Food Morals: When are We Closing this Chapter?

Maria El Hage
Mercredi 27 Avril

Don’t eat this, eat that instead.

Eat organic.

Choose local produce, that imported product is dangerous.

Cut that macronutrient.

Don’t eat after 6 PM.

It feels like consuming foods nowadays has become a new unnecessarily troublesome task. Our choices of what foods to buy/eat and how much food to buy/eat is now in the hands of nutrition, lifestyle, and pro-diet-culture gurus, fervent activists, random people who recklessly strive to become TikTok famous, and pretty much any other person who believes they have a say in what other people consume.

The classification of foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and of eating behaviors as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ can be referred to today as food moralities. Now, it is true that obesity is a public health concern, but the way food morals have developed appears to go beyond science’s interest in decreasing obesity rates and other health problems.

In a discourse elaborated by Søren Askegaard et al., morality in food has been described on several levels: the foods themselves, self-control, and body size. When it comes to foods, it all starts with the categorization of foods as ‘healthy’ (= good) and ‘unhealthy’ (= bad). Once an item is labeled, consumers might overlook other factors: a “low-fat” food is immediately judged to be healthier. However, overeating a food that has a low-fat label doesn’t necessarily mean that a consumer’s calorie intake will be less, since at a lot of times, calories from fat could be replaced and/or compensated for by other forms of calories. Besides, what is considered a “healthy” or an “unhealthy” food and food-related behavior is still ambiguous in our society, as the perception of many food groups and behaviors, differs between cultures. “Why would including a more gastronomically informed approach be relevant? The answer is that few people view food first and foremost as nutrients. Culinary traditions, socialization, peer influence, and the contemporary discourse on the relationship between food quality (in gastronomical terms) and life quality are some of the issues that shape daily consumer interpretations of what constitutes good and bad food.” (Askegaard et al., 2014).

Second, when it comes to self-control, there is also a dichotomy present, where high self-control is viewed as good, whereas low self-control is viewed as bad. Dieting stems form this morality, whereby consumers “keep their food cravings under control.” Even if this self-control attempt fails, the morality persists. People will perceive successful or failed self-control attempts from a moral perspective, leading to guilt, regret, and possibly to disordered eating and eating disorders.

Next, when discussing body size, the morality automatically classifies people of low body mass as “healthy” and people of greater body mass as “unhealthy”. Nevertheless, this stereotypical categorization overlooks a lot of factors such as genetics, muscle mass, and physical activity. The morality of body size leads to treating people of greater body mass differently. Ever noticed how the protagonist who isn’t stereotypically model-like is most often not the love interest in the movie?

Lastly, I would like to quickly tackle resource availability and media use. Erin, known online as @FoodScienceBabe, is a food scientist and chemical engineer who works in the food industry in the U.S., and who has been combatting food-related myths for a good while now. I can summarize many of her responses to many false claims as follows:

  1. Unless the dose is stated, one cannot claim a certain ingredient to be hazardous.
  2. Think beyond labels; “natural” does not mean “safer” and “organic” does not equal “pesticide-free.”
  3. Different people have access to different food resources. Let’s not condemn them for consuming what’s available to them!


I would like to conclude this article by saying that all food is good food. There is a beautiful phenomenon that exists, and it’s called moderation. It allows you to consume whatever you want, without exception. However, the secret lies in forgiveness for every time we overate, ate something labeled “unhealthy”, forgot to drink enough water, didn’t eat enough vegetables and fruits during the week, and chose to not exercise. There are so many factors for why your body looks the way it does, why you do not have “healthier” food items incorporated in what you eat, and why you, God forbid, develop a certain disease.

Go ahead and go out, eat whatever you want and can afford, thank your body for doing its job (keeping you alive!), exercise when and if you can, and remember that morals stem from society, not truths.