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my article on banishing “should” from eating, and my own “should” battles

Posted by on Apr 21, 2011 in Blog Posts | 51 comments

An article I wrote for the Wedge Co–op newsletter was just published, looking at eating attitudes and health.
“Eating competence is not measured in calories, phytochemical composition, avoidance of refined sugars, or against any pyramid. Rather it looks at people’s attitudes and habits around providing themselves with food. In essence, you are how you eat, too.”– me 🙂

Let me know what you think. Share it if you like it!

Anyway, I was at a different co-op this weekend, and it reminded me of the somewhat complicated feelings I have around  co-ops (and food movements in general.)  (I may never be asked to write for the Wedge again…) I love co-ops, I shop there when I can, I support them and many of their goals, but I often leave with a not-so-great feeling, I feel like, wait for it, I “should” be eating “better.”  (Check out this post about how “should” often spoils eating...)

This weekend, I was shelling out a lot of cash for a piece of grass-fed, organic beef for stew, among other things.  Anyway, as I was checking out, the bagger asked if I wanted the meat wrapped in more plastic.

me: “No thanks, a little e-coli never hurt anybody.”  chuckle…

(The bagger and cashier looked at me blankly. I explained that I wash the re-usable bags, and I thought grass fed meat sourced locally had a lower incidence of contamination anyway, oh, and I do know that e-coli has indeed, hurt people…)

So the cashier and bagger had an exchange about the  CNN story that 25% of meat is contaminated with Staph that is antibiotic resistant, and the cashier looks at me and intones, “That’s why I enjoy the benefits of a vegetarian diet.”

Super for you! I just shelled out $15 for that stew meat, oh, and BTW, 1 out of 4 of your cash registers would probably also test positive for methicillin-resistant staph if you swabbed it, and oh, BTW, did you know sprouts have some of the highest bacterial contamination, oh, and that e.coli outbreak? Spinach.  Just sayin’. (Which I didn’t, say, that is…)

Here’s my confession. At the co-ops I feel vulnerable to the “shoulds.”  “Meat is bad, canola oil will kill you, high fructose corn syrup is the devil.” I love to eat and cook, I shell out money for organics when I can,  peel and chop and cook 5-7 nights a week for my family, and I leave these places feeling bad about myself and  my cooking, and I almost always leave with some “I should” item. (Ironic if you read the article.) Whether it’s the “super-food” kale, a block of tempeh, sunflower mayo that I never got the nerve to open, or the $8 jar of coconut oil I bought this weekend, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel guilty.

I think that feeling may be part of what turns a lot of people off from the local/organic food movement. (I’ve had parents come up to me after workshops with visible relief, “I thought this was going to be another guilt trip about eating more organics! This was so helpful!”) I can’t really put my finger on it all,  I just thought the irony was interesting.

What do you think? Are there times that trigger your “should” button? Do they generally help you eat “better” or not? Are there ways to talk about local and organic without triggering the guilt and turning people off? (Putting aside for a moment that many, many people can’t afford grass-fed and organics, and what feelings that must bring up?) Oh, and I’d love to hear for some ideas for my coconut oil…

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  1. SusaJayne

    2 favorite uses for coconut oil: making popcorn, the old fashioned way, in a covered pan. I usually do half coconut oil and half ghee (clarified butter), and use them generously. They both are good for high-heat cooking, and they both taste rich and delicious on the popcorn, no need to add additional butter. The other use is, mix with brown sugar and use as lip scrub.

  2. Chris

    I used to use coconut oil in place of butter for making cookies. The cookies tended to spread wider on the pan in the oven, so you can’t put them too close together, and the result didn’t crunch like buttery-cookies do, but if you like chewy cookies it works very well. I once tried making pastry for a cherry pie with coconut oil, but it solidified too much in the fridge and it was hard to work out…

    I’m much more resistant to doing what I’m told than I let on. So when I feel pressure to eat, behave or exercise in a particular way, my impulse is to totally reject the suggestion. Particularly with training. I’ve read a bunch of exercise-sciencey things, and the best health benefits of exercise seem to come down – not to weight factors – but to improved circulation and hormone profiling, and pretty much all exercises you can do will have some benefit in that regard – but I often feel like I should be doing more of one type of training or the other, and it kinda requires discipline to stick to the stuff I want to do on my terms, rather than pander to that pressure. It’s funny, because usually people rely on discipline to get them to do the exercises they don’t want to do – I rely on discipline to stop me from doing the should-styled-training, and to keep me from pandering to that kind of exploitative propaganda. It feels like a pretty complicated mixed bag sometimes!

