Next up in Part 3 of the Your Fork & the Future series we will be discussing the impact of modern day diet culture on traditional food cultures and our health. If you missed Parts 1 & 2, be sure to check them out here: Your Fork & the Future Part 1 - Our Broken Food System, Your Fork & the Future Part 2 - Where Food Begins.
What's Happening to Food Culture?
Not that long ago, local food was truly a unique part of every community's culture; it was an identity. Everyone learned to harvest, eat, and enjoy the foods of their society. Recipes and preparation practices were passed down among generations, preserving the pride of food traditions. It is true that new ingredients and new practices may have developed over time but in general, each region of the world has kept a food culture as unique as the languages they speak. You can’t think of Italy without thinking of pasta and wine, or Russia without thinking of borscht and vodka. Even as people cross oceans and discover new territories, they take their recipes with them.
Early anthropologists saw these differences in food traditions as important parts of a society’s culture. While it was possible to introduce new ingredients and other elements into a community, it was nearly impossible to change the overall diet of that society. As anthropologist, Margaret Mead, once said, “It is easier to change a man’s religion than his diet.”
Yet, as the world evolved, and as fashion and Hollywood corrupted beauty, these once prideful traditions were soon overshadowed by desires to look like Disney princes and princesses. Our once cherished and respected food identities were quickly replaced by fake food, starvation practices, over-exercising, and supplements --- enter diet culture.
What is Diet Culture?
First, let’s consider what this term means. To me, diet culture is a system of encrypted beliefs that encompasses the following:
* Worshipping of thinness
- Equates it to health and moral virtue
- Pre-set thinking of “ideal” physical worth
* Promotes weight loss, often through unhealthy and non-nutritious practices
- Losing weight means you attain a higher status
* Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others
- Forces you to be hyper-vigilant and restrictive about your eating
- Makes one believe words and phrases such as balanced, in moderation, and cheat day are justifications for enjoying foods labeled bad.
* Encourages Green Pharmacology
- Supplements are promised to fill the gaps in your daily choices, lose the fat for you, or even replace real food altogether
* Oppresses those who don’t meet the very out-dated picture of health
- Segregates and harms those that fall outside the norm - women, transgender, those of color, those in genetically larger bodies, those with disabilities (both mental and physical)
We’re All Wrapped Up In It
Diet culture doesn’t just mean being on a diet. You can be caught up in the culture without following any sort of official diet protocol. For example, if you're skipping meals to try out intermittent fasting, you're participating in diet culture. If you're putting activated charcoal in your lemonade because reality star, KKW, said she does it each morning, you're participating in diet culture. If you're spending hours a day staring at so called wellness influencers on Instagram, you're participating in diet culture. If you recently became vegan to combat climate change, you're participating in diet culture. If you've been convinced to consume eight supplements from the shelves at Target before every meal because Women's Health suggested the cocktail would give you clearer skin ... you guessed it, you're participating in diet culture.
I've worked with many people who think they're not dieting, but when we dig into their relationship with food and their reasoning for seeking my services, we uncover their true pursuit of “health.” Ten times out of five they are already participating in trends they saw on television or heard from a friend.
Bottom Line: We’ve all been caught up in diet culture, many from day one of our existence.
Some Diets are Legit, but Probably Not Keto
There are some people eating in a way that may be referred to as a diet for true medical reasons (ie: Type 1 Diabetes, cancer, diagnosed celiac disease, gallbladder extraction). These individuals can be on more restrictive protocols but not actually be engaged in diet culture (ie: they are not doing it to lose weight, increase wellness, or follow the latest fad).
But let’s take some time to address the ketogenic diet, shall we. Originally developed to treat children with epilepsy, it is a prescribed diet. It was meant to be a short term practice - one that you move in and out of over time. However, all it takes is one celebrity figure to link it to the words “weight loss” and all of a sudden the bandwagon is crowded and steamrolling at 500 miles per hour. Next, a supplement brand ambassador and physical trainer at the gym are illegally prescribing the diet to you. Or worse yet, a celebrity doctor sees the crazed uproar of fanatics and decides to call themselves an expert, writes a book, and develops an entire supplement line catering to the so-called wonder diet, increasing their T.V. time and bank accounts (I’m pointing my wand at you, Dr. Axe. Tsk, tsk).
Bottom Line: Unless a diet protocol has been prescribed by a reliable, board certified health professional to treat a specific health condition, I’m not sorry to say, you are just riding another diet culture bandwagon and drinking Kool-aid along side KKW.
The Wellness Diet
There is such a thing as The Wellness Diet and it’s steamrolling just as fast as the Keto party bus. Thanks to empires such as Goop and Bulletproof, clean eating, cleanses, detoxes, elimination diets, carb phobia, gluten phobia, fat bombs, celery juices, biohacking, supplement cocktails, and so-called ancestral diets all make up the foundation of this diet. Now, there is some historic truth to some of these practices, but thanks to celebrity fronts and our desire to live fit and beautiful FOREVER, we have taken it all to Toon Town. Giddy up, Roger Rabbit. We're here to party!
Bottom Line: The Wellness Diet has led to the new development of orthorexia and the demonization of food.
Diet culture has been in the driver’s seat so long now that it has stomped on our self-worth and traditional food cultures. People have been reduced to body parts that need to be fixed. Food is seen as a collection of numbers and formulas, instead of nourishing fuel. Exercise has reached a new level obsession, where if you’re not at CrossFit or the gym four hours a day, you’re failing. Furthermore, food shaming has become the newest verb, causing many to fear foods that have been staples in some of the healthiest cultures in the world for thousands, yes thousands of years. Damnit, Cindy. Don’t eat that rice!
We love bandwagons, and the wellness industry knows this. If it promises you Giselle at the end, it is considered priceless and not worth further questioning. This means we feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink our bodies, yet live to 125. We are then continually filled with feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety as we set ourselves up to inevitably fail over and over again. Furthermore, being ashamed of making certain food choices distracts us from our pleasure, and eating eventually becomes a burden.
Bottom Line: If it’s all over the media, if a celebrity is endorsing it, if it is a BANDWAGON, get off! Your body and self-worth will thank you.
The Bigger Problem
Today, traditional food cultures are being destroyed by Western society’s obsession with all things diet. The local food culture is being stressed on all sides and changing on such a rapid scale that harvesting, preparation, preserving techniques, and recipes passed down for generations risk disappearing altogether. Your grandma’s traditional healing soup is being replaced by tubs of highly processed, powdered bone broth. If we lose the stories and traditions that make up our unique societies, we will risk creating a more bland world, full of sickness and unhappiness.
Bottom Line: Diet culture is a form of oppression, and dismantling it is a Good Farma promise.