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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