Food Feeds People

Food feeds people. This is hardly a radical statement on its face, but in our culture, it needs to be said again and again.

Food feeds people, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Today, admitting that you like food and the act of eating is tantamount to admitting to a love of heroin and the act of shooting up. We are not allowed to enjoy food or eating because then we might overeat and become fat. If we allow ourselves to enjoy stereotypically unhealthy foods, we will eat ourselves into disability. An inability to stop oneself from moderate eating is viewed as addictive behavior. (The fact that food is necessary for life is not considered.) Anyone who is aware of the physiology and psychology of addiction knows better than to equate an enjoyment of food, even to the point of eating *gasp* seconds, with addiction.

Then again, I paid good money for this pitchfork and I aim to use it.:)

I can’t decide who is more insufferable-those who bemoan their inability to not enjoy eating or those who have successfully conquered their desire to eat, moreso when the foods being given up are “bad” foods. This is how the conversation generally goes:

Person A: Do you want any pizza/ice cream/insert naughty food item here?

Person B: No, I’ve given up all that stuff.

Person A: Really? Why?

Person B: I’m on a diet/want to get healthier.

Person A: Wow, isn’t it hard?

Person B: No, I don’t miss it. It’s all garbage anyway and you realize once you’ve eaten real food how unnecessary it is.

Person A: You have so much willpower! I’m so jealous.

I hate these conversations. More than anyone will ever know. I can’t say anything, of course, because then I am just another jealous fat-ass who wants to justify her gluttony and tear down that poor courageous dieting soul for being so much better than I am.

No one is obligated to like anything too sweet, sour, bitter, salty, too filling, too light, or anything else that doesn’t strike your fancy or meet your feeding needs. If I offer someone a sip of my mocha latte and she declines because it is too sweet for her, I am not personally offended by this. If you tell me, a die-hard chocolate lover, that you don’t eat chocolate because it is too bitter or too filling, that wouldn’t bother me.

What does bother me is that in these conversations, the only foods that are attacked are those foods considered “bad” by our culture and the comments are more than just expressions of personal taste. They are veiled insults aimed at those that do like those foods. Anytime someone offers a comment that pretends to be an opinion but that is really a personal attack on someone else is an occasion to take offense. However, in our virulently healthist culture, these comments take on a whole new meaning entirely.

Under any other circumstances, you might roll your eyes and fight the urge to tell them to zip it. We’re trying to have a good time here and no one cares anyway. There’s a time and place to bitch and there’s a time and place to let it go and relax.

Healthist comments in and of themselves are mere annoyances at which you just roll your eyes and kindly reply, “Let it go.” When healthist comments are made against the backdrop of a deeply healthist culture, they are so much more. They are personal attacks that cut into your worth as a person. The implication is that you are too stupid to know what is good for you and too incompetent to keep away. You are too degenerate to care about the damage you are causing yourself and others, even if no damage is in evidence, or to at least admit you are wrong. You are too lazy to make the effort to be as righteous as I am. You are what you eat, and if what you eat is junk, then…

Healthism disgusts and infuriates me. Those who feel that the need and the desire to eat are sins that must be overcome make me sad. Those who cannot or will not enjoy eating make me sad, too. You have only one life, and there is so much joy to be found in what life has to offer, big or small. Food is one of those small, and for those fortunate people who don’t live in poverty, easily accessible pleasures. Food feeds people, and it can feed you too.

Food feeds people physically. It provides you with the energy and nutrients you need to survive, thrive, and lead an active life. It relieves hunger pains, dizziness, and fatigue. It is essential to the management of countless medical conditions like diabetes. Filling, flavorful foods make mealtimes easier for those who suffer loss of appetite because of illness or who conditions restrict what they can tolerate. For those who find eating painful or otherwise difficult, having a few culinary treasures makes the effort worthwhile.

Food feeds people mentally. Food gives us the energy to think and remember. When food is restricted, it becomes an obsession and our obsession makes us depressed, irritable, and irrational. When we feed ourselves regularly, we are allowed to have lives outside of food and to have control over our emotions. Food is intellectually stimulating for those preparing it. It is a challenge to prepare food safely, properly, and to experiment with new ideas. Creating a dining atmosphere and giving food attractive presentations stimulates our aesthetic senses.

Food feeds people emotionally. It is something we can prepare and share with others. It is a modest pleasure whose taste, texture, and fill can give you a pick-me-up when you’re down, bored or want to celebrate. Giving food, i.e. agreeing to nourish someone, is a way to show others you care and being fed is a sign of being cared for by others. Making and presenting food gives us pride and it is fun to do. On the other hand, food can be easy if that’s what you want. Lots of foods can be heated up and eaten and others don’t need any preparation at all. Food is a benchmark of security. When you have a full pantry, you can take a breath and know that it one less thing you need to be concerned with.

