Food guilt, different perspectives

Food guilt isn't necessary, empathy is

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I have been meaning to write about food guilt for a couple of weeks now, but after attending the hunger event on campus Wednesday, I starting thinking about food guilt in entirely different ways.

The original column I had planned to write focused on the ideas of body- and food-shaming and how we shouldn’t let it affect the way we interact with food.

Some of the ways we experience food guilt is when ordering at a restaurant with a group of people or a friend. If I am out with other people, I am going to be more conscious about the amount of food I am ordering. I don’t want to order a full three-course meal if the person I am with is just getting the lunch portion. I have been socially conditioned to know that would make me look like a pig.

It has also been socialized into women that when on a date we shouldn’t order a bigger or more expensive meal than a man. (Generally, this also falls under the ridiculous assumption that the man is expected to pay). Why should I let the fact that I am on a date dictating what I order? If I can’t get what I normally would and enjoy the meal, why even bother?

For a long time food guilt colored my relationship with food, because I was taught to believe eating or enjoying food isn’t appropriate for women, and it was a struggle because I love to eat.

I also love to cook, and after I have put all of that energy into prepping and cooking a meal I really want to enjoy eating it, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed that I do. In fact, I should feel damn proud of my accomplishments.

All that being said, I want to reflect on the hunger event I attended. As we entered the room, we were given the description of a person in either the upper, middle or lower class whose identity we were to assume for the event. If you were in the upper class you received a burrito with meat, rice and beans to eat on a plate while sitting at a table. In the middle class, you received a burrito with just rice and beans, which was also eaten at a table with a plate. For those of us in the lower class (where I was seated on the floor) we ate rice in a tortilla from our hands. We were also subjected to gender issues. In the low-income group, the men were fed first and only men were offered seconds.

After the meal we had a discussion where one of the questions asked was whether anyone in the upper or middle class feel guilty about his or her meal or situation. To my surprise only a handful of people raised their hands.

I don’t think anyone should feel guilty for enjoying a good meal, that’s not what I am saying, but I’m not sure that I could have sat in that section and not have raised my hand. If they had asked the lower income group the same question, I would have raised my hand, feeling guilty with the knowledge that the meager portions we were given far outweighed what many people in my own community eat every day.

I didn’t have to dig in the dumpster or beg for that meal. A kind person who had taken the proper sanitary measures required for distributing food on a college campus handed it to me.

I noticed other people who weren’t participating fully in the event, and I don’t think they reaped the benefits, but I am also concerned about the lack of consciousness among privileged populations such as a college campus. If you won’t participate in the extremely cushy event of simulated food insecurity, then you aren’t embracing even a fraction of the empathy you need to get by in this world.

I would challenge those people who weren’t participating to take their next lunch at the soup kitchen. Sit down and eat with the people who aren’t there by choice, and try to understand. And if you still don’t, keep doing everything you can to put yourself in another person’s shoes until you do because it is so worth it.

I also noticed someone in the low-income group accept their meal and stuff it into their cup instead of eating it. That one hit me hard.

As I said before, no one should feel guilty for indulging in a good meal. However, wasting food is my number one rule. I never do it. I’m never okay with it.

When I go to a restaurant and I get the wrong order or my order isn’t exactly how I wanted it, I don’t send it back. When I order too much and can’t finish it, I ask for a box (or better, bring my own). I just can’t get behind wasting food.

When I know people in my community and around the globe don’t have the basic daily resources they need, I can’t live my life as though I have things to waste. It isn’t fair to them or to me. The world could be a much better place if everyone would make the effort to tap into his or her empathy.

Jocelyn Gibson can be contacted at [email protected]rshall.edu.

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