    • katja

      “I’m much more resistant to doing what I’m told than I let on. So when I feel pressure to eat, behave or exercise in a particular way, my impulse is to totally reject the suggestion.” YUP, I think this is far more common than we think… It is a complicated mixed bag for sure!

  3. closetpuritan

    I missed this post when it first got published… I use coconut oil on the ends of my hair (I have very long hair) and also as a moisturizer. It does take longer than normal lotion to absorb into your skin, so it may be more convenient to use it on, say, your legs than on your hands if you’re going to be using your hands right away. It smells way better than coconut-scented lotions that you buy… somehow they never really smell like coconut.

    I also use it in stir fries sometimes. This is a really yummy coconut-garlic-cilantro curry, although I don’t make it that often because any recipe where I have to get out the food processor seems like so much more work. Anyway, I use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil in that recipe. And I also use coconut oil in this recipe, which is pretty easy and I DO make pretty often. (I generally throw in some other chopped veggies–a couple carrots and/or a bell pepper–along with the onions.)

  4. Jess

    @Alexie: “But food isn’t medicine, or a path to virtue. ” *LOVE* this.

    The fact is, there is no “right way” to eat, no most virtuous path. Various diets of various kinds have supported people at various times in various cultures around the world, from almost all animal protein to entirely plant based and everything in between. Not to mention that different people thrive on different diets at different times in their lives (some people are super healthy when they go veg, some people get run down and sick if they stop eating meat and vice versa).

    But we Americans are Puritans at heart, and somehow we just can’t resist the urge to take the fun out food by turning it into some kind of religion where sugar is a sin and kohlrabi is penitence. All or nothing– why, oh, why can’t we accept the gospel of moderation in all things?

    Food matters: where it comes from, cooking it, eating it, the nutrition in it and nothing is more profoundly important in developing cultural identity than the rituals surrounding eating. But obsessing over food doesn’t honor it or you–and it turns something incredibly interesting into the most boring subject in the world. Personally, next time the hipster co-op cashier gets righteous, I’d just yawn and say, “mm-hmm”.

  5. jessidehl

    Mmmmm. Coconut oil is just right for cooking pancakes!

    You know, I’m over the virtuous lifestyle issues the co-op espouses. I used to get the cart comparison anxiety, where you pass another customer and you check out what is in each other’s cart to see which is healthiest. So. Not. Fun. It sucked all the joy out of grocery shopping. I quite enjoy shopping at our local co-op because they have a great selection of fresh organic fruits and veggies. I tend to buy what is seasonal because it is on sale. I try to buy certain things that are organic according to the “dirty dozen” because my son has issues with certain chemicals in food (hello msg, for example) but I will buy non-organic veggies that have low residues.

    We also seem to have a lot of clerks that are both vegan and contemptuous of meat eaters. It’s funny really, because most of them also chain smoke on their breaks so it’s hard to take their uppityness seriously.

    No, the worst thing I get at my co-op is body eyeballing because I’m fat. And have a cart full of produce. And organic food. And I’m married AND have kids! Horrors! Fat people reproducing! And I eat “healthy” organic food and I am clearly an abomination to their argument that eating “healthy” organic food will make you thin. I mean, I’m usually the fattest person in the whole store and it isn’t small. I live in Iowa City, which is a college town and very liberal so we love our co-op! I keep going anyway, because no one is going to keep me from eating good food I like, it does them good to have to explore their prejudices and (hopefully) seeing a fat person like me on a regular basis will help normalize fat people as customers.

  6. lyorn

    I don’t think I even know what coconut oil *is*. Is it really an oil? Refined? Unrefined? Heat resistant? Does it have flavour? Is it cosmetics? Or just called an “oil” because it looks like one (like coconut or almond “milk”)? I’d have to determine what it is similar to before I can decide what to use it for.

