When Food becomes a Religion

Food is taking on the role of religion in some people's lives. This food religion is incompatible with radical unschooling as discussed on this site and in the discussions supported by and supporting this site.

Overt religious language:

(I set up a section, but didn't put anything in it, so somewhere in my notes must be some overt religious language related to dietery practicies. If anyone finds any I can put here, please let me know.)

Until I find my notes or other quotes, here is an article by a scholar of religion (assistant professor of religion, at the time of the writing): How 'Diet Gurus' Hook Us With Religion Veiled In Science

Sandra Dodd, April 2014:
I have heard people turn that "you crave what you're allergic to" all the way around, to tell people that IF there's a food they really like, then that proves they are allergic to it, and addicted to it, and should stop eating it altogether.

There is a long history of deprivation associated with Christianity (and maybe other religions, but definitely Catholicism and Protestantism. People SHOULD suffer. Life SHOULD not be pleasant. This is the big celebratory weekend for that, for Catholics, especially. Jesus suffered. Mary, his mother, suffered. Anything that happens to us will be nothing compared to that, so quit your bellyachin'. Only sinners headed to hell do what they like, and make comfortable choices.

The problem with overlaying that onto unschooling is that the parents either limit children, or shame them for the choices they make.

Exploring the world (including food) needs to be done in a supported and supportive way, in an open and non-fearful way, in a sensible and sensitive way.


from the same discussion:

People who argue with longtime unschoolers about diet are (I think) picture our kids eating red M&Ms and Twinkies washed down with diet Coke and Twizzlers. Because people who live in fear of food have angels and devils in and among foods, they assume those who say "Don't worry" or "You're over-reacting" are devils, and devil-food worshippers. (Honestly, I don't even like devil's food cake—not chocolate enough for me.)

But if they would read the hundred+ stories collected at my site about what actually happens when children have choices, they might be brave enough to try a little and watch with their own kids.

Or they can refuse to read my evil site, and destroy their relationships with their children and set the stage for a lifetime of reactionary dietary behaviors. There are other options than those two, of course. smiley face

Magical thinking, and sacrifice to guarantee health:

There's TED talk I really like. It's about a fair number of things, but this is a quote from the transcript:
The fifth foundation is purity/sanctity. This painting is called "The Allegory Of Chastity," but purity's not just about suppressing female sexuality. It's about any kind of ideology, any kind of idea that tells you that you can attain virtue by controlling what you do with your body, by controlling what you put into your body. And while the political right may moralize sex much more, the political left is really doing a lot of it with food. Food is becoming extremely moralized nowadays, and a lot of it is ideas about purity, about what you're willing to touch, or put into your body.
—Jonathan Haidt
In the absence of religion, it seems people invent their own (or borrow what's seeming to "save" someone else). And religions need devils, and angels, and religions need martyrdom, so for the past few years if anyone suggests there are WAY too many pieces of the true cross on display, or that there are WAY too many people claiming they will puke or explode if they eat wheat, they claim you're persecuting them and would cause their deaths.

It's irritating and amusing, and it will pass. Crazy fads usually pass, as people move on to something else they can exercise their extreme emotions on.

My parents and grandparents were happy to get ANY food, during the Depression, and during the dust bowl days. Some of those people are still alive (still alive!? After eating white bread and Spam!? :-)), and the comparison is a horror.

Here's the link for that quote. https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind/transcript?language=en

Fallacy stated as fact, taken on faith:

-=-I know that the colours in sweets are carcinogens and banned in almost every country-=-

Food colorings are ancient, and varied, and they can't ALL be carcinogens.

Same with paints or dyes, different colors are made from very different things.

-=- I know that gluten causes leaky gut syndrome , which in turn causes many other intolerances/diseases. -=-

It might help if you rephrase in your mind just a bit. instead of "I know," maybe downgrade it to "I believe" or "people say" or "it seems." Because fads flare up HUGELY and this recent food near-religion is a hot one. And then the people who jumped in because it was a fad go away, and some of what's left doesn't look so much like knowledge anymore.

