Thinking about food and privilege

This article, Check your food privilege, came across my newsfeed recently and it got me thinking about food and privilege and my own history of food choices.

Carrie Salum writes, “I believe eating consciously and according to your own convictions is important. But also, eating “clean” is a unique privilege only a few specific groups of people can subscribe to.

So, can we acknowledge that the way we want to eat is not always the way we are able to eat? And before we start spouting the science behind it or quoting from the latest Netflix documentary/TED Talk, can we just acknowledge that eating according to your convictions is a privilege?”

When I meet with nutritionists to talk about making better food choices (now that’s privilege) I often announce proudly that I don’t eat fast food. But really it’s not something I should be proud about. I’ve never really liked the standard drive thru fare. Pizza? Now that’s a different matter.

I suspect my own dislike of fast food isn’t about healthy eating, really. It’s that I didn’t grow up eating fast food. My parents are British and we emigrated to Canada in the late 60s when I was very young. While meals may have been dull there wasn’t much fast food around. My parents were also bakers and they were dismissive and disdainful of North American food. I learned to say “artificial preservatives” at the age of four. My father taught me to say it to explain why I didn’t like ketchup. Precocious brat.

I did like commercial white bread and packaged baked goods. (The Canadian equivalent of the Twinkie was the Vachon cake, forbidden in my house.) My love of puffy white bread stayed with me. I even wrote about it here in a piece called An Ode to Hotel Toast in Philosophers on Holiday. POH was an actual, paper, pre-internet zine that was mailed around.

When I was in Grade Five  MacDonalds opened in Saint John, New Brunswick I begged to be taken for a burger. But they came with ketchup and pickles (no “you choose” then) and I thought they were awful. Because teenagers ate there on Friday nights after the teen skate (I was such a Canadian youth) I learned to like the fries, the milkshakes and the fried fish sandwiches instead.


Luckily my home town of Bedford, Nova Scotia had a less commercial, more local, alternative, The Chickenburger. For a few years after becoming a vegetarian chicken burgers from the Chicken burger remained a guilty pleasure.

For 70 years, The Chickenburger has been a destination for families and friends alike. Today, the historical landmark remains a community icon. It is also heralded as a Canadian gem, being the oldest drive-in diner in Canada.

From the beginning, The Chickenburger was built on quality and little has changed since its humble beginnings. The same chicken recipe crafted in 1940 is still used to ensure customers keep coming back for the same great taste. The commitment to quality products complimented by excellent customer service is the foundation on which The Chickenburger was built and still maintains. The founder and matriarch, Mrs. Innes, affectionately known to locals as, ‘The Chickenburger Lady’ was an integral part of quality control and her high standards will always be upheld.

Now I’m a vegetarian so there’s little at the standard fast food restaurant I can eat anyway. I’ll blog more later about other ways that my upbringing affected my food choices, about why growing up with less means there is always milk in my fridge now. It’s a real mark of privilege to never run out of milk, or if you do, to have it not be for reasons of how much money you have at hand.

And I’m not endorsing the sentiment in the image below–that all hate of fast food is really hate of poor people masked as virtuous eating–but I do think our attitudes to food are complicated than they seem at first blush.

What’s your attitude to fast food? Where did that attitude come from? What’s your story?