Food Shame: The Morality of Eating

Last week in my Paleo f(x) post, I shared that my favorite presentation I did at the event, “Tweaking the Recipe to Create an Awesome Life,” discussed my evolving philosophy on moderation for the sake of the bigger life picture. Mark’s Daily Apple reader His Dudeness commented that it’s becoming more common to conflate morality and food choice. Already being in the mode of the f(x) talk, this topic piqued my interest. Far beyond those quaint (and deluded) labels about fat content, today we see phrases like guilt-free, low carbon, humane, and fair trade. The grocery aisle has become a dizzying ethical landscape.

No matter how well we think we’re doing in terms of responsible eating choices (e.g. grass-fed beef), somebody turns around and brags that they’re eating a pastured heritage beef breed. If we’re of a particularly sensitive or maybe just competitive nature, suddenly we’re sucked into a Portlandia version of social shame and ethical hell. How did we exchange sanity for perfectionism, and how do we find our way back? When it comes to making simple food decisions, where do we draw the line between putting helpful knowledge into practice and putting ourselves through a moral gauntlet?

The fact is, eating isn’t a simple enterprise anymore. As with many things in life these days, we can feel like we know too much. This kind of food destroys the forests. That type of food is harvested by people who live in these unjust conditions. If you buy X product, you’re supporting this destructive agricultural or trade practice. And that doesn’t even touch the less political, more personal shaming inherent in those heinous and blistering assumptions like “Well, if you had any respect for your body you wouldn’t touch that,” or “You really must not care what you look like.” I’d say to avoid hanging out with these people at all costs, but the fact is, our worst critics are often ourselves.

Unfortunately, if you scrutinize long and deep enough, just about any food choice can put you on the shame train. Seriously, at some point, we have to refuse to ride anymore.

These days if you spend too much time reading, researching and listening to hype media, you’ll feel the weight of the world on your shoulders with every bite or drink you take. It’s easy to wish for ignorance some days. If only food – not to mention the whole agribusiness complex – weren’t so complicated. If only a meal could be a freaking meal again…

Grok didn’t have to deal with all this mental and moral flack. Can’t I enjoy a steak without justifying my apparently selfish existence over it? Can I have a salad without feeling guilty over the dead and displaced animals who lost their homes (or lives) because of agricultural expansion? And, damn it all, can I have one cookie without the paleo police, other dietary authority or random pain-in-the-butt stranger adding his/her two cents?

I get that any dietary approach, Primal included, naturally moves us toward favoring some foods over others. We learn what certain foods do to our bodies (good and bad) because of their nutrient content, their processing, their added ingredients, etc. An approach may, as Primal does, note the conditions under which food – whether plant or animal source – is raised and even the impact certain choices have on the larger environment. To me, this is all knowledge, all information we can use the way we wish to make decisions that fit our overall needs and perhaps to shape our personal values.

Values… It can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. For some people, they revolve more around political principles. For others, “no/minimal harm” priorities come to mind with animal welfare or environmental concerns taking precedence. Maybe it’s a serious investment in health integrity, an interest in worker rights or even a strict adherence to religious directives.

No matter what the subject, we try to live our lives in alignment with our personal values. They’re priorities, but that’s not the same as dogma. I personally see alignment as gravitation. We naturally gravitate toward those choices that are in alignment with our values because we experience homeostasis when we do. Our lives are generally or increasingly congruent with our priorities, and there’s a certain peace in that.

For example, my values support optimizing health for the greatest number and promoting sustainability whenever reasonable. Since I have the resources to buy all my food from ethically and sustainably raised sources, I do that. I also choose to financially back companies like Thrive Market that seek to make these healthier options available to more people. For me, that’s living (and investing) close to my center as I’ve personally defined it.

Yet, I’m sure countless critics could find a thousand things “wrong” with me as defined by their perception of my food choices – eating certain favorite things that have to be shipped across the country if not the world, eating too much meat, having a dessert at a party two weeks ago, etc.

For the absolutist thinking of some critics (external or internal), progress is the enemy of perfection. Instead of living in gravitation to values, they would impose a guilt-ridden tyranny of shoulds, musts and failings.

