Food. It’s become a lot more than just something we use to satisfy our hunger these days. It’s become a social tie, a conversation piece, even a hobby. We plan social gatherings around it and use it as a celebratory mechanism or as a way to define our cultures. It’s even become a casual conversation starter… almost as casual and common as bringing up the weather.
It’s a safe and versatile thing to talk about, after all, everyone has to eat. I mean, think of all the conversations you’ve had with people in the last week – you may have known them personally, or they could’ve been complete strangers you made small talk with. How many times did you hear people chat about how hungry they were, what they were planning to cook for dinner that night, or the new diet they’re starting next week… (even after their 7 failed diet attempts this year). It’s not only food we’re beginning to use as conversation fillers, but what the food does to us too. It’s actually sickening how many people will say something along the lines of “oh my god, I’m so fat,” just to break an unwanted silence. What’s even worse? People will feed into that conversation and get into disagreements about who’s fatter or who eats more… simply for the purpose of conversation (I’m regrettably guilty of this).
I come from a pretty big family, so food has obviously played a large role in our family gatherings – eating is an easy way to occupy a large amount of people. Because it’s played such a key role in how my family has bonded over the years, I probably look forward to big meals and using food as a celebratory mechanism more than I should. I didn’t really see this as a problem, though, until I realized how self-conscious people can make others feel about what they eat, even if they don’t intend to.
When I started to notice how often people talked about food, even if they were just comparing lunches, or explaining why they weren’t eating lunch that day, I began to put more thought into my own choices. My self-consciousness worsened when people began making comments about what exactly was on my plate. When I was younger, I found the comments funny, and felt as if my ability to consume a lot of food was a heroic quality. The lunches I’d pack for school were sometimes double the amount of food that my classmates would eat. If someone would comment on how much food I was able to eat at a dinner out, I’d proudly respond with “Yes, I am going to finish this entire wrap and side of fries, and I’ll probably order some dessert too.” I was always small, I didn’t care about what I was feeding myself. When I realized that people were actually judgmental about what others’ ate, my answers became more like: “I want the wrap, but I’m getting a salad instead,” or “No, I can’t have dessert anymore.” That mentality of mine ruined one too many dinners out and family parties of mine. I was so caught up in eating to please others and choosing food that would attract the least amount of judgment possible, that I forgot how fun food used to be. Of course, my healthy habits and skipping desserts resulted in just as much conversation as my previously unhealthy choices did.
When I finally asked myself why I cared so much; I realized it was because people talked so much. People talk if you eat a lot, and they talk if you eat a little. I won't act like I’m not guilty of talking about food more than I should or using it as a causal conversation starter too often. Food makes people happy, it's a necessity and it sustains life. So why do we resort to talking about it in such negative ways all the time, or judging people for what they choose to eat? Sure, it’s okay to advise healthy habits – we need people to do that. But for the most part, what other people choose to eat is simply none of our business. We’ve turned a necessary and enjoyable part of life into something that’s created things like eating disorders and body shaming, simply because we feel the need to add our input about someone else’s caloric decisions.
The next time you’re thinking about starting a conversation by talking about your body size or food in a negative, self-deprecating way, think of something else. It’s 2016, there are plenty of other ways to start a conversation. I mean, Donald Trump was just elected President and people still feel the need to break silences by talking about body size or food choices? We have more productive things to talk about.
In the New Year, I’m going to make a conscious effort to care less about two things: what people think about what I’m eating and what other people are eating. If someone wants to order salad at dinner, let them. If they want the double cheeseburger with fries and peanut butter pie for dessert, by all means, let them.
Let people be and let’s not talk about food.