Over the last year or so, I’ve made some really mindful changes to the way I eat, and have, simultaneously, learned a ton about body acceptance and Health at Every Size from the communities that support that initiative. But I’ve found that there is a really contentious reception to talking about food and eating habits within some of my new-found communities, and I want to take a moment to think about that.
Health At Every Size (HAES) and Fat Acceptance have both been movements that have vocally insisted that there is something wrong with the language that gives moral assignation to our food choices. And I agree up to a point: a food’s calorie count or fat content or decadence does not assign it a moral quality. It is morally neutral, like, for instance, shoes. Wearing shoes, owning shoes, buying shoes, having different styles of shoes, liking shoes, enjoying shoes – none of these are morally charged ideas. We can have opinions about our shoe preferences and thus label different shoes good shoes. For instance, Kate Spade pumps, in my opinion, are good shoes. Crocs are bad shoes. You’re free to disagree and I think it would take a pretty extreme person to suggest that I am making a moral judgment about the shoes; it is clearly an aesthetic one.
But there can be good shoes and bad shoes morally, and there can be good food and bad food morally, too. But it isn’t based on calories! In both cases, it’s based on ethics of trade. The problem is that our language doesn’t reflect this. We all know that when someone says “I ate such terrible food last night!” they mean that they ate a bunch of greasy, high calorie, carbohydrate-laden bar menu nibbles. Never mind if the food was all grown within 20 miles of the bar in question, was entirely vegan, and was sold at a fair trade price directly from the farm to the bar’s cook. When we say “bad food,” we mean food that can potentially add to our girth. And frankly, when we start considering that, it’s no wonder that the phrases “good food” and “bad food” are so charged. It’s kind of outrageous that we reserve our moral judgments for what goes on our table in terms of how it impacts our personal marketability rather than how our choices affect the environment and the poor. There are moral food choices. They are just entirely and unequivocally not related to your dress size.
Worse, I think, is when nutritional judgments about food – what is good for us versus what is bad for us – are reduced to whether or not something can potentially make us gain weight. If you think my body isn’t overwhelmingly delighted to receive a high calorie brunch replete with fresh fruit oozing natural sugars, pastries made with whole grains, fresh cream in my coffee, and fresh, saffron-yolked eggs all smothered in organic cream-based Hollandaise, honey, you’ve got another thing coming to you. The amount of HDL-based lipids, rich proteins, fiber, and vitamins and nutrients in the breakfast I described makes my body so happy. It makes me healthy. It also makes me fat. Those fats keep your brain healthy and active, not to mention keep you warm. Those proteins are great muscle-building energy, and who the hell doesn’t want to be strong? I want to be strong enough to knock down injustice and haul my dog around the apartment (she’s not small). The fiber helps me poop, the vitamins promote everything from healthy skin and hair to disease fighting and cell regeneration. The calcium in the cream keeps my bones and teeth strong.
And it all tastes really fucking good.
The truth is, of course, that we have all come from a system in which food and morality and body size and social obligation have all been confusingly, conflictingly, and wrongly linked. My Body, My Choice? Only if we’re talking about reproductive rights; we’re still obligated to others to take care of our health in the way another prescribes. But it’s possible that a reclarification of our language, a new understand of what morally “good” and “bad” food really is, could help us all show a little more compassion, take our health into our own hands (or not), and ultimately – and most importantly – respect each other fully.