Over at the food blog, in the bacon and potato soup entry, a reader asks me to share recipes that won’t make her feel guilty. Here’s a screenshot with my response.
It behooves me why there is so much guilt attached to eating these days. People feel guilty when they eat more than they think they should, they feel guilty when they eat rich food, they feel guilty when they can’t finish the food on their plates. Guilt, in food writing, is even used to connote something that is wickedly good and there is a suggestion that it ought to be eaten furtively. Like guilty desserts.
Of course, guilty eating these days has more to do with food politics and health hypes than anything else. Eating too much meat is bad because high meat consumption means high carbon footprint. Eating too much fat can clog your heart. Eating too much carbs means increased sugar production in the body — and I say tell that to the Italians whose Mediterranean diet is fashionable these days. So, people go vegetarian or even vegan. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s organic and non-organic vegetables and the arguments multiply. Non-organic vegetable growing is not ecologically responsible so we should only buy organic vegetables. But they’re expensive. What will the poor eat?
In other words, guilty eating has a lot to do with violating rules of personal food politics as well as violating rules of modern health which, curiously, change so often depending on which sector of the food industry has currently more money to burn on propaganda and marketing.
But, beyond food politics and health hypes, the guilt associated with food goes deeper.
First of all, food is a necessity. Without food, man cannot live. I don’t know what’s to feel guilty about that — should we feel guilty about being alive and wanting to stay alive at all? Second, eating rich food is an option. A person can choose to simply boil leaves and subsist on it. Personally, I don’t see why we have to live like we’re still in the midst of the pre-historic era. The onset of civilization and the evolution of culture have handed us a lot of things to enrich our experiences and our lives, including well-cooked and perfectly seasoned food — and I don’t see why they should be a source of guilt.
Third, and this is something a lot of parents berate their kids with, why do we try to finish the food on our plates, even when we are already full, because we should feel guilty about people in other parts of the world don’t have anything to eat at all? I’m sure you’ve heard it in one form or another, “Don’t waste food, you should be ashamed, there are people who have nothing to eat at all.”
Let’s dissect that from different angles. First, is there a logical connection? Is the food on your plate a necessary consequence of other people having been deprived of food? Well, unless you actually stole your food from another, or unless we argue it from a philosophical perspective and talk along the lines of the butterfly effect, there is really no connection.
Second, if you finish the food on your plate, even when you feel the food doing backflips and about to shoot out of your mouth, will the hungry get fed? And isn’t insisting on eating more than you feel like eating actually encouraging gluttony? The argument is unhealthy on two levels — overeating can make a person physically sick and insisting on overeating out of guilt can lead to an eating disorder. It doesn’t make sense, doesn’t it?
Third, why is there more food on the plate than the eater can actually consume? Did he put it there? In some cultures, meals are served on individual plates. The portions are pre-measured by someone else. In the case of children, their parents put the food on their plates. If the child cannot finish everything on his plate then, is it his fault or the parent’s?
In most of Asia, food is served in a communal platter or bowl and everyone gets only what he feels he wants and can finish. Now then, if a person takes more than he can eat and has leftovers, there’s something wrong. He was probably eating with his eyes, got greedy and took more than he needed.
Wasteful, yes. If there is enough food in the communal platter for a family of six and one of those six takes a portion meant for two or more people then does not finish what he he taken, well, the argument is not really about not wasting food because people in other parts of the world are hungry. Rather, it should be about not wasting food because he deprived other members of his family and wasting food is like telling them that their deprivation is of no importance. Or, it could be about economics and family budget. Wasted food is wasted financial resources. If children keep wasting food, there will be less money for other things that they may want and need — like books, a new pair of soccer or ballet shoes, piano lessons or even family outings.
There are a lot of hungry people in the world but their lack is the result of many different things. Maybe, they live in a place where very little grows. Maybe, the little land they till was forcibly taken by a rich corporation in the name of development and progress. Or, maybe, they are just bums who refuse to work and earn money to buy food, or even produce their own food even when they are able, because they belong to some antimaterialistic counterculture.
Being wasteful is not a good thing. I agree. But if we have to teach our kids not to be wasteful with food, shouldn’t we use the correct logic instead of laying on the guilt?