If you look back at other diseases (assuming that "leaky gut syndrome" is a disease, for the moment) of the past, there was always misinformation, superstition, fallacy and "medicine" and science that turned out not to be so valid. We are IN the history of medicine; time will pass and 2013 will be in the past, and we will look back and see it more clearly.

2015 note from Sandra Dodd:
Those are my responses above. What came to mind when the mom wrote "I know" was songs from my Southern Baptist childhood: When something someone heard from a friend or read on a blog is stated adamantly as TRUTH, rational thought has been batted away. Some people have the fervor of conversion upon them, having heard that there is an easy way to SAVE their families from disease and death, to make their children smarter, and better behaved; to make themselves strong and beautiful into old age. It is partially fountain-of-youth stuff. It is partly an attractive excuse for controlling children (and spouses, sometimes).

Food as religion:

To call some food "junk" is an artificial division. When food is given the status of a religion (the place where sacrifices are made to ensure a positive outcome and long/eternal life), then there IS the necessity of a devil/Satan/"the dark side." When food is just another casual part of life, kids will choose melons over biscuits/cookies and chocolate eggs sometimes. When a child is loudly, ceremoniously and with a big happy-face NOT ALLOWED to be in the presence of the devil/sweets, then if and when he is lured by that satanic force, he will either resist out of fright instilled by his loving mother, or he will succumb, indulge, and be one giant step away from his mother, morally, emotionally and dietarily.
—Sandra Dodd, 2013
quoted at Food Problems

"Real Food" and other shaming terms

January 2017 on Radical Unschooling Info on Facebook, someone wrote:
I'm planning to unschool. I also am a holistic nutrition and wellness coach. I think food especially for children is the upmost importance because gut health and nutrition dictates health and mind body spirit connection. Unhealthy body unhealthy mind and unschooling is to promote natural curiosity and learning. My suggestion is not to take the restrictive route. Instead cook whole real foods together. Learn about sprouting grains and lentils and have kids help. Great for kids that are into science. Grow a garden to take them to a nearby sustainable organic farm. Let them learn (and you re learn) what real food is and you'll all find something much better than a bagel with cream cheese ☺️
Some of the responses are worth saving:

Nicole Kenyon:

Restricting food is not radical unschooling. That is like telling a vegan group you really should consider eating animal protein.
Sandra Dodd:
Being this judgmental of food because you're a nutrition and wellness coach (LOTS of people are being ordained as ministers in various churches of diet in the past few years) will be detrimental to unschooling.

There are probably people for whom a bagel with cream cheese reminds them of loving grandmothers, of neighborhoods they needed to move away from against their will, or maybe they just love that, and there IS no better food for them.

I nearly deleted the post the same way I would have if it had said light a candle and pray to the Virgin Mary to cure the eczema.

Go easy of food as religion. If you can't discuss unschooling without recommending diets or insulting bagels, don't post in this group. Sorry. It's a big day of people who have never posted before jumping in and telling parents to limit their children. I don't need to provide a forum for that.

Jo Isaac:
==what real food is and you'll all find something much better than a bagel with cream cheese==

Is a bagel with cream cheese not real? Have I been imagining it all this time? Would it not save someone from starvation? Provide carbohydrates and protein?

Given the choice between 'unreal' bagel and cream cheese, or sprouted grains, I'd go bagel every time.

Hannah Ford:
"Real food?" A bagel and cream cheese aren't fantasy.

from January 2015, a discussion ultimately deleted by its initiator:
The mom wrote:
But why do we have to offer refined, chemically bleached sugars that has the same effect on our brain as cocaine? Why not some raw, unrefined sugar, raw honey from your local beekeeper, or vitamin rich maple syrup?
Sandra Dodd:
You seem to have been reading a lot of booga-booga fright blogs, and there are a lot of them out there. "The same effect as cocaine" is scary, isn't it? Is it something you can explain in your own words, or are you (as much of your post seems to be) repeating phrases you've read as though they're objective, clear fact?

