Food has no morality. No soul. No divine status. And it can’t convey any morality.
There are no holy avocados or unholy fries. Just a plethora of phrases surrounding food that are kind of ridiculous. You know what I’m talking about – the lists of “good” food and “clean” food and their corresponding lists of “bad” food and the way we absorb and regurgitate this lexicon of loserdom on less-than-healthy food choices.
But here’s the unvarnished truth: eating some piece of food doesn’t make you “good” or “bad.” It’s not like a simple transfer of a mark. You don’t incur some stain upon your soul because you ate a donut or a Big Mac or sugar. Nor do you gain divine powers when you abstain. You’re not a better person because you never ate greasy fried chicken from a Southern gas station. (And I’m here to tell you, you missed out. Plain and simple.)
Alcohol sits in this same boat. You’re not a better person because you don’t drink.
You’re still just a person, struggling to get through the world like the rest of us. And you’re not mentally stronger than anyone else because you only drank one glass of wine this week and they drank four. That’s not how mental strength is measured, in wine glass stems. You might be physically stronger when you eat and drink nutrients that support your body and your goals. You might feel better. But that’s not the same as being mentally stronger.
Some folks drink. Some folks don’t.
I used to be one of the drinkers. I loved a cold beer or a glass of bourbon, but when I realized how hard alcohol was on my digestive system, I gave it up without much of a thought. Instantly gone on a September afternoon, along with beef and Brussel sprouts and raw broccoli. I didn’t become a better or stronger person in that moment. The past six months of my life without alcohol didn’t hold any new revelations or manifest any surprising state of glory. (Although it did lead me to check out the weed stores in my town. Don’t judge. The barbell only goes so far.)
So I’m a bit mystified when I hear all the moralistic talk that goes on in our society about food and alcohol – and our willingness to indulge in this odd vocabulary of judgment, even on ourselves.
- “I was bad and ate some chocolate.”
- “I was good today. Ate really clean.”
When we use these characterizations repeatedly, what kind of message are we sending to our own brains about ourselves? And what message are we sending to our kids? Do we really want to hand down these messed-up ideas about food along with this society of racism and wealth obsession that we’ve benignly nurtured over these years?
If goodness was as easy as choking down nutritious food, I suppose we’d have a lot more good people in the world. But it’s not. Being a good person is hard … and it’s so much harder (and so much more worthwhile) than putting a fork to some cauliflower. I’d even venture to say that there are likely quite a few folks right now doing good things while eating in a way that the Food Police would call bad. And I know there are bad folks with dirty hands out there eating “clean” food.
Let’s stop being willing participants in the Food Morality Olympics.
It’s not helping and it’s a bit lazy. Move beyond “good” “bad” and “clean” – find new words to convey how you feel about your nutrition choices. Aim for greater accuracy. Instead of saying “I was bad and ate some chocolate”, how about opting for truthful? “I was sad and ate some chocolate.” Who hasn’t been sad and eaten chocolate? They should sell chocolate and Kleenex as a combo. “I’ll take the #2 Broken Hearts combo, with a side of gelato for later.”
And let’s be kind to other folks. You don’t know what’s going on in your neighbor’s life when you see her settle onto her porch at 5pm with her glass of wine. You don’t know how she’s trying to cope with what might very well feel like a shitshow of a life. And she might be looking across the fence at your garage, wondering if that barbell in your hands is as much fun as her glass of wine. (Could work even better but she might not yet have crossed over.)
Give her a wave. Let her raise her glass with a grin. Remember, we’re all in this together.