Bad, bad chocolate brownie

A look at why women can’t just enjoy food, instead of conveying it with qualities of good and bad

Most of us like food — from a hurried breakfast to a holiday feast. We like Grandma’s cookies, Dad’s barbecue, when someone brings us our favourite treat for a gift, lunch with a friend, and that romantic dinner that could be the start of a fine romance.

So when did women discover that food has a hidden agenda to lead them astray and ruin their lives?

You only have to go as far as the buffet table to hear women saying things like, “I can’t help myself, I’m going to have some of that wicked cheesecake,” or “that dessert is just too decadent,” or “that makes me abandon all my good intentions.”

It’s like the food has been lying in wait with evil schemes for its next victim. If food can have vices, can it also have virtues? Compassionate pasta? Benevolent bananas?

I have heard women talk about the perils of food of all my life and just recently, in food-unrelated contexts, heard women of different ages and backgrounds express concerns about weight, body image and food.

Confusing and scary. I asked a scientist about this, and he assured me that food is incapable of human moral qualities. He added that he does make informed personal choices about food for health reasons, not because he had ever thought that food had any personal plans to harm him.

Yes, I am aware that food, eating and weight concerns can be serious health issues needing professional attention.

I write from my own observations and experiences with women and their beliefs about the dark power of food. And why otherwise intelligent and well-educated women are perpetuating myths about food to themselves and other women and girls.

A number of years ago, I was not well and lost a lot of weight in a short time. Then a strange thing happened. Women started to compliment me about the weight loss, tell me how great I looked, how they envied me and how they wished they could do the same. I didn’t know what to say.

I had become the embodiment of what many women strive for — a thin woman, a good woman, a woman who could resist temptation — because we all know that the best thing a woman can do is be thin, no matter the circumstances.

Then, with care and time, I got back to a healthy weight for my age and body type. Women started to look at me reproachfully, pointing out to me that I had gained weight, wordlessly accusing me of being a failure, someone with no self-control, not a thin woman, a bad woman. I didn’t know what to say.

All I knew was that I felt better and had more energy.

The next time I hear a woman say, “I’m so bad to have this brownie,” I hope I will be impolite enough to say something to her, to tell her food has no power to make her bad, to ask her why she is telling lies about food to herself and other women and girls. Or more likely, I will just think sad little thoughts about why and how this came to be. And why we do not all enjoy the abundance of good food (food CAN have the innate quality of goodness, as in being healthy for most people in appropriate amounts) we have in our part of the world.