually starting to learn eating competence and practicing intuitive eating. It’s lovely.

  5. Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    When people meet me in person, they reflect back to me that I’m gentle, kind, and non-judgmental. But in writing, I come across as so much stronger and polarizing than I am in person. I don’t know how to mitigate that.
    I really don’t know how to sometimes keep my enthusiasm in check so it doesn’t come across as snarky or evangelical or judgmental.
    That isn’t an excuse.
    I want to express my gratitude to you for bringing this up — for pointing it out — for pointing to a better path — for defining what spaces like yours might best be used for.

    Sometimes, I want to talk about food in a “judge-y way” and that’s human to sometimes want to do the “wrong” thing, but I don’t have to do it here.

    • TR
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      It’s totally human – and sometimes, too, it’s just habit because we’ve been culturally constructed to think about things in certain ways.

      Thank YOU for reading and participating and being part of it.

  6. Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    One of my coworkers is undergoing hypnosis treatment for weight loss. As far as I can tell, it involves a lot of the standard diet stuff. She actually took my lunch yesterday and started explaining why it was a ‘good’ lunch, going so far as to pick up my hamburger patty (still in its plastic bag) and measure it.

    I felt like a giant chasm was opening up inches from my toes, and I was about to fall in to the darkness.

    None of my coworkers know I am dealing with ED recovery. They know I’m fat, and I love to talk about food and beer, but don’t understand why I will sometimes literally walk away when they’re trying to discuss ‘healthier food alternatives’.

    Because I do know how to talk about food, I will talk about food all day, every day. But I don’t know how to talk about food with people who are actively promoting the kind of disordered eating that almost destroyed me.

    • KellyK
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Yikes. That’s really unpleasant (and totally out of bounds). Even if you don’t want to say, “Dude I have an eating disorder. Please shut up about your diet so I can actually *eat* today,” it would be 100% reasonable to tell your coworker that you don’t appreciate her making comments about what you’re eating.

      • Novel
        Posted August 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        Or touching your food. I mean–I would have a serious issue with someone touching my food, even in a plastic bag. I just see that is incredibly impolite.

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Hello, RUDE much? I don’t care if it’s still wrapped, what is she picking up your food for?

    • TR
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      It sounds like she is dealing with a thousand different issues – some of which might be pushing her to some boundary-crossing weirdness.

      Honestly – I don’t think you need to learn HOW to talk about food with those people so much as you might need to practice NOT talking about food with those people. Because you cannot control how THEY are talking about food, you can only control whether or not you participate in it. And sometimes, the answer to that is no. They may not be the people with whom you can have the good conversations. The next time she starts dissecting your lunch, I’d take it back out of her hands and ask her not to touch your food, please. I’d definitely be polite and nonconfrontational about it, but you need to protect your own well-being.

      • Posted August 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        You know, I’ve broken someone’s hand before for inappropriate touching (cops said it was clearly self defense and I totally pressed assault charges against the groper). But when it’s food– I have trouble drawing the boundaries.

        Another woman in my office is on a 2-month juice fast and WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT, plus two post-pregnancies. I’m surrounded, and sometimes the only life ring I have is the Fatosphere.

        It’s just going to get worse because they announced today the workplace has instituted one of those “Participate one of these four ‘health-related’ programs or else we’re raising your premiums” things for next year.

        I’m idly thinking of taking up cigarettes because the smoking cessation program is the only one that’s not a “Report to us how you’re going to LOSE WEIGHT FATTY” in some guise.

  7. KellyK
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I like your apple and candy bar example because I can think of lots of situations where the candy bar (I’m thinking specifically of a Snickers or something else with nuts) is the healthier option.

    -As a stand-alone snack to get you through an afternoon of work (yay, fat and protein for longer lasting energy)

    -For people trying to get *enough* calories (whether because of food availability, illness, or whatever)

    -If you’re allergic to the apple

    -If you’ve run away from a stepmother who’s trying to kill you, and an older lady is very insistently offering you the apple

    • KellyK
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Okay, I got a little silly toward the end, but my point is that any food can be good or bad depending on the individual and the situation (their health at the moment, the time of day, etc.)

      I would also argue that if you really want the Snickers bar and are “meh” about the apple, the Snickers bar is the healthier choice. Maybe not in terms of vitamins or where your calories come from, but in terms of eating in a non-restrictive way, paying attention to what you’re really hungry for, and all that good stuff.

    • Torrilin
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Yep. There have actually been a lot of times where I picked the Snickers bar over the apple. See, I’d eat the Snickers bar. Even when Dexedrine for my ADD was doing the worst it could to me, I’d eat a Snickers. A lot of other food smelled wrong to me under the influence of the drug. But Snickers? Was ok.

      I’d also pretty reliably eat one specific brand of granola bars.

      Otherwise? Nothing.

      I found the whole situation really upsetting. I like a lot of different foods normally, and usually I will have a wide range of food urges over the course of a week. It’s very unusual for me to fixate on one or two foods so specifically and not start to feel sick of them within a day or so.

      It took a lot of arguing with my doctor to make it clear that I considered not eating a serious health issue. That shouldn’t ever happen! Especially not in a teenage girl who is still growing height wise. And extra especially when she loses more than 10lbs…

      I remain grateful to this day that my parents listened. And bought me Snickers. Because they also think it is important to eat.

    • ako
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 2:32 am | Permalink

      The candy bar and apple example stuck out for me, because I’d been thinking along similar lines.

      Both the candy bar and the apple contain nutrients (yes, even the biggest “junk” candy bar you can name contains some macronutrients and probably some micronutrients).

      In both cases, eating only that food is likely to make a person sick in the long term.

      Working out what is the optimal choice is a complicated matter that really depends on individual circumstances (such as how much protein and fiber they’ve been getting, how much that person’s metabolism needs, how much energy they’re likely to expend that day, etc.).

      With both foods, a person should be free to eat or not eat them, regardless of what’s nutritionally optimal.

      But the apple is “good”, so there is a lot less judgment and tendency to assume that someone eating an apple is living off an all-apple diet, and the candy bar is “bad”, so the person eating that is assumed to be eating an all-candy diet and judgement is commonly considered not only justified, but benevolent (“It’s for their own good! I’m just concerned about their health!”)

  8. Shadow Boxer
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Absolutely. For me, the Snickers bar really is the better choice a lot of the time, because a) it’s hard to find an apple small enough to be a single serving for a diabetic, and breaking the average grocery store apple into 3 or 4 portions means only the first one tastes, you know, GOOD, and b) it’s much easier in class to eat one complete item than wrap some up for later. I’d really rather NOT draw attention to the fact that I have to eat every two hours, thank you very much. That doesn’t mean I don’t eat apples, it means I eat apples when there’s someone around to share with or if I’m willing to pay the exorbitant price for the fancy apples that are small enough to be a single serving all on their own.

    I think the thing that bothers me most about the food judgment I get is that I already have so many food restrictions (lactose intolerant, diabetes) and I’ve got a new one that has completely screwed up my internal regulator, so I eat tiny amounts frequently for a while and then eat everything that isn’t nailed down for a day or two. (Meal planning is HARD right now.) I don’t NEED someone to tell me what’s right, wrong, “poison”, WHATEVER. this is what’s working for me right now, and unless you’re willing to hire a full time chef and full time nutritionist for me, SHUT THE HELL UP.

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      “unless you’re willing to hire a full time chef and full time nutritionist for me, SHUT THE HELL UP.”

      A++, so true, epic win, this like whoa, you win the internet, etc etc. :)

    • Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I was musing about this on twitter last night. I had a bout of probably food poisoning this weekend, and spent most of Sunday unable to keep 7-Up and Gatorade down. Sunday evening I successfully managed a couple crackers and Gatorade, so I tried chicken soup. Nope, chicken soup didn’t stay down….

      Monday morning I felt better, and after testing with crackers and orange juice, I found I somehow wanted a PBJ.

      Today will be my 4th day where I’m mostly eating PBJs. They feel safe, they’re what my body finds acceptable for breakfast and lunch, they’re portable, and it’s easy to eat 1/2 a sandwich every few hours. So. I am PBJ girl.

      Evenings has been chicken one night, an omelet another, Kraft Dinner a third. Don’t know what tonight will be. The only thing remotely fruit or vegetable-like I’ve had since the chicken soup is orange juice, which for me is REALLY strange.

      I expect I’ll be more varied next week. This week? My body wants restriction. It’s getting restriction.

  9. Rosalie
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post, and definitely hit some points I hadn’t considered very thoroughly before. Your blog tends to be good at that. :)

    I’m definitely on board with the idea that there is no morality attached to the nutritional contents of food. That said, I’m curious what your thoughts are about the implications of where food comes from – things like environmental impact, worker’s rights, etc. There are, of course, HUGE issues of class and accessibility here – clearly, you buy what you can afford and what you can find. But there are a lot of people who don’t have those constraints, and food choices have a wider impact than just personal health. You know?

