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