Food feeds us spiritually. When Catholics consume the bread and wine offered at Mass, they consume the body and blood of Christ and become one with His holiness. When Jews celebrate the Passover, they eat matzoh bread as a way to commemorate the pains taken by their people while fleeing slavery in Egypt. When pagans consume an apple, they are reminded of the Divine Energy that allowed that apple to exist. When people of faith obey fast and abstinence guidelines, the guidelines proposed have spiritual significance. Jewish people don’t eat leavened bread for Passover because their ancestors did not have time to wait for the bread to rise. If they waited, they could be caught and punished. For religious people, food is a blessing by the Creator and something to be happy about.

The bottom line is food is essential not just to live, not just to be healthy, but to nourish your whole self. You can choose to deny yourself food, but people who do that tend to starve. Humans are *designed* to want to eat, and this is a *good* thing.

So how has food nourished you today? I want to know.



  1. zaftigzeitgeist · July 27, 2011

    I went to visit my parents for the weekend, and there was a lot of nice food. Mum, Gran and I went out for a meal on Sunday and I had French Onion soup, a Greek Salad, and a warm chocolate brownie with clotted cream. It was the nicest meal out I have ever had, and it was a chance to sit and talk and relax with Mum and Gran. I’m back home now, and yesterday we made Luther burgers (bacon cheeseburgers inside a glazed ring doughnut, I had a veggie burger and veggie bacon version) which was a chance to enjoy some completely frivolous food. I’m surprised at just how good it tasted!

  2. Melek · July 27, 2011

    To tell you the truth that’s the topic I have the hardest time reading about on the fat acceptance blogs. I am fat and I love not only eating but also preparing food, trying new recipes, etc. Food for me has all the positives that you mentioned. At the same time I resent the implication that unless you think it’s ok to eat anything (because all food is equal, there’s no bad foods, etc.), then you are healthist. I like to eat healthful foods. Pizza was mentioned as one of the “bad” foods – I don’t think pizza is bad, but I do think there are differences between different pizzas – I do love pizza for example – but I do make it myself from scratch, with multigrain or whole wheat crust and loaded with veggies – I don’t necessarily care for the overprocessed, flavorless, boxed things that are loaded with salt and fat. I don’t think one has to give up foods one likes, but I don’t think that caring about the quality of what you put in your mouth is such a bad thing. Of course everybody has a right to eat what they want and I’m not telling people what to eat or not eat, but in my opinion, there are foods that are more nutritious and healthful for you, and there are some that are garbage and do little to truly nourish. Sometimes I like things that wouldn’t be conventionally healthful – this morning I got myself a Boston Kreme donut, but most of the time I like to eat good stuff – for the nutrition, for the taste and for the pleasure of nourishing myself well. I think it’s all about balance Browsing thru the fat acceptance blogs there seems to be such a black and white division – you either eat anything and everything and in the amounts that you want and are applauded for it, or you are berated for starving yourself. There’s the 3rd possibiliy – eating healthfully for the pleasure of it. Even HAES recommends choosing wholesome, healthful foods – Linda Bacon’s book has plenty of recommendations, such as eat more veggies for example. HAES is about health, and the quality of what you put in your mouth is a huge part of it – not for weight loss, but for nutrition.

    • Alexie · July 27, 2011

      I totally agree with you.

      I find this very difficult to discuss, because I’m involved in food activism. I think corporations that label food as one thing, in an effort to deceive consumers, are doing something that’s wrong (e.g. calling something ‘lemon cake’ when they’re actually offering cake imbued with lemon flavours concocted in a laboratory; it’s not the artificial nature of the food that’s wrong, it’s the fact that it’s labelled as though it were the real thing). Likewise, factory farming is horrendous. Basically, I’m working towards changing both of those things. So in my world, there really are bad foods.

      Where is gets tricky is that corporate wrongdoing doesn’t mean the people who are buying and eating it are doing anything wrong and obviously some people do so because it’s what they want to eat and some people buy it because that’s what they can afford and most of us buy factory food because we’re not offered anything else anyway. And also people who claim moral superiority because they only dine from unicorns reared by moonlight are insufferably annoying

      So there are lots of issues around this. But when I read people insisting that there are NO moral issues, ever, around food and that all foods are equal and all foods are nourishing, it makes me think that the corporates must be very, very happy. Because that’s what they pay their PR departments to say.

    • KellyK · July 27, 2011

      I don’t think the distinction is quite that black and white, and I’ve never seen anyone berated for trying to eat healthy (as long as they’re not using “eat healthy” as a shorthand for “eat less in order to lose weight” and advocating that on FA blogs).

      People do get irritated when things they enjoy are denigrated as “garbage.”

      It’s also important to keep in mind that “healthy” is multifaceted and complex. Whole-grain, veggie-heavy, and minimally processed aren’t automatically the best thing for everyone at all times and in all situations. (For example, your pizza sounds fabulous to me, but it’d make my gluten-intolerant mother sick.)

      It’s really hard to talk about “healthy” food without assigning moral virtue to it. And that moral virtue makes it tougher to pay attention to what you (the generic you) want to eat (including physical needs and how food makes you feel) because you have this picture in your head of what you “should” eat.