    It’s an issue that is pretty important to me, and it’s a conversation I’m interested in having because I think a lot of people don’t give much consideration to those kinds of things. But I’m also trying to be aware of my privilege here, not only in terms of class and access but also in that I don’t have a history of dieting or disordered eating.

    Basically what I’m wondering is – to what extent is it possible to have these conversations without pushing awful buttons for people? Is it okay as long as you stay away from the “you shoulds” and keep it generic instead of talking about people’s specific, individual choices? Or is it just too much of a hot-button issue? I want to make it clear that I don’t go around lecturing people about how their food choices are wrong or whatever, I would never look at someone’s meal and start lecturing them about it or commenting on it. But I think it’s important to have these conversations if we want to have a better and more socially just food system in this country.

    I would love any of your thoughts!

    • KellyK
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I think a huge part of talking about ethics and morality and politics with food is being realistic about how much impact any one individual’s food shopping has.

      As an example, if I decide tomorrow that I’m never eating fruit from more than 50 miles away, even if I stick to that forever and convince a dozen friends to do the same, my local grocery store is still going to be carrying watermelon in winter. They will probably not even notice selling a few less.

      That doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthwhile thing to do, or that it won’t have an impact if enough people do it. (I personally think you should do the things you believe in *because* they’re things you believe in, whether they make a difference or not.)

      But someone else might decide to go for local first as much as it’s available, but that they have no qualms about a long-distance pineapple here and there. Another person might find that it’s too stressful to pay a whole lot of attention to where their food comes from while shopping, but will write to their congress-critters or sign petitions when relevant issues come up.

      • Posted August 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        if I decide tomorrow that I’m never eating fruit from more than 50 miles away, even if I stick to that forever and convince a dozen friends to do the same

        I agree with your point that the local supermarket won’t notice. I think you might, depending on where you live. Within 50 miles of where I live there’s … um … boutique farms growing a certain amount of veg and tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and some melons (if there’s a long growing season). Possibly apples and pears (the eastern half of Washington state grows lots of apples – I’m in the western half).

        I like bananas, oranges, lemons, and limes. I like starfruit. Even pineapple has its charms. I also am not interested in building an orangery….

        • Posted August 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          Or a Victorian pineapple pit? I’m sure I heard somewhere that they could explode, back in the day (the pits, that is, not the pineapples) but now I can’t find a source for all my Googling. Alas.

          Seattle is a poor location for growing mangoes and I do love them so.

      • Rosalie
        Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

        Yeah definitely, I don’t think that any one person’s choices are going to be The Thing That Changes Everything. But I do think it’s an “every little bit helps” situation, you know? I’m definitely not anything like a strict locavore, and nor do I think that’s a realistic option for very many people (if any) especially given the way our food system is arranged right now.

        It’s just something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially because in discussions about the many reasons why judging other people’s food choices is a shitty thing to do, one that gets discussed a lot is access. To be clear, I understand that it’s not the only reason – it’s not “some people can’t access fresh vegetables, so they’re excused, but feel free to judge everyone who can access them and makes other choices” or whatever. But that access issue is huge, you know? And it’s pretty connected to the way our food infrastructure is set up.

        Anyway – I definitely agree with your last point, that a lot of people who care about those kinds of issues will work toward them through different methods than just their food choices, which is excellent (and potentially more effective than changing their shopping habits). But I don’t think most people make the decision to call Congress about issues they’ve never had a conversation about, you know? That’s why I’m interested in the feedback about how to have those conversations without being an asshole. :)

        • Novel
          Posted August 19, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

          Everyone chooses to focus on different things. I’m going to use a non-food example just because it’s less loaded. A vegan might choose to wear shoes made of plastic in order to avoid exploiting animals, while I will choose to wear shoes made of leather in order to avoid consuming unnecessary plastic. Both motivated by our concern over issues–but two completely different activities, neither of them wrong or useless, each of them correct for the person doing it.

          The person who doesn’t care about environmental impact may care passionately about worker’s rights, or about something else. Or about nothing. They may be focused on other things than where their food comes from, and that is also okay.

        • ako
          Posted August 19, 2011 at 2:41 am | Permalink

          I think “every little bit helps” has to be balanced against the extra difficulty (and in some cases harm) that people would be doing to themselves by doing their little bit. Spending more on food could be a minor issue or a major one. Giving up non-local non-seasonal foods could be anything from a minor inconvenience to a recipe for malnutrition.

          Plus, within the framework of ethical eating, there are tradeoffs. How does vegetarianism stack up against local eating? Organic versus local? Organic versus vegetarian? The answers on that front would depend on where you are, what you eat, and what metric one uses to judge “better” or “worse” (pesticide runoff versus carbon imprint versus animal cruelty versus reduced biodiversity versus labor abuses, etc.). So there really needs to be an effort to respect people’s choices and practical limits, something that many food ethics advocates are doing a terrible job of right now.

          • Rosalie
            Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

            Yeah, that is another good point. I want to be clear, I don’t think I know the perfect formula for eating “ethically,” because as you say, there are a ton of trade-offs involved.

            That said, I think that where food comes from is something that gets left of out of most food conversations, which seem to be much more narrowly focused on whether a food is “good or evil” nutritionally (which is a pretty absurd and largely useless conversation, as many people have pointed out). When it does get discussed, it’s often not a very nuanced conversation – people often seem to get preachy about one thing (food miles OR pesticides OR cruelty, etc) that they treat as the only issue worth caring about, rather than looking at the larger picture (which includes things like worker’s rights, issues with monocultures, whether the farm subsidy system is broken, and a whole bunch of other things).

            I also agree with Novel’s point above, that if thinking about these issues isn’t your big focus, that is totally okay. I don’t think this needs to be something that everyone bases their choices off of – I know that different people have different things going on, and a different calculus for what makes sense to do. But I do think that as a country, we would benefit from having these discussions more often. I’m all about people being able to make informed decisions, you know? (And that’s not secret code for “once you’re informed, you’ll make the same decisions as me.”)

        • ako
          Posted August 20, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink

          I can’t reply to your other comment, but I like how you talk about food, and I wish more people would talk about food and ethics while being aware of trade-offs and individual limits, and how it’s a legitimate choice to decide food shopping isn’t the biggest priority.

    • Novel
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s a good question. To some extent, I think you can’t help but push buttons for some people–or come off like you’re ‘splaining to others.

      I have come to realize that I have a lot of buttons around food, so much so that for many, many years it was profoundly difficult for me to have conversations about food without becoming anxious and defensive. My entire family has ED tendencies (anorexia–my mother has been diagnosed and treated, my sister and I not officially diagnosed because of some other bad stuff in my family of origin), which is bad enough, but I also have a lot of really non-standard food allergies which complicate my eating practices and tend to cause people around me to become judgey.

      The average person isn’t going to know that, but that doesn’t stop their comments or criticism on my eating practices from making me feel bad.

      It is also often the case for me that people who attempt to engage in ‘splaining at me about how I should change my eating practices are going to either recommend foods that will injure or kill me.

      For myself, I recommend foods and ingredients to people I know based on taste–”I think you will enjoy this thing”–rather than health–”I think you should eat this for your health”, with its implied judgement that the person you’re talking to is too stupid or lazy to know that they should already be eating/not eating it. I don’t base my arguments for food on anything other than taste first. I may bolster that with nutrition facts “–and they’re high in potassium” or good things about their production “–they’re grown 30km away so they’re actually ripe!” or whatever, but that’s as far as it’ll go.

      I made a comment in another post a while back in response to someone’s implication that there is one healthy diet to the effect that, while I know that my diet is healthy for me, and would probably at least not kill many other people, the average quote-unquote healthy diet would in fact kill or injure me, because it’s likely to contain large amounts of things that hurt me and non-zero amounts of one of the three foods I have anaphylactic allergies to.

      There are more amusing things than choking to death on the fluid-filled tissues of my own airway. I find this a motivation to eat well for me, and not what anyone else thinks “well” looks like.

      I think it is very possible to have a conversation motivated by the social justice of food, as long as the person initiating the discussion understands the difference between a discussion and a unilateral mandate. And also that for a lot of people, it’s simply not possible to make distinctions around food based on social justice right now. I guess I would ask myself, “Is what I’m about to say useful, or am I just going to lay a guilt trip on someone who is stuck in a food paradigm they can’t currently get out of?”

      • TR
        Posted August 18, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        I guess I would ask myself, “Is what I’m about to say useful, or am I just going to lay a guilt trip on someone who is stuck in a food paradigm they can’t currently get out of?”

        I think this is excellent.