    “Shoulds” — that’s where being contrary by nature becomes useful. Also, I do not engage into discussions with people on a mission from God, or in a similar mindset. Which includes 90% of the people who want to tell a stranger about their food choices. It always turns into a purer-than-thou bragging game. I tried to play when I was younger, but I found that my time and energy can be better spend discussing the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

    I value sustainability and I support sustainable farming, but I feel that shaming people for their food choices is the worst possible way to go about it. Shoving the responsibility for the excesses of the agro-industrial complex on the individual consumers is a sign of immense unexamined privilege (and also of being a tool).

    • jaed

      It’s an actual oil. Coconuts are seeds amd their meat is very oily; coconut oil is refined from pressed coconuts, much like olive oil. (You can get virgin or extra virgin coconut oil, with similar distinctions to the ones for olive oil: first pressing or not, heat extraction or cold pressing, etc.) It does have a mild coconut flavor and scent, particularly when heated. Like olive oil, it’s often used for cosmetics as well as food. I’m not sure what its scorch point is, but you can certainly saute with it at least.

    • unscrambled

      Coconut oil is pretty heat resistant (350, so says this chart:, due to its significant content of saturated fat in the form of something called medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Coconut oil has long been maligned because of some sneaky studies back in the 50s-60s, but, like most other old food, people have started saying: ‘actually, maybe this is good’. I really really like it, it makes my body feel pretty daggone awesome (I generally feel great post-coconut things). It is absolutely available free trade from several manufacturers, generally described as “extra virgin coconut oil”–it can be manufactured in the old school way (squeeze coconut), or with one million extractive processes, like most other non-animal fats. So, if that’s a thing you care about, a little google is in order.

      As a warning, there are definitely Coconut Oil True Believers who will tell you that it cures cancer and is the food of unicorns or whatever, but the ultimate point for me: mega delicious, makes me feel good. That’s enough.

  7. Alexie

    Sometimes this gets all too weird for me. I like food. I eat food. I’m very engaged with food politics, so I’m very conscious of how food is produced – I want to see farmers getting properly paid for what they do, for example, and I think factory farming of animals is loathsome. But food isn’t medicine, or a path to virtue. It’s food.

    • katja

      nicely put. I try to tune it out as much as possible, but when a reader asks for my opinion on an article, I feel obliged to read it. Ugh.
      But food isn’t medicine, or a path to virtue. It’s food.
      I like that…

  8. unscrambled

    Also: coconut oil LOOOOOOOVES root vegetables. Picks up the sweetness. In fact, I’m about to eat turnips and sweet potatoes roasted with coconut oil right now!

  9. Siobhan Wolf

    I don’t frequent co-ops here but have experienced what you describe in other locales where I did. I like vegetarian fare very much but am not a vegetarian. Sometimes I feel guilty about it when I hang with my vegetarian friends, not that they say or do anything other than cook delicious food and enjoy cooking it (something that I do not) and share – but that sense of “should” has been internalized. I work hard to gentle myself out of it. I do eat what I want and do my best with division of responsibility with my children.

    Just the other day, though, I was talking about my daughter who is a super picky eater and also on meds that suppress her appetite and expressed my pleasure that she likes to eat strawberries. This was met with a diatribe on pesticides and how one must only eat organic berries or none at all. I felt a pang of guilt (oh, no! I’m poisoning my children) and then turned to the person talking and said something to the effect that I was sure the day would come when all we could eat was some produced chemistry combination because ALL foods are “bad” for you in, if you listen to the talk about it. Even fresh fruits and veggies getting a bad rap now.

    I’m glad you write the articles you do, keeps me from completely losing my mind with it all!

