A Call to Ban Today’s “Food Holiday”

May 11, 2016

Did you hear it in the winds? Did you see it on the blimps? Did you read it in the paper of record? Today, May 11th, is National Eat What You Want Day!

Right?!? No. Photo by James Ransom

According to some PR emails that have appeared in our inboxes, these 24 hours we’re currently inhabiting on the long slow road to death are a time to “indulge...without that guilty feeling that inevitably comes with having that second (or third) tasty treat!” Unlock your safes full of sweets, ladies and gents! Grab those stretchy pants! Open up those cartons of girl scout cookies you’ve been hiding from for fear you might enjoy them a little too much. Don’t slap your own hand when it reaches for a second cookie. Go wild.

Food holidays created by brands and their marketing teams are obnoxious enough; we all know National Strawberry Milkshake Day doesn’t mean anything more than the opportunity for a few clicks and some lofty dreams of a trending hashtag. Drink whatever the hell milkshake you want on whichever day you want. But a holiday that points a finger at all other days, all other meals, and all other decisions as fraught with both guilt and restriction—well, it’s gross. And it promotes a vicious cycle that already exists in far too many brains. The people shouting the news of this fake day are both encouraging us to feel shame for our everyday urges and choices and ignoring the millions of people who struggle with disordered eating every day, without ever being able to temporarily “turn it off and just indulge ;).”

Real food holidays—St. Patrick’s Day and its corned beef and cabbage, Valentine’s Day and its box of chocolates, Easter and its gobs of candy, Purim and its hamantaschen—are fun. They remind us to make foods we don’t normally make, and give us reason to eat things we might sometimes stay away from because eating a box of chocolates every day would put a lot of people into a sugar coma. Food holidays give us reason to bring celebrations to our tables. But this is not a food holiday. This is, in essence, a heavily-promoted “cheat day” that happens but once a year. And as Mary H.K. Choi recently wrote in GQ, “Allocating a time and place to eat pasta after six days of not eating pasta isn't an event. And it's definitely not conversation.”

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You know what’s an awesome part of being a human with free will and a functioning digestive system? Eating a second cookie whenever the hell you want. You know what’s another awesome (but sometimes annoying) part of being that human? Being able to decide where you draw your own lines. Maybe you don’t eat carbs on weekdays! Maybe you like to eat ice cream from the pint in bed (hi, me)! And that’s great, so long as it keeps you feeling mostly good and mostly free, whatever free means to you. You know what’s awful? The smoke monster that is Food Marketing trying to scare us into fearing our foods and our selves. Ban this fake holiday. Ban the words “indulge” and “guilt” in all food writing. Always remember that food is a hugely triggering issue for many people, but also a total nonissue for many people who deserve to keep it that way. Encourage people to eat whatever the hell they want—and don’t make them feel awful about it. And sure, maybe encourage them to cook, because that’s fun too. Just stop using guilt and shame as a way to market your sugary snack.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I don't almost ever just indulge so I need a holiday to give me permission! ”
— Lea

Are you with us? Tell us what you think in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AllABunchOfIdiots
  • AntoniaJames
  • Mags
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  • Catherine Lamb
    Catherine Lamb
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



AllABunchOfIdiots May 11, 2018
You're all a bunch of idiots, this holiday doesn't matter and whomever aims their agenda to resist is wasting their time on something not worth while
AntoniaJames May 12, 2016
Always the contrarian (or perhaps, one who seeks to understand before seeking to be understood), may I respectfully suggest that one definition of "indulge" is "to allow (yourself) to have or do something as a special pleasure." There's a lot to be said for saving certain foods and food experiences for special occasions. Not doing so makes them less special.
For that reason, I would cut the word some slack and certainly would not call for a ban on its use in food writing. ("Life changing"? Yes. "Genius"? Yes, with Kristen being the only exception. But I digress.)

Now, the guilt part of it. That's another matter, but as I pointed out in another article about guilt and food, here on this site, " . . . stepping back a minute: Guilt is generally something that people do to themselves. Nobody can make you feel guilty unless you let them."
Mags May 12, 2016
"Ban the words “indulge” and “guilt” in all food writing."


I'm going to eat what I want. And none of what I want involved heaping piles of feeling completely sick.
Stacy May 11, 2016
Yes! This.
Catherine L. May 11, 2016
Megan H. May 11, 2016
So, what kind of food holiday can we replace it with?
Lainie May 11, 2016
I did not even know there was such a "holiday". So why give it any additional press by writing about it - not that I will have the slightest inkling to "celebrate" such a foolish notion!
Fredrik B. May 11, 2016
"Indulgent" and "guilt-free" are words that, magically, make whatever food they're describing seem a million times less appetising to me.
Admittedly I do like food holidays and traditions: it feels seasonal, and only eating something a few weeks every year (Like semlor during Lent) makes me look forward to and appreciate it so much more. But this one just feels... Off.
Zelda May 11, 2016
Why is food categorised as good or bad? Too much guilt and not enough enjoyment. Every meal should be a delicious indulgence. Ban 'healthy' eating, and people will automatically eat better, as well as lose weight.
Lea May 11, 2016
I am totally gonna go bake & eat something I want after reading this! Lol! I don't almost ever just indulge so I need a holiday to give me permission!
M May 11, 2016
I understand the sentiment, and agree with the shaming that is inherent in this approach, but "REAL food holidays"? They just feel "real," and not "obnoxious," because they have transcended the marketing that created them to become cultural touchstones.

How we see Valentine's Day today is directly related to Richard Cadbury's desire to sell his new chocolates. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/celebrating-valentines-day-with-a-box-of-chocolates

Trick-or-treating became a candy event because candy companies positioned their products as an easy and economical way to follow the presents like coins and toys that were given in the 1940s. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/10/how-candy-and-halloween-became-best-friends/64895/

Shelley M. May 11, 2016
Man, everybodys so cranky today
Erin May 11, 2016
Let's take it further and ban all of these stupid days!
Taste O. May 11, 2016
Here! Here!