Food is one of the most prominent components of cultural heritage and identity. Around the world food is often used to connect, to tell stories, to express creativity, to celebrate, to grieve, to heal. It is actually my favorite way of exploring different cultures than my own. In American we have tv channels, social media accounts, websites, aisles of books, festivals, holidays, and occupations (dietitians, chefs, culinary historians, food safety inspectors, and food/diet archaeologists, amongst others) centered around food. American cuisine is also incredibly diverse - we have many different ethnic and regional variations - Texmex, Southwestern, Mexican, Native American, Creole, Cajun, BBQ, Pennsylvania Dutch, Southern, Midwestern, Californian, Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, Floribbean, New England. One could successfully argue that each state has its own style of cuisine and that almost every region of the world is represented in larger metropolitan cities. Despite the vastness of America’s food culture, there appears to be a single predominant unhealthy narrative around food consumption, propagated by television and social media.
Society is constantly hunting down the “perfect” one-size-fits-all diet that will provide health, pleasure, prosperity and assist us in maintaining the “ideal” body. Fad diets, despite the phrase feeling outdated, are still alive and well in the form of keto, vegan, paleo, cabbage soup, carnivore, atkins, master cleanse, gluten free, low fat, alkaline, south beach… the list goes on. We also have specific food groups singled out and attacked - dairy, meat, fats and oils, sugar, carbohydrates and grains. @alexfoodfreedom has a great thought-provoking post about how the health food trends follow (what I believe to be) a California diet and excludes non-western diets and foods, thus perpetuating the westernization of the world. I also believe Instagram has created a platform for health food trends to become lifestyle trends only attainable by individuals belonging to a higher socio-economic status.
In addition, we have this terrible habit of equating our worth with our food intake. If we eat “good” food then we are “good” or “healthy”. If we eat “bad” food then we are “bad” or “weak”. How many of you have felt this way? I certainly have! We don’t dare post pictures of “junk” food on social media for fear of judgment. We deprive and restrict ourselves and when we inevitably can’t maintain this unhealthy way of eating, we binge. This binging leads to guilt or shame, which may lead to further binging or further restricting and depriving as punishment, and the cycle continues. I recently saw a great another post on Instagram by @alexfoodfreedom that states, “obsessive, compensatory exercise has become a form of socially encouraged purging” and I couldn't agree more (go check out her page for more truth bombs about food and diet). Somehow, society has covertly conditioned us to believe that we have to earn pleasure, as if we are not worthy enough. Where could this message have originated? Therapists, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists understand that cultural and ethnic values are passed down multi-generationally and influence modern family and social systems. Therefore, it may not be too far out there to wonder if society’s excessive guilt could date back to America’s puritan settlers. These external messages from society, coupled with your family’s own covertly or overtly communicated attitudes, values and rules about food can really perpetuate unhealthy and even disordered patterns of eating.
PSA: As individuals we may feel our voices are too small and won't be heard. Please remember that our words and actions shape future generations to come. You do not have to subscribe to familial messages or societal expectations that do not benefit you, but unlearning these messages can easier said than done. What messages about food, diet, and self-worth do YOU want to live by and communicate to children and future generations?