The Perfect Eater Problem

What you put on your plate has become a political statement. And that's a lot of responsibility

Katie McLaughlin, the awesome blogger behind Health For the Whole Self has a fascinating post up about why she's not a vegetarian anymore. She writes: 

"If you had asked me why I was a vegetarian in the midst of my meatless experience, I would have looked you straight in the eye and rattled off a bunch of facts about how many pounds of grain it takes to feed a human versus a cow for slaughter. [...] Today I will tell you that I was secretly hoping to lose weight by limiting my food choices for supposedly moral reasons." 

Light bulb moment.

Of course there are lots of vegetarians who have a perfectly healthy relationship with food and just feel the no-meat thing in every fiber of their being. But when you stop to think about how many of us struggle to have a healthy relationship with food in general, the odds are good that a significant number of said strugglers are going to also be vegetarian. Or vegan. Or a raw foodie. You get the idea.

And I think those odds have recently gone up.

Because there's a lot of pressure to eat perfectly right now. It's not just about calories and carbs and the crazy diet talk that we deal with every day on this  blog. It's also about avoiding factory farms and growth hormones and choosing organic produce and food grown by local farmers. The good food/bad food dichotomy is increasingly complex and increasingly steeped in politics and morality. That's a lot to contend with when you're just trying to get dinner on the table.

And because we're confused and overwhelmed from trying to keep all the latest "perfect eater" food rules straight, we'll often make food choices based on whether something carries the aura of goodness -- what food marketers call the "health halo." Cornell researcher Brian Wansink just published a study showing that we're more likely to buy even unhealthy fare like potato chips if they're labeled "organic." 

Meanwhile, we're still contending with those same old "lose weight, feel better" messages. Which is where things start to get murky. Am I growing my own vegetables this year because it's good for the planet, or because I'm hoping that having more leafy greens on hand will help me shed those last 10 pounds? The answer is both and the ratio varies constantly.

And saving the planet is great. So is fitting into your pants. But all too often, I encounter women using the health halo to justify some pretty extreme food restrictions. Like banning dairy/processed foods/non-organic produce -- the list goes on.

Those are all noble decisions and if more people got on board, we really would make a difference in the health of our planet and the people who live on it. But I can't help feeling that the real solutions to these problems are a lot bigger-picture than what you order for lunch. And when we try to solve global problems on such a micro level, we're setting ourselves up for one heck of a guilt trip.

And if you're struggling to make peace with your body and the foods you eat, more guilt is probably the last thing you need.

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