        • Rosalie
          Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

          Agreed, definitely helpful! Thank you.

  10. Elizabeth
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I am really struggling to arrange my thoughts about this post in a way that is clear and inoffensive. I apologize in advance if I fail at either.

    I do truly feel that choosing to eat something, anything, does not make you a bad person (assuming you aren’t eating a human infant or something). However, I do think that there are foods which are universally bad choices. (But again, making a bad choice does not necessarily make one a bad person.)

    My logic is this: humans are all animals. When you look at non-human animals, they have certain sets of food on which they thrive, and certain sets on food on which they do not. These sets of food are almost universally the same across various individual members of a species. For example, a cat (as an obligate carnivore) will thrive on a diet that contains meat (including muscle, fat, and organs), this cat may survive on a vegetarian diet, but its overall health will suffer.

    Why would the same not be true for a human animal? It seems to me that there should be a set of food on which humans thrive, and a set on which they merely survive. AKA, there is food that IS intrinsically better.

    I disagree with the FDA recommendations of healthy food intake and I disagree with the vast majority of mainstream nutrition rules/guidelines/etc. I think the public has been drastically misinformed about the foods they eat and the deleterious effects those foods have on their bodies. The result is a population of people who are surviving but not thriving.

    I suppose my problem is that this misinformation make me ANGRY. I am angry that people who want to improve their health and struggle to do so because they have been lied to. If you know the full effects on your body of eating X and still choose to do so, fine, doesn’t bother me. If you don’t care about your physical health, or are more concerned with your mental/emotion health, again none of my business, do what works for you. But for people who DO want to increase or maintain their health, I want them to have the knowledge necessary to do so. I want them to have the tools. So when I see someone working towards improving their health based off of pseudo-science and misinformation, I feel like I should speak up. And I want to do this in a safe, non-judgmental manner.

    What I’m struggling against is that apparently, “That candy bar is toxic to the human body” is judgmental. If that is the case, I don’t understand how to talk about this. Because I cannot accept that I should just say, “Cool, that candy bar is totally awesome and rad and I’m glad you like it even though it is detrimental to your efforts to improve your health.” And it’s really not about running around telling knocking candy bars out of peoples’ hands. It’s about saying, “I know you think you are eating the healthiest way. But you aren’t because the lipid hypothesis is bullshit. So I see you struggling, but you don’t have to be.”

    I’m guessing the real “solution” here is that I should keep my mouth shut. But in not speaking up I do the good of not offending someone who doesn’t care for help and the wrong of neglecting to help someone who does. I struggle to reconcile that.

    • Vegetative
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Let’s play a round of toxic food. I’ll start.

      Glucosinolates are compounds produced by mustards. They release toxic isothiocyanates. Some plants make glucosinolates to poison insects that eat the plants.In mammals like us, they have antithyroid properties.

      So, a toxin produced by plants, this is bad for us, correct? Maybe. Glucosinolates are give broccoli and cabbage the bitter mustard flavor. They have demonstrated anticancer properties for humans, if humans eat them.

      So bad and good both. Humans, like other organisms, vary genetically and are affected by the environment. Many pregnant women naturally avoid broccoli and other mustards. Maybe this avoidance is adaptive, maybe not. Given all this information, I’d argue for letting people decide if they want the broccoli and if makes them feel better.

    • TR
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      Elizabeth, I think our disconnect is that you are still attaching absolute value to food – but when food is so loaded, so attached to everything else, you can’t really DO that without being judgey.

      In an absolute vacuum, is the candy bar the most healthful possible choice a person MIGHT MAKE? Sure, no. But in a whole lot of situations, it IS the right choice. I think it would be worth while for you to read some of the comments people have left and really think about what those people are saying, about the way mental health sometimes trumps healthful eating and the way sometimes our bodies are just doing weird things.

      I’d also suggest you think about the binarism you have presented here: either someone cares about their health and makes choices that make sense you OR they choose other things and don’t care about their health.

      Elizabeth, I care about my health and practice HAES and promote HAES. I ALSO sometimes eat the candy bar.

      None of us are in ideal situations. And when I have a buck fifty and a tight deadline the choice really IS eat the candy bar or go hungry. The candy bar, as bad as it is under your standards, really IS the healthful choice in that situation because we need food to live. And to concentrate. And to do the tasks we need to do until we can make other choices – if we’re presented with that situation at all.

      The way you are framing this is a really privileged outlook – it erases all the people who DO care and practice HAES while making choices that don’t look like your choices.

      THAT is my point. THAT is why you cannot look at the nutrient value of food alone. Because your HAES does not look like my HAES does not look like anyone else’s HAES. And when you use food choices to judge whether or not someone cares about their health, you are being judgmental and perpetuating unreasonable, draconian standards of healthism. I know you don’t mean to – but that’s the effect.

      YES, you should keep your mouth shut when someone is eating a candy bar – not because that person is wrong about the lipids hypothesis but because you have no idea WHY they have chosen that candy bar and you CANNOT make assumptions about it without judging people.

      I’m still totally down with talking about the qualities of food. I’m totally down with talking about the ways certain foods interact with our bodies – both good and bad. But I am absolutely opposed to the binarism you’ve established. I think we can talk about food and counter the lies that have been, heh, fed to people. But I think it’s vital to do it in a way that does not have the side effect of belittling people who do not make the same choices in the interest of their own physical health. Even if that means a candy bar sometimes.

      • Posted August 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        “YES, you should keep your mouth shut when someone is eating a candy bar – not because that person is wrong about the lipids hypothesis but because you have no idea WHY they have chosen that candy bar and you CANNOT make assumptions about it without judging people.”

        This. I have PCOS. This means that, while I am neither diabetic nor even the vague “pre-diabetic,” when I get hungry and ignore it, or am so busy that I don’t notice that I’m hungry and wait too long to eat, I can get very shaky. For me, at those times, what works to get my blood sugar back up is generally a soda or part of a candy bar (I prefer the soda, because feeling really hungry generally makes me nauseated and the soda helps settle my stomach). If someone sees DEATHFAT! me sucking down a soda, they might think I drink them every day, when I consider this particular week an extreme! soda! week! because I’ve had three? four? of them (two on the plane, one for lunch today because I wanted something sweet, and one while I was visiting a friend at her wedding). I’m a water drinker.

        I know about the “perils” of HFCS and I rarely drink soda but when I need one or am really craving one, I have it. I might also note that the rest of my lunch today was pasta mixed with a pile of sauteed zucchini, tomatoes, and shrimp. Oh, and the big Tupperware of salad.

        So, the person who sees me eating a candy bar, or even a big fast food meal, has no idea whatsoever what my eating habits normally are or how much I know about nutrition (a lot, considering how much I obsessed about it for the first fifteen years of my life). I care very much about local, organic foods (my coworker’s boyfriend runs a CSA and you can’t get much more local than that!) and I want my son to learn about sustainability. I also know that if I have the choice between an out-of-state/country bell pepper in the middle of winter, knowing that he’ll scarf it down, or serving him nothing but locally-grown kale (he’ll eat it, but it’s not his favorite), I’m going to be grateful that I have the financial wherewithal to buy that out-of-season pepper and give it to him.

        Our food choices become HAES when the foods we eat make us physically and emotionally content. If organic produce is important to me on principle, then that can be part of HAES for me, but it is not my job to impose that lifestyle or those food choices on anyone else, particularly those who do NOT have the wherewithal to choose between kale and a pepper and have to go straight for the coke and candy bar to feed themselves. I will advocate for their right to have access to the same nutrient-rich foods that I do, if they want them, but I will not pretend that my food choices can be, or should be, the best choices for everyone around me either.

        • Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

          YES! Sometimes a Coke is the only thing that will make my migraine go away, not even my expensive migraine medicine, and it always seems to be when I’m on campus (I’m a grad student and teacher) and don’t have access to my meds and thus turn to the soda machine so I can still get through my day by killing my migraine with sugar and caffeine that someone sees me and polices me about my sugar intake. Because of course they assume the 350lb person is diabetic. And drinks coke instead of water all the time, and that’s why I’m fat (which is what someone told me once when they saw me quickly chugging a coke before I had to go teach for 2 hours.) Sigh.

          • Posted August 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

            Thirding the Coke thing. I have endometriosis, and when I’m in pain so bad I want to pass out, drinking a Coke (or Big Sky cola — but no other brands) makes the pain more manageable. I’m sure it’s at least partially mental for me, but when the result is me not losing consciousness when I otherwise would? I care more about the results.

    • TR
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      Having made a quick run to the grocery, I wanted to come back with one more thing – I appreciate your logic but I just don’t agree with it. And in large part, that’s because I think it’s an attractive but false analogy. Carnivores thrive on a diet of meat. But “meat” is an incredibly broad category.

