let’s get this straight: food is not dangerous

Years ago, I worked in an office with a woman named Becca who made me feel bad about myself. It wasn’t that she put me down – not at all! – but rather that she was everything I wished I could be. She was strong, and funny, she’d made her way in the world and found her way back home, she didn’t take any guff from anyone, she knew right from wrong. I wanted to grow up to be her.

I was her boss, which was a little strange. We both worked for the local university, in the School of Public Health. I had started as a student and had been promoted when I got my degree. She had joined the team after bouncing around in a few other fields. I supervised around 30 folks (which, in retrospect, is crazy. I was 22 years old! Who was I to supervise anyone?), almost all women, almost all under 20. It goes without saying that disordered eating was the order of the day.

One evening, after someone (probably me? it sounds like something I would do) brought in a tray of brownies, and after several of the ladies-under-20 had made comments along the lines of “Ooooh, get those away, they’re dangerous,” or “What, are you trying to kill me?”, Becca lost it. “OH MY GOD,” she yelled. “For christ’s sake, they’re brownies, not bombs. Let’s get this straight: food is NOT dangerous!”

I’m reminded of this story as I page through a recent book that’s been getting a lot of press, Eat This Not That. Written by two editors from Men’s Health, the book has a simple design: it shows you a meal you might want to eat (say, Cosi’s Signature Salad) and then tells you why you shouldn’t eat it and what you should eat instead (in this case, the Bombay Chicken Salad). Much of what’s in here is interesting (would you have thought that the Blackened Chicken Fiesta Salad from On the Border has twice as many calories as the Chicken Salsa Fresca?). A lot is obvious (shockingly, the deep-fat-friend battered fish from Long John Silver’s has more fat than the baked cod). Some of the comparisons are downright perplexing (they suggest the Oriental Grilled Chicken over the Black Pepper Beef at Manchu Wok – as though a hunger for beef and celery would be satisfied by a meal of chicken and broccoli).

But what kills me is the side commentary. On the page comparing two meals from Applebee’s, the book warns of the “hidden danger” of low-fat chicken quesadillas (“This may seem like a healthy alternative to burgers and fried food, but the collective impact of calories and carbs will do its best to stretch you horizontally.”). In the section on Little Caesar’s, the book calls 2 slices of Hawaiian Pizza – a total of 172 calories – a “guilty pleasure” (to me, it sounds more like “less than half the calories someone needs for lunch”). Best of all, several entries feature a charming image of a bomb with a lit fuse and the label “Weapon of Mass Destruction”. Such “weapons” include a bagel with sausage, egg and cheddar from Au Bon Pain (“Start your morning with this gut bomb and be confined to eating rice cakes the rest of the day.”), the Boston Meatloaf Carver from Boston Market (“…enough salt to preserve a small city.”) and lo mein pork from P.F. Chang’s (“Try the Singapore Street Noodles… [they] stack up well next to this atrocity.”).

It’s enough to drive a woman mad. (Actually, it has driven millions of women mad, this idea that some foods are “good” and others are “bad,” that some are “safe” and others “dangerous”). I kinda feel like ordering up a bunch of “This Promotes Eating Disorders!” stickers from the Renfrew Center and covering the book jacket with them.

So, let’s get this straight: Food is good. It nourishes your body, feeds your soul, powers your life. Some foods make you happy. Some foods turn you on. Dangerous? Not so much.*

(Should I have gotten the book from the library in the first place? No. I didn’t need to open it – the title is pretty damned clear – to know that it promotes disordered eating and has no place in a fat acceptance world. But this is all still new to me, and I thought to myself that maybe the book would help me make a few easy changes – so easy that it wouldn’t really be dieting, just harmless substitution. Well, I was wrong. A diet by any other name is still a diet, and any book that tells its reader what to eat is going to do them more harm than good. Color me embarrassed.)

*Unless, of course, you’re allergic to peanuts or whatever. Don’t mess around with food allergies. They really ARE scary.


10 responses to “let’s get this straight: food is not dangerous

  1. Great post! I think one of the most difficult nuts to crack in this food myth-ridden society is the idea of “good” and “bad” foods, foods you can eat with abandon (mostly of the low-nutrition, green-vegetable variety if it’s natural, and the Splenda-flavored air variety if it’s not), and foods you must feel guilty over eating and restrict, fear, and demonize (anything not of the former category…i.e., most food).

    Most of it is due to the fact that we live in a fundamentally eating-disordered society. You can think of the mentality of most people being that of a lifetime yo-yo dieter — those people who restrict, crave, and regain, and who don’t understand that if they just allowed themselves to eat normally, after the initial regain, they’d *stop gaining weight*. These calories-in-calories-out folks can’t seem to get their heads around the idea that eating until your satiated, and eating what you want, isn’t opening some Pandora’s box of binge-eating disorder.

    Our society just does *not* grasp the concept of normal eating. Kids don’t understand what it is (my DF’s kids dichotomize food in terms of junk food and health food), and it’s in the best interest of the prevailing industry standards not to promote normal eating.

  2. Oh, just a note, hon, I think your first comment is spam. I get a lot of those trackbacks, and they’re automatically generated from spam sites. D’oh! :P

  3. Whoops! Thanks. I got rid of it.

  4. Actually, ladies, after spending some time on anti-fat websites (a masochistic streak I am not particularly proud of) I get the impression that even the so-called ‘good foods’ (green veggies and the like) are not meant to be eaten with abandon. Not by the fatties, that is. You see, one can stay fat even if one eats nothing but fruits and veggies – it’s ‘calories in, calories out’ of course and every leafy green counts! ;op

  5. courtneyryan369

    Thank you for the reminder…so often I still see it as the enemy. Takes a lot of work to get rid of that thought sometimes.

  6. OK, re-reading my previous comment I realized that it could be potentially triggering to some readers or the blog mistress herself… Girl, if you think it should be deleted, I won’t be against it. Sorry!

  7. Bee, you’re fine. I haven’t figured out a comments policy yet, but generally I’m going to be fine with anything that is well-intentioned – which you clearly are.

    (Well-intentioned comments with advice about losing weight will not be approved… I mean “well-intentioned” within a fat acceptance framework.)

  8. Pingback: fat acceptance in “real life” « Fat Girl on a Date

  9. “They’re brownies not bombs” – I want to be in a situation to use that line!

  10. Becca sounds like an amazing person! I love those people.

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