(I’m really sorry that this is only my second post this year – I promise I haven’t abandoned the blog totally, just that I’m basically in finals mode now, so I don’t expect to get back to any sort of regular posting until summer. TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses food, food-policing and disordered eating.)
Food is hard.
Considering that it’s literally necessary for survival, food is really, really hard. For many of us, for different reasons, in different ways. To top it off, food and diet seems to come with a particular stigma, with individual morality attached to it: the idea that if you don’t eat this, if you don’t cut out that, if you don’t have a perfectly balanced/perfectly ethical/perfectly “normal” diet, you’re a bad person. In that sort of atmosphere, we can’t talk about it – and if we can’t talk about it, we can’t ask for help or share advice about the subsection of these varied issues which can be resolved, so we’re less likely to ever be able to meet whichever standards are being asked of us. Food-policing helps no-one.
When people think of food-policing they tend to think of dieting, fatphobia, forcing people (especially, but not exclusively, women) into starving themselves to meet impossible beauty standards and so on; sadly, this remains a huge issue. But food-policing has many other faces. You may have noticed that I included “perfectly ethical” above, and – in the interests of honesty – this blog post is inspired by a thread in which people were claiming veganism is necessary for feminism and dismissing all the various obstacles to veganism that were brought up, so that’s the particular strand of “if you don’t do XYZ with your diet then you’re a bad person” I had in mind with this post. Having said that, cutting meat and/or animal products out of your diet is also subject to pretty relentless food-policing, whether by outright mockery or concern trolling and telling vegetarians/vegans that they can’t possibly be healthy when they know they are. People with certain food allergies or intolerances are routinely mocked for those too, even though they have absolutely zero choice in the matter.
So, before you judge, you may want to consider the following:
- Class is a thing. Poverty is a thing. Not everyone can afford to implement whatever you’re advocating. If something has saved you money personally, that’s great, but options that are cheaper long-term often require higher costs initially, which can mean it’s not an option at all.
- Whilst money has a big part to play itself, financial difficulty brings other difficulties too. After long working days, many don’t have the time or energy to cook in a certain way, or teach their children to do so. Poverty can also be linked to mental health problems, which make food harder in their own right.
- Disability is a thing – or rather, it can be many things. Some people need to eat certain things. Some people cannot eat certain things – at least not without really messing up their health – and this often eliminates lots of food from the options pool from the start. Adding additional restrictions on top of that can be expensive at best and downright dangerous at worst.
- It isn’t always just about the actual eating of the food – planning, buying, and preparing food requires spoons and energy and executive function and not everyone can take those things for granted. Personally, it’s this stage which is often the giant hurdle for me. At the moment I rely quite heavily on the fact that my university offers meals during the week, and things really went a bit pear-shaped for a while on my year abroad, which also scares me for the future. And again, the constant feeling of being judged that comes with food adds so much to that – the more I’m worrying about what other people in the kitchen will think if I make a “silly” mistake, the less likely I am to make it into the kitchen at all, which means I’m even less confident about it, and so on.
- I feel like this shouldn’t need saying, but eating disorders are a thing, and constant bombardment with moral judgments about what you as an individual should and shouldn’t eat can be particularly damaging for those affected.
- If you fit into one of the above categories and you’ve made it work (or know someone who is/has), that’s fantastic, but remember you (or they) are not everyone. Even the same disability can affect different people very differently – autism is just one example of that. My main issue here is executive function and anxiety as mentioned above; for others like me, the main issue here is sensory overload, with some tastes and textures being physically painful; for others still, the main issue might be diverging from a long-established, safe routine.
- “I can’t” does not always mean “I can’t yet“. For example, even if I did want to cure my autism (which I don’t) it wouldn’t be possible to do so. The idea that if we’re not where you want us to be with food then we’re just not there yet is incredibly damaging. As mentioned above, sometimes food-policing can start from a place of good, and of course increasing accessibility is generally better than assuming accessibility cannot be achieved (although it’s funny how this is only considered when accessibility means doing what abled people want), but no amount of shouting at people because something may be possible for them in future does anything to actually help them do it.
- Any sort of rhetoric revolving around ” well, if you genuinely really can’t…” plays right into the hands of an overarching ableist society in which disabled people are constantly being told we’re not disabled enough for accomodations. Too often, nobody is considered genuine in this narrative. Given this context, I imagine very few disabled people would respond by thinking “Oh, that includes me” even if you intend to include them – it’s more likely that, like me, they’ll think “well maybe if I ~just tried harder~…”
- Don’t assume what people are or are not dealing with. Evidently, there’s a huge stigma around food, and this means the people you’re stepping over are less likely to speak out about it at all, never mind openly identify as one of the people you’re stepping over. In the case of disability, not everyone with a relevant disability will even know they have it (for instance, autism is hugely underdiagnosed in adults, people of colour, and women).
- Unless you’re a doctor, don’t assume you know what’s healthy for a person better than they do. Contrary to popular belief, weight isn’t always an accurate indicator of health at all. And yes, vegetarians/vegans who are able to access sufficient non-animal sources of nutrients can and do live healthy and active lives, sometimes more so than some omnivores. Mockery out of ~concern~ is still mockery.
- “But some people do use their disability as an excuse-“ NOPE. Stop. This is often just another version of “just try harder” in practice. This isn’t just fun for us, and it definitely isn’t convenient to have to carefully navigate that thing that’s literally necessary to survive and face everyone else’s scrutiny on top of that. Stop.
Food is necessary. Yet, food is hard. Think before you make it harder.