    • katja

      I work hard to gentle myself out of it.
      I llove that phrase… So gentle and kind…
      Thanks for the kind words. I too see folks not buying fruits and veggies at all bc of the “pesticide risk. ” Ah, job security.. I’m glad your daughter likes strawberries! A recent client told me about her very small daughter who had growth issues and she liked spinach and other veggies. The GI doc got mad and told them not to let her eat those “wasted” foods which weren’t high enough in calories. Douse them in ranch! Feeling good about food and eating is critical, and all this worry spoils that…

  10. AmandaL

    typing one-handed as I nurse, so for the moment I will just say to use your cocnut oil to pop popcorn. gives it a slight coconut flavor. if you add a bit of sugar and salt to oil, it’s reminiscent of kettle corn!
    and I will write more when I can type more easily and after marshalling my thoughts…

  11. Lisa

    OMG YES! A million times YES. I definitely feel the pressure from the food police in certain environments and as other said this is a big reason why I have avoided getting more politically involved in sustainability and food justice movements. Nothing is ever good enough, and many people seem to be trying to out-do one another with their food choices.

    I think it was Glenn Gaesser in his book “Fat Politics” who talked about the idea that our elite’s obsession with “eating Right” and fear and loathing of obesity had more to do with their unconscious guilt about using up more than their fair share of the world’s limited resources than about any actual health concerns. I think of that every time I shop in Whole Foods.

    And PS – I will get that children’s book to you, I promise!

    • katja

      thanks for sharing! I have tried to get involved with food movements, and it often is so fat-hating and self-righteous that I can’t sit there and take it. then I get upset and talk about food hierarchies and food insecurity and food trauma and how it’s not calories in calories out and it doesn’t end well…

      • Lisa

        Thanks for any attempts you have made, Katja! Medical doctors are such symbols of Authority that it’s very powerful when any of you are willing to speak up with a different point of view than the current dominant paradigm.

  12. Twistie

    It’s funny I found this today… on the day when my CSA dropped off the big box of local, all-organic fruits and vegetables! LOL!

    I get the organic veggies because, ironically enough, it turned out to be cheaper than buying non-organic veggies at my local grocery store. On my budget, I have to think in those terms.

    But for me, I don’t care about organic because of health benefits or how it’s going to stop us all getting cancer(!) or whatever: I like them because they taste so damn good. And getting that box has helped me help Mr. Twistie to see how good a lot of veggies that always scared him can taste. Kale used to be what he brought up when he wanted to talk about how disgusting most vegetables are. Now he gobbles it up when I cook it.

    It also means that because there is a lot of variety in the box, we get a better range of vegetables. Now I don’t get nearly as bored cooking because I’ve got lots of different choices. It used to be that I cooked a LOT of broccoli and carrots because they were inexpensive and Mr. Twistie would actually eat them ( though I had to be careful not to get the broccoli too often, lest he revolt in revulsion).

    But in today’s box I got Romaine lettuce, and turnips, and carrots, and broccoli(!), and an avocado, and zucchini and sweet potatoes and strawberries… no getting bored with all of that to choose from!

    I know it’s pure dumb luck that I found a CSA that allowed me to join in anytime, delivers to my doorstep, allows me to customize what I get in my box to some extent (I can tell them what not to ever deliver because we both can’t stand eating them, like mushrooms), and costs less than the far less exciting quality of vegetables at the grocery store two blocks from our house. I fell into a fantastic deal.

    But you know what? I also sometimes have microwaved pizza rolls for lunch, and last night’s dinner was from the cheapest Chinese place in town that delivers.

    As jaed says, orthorexia is with us everywhere. I see it, I hear it, I’ve read most of a Michael Pollan book (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, until the endless fat-phobia and food shaming made me put down what was otherwise a really fascinating read), and I just don’t buy it. I’m all for sustainable farming practices and fresh foods available to everyone, but the fact is that we’re living longer than ever as a species, and in better overall health. And that’s with pizza rolls and Mickey D’s and kids sometimes choosing chocolate milk to drink.

    I figure we’ve got enough real things to stress out about (the economy, multiple wars, climate change, one out of every four children in the US going to bed hungry on a regular basis), I can’t be bothered to shame anyone else for their food choices, or to listen to anyone shame me about mine. I base my choices on my pocketbook, my preferences, and the availability of my preferences in pretty much that order. If someone else feels they need to make the priority something else, bully for them. I mean that honestly.

