And while, for some people, such a mundane admission would hardly qualify as news, for me, it is not only significant, but pivotal, cause, even, for celebration. Here's why:
On September 25, 2007, I made a list of the "good" foods, or foods that I gave myself permission to eat, and "bad" foods, or foods that, when restricting, I seldom ate, and that, if I did eat, generally triggered a binge, interestingly enough, on these foods. On the good list were veggies (steamed, of course), turkey, chicken, black beans, wheat bread, mustard, cooking spray, and fish. On the bad list were cheese (with an exclamation point), bacon, sausage, ham, anything creamy, chocolate, especially if it's mixed with butter or flour, baked goods, milky stuff (what does that even mean?), mayonnaise, peanut butter, jelly, sugar, french fries anything fried, ice cream, dressings, cookies, cakes, brownies, pies (I could've sworn I'd already covered baked goods), potatoes, pasta, pizza.
Fun, huh? On April 17, 2009, not quite two years later, that list of "bad" foods had expanded to include not only the aforementioned ingredients, but also chips, breakfast cereal, granola, candy, nuts, onion rings, rice, breakfast pastries, eggs, oil, creamer, white sauce, butter, syrups and chutneys, beef, pork, and protein bars.
I'm not sure how this happened, how this list materialized and eventually came to determine not only my food choices but also my goodness and worth as a human being. Some of it, I think, was environmental. From the grocery store aisles to the lunch room table to the pantry at home, at any given time I could plainly see that fats were bad, carbohydrates were, in fact, the devil, and calories were to be avoided at all costs. And so, in an effort to conform and succeed, I followed suit. Except whereas some people rotate their dieting methods - tallying their proteins and carbohydrates one season and counting calories the next - I simply accumulated them, until finally, I was eating low-fat, low-calorie, and low-carb. Think coffee by the pot-fulls, steamed vegetables, hummus, and the occasional apple. For about 4 years, I was gassy as all get out.
But more of it, I am certain, was emotional. Being an over-achiever accustomed to and quite fond of external affirmation, it was simply easier to find that affirmation in an external gauge by which I could measure my goodness than it was to have faith in my own intrinsic, abiding goodness. I get an A on a paper; I am good. I run 3 miles at a continuous pace; I am good. I eat under X number of calories in a day; I am good. I respond to my body's exhaustion and seemingly expressed needs and rest, and eat? I am bad bad bad. See how easy? Much more nuanced is the understanding that God loves me, and that because I was created by God and simply because I was created by God I am valuable. Precious, even. For that challenges not only our cultural systematization of action-based merit and reward, but also our own inclinations towards self-deprecation and -abasement. In this world, it is simply impossible to believe that our goodness, our morality, and our most basic value is unearned.
For this reason, I think, food is often connected to morality. Check out this ad, for example, for Pure Protein nutritional supplements.
It is hard to misread the message of this ad: If you eat a "Pure Protein" bar, you are angelic. You wear pink and think happy, feminine, thin-person thoughts. If you eat chocolate cake, however. You are devilish. Maybe you're thin right now, for the sake of this advertisement in which we would hate to have anyone over a size-skinny even associated with our product, but just you wait. Soon, not only will you be bad, but you'll be fat, to boot.
And then there are the all too prevalent Lenten "sacrifices." In the Christian tradition, Lent is the period leading up to Easter during which a believer is to prepare him or herself through prayer, penitence, generosity, and self-evaluation for the annual commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection. In the American Christian tradition, however, (or maybe the upper-middle class white American female Religion of Thinness tradition), Lent is the period during which one can legitimately diet without calling it such. It is, instead, a "sacrifice." How good and noble we feel when we "give up" something so common, something that we depend on so. And maybe, we think, we'll even lose a few pounds! In my own social circles, I know people who have given up meat, chocolate, sugar and dessert in general, alcohol, and, you guessed it, carbs. "Low-carb for Lent," she called it. Jesus must be so pleased.
I'm becoming increasingly annoyed by descriptions of food as "good" and "bad." When someone says, "I was good," I often ask what that means, because my definition of good is not necessarily yours. For some women who struggle with eating disorders, restriction is good. Not for me.
Healthy, unhealthy. What do they mean? As soon as there's a good, there's a bad, and that sets us up for the moralization of food. While I'm not suggesting everyone eat fried food at every meal, food choices should reflect the variety of our cravings.
There is no good or bad, just food. Dichotomizing nutrition can lead to disordered eating. In fact, one food choice has no value over another. All foods are equal. How about that? Let's end our food discrimination, because as everyone knows, choosing one group over another...is so 20th century.
So you see? It is a big deal. The inclusion of all kinds of foods into one's diet is significant. And the recognition that food can be many things - nourishing, tasty, energizing, an expression of hospitality, and comforting among them - but is never in and of itself moral is, in fact, worth celebrating.
These days, one of my favorite sandwiches is a BLT. That includes lettuce and tomato, yes, but it also includes hearty helpings of bacon and mayonnaise, all of which are piled atop two big, buttered slices of bread. (So I ask for whole wheat. Give me some credit.)
I can't say part of me doesn't consider the possibility that I'm being "bad," but I can promise you that there is another part of me that counters. It's not bad, it's delicious. And I am good.