      I don’t think that your 3rd possibility is all that different from “eating anything and everything in the amounts you want.” If fast food makes you feel icky (for whatever reason), no one says you have to eat it.

      To me, the important thing is that you give yourself permission to eat in a way that makes you feel good and doesn’t drive you crazy, and you respect other people’s right to do the same–acknowledging that it might look nothing like yours.

      • JoannaDW · July 28, 2011

        So much word! Thank you, Kelly K!

      • Physical Scientist · September 6, 2011

        “It’s really hard to talk about “healthy” food without assigning moral virtue to it.”

        I don’t think that’s generally speaking true. It’s clear from FA blogs that there definitely are people, I assume including yourself here, for whom this is true. But that isn’t the case for everyone.

        To me, healthy is a very functional word with a very specific meaning – to be healthy, a food has to promote long-term health in virtually all consumers of the food (excepting, of course, genetic variations that create intolerances of some sort like celiac disease or lactose intolerance) when consumed regularly and in rather large amounts. It’s essentially a testable claim, but it’s also not a priori clear that we know whether foods are healthy or not, and the state of that knowledge is certainly in flux regarding the details. In other words, I think the adjective ‘healthy’ in front of food is very important to retain, but that we may nor may not know how to use it correctly, and that’s just how that word works. It therefore also follows it’s not a moral word. It’s a descriptive word for me. Not being able to use it without being accused of trying to put someone else down because they have insecurities about food and eating seems a little… unexpected to me.

        It’s hard to talk about the concept of what foods promote long-term health better than others without that word. Dis-abling discussion of such research seems to be doing nobody a favor. I for one want to know what food is healthy to the best of our current knowledge, as imperfect as that knowledge may be. I want to hear what researchers have to say, so that I can make up my own mind about the quality of their conclusions. Refusing to acknowledge that eating large quantities of some foods is more likely to result in good health for you than eating large quantities of some other food is counter-intellectual and I agree with Alexie that it is a food corporation’s PR dream. Some foods contain more nutrients than others. It IS possible to acquire knowledge about which foods most people should be eating in bulk and which maybe not, even when they have well-known exceptions like celiac disease. Denying that studying food and nutrition scientifically is possible isn’t empowering. Denying that there are patterns in food consumption that match patterns in diseases – dairy and autoimmune diseases, for example – isn’t empowering either. It’s just sticking your head in the sand. While in some sense that can be functional too for people – perhaps recovering from an eating disorder, or for people in the FA movement who need a mental break from being berated over their food choices – that doesn’t make it actually true generally speaking. That it can be comforting to live in a mental world where all food choices are equivalent, and eating a kale-lemon sandwich will have the exact same effect on your health as a package of Velveeta mac & cheese, doesn’t make it true.

        I don’t see why you can’t both accept that some foods are more conducive to better health than others and decline to assign a moral value to that fact. If you feel that what you eat is by necessity a moral choice on healthfulness alone (so not animal treatment, carbon footprint, or water use), then doesn’t that imply that all human beings have a moral duty to feed themselves as healthfully as possible? Who would do such assignment of duties exactly? You yourself are the only person who can impose such a moral duty on yourself, meaning you can decline to accept that idea and live accordingly. If you have once felt that way and want to change that, I can see how that would be difficult to do. Anyway, my point is is that there is value to the idea of healthy food that it would be foolish to give up.

        I also do feel, however, that there are certainly ethical issues attached to food, such as those alluded to by Alexie, but they generally don’t involve humans or involve humans far away from where the eating is done, or all humans more generally. Ethical treatment of animals is per definition an ethical issue. I’m not sure what the real distinction between ethical and moral is. Perhaps ethical treatment of animals is not a moral issue, I don’t know. Even if it isn’t, carbon footprint and water use are certainly practical issues surrounding food regardless of what you think of the ethics or morals surrounding eating meat. But none of all that involves the nutrition value of what you personally or me myself choose to eat.

  3. Ashley · July 27, 2011

    I was just going to say, I had a sushi roll and chips for lunch today and it was awesome. I don’t know why I think sushi and chips go together, but I think it’s a great lunch.

  4. Mulberry · July 28, 2011

    I feel like telling them they should give up sex too. After all, you leave yourself open to all sorts of diseases, and pregnancy is quite hard on the body. Better safe than sorry, right?

  5. vesta44 · July 28, 2011

    DH and I went to a baseball game today, and in the course of 3 hours, I had a pulled pork bbq sandwich, a brat, a pretzel with cheese, and a small bag of popcorn (in between jumping up and down and cheering for our team, who, btw, won 9 -3). Then we came home, did our challenges on our game site for our badges, watched some television, and I cooked steaks, baked potatoes, broccoli, and cottage cheese for supper. All in all, it was a good day for food, and I didn’t care what anyone at the ballpark thought of me and what/how much I was eating. I enjoyed the game and the food and my husband’s company and that’s all that mattered.

  6. Alexie · September 6, 2011

    Interesting comment.

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