diets · food

Every day is “eat what you want day”…because we are grown-ups and food is beyond good and evil

I don’t know if it’s a real day, but apparently May 11th was National Eat What You Want Day. I missed it.

I get my info mostly from this:

Image description: Cartoon of hippo (?) against a purple background, sitting at a table surrounded by pies, cakes, cookies, and chocolates, with a cookie in one hand and a chocolate bar with a bite out of it in the other, chocolate smudged on face.
Image description: Cartoon of hippo (?) against a purple background, sitting at a table surrounded by pies, cakes, cookies, and chocolates, with a cookie in one hand and a chocolate bar with a bite out of it in the other, chocolate smudged on face. Image credit: Sandra Boynton.

Okay, I get that this cartoon is supposed to be a joke. And though I am not familiar with Sandra Boynton’s body of work, a reader of the blog got in touch with me to say her work “is consistently affirming, food positive, body positive, women positive and [she] deserves credit for her work in this post.” So yes: credit where credit is due.

And perhaps in the larger context of Boynton’s work, this is whimsical, funny, and affirming. I can see that. But when I first encountered it, it gave me pause because of the way it represented what Eat What You Want Day would look like.  I’m told too that the day apparently originated as a response to our diet-laden cultural mindset.  It’s a way of breaking free.  And that’s a good thing. But only for a day? Seriously? I want to say: that’s not enough.

First, every day is an eat what you want day as far as I’m concerned. It’s not just because I’m an intuitive eater. It’s also because we’re adults and we get to make our own decisions about what we eat. Literally, at every moment, you get to choose what you want to eat. So do I. And so does the person in front of you in the line up at the coffee shop who wants an apple fritter for breakfast instead of the egg white frittata.

Second, why does everyone always assume that if we eat whatever we want we will choose to eat only cookies, cakes, candy, and chocolate?  This narrative is a product of the deprivation mentality that is entirely encouraged in our society. Since veggies and fruits and all that other “healthy” stuff is what we “should” be eating (RULES!), all the fun food is what we actually want to be eating (BREAK THE RULES!).

I venture that if we only have one day where we give ourselves permission to eat what we want and if the rest of the days we are eating plain salads where the only dressing we get is the one tablespoonful that we get to dip our fork into before spearing each cucumber slice (if you’ve ever dieted you’ve done this, right?), then when we take away the rules we’re going to go for the flavour burst foods that we’re not “allowed” to eat.

But if that stuff was always on offer, without the rules, it would lose its lustre after awhile. I know this from experience. When I was a grad student my housemate and I experimented with a candy bowl as part of an assignment given to my by the amazing psychotherapist who was trying to help me recover from disordered eating and chronic dieting.

We were to keep the bowl heaped full. Just buying those mini-chocolate bars to fill it gave us an adrenaline rush. And the first week or say we went to town on those candies. We had to fill up the bowl quite a bit. Less so the second week. By the third and fourth week we weren’t as interested anymore. And today I always have a few chocolate bars on hand that I keep in a bin and that last months. Because sometimes I want salad or hummus or a farro bowl with steamed rapini and stir-fried tofu drizzled with tahini and Frank’s Red Hot, not a piece of dark chocolate-dipped crystallized ginger.

Third, this brings me to the point I really want to make, and that we’ve made many times on the blog before, in various forms: food is beyond good and evil. You’re not morally good if you eat a salad and morally bad if you eat fries. Steamed broccoli isn’t virtuous and banana tempura in syrup isn’t sinful and decadent. It’s food. You can eat it if you like.

I just despise food policing, the food police, and any kind of moralizing about food (other than vegan moralizing, which I’m totally down with even if I tend to stay silent unless asked or unless it’s totally relevant and people are saying ridiculous things to defend their participation in unnecessary animal cruelty…oops). Susan shared a story yesterday with the other blog authors about how she was at a coffee shop (buying a muffin) and a woman came in and literally lectured the owner about how muffins are cake.

You know what? Cake is awesome. So simply telling me that muffins are cake makes me want to say, “And your point is…?” All over the world people eat pastries and stuff for breakfast. If you’re eating muffins because you’re counting calories or fat grams and you think they’re low in those, then you might want to think again. But if you’re eating the because you like them, which is basically the best reason to eat whatever we eat, then someone telling you muffins are cake might go a long way to explaining why they’re so damned delicious.

I’m not the only one on the blog who feels this way about food policing. Here are some of our posts about this topic, gathered in one place, for your reading pleasure. Next time the food police make an appearance, ignore them, refer them to the blog, or tell them to go ahead and arrest you for taking pleasure in your food choices!

Why Food is Beyond Good and Evil (Tracy I)

Do You Get Sucked into Food Shaming Trends (Tracy I)

Food Demonizing and the Perils of “All or Nothing” Thinking (Tracy I)

Beyond Good and Evil (Food) (Catherine W)

Follow-Up to Last Week’s Beyond Good and Evil (Food) Post (Catherine W)

Just Eat the Damn Cupcake (Sam)

Don’t Get Sucked in by the Rhetoric of Eating Clean (Tracy I)

Diets Disguised as un-Diets: The Food Police Strike Again (Tracy I)

Disclaimer: I’m not discounting that some of us may have added reasons not to eat some foods. If I was diabetic, I would need to be careful about sugar. I do have a garlic intolerance that means I cannot deal with anything other than trace amounts of cooked garlic and almost no amount of raw garlic. That doesn’t make me want garlic. Also, there are ethical reasons for avoiding some foods. I’m an ethical vegan who pretty consistently avoids animal products because of my beliefs about the industry’s impact on the environment and my desire not to contribute to animal suffering and exploitation (two hallmarks of industrial animal agriculture). That’s a reason. And it doesn’t make me want filet mignon and veal parmesan.

Question: How do you deal with the food police?

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