After I published this post, I received the following comment:
“I’m confused…you say you put yourself in the first category of food purist- but your eating Laughing cow (fake), sweetener (fake) and wheat (still processed). I’m not saying these can’t be enjoyed…but I would hardly put you in camp one. Show a real block of cheese, plain water with lime and grains that’s aren’t processed and then you have ‘real’ food.”
This is an excellent, excellent point. For the comment writer, thank you; this is an important discussion.
Here’s my response:
I think you are absolutely right. Laughing Cow cheese and sugar-free drink mix don’t quite constitute ‘real’ food. And I love them regardless. I don’t belong in Camp 1 any longer- I should make that clear between me and you. I can’t call myself a true food purist because, to be honest, it conflicts with my personal disdain for elitism. But before I go on- please know that I’m not implying that you or anyone who considers herself a truly clean eater is a snob in any way. In fact, I deeply admire those who eat mainly whole foods. I am also not in the slightest bit a better individual for any of what I’ll share below.
Hear me out.
I cringe at snobbery, at the very hint of placing one’s preference/choice above that of another’s. With wine, with chocolate, with food, with fashion- I have likes and dislikes, but they’re not better than yours. They’re not worse than yours. Taste is taste. I completely understand having high standards, having strong moral and ethical ideologies, and indulging your personal preferences. It’s what makes the world fun- differences in opinion and choice. What we choose to put in or on or around our bodies is entirely personal, a manner of self expression and values. It’s incredibly gross for me to judge anyone for having preferences one way or the other.
In fact, the only area I suspect my friends would call me snobbish or elitist, even, is in where I live- the city, the town, the building. I’m a surrounding snob. I need clean, polished, and, well, pretty around me. I’ve been known to pay a premium to rent apartments in affluent neighborhoods in the cities I’ve lived in during the past five or so years. And while I don’t want to judge anyone for living in a less-than-pristine area (it’s just impossible for many), I deeply care about my environment. It has to do with living in low income housing in a wealthy town growing up. It has to do with not having my own bedroom for some of that time and wanting badly to lie to friends who came over and wanted me to show them my room. It has to do with feeling poor. And truly, it is my own neuroses that keeps me wanting to live in desirable places. It’s a manifestation of my own adolescent insecurities. I get that.
But the snobbery ends there. I’ll drink wine from a box, wash my face with dish soap, buy generic everything, consider cheap chocolate divine, eat lots of things that are dyed and preserved and chemically. I work in and around food. I’m exposed to some of the finest things the human palate can experience. I’m also a part of a community, professionally and socially, that embraces a Michael Pollan sensibility about food- “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s a real farmers market-loving/from farm to table kind of crowd.
Two of my best friends are food snobs- Lori and Camille. I love them dearly, and not in spite of their foodie high maintenance. I actually adore that picky, particular part of them. It’s part of what makes them intense and passionate and bold. And it’s not that they want to sit on high horses and look down at the masses eating McDonald’s, it’s that they genuinely prefer a gourmet meal. The thought of fast food alone will send shivers down each of their spines. I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to get Camille to do a late night Burger King run. Sister was vehemently against it.
And really, I get it. Most of snobbishness comes from caring- about yourself, the environment, others’ perceptions of you, etc. It makes sense in so many ways- wanting to eat ethically, buying clothing that was not made in factories overseas where workers were likely treated poorly, respecting the quality of fine wines and music and film. It’s important to eat and live well.
About two years ago, I would have considered myself the ultimate food snob. I’d gotten a few years into my weight maintenance, and I was wildly passionate about only eating real, whole foods. I was in love with health and nutrition and eating cleanly. I felt I was respecting my body, but beyond that- I shuddered at any hint of artificial anything in my food. I had this internal battle between always wanting to live up to the healthy citizen I’d become by nourishing with only the good stuff, and also realizing that I
just love fried donuts
I love Double Stuf (that’s the correct spelling, just so you know) Oreos
frosting made entirely of Crisco
Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls
every last candy bar
I’m hungry just making this list.
It required a reworking of lifestyle to get to a place where I wasn’t fighting myself. Nowadays, I eat almost immaculately clean in the eyes of everyone I know. Friends, family- they’d probably describe me as the healthiest, most vegetable-friendly individual they know. My mother gasps at my organic tofu, lentils, the sheer volume of my vegetable intake, all that jazz. But she also knows that I need a basket filled with Cadbury everything on Easter, every year. And that I will eat said basket. She knows to send me a box with 78 chocolate Mallo Cups when I live across the country and I’m without access to such delicacies. She mails me an entire double-layer cake to celebrate any success.