    A good friend of mine recently became a vegetarian, largely because her body just started rejecting meat. She doesn’t know why any more than I do, but there it was. One day she could eat meat, and the next it made her violently ill. But then she called me up one day to ask me if she was really a vegetarian if it wasn’t politically motivated. Seriously. She felt the need to ask permission to be a vegetarian for reasons other than politics! I told her that as long as she’s consciously avoiding eating meat, she’s a vegetarian, and more power to her.

    Oh, and if I’d been in that grocery line, I would totally have busted up over your e coli line. In fact, I may steal it.

    • katja

      I know it’s pure dumb luck that I found a CSA that allowed me to join in anytime, delivers to my doorstep, allows me to customize what I get in my box to some extent (I can tell them what not to ever deliver because we both can’t stand eating them, like mushrooms), and costs less than the far less exciting quality of vegetables at the grocery store two blocks from our house. I fell into a fantastic deal.
      WHAT!!! My CSA box was so limited it was depressing… one or two tiny tomatoes, kohlrabi and a weird plant that looked like a weed that I still can’t identify… I need to keep looking. The CSA was $$$ and I had to go on Thursdays to pick it up… I’ll try again. I’d hop if it was your experience!
      I can’t be bothered to shame anyone else for their food choices, or to listen to anyone shame me about mine. I base my choices on my pocketbook, my preferences, and the availability of my preferences in pretty much that order. If someone else feels they need to make the priority something else, bully for them. I mean that honestly.
      Thank you for appreciating my e.coli line. I was sad they didn’t get it. Humorless vegans… (I kid, I kid…)

      • Twistie

        From what I’ve seen, CSAs can be pretty hit or miss. It can take some research to find one that fits your life properly, and I know that mine is virtually a unicorn, it’s so awesome. But I went into the research knowing I needed something I could pay as I went, that offered real variety, and that either delivered or had extremely broad pick up times. From there it was a matter of reading over what was available at each of the few CSAs that fit my parameters… and a HUGE dose of luck.

        But once you find one that fits your life, it’s a great thing. I would marry mine, if I could. Mr. Twistie is greatly relieved that I can’t.

        As for the sense of humor, well, I was the women standing over her father’s death bed giggling a bit through the tears because I’d found the upside of the situation: I would at last be safe from the Pirates of Penzance.

        I can’t vouch for the taste level, but I can usually find something to laugh at in any situation.

  13. KellyK

    This is why I get frustrated reading a lot of food politics and locavore stuff. Sure, I want to eat more humanely. I like animals and I hate the idea of them being mistreated for my steak dinner. But at the same time, the “shoulds” are really unhealthy (mentally) and counterproductive. And you’re right that it’s never enough, no matter what you do.

    I like jaed’s point: “Trying to bargain with the rules of virtuous food. But since those rules are limitless and there’s always one more, you can never get all the way to “My food is OK.” So everyone goes around feeling either vaguely defensive or vaguely defiant about what they eat.”

    I think it would be better to just deny the “shoulds” completely. “Thanks for the info, but my food choices are personal, and I’m not interested in your scrutinizing them.” Or, if you want to be snarky, “Who died and made you my nutritionist?”

    Part of the reason I gave up on working with a personal trainer was that it wasn’t enough for her to work with me on exercise–she wanted to constantly ask about how I ate and judge it. Oh, you ate pineapples! Bad bad bad, too much sugar.

    • katja

      Thanks for the info, but my food choices are personal,
      I like that… I hear horror stories with personal trainers all the time…

      • unscrambled

        My preferred version of this is a disingenuous-close lipped smile, direct eye contact, and just “thanks”

        It usually really shuts people up.

        If they’re doctors, you have to add a little bit more–as in, when the integrative medicine doc (at a Local Prestigious Institution) whom I’d gone to see about sliding scale acupuncture and massage to help treat a chronic illness told me to become a vegan (and told me to take a hundred supplements AFTER I told her that I wasn’t going to take any pills/didn’t have the $), and insisted that I was Doing It Wrong when I told her I had done that, and it hadn’t worked for my body (this jerk seriously tried to talk to me about The China Study (as if a study was more important than MY ACTUAL BODY)–so a deconstruction of correlational epidemiologic studies and the statistical shadiness of that particular work had to be unleashed, she asked for it*) but usually ‘Thanks’ (with proper withering expression) is a pretty fantastic way to get people to shut the heck up about whatever you’re eating/doing.