      But on the human end, it seems like you really want to narrow it down beyond muscle/fat/organs – if you want to say humans thrive on a diet that is varied because we are omnivores, then I can totally get behind that. But as someone who has food allergies, I really don’t want to hear another person tell me how I should just eat more soy. I’m allergic to it – it’s one of the most common allergies in the world. I object to food prescriptivism.

      Does that make more sense?

      • Novel
        Posted August 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        I am also soy-allergic, and I am also really really tired of people telling me to eat soy (either because it’s healthy, because it’s sustainable–ahahahah, I’m actually from farming country, soy is not sustainable–or because it’s not meat, or whatever reason they have this week).

        I think it’s often a lot easier for people without food allergies to be prescriptive about food and to maintain the illusion that there’s a proper and normative diet and we should all stick to it. Those of us with dietary challenges often have a more nuanced view because we must.

        • TR
          Posted August 18, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

          And soy is in EVERYTHING! I had to do an elimination diet when I was first going through allergy testing and I CRIED in the middle of Publix and then again in the middle of Whole Foods because EVERYTHING had soy added into it.

          Sometimes I get mildly hysterical because I am NOT allergic to wheat – but they carry gluten-free Cheerios at my Winn Dixie. *laugh*

          The thing that really resonates with my over the last several years has been the idea that even when I am allergic to something, I can make the choice to eat some quantity of it based on any number of things – I just had some almonds because, while I am allergic to nuts, my reaction to them is mild and I have craved them for four days. I can’t do that with, like, shellfish. But I am the only person who can make the decision and weigh the consequences of my food choices.

          And that’s true for other people, too.

          • Novel
            Posted August 18, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

            I’m lucky (“lucky”, maybe) that my soy reaction isn’t a true allergy–soy is a migraine trigger for me, along with a long list of other things. It’s the soy protein that causes the problem for me, so while tofu and anything with TVP or whole soybeans are out, if I am careful I can have stuff with lecithin and soybean oil in it, as long as I don’t get too much. Practically speaking this means that I don’t eat commercial bread except from a bakery near me that doesn’t use lecithin, and I never have soy or soybean oil in my home, so that when I’m exposed via food outside the home, it doesn’t push me over my exposure threshold.

            I’m also allergic to corn, but over the last few years my corn allergy has gotten very mild, so that I can (and do–NACHOS FTW) cheat with corn in a way that I cannot with my migraine triggers or with shrimp or uncooked cow milk or even bananas.

            But that’s a choice that, as you say, I make. People who sneak allergens into other people’s food are, in my opinion, pure evil. I know what my reactions are and whether or not I can cheat. No one else does.

    • Novel
      Posted August 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      “That candy bar is toxic” is not explicitly judgmental, in that it’s phrased as a statement of fact, and a fact is not a judgment until a person has applied it with some kind of bias (and possibly an intent to shame or manipulate).

      However, is your statement actually a fact? I’m going to say no, since demonstrably that candy bar is not going to kill anyone (certain notable exceptions aside, e.g. a Snickers bar and a person with peanut allergy). As such, your “fact” is actually an opinion or judgment, and would be better phrased as “I think that the physiological side effects of eating that candy bar will be detrimental to your physical body.” Unfortunately, that statement pretty much boils down to “It’s going to make you fat”–and *that* is a judgment.

      You know nothing about the body, metabolism, consumption and exercise habits, and dietary requirements of the body that is consuming the candy bar unless it’s your body, in which case, just don’t eat the silly thing. If it’s not your body, and you don’t know anything about it, why are you making this statement? What is your intent? And why are you attempting to phrase it as a statement of objective fact when it clearly isn’t?

    • ako
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink

      What I’m struggling against is that apparently, “That candy bar is toxic to the human body” is judgmental.

      Unless you’re dealing with a poisoner running around, calling the candy bar toxic is inaccurate. The candy bar won’t poison people. The candy bar will nourish people with fat and sugar and sodium and calcium and trace amounts of various nutrients.

      Calling it suboptimal is better, but saying that accurately requires getting into the nitty-gritty of a particular person’s health and nutrition choices, and stepping away from the idea of a single homogenous nutritional ideal for all humans, in favor of looking at the individual. And at that point, you have to look at the scale of what you’re asking of people and the limits inherent in the system, and how common the individual variations actually are, and it becomes much harder to definitely declare against candy bars.

      I think a lot of people have a mental picture of dubious accuracy of The Fat Person or The Fast Food Eater or whatever. The picture is of someone who is making the worst possible choices and needs to be saved from themselves with the One True Diet Path that the person thinking this imagines they know. And even though the pictures tend to be verifiably untrue in many cases, people with those pictures often go “Yeah, but most people who look/eat like that really do eat terribly and ignorantly! Stop talking about the exceptions!” It’s the perfect mindset for obnoxious missionary zeal (and, when the desired results don’t happen, resentment against the people you’ve been trying to help). And it goes about as well as pounding on a stranger’s door and going “Good news! You have to believe exactly what I tell you or you’ll burn in Hell!”

    • Naamah
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      But in not speaking up I do the good of not offending someone who doesn’t care for help and the wrong of neglecting to help someone who does.

      It has been my experience that people who want advice will ask for it, and that the most you should ever do is say “This is an issue I have experience with, and if you ever want to discuss it with me, I will be happy to help you out.” And then you leave. It. Alone. Which is not at all the same thing as neglecting to help someone. It’s not your job, darlin’, to save people from their own decisions, good or bad. It’s not your job to educate the folks that don’t want to hear it about what you know or your point of view, right or wrong. It truly isn’t.

      I don’t take well to people talking about my food choices. I am recovering from an eating disorder. There is no way to tell this by looking at me, and I don’t talk about it much because frankly, that fucking sucked. I don’t really love having to tell people that I had one, but a lot of the time, I DO have to, to get them to STOP TALKING ABOUT MY FOOD. Because it’s triggering, it hurts, and it can screw me up all damn day.

      No, that’s not being over-sensitive.

      That’s how fucking horrible eating disorders are. Unless you have had one, you can’t understand how horrible. Maybe you have dealt with that, and if you have, then you will know what I mean.

      Me personally, until I came out the other side of one, I had no idea how hurtful and annoying and wrongheaded “healthy” food talk is to a lot of people. I did it a lot, and couldn’t see why it would bother anyone to know what was healthy and what wasn’t. I mean, they’re still free to choose, right? I’m not calling them stupid or disgusting or gross.

      Except talking about someone’s food is like talking about their clothes, their hair, their health, their reading material, their taste in music and so on and so on. It’s really personal. It may not seem rational, and maybe it isn’t, but that’s how people are.

      Even if you think you know someone well enough to know they’ve never had food issues and won’t be triggered (possibly just annoyed) you may not know. It was a couple of years before I could admit to having a problem TO MYSELF. I have close friends who still do not know. Never, ever, ever assume.

      I agree with you (maybe not in specifics, but in general, yes, totally) that people are badly misinformed about food, that they have been lied to, that this is harming people, and that it’s sad that people don’t always have access to the information they would need to make an informed decision. I even think it’s sad that a lot of folks don’t care.

      STILL.

      Unsolicited food advice is pretty much like unsolicited medical advice, or asking about their sex lives or whether they plan to have kids. Unwelcome, intrusive, and incredibly rude. And judging someone’s food is also rude, even if you’re only discussing general kinds of food that are bad or unhealthy around people who have not asked to be in that discussion, and not criticizing someone in particular. It’s annoying when I want to eat a banana and my husband ALWAYS has to remark on how nasty he thinks bananas are. It’s annoying when I want to eat a hot dog, and whoever I am with remarks on how unhealthy they are.

      Even if you’re right, being right doesn’t give you any leeway, any at all, to badger people. It’s rude, and because it’s rude it doesn’t work, and because it doesn’t work, it doesn’t help.

    • LilahMorgan
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re being strangely broad when you talk about animal diets and strangely narrow when you talk about human diets. You say cats do best on meat – sure! But do we know precisely what balance of meat is best for cats? Do we know that it’s the same for all cats? Do we know that there’s no cat that’ll do better on a fish-heavy diet and no cat that’ll do better on an, I don’t know, mouse-heavy diet?

      And then meanwhile, you say that cats need meat to thrive and will just survive on a vegetarian diet. Sure, fine. But again – those are pretty broad strokes. I could say humans need plant-derived foodstuffs to thrive and would just survive on a carnivore-based diet. And that would probably be accurate (except in really extreme circumstances). But that’s not particularly detailed.

      In places where people aren’t experiencing food insecurity, most people are looking at degrees of thriving. And we’re exercising a degree of control over our eating that cats simply do not, and looking at nuances in our eating that cats simply do not. And so we get into fine distinctions that cats do not, much finer than all meat vs. all vegetables. They’re not really comparable situations. And saying cats are all alike on this macro level doesn’t have anything to do with whether humans are all alike on a micro level.

