Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fear of food

I was in the food co-op this afternoon, picking up a bunch of spinach, when another shopper spoke to me. She was a young mother, shopping with her preschooler, and she watched me put the spinach in my cart with frank shock. Then she shook her head. "Boy, you're brave," she said.

It took me a minute to understand what she was referring to. Once I got it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Here was fear of food in a different context from the one I'm used to seeing--the kind of fear of food anorexics feel--and it made me think. Our relationship to food is so primal, so necessary for survival, that to be afraid of it seems not just counterintuitive but, also, awful.

If I'm honest, I must admit that I have fears around food, too. I'm guessing many of us do. I spent years being afraid of fat because of the cultural hysteria around overweight. I grew up in the 1960s, eating a lot of packaged, chemically preserved food--Snowballs and Tastykakes, anyone?--and now try to eat organic when I can, partly from fear of what's in our food supply, partly because organic food tastes better, and partly because organic practices are better for the earth and animals.

And I got to wondering just how pathological my food fears are. I'm not afraid of spinach--in fact I cooked it up and ate it for dinner, and it was delicious--but I wouldn't willingly eat a hot dog (red meat, nitrates).

How sad to have fear enter into the essentially joyful relationship we should have with food. I don't make New Year's resolutions, but I think I'll make that a priority on my list this year: to vanquish my own food fears and reestablish a healthier and happier relationship with food in 2007.


Anonymous said...

Such excellent points you make. It's a challenge, though, to "unlearn" all we've learned about food over the past decade.

Do you feel like I do a certain moral underpinning to it all, in our labeling of good and bad foods?

I think sometimes we forget that our bodies are remarkably efficient at using food, and generally very good at getting rid of toxins. My mom grew up on bread made with lard, and I grew up on Twinkies, yet today neither of us suffer from any dietary-related health problems.

Wonderful interview on MPR, the best I've ever heard. If anyone hasn't heard it, you can still find it on iTunes under MPR Midnorning podcasts..HIGHLY recommended..


Harriet said...

I've been thinking about that moral underpinning, as you say, a lot lately. About why it is that some foods are considered good and some bad, and how foods pass back and forth from one category to the other--like eggs, on the "bad" list for so long but now making their way back to neutral if not "good."

We feel virtuous when we eat heart-healthy foods. But that's kind of like a plumber feeling virtuous for keeping the pipes clear. It's sort of shocking to realize that there is nothing intrinsically good about, say, a piece of lean fish; it's just food that helps keep our pipes clear. Why does that make us feel holier than thou? I'm interested in exploring this a little further.

Thanks for the kind words about the MPR interview. The interviewer was really terrific on that show--that makes all the difference.

Anonymous said...

I like the plumber analogy, that's just it. Why? The most direct connection I've seen made between eating and morality was by my vegetarian friends, but I think what we're talking about here is a much deeper and more generalized.

As a recovered anorexic looking at my past I recall having no particular interest in fashion, modeling or beauty. I do however recall numerous examples of my religion (Catholicism) presenting fasting and hunger as virtuous, as a means for becoming closer to God. The strength and clarity of these ideas (even today, though I left the Church years ago) suggests to me that they had some influence on my general mindset, and were somehow part of the "perfect storm".

In no way am I looking to place blame, this is just about gaining understanding. I found this article interesting.

Thanks for your writing and speaking on this issue, I would give anything to spare a young woman today from going through what I did..