When I talk about food I do not use the commonly accepted categories of good and bad. These categories mean different things to different people, but in general people use these as a shorthand to mean food that won’t make you fat and food that will. In and of itself food has no moral value. Cake is not intrinsically bad and a carrot is not intrinsically good. Both of these foods do good things, provide energy to human beings so they can carry on living.
Yet the way we talk about food is loaded with morality speak. Think of the number of times you have heard someone say that what they are eating is sinful or “so bad” or naughty. The diet industry advertises some types of food as being “guilt free” so that you can eat the things you want without having to feel bad about it, but the very notion that we should feel guilty about eating any kind of food is very disturbing. Eating cake should not induce feelings of guilt. Cake tastes good, it makes sense to want to eat it, why should I feel guilty about eating something that provides me with sustenance and also is delicious?
Stopping dividing food into categories of good and bad was one of the most healing things I ever did on my road to recovery from disordered eating, by taking away the guilt I always experienced eating certain types of foods I took away a lot of the anxiety and panic I had fought for a long time around eating.
Sometimes it feels incredibly revolutionary to eat anything I want whenever I want it. Yup you read that right, I eat exactly what I feel like whenever I feel like it. The universe hasn’t exploded and I am still able to get out of bed in the morning. It also does not make me a bad person. I choose not to feel guilty about the things I put in my body because it is something simply not worth feeling guilty about to me. The kind of food I eat is not and should not be a moral choice and to talk about it in such language is something that I believe is very damaging. Dysfunctional relationships with food and eating seem to be endemic in our communities, and this language around food only serves to compound it.
The way we talk about food influences everyone around us. The way you apologise for eating desert, say guiltily that “you shouldn’t” or that you are “being so bad.” Makes people around you second guess their choices and shamed for them. If you don’t want to eat something, then by all means don’t, but there is no need to turn it into a moral choice.
Eating a certain way does not make you or I a better person, and the sooner we stop talking as if it does the better for us all.