    • Posted August 22, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

      The way I see it, if someone engages you in a conversation on the lipids hypothesis and wishes to discuss their own diet (which is presumably the only reason you’d know *why* they were eating that candy bar), then you can put across your point of view on what they’re eating. Until then, you don’t poke your nose into other people’s business. Simples. I really do not believe that helping people is as easy as telling them what you think they’re doing wrong. Sometimes it’s letting them get on with making their own choices about their own bodies, because unless they recite a full and frank disclosure before chowing down, you don’t know what personal circumstances led them to make that choice. It’s not just the risk of offending someone, though that’s not an insignificant thing – it’s the risk of triggering somebody’s disordered eating or body hatred, which can have serious knock-on effects on their physical health too. Unsolicited remarks on my food leave me more likely to starve or even purge and more likely to self-injure. That’s not helping me, and I’m far from alone in my circumstances.

      Also, “toxic” is such a loaded word that I don’t even know where to start. Many, many substances are toxic in sufficient quantities. You *need* Vitamin A, but too much of it can fuck your liver up. Alcohol is clearly a toxin, but small regular amounts are supposedly beneficial to your heart, and the occasional drink doesn’t do any noticeable harm. My body can handle the odd hunk of chocolate. It would probably – depending on the situation – function at a slightly more optimal level if I swapped that chocolate for something else. It would probably not do so well if I ate only chocolate for a prolonged period, but it can even handle that for a while. During the first couple of weeks after my daughter was born, I was breastfeeding 12-20 times in every 24 hours – I lived on sports drinks and chocolate because I needed the fat and sugar just to keep me upright (even with that I still lost 20 lbs in two weeks). Plus it was food that needed no cooking, wasn’t too hot to eat safely with a baby on my lap, and could be held in one hand. Candy bars were perfect at that time.

  11. mickey
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Excuse me while I go all fangirl for a moment, but this post is fantastic!

    And, it is really difficult to talk about food in a non-judgmental way, isn’t it? For example, I mostly eat vegetarian, so I (probably obviously) won’t go to a steak house for dinner. Not a big deal; there a lot of other restaurants out there, right? But I am constantly amazed by how much people need to discuss my choices. And, yes, I realize this is a pretty privileged example.

    Also, don’t get me started on my weird food allergies. I’m not allergic to any of the typical food allergens, so this usually comes up when I’m ordering at an unfamiliar restaurant – one where I don’t know if they put XXX ingredient in YYY. And my order, inevitably, generates a discussion on ‘there were no food allergies when I was a kid.. blah. blah. blah.’ Grr. I am sick of having this conversation. What is unhealthy for me, because it might kill me, is OK for you. Fine. Can I now eat my salad in peace?

    I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with what you posted, and it’s really hard to have conversations about food with out also having a lot of judgement.

    • Denise
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I know how you feel about ordering in an unfamiliar restaurant. Many restaurants, though, post their menus online, often with nutritional information. I find this immensely helpful before I eat at a new place, to go to their websites and scan the nutrition information beforehand, so I can narrow down the choices in an un-pressured environment, then make a few notes to take to the restaurant with me. My husband is extremely appreciative of this technique as he detests my grilling the waitperson about menu items, and quite often they do not know the details of what is in a dish, or they misinterpret what I am asking, and give me incorrect answers. For example, the waiter does not know if there is flour in the sauce, and may not feel comfortable asking the cook (or looking like he doesn’t know), and may make up an answer. However, the website might have a gluten-free section, which would tell me what I need to know. Just another option to enhance your dining experience.

      Great topic and discussion, by the way.

  12. Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    What bothers me most is when my women friends try to use food talk (aka diet talk) as a way to bond. We’re all in graduate school. Is there really nothing else we can think of to talk about? I find so much food talk triggering, and it’s one thing if someone brings a topic up, it’s another thing when they won’t stop talking about it when I politely ask to change the subject. I can have discussions about food and eating disorders and diets and even preach about FA and HAES, but NOT when I’m trying to eat. I was at brunch last weekend, with a group of thin women and one other fat woman, and she kept trying to tell us all about her diet, and one thin woman said something somewhat sage about how creating lists of forbidden foods never works, and no food should be forbidden, but I kept asking her not to talk about her diet while I was eating, but she wouldn’t stop and I got so freaked out and nauseous I couldn’t eat. It pissed me off so much. I hate being on the defensive all the time about food, and I hate it when people don’t respect the boundaries I’m trying to draw.

  13. Liz
    Posted August 18, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Food prescriptivism makes me CRAZY. And let me tell you, those Snickers bars? Last fall, when I was in my last semester of college and found out that I had Celiac disease, they kept me from starving because I literally had no time to cook and no other way to to feed myself when I was away from home 10+ hours a day. Because I have PCOS and the all-powerful insulin resistance, an apple would have just caused me to crash in a couple of hours. I need protein, yo.

    There’s no one ideal human diet. There’s only each person’s ideal diet. And there’s an entire industry built up to tell you that everything you know about feeding yourself is wrong.

  14. Merinne
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I know comments is not the right place for this but I’m at work and can’t email – have you seen anything about this?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2011/aug/17/diet-book-for-girls

    Can’t actually believe my eyes. Sexism, fat-shaming, assault on young people’s self-esteem – it’s a perfect storm and I’d love to see your take on it. Especially since it only takes a short stroll down the comments to find the “DON’T YOU PEOPLE KNOW FATNESS IS UNHEALTHY?! THINK OF THE KIDZ!!1!” sort of crap you mock so brilliantly… *sigh*

  15. confused
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    Uh.. Forgive me for seeming ignorant, but how could you possibly see diabetes & high cholesterol as anything other than health issues?

    An uncle of mine is rather fat, has had diabetes for a while, and is literally destroying his own body by continuing to consume fast food for almost every meal. I know it is entirely his choice, and I respect that. I love him and I think no more or less of him for his eating habits. But it is a cold hard fact that his physical health is less than stellar because of his food choices. He’s going blind and has spent a lot of time in hospitals lately because of what he eats.

    There is a vast difference between being healthy and being alive. My uncle is alive, and mentally quite well, but his body is not healthy by any stretch of the imagination. To imply that high cholesterol and diabetes are not health issues seems just.. I don’t know, kind of ridiculous. Vision problems, heart problems, and loss of mobility are not signs of a well-functioning body.

    • Bee
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      Forgive me.. but under NO circumstances, is a candy bar more healthy then an apple, i have no idea how there can be ANY confusion about this one, it’s just standard common sense that some foods are more healthy then others..

      I also do not understand how this attitude too judgemental to inflict on the world..

      Following this logic.. EVERYTHING in life, every opinion you ever have on anything, is too judgemental on someone whom doesn’t share the same opinion. eg, i don’t like watching TV in the morning as it zaps my energy for the day, so does me saying this, make someone who does watch TV of a morning feel like i’m judging them, therefore making this an unacceptable opinion?

      Such is life.. honestly.. i don’t think you can dismiss the science of biology and nutrition just because it’s a little judgemental on people.. grow up and get over it!!

      • Bee
        Posted August 19, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink

        Sorry i didn’t mean to specifically relpy to confused! I meant to reply to the post in general but.. i completed agree with you confused.. just as smoking would be a major cause of lung cancer and sunbaking a major cause of skin cancer, bad food choices and not getting adequate nutrition are a major cause of other illnesses (diabetes and heart disease for sure)

        Also, please don’t jump down my throat saying there are hereditary reasons for many illnesses – of course there are.. but please do not deny the massivley strong link between the western lifestyle and ‘western lifestyle diseases’

        • Rosalie
          Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          Yup, smoking causes cancer. But people have different reasons for the things they do. I’ve got a friend who has a variety of (diagnosed) mental conditions, including severe anxiety and OCD that have resulted in suicidal tendencies in the past. He also doesn’t have health insurance. Cigarettes are one of the things that helps him stay calm. Is that ideal? Not necessarily. It’s not an ideal world. I wish he didn’t need to make that kind of tradeoff, but he knows the choices he’s making. In his case, smoking may very well prolong his life – even if he does get lung cancer later on.

          I’m not an advocate of smoking. I have breathing problems of my own, so being around smokers causes problems for me. And I’m well aware that the above case probably does not apply to most smokers. But I’m also pretty aware of the fact that I have no idea what their circumstances actually are, so I should probably keep my mouth shut about it.

          Read the comments above for when a candy bar is the better choice, btw.

        • Novel
          Posted August 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          As I understand how this works, you can’t just “get” diabetes–you have to be prone to it. You don’t make yourself prone to it, your parents make you prone to it. (Let me be specific here: with their genes, not by what they feed you as a kid.)

