Last weekend, my children took part in a yearly ritual involving a fantastical giant fluffy bunny and a shite-load of chocolate. Some call it Easter, but in our (seriously non-denominational) family, it’s known as The Chocolate Holiday.
The holy chocolate day starts with the adult rising uncharacteristically early, and sneaking outside – under cover of darkness – to scatter the goods throughout the garden. It is quickly followed by the stampeding of little feet, the ripping of foil, and the unbridled joy (and heavenly silence) that is legitimate chocolate consumption before breakfast.
At 8 years of age, my daughter is undoubtedly too old to believe in a giant, chocolate-bearing bunny (just as she’s surely too old to believe in Santa or the tooth fairy, yet steadfastly clings to such notions). But she’s not letting go, or letting on, because …
And you know what? I totally get that. In fact I applaud that.
As a dietitian, and a foodie, I believe that finding pleasure in food is a good thing. And following on from that, I believe that it’s okay to eat some foods not for their nutritional value, or health-giving properties, but simply because they’re luxurious / indulgent / insanely delicious.
And that’s why something I read this week made me feel very sad.
Surprise surprise, it was Pete Evans. Pete with his special brand of blue-eyed, slightly unhinged dietary zeal, preaching once again to his tribe on Facebook. But what got me this time was that he wasn’t just talking about himself. Nor was it another emotive, highly crafted ‘over to you’ tale of paleo triumphing over the woes of chronic disease. This time, it was about kids – his kids – and how he was teaching them the ‘right’ way to eat.
Here it is what he posted on 13th April.
On the surface it’s kind of sweet – is it not? The protective, nurturing father, guiding his daughters through life with a charming tale of (pure, disease free, enlightened) bunnies. And judging by the volumes of adoring comments it garnered, that’s exactly the way Pete’s tribe saw it.
But it’s the subtext that made my stomach churn. Because when you read between the lines, Pete’s message to his daughters is that eating lollies at a party is a bad thing to do – that it would harm them, and essentially make them less pure.
His is a lesson in the dichotomy of food, and the warped idea that no amount of lollies is ever okay, if they want to lead healthy, happy lives. It perpetuates the idea that foods are either righteous or sinful. Tonic or toxin. Pure or dirty.
To me, the bunny story is food guilt, dressed up as good parenting. And it makes me sad to think what foundations are being laid down right now in his daughters’ impressionable young minds. And – for that matter – in the impressionable young minds of children all over the country who’s parents buy into this militant way of thinking.
Because humans are not bunnies Pete. We are emotionally complex, intelligent creatures who develop a relationship with food very early on in life. We don’t just mindlessly nibble away on whatever we are fed – we learn and develop a belief system around foods from our family, friends and life experiences, which will lay the foundation for our eating patterns in the future.
Will Pete’s ‘bunnies’ grow up subscribing to his dogma and never want to eat a lolly? Or (more likely) will they eat the lollies one day, and then feel the guilt? What other ‘bad’ foods will they grow up feeling ashamed of eating? Chocolate surely, and maybe grains, dairy foods, legumes, potatoes? And how will they fare in their teenage and adult years when their world opens up to reveal a minefield of dangerously available, ultimately alluring ‘banned’ foods?
My opinion is that such teaching is a recipe for disordered eating in susceptible individuals.
And that’s why I won’t be banning my children from any particular foods, regardless of how nutritionally bereft they may be. I won’t be staying at the party to slap their little hands away from the fairy bread, or cautioning the grandparents against buying them an ice cream.
I’ll be offering them mostly nutrient dense, minimally processed foods that I know will support the growth of their bodies and minds. I’ll be teaching them that we eat not only to fuel our bodies, but also to indulge our senses, and to socialise, and be part of a community. I’ll be letting them know that sometimes it is okay to eat food just for pleasure, and hoping to instil in them a mindful, moderate approach to eating, rather than a rigid, fearful one.
And so, ends my little Friday night stint on the soap box – with that vexatious, unsexy message of moderation again. That, and a couple of questions to ponder:
1. Are you sure no bunnies were harmed in the making of that statement?