Food is simply complicated, no need to sugar-coat it. There are no obviously or purely good choices. But strangely, there’s still a lot of judgement, blame and entitlement in conversations about food.
These often turn into heated but unconstructive discussions, or even full-blown ‘food fights’. People calling each other names, everyone blaming everyone else for being wrong, unfair, irresponsible.
But this is highly counter-productive. Wanting to be right is holding us back, it’s slowing us down from imagining our way out of unsustainability, and toward eating well. The question is: how can we talk about food in a way that is actually constructive?
I’m going to prepare you for taking part in the food debate. And I’ll be sharing with you my secret weapon, so you can stand your ground in the food arena.
When you start to think about good food, you’ll realise it’s not a straightforward affair. What is good in one way, can be bad in another. Quinoa might be healthy, but its production exploitative. Almond milk might be animal friendly, but water intensive. Organic fruit might be sustainably grown, but expensive.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make food choices that are all-round good and justifiable. That is why I personally find it very hard to talk about food. Even with myself. As I pace up and down supermarket isles, the conversation inside my head goes a bit like this:
These bananas look suspiciously straight... ‘Unnatural’ even! Are genetic modified products bad for your health? And what about these free- range eggs: can I be certain that the chickens didn’t suffer unacceptably? Look, organic vegetables! Wow, that’s expensive... And who’s to say the farm workers harvesting them were treated fairly? Screw this, I’m getting a microwave meal. Wait, what about E-numbers?
Aargh! This loop-de-loop is turning me into a madwoman. As more than 8 million people in the world are starving – that’s at least 1 in 10 – I’m actually considering not to eat at all. Sure, as a philosopher I admit to spending an
unreasonable chuck of my time wondering and questioning. But you’ve asked yourself at least one similar question, right?
Whatever you’ll choose (not) to eat, you will encounter critique. Remember Yovana Mendoza and the ‘Fishgate Scandal’? The influencer, who propagated a raw vegan diet to her 3-million plus following, got publicly shamed for eating fish. And Yotam Ottolenghi, the chef ‘who made vegetables sexy’, also got negative attention for eating meat.
When it comes to food, we are somehow forced to pick a label and identify with it. Are you a vegetarian, a fruitarian, a carnivore, a vegan, a flexitarian, a foodie? To be a good person, it seems necessary to be hardcore and defend militant views on food. Choose your weapon and fight!
But this polarisation is not getting us anywhere. Ottolenghi: “It feels so wrong, all these definitions. I don’t see the point unless you want to create a club that excludes people. I think I can win more people to vegetables. I am better for the cause” (New York Times 2011).
Supporting the cause – a healthy and sustainable way of life – must be more important than what we call ourselves. There are no ‘one size fits all’ or ‘one size fits always’ definitions. Not of good food, nor of good choices, good people, good lives. What is good now, is not always good, and what is good for you, might not be for another.
The changing nature of good food compels us to be fluid, curious and creative, to experiment and play. Think about what you are eating, and think outside the box. Find out what is an appropriate and responsible way of eating for you, in this particular phase of your life. A personal, thought-through and heart-felt version of the right diet is the only right way forward.
Therefore, don’t reduce yourself to a label. Stay open to feedback. Engage with others to build communities. Learn from, inspire and motivate each other. Don’t be afraid to ask others why they make certain choices, and be willing to talk about and explain your own.
And in conversations about food, whether they are civil tea parties or messy food fights, always use the secret weapon: kindness. Kill ‘m with it. As officer Brant says in Blitz: “If you’re picking the wrong fight... at least pick the right weapon.” With kindness as your weapon, you can turn unconstructive name- calling into constructive solution-building. With kindness, you can start building bridges in the polarised food debate.
So: show some heart. Be kind to yourself, to others, to the planet. This becomes easier if you strive for progress, not perfection. If you stop hiding behind names and definitions, and start thinking for yourself.
Remember That. It will help when you have a conversation about food again. When you find yourself in the area, dodging hardboiled eggs and strands of spaghetti, and are overcome with the irresistible desire to smear ketchup all over your ‘opponent’s’ face. When you, like me, suffer from attacks of supermarket hysteria. Being kind and willing to learn is more important than being vegan or being right. Remember that.