Monday, 17 March 2008

so bad

Sophie and I stroll down to the canteen, mostly to take a few minutes away from our desks. I'm not hungry, so I'm not really bothered, but I think some water and a hot chocolate would be nice.

Sophie, however, starts eyeing up the pastries.

"It's still warm!" she bemoans. "But I've been so bad this weekend…"

I shrug, because I can't encourage her to have the pastry without making her mad at me, and I won't encourage her not to have it, because I don't see why she shouldn't, if she's hungry. To be sure, I've no idea if she's hungry or not. But I'm going off my own reactions, and I'm not hungry and have no desire for pastry. Oh, I could eat it – hunger and eating are not necessarily part of the same event for me – but at the moment, I don't really care for it. I want my hot chocolate, and that'll do me.

But Sophie is in a lather of guilt, simply because she wants the pastry, and presumably because she ate on the weekend.

"I can't be bad," she concludes, and buys some sparkling water.

This is becoming difficult. Sophie and rarely have a conversation in which she doesn't berate herself or moralise about the relative goodness or badness of food. I've never seen her eat anything that I'd even call unhealthy, let alone "bad". She's not skinny, being about a UK size 18, but she looks great, and she gets a ridiculous amount of exercise.

I just resent the moralisation of food. It's just food. Unless Sophie ripped that pastry out of the hands of a starving child, it doesn't have a moral value. It may be higher in fat and sugar than, say, an apple, but that doesn't make it bad. It's flour and water and butter and sugar and some fruit and almonds. Wherein lies the morality? Obviously, I am aware that there are morally problematic sources of food. That isn't the point here. Sophie isn't denying herself a pastry because the flour was ground by three year old slaves, she's denying herself a pastry because she feels that eating it is in and of itself a "bad" act.

Furthermore, you have to wonder, why is it always food we crave that is considered "bad"? Is it just that desire for something delicious or luxurious is morally problematic? Oh, I know there's this assumption that certain foods will make you fatter, and that, again, is assumed to be "bad". But again, is being fat supposed to be bad because it looks like you've been enjoying yourself too much?

Hell if I know. As I've mentioned previously, I'm not fat because I've enjoyed myself. I'm curvy genetically, and I'm as fat as I am because of a disorder which is so full of self-loathing that the notion of enjoying food has, at times, seemed as ridiculous as turning the act of eating itself into an ethical minefield. So it seems to me that enjoyment in food is something to be achieved, not rejected.

I don't believe that food is good or bad. Some food may have more nutritional value, but that's not the whole story. Health doesn't just apply to a body, and a person whose mind is entirely preoccupied on the morality of food, or their own worthiness as a human being because of the fuel they've consumed on a particular day is not a healthy person. I know this, because I'm not one.

Learning to be is going to mean unlearning everything I've ever thought about food or health.

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