Sacrificial magic, and powerful belief

Sandra Dodd, in a discussion on parental fears and fallacies:

People walk to a little church in northen New Mexico every year, the Santuario de Chimayo, near where I grew up. Some go on their knees the last part. Some walk 100 miles. Thousands walk five or fifteen miles. They want to be blessed in that church, and get some of the holy, healing dirt to take home to others who couldn't come. When I was a kid, the room with the dirt floor, where people could go in and scoop some up to take home, was miraculous. There was always more dirt, and the walls were covered with crutches and leg braces from people who had been cured of polio and other afflictions.

Making sacrifices to obtain better health and a longer life has been known to help people since before history was recorded.

The belief that giving something up will have sudden and measurable effects might be what causes the effects. Hope and a feeling of being more in control, of finally having help or an answer might be part of what makes people feel better. If they feel successful and powerful, they might continue to feel good about their sacrifice. If they fear the substance they have sacrificed, the eating it might stress them and stress is known to trigger problems.

People seem to have an instinct to look for angels and devils (of one sort or another) and even in a person who rejects what they consider superstition or religion, they might need to know what is holy and beneficial, and what is evil and destructive, and many people are characterizing foods in those ways now. If there is a biological imperative to have villians and blessings, people can find them.

Some villify plastic and worship wood.

Some praise bicycles and hate motorcycles/cars/trucks.

Some worship books and revile movies or electronics.

Some even reject the use of electronic versions of the same books they worship in paper form; some don't, and that is why religions have sects and denominations, because one person gets VERY attached to one aspect as the strongest element. The head covering, the dates, the method of baptism and the age of the subject, pork or shellfish, Saturday or Sunday sabbath, beard or no beard, hair cut or not cut, hair showing or not showing, skirts long or short, foreskin cut or not cut (there's a sacrifice BIGtime—to please God or to prevent disease).

People swear by these things, or against these things. And swearing is a magical sacrifice. It is "I will state this as truth and will put my life/freedom up as surety." Swearing an oath has magic and dangerous risk. Perjury is a crime.

Belief is powerful. When mothers swear that their children get hyper from sugar and don't want to consider that it might be excitement over finally getting something they longed for that was forbidden, they act as though their children are possessed by a devil. They laugh at their kids, and tell neighbors and strangers how "hyper" they are, and the mothers feel absolutely justified in controlling their children further, protecting them from that devil. It will make the children sneak and lie, but that will be seen as proof of evil and the power of sugar.

There is so much fear and nonsense, it's hard to see what actually is plain truth. And people get pretty het up when someone says "fear and nonsense." They get hostile, defensive, hyper. It's like someone whose religion has been criticized, especially if they feel that holy dirt cured their mother, or child.

Sandra Dodd, May 20, 2014
(original, on Radical Unschooling Info)

The ideas above were about things parents had brought to or around unschooling discussions, about food magic. Below is from an article in 2018:

From ritual offerings to dietary laws to prescribed fasts, food has always played an important role in religion. In recent decades, however, diets have become religions of their own. They create community, set standards of moral value, and even promise salvation.

In his 2014 book Diet Cults, Matt Fitzgerald identifies a cult diet as a "way of eating that is morally based, identity-forming, community-building, and viewed by its followers as superior to all other ways of eating." It's based less on sound science than on a desire for identity and meaning. Alan Levinovitz, a professor of religious studies and author of the 2015 book The Gluten Lie, explains that humans naturally seek "symbolic frameworks for understanding our place in the world." Religion is one of those frameworks. But eating, an "intuitively symbolic" merging of your body with the world, can also become a framework for thinking about how to live your life in general. "Food is one of the number one ways people think about morality," Levinovitz says.

. . . .
If you're relying on your diet to change your life, it may just end up consuming it.
The article: Is your diet a cult?, by Maria Devlin McNair

The book: "Diet Cults," Matt Fitzgerald (Interview with the author)


On facebook in December 2018

My vegetarian friend (who fully respects other dietary choices) posted this: A friend of mine who lives in Los Angeles, which is considering MANDATING VEGAN meals on local menus, just sent me his letter to the city council member proposing it. His letter is not only funny as hell it's a masterpiece of demonstrating the absurdity of such an approach. Oh my! READ and SHARE!

