Tag Archives: food

I Wish I Could – But I Won’t Let Myself

I have had an extremely long day. I barely ate lunch and then worked through what should have been dinner. And now I’m tired and cranky and hungry and there’s not really any food in the house because I’ve been busy and tired all week and so haven’t made it to the store.

It would be amazing to order some food. But I have a major block and cannot, do not, order food for delivery. To me, it feels so indulgent and spoiled and a waste of good money that I just cannot let myself do it. This is a completely irrational block – I do plenty of things that are more expensive and do me less good. (For example, my new laptop didn’t need to be so shiny and zippy – and I’m not sure I really needed one at all.)

Instead, I ate two bowls of cereal and a big handful of chopped walnuts. Meh.

Is there any kind of help or accommodation or similar that you just can’t let yourself accept?

Dear Imprudence: Food Policing, Ordinary Parenting, or Pathology?

Oh, Miss Conduct. How could you?

The Miss Conduct column at the Boston Globe published on 2 May featured the following letter:

I eat a healthy diet and incorporate fruits and vegetables into all meals, especially dinner. I have instilled the same habits in my toddler daughter. We frequently eat dinner at my in-laws’, and no vegetables are served. Would it be rude if I brought my own for me and my daughter to eat? J.C. / Waltham

The response begins:

Yes, it would be rude. Very rude, in fact. Food isn’t just nutritional; it’s social. People with medical or religious dietary restrictions can ask to be accommodated, and vegetarians in carnivore families can bring a side dish (enough to share, of course). If you have bona fide needs, you can make those known and negotiate as appropriate. However, when you are welcomed into other people’s homes to break bread with them, you do not implicitly critique their hospitality and lifestyle by bringing your own preferred foods. The message you would send to your in-laws by bringing along your own vegetables is “My dietary habits are superior to and more enlightened than yours.”

Is it rude or isn’t it? It can, in fact, potentially be rude to bring dinner along to someone else’s house when you are invited to dinner, unless, as Miss Conduct points out, you have dietary restrictions and you make a prior arrangement with the host.

This includes dietary restrictions such as limits on the kinds of food young children can safely eat, however. Young children cannot eat all of the same things that adults can. Bringing food safe for children is not being rude1, this is simply parenting, and making sure that the best interests of the child are looked out for.

It’s also not rude, I would add, if you have young children and you are concerned that the host might not serve food they want to eat2. Which is perhaps the case here; maybe J.C.’s daughter loves veggies, and if that is true, then, yes, it actually would be appropriate to bring along some veggies for her.

Lauredhel also pointed out, when we talked about this letter, that, setting aside concerns about allergies and kid-safe foods, it’s not necessarily rude in all cases to bring food along to dinner at the in-laws. Dinners at the in-laws tend to be more casual, and offering to bring a side dish to such events might be perfectly acceptable. There are also some communities and cultures where guests are expected to bring food and not bringing food would be rude. Of course, writing letters to the paper instead of communicating directly with the in-laws could also be construed as rather rude.

Miss Conduct continues:

The message you would be sending your daughter by bringing along the vegetables is even more disturbing: “Every meal must be perfect. You must always have vegetables. You can’t eat something just because it tastes good or because it’s polite to.” It’s good to teach children healthy eating, but rigid perfectionism will lead to social problems down the line. Is your daughter to be allowed birthday cake? Pizza parties? When she is invited to a friend’s house for dinner, do you plan to call and check on the menu? Part of the whole point of eating a healthy diet is so that we can splurge once in a while, after all.

Reasonably good. Miss Conduct is reinforcing some problematic stuff about ‘healthy’ food, but she’s setting a strong tone when it comes to talking about what is being modeled for the daughter here. It’s worth noting, too, that family pressures can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

But then:

Finally, do a little Web searching on the term “orthorexia.” Some people can get so obsessed with a healthy, “natural” diet that they wind up developing an eating disorder. “Orthorexia” isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but the term, coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, has gained attention and legitimacy over the past decade. I’m not diagnosing you with anything (I’m not a clinical psychologist, and even if I were, I wouldn’t diagnose anyone based on a four-sentence e-mail). But spend a little time thinking about how you would answer two of Bratman’s questions: “Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?” and “Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?”

Wait, what?

