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We need to talk.
You’ve gotten into a really bad habit of equating a person’s worth or character with the depth of their healthy eating habits. Unfortunately, food manufacturers have gotten wind of this and now design their packaging completely based on shame and guilt. In our culture you are “good” if you eat a salad and “bad” if you eat a cupcake. I’m going to go ahead and call that what it is: total bull crap.
I believe that food is not neutral. It either makes you more healthy or less healthy. It’s one or the other. I believe that wholeheartedly.
I believe that the vast majority of North Americans grossly underestimate the impact of the frankenfood diet in which they partake. Yes, I know this first hand. Denial is a river in Egypt, baby, and some days I’m floating down the darn thing in a lazy river raft, tucking into a hot fudge sundae from McDonald’s.
And yet. AND YET… I do not believe that food is a moral issue. Not in this sense of the word, anyway. Right now as you read this, there are people dying of starvation in the world, yes there are. And there’s the fight for the legalization of raw milk and food freedom. There are slavery issues and fair wages for farmers and workers getting sick from their hazardous job of spraying mass amounts of poison on our growing produce.
Those are moral issues, my friends. But eating a hot fudge sundae from McDonald’s?
Will. Not. Send. Me. To. Hell.
It will not send you to hell, and it will not make you a bad person. Not EVEN if you are a bona fide member of the Real Foodie Community, as indicated by a number of dead giveaways, such as (but not limited to) having multiple strains of bacteria fermenting and culturing and growing on your counters ON PURPOSE, having ever ranted about rancid vegetable oils, the dangers of soy, or the virtues of butter and grass-fed beef, having ever made your own ketchup, mayonnaise, toothpaste, or cheese, etcetera, etcetera.
Not even then.
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Will it give me a belly ache? Probably. And even if it doesn’t give me that, it will absolutely have some kind of negative ramification, health-wise. Small or large – we all know that hot fudge sundaes (unless they’re homemade with wholesome and real ingredients) are not good for you. Sugar is terrible for you, the additives and stabilizers and artificial colourings they add are not exactly nourishing, and things like fast food sundaes, burgers, fries, etcetera, are all designed to artificially put your taste buds on hyperdrive so that your brain becomes addicted and desires more of a “hit” again and again. Plus, the rise of sugar and processed and fast food junk has been directly linked to the diabetes and heart disease pandemics in our society.
So there’s that.
Here’s the thing: most people know this as a Universal Truth in our world. As much as I wish we lived in a parallel universe in which hot fudge sundaes were good for you, we sadly do not. So we choose to indulge once in a while, and we enjoy that indulgence to every last drop, licking out the container and the spoon until all we taste is BPA-laden plastic. Yum.
Maybe you choose to indulge in total junk once in a while. Like McDonald’s. Or maybe your version of indulgence is actually something far more tame, but equally as exciting in your world, like homemade ice cream made with sugar that you don’t otherwise consume.
Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t.
Either way, it does not define you as a person. It does not define your character, or your worth. There is – may I say it? – more to life than healthy eating. There is, in fact, more to life than being militant about every morsel that passes your lips.
Food is NOT the only source of health and wellness in our lives. Stress and mental wellness plays a huge role in our physical health, and guess what can cause a whole ton and a half of stress in your life?
FOOD, that’s what! As the kids are saying these days: Oh snap.
Allergies, food sensitivities, food-related health conditions – those are all reasons to be miltant about food. Others of us? Might be able to chill the heck out just a little, lest we find ourselves shunning anything within a ten-mile radius of every hint of preservatives, stabilizers, pesticides, hormones and growth hormones, food dyes, nightshades, salicylates, oxylates, phytic acid, fructose and glucose, grains, soy and sugar, heavy metals, mercury, and candida, conventional dairy, gluten, (and the list goes on) and subsisting solely on homegrown kale and flaxseeds. Blech!
Breaking news! Food is about more than just physical health!
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Food and community have been intertwined themes since the beginning. Jesus ate in community throughout scripture. Love and miracles and all manner of teaching was done over food, in the midst of eating, savouring, and enjoying good bread and wine and meat and fish and fruit. It is the defining basis of societal interaction and it has been the ultimate universal human experience since the beginning of creation.
The thing about elevating the importance of food above community is that you start missing out. You can miss out on community and social interaction; you miss out on real relationship – or worse – you can harm relationships. No one wants to be the host that works tirelessly on a meal for guests only to have said guests awkwardly turn up their noses at your offering because it’s not up to their personal standards for nutrition. No one wants to be with the friend who’s constantly harping on the disgustingness of that pesticide-laden strawberry that you are eating or the inevitable diabetes and heart disease from your choice to drink a soda (or the cancer from the aspartame in the diet stuff – take your pick).
