Maybe it’s because we live in the age of the Internet and many of us (yeah, I said us – I don’t consider myself exempt) are able to devote significant periods of time to ferocious navel-gazing. Maybe we’re internalizing our helplessness in the face of a rapidly changing world. Maybe we are too aware of the scrutinizing gaze of an amorphous, anonymous, ever-present Other. Whatever the cause, we seem to be living in a culture of self-imposed restriction, particularly when it comes to food.
It’s possible I just feel this way because I live in Northern California. But still. I feel like I’m right, because I also watch a lot of TV.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve heard the declarations about this fast food restaurant or that one being absolutely disgusting. You’ve seen the smug “I don’t know how anyone could eat that” posts of self-congratulation. You have friends who won’t eat gluten, dairy, GMO, carbs, or anything that once cast a shadow.
Possibly, you are that friend. I think I have been. I definitely went through a phase in college.
Some folks have had restrictions visited upon them like a Biblical plague. They haven’t asked for it. They’re diabetic or celiac or have a horrific food allergy that makes them break out in hives and grow a third eye. They’re just trying to live. And not turn into a triclops.
But I have become more and more conscious, lately, of the other kind of restrictee. The one who uses his or her self-restriction as a form of personal affirmation. This is who I am. I’m the person who only drinks imported, fair trade coffee that has been blessed by unicorns. I’m the person who cooks healthful, fibrous meals from scratch and won’t let my children have non-organic fruity gummies. I’m the person who wouldn’t be caught dead with a McDonald’s French fry in my mouth.
The flip side of that coin, of course, is judgment upon all the people who DO eat carby, glutinous, mass-produced food. Oh, I’ve seen the disclaimers of “this is just what I do for me,” but I call a gentle but firm “Bullshit.” If this was just for you, you wouldn’t be Instagramming it, would you? I only Instagram things I want other people to know about.
It can feel good, in the moment, to other ourselves from those who make choices we don’t agree with. It feels righteous.
Me? I give thanks that I grew up eating Spam and canned tuna. That the only cheese I knew came either in individually wrapped single slices or in a foiled Velveeta rectangle. (Though for some reason, I recently recalled a time when we ate a lot of ‘real’ cheese that I think was from the government. Because there were huge blocks of it. I don’t know how the fabulous cheese bounty happened, because I know we weren’t ever on public assistance, but it was glorious while it lasted. Sorry, I digress.) The point is, I don’t need to live in the box of dietary sanctity. When you grow up thinking that a slice of white bread – it has to be white bread – spread with some Eagle condensed milk is a dessert and that to this day, it still sounds pretty good as a treat, you’re basically disqualified.
I strive nowadays to stay away from statements that limit, that close me off from possibility. Perhaps that’s why I’m so sensitive to unnecessary food religiosity. I choose what to put into my body, just as I choose to focus on thoughts that are nutritious. I try, anyway. Sometimes, I want a salad of root vegetables and a mug of green tea. Sometimes, I want the damn French fries. It’s about being observational rather than judgmental. You can love Shakespeare and reality TV. You can love poetry and dime store romance novels. You can love. You can let others love what they love without feeling affronted. You can fly your freaky little flag without smacking anyone else in the face with it.
How about this: let’s feed ourselves in the way that is most satisfying. I bet this is how conscious spiritual evolution begins. Now, where’s my condensed milk?