I really loathe it when advice columns do this. They just have to throw in a little armchair diagnosis. Robin Abrahams just had to add in a little ‘you know, perhaps you have a mental illness’ at the end, didn’t she?

This letter missed the mark in a lot of ways. Accusing the letterwriter of orthorexia instead of acknowledging the reasons she might have concerns about what’s on the dinner table? So not necessary.

Related reading:

The Fat Nutritionist

  1. After all, I’m never offended when I have friends with young children over for dinner and the mother starts breastfeeding!
  2. However, I would like to note that the good host anticipates the needs of all guests, and when people with young children are invited to dinner, the host should ask the parents if any food options should be provided. Some kids may like coq au vin just fine and be delighted with the menu, while others might prefer the option of some braised plain chicken, for example.

Recommended Reading for May 25th, 2010

Dorian at Dorianisms: “Men Who Get It”

The danger lies in beginning to assume that you are some kind of Ultimate Authority, and in particular, that you can teach people about their own experiences. That you know better than marginalized people what is happening in their lives, with their marginalization. That you are the Ultimate Arbiter of what is and is not offensive. In short, once you assume you “get it”, it’s very easy to become a mansplainer. Or a straightsplainer or ablesplainer or whateversplainer, as the case may be. The point is that this is really, really, bad. And can pretty directly be traced to the assumption that you “get” something better than, y’know, the people who actually live it.

Diane Shipley, special to the LA Times: My Turn: A Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferer reconnects with the world

Embarrassingly for a former English major, I lost words, even simple ones. “You know, those things! They go on feet!” I’d cry, frustrated.

“Shoes?” my mom would ask. “Socks?”

Janani Balasubramanian at Racialicious: Sustainable Food and Privilege: Why is Green always White (and Male and Upper-class)

Still, what could be better than a return to family farms and home-cooking, which many of these gurus champion? The images are powerfully nostalgic and idyllic: cows grazing on sweet alfalfa, kids’ mouths stained red with fresh heirloom tomato juice, and mom in the kitchen rolling out dough for homegrown-apple pie. But this is not an equal-access trip down memory lane.

darryl cunningham at tallguywwrites (LJ): The Facts in the Case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield [Image-heavy]

A fifteen page story about the MMR vaccination controversy.

All Those Healthy Eating “Rules” are Just Guesses, Really

File this under “Who Even Knows, Anymore?”

s.e. smith recently posted a photo of a “5 a day” tag that came on some asparagus she bought. She felt, and I agree, that those tags are a form of food policing – instructing people what they “should” eat. The corollary, of course, is that if people do not follow these food guidelines, their unhealthiness is their own fault.  s.e. explored some of the problems with these educational campaigns over at This Ain’t Living, but I want to highlight another problem here.

That problem being, namely, that NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. From a recent article at Scientific American:

The recommendation that people eat at least five servings (about 400 grams) of fruits and veggies each day, espoused by the WHO since 1990, was based on studies that found a link between higher intakes of these foods and lower risks for cancer and other diseases.

Since the 1990s, however, evidence from large studies has been mounting that the protective effects of these foods against cancer in particular might be modest—if it exists at all.

The results are in line with other findings both in the U.S. and abroad that suggest the protective effect of fruits and vegetables is “much smaller than had been believed 10 years ago,” Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, noted in an e-mail to ScientificAmerican.com. People who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables are also more likely to make other healthful lifestyle choices, such as exercising more and drinking and smoking less, which the researchers noted “may have contributed to a lower cancer risk” overall.

So this “5 a day” rule – which has been adopted as healthy eating dogma all over the world – may not actually be based on much of anything and there’s virtually no evidence to support the assertion that eating more fruits and veggies will automatically lead to better health.

But watch – it will still be used to shame people, and to blame them for their own health problems, regardless of the lack of scientific support. This strongly supports the argument that these healthy eating rules, and other rules about what people “should” do to be healthy, are much less about scientifically proven relationships between eating and health and much more about shaming people for their health problems.

(h/t The Awl for the link, and the suggestion that You Are Going To Get Cancer Anyway, So Have The Steak)

The New York Times Tells You How To Eat

Every now and then, I take a gander at the New York Times “Health” section, usually with the goal of riling myself up so that I can rant about something here at FWD. There are a lot of things to get riled up about. Today, for me, it’s the conflation of size and health, and the attitudes about food, cooking, and eating which I see in the “Health” section.

