Guilt-free eating? I’ll pass, thanks
By delicious. magazine deputy editor Susan Low
I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt lately. Not because I have anything in particular to feel guilty about but because every time I crack the spine on a newly published cookbook or read a press release, I’m urged to feel ‘guilt free’.
There are books with recipes for ‘guilt-free food your guests will love’ or ‘guilt-free weeknight favourites’; for ‘gorgeous guilt-free food’, or for food that promises to make me feel ‘happy, not guilty’.
These incredible new guiltless recipes all have something to demonise, something to save us from – the nutritional rogues’ gallery of Bad Things: wheat, dairy, refined sugar, gluten – dietetic no-nos we musn’t let touch our lips lest they turn us into Bad People.
Yes, I’ve read the headlines screaming about the impending obesity epidemic. I’m sure eating better food is a good idea, but I am even more sure that insidiously trying to make people feel guilty about partaking in one of nature’s most rewarding activities is wrong. Mealtimes shouldn’t be a time for self-flagellation; they should be a chance to wind down, disengage the brain, cook, eat and enjoy.
And anyway, do I want to eat dishes just because they’re alkaline, or wheat free, or low/high GI? No. I want to cook and eat food that tastes good; food that’s made with good ingredients, made with care and seasoned well. I want to cook things for people who like to share and who are happy to eat. Calorie counting and the simplistic labelling of food as good and bad or the dissection of it into a collection of nutrients is missing the point. What we should be asking about food is ‘Does it taste good?’ or ‘Will my family enjoy it?’
Yes, there are some things that make me feel guilty… I get a sense of remorse if I have to throw away food, and I despise gluttony for gluttony’s sake as much as I despise meanness. I don’t think there’s any reason to indulge in shark fin, Caspian caviar or food from threatened species. I’d go a long way to avoid any food I had reason to believe was produced in a cruel or harmful manner.
There are plenty of things wrong with our current food system and much to feel ashamed about: ploughing good veg back into the ground because it looks less than perfect; throwing good fish back into the sea, dead, because they weren’t the target species; the shocking amount of food UK households throw away through simple lack of planning and because they couldn’t care less. These are things we ought to have weighing on our conscience – and ought to do something about – rather than obsessing about the latest fashionably demonised ingredients.
You may have a medical or religious reason for cutting out something from your diet, but faddy food avoidance is at best ill-informed and at worst dangerous. So do me a favour and save the low-cal, gluten-free, ‘clean-eating’ guilt trips for someone else.