I heard a very disturbing story the other day. A woman --not a patient--spoke about a group of young mothers all of whom see a doctor for weight loss. These are all thin women who want help to look even thinner. The doctor employs two main tactics: he prescribes diet pills and he screams at them to eat less and lose weight. Apparently, some people go to doctors to induce anorexia! Is that really how we share food in our community?
This story finally brought me back to reality: food no longer brings us together. For some, it is an enemy to avoid at all costs, even by seeking out dangerous pills and abusive doctors. Food may still help drive a sense of community but not in traditional ways. We share diets or weight loss stories. We swap stimulants or juice fasts. Or we all trek down to the local McDonald's for processed food that has replaced real meals. We have all had to put down our political stake in the world of food. Many people opt out of the entire food debate. They just eat. For those who do enter the fray, there are many decisions to make: Organic? Vegetarian? Meat-lover? Fast food? Farmer's markets? Pro-industry? Striving for thinness? Food network? This is our current community: find a political (or apolitical) stance and connect with like-minded people. Is there room for another way to share food? Can anyone shift the way our society thinks about food?
I don't believe this society can go back to seeing food as culture. Each home can refocus the conversation around food as I wrote in the last post; however, global food commerce, powerful multinational food corporations, compliant federal regulatory agencies and omnipresent nutritionism are all too influential for the world to turn back now. Obesity, dieting and eating disorders are persistent public health problems. The new community of food resides in this current reality.
What does it mean for a society to define food through abstinence or gluttony? How does community persist when The Biggest Loser and pro-Ana websites represent such strong cultural voices? Food has become the vehicle for capitalism, for entertainment and for the post-feminist woman. I see food as one of the loudest and most powerful forms of communication. Our approach to food quickly reveals, to anyone paying attention, our approach to life. As disturbing as it is, the group of women seeing the weight loss doctor knows what is most important to them. In their community, these women find a sense of belonging. We all can find people who speak the same language of food, who share the same meaning of food. Whether food represents health, culture, control or safety determines which community of food fits one's lifestyle. By no means are we then bound to that one point of view: as we change what food means to us, so can we change where we belong.
These dramatic changes in food and culture place a large burden on individuals and parents to find a new balance. Taking responsibility doesn't have to mean taking the blame: the core food industry message. Although government--and to some extent industry--has a duty to protect society from undo harm and public health hazards, everyone must decide what they will eat. We all need to make that decision every day. Change on an individual level--by making informed decisions about food--is necessary for our world of food to change. Our own active role and decisions matter for us, for our families and for our community.
The next post will bring the blog back to eating disorders, more specifically binging and overeating later in life.