The section called “Recipes For Health” is headed:

The easiest and most pleasurable way to eat well is to cook. Recipes for Health offers recipes with an eye towards empowering you to cook healthy meals every day. Produce, seasonal and locally grown when possible, and a well-stocked pantry are the linchpins of a good diet, and accordingly, each week’s recipes will revolve around a particular type of produce or a pantry item. This is food that is vibrant and light, full of nutrients but by no means ascetic, fun to cook and a pleasure to eat.

I think that there are some fascinating assumptions embedded in here. Many of these assumptions reflect widely held social attitudes about food: There’s a “right” way to cook, there’s a “right” way to eat. You’re a good person if you subscribe to these ideals and follow them, and you’re a bad person if you don’t. In the “Health” section that’s taken one step further: You’re an unhealthy person if you don’t follow the dietary recommendations set out by someone else.

So, here’s the thing about cooking and disability. All of the things discussed as “linchpins of a good diet” get a lot more complicated when you have a disability. Setting aside the issue of allergies, let’s talk about the fact that some people with disabilities are extremely sensitive to flavors, textures, and smells. Some people with disabilities can’t do things like standing over a hot stove, lifting heavy pots, or going to a quaint local farmers’ market to pick up some of that fresh, local produce. Some people with disabilities actually have a really hard time coming up with things that they can eat, for a variety of reasons. And some people with disabilities face barriers to cooking.

What are some barriers to cooking? Well, what about the fact that many people with disabilities are of lower income and social status? Don’t you think that makes a difference when you’re considering what you can and cannot eat? It’s hard to get “seasonal and locally grown” produce when you live in a neighborhood which doesn’t really have stores with produce, when going to a different grocery store or a farmers’ market is not an option for you (too far away for you to have time, inaccessible, no safe transit). When CSAs won’t deliver to your neighborhood, how are you going to get produce?

What about the fact that food is expensive, and that some of the things touted in the “recipes for health” section are expensive or hard to obtain? A “well stocked pantry” really is not an option when you are living paycheque to paycheque (or benefits cheque to benefits cheque) and therefore cannot stock up on things. It’s easy to say “well, buy in bulk, it’s cheaper,” except that the initial outlay of cash for bulk foods might not be affordable for someone on a limited income; even though it’s more expensive to buy, say, boxed macaroni and cheese in the long term, it’s sold in a format which includes small, inexpensive packages which people can afford when they only have $15 to spend on groceries for the week.

And, of course, there’s the issue that getting into the kitchen isn’t as easy for some folks with disabilities. Some may live in settings where getting into the kitchen can’t happen because there is no kitchen, and people with a wide range of disabilities may have trouble doing things like standing in the kitchen for an hour to prepare a meal, controlling a knife to chop all that fresh produce, dealing with sensory input like smells while cooking, and so forth. I used to be one of those people who lectured about how “cooking is easy” and “it only takes a bit, it’s really no work at all” and how “you just have to commit” and then I woke up and smelled the beurre blanc.

“Cook healthy meals every day.” It’s an imperative. You must or you’re an unhealthy failure. And you must cook meals which are “vibrant and light.” Don’t cook what you want to eat, now. You need to cook food which is full of nutrients. (All food is full of nutrients.) In this case, “unhealthy” implies “fat,” and that’s an undertone in a lot of lecturing about what/how to eat, but there’s also some disability policing going on here too, some implications about how to live life “right.”

Food policing is an ongoing problem that I’ve been writing about for years, ever since I first started getting interested in the foodie movement and then just as quickly became totally disillusioned. When a prominent food blogger bragged about spending hundreds of dollars on food every week, I checked out of the movement. Because, you know, it’s not possible for me to spend $400 on food every week. I can’t actually be in the kitchen four hours a day. And the same holds true for many people, disabled or not, but being told what/how to eat carries extra baggage for disabled folks because we spend our entire lives being told what to do. “If only you did this, you wouldn’t be so disabled.”

Here’s what I think about food: “Eat what you love, love what you eat.” Our Ouyang Dan said that, and those are some words to live by. You don’t need the New York Times to tell you what to eat; you already know what to eat. The Times should stick to a recipe section, rather than preaching about what people need to/should eat.