I listened to a really interesting podcast recently called “How We Learn to Eat” on NPR. It was recommended to me by a friend because the main topic of conversation is how our children learn to eat (fun fact: what you eat during pregnancy and while breastfeeding helps your baby’s taste buds get ready to eat those same foods later in life).
Toward the end of the podcast, the guest speaker discussed how she raises her teenage daughter to think about food. As someone who has suffered with borderline eating disorders and had a sister with an eating disorder, the guest speaker was rightfully concerned with how she should approach this sensitive topic when raising her children. As someone who has also had a disordered relationship with food at times, I was intrigued. She said that she tells her daughter in all aspects of life that “nothing is perfect” and hopes that her daughter will also translate that into her diet and self-confidence. She then related this concept of the absence of perfection to the recent fad of “clean eating,” indicating that even the phrase itself lends to an unhealthy focus on perfect eating.
Those words struck a cord with me, as I have tended to use the phrase “clean eating” to describe the foods I strive to consume. I never really thought about what exactly those words imply. They imply perfection – as if anything besides these “clean” foods are dirty. Even the diet that I’m following for P90X – “100 Days of Real Food” implies that anything that isn’t on the author’s list of foods isn’t REAL and therefore is wrong. Perfection in anything is unachievable, and I think it’s important to recognize that perfection in our food choices is literally impossible. There is no perfect diet – even if you were to follow the “100 Days of Real Food” without exception, you’ll find another person who thinks your diet is wrong because it contains gluten, meat, or dairy, and by their standards, those foods are “bad.”
I used to use the term vegan or vegetarian to describe my diet but I’ve tried to limit it. I don’t want titles anymore – I try to explain that I eat “on a spectrum.” I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I enjoy a good burger sometimes. I don’t eat dessert every night (anymore), but I ate Girl Scout cookies last night. I don’t buy milk but I’ll drink a latte at a coffee shop. There are no off limits foods. We aren’t perfect and when we eat something that has more than one ingredient, it’s not “dirty.” It’s food.
I think we all strive to eat more healthfully and it’s easier to wrap our minds around certain titles – vegan, clean, paleo, gluten-free…. but are these titles creating more issues than they are solving? (Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people are vegan for moral reasons or gluten free for serious health reasons and I respect that those titles are necessary). I don’t know the answer to all the questions I’ve posed here but sometimes it’s important to take a step back and ask these questions. And to remember that in the end, food serves so many roles – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and we have no right to say that any one food is “good” or “bad” (Sorry Tony Horton, sometimes french fries ARE good!).
Do you put a title on your dietary preferences? Do you think we should call certain foods good or bad?