Now that it’s holiday season, it feels like treats and comforting baked goods and foamy drinks are everywhere — parties, stores, commercials, and, well, my tummy. :) Unfortunately, though, along with it comes a whole barrage of messages and opinions that are always so (for lack of a better word) tasteless.
There are few things I loathe more than the idea of “good” food and “bad” food — I don’t mean good or bad taste-wise, I mean, the concept of actually villainizing food. Those fries are “bad.” That salad is “good.” If you’re at a party, and someone made brownies, that’s all they are. Brownies. Cocoa powder, eggs, sugar, butter, flour. Last time I checked, “evil” wasn’t a brownie ingredient. If you want one, go for it — they’re not “bad,” you’re not “bad,” no one is going to lock you up and throw you in a fucking food jail.
I don’t mean to pick on people as individuals. I don’t really think it’s anyone’s fault or that they’re necessarily guilty of anything when they bashfully giggle after accepting a cookie or say they’re going to “be a little bad” and order the fries. It’s a much bigger problem. I think it has more to do with the fact that we’re assaulted, day in and day out, with messages about good and bad food. New studies are coming out every day, it seems — drink coffee! don’t drink coffee! kale is the new beef! don’t eat meat! do eat meat, but only on tuesdays! no sugar! no butter! no milk! okay, milk, but only almond milk! never mind, almonds have fat and that is bad! We’re given lists of foods to “avoid at all costs” as if they were toxic, even though most of the time those foods are cheese, or bread, or wine. WHICH ARE FUCKING STAPLE FOODS IN OTHER COUNTRIES. The only food you should avoid at all costs is actual poison — like, we’re talking arsenic, or peanuts, if you have anaphylaxis. You know. Whatever. Not cheese.
So again — this isn’t to pick on people for saying ‘good food’ and ‘bad food.’ But ultimately, it does come down to us internalizing these notions and repeating them and spreading that message. Perpetuating this bullshit. The issue is more so that every time you do label food as “good” or “bad” amongst people, you perpetuate that problem. I might not have had a problem with those brownies before at that party, but if we’re standing together and we’re both having brownies and you say, “ooh, we’re being so naughty, having these brownies!” — I now feel guilty for having it, too.
The problem with labelling good food and bad food is that it leads to unhealthy relationships with food. As someone who has had her own fair share of struggles with body image and an unhealthy relationship with eating food and working out, I know this all too well and how damaging and hurtful it can be. You guys. This can seriously fuck up our brains and it’s not okay. When you label food as “bad,” it makes it a lot easier for your brain to connect the idea that eating it makes you bad. So, if you label ice cream as bad, and then eat it, you are bad, you feel guilty, and you can’t concentrate on anything else but how awful you are for eating it — when the whole point of ice cream is for it to be enjoyed!
A study was done a little while ago about the attitudes different nations had towards food. When asked what words they associated with “chocolate cake,” the most common answer for French people was “celebration.” And for people from the United States? ”Guilt.”
No wonder we have become, in the midst of our astounding abundance, the world’s most anxious eaters. A few years ago, Paul Rozin, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, and Claude Fischler, a French sociologist, began collaborating on a series of cross-cultural surveys of food attitudes. They found that of the four populations surveyed (the U.S., France, Flemish Belgium and Japan), Americans associated food with health the most and pleasure the least. Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase “chocolate cake,” Americans were more apt to say “guilt,” while the French said “celebration”; “heavy cream” elicited “unhealthy” from Americans, “whipped” from the French. The researchers found that Americans worry more about food and derive less pleasure from eating than people in any other nation they surveyed.
— excerpt from Michael Pollan’s “Our National Eating Disorder”
I’m not trying to discount the obvious and say that chocolate cake has the same nutritional value as celery. If you have too much of one or the other, that’s not okay. This isn’t to say that you can just sit around and non-stop eat Häagen-Dazs and expect to have the happiest of inner organs. But on the other hand, I think it says something when Americans associate a food with guilt. It’s a cake — it’s a food we have at parties and it should make you happy about whatever’s going on. You should not feel guilty about it. That’s just not fair.
There is no such thing as “good food” or “bad food.” There are healthier options, but I think you need a little balance in your life. And you are never, ever a “bad” person for having something rich or indulgent or delicious.
The only time a food is “bad” is if it’s, you know, insulting you or being a Nazi sympathizer. Then, you know. That food is just awful.
So, to sum, this is NOT bad food:
THIS, however — this is bad food:
Don’t feed into this food/body-image/self-worth propaganda bullshit. You are an excellent human being, no matter what you eat. Your self-worth and your conscience should have nothing to do with what’s on your plate, and everything to do with how you treat other people. Try not to assign worth and value to something that’s just supposed to nourish you.
Try to just enjoy it, à la Natalie circa the early 1990s:
Happy eating. xo