It’s time we stopped food shaming other vegans and learned to think before we give unsolicited advice to complete strangers regarding what we think they should be putting into their bodies.
A recent Instagram post showcasing a delicious sticky toffee pudding I devoured could have been an opportunity for goodwill, and the coming together of people from various locations around the planet.
My simple dream for this dessert photo was for it to act as a temporary tool to bring a few thousand vegans together, for one brief moment of joy in this tumultuous world.
It could have been so beautiful. It could have been so right.
However, the Internet often throws up nasty surprises when you least expect them.
A photo of a vegan dessert surely couldn’t have the power to bring out an ugly side of humanity, could it?
Instead of generating an unwavering onslaught of plant-based appreciation, my social media post reminded me that vegans have the ability to be just as thoughtless and uncaring as the rest of the population when it comes to online interactions… and we need to learn to do better as individuals and as a digital community.
The warm, gooey decadence in a bowl did receive its deserved share of celebratory comments and double taps resulting in red hearts, but one throwaway response brought my “cakes for humanity” dream crashing to the ground.
What was the missive that made my dessert dreams crumble?
“You ever worry that you’re not promoting a healthy lifestyle?”
Yes, simple for sure, but enough to upset me.
To understand why this comment got to me, I’m going to unpack it a little and also share some personal information with you.
I’m a real person with feelings and I had just eaten this item.
Somebody I had never met and who has no right to comment on my food choices was publicly being critical and accusing me of setting a bad example.
By asking if I was aware that I was setting a bad example, they inferred that my personal food choices were wrong or bad. Something to be shamed publicly.
There is hardly anything more personal than what we choose to put into our bodies.
In addition, rarely is there a subject for which we are so ruthlessly scrutinised, berated, and ridiculed.
Everything from mainstream media to (possibly not) well-intentioned relatives work hard to make us feel embarrassed and guilty about what we consume.
Now let me share something with you.
I’m not an idiot. I understand that I consume what some people would consider a lot of processed food, sugar-based snacks, and alcohol. But you know what? I have deep personal reasons and motivations for eating what I do.
What I consume is informed by a lifetime of personal experiences. The way I eat is connected to emotional trials and tribulations.
Yes, what I put in my body is very often an act of self-medication and preservation. And sometimes I just want something nice.
I understand the basics of human metabolism, and the functions of my own body. I know if I eat a lot of certain types of food and don’t do enough exercise, I will put on weight. And there might be connected health outcomes.
You don’t need to tell me any of this. You don’t have the right to tell me any of this.
If you call me out for my food choices on social media, you are adding to the compounded stress, and oppression under which I already exist.
When someone says something cutting to me online about my food choices, they are chipping away at my self-esteem and self-worth, which are already being constantly attacked by forces bigger than just that one person.
Break the cycle of food shaming and passive aggressive commenting on the Internet.
There are enough negative forces working to health shame society without us randomly calling out strangers via online platforms.
Negative comments are not stand-alone throwaway lines that amount to nothing. They are part of a more widespread oppression centred on making people feel ashamed and unworthy of how they look.
We all have to face this every day of our lives.
Next time you feel compelled to critique a stranger’s food choices online, catch yourself and stop.
Remind yourself that people have the right to manage their own bodies without constant judgement from people they have never met.
Visualise that person as a human with individual problems, feelings and hardships. Tell yourself that your comment is going to add nothing to their time on this planet. And by NOT posting that comment, you might very well be helping them get through their day with a little less stress, shame, and negativity.
Make peace with the idea that everyone is on their own journey.
Look after your own needs and by all means talk food choices with those who seek your advice. Just leave my sticky toffee pudding and me alone.
I know where you are if I need your help with feeding myself.