        Wow, clearly I had something to get out about stranger-based food moralizing. Ahem.

        *note that if you’re a vegan that loves the China Study, I totally support you in your dietary decisions and would never argue with you about it, unless you try to tell me that I have to do it (for whatever reason) too. Additionally, don’t fck with someone getting a MD/PhD in biostatistics about statistical analysis, that’s just asking for a talking to.

        • katja

          Nice. Thanks for the informational venting 🙂 Ah, I love that you are getting an MD/PhD in stats! Yayyy!!!! (Ever want to help me with my study reviews, let me know… What did you think about the one I did a few weeks ago??)

          • unscrambled

            My plan is to start blogging after I finish my boards in June (which, ahem, I should be studying microbiology for, ahem), so maybe we can do a collaborative thingamabob? That’d be cool. I’ll get in touch!

  14. Carol Gwenn

    Hmmm…”should”? The whole “good food/bad food” concept strikes me as an infantilizing move against the millions of people who are insecure enough to fall prey to every shred of “expert” advice that comes down the pike.

    Here are MY simple food criteria – hey, they work for me; maybe they’ll work for you, too!
    1. Can I afford this particular food?
    2. Will it taste good?
    3. Will it satisfy my appetite?
    4. Will it help to maintain my weight? (This is purely personal: for various reasons, I lost a great deal of weight that I neither needed nor wanted to lose & work like hell to keep from losing any more).

    Any food that meets the above criteria is a GOOD food, and SHOULD be eaten. Simple; works for me.

  15. Elaine

    Yes! I always thought it was just me!!! I always feel guilty when I buy the free range chicken at my local co-op. The cashiers are mostly vegans, and no offense to most vegans, but these are the ultra-preachy kind: they handle the chicken like it’s a used diaper–noses wrinkled and wrists bent with 3 fingers extended as only the thumb and index finger dare to touch the horrid chicken carcass! It makes me feel dirty. And there’s also the “free” advice I get about sugar (I make sorbets a lot, and add alot of sugar/honey/agave). I’m always tempted to say something like “Um yeah, I do have a PhD in biophysics and probably understand carbohydrate metabolism a little better than most people, but thanks anyway”, but I don’t because I’m not preachy…slightly arrogant, but not preachy :o)

    • katja

      There is such value in sharing our common experiences. If you read some of the comments from my fat readers on co-ops, you can imagine how they feel… I’d love to get your thoughts on the Sugar is Toxic article… My impression is that if eaten with other foods, protein, fat, fiber… that the most deletirious effects are not seen, as in the experiments where they are only fed sugar, massive quantities, for weeks on end…

  16. Heather

    Interesting post. For me, my ‘should’ button can be set off by fitness articles and some of the running blogs I read, where “paleo” is frequently judged the only appropriate way to eat… I will sometimes think, oh we should eat more of this or less of that or doing better about the other. Usually I can pull myself out of it, realize that my family eats foods we like, we enjoy cooking and eating together and we don’t need to change everything based on someone else’s idea of ‘should’.

    • katja

      I don’t even want to know what “paleo” is… Really. I too just had to pull myself out of another “should” after reading the toxic sugar article in the NYT… It makes trust and enjoyment so, so hard to be bombarded with these messages…

      • Jenny Islander

        “Paleo” is supposed to be a close approximation of the way hunter-gatherers eat or the way ancient hunter-gatherers ate. I was into it a while back. I started slipping out of it because the paleo diet books I had all assumed higher budgets than I could manage. The final straw was an interview or article (can’t remember which) with an Inupiaq elder who was criticizing the Atkins Diet, which at the time based part of its credibility on being “paleo.” The elder said that real hunter-gatherer low-carb diets involve two things that Westerners tend to skip: eating every single part of the animal, right down to the eyeballs, and changing the nutritional profile of meat and fish by methods such as lactic acid fermentation. Plus, the ketosis of the Atkins diet is a temporary state.

