Recently, I was at a dinner party where as the hostess cleared the dishes from the main meal, she proclaimed, “There is a good dessert, and a bad dessert.”
I was confused – if she was so concerned about how her dessert tasted or turned out, why bother serving it?
As it turns out, the “good” dessert was fruit, and the “bad” dessert was donuts.
All Food is Good
Pitting foods against each other by labelling them “good” vs “bad”, “clean” vs “dirty” or “real” vs “fake” based on their perceived nutrient content or degree of processing is really a form of healthism—placing a moral value on the pursuit of health and wellness (usually with a touch of perfectionism).
There is nothing inherently wrong with caring about your health; I mean, that’s probably one of the reasons why healthcare and fitness professionals do the work that they do. However, healthism is problematic because “perfect” health (aka immortality) doesn’t exist, and it assumes that people who aren’t healthy, or don’t/can’t engage in “perfectly” healthy behaviours are somehow lesser than those who do.
Most of us are privileged to be at a place where food is easily accessible, plentiful, clean and safe. For the most part, we can trust that when we eat something, it is what it says it is, and that it won’t make us sick. All food, whether it’s a plant or made in a plant, nourishes us in some way. You are not a better person for eating whole, natural, unprocessed, gluten-free, GMO-free, guilt-free, everything-except-nutrients-free foods, nor are you a worse person for eating ultraprocessed, ultra-refined, high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat, nutrient-density-of-cardboard foods.
There is no moral obligation to be healthy.
All food is good.You are not a worse person for eating ultraprocessed, nutrient-free foods. All food is good. Click To Tweet
All Eating Serves a Purpose
After my cooking demo at the Calgary Stampede this year, my husband and I hit the grounds to eat! We shared a jalapeño corn dog, a dish of curly fries, barbecued meats from an award-winning grillmaster, a bag of mini donuts and some samples backstage at the Kitchen Theatre (including bean ice cream!) We were so full from the food that it served as a late lunch, dinner and dessert, but I would be lying if I said that those were nutritious choices—we ate them mainly for novelty and nostalgia.
Just like the good food/bad food paradigm, healthism brought with it this idea that eating is solely for fuel and nutrition, and if you eat for any other reason (especially if you’re eating “bad” foods), then it is wrong and you are bad.
While it’s true that only food can provide us with fuel and nutrition, food doesn’t only provide us with fuel and nutrition. As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, food and eating is supposed to be pleasurable. Why else would our prehistoric ancestors put themselves at risk hunting large animals or trekking for days trying to find berries? If food didn’t make us feel good, our ancestors would’ve probably occupied themselves with other ways to get their endorphin rush, starved to death, and we wouldn’t have survived as a species.
There are so many reasons why we eat beyond nutrition and health. Heck, nutrition and health are usually near the bottom when it comes to why people eat the way they do. We choose foods based on taste, convenience, cost and causes we care about, like the environment or supporting local business. We eat as a way to socialize and celebrate. We eat to learn about different ingredients, dishes and cultures. We eat to soothe, numb and comfort.
Of course, some foods suit some purposes better than others. It doesn’t make them “good” or “bad”, just different. It is naive to think that food is only for nutrition. All eating serves a purpose.It's naive to think that food is only fuel. All eating serves a purpose. Click To Tweet
What if Food Doesn’t Make me Feel Good? What if I Don’t Want to Eat for That Purpose?
If you have any dietary restrictions, or are avoiding or “cutting back” on certain foods for any reason, it’s easy to dismiss the foods that you avoid (or are trying to avoid) as “bad”. If that’s the case and you’re interested in making peace, I invite you to ask yourself, “What makes this food so ‘bad’? Is it actually bad?” What would actually happen if you ate that food? (If the answer is death/anaphylactic shock, then it’s probably a good idea to continue avoiding it ?) What might be a gentler way to describe that food? Perhaps you can try saying that it’s “not my choice” or even “not my choice right now”. This helps to take the power away from the good food/bad food paradigm, and place it back in your hot little hands.
You also have the power and choice to decide the purposes that food and eating serve for you at any given moment. Food is multipurpose, but purposes are multi-solution. While food can help us relax and unwind, so can taking a few deep breaths, listening to music, being in nature, talking with a friend or doing something enjoyable. While food can help us socialize and celebrate, there are many other activities that bring people together. Whichever you choose at any moment, know that there is never a wrong answer.