We are only as good as the righteousness of our last food choice according to this approach. Our choices become our endorsements, and our identities get wrapped up in those endorsements. The “cleaner” our diet, the cleaner and more godly we are as people.

This is where the wheels come off the bus for me. I’m not joining that guilt trip, thank you very much. And, by the way, am I the only one who finds this path exhausting?

Unfortunately, many people can sometimes reject legitimate issues around food choice as a result of overwrought moralism. Crap food companies even capitalize on the aggressive pushback by promoting hedonistic, devil-may-care attitudes. The whole push and pull becomes it’s own perpetual circus of crazy-making.

We can choose to live in this interminable conflict, or we can choose to live outside of it. Rather than try to compete or race to keep up or disown our desires, we can center ourselves in our values, our needs, our understanding and our circumstances. In the confluence of these, we find our center – the sanest place to live and choose from.

I highly suggest learning about your food – for your own welfare and even that of others. Yet, I also highly suggest leaving any kind of shame, comparison and justification out of the equation. Trust yourself to make decisions based on solid information and not emotional bait. It’s a saner and more sustainable perspective – thoughtfully choosing your food rather than morally identifying yourself with it.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. What are you thoughts on the morality of food as it’s preached today? Share your thoughts in the comment board, and have a good end to the week.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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74 thoughts on “Food Shame: The Morality of Eating”

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  1. Thank you Mark. A consistent source of sanity, balance, and moderation.

  2. This reminds me of my trip to the grocery store to buy turkey pastrami. The man in line after me had a cart full of “quick meals” like bowls of dry soup, lots of processed food. I said “that looks like lunch”. He commented that he was trying to stay away from “fast food”….. No I did NOT laugh out loud nor utter any negative comments, he was at least trying to change it up. My comments were about how I like the quick meals I make by baking eggs and bacon and then keeping them in the fridge so I can have one or two for breakfast and always have a big vat of potato salad for late night snacking. He was worried about the fat content in the potato salad, I told him I wasn’t worried about that, there was a lot of good prebiotic in it, a better choice than a dish of ice cream, and I really enjoy it. No preaching but a little tidbit of “real food can be fast” ….. he was obviously trying to go in the right direction…..
    I guess I don’t care enough about what people think of what I’m eating, I eat what I want and it happens to be more real food than processed (other than cooking of course) and if I want a bite or 4 of my son’s dessert I don’t feel bad about it.

    1. Very pleased with how you approached it with that gentleman in line. It seems most topics nowadays are forced upon others rather than gently offered up to them as an alternative they might try.

      Getting a little preachy but most discussions are rarely just that anymore. Politics, nutrition, education, you name it, more often than not degrades to nothing more than 2 cars continuously ramming into each other (metaphorically, not literally…most times).

      As the saying goes, attract more flies with honey. 🙂

      1. I go with Jacob,

        Seems food choices are the new religion

        And I understand we all want to show off what good choices we are making.

        Thus I like to hold my mouth, walk my own talk, and talk diet only when seriously asked what makes me look so bright and sparkling!


    2. Anybody in the grocery store that directs a comment at my cart will get a quick response “who the f*** asked you?”

  3. Good article. I agree. I don’t read or listen to podcast like I used to because of just what you were talking about. I know what to do for me and I do it 90% of the time. I’ve gone from 325lbs to 203lbs as of this morning and I’m keeping it up.

    Met a friend for lunch yesterday and had a bun less hamburger and a big pile of fries that I couldn’t finish. Did eat again for the rest of the day thanks to what I’ve learned here and other places. I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat. It sure didn’t use to be that way. Thanks Mark.

    1. Oops, meant to say didn’t eat again for the rest of the day, not did.

  4. So timely! We recently had a vegan intern in our office who was literally preaching to my employees. She would harass them while eating their lunches with uninvited comments about meat being murder, even slapping food out of people’s hands. When I say this young woman was on a mission, it’s an understatement. I ended up terminating the internship because she wouldn’t back down. Sadly, I learned that this type of behavior was condoned even encouraged by her parents, none of which has a place in a civil workplace. She faces a tough reality check ahead in her employment if she doesn’t learn the appropriate time and place to say/do something. But I’m more concerned about how a 22-year-old can already have so much hate in her heart over something that doesn’t directly impact her. SMH

    1. Vegans can sometimes become pretty obnoxious about their food choices, but what you’re describing goes beyond that. It sounds like the woman in question has some serious mental problems.