        The takeaway from my experience with paleo eating was that our bodies have an inborn desire for high-energy foods, but that desire is calibrated for an environment that is much less rich in high-energy foods than the one we live in now. Or as my late MIL, who lived through the Great Depression, said, “Take cookies when cookies is passed.” To which I replied, “Yes, Ruth, but we’re hip-deep in cookies these days!”

        The solution, IMO, isn’t paleo eating: it’s filling up on slow-burning foods that produce a more prolonged feeling of satisfaction, then filling in the corners with cookies. This blunts the sugar high somewhat, but also cushions the sugar crash.

        • katja

          nice way of stating it. Balance, protein, fat, carbs, fiber… on offer every 3-4 hours for us. We were way off track with out eating yesterday. Nibbling on sweets, a blow-out of really high fat and sugar foods at lunch. We all felt off the rest of the day. My husband skipped dinner completely and ate little at breakfast. It’s amazing when you eat balanced and regularly and then have a day of candy off and on and other unusual foods how much it throws us off… Even M this morning said she ate too much candy yesterday and didn’t want any today…

  17. jaed

    My feeling is orthorexia never rests, and unexamined orthorexia drives an alarming amount of our cultural messages about food and eating, in everything from everyday conversations to newspaper food columns to doctors’ visits. There’s always something: eat grassfed beef? You should be eating vegetarian! Already eat vegetarian? You should be eating all-organic vegetarian! Eat all-organic vegetarian? Ah, but is it locally-sourced and fairtrade? Eat only locally-sourced fairtrade quinoa porridge with apples from your own back yard? Wait, that’s not low-carb! Et cetera.

    (This of course is worse if one is either fat, or has health problems, or both. It seems if you only ate virtuously enough, you would be thin and healthy. Fat and ill health are punishment for food sins. And no matter how you eat, there is always some food-related sin available for shaming… see above.)

    It’s a very dysfunctional way of thinking about food, but it’s also pervasive. Not to say everyone is all-out orthorexic, but… not sure how to say this… if someone says “Your food is not virtuous enough,” there’s very little pushback against that, very little cultural ability to say flatly that that’s a godawful and actively bad way to think and talk about food. Instead one ends up weakly saying, “Well, but I *do* at least buy organic fruit”, or grow my own tomatoes, or whatever. Trying to bargain with the rules of virtuous food. But since those rules are limitless and there’s always one more, you can never get all the way to “My food is OK.” So everyone goes around feeling either vaguely defensive or vaguely defiant about what they eat.

    Re: coconut oil: I was thinking of making a coconut cake with coconut oil for part of the butter. Also try sauteeing chicken in it, with maybe some onions and lemongrass and chile pepper. You can use it for most things you’d use butter in, because it has the same property of melting at around body temperature, therefore giving a luxurious “mouthfeel”. (I use it for my hair and haven’t used it much in cooking yet, but I want to experiment more.)

    • katja

      may I addend this to the post? I think you are right on. It’s that odd defensiveness, self-righteousness. It is not helpful. In my line of work, I work with families across the spectrum, from eating Mcdonalds frequently to quinoa porridge folks. I think the fact that there will always be more, that you can never “do” enough to be virtuous enough (only eat things that fall off plants?) I also worry that those with “orthorexia” are often seen as virtuous, thus get a place at the table with public health campaigns, the cultural pressure etc…

    • katja

      another note, I also really hate the notion that if you have cancer or are sick, it’s your fault. I felt so sad when a mom at the park who had sarcoma asked me if she thought a sugar-free diet would help. (She had an aggressive kind, was a loving, spiritual, active woman who got unlucky and the thought that she spent time worrying that sugar caused her cancer makes me angry…) Another friend, ovarian CA at 35, she was a triathlete and a vegetarian…

      • Mark

        I agree. I’m 30 years vegetarian this month. I’ve dabbled close to the vegan line, but never had the spiritual commitment to really stick with it. I have a tendency for low iron levels, which folks want to blame on the veg thing, but my mom and that whole side of the family had low iron and she grew up eating meat.