          You might be able to hasten it on its way, or slightly retard it, but if you are going to develop diabetes, it’s not because you ate a candy bar.

          There are also a lot of reasons people get lung cancer, including working in particulate-filled atmospheres without appropriate safety equipment, just randomly developing it because of camouflaged environmental factors, and other occult cancers that have metastasized into the lungs. (This is not so much the case anymore due to improved screening procedures, but for quite a while, one of the ways that breast cancer in women and testicular cancer in men was detected was when it had already metastasized, usually into the lungs.)

          You are welcome to your own opinions, of course. I’m glad that you feel comfortable with the idea of blaming people for disease processes so complicated that science is still actively working to figure out how they work. Heart disease in particular is still in many ways a black box, and although we know how diabetes works mechanically, it still expresses itself very differently in different individuals, and science and medicine are still trying to figure out why one individual will develop diabetes and another won’t, given the same diet and general habits.

          I’d also like to point out that there is a pretty strong link between the “Western lifestyle” and “Western access to screening and diagnosis procedures”, which might have something to do with that so-called link between “Western lifestyle” and “Western lifestyle diseases”.

          • Bee
            Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

            Novel, i need to point out that you can absolutley be prone to diabetes if you do not have a family history of it. There is a strong heredity factor, but even without this genetic predisposition to it, you can develope the disease should your lifestyle choices put you at risk (not being judgemental here, but simply stating a fact)

            This quote is from the Diabetes Australia website (i’m Australian)

            ‘It is estimated that up to 60% of type 2 diabetes can be prevented. People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent this disease by following a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

            Maintaining a healthy weight

            Regular physical activity

            Making healthy food choices

            Managing blood pressure

            Managing cholesterol levels

            Not smoking’

            I just thought it was important to clear that up.

            Also, with my examples of lung and skin cancer, i did state that smoking and sunbaking were major causes, not the only causes of developing those diseases. Are there other factors to consider when determining how someone got these diseases? absolutley, but i believe when you are a smoker, you do so full well that you are putting yourself at risk of developing not only lung cancers, but many other life threatening diseases – regardless of why you are a smoker in the first place.

          • Novel
            Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

            Who is estimating it and what are they basing this estimation on? Are we at all sure that knowing more about the disease process or more about genetics won’t reverse the bases of this estimation? Having lived with someone who acquired mixed-type diabetes in what was basically a million to one chance-type occurrence, and watching him go through the US medical system, I’m afraid I have seen a little too much to think it’s as simple as the “Diabetes Australia” website does.

            And just FYI, because it seems like it will matter to you…I work out hard six times a week, eat an appropriate diet, maintain an appropriate weight, and don’t smoke.

          • Shiyiya
            Posted August 19, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

            [This reply is to Bee but there isn't a button]

            ‘It is estimated that up to 60% of type 2 diabetes can be prevented. People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent this disease by following a healthy lifestyle.

            I’d like to see the methodology on the studies they’re using to claim that. (And, yknow, a citation period. I can make up all kinds of percentages. 83% of people who say they’re just worried about everyone’s health are assholes!) Are they just looking at a group of people who do their list of ‘healthy things’ who doesn’t have diabetes vs a group of people who have diabetes and don’t do their ‘healthy things’? Or what?

          • Posted August 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            Um… Bee, your link says that 60% of diabetes can be prevented, not that people without that hereditary risk can develop diabetes. You claim, “even without this genetic predisposition to it, you can develope the disease should your lifestyle choices put you at risk” but the source you quoted says, “People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent this disease by following a healthy lifestyle.”

            The “risk” your source is talking about is not clear… they could be referring to lifestyle risk or genetic risk, but either way, it doesn’t substantiate your claim.

            You have to have the genetic framework in place before your lifestyle can trigger type 2 diabetes. Period.

            Peace,
            Shannon

      • Naamah
        Posted August 19, 2011 at 5:27 am | Permalink

        You do realize that saying “grow up and get over it” has never worked on anyone, anywhere, ever? And it is one of the fastest, most surefire ways to make sure that whoever you are addressing completely ignores every single thing you say?

      • TR
        Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        I’m going to give you the opportunity to go and read everyone else’s comments – in which they discuss circumstances in which a candy bar is the more healthful choice.

        If you’re allergic to apples, that candy bar is FAR more healthy, yo.

        And if what you need is protein and the candy bar has nuts, it’s still the wiser choice.

        I wish I could find the link, but a long time ago I read a post about a question that was posed to a class of nutrition students. Imagine, the scenario went, that you’re going to be gone and not have access to food for a period of at least 8 hours. You have an orange and a candy bar – which do you eat before you go?

        The class argued back and forth about which one would be better – but the correct answer is BOTH. Because in that circumstance, you need the nutrient value in both foods.

        In your tv example, you said clearly that it zapped YOUR energy. That’s a totally valid statement. The problem would be if you said tv in the morning zapped everyone’s energy and we’d all be better off if we did something else. That’s the difference between stating a personal fact and making a prescriptive statement that may or may not actually be true for other people.

        And, really? “Grow up”? That and “don’t jump down my throat” are your closing arguments? *eyeroll*

        • Bee
          Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          I get what you are saying, there may be circumstances where choosing a candy bar over an apple is a more wise choice for someone who is eg allergic to an apple or other reasons.

          My problem, with HAES as a whole actualy, is that the argument here that is ‘there are no universally healthful foods’. If this is you opinion, then what do you think of the whole science of nutrition? All i’m saying is that there are foods that will keep your body strong and health, and foods which will do the opposite (over a prolonged period of time – one candy bar is not going to kill you obviously)

          There are a variety of reasons why people may or may not choose to eat certain foods, i’m just saying that there is a science of nutrition out there that you cannot just ignore because we don’t want to be judgemental as i think that in itself is far more harming longterm

          • Shiyiya
            Posted August 19, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

            i’m saying is that there are foods that will keep your body strong and health, and foods which will do the opposite

            And those are different for different people and at different times. Human beings are all DIFFERENT. Some of them have allergies to shellfish or peppers or soybeans. Some of them can’t digest milk, or absorb vitamins adequately from food. Some people are diabetic and have to watch their sugar. Some people are prone to low blood sugar and need to eat something sweet to stay upright! Some people have high blood pressure and need to avoid salt, some people have low blood pressure and need to eat extra salt to avoid fainting.

            The only universal is that there are no universals.

            The science of nutrition can look at what micro and macro nutrients are present in what foods. That’s useful information. But different people need different things. The science of nutrition should offer them information they can use to make choices. That does *not* require making universal statements about the value of anything.

            And I can just ignore the science of nutrition, actually, because if I start paying attention to what’s in my food I start getting a complex about how it isn’t perfect – and the idea that everyone should eat a ~perfect~ diet is perpetuated by “well-meaning” people like you – and then I stop eating. Last time I checked, eating food was healthier than not eating food.

            tl;dr: YOU CAN’T MAKE BLOODY GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT THINGS HUMAN BEINGS HAVE VARIATIONS FFS.

          • ako
            Posted August 20, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

            My problem, with HAES as a whole actualy, is that the argument here that is ‘there are no universally healthful foods’. If this is you opinion, then what do you think of the whole science of nutrition?

            I think that the science of nutrition, when done well, will share the facts about what is in the food, and how certain ingredients tend to be associated with certain health conditions, accurately describing things such as the connection between ceoliac disease and wheat, scurvy and Vitamin C, and yes, the connection between diabetes and sugar (which is neither “Everyone who has, or is at risk for diabetes has no reason to worry about the sugar content of their food” nor “Sugar causes diabetes, keep eating sugar and you’ll get diabetes, and once diagnosed, never eat sugar”). I think the science of nutrition should involve better and more nuanced ideas than “These foods are bad, and these foods are good”. I’m basing this not on wishful thinking, but on experience with chronically undernourished people, parents struggling to get enough calories into their children, and people in extreme climates who expend a lot of calories to stay alive and sufficiently warm.

            Good nutritional advice teaches that you don’t feed a starving child the way you’d feed a well-nourished adult, allergies and intolerance make a huge difference, it matters whether or not people are willing and able to eat the hypothetically ideal diet, and how close they’re wiling and able to come, and personal nutritional needs vary according to circumstances. Bad nutritional advice teaches that there are Good Foods and Bad Foods and what matters is avoiding Bad and eating Good, what’s good for one person is always good for everyone, fat and salt are evil and to be avoided as much as possible, and the fewer calories, the better.

            All i’m saying is that there are foods that will keep your body strong and health, and foods which will do the opposite (over a prolonged period of time – one candy bar is not going to kill you obviously)

            It all depends on balance and proportion. One candy bar won’t kill you, and an all-apple diet will. Trying to live entirely off Snickers will trash most people’s health in the long term, as will a purely fruitarian diet. Neither apples nor chocolate are essential nutrients, and both contain essential nutrients (and yes, you need fat to live, although it’s possible to get by on animal or vegetable fats). So the candy bar isn’t Bad, and the apple isn’t Good, but both are food with ups and downs that depend on individual circumstances.

