Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Monica Portogallo shares why she avoids using terms like “bad” when describing food.
God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. (Genesis 1:29-31a)
Years ago, I did an eating disorder prevention nutrition class with young teens. At one point I would ask them for some examples of bad foods. They would shout out things like fast food, candy, chips, and cake. Then, I would show them my list of bad foods: anything still moving, things that say “do not eat” on them, anything that expired before you were born, and any food with broken glass in it.
It was a silly way of driving home the idea that there are no bad foods, but my audience remembered the lesson.
Assigning morality to food is arguably the most common form of scrupulosity in our society today. Think of the way people describe eating some food, like “I was so bad at the party yesterday and had two pieces of cake!” or “I had a cheat day and ate a burger and fries.” Often people feel guilty for eating “bad” food and begin to think of themselves as bad.
The fact is that food itself is amoral.
Barring certain medical conditions like food allergies, for most people all foods can be incorporated in some amount in a healthy way of eating. In fact, I like to call less nutritious foods “sometime foods” instead of using more judgmental terms like “junk food” or “bad food.”
It’s really interesting how, for some people, this shift in mindset can be life changing. It can take away the sort of siren-call appeal that certain foods had over them. I remember one patient proudly telling me that she now just told herself that a food she had trouble limiting in the past was a “sometime food” and she would just eat it another time.
Some have said to me that they don’t believe food is amoral because gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Gluttony is not really about the food itself, though, but the internal attitude of the person. Theoretically, someone could eat kale with a gluttonous disposition.
It’s also important to note that some individuals may have diminished culpability for gluttonous behavior due to physical or psychological conditions that prohibit them from freely choosing the behavior.
Perhaps this year, instead of thinking of New Year’s resolutions that place moral judgments on certain foods, we could practice gratitude that God gave us a sense of taste to enjoy food, and strive to increase the virtue of temperance in ourselves that we may rightly order our relationship with food.
Copyright 2023 Monica Portogallo
About the Author
Monica Portogallo is a wife, mother, and registered dietitian nutritionist who does her best not to miss the lessons God sends to her through the joys and struggles of daily life. She lives in California.