This is a topic that I have actually thought and talked about for a long time. It wasn’t until my best friend came to me fairly pissed off about a situation that happened to her that got us thinking this would make a great blog topic.
I was a vegetarian for 8 years. I became one when I was 12 years old and back then, not a lot of people, especially 12 year olds were vegetarian, or at least I can say, I did not feel that it was very mainstream or really accepted in the early 90’s. I became one for numerous reasons. I am no longer a vegetarian for again numerous reasons but for many, many years, I had to defend my food choices. People were constantly asking why I did not eat meat. As years passed and I became passionate about nutrition and healthy food, I was still defending my food choices. Now a days, I do think it is more accepted and popular to eat well (thank God) but there are still plenty of times I will have to defend my healthy choices. When going out with friends, I would get comments like “let me guess, Sara, you are getting the salad.” Though I know I was eating a certain way for my own reasons these comments made me embarrassed and not wanting to go out to eat with friends. Why is it in our society that it is perfectly acceptable to comment on someone’s healthy choices in a negative light but I would never say anything to anyone about their unhealthy choices? If I made a comment on your double stacked 48 oz. loaded burger with extra fries and a shake, I would be seen self-righteous, ‘I am better than you because I am having a salad and not a cheeseburger’ kind of person. Just as no one needs to defend their food choices to me, I am not going to defend mine to you. I could really care less if you eat gluten-free, vegan, raw, paleo, low-carb, high-carb, high-fat or a low-fat diet. I hope what you eat makes you feel and perform well and is made of up of mostly whole and real foods. And if it isn’t what I would recommend or want to eat, then who cares? Not my life nor my choice. Unless you have hired me as your nutrition coach or asking for my professional opinion then I have no right to comment on your food choices.
My dear friend, Jianna, an amazing mom of 3 boys called me up with similar feelings about a situation that occurred at her house.
My husband and I hosted a dinner at our house awhile back- nothing formal, just friends and family. Easy menu that included great food and drinks- or so we thought. I was having a casual conversation in my kitchen when I overheard someone say, ‘ewe, is that the healthy stuff again?’ I stopped mid-sentence, and kindly excused myself. I wanted to make sure I really heard what I thought I heard, ‘that healthy stuff again?’
Really? Since when did serving healthy stuff’ become an issue? What exactly did that person mean when they said that? What exactly actually qualifies as healthy stuff? I soon found myself- politely- apologizing for our food options. I started thinking to myself, ‘OMG, this person is right! Why did I serve the healthy alternative to what we, as Americans, have been so accustomed to.’ Which let’s be honest is mostly CRAP!
Umm, ‘tastes like real nuggets and ketchup?’ What does that mean they are made of?
Here I was, opening up my home and hosting others and I honestly felt that I had to defend my healthy food choices. It wasn’t a heated conversation, but I went back and forth with this person for quite some time educating why I (often) choose to purchase and consume healthy alternatives. For God’s sake, I didn’t serve card board and fake non-dairy, gluten free, fat free, carb free, meatless fluff. It was simply, taco seasoning without ‘silicone dioxide’ (If you are not sure what that is, look it up. It is a common ingredient in certain taco seasonings as well as that little packet of gel like rocks that are in your coat pocket that says DO NOT CONSUME. Yikes.) In all honestly, this person really had no idea why she said what she said, other than the fact that she knew I often swapped out certain products and/or ingredients for healthier versions. I mean, a taco is a taco, it tasted the EXACT same, but she assumed it would taste healthier than what she was used to.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we live a pretty 80/20 (sometimes 60/40) lifestyle. 80% of the time I try really hard to provide my family with REAL food that has REAL ingredients that I can pronounce. The other 20% of the time is for when life happens- Chick-Fil-A (sometimes), microwaveable breakfast items (yep), and even a Root Beer or Sprite when we go out to dinner (you bet). Do we stray? Hell yes. Do I just order take-out sometimes? Hell yes. But I certainly keep trying to educate and provide myself and my family with healthy choices.
I completely understand that not everyone jumps on the whole, organic, non-GMO, free range, happy chickens, pigs getting belly rubs and pedicures (ok, I am exaggerating, but you get my point) wagon. But- and I don’t say this lightly- why is it socially accepted to knock or question or show such utterly disgust or dislike for others’ healthy choices? Would anything have been said had I served McDonalds hamburgers and fries instead? (And we’ve all seen the ‘experiment’ on how awesome a McDonalds hamburger can withstand the test of time! Now THAT deserves some attention.) Or what if I had served hot dogs? Again, nothing would have been said. In fact, I can almost guarantee that it would have been more acceptable for me to do so. Yes, they probably would have been confused why I, of all people, was serving hot dogs and would have asked if I was okay, But I am sure everyone would have eaten happily and on the way home never questioned what exactly they just ate.
What I am ultimately trying to convey is that, it just makes me sad that I have to feel badly about trying to make better choices for my family. Why should I feel ashamed? Or feel like I am being portrayed as better than others because of these choices? Or better yet, DEFEND healthy? It’s BS! I am trying to educate my kids that they can still enjoy their favorite ‘more’ processed foods but there are other healthy alternatives they can chose from. For instance, my oldest loves Fruit Loops cereal, what kid doesn’t? So I try to educate him (and family) that, they can still have Fruit Loops, but lets try to find one that doesn’t have, high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient. It’s about educating and tolerating choices, sometimes those choices are healthy and others you just have to be ok with. Sometimes I’m going to fail or make poor choices. But if I can the majority of the time, offer healthier alternatives, you bet your ass I am going to. Don’t ever feel bad about your healthy choices as though you should have to defend them. Yet, if I do come across this situation again, which I am sure I will, I believe my family’s health is definitely worth defending.
So the next time I host a dinner you can count on the healthy stuff being served.
Jianna Wright is a Colorado native and a mother to 3 boys and an angel daughter. She and her husband, Brad are the founders of the Wishbone Foundation, a non-profit that raises money for nurse bereavement training. When she is not running after one of her three crazy boys or driving them to one of their many sporting activities, you can find her traveling, drinking champagne, volunteering at her son’s school and hanging with family and friends.