I was actually planning to write this week about the phenomenon of foods (especially processed foods it seems, but also recipes and restaurant menu items) being advertised as "guilt-free."But I think I'm going to go in a slightly different direction to tie things back to Rob Rhinehart's blog and the article about him by Eliza Barclay on the NPR website has to say.
One of the main things that stuck out to me in Barclay's article was her mention of the "food averse"or a "veritable subculture of otherwise healthy people who find eating to be a nuisance." A few lines later she mentions, that there are other people who "have difficulty with food for much more serious reasons — food allergies and other illnesses (think the late Roger Ebert), as well as people with eating disorders or dreams or weight loss." Yes, people who suffer from food allergies or intolerances, and people who are suffering from illnesses that make eating, digestion, and or the absorption of nutrients difficult often benefit hugely from "meal replacement" beverages and supplements. I also know that for eating disorder sufferers working towards recovery, calorie- and nutrient-dense beverages like Boost and Ensure can be very helpful in restoring normal body functions more quickly and easily than eating "normal" food can. I am not questioning the usefulness and appropriateness of meal replacement substances in these cases or in ones similar.
But what does it mean if people who do not fall into those types of cases to be "food averse"? My first instinct is to assume that people who identify as "food averse" or who find eating "a nuisance" not worth dealing with if it can be avoided have some type of pathology that should be addressed. Maybe their sensations of taste or smell are suffering, making food less appealing. Maybe they have anxiety or depression. Or maybe they have an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa.
What I'm worried about is that being "food averse" is being normalized, as if not liking food is the same thing as not liking things like Taylor Swift songs, Quentin Tarantino movies, or wool sweaters. I mean yes, there are matters of preference when it comes to eating, but in the end you need food in the same way that you need air or water or sleep. Eating food isn't something people can really just opt out of permanently, because opting out of it for too long results in death, plain and simple.
But this might not be the case anymore. That might mean that eating disorder suffers, for example, might be able to consume only meal replacement beverages for the rest of their lives, and never be pushed to re-learn and become comfortable with making food choices and eating ever again. Yes, that might be easier in the short-term—it is an extremely common experience for individuals in the process of recovering from anorexia nervosa to say that they wish they could just not have to deal with food at all and still have a way of staying healthy. But if that becomes an option, will those individuals ever actually be recovered, or will they be forever stuck at a stage of recovery in which they are physically healthy but psychologically still dealing with a lot of anxiety concerning food, which they can avoid experiencing as long as they stick to meal replacements. Isn't that a problem?
But to be honest, I'm not completely sure about whether or not it's a problem, because I'm not sure if my reasons for thinking it's a problem are valid, or just an instance of being blinded ay adherence to old-fashioned beliefs. I think that food is always better than meal replacements unless there is a medically-based reason indicating otherwise, and that recovery from eating disorders involves regaining a happy and healthy relationship with food and eating. Is that changing? And what does that change mean for food activism—if people are even further removed from their food, in that they're drinking liquified chemical concoctions instead of unprocessed or minimally processed fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, etc., won't they feel less connected with their bodies, physical needs, physical sensations, and their own health? And aren't those issues major factors in many serious health conditions—including but not limited to eating disorders—in the first place?