All Said And Dine: Hunger Shamed In Burbank

By Genevieve Pardoe

My partner travels a lot for work, and we have a baby. Since I work from home, we often have a family member come stay with us and help out. It’s usually my mother in law, a woman whom I adore. (There, it’s been said.)

But she does come from the generation that believes “women should nibble in public and dine in private” (yep, that’s a real saying), so navigating food, cooking, and eating is often a point of contention between the two of us.

Cut to the three of us - her, my young daughter, and me - entering the kitchenware section of IKEA. Immediately, my mother-in-law gets what can only be described as the “crazy eye,” and she tractor beams to the serving and salad bowls. She singles out a medium sized white salad bowl and holds it up to the light like Gollum with the ring.

“Isn’t this fun!?” she exclaims.

“Is the bowl full of wine?” I say under my breath. Because that would be fun for me. Nevertheless, I knew what she meant and where she was going with this.

Sure enough, she squeals, “With this bowl, we could just have salad for dinner! Wouldn’t that be so fun? You know, to only have salad for dinner!? After all, it’s just us girls!”

For the love of gold rimmed aviators, where do I even begin?

First of all, why does salad have a gender? Because it is news to me that lettuce prefers to be eaten by a lady.

 By that logic… is a man less of “a man” if he goes down on a kale and quinoa Buddha bowl? And, am I, a heterosexual female, a butch or a penis-envying Freudian archetype if I wrap my lips around a sweet, sweet Kobe burger now and then? Give me a break. I’m betting that even Emily Post got stuffed on hot wieners now and then.

Mixing terrible gender stereotypes with food-talk. That is how ridiculous it is to suggest that eating a salad is what “proper women” should do.

Of course, it goes deeper than that. Media and the dominant body politics teach folks who identify as girls and women to take a sick and demented pride, like a badge of honor, in denying food.

“I ate already, so I’m good…”

“No thanks, I am saving myself for a big meal tonight.”

“Eating is cheating!”

Sigh.

Hunger Shaming is the more quiet sister of Fat Shaming, but she’s equally as terrible and damaging for one’s confidence and overall concept of self. It brings up issues of control, will power, gender, and worthiness. Sometimes, it is not even the voices of others but our own self-talk that plays the role of our biggest bully.

I often hear girls and women make excuses for eating “too much” as if the meal they just enjoyed has to be justified—sort of a weird pre-emptive hunger shaming for excessive noshing, reeking of "you don’t have to shame me, I’ll do it myself!"

“I was at the gym for three hours this AM.”

“I’m skipping dinner.”

Or my personal favorite… the hit-and-run-rationale… “Oh my god I have no idea what just happened or why I ate that much, that is so not me! That came out of nowhere!”

Really? Did you black out face down on a family sized lasagna? No, you did not. You are a human, and you got hungry. That is okay. There is no valor in denying yourself food unless you're a part of a sick and twisted girl gang - in which case, leave immediately.

As of this moment, the word #thinspo (“thinspiration”) should be deleted from your vocabulary. There is and never will be nothing thinspirational about chasing a goal that mass media and pop culture have made it impossible to achieve. You will also be hangry as hell.

So, you might as well embrace that you, dear reader, are a high performance engine who needs high performance fuel. Do not apologize for that. Embrace it, with extra guac.

It is time we get positive about food. Easier said then done, right? Baby steps.

A good place to start is putting an end to hunger shaming. Whether you are a master chef or microwaving maven, food is life, love, culture, and history all wrapped into gooey goodness. It should be celebrated. Hunger Shaming—to yourself via spiteful self-talk or to someone else via bullying—robs its victims of the sheer pleasure of eating.

After the trip to IKEA and my subsequent tragic salad that I choked down for dinner, I stayed up that night, eating a block of Old Cheddar in secrecy, contemplating how I could have handled the situation better with my mother-in-law.

The truth is I don’t have the answer. I am often torn between wanting to say something in the moment - but that feels reactive and poorly thought out - or taking the lesson and applying it to my life, sort of a lead by example type approach. Since becoming a mother, I wrestle with this even more.  Feminism, farming, and food are inextricably linked, so chew on those comments you’re about to make—whether it’s on nutrition, weight, or portion control—carefully before you spit them out.