          • Posted August 20, 2011 at 4:04 am | Permalink

            Actually, that’s the funny thing. There really ISN’T universal agreement on what’s a “healthy” diet at all. Atkins-heads will tell you that apples are toxic because all fruit (except berries) is too high in sugar. Vegans will tell you that every bite of an animal products will send you to an earlier grave. Raw foodists insist that anything that’s cooked is poison. Ayurvedic food theory posits the exact opposite. Hard-core locavores think any veggie that hasn’t been ripped out of the ground in the last 5 minutes has no nutrients left in it and you might as well eat the paper bag it came in. And so on.

            Me, I can’t eat the apple OR the candy bar. Both will do equally fupped-up things to my digestive tract, unless the candy bar has no wheat or cow’s milk in it. But then I have to worry about too much dark chocolate (caffeine) getting my bowels in an uproar, so I’ll probably only have one bite of it anyway. Besides, I have found that fruit, much as I love it, actually makes me hungrier. If I know I’m not going to get a chance to eat again for quite a while, I might actually prefer to lay off the fruit. And don’t get me started about raw or lightly cooked veggies. Brain 1, stomach 0.

      • Posted August 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        … but under NO circumstances, is a candy bar more healthy then an apple…

        Well, except in the case (among others) of my Crohn’s-infested GI tract, where eating the apple would cause me to live on the toilet for the better part of a day and wonder when the anal bleeding will stop.

    • silentbeep
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      “To imply that high cholesterol and diabetes are not health issues seems just.. ”

      Who’s implying this? Seriously, I don’t understand what you are referring to and who you are referring to. Not being snarky, I’m really unclear where you are getting “implying” from.

    • Novel
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I am not sure where you read that; I do not recall (and I skimmed the comments again) anyone saying anything like that. I would suggest that you read the post again.

    • TR
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure where you’re getting that those things aren’t concerns – but let’s see if this makes sense:

      HAES is for everyone. It is, at its heart, the idea that everyone’s health is individual, and “health” encompasses the whole wellness of a person. Because health is individual, it will look different for everyone. So, in the traditional health model, a fat person is automatically unhealthy – and sometimes even feels barred from the pursuit of health. In the traditional model, a personal with a chronic illness is automatically always and forever unhealthy, and also feels barred from conversations about health.

      With a HAES perspective, however, that individual can make choices to address their own unique health needs, which includes accommodating for chronic (and invisible illness counts here, too) illnesses and/or pains. The chronic illness isn’t going to go away – that doesn’t actually mean people can’t work to feel as good as they potentially can, given their own circumstances.

      Your uncle may actually feel like changing his eating habits won’t make any difference because, due to his diabetes and weight, he’ll always be viewed as unhealthy – and all the things that go along with that in our society. A HAES approach to his health would acknowledge his diabetes and allow him the freedom to make choices that make him feel good without making him feel guilty for things he cannot change.

      HAES is empowering – not because there are no health concerns, but because “unhealthy” is no longer this label that’s used to morally judge people and determine how they are treated. That’s why HAES is a big deal – it gives health back to people who have been denied any relationship with it as a concept.

  16. Naamah
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    It’s frustrating for me because I am just one of those people who is Interested In How Shit Works, so I am naturally very curious about food and what is in it and what certain vitamins and so forth help our bodies do, or keep from doing.

    So I like to know what nutrients are in what, so that I know what to eat if, for instance, I am having muscle twitches at night, so I need to eat some potassium, or if I need to get my blood count up so I can give blood, so need to eat something with iron and something with vitamin C. So learning what foods have those things in them is a good and useful thing for me to do.

    And finding books or sites that discuss these food attributes in a neutral, non-catastrophizing way that focuses on the OMG MOST HEALTHY foods or OMG THESE WON’T MAKE YOU FAT foods is really, REALLY goddamned hard. Looking for that information while you’re recovering from an eating disorder is annoying as shit.

    I want to know how useful the food will be to me. All sorts of things go into that. Flavor, availability, nutrition, whether or not it disagrees with me, whether my husband likes it, how long it takes to prepare. Nutrition is not the only factor in my choices. Heresy of heresies, it’s not even the first, because there’s only so much food I don’t like that I can make myself eat without bringing back those aforementioned ED issues. And because I’m poor, it’s not the second consideration, either. It’s how much money is left on the magic food card.

    The only part of the flavor/availability/nutrition/etc. equation that is not determined by my individual body and lifestyle is what is in food itself. I ought to be able to get to information about that without wading through a bunch of bullshit that tells me, or even implies, that I should not be taking those other things into account.

    I think of it as “this food is better FOR ME.” I don’t think of it as “this food is better food” or “this food is better FOR EVERYONE.”

    I think the only thing that can be said about this whole mess that is universally true is that KNOWLEDGE is good for everyone, and the individual’s application of that knowledge is nobody’s goddamn business at all. And because of these bullshit attitudes about food that we are discussing, it is hard to get to that knowledge without wading through some really hurtful, judgmental crap.

    And even then, given that knowledge is good, it’s a dick move to force knowledge on someone, because it’s so often done with an attitude of “Well I will just EDUCATE YOU UNTIL YOU AGREE WITH ME.” Which makes me want to punch the person doing it. If I want to know more, I will ask. I often do. If I don’t, kindly fuck off.

    My hunch? You would see more people educating themselves about food if there was less judgmental shit being slung around, which is a thing that happens to the point that many, many people honestly feel like they are fucked no matter WHAT they eat, because everything they like is “bad” food. Also because nobody likes being bossed around, and a natural reaction to that is to say “fuck you . . . while you’re frothing at the mouth over my food choices, I’ll be washing down my pork lard and baby meat taco with a nice glass of HFCS.”

    • Novel
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Have you seen nutritiondata.com?

      I use it a lot for estimating how much potassium and iron I’m managing to get. Obviously micronutrients really vary by individual serving of legumes or fruit, but as a rough guideline I find it pretty helpful.

      The only downside is that if you are prone to calorie counting, ND might enable your disordered thinking a little–but I have successfully managed to use it for many years now without huge problems to my recovery.

      • Naamah
        Posted August 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        Cooooool! Thank you! I’ll poke around at it some more once I’m, like, awake.

  17. Kara
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Interesting!

    A note on the apple vs candy bar comparison you made, if you don’t mind a personal story.

    I am getting ready for a backcountry backpacking trip in the Tetons, and the food that I am taking along for a lot of lunches/snacks is… snickers bars! Because when space and weight is a premium because you have to carry everything you need, you take food that will maximize the fat/caloric/protein/energy content you need to keep going and minimize the space it takes up. So fruit, even dried fruit, just doesn’t make the cut.

    So I guess that’s an example of there is no 100% unhealthy food? Because it is a situation where the (“unhealthy”) candy bar is totally the best choice.

    • TR
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      This is awesome.

    • LilahMorgan
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      A friend met someone who was hiking the entire Appalachian Trail on nothing but snickers bars. He was awfully sick of them by the time my friend ran into him on the trail, but doing fine physically.

      • Kara
        Posted August 20, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

        Yeah, snickers bars are pretty much the ultimate hiking/backpacking energy food. Unless, of course, you are allergic to peanuts or chocolate.

  18. confused
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    First of all, when I said it was ridiculous to imply that diabetes and high cholesterol are not health issues, I was referring to the original post: “That includes people with things traditionally labeled as health issues. That means fat people who have diabetes. That means people with high cholesterol.”

    To me, that phrase “traditionally labeled” implies that the writer believes said labels to be outdated or incorrect.

    “HAES is empowering – not because there are no health concerns, but because ‘unhealthy’ is no longer this label that’s used to morally judge people and determine how they are treated. That’s why HAES is a big deal – it gives health back to people who have been denied any relationship with it as a concept.”

    But “unhealthy” is so much more than a moral concept. It is still a word with a relatively clear definition (from thefreedictionary.com):
    a. Being in a state of ill health; sick.
    b. Characterized by or symptomatic of ill health: an unhealthy pallor.
    c. Causing or conducive to poor health; unwholesome: an unhealthy diet.

    Saying that people aren’t allowed to use the word “unhealthy” anymore because it’s “too judgmental” won’t change the fact that there are a lot of people out there who /are/ unhealthy–due to personal choices and/or genetics and/or environment, etc. It is an adjective, one which is easy to understand and useful in discussing health. Cigarettes are unhealthy–though they provide mental benefits to that fellow with OCD someone mentioned, they are still harming his body. It’s simply a matter of “lesser of two evils,” except that “evil” is intrinsically a morally judgmental word and “unhealthy” is not.