I’ve been surfing along in this real food, healthy living world for five years now, and one of the biggest takeaways to all of the reading I’ve done is inevitably a ridiculous, staggering amount of guilt. I should feel guilty for eating that McDonald’s sundae, even if it doesn’t make me feel sick, because have you SEEN those ingredients? Blech! (<– not denying it).
Friends, can I just say something? I have enough guilt in my life. Yep, I’m actually good. Not currently looking for any more.
I already struggle with feeling guilty about how caught up on housework I am, how much time I spend watching TV with hubs on the couch after the kids are in bed, how much more “with it” the other moms all seem to be, even though it’s probably actually a made-up conglomeration of eight of my friends into one fictional person that actually has her fictional shizz all together.
I DO NOT NEED ANY MORE GUILT, and the next time my brain tries to sneak some in when I’ve *gasp* had rice with my dinner while I’m trying to cut back on grains, or had creme brulee on my wedding anniversary dinner date, or heck, choked down a slice of take-out pizza when life got overwhelming and I just couldn’t make dinner happen without losing my Ever Loving Mind, when I’m at a church potluck (Oh mercy, I do love me a church potluck!) and I fill my plate with potato salad and hamburger casserole, non-organic carrot sticks, coleslaw, baked beans and lentils and meatballs all carefully made with canned soup and store-bought salad dressings and CAFO meat in a little old lady’s kitchen with more love and care than you can possible even imagine…
Yes, oh yes, the next time my brain starts up that red alert of GUILT and SHAME in those instances, let me tell you what I’m gonna do:
I’m gonna own it. I’m gonna own my nutritional decisions and I’m gonna learn from them. I’m gonna pick one new strategy for nourishing my family better, and I’m gonna set it in place. Meal planning, trying a new recipe for a homemade staple item, setting aside a day for making some freezer meals (for those days), crockpotting. Whatever, dude. I’m gonna try to choose the least-processed looking thing at the potluck. Maybe a small bit of casserole with a heaping portion of green salad and a store-bought meatball or two for indulgence-sake. I might even have dessert. Then I’m gonna let it go.
Just gonna let it go, baby. I’ve often heard it said that stress can takes years off your life. Just let it go.
Image by Katherine Lim via Flickr CC
I can go home and be extra careful for a day or two to balance things out. We can have homemade sauerkraut for some gut-loving probiotics, homemade bone broth soup with organic, grass-fed beef, and heaps of fresh veggies on the side. I can make bacon and eggs, homemade yogurt, and homemade mayonnaise with free-range chickens from a local farmer.
I can live by the 80-20 rule where I attempt excellence in 80% of our diet so that I can relax and not stress about the remaining 20% of wiggle room for times when I choose to eat ice cream. Or s’mores once a year while camping. Or Little Old Church Lady’s potluck casserole.
This may be new to some of you, but we CAN acknowledge that certain things are healthier than others without attaching shame and guilt to them. It’s true, honest.
I OWN my choices and I make those choices based on the best knowledge I have of what I need to be a healthy, functioning, wife and mama to my precious family, and if that includes tipping the scales a little with bacon and eggs for dinner (gasp! no vegetables?! …or *gasp* take-out!?) in favour of reducing some of my stress so that I stop grumping at my kids and husband so much, so that I can catch up on laundry, or so that I can just sit and mentally regroup with a cup of tea instead of cooking for two hours this afternoon, then SO BE IT.
Instead of allowing my poor choices to drown me in guilt I will allow them to spur me on to action. It’s a fine balance, really. I want to give myself grace, but not use that grace as an excuse to spiral down into total junk that is going to make us all feel sick.
It’s right to be concerned about the food you eat. It’s right to be concerned about health and how your diet nourishes (or doesn’t) the bodies of your beautiful family. It is certainly wise to think about such things, to learn and grow and challenge your mind with new information, to break out of unhealthy ruts and burst into new healthy habits. It is admirable to try new things and to make serious effort to nourish your family through a real, whole foods diet, however stringently you choose to do so.
YES! Let’s do it! But, friends, let’s not elevate food to a level at which it does not belong. Healthy eating does not make you a better person, just as junk doesn’t make you a bad one.
Food is not a moral issue – let’s not allow it to act as one.
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