Monday Postcard #125 – Has Food Become Our New Religion?

Monday Postcard 125 New Religions

When we watch the news these days, the one and only topic is Covid-19. Within a few weeks, our lives were turned upside down and it seems that this is the only topic we talk about. But I realised that some topics still have not changed. For the longest time, I have been wanting to write a Monday Postcard about our attitude towards food.

“We are what we eat.” – Food has become more than just something to keep us alive, fuel our body or something to enjoy. It has become a religion for many of us. I always wondered if this is due to the fact that many people do not find themselves in the “traditional” religions but still need a sense of belonging. As with any religion, there are many missionaries who try to impose their values onto others.

My relationship with food has been marked by ups and downs. I have always loved food. And as a small child, you could see that I did. I enjoyed food so much, I would not stop eating and throw tantrums when my parents tried to stop me. I only lost my weight when I discovered the joy in playing tennis. Suddenly, I could keep eating but because I was training everyday, I lost all my weight. Even today, I am not good at dieting. Whenever I try to diet, I gain weight. I do not know why. I also am very sceptical of all the diet-trends. Whether it was the goji-berries, agave syrup to substitute sugar (note for all who did not realise it: syrup = sugar) or protein shakes. I never really got into them. Most of the time, I see a big industry behind them. I just came to peace with it and eat what I like, try to have a balance between vegetables and protein but also enjoy something sweet every once in a while and compensate it with sports.

In my opinion, whatever life decisions someone makes, it is their decision. It is their life. If parents decide to raise their children vegan or without sugar, it is their decision. If some people switch to a completely plant-based diet, also fine with me. And if someone enjoys a good burger, also no problem. But whatever you do – PLEASE STOP LECTURING ME ABOUT WHAT I SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT IT, especially when we are having a meal together. My body, my rules!

Before the current pandemic, there was not a single week where I was not being lectured about eating meat or sugar, whether it was in person or by the media. “Meat will be the new smoking”, it is social acceptable to “meat shame” others. I was invited to dinners where meat was offered and when I ate it, I heard I should reduce my meat-intake. Since the social distancing period started, I thought that our focus shifted a bit. But the food shaming has not stopped since. My mum and I have been baking a few times and I shared this activity which we both enjoy on Instagram. I got quite a few messages commenting about the “quarantine kilos” I would gain, that I need to be “more careful” and “not overdo it”. This was a nice activity my mum and I did together and while I am sure that most of the comments were meant well, they rather achieved the opposite.

First of all, nobody knows how much meat and sugar I actually eat. I am not going to share my weekly meal plans but I can tell you one thing: my diet is pretty balanced and just because I share a piece of cake on Instagram or eat a burger while you are having dinner with me, it does not mean I do that all the time.

Secondly, I know this will cause strong reactions, but I am willing to put up with them. I do not think that the only solution to solving the climate crises and the challenges for our healthcare system is to ask everyone to switch to a complete plant-based diet. Again, if you want to do it fine. I think it may work IF we can ensure that all of these products then are regional products. But if we keep expecting that any product from anywhere in the world is accessible to us anytime, we will run into big troubles. I do not think we can improve our carbon footprint by sitting in Europe and substituting dairy products with coconut milk which has to be shipped from the other side of the world. Furthermore, I also do not think that soy will be her Hail Mary either. In the region where I grew up we never used to grow soy. Since the soy boom started, many farmers have switched because it is economically more attractive and it has been heavily subsidised. But over the past years we could see the effects: soil erosion and floods because the fields are simply not made for growing insane amounts of soy every year. A friend of mine who has been vegetarian for many years introduced me to interesting new products. Some I really like, some I do not. Furthermore, I realised that when I went off meat completely, my iron levels started to drop drastically and I did not think it was a better choice to substitute meat by supplements.

My third point is about the amounts we eat. If we keep eating cheaply produced meat, we will not only impact our environment but also our own health. There is no question about that and it is also definitely not a way animals should be treated. When I eat meat, I opt for locally produced meat which comes up to organic standards. Instead of processed meat-dishes, I get fresh meat from a trusted farmer my family knows personally. Quality over quantity. Furthermore, I think it is important to be mindful about what we eat: We should not waste any part of an animal which had to die for us. We need to remember that the steak we eat was another being. If you are a heavy meat-eater but have never watched someone slaughter an animal, please go see it. In my extended family, there were many farmers and we used to play at the farms and see all of that. I personally stopped eating foie gras after I realised what is done to the geese. I also am against canned hunts, for example. Hence, I am a meat-eater but I am mindful about how the animals were treated before and after they are slaughtered.

My fourth point is a very personal one but I am sure many people can relate. Because I was bullied for my weight, I am still sensitive when somebody criticises my diet. Well, not really sensitive but it annoys me. I did not have an eating disorder, psychological problems or an unhealthy relationship to food. But if you openly attack somebody for their eating habits, you may cause reactions you probably cannot relate to if you have never been body shamed. Some people react by overeating, some stop eating or do things which are way worse. Next time you impose your religion on someone, think about how it could really affect them. It may be more than just a choice at the supermarket.

Lastly, if you decide to not eat sugar or meat, I will not give you a hard time. Hence, please let me enjoy my piece of cake as well. I find it really amusing to see all the negativity especially about sugar. But when people post about “enjoying a glass of wine” it is still socially acceptable because we “need it after a tough day”. My feed last week was flooded with mums posting that they could only survive the day with their kids at home because they had some alcohol at home. Well, as I do not want to be judged, I will not judge here either. But what I want to mention here is: I hardly drink alcohol. The sugar and calories you “enjoy” with your glass of wine are in my chocolate brownie. So please also let me “enjoy what I need to get through my day”.

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I do know that this was a rant post. But I really needed to get it off my chest. The point I want to make is that whatever is our conviction about food, I do not think we will change anyone’s attitude by forcing our “religion” on them. I think it is a psychological reaction like the one when we were teenagers. When our parents told us not to do something, we wanted to do it even more to prove them wrong. Furthermore, we only see snapshots of everybody’s life. Posting a glass of wine on Instagram, does not automatically make you an alcoholic, neither does my piece of cake make me obese or sick.

I think what we all need is a realistic and balanced approach. It is unrealistic that each and every one of us will became a saint when it comes to our eating habits. When I look at plant-based products, it is also more than just a question of conviction. Many of these products are very expensive and hence, there is not even a choice to switch because many people simply cannot afford them. But if we promote regional recipes with affordable local ingredients, it could be a solution which works for everyone. Apart from the current pandemic, we still have an environmental crisis which did not magically disappear over the past weeks. We also have massive diet-related health issues all over the world. But I do not think that all these problems can be addressed with a one-size-fits-all-approach or one single “religion”.

Please stop lecturing others and imposing their views on them. As I mentioned before: my body, my rules and I also respect the choices you may make for your own health.

I am aware that many of you will probably disagree with me here. But I wanted to give those people a voice who opted not to follow one “religion”. I am happy to discuss and hear about your views – even if we disagree. Have a nice week ahead!

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