Feminist Aspie

Think Before You Food-Police

on March 3, 2016

(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.


11 responses to “Think Before You Food-Police

  1. willaful says:

    This was important for me to read… food is *so* hard for me, but I still food police my son. 😦

  2. WOW! This is an important post on something I hadn’t really considered as – how to put this – resolvable. I’m thinking of hearing a mother in the grocery store smugly tell her child “Oh we don’t eat that, that’s not organic” – and feeling bad because there I was with my children and I can’t afford organic. I’m thinking of being teased my WHOLE LIFE for being vegetarian. I am thinking of my son whose neurology makes eating a lot of things impossible, and how much pushback we have both gotten on that….
    Great and comprehensive post – thank you so much.
    Will be around for next post – whenever!

  3. MAQQI Âû says:

    Good stuff. Thanks.
    Both I and my younger daughter eat (totally different) restricted diets for a mix of sensory and intolerance reasons and boy do we know what it is like to have people almost demand that you eat other stuff. Truth is, eating this way makes us healthy. Eating other stuff makes us unwell. End of story.
    Food policing is often not really about you, though, it is about the policer and their perception of *their* relationship to societal norms. If societal norms are important to you, you will police deviance in the interest of rebalancing towards norms that make *you* comfortable. The same can be said often for people who pursue dietary trends – harassing or demeaning people who don’t or won’t or can’t (it amounts to the same thing) align with your views is more about defining the us-them borderline, which is again only about *their* self- or group-identification.
    So what does that mean? It means people will continue to act this way because that is how humans just are… but they are doing it for *them* not for *you*, no matter how strongly their language is directed at you. Stay strong. Listen to your body. Give it what food is suitable for what it needs to your best ability. The rest is background noise. No, its not easy, and yes, they should just shaddap.
    Hopefully your piece above will go a little way towards lowering that background noise.

  4. Laura says:

    Funny thing, I read your screen name as Feminist As Pie! Even caffeine can’t help my sluggish brain sometimes. Anyway, everything you said here about food is true. I’ve been on both sides of this, as the policee and the Food Cop, and finally I’ve learned to put a sock in it around my husband and son. Food policing doesn’t help anybody, but it can ruin relationships. Enjoying food is a fundamental right; whether or not you enjoy pie, I hope you can enjoy the food of your choice in peace and safety.

    • willaful says:

      Feminist As Pie! I love it!

      It was timely that this response showed up today, because I’ve been going through a process of deciding to stop food policing *myself* and yesterday I made a huge step and deleted all my food-control related items from habitica (which is how I keep track of my to dos.) So it was good to be reminded of this article. I think a lot of my crappy mental health over the last 5 years or so may be do to my personal food policing.

    • Haha, I’ve always wondered if people read “as pie”!! Thanks 🙂

  5. […] Think Before You Food-Police – An issue that is perhaps particularly important now that the January diet industry push is approaching, but remember that food-policing goes far beyond the diet industry and weight-policing. Just don’t shame people for keeping themselves alive with sustenance, okay? […]

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