Because I genuinely cannot live too cleanly or too dirty for long. I have to stay somewhere in the middle.
The beauty of everything is balance. Part of what I love about the place I’ve arrived at now, after losing 135lbs and then working to keep it off since 2006- is the middle ground between wholesome and ‘holy sh** that’s bad for me!’.
There is no denying the power, the virtue, the absolute perfection in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, etc. They’re essential; they are wellness in tangible forms. These things occupy nearly all of my eating- see here for more about my view on an 80/20 life. I don’t need to write about their perfection; you know this. Every magazine, every healthy living blog- they’re incredibly helpful in teaching about nutrition.
I want to do and be and eat a little of everything. I want to go out and drink too much and dance with my friends. And then I want to wake up, drink water and walk for miles while talking to those same friends. I want to eat pepperoni pizza alongside a salad double the size. I want to spend too much money on frivolity one week and then cut back the next. I want to stay up late for three nights straight obsessively reading the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ trilogy, and then try for a 9pm bedtime the following three. I want to eat everything from Laughing Cow cheese wedges to lima beans.
Now, a valid argument here would be the suggestion that, for health- for ultimate wellness- one should understand that the chemicals, the preservatives and fillers put into the fake foods- they’re to be avoided. Our bodies aren’t meant to process junk. The additives could be poisonous, cancer-causing, all manner of negative. For this argument I say: Eat mostly well, then. If you can eat entirely clean, entirely pure and rainbowed in fruit and veg- honest to goodness- do that. It’s the very best.
Some of us are more vibrant, just better when we cut out the less-than-healthy stuff. Some of us might not like the same convenience store carbs that I do- Butterfingers and Hostess mini powdered donuts, for example. Lots of people might not even have to bat an eye at turning down grocery store cake because either they don’t love it or they don’t love that it’s trans fat-laden and unnaturally hot pink and yellow.
I’ll always want to eat trans fat frosting and orange dyed Reese’s pieces. I probably will always think Diet Coke tastes good, especially at the movies in some 42oz monstrosity. I will enjoy the taste of powdery sugar-free lemonade mix added to my bottle of water over the taste of plain water alone. It’s not about giving those things up. It’s about balancing them with goodness. And it’s not to say that these processed, packaged treats I mention here are part of my life everyday. They’re part of my once every week, maybe my few times a month. Spaced and special because of their timing.
My only fear with those who write about health and wellness in a strictly pure-foods way, is that it comes across as a gospel and because of that- self righteous, unattractive, and strict. I’d hate to think that people out there, reading with good intentions and a desire to eat better, might think that the only way to get to a good place physically is by adopting a whole foods only lifestyle. It feels defeating to think that your eating must be perfect. It’s not an either/or; we don’t have to live on one end of the spectrum or the other. It’s not that you’re healthy or you’re not. It’s not clean eating versus crap eating. It’s both, that is- only if you want both.
It is true that the less sugar I eat, the less of it I crave. It’s true that the better I eat, the better I feel physically. It’s true that I’m so very happy to eat my body weight in produce each and every day. But it’s also true that in six years of eating well and being at a healthy weight, I still haven’t lost my lust for the foods I ate growing up- the ones with twelve hundred ingredients and not a one that’s wholesome.
The reason I’ve been able to keep a level head about my body and what goes into it is because I’m all-inclusive. And perhaps that doesn’t work for everyone. Perhaps it shouldn’t work for everyone, either.
I tend to think of all the crazy amounts of vegetables that I eat as giving me enough antioxidants and superpowers to fight against any of the Hostess products I consume. I picture roasted broccoli pushing peanut butter cups through my digestive system like an unwanted guest. Because even if my body doesn’t love the occasional pint of high fructose corn syrup, my mind does. And she needs obliging, too.
An important note: Please know that there is nothing wrong with eating as cleanly as one can. (If you do and if you strive to- I applaud you.) There is similarly nothing wrong with having Skinny Cow ice cream bars in your freezer beside organic frozen vegetables. (Tell me you have Cool Whip?) There’s nothing wrong with any of it and my bottom line remains: Judging others’ eating styles and deeming food choices as inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only leaves us feeling and looking ignorant and unenlightened.
The point of this post, as always, is to let you know that there’s middle ground. And also that I don’t want this blog to exclude anyone who’s hungry. My table serves Kit Kats and kale chips in varying amounts.