I love Trader Joe’s- enough that I do almost all of my grocery shopping there. I will sing their praises all the day long for their delicious food and manageable prices. Hopefully, they will forgive me for the nuclear blast I am about to put them on. Observe the following food package from my dear TJs:
Mac & Cheese! Yum! Hey look, it has less fat and fewer calories than some other mac and cheese! Well that’s cool and everything…but why does that make it “reduced guilt”? Are you telling me that eating macaroni and cheese is an action worthy of our guilt, and that eating this special kind will reduce that guilt enough so that my soul will only have to do a little bit of pining with regret?
I have done many wrong things in my life, but eating a gooey mix of dairy and grain does not get a place on that list. Nothing I eat get’s place on that list.
But food companies tell me they should.
Chili’s has “Guiltless Grill” options.
BJ’s has “Enlightened Entrees”.
On the Border has a “Border Smart” menu.
And that’s just to name a few. The main criteria for these menus is being under a certain calorie limit (usually around 600 or so). The implication is that eating a low number of calories makes a person intelligent, advanced, and morally good. It also implies that if you eat something off of their normal menu, you have done something morally wrong.
But it’s not just the food industry that perpetuates the idea of food choices being moral. Here are some statements one might hear at a gathering of food-conscious friends:
“Don’t tempt me with that chocolate.”
“I was so bad last night- I ate three slices of pepperoni pizza.”
“I’ve been so good on my diet; I haven’t messed up once!”
“I can’t wait for my cheat meal Saturday night.”
“Cheese is my weakness!”
“That chocolate cake was sinfully delicious!”
All of these phrases imply that there is a moral value attached to food- that those who eat “well” are good and deserving of veneration, and that those who eat “poorly” should feel guilty and repent with a few extra miles on the treadmill.
One might say, “Don’t you believe your body is sacred? Shouldn’t you take care of it?” Well yes, as a latter-day saint I believe that our bodies are sacred, and that we have a responsibility to care of them just like we have a responsibility to care for our minds and our spirits. But the laws that govern what we should eat are very general, and, for the most part, God allows us to govern ourselves. We should expect ourselves to eat for our health and vitality, and as in all areas of our life, we should always strive to improve.
Morality is, in my opinion, objective. Things that have a moral value are either right or wrong. However, there is no food that has an inherent moral value. It is not evil to eat candy, and it is not righteous to eat vegetables. Your attitude towards your body may be evil or righteous, but the act of eating is never in and of itself wrong, no matter what it is you are consuming. Different diets and health programs tell us differently things about what is good for us and what is bad for us. On top of that, every body is different and requires slightly different nutrition to function at it’s optimum. The difference between a “good food” and a “bad food” is so subjective that there is no way to say that our food choices are a reflection of our morality, since morality is objective.
I see women around me every day (and sometimes men, too) who either beat themselves up for their food choices, or are swollen with pride and vanity because of their food choices. (I am guilty of both myself.) Neither reactions are appropriate, and neither are mentally or spiritually healthy. And they usually distract us from more important ways of improving.
The biggest problem with feeling guilt for eating is that there is no good way out of that guilt. Legitimate sins can be washed away through the atonement, but I don’t think that Christ ever suffered for me exceeding my calorie goal in a given day.
If you like sticking to a strict diet, then I totally support that. I admire your motivation to be the master of your physical body. Feel free to ignore the haters who are critical of your own physical aims. Just don’t judge others because they eat differently (don’t worry, I’m telling them the same thing about you).
We don’t have to answer to anybody and we don’t have to use our food choices to prove ourselves worthy to the bikini-body gods. We get to be the bosses of our own bodies. Let’s own our decisions and own the consequences of those decisions.
Tonight I made a guilt-free macaroni and cheese, a Paula Dean crock pot recipe. It didn’t call for bacon, but I put it in anyway. And it’s totally guilt-free.
Because when it comes to food, I’m guilt-free, period.