Privilege & the Food Police

I really can’t abide smug foodies.

Want to eat organic cucumber salad on home-made sourdough followed by sheeps-milk yoghurt churned at your local organic farm, laced with honey from your uncle the bee-keeper, wrapped in recycled wax paper from the co-op store in your suburb? Go right ahead. Sounds fabulous.

But if you think, for one second, that everyone should eat like this way, it’s easy and if only they did there wouldn’t be an obesity crisis booga booga and we’d save all the animals and other people are just so selfish/lazy/greedy/stupid and did you see that thing about the McDonald’s burger that lasted for six months without going mouldy how can people eat that shit? then you need a serious privilege check.

A lot of people seem to be able to easily grasp the notion that foods don’t have a moral value based upon their calorie content: plenty of  (though clearly not all) people are okay with the idea that chocolate cake is not actually a sin waiting to happen, and that it’s really okay to eat some if you feel like it, even if you don’t plan to spend the requisite hours on the treadmill right afterwards. But I’ve encountered many people lately who are still convinced that there is another kind of moral value tied up with food. These people don’t necessarily think that fast food is immoral because of its high fat content and ability to ‘break a diet’ but because it is cheap, or chemical-laden, or a product of questionable farming and business practices, or laced with trans fats, or replete with too many food miles, or produced by an industry that treats workers poorly, or devoid of wholegrains, or simply the opposite of quinoa porridge sweetened with homemade organic apple puree. These are the people who seem to assume that ‘obesity’, or diabetes, or social ills, could all be cured if we simply educated folk on how to grow and cook their own food, if we could simply revert to some mythical time in the past where food was more natural and people were (mythically – the rising life expectancy would say otherwise) healthier.

There is a lot to say for the slow food, local food, organic food movements. Farmers’ markets are great. Fresh, local produce tastes wonderful and supports the local economy. Home cooked is often best. I grew up eating home-grown organic vegetables served with meat raised and butchered at home, with home-baked desserts and home-made preserves. My step-mum even baked all of her own bread (and still does). We had our own hens for eggs. All of which points to the fact that I am not here to plead the case for processed-over-’natural’ (although, to be frank, all that ‘natural’ food, fresh air and exercise didn’t innoculate my family against illness or fatness like food evangelists would have us believe it always does)!

Living that way wasn’t as idyllic as it might sound: we were never hungry, but good food was one of the only luxuries we enjoyed and it cost a huge amount of labour and relied on skills that only a minority now possess. It was also a product of rural life — the vast majority of Australians live in urban environments where chicken coops are not the norm.

Many Australians also live in poverty. It is only a privileged minority who don’t face systemic barriers to the foodie lifestyle. Indeed, some — far more than should be acceptable in ‘the lucky country’ — lack even basic food security. There is no excuse for smugness whilst chewing on organic sourdough when the fact is that the time and money to pay mind to anything other than your own need for calories when making food choices is an extraordinary privilege.

I think those of us who can, probably should, spend some time thinking about the impact that our food choices have not only our health but on our community and our environment. But that can’t happen at the expense of awareness that exercising choice in that way is not a privilege shared by all. Unless systemic barriers to ‘better’ (healthier, more sustainable, more ethical) food choices are removed for the majority, being a ‘foodie’ will remain an elite pursuit and the ready availability of highly processed, high-calorie foods will continue to sustain people who would otherwise go hungry.

I haven’t even touched on the vegan movement here but there is a lot of privilege wrapped up in those ideals too, including ableism; genderbitch deconstructs some of it.

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