The food-identity link and why it's so divisive
If you’re active on social media, enjoy fitness, cooking or eating out, the likelihood is you have been involved in one of those passionate conversations about the best diet, the best foods and the best lifestyle for a healthy life on more than one occasion. With an overwhelming amount of information out there (or I’d prefer to call most of it misinformation) we are bombarded with overly confident, under-researched claims about nutrition and what we should or shouldn’t be eating, each with their own bias, each with their motives. It can be very hard to separate ourselves from that noise, to trust in own choices and to allow others to trust in theirs. But what makes food so fundamental to our identity and why can it be such a divisive topic?
The food we eat directly affects the way we function as people and the way we feel day-to-day. What we eat drives our energy, moods, emotions, physical abilities and manipulating our diet can have a profound physical effect.
Food choices align us with other people in our social circles. We eat together, chose the same restaurants, or cook and share meals, ultimately it defines an aspect of our relationship with someone else.
Society puts a heavy emphasis on aesthetics and promotes the diet culture as a tool to achieve a certain aesthetic. This sentiment is ingrained, “you are what you eat” and as a result, you look the way you do because of what you eat. While this may be an oversimplified generalisation, it’s what we’ve grown up with and often what we’re judged on.
Our food choices are linked to our social and financial status. Accessibility and the flexibility to choose a certain lifestyle can create a significant divide. Our socioeconomic status is one of the most important determinants of health.
There are strong moral and ethical beliefs surrounding certain diets such as veganism, vegetarianism and with that comes the pressure of upholding those moral values within the community. Often an extremely high level of expectation and judgement comes along with such food beliefs.
Our food choices are largely a result of our upbringing, our culture and tie us to our family and sometimes our religious beliefs. This can make what we eat highly personal and emotive.
Because these factors are so ingrained in each of us it’s no wonder the topic of food and diet can be so divisive. But how do these affect your relationships with other people? Do your food beliefs create a divide between you and others? Often we feel so passionately about the way we choose to eat that we enforce our ideas onto others, preach about the best way to eat, the ideal diet, products and lifestyle. It’s understandable to want to share our successes and to see others lead by our example, but the point is, that something as fundamental as food beliefs can never be a blanket statement. There is no one ideal diet, no best foods to eat, no best lifestyle to lead and food is not inherently “good” or “bad”. This ultimately means that what works for you will not definitively work for someone else.
Having an understanding of the many factors that influence our food choices can help in fighting back against the noise, the expectation and pressure of conforming to diets, detoxes, restrictions, social pressures and importantly, grow our tolerance for the choices of others too.