    I would never say “Nobody should smoke cigarettes because they cause cancer and smell bad”–I support everyone’s right to control their own bodies, be it through smoking, eating, not eating, having access to contraceptives or abortions, getting tattoos and piercings, undergoing assisted suicide, and so on. But I would say “Cigarettes are unhealthy, and I personally do not smoke because they have been linked to lung cancer and I think they smell bad.”

    I think that is fair.

    • Novel
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      It’s also vital to remember that HAES is for EVERYONE. That includes people with things traditionally labeled as health issues. That means fat people who have diabetes. That means people with high cholesterol. We don’t want to replace fat hate with healthism – and a lot of food conversations that focus on “this is good for everyone” does just that.

      Your reading (“To me, that phrase “traditionally labeled” implies that the writer believes said labels to be outdated or incorrect.”) is not how I read that paragraph.

      I read that as saying that HAES is for everyone, including people with diabetes or high cholesterol: that everyone has the right to physically be as healthy as they possibly can, and to be treated for the condition or disease they have, and not be sent away with a weightloss diet plan when what they need is insulin, or arthritis medication, or antihypertensives.

      Maybe I’m wrong. This is a really complicated issue–ethically, medically, semantically–but I don’t think that spewing fatty-fatty-fat-fat language at people who demonstrably want to improve their health in the ways they can is particularly useful. Your uncle has the body he has. He has the physiological system he has. Telling him that he should have provided himself with a better body in some way is not useful. Nor is it kind. It is also, if what you really want is for your uncle to be healthy, extremely counterproductive. When you say “Your problem is that the body you have is a bad, unhealthy, morally inferior body” you don’t provide a lot of incentive for him to do anything to try and be the healthiest he can in the body he has, because you have already told him what you think of him.

    • silentbeep
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      “I support everyone’s right to control their own bodies, be it through smoking, eating, not eating, having access to contraceptives or abortions, getting tattoos and piercings, undergoing assisted suicide, and so on.”

      And that’s the important point regarding bodily autonomy. It is also in direct opposition to an attitude of scolding and judgment and even unsolicited advice which HAES is seeking to get away from (in part). The rest of your comment, and the original you comment you left, is in contradiction with the above statement.

      “Saying that people aren’t allowed to use the word “unhealthy” anymore”

      No one is in fact saying that, not sure where you are getting this from.

    • silentbeep
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      My mother is diabetic. Her doctor last week congratulated her on the blood tests that turned out real well: her cholesterol and her lipids are great and her blood pressure isn’t half bad either. It’s her blood sugar that’s an issue, but he didn’t make her feel bad about that, he told her that she “takes care of herself real well.” And she tries the best with what she has, with limited mobility as well.

      Thankfully, this is a doctor that realizes diabetes is not a “bad person” disease and didn’t blame her personally for a body that doesn’t regulate blood sugar very well anymore. So, is she healthy or unhealthy? Is her doctor wrong for praising the good test results and bad for not scolding her on her blood sugar? She’s death fats too btw.

      What is more helpful? Focusing on doing what she can do to manage her health, including taking insulin, or scold her and tell her she’s unhealthy?

  19. confused
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Novel, when did I “[spew] fatty-fatty-fat-fat language at people who demonstrably want to improve their health in the ways they can”? I never said that I think my uncle should lose weight or give up the foods he enjoys. In fact, I said that I support his right to maintain his body in the ways he sees fit (from my earlier post: “An uncle of mine is rather fat, has had diabetes for a while, and is literally destroying his own body by continuing to consume fast food for almost every meal. I know it is entirely his choice, and I respect that. I love him and I think no more or less of him for his eating habits.”).

    Do you take issue with use of the word “destroying”? It may sound harsh, but I mean it literally. His loss of mobility and vision are a clear indication that his body is ceasing to function in certain ways it was meant to function.

    I don’t feel morally superior to him, I don’t think his body is “bad,” and I don’t think I have the right to tell him to lose weight. All I’m saying is that, from an objective standpoint, the word “unhealthy” does apply to him. Furthermore, it applies in part because of choices he made for himself. These facts are incontrovertible and undeniable–these facts are not moral judgment or attempts at shaming him/making him feel inferior. They’re just observations.

    • silentbeep
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      And I don’t think that what you are saying is in contradiction to what has been said by TR, or by most people commenting here.

      It’s not that the state of being unhealthy doesn’t exist, it’s the way that word is used, and how that word is morally loaded. It’s not “don’t ever use that word again” it’s more like “let’s critique what that words means and think critically about how we talk when we use the word unhealthy.” I see this post as more a call for nuance, critical thinking and an acceptance that there are more gray areas regarding various states of health and ill health, than what is culturally mass accepted right now.

  20. Alexie
    Posted August 20, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    At an individual level, everybody is different. I personally can’t be vegetarian because of blood issues. No amount of telling me that raising meat takes a disproportionate amount of environmental resources will change the fact that without occasional red meat, I will get seriously anaemic and sick.

    If you’re heading mountain climbing, taking a Snickers bar along is definitely a better option than the apple.

    But at a population level, you can definitely say that some things are better than others. It may be problematic for a specific individual if school vending machines loaded with chocolate are replaced with fruit options, but it will be better for the overall performance of the student population if access to junk is restricted. Schools in Britain that have had their poor quality lunches replaced by Jamie Oliver’s options have seen measurable improvements in concentration and literacy outcomes.

    Maybe FA isn’t the place for the macro discussion.

    • ako
      Posted August 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      I think on a macro level, plenty of people in FA and HAES circles would be completely in agreement with improving access to fruits, vegetables, and other foods on the “good” list, and clearly and accurately labeling food with all potentially relevant nutritional information, but wary of supporting anything that involves restricting access to other foods, particularly at a government level.

      • Alexie
        Posted August 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        I can’t think of anything I’ve seen that advocates actually restricting access to specific foods. The only arguments I can think of have been around schools and hospitals and what they serve to what is, essentially, a captive audience.

        • ako
          Posted August 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

          Schools and hospitals are complicated, since they’re easy targets for anyone with an agenda, whether it’s corporations trying to gain customers or advocates of a new diet theory pushing the One True Way of eating. Maximizing choice is still good, but even with the maximum available amount of choice, a high school cafeteria is going to be pretty limited.

  21. Posted August 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Right off the bat I can tell you that some foods are better than others. But I am almost positive that my better food choices are going to be different from everyone else’s and that is OK. If someone wants to live off organic greens, good for them, IF that is what works for them. It is not for every one. I know my husband would never leave the toilet.

    I totally agree that we need to stop being “judgy” of the food people choose to eat and food in general. I think we tend to attach the food to the person too much which is just another form of stereotyping gone wild so we need to be careful with that too.

    I love the concept that “the idea of health isn’t going to look the same from person to person”. Now if we can get everyone to see that.

  22. hopefulandfree
    Posted August 25, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    i admire the example of the guy who apparently *chooses* to smoke cigs because smoking helps him cope better with health issues for which he cannot get more appropriate treatment–his *choice* is thus partly determined by health care rationing based on his access to MONEY (his so-called *ability* to pay). social injustice may act therefore as an unseen determinant of his health. (but THAT fact is not one which most people *choose* to focus on.) many forms of discrimination, which restrict access to money and/or treatment (such as sizism or healthism), may already be at work in his life. (in the u.s., historically, if you are not healthy enough to work at paid employment then you frequently lose your health insurance and thus you often face various restrictions to health care–which, of course, may result in worsening your health.)

    i apologize for lecturing and repeating arguments already made. i feel angry and this seems like a good chance to vent. :)

    my point in relation to FA and HAES discussions: when we use the concepts of “choice” or “body autonomy” it is frighteningly easy to wrongly judge others while using unfair/false standards of normative behavior which disregard the many social/economic/cultural/historical factors that are not apparent to the judge (and may not be apparent even to the person being judged.) in the u.s., people tend to believe that individual *choices* can somehow override (or moderate) the many (and complex)social determinants of health. for instance, when was the last time you heard anyone discuss equal/full access to preventive dental care when there was a discussion about diabetes and its relationship to *obesity*? (yet research seems to indicate bidirectionality between dental/gum health and diabetes.)

    individuals may suffer terrible guilt (stress) when they fear (more stress) that their *own choices* determined their ill health, when in truth various social determinants may not have been avoided/moderated at all by individual *choices*. hence, there is no way of knowing with certainty when we are making false (and therefore unfair) assumptions about someone’s *choices* or about the status of their health. of course, in a capitalist system such as ours, with an entrenched biomedical model at the top of the health care hierarchy, what is the liklihood for funding research about the social determinants of health? *steps off soapbox*

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