Food guilt season is upon us!
And that means lots of people fretting about what they’re eating, how much of it they’re eating, and how they will possibly “work it off” after food guilt season is over. This is, paradoxically, a time of plenty when people are supposed to be celebrating with food, and a time when people are supposed to be deeply ashamed of the fact that they eat food, and that it is enjoyable.
Lesley recently reminded readers that cake isn’t evil, and it’s worth another reminder that food itself isn’t naughty. Food isn’t bad. It’s not an “indulgence” you need permission to partake in. It's a biological necessity, okay? Food is life. Y’all are grown folks and you can make your own decisions about what you eat, where you eat it and how much of it you choose to consume.
A lot of judging goes around at holiday tables; nothing really says “spending time with family I love” quite like a raised eyebrow when you decide to take seconds on the candied yams or thirds on the pumpkin pie. Food and fat shaming turn into a tangled mess when you’re with people who might well have contributed to past anxiety, like the family member who loved buying me clothes that were too small “for when you’re pretty again1.”
So it’s worth another round of reminders to fuck the food police, folks. Because they’re going to be out in force this week and in the coming weeks, and you definitely don’t need to sit around and take it.
Food can be awesome stuff. It can be nourishing. It can make you happy. The shared experience of cooking and eating with people you love can be bonding and may be an important part of your time together. Food is good. Many of my fondest personal memories surround eating, cooking and meals; getting doughnuts in the middle of the night in San Francisco, the Great Curry Adventure, the first time I baked bread on my own2.
If eating a particular food item makes you happy, then you should durn well go ahead and eat it. It’s not bad or naughty or wrong. It’s just food, okay? It’s not junky or trashy or out to get you. The poison, the toxicity, the evil, comes from the people around you who feel it’s appropriate to comment on the contents of your plate, or the state of your waistline.
I don’t want to say “If you want a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, go for it!” because that’s not my job; you don’t need my permission to eat. You don’t need anyone’s permission to eat food you love with people you love in quantities you feel comfortable with, whatever those might be. But, seriously? If you want a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, go for it!
You don’t need to feel guilty for what you choose to eat, and you have nothing to make up for, and no reason to apologize. You don’t need to make self-deprecating jokes about how whatever you are eating will go straight to your thighs and you’ll need to spend extra time on the stairmaster to be virtuous again.
You don’t need to titter and say “Well, maybe just a little bit more” when someone offers something you want to eat. Nor do you need to apologize when you don’t really want to eat any of Auntie Susan’s sweet potato casserole because you can’t stand marshmallows; it’s totally fine to say “I’m good, thanks.”
Self-denial isn’t virtue, and neither is self hate. We wrap up so much moral judgment about food and eating and who eats, especially with the scaremongering over the “obesity epidemic” and the headlines that are already starting to pop up about how “holiday overindulgence” is responsible for all the evils of the world. Give yourself a break this season.
We’re being inundated with enough messages about how eating is bad and evil and wrong and shouldn’t be done, how fat people are what is wrong with the United States, how we should all be good and virtuous and deprive ourselves for the holidays so we can feel good about ourselves.
Except that plenty of people are experiencing deprivation for the holidays, and not by choice. Many people are in a state of food insecurity right now and this contradictory messaging about food being evil and needing to rein it in for the holidays is especially galling when your stomach is growling because you’re not getting enough food, or enough of the right kind of food. Too many people are going to be ashamed this season because they can’t put food on the table, or can’t put the food they want on the table.
Sally forth into the holidays with your head held high, my friends, and don’t apologize for a single thing you do or don’t eat. Ever. And yes I will take an extra slice of that pie, if you would be so kind.
1. We don’t talk anymore. I can’t imagine why.
2. Successfully, that is. My first bread experiment turned out to be hard as a rock and just as dense. The second, once I got the hang of yeast, was a delight.