Dear Council Member Koretz,

Regarding your proposed legislation requiring vegan options in Los Angeles, I get it. I was vegan a while back, and vegetarian for a long time before that, and finding food at different public venues was really difficult. At that time, seeing that I saw myself as morally superior to everyone else because of my dietary pattern and ethical beliefs, finding food that I could eat that didn't violate my ethics shouldn't have been this difficult. I mean I was saving the world from the sixth great extinction, speciesism, climate change, deforestation, world hunger, heart disease and a myriad of other problems just by going vegan.

Or so I thought.

It turns out the world isn't so black or white. This is especially true with food production and environmental impacts. The more time I spent on farms and ranches, the more I realized that there are a myriad of ways to raise, grow and or catch food that range from very bad to very good. So a dichotomy of "plants good" and "meat bad" from a health, environment, and even an ethical point of view is grossly over-simplified if not downright wrong.

As H.L. Menken once noted, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong." Veganism is one of those simple wrong answers. So my thinking has evolved to deal with the greater complexity of the real world. Thus I'm now "post vegan." Or, otherwise known as a regenatarian. Regen for short. So I try to be conscientious of how all the plant and animal food I eat is raised, grown or caught. Did you realize that a third of the atmosphere's carbon dioxide is due to the plow? Do you realize how much methane rice farming produces? Plus don't get me going on synthetic fertilizers used for industrial crop production like the corn in most store bought tortillas or the hyper processed textured wheat in Impossible Burgers.

Though unlike in my vegan past, I'm now disinclined to impose my food religion on others. But still it would be nice to have regenatarian options at airports, movie theaters, stadiums and other entertainment venues. Especially since my regenatarian diet makes me now morally superiors to the typical oblivious vegan's diet, why shouldn't us regens also have legislated mandated options? Those choices should include pastured livestock proteins managed in ways that regenerate soil, non-tilled organic vegetables and fryer vats without monocropped industrial seed or soy bean oils.

I've also found I function a lot better on a ketogenic diet. So I'm a keto regenatarian. Thus please also expand your proposed legislation to include mandated ketogenic and keto-regenatarian menu items with well sourced pastured fats. It would be really helpful too if you could make restaurants and other food service locations list their specific macro ratios of fats, proteins and carbs. Lots of people are following ketogenic and paleo diets now, so not sure if the head of the other NRA has realized it yet, but food operators are leaving money on the table if they don't appease people on ketogenic and paleo diets.

Additionally, I have gluten issues and since I got my 23 & Me results back, I've decided to embrace my Semitic roots. It turns out that all the stories my mother told me about my ancestry being a Scottish highlander and Lakota warrior simply weren't true. I'm almost entirely an Ashkenazie Jew. So also need a Rabbi to bless my gluten free, keto regenatarian food. Considering how much money us Jews have, makes perfect economic sense to mandate restaurants, especially those in public venues, to at least provide kosher, gluten free kosher, gluten free ketogenic kosher, and gluten free keto regenatarian kosher options for their customers like me. Heck, such mandates for specific audiences make perfect sense for low margin businesses in already super regulated environments. When LAX or other similar places issues RFP's, these places should make such requirements part of their selection process. This will certainly make Los Angeles a leader in environmental conscientiousness when it comes to what's at the end of one's fork. Screw food costs. Screw market forces. Legislated mandates are what's required to make sure our respective food religions are respected whenever any of us want to go out to eat. Bring on the nanny state!!!

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Post Veg

One of the comments, from Kurtis S.:

If they want to level the field vegan and vegetarian restaurants should have to serve up non-vegetarian meals then. I can just hear the screams about that!!!!

Food priests

Food at an Unschooling Table (notes from a conference presentation)

Fear of Food "The Full Plate Club"