Good and bad – and food(?)

I keep hearing people saying things like “I’m being good todayand not eating any chocolate.”

Maybe it’s my concept of morality but I can’t see how denying yourself certain foods can constitute being “good.”  It’s not easy to define goodness, but there can’t be many definitions that don’t involve helping other people or saving the planet or rescuing dumb animals, and so on.

People  who talk about being “good” in relation to food aren’t talking about not eating meat or eating only local grown organic products – i.e. food choices that come into the realm of morality. They are talking about refusing sugar and salt and fat and eating fruit and vegetables. That is, their own diet.

Even accepting that the health and weight loss benefits of these dietary choices are real – a huge obstacle, given that most of what passes for knowledge about diet is based on the most spurious science imaginable – the only person to benefit would be – guess who? The person making the “sacrifices.”

There’s nothing wrong with self-interest in terms of choosing what to put into our bodies.  Seeing it as a moral choice is a different matter.

Traditional exhortations to kids who don’t want to eat something was to refer to the starving millions. They still exist, (although they are still never going to get a chance to eat your unwanted sprouts.)  I think pepople on the edge of starvation can see quite clearly that it isn’t “good” that we have access to far more food necessary for our survival and it’s  definitely “bad” that they are starving.

On a full scale rant, I’m going to suggest that the phrase reveals an infantile morality – seeking to please an imaginary authority who will punish us for indulging ourselves and reward us for self-denial.  We are constantly at war with our natural desires.

This relates to our whole disturbed mind-set around food.  Most of us are so far from the state of eating when we are hungry that we have no idea what hunger feels like. Daily media bombardment focuses on celebrities’ losses or gains of a few ounces of bodyweight. People who accept this sort of thing despise the celebrities - and despise themselves even more –  for being either anorexic or obese, with a 5 pound window between these extremes.

If we have to detect goodness and badness in relation to individuals’ responses to food, then why not look at it in terms of how our behaviour influences other people, especially children.   It is surely “good” to eat what you need when your body tells you it needs it and surely “bad” to obsess about your own body shape. “Good” to approach food rationally and to stop consuming planet-threateningly large quantities of industrialised crap but to enjoy food as one of life’s main pleasures. 

This is just as selfish but I contend that it’s a socially and psychologically healthier selfishness.

Global imbalances in the distribution of resources won’t be solved or even improved at all by individuals giving our food money to charity either, whatever rock stars might believe. (They are rock stars, ffs, not agrarian economists) Shifting the inequalities in the global food balance requires a lot of hard choices from all governments – minimising dependence on imports in the overconsuming countries, encouraging production for local needs in the hungry countries and so on. However, an adult concept of morality is one of the preconditions for this sort of thing.