        I also have a skin disease that flairs up every 7 years or so. When I don’t have it, people think I’m a health nut because I’m trim and sorta fit (my family has a runner’s build. Those are the genes I got dealt. being veg helps, no doubt, but my baseline is runner’s build).

        When the skin issues do flair up, my face turns red, and gets puffy and flaky, I get zits and whatnot, for months at a go. During these stretches, people think I must eat really poorly. They give me advice about how to do colon cleanses and what not. My diet does not change from when it flairs and when it doesn’t. Nobody knows what the triggers are, but there’s a lot of folks willing to judge this book by its cover.

        (PS- I work in a co-op. I scold co-workers if they guilt people, but really, I see the customers come in with guilt mostly. I’d love to know more about how to help that.)

        • katja

          Mark, interesting perspective in terms of the skin issue. People assume so much based on appearances! It makes me crazy. the problem with weight is that people assume if you’re fat it’s just calories in, calories out… Not so simple.
          I remember having a horrid case of chicken pox while in Prague in my 20’s. I was miserable, eating fries and coke at McDonalds, trying not to touch anything or cough on anyone… Anyway, this German family was sitting next to me (I was speaking English with a fellow traveler) and they started eye-balling me and loudly talking (in German) about how bad my skin is, and no wonder if I eat this greasy food all the time!I
          I imagine the best thing to help co-op workers is to stress not making assumptions, to smile, make eye-contact, treat everyone the same, and only give advice or commentary on foods when directly asked. I wonder what others think?

  18. Kate

    I got caught up in the “shoulds” (actually, more like the “shouldn’ts”) after reading up on our food industry. I worked really hard at never eating certain things (because they were “BAD!”). I’ve settled down into a happy medium. I make the “best” choice I can with the options I have at the time and I try to put myself in places where the choices are “better.” My opinion of “best” and “better” changes (and sometimes money affects the “can” part), but I’m no longer feeling deprived and angry when I go shopping or out to eat (or go to a family member’s house).

    I really like that I support the smaller farms and organic operations when I can, but that each shopping trip and meal out doesn’t turn into a diatribe about farming.

    • katja

      that “bad” feeling seems to have led to the feelings of anger and deprivation, both not helpful for eating. I just read the “sugar is toxic” article in the NYT, and it messed with my head too. It is really too bad how we hop on the fear-mongering wagons culturally around food.. (Do not read that article ) 🙂

      • Amanda E

        Ohymygosh that NYT article. I had to stop halfway through because it was triggering me so terribly!

        Now I feel guilty about eating sugar (which I always did) AND I feel guilty about the fact that if sugar is toxic, I don’t want to know.

        Talk about a rock and a hard place!!

        • katja

          I have a pretty trauma-free past with food, and that was realy triggering for me too! So much of the research they base it on is inconclusive, there is so much more to it. the HOW is always overlooked in these studies…

      • Kate

        That article has been going around my circles. I did choose to ignore it. 🙂

        I think it was Michael Pollan that first got me thinking critically about all the “this food is GOOD, eat it! this food is BAD, don’t eat it!” Low-fat diets turned to low-carb diets. Eat antioxidents! Don’t eat saturated fats! You need Omega 3s from fish! Fish are over-fished and full of mercury! Eat like the French! Eat like the Greeks! Eat like the Japanese! Drink wine to prevent heart disease. Don’t drink wine to prevent breast cancer!

        All of it based on research that is actually difficult to dicypher because our bodies are so complex that you can’t do a controlled study on what’s really going on.

        I decided the thing that is healthiest for me physically and mentally was to focus on high-quality fresh foods that I cook myself. If I can do that as much as possible, everything else seems to fall into place.

  19. Cecile

    I just bought a jar of coconut oil myself, I think I will use it instead of shortener (that I never used, and discovered only when I moved in the States). It’s wonderful for your hair, too 😉
    I love shopping in Co-ops, but they do not make me feel guilty ? I don’t buy what I don’t like, and am happy if I can find grass-fed meat, raw-milk cheese (I know. But it’s good, usually!), duck breasts, unusual things that I might not find elsewhere.

    • katja

      I think it might not be a French cultural experience to have so much guilt/shame/emotion around food… Maybe that’s the “french paradox?”


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