    2. “Preach” is the right word there – looks like her parents taught her to believe in veganism the way super-fundamentalist religious folk teach their children to believe in their faith, and now she’s out in the world trying to shame the heathens into converting.

    3. One of my worries from time to time is the possibility that the extreme, zealous vegans you often see online would have some sort of political influence one day, despite being a minority.

  5. Unfortunately food can be used an indicator of shallow social status much like vehicles and clothing. It’s so easy to buy organic cookies or overpriced Kale chips from Whole Foods and projecting the facade of “clean living” while never building any true “sweat equity” by way of the physical stress and welcomed discomfort of training.
    Religious or moral reasoning aside many food choices of this nature are dictated by economic factors. There are people who earn half of what I do and yet train harder, run faster, and make more meaningful contributions to their environments and communities regardless of whether they pay $4.00 a pound for beef or $14.00.
    Your food may be adorned with all the socially accepted labels and prices but unless you are truly investing under the weight of metal plates, running uphill, pushing a wheelbarrow or otherwise engaging that biomechaninal miracle that we are all encased in you are missing the point.
    In a nutshell don’t be a judgemental snob

    1. Store snobs… I know a few. They are quite vocal about shopping at spendy places like Whole Foods and pride themselves on not setting foot in a conventional supermarket. They are quick to spout internet memes about either paying the farmer or paying the doctor, as if we will all sicken and die if we don’t spend way too much for our food. Fact is, not everyone can afford to shop at specialty stores, but low and behold, millions of those people are quite healthy. In actuality, a modicum of nutritional knowledge more than makes up for where one buys their groceries.

  6. Whatever you eat, say thank you. Thank you to the people who worked and sweated to grow and harvest it, to the animals who sacrificed their lives, thank you for the fact that you have choices, that you have nourishment to live. Without deep gratitude, there is no true morality. Yeah, kinda preachy!

    1. Yes, that’s the really important thing. I thank my late mother for teaching me about real food, real nutrition – it always came first in our house. We begged for cookies, factory-made cakes, the latest instant food, but she never gave in. I brought up 6 children on meat and veggies, no processed foods at all, no sugar, no fizzy drinks and in their 40s, they are never ill and have perfect teeth and vision. They weren’t happy at the time but they thank me now!

    2. Nice. Just what I was thinking. I always like to express gratitude before I start eating by silently saying a prayer and thanking the universe or animal or plant for my meal.

  7. I make the choice simple: do I want to spend the money on FOOD, or at the doctor’s office or hospital? I have a family full of bad examples of choice, or examples of bad choice, however you care to frame it. Not to get all religious or anything, I choose life by choosing life-sustaining foods.

    Do I care about where my organic, clean food comes from? Nope–it generally comes from who has the better deal. Sometimes it’s a health food store, sometimes a farmer’s market, or even a Harris-Teeter or Kroger on occasion. Recently, my Sam’s Club has started to get a small foothold in the organic/alternative eating arena. I don’t need Starbucks-type status by shopping at a Whole Foods, and don’t need my ego bolstered by anything but my shrinking waistline. I tried telling people how I do it by giving the books to read, but the books end up in the trash, so I quit. If anybody asks, I now say “low-carb eating” and leave it at that. They can join me (by finding their own method of eating) or not–I no longer care. It’s working for me, and that’s really all that matters. Let ’em look it up!

    I’ve always operated on the fringes of society, so their sticks and stones won’t break my bones, and their names will never hurt me, because it’s very likely I will outlive them all. I won’t be one who gossips over the back fence about recent and current health problems–I have nothing to talk about!

  8. What a relevant discussion, thanks for sharing! You are right, a trip to the market (or any business) has gotten very complicated and all choices are up for public (and internal) scrutiny. It does add stress, so it’s a good reminder to be kind to others as they make their choices and appreciate the kindness others show us. Matt Fitzgerald’s “Diet Cults” explores the issue of finding morality in food. Food shaming goes as far back as we know and seems to progress with the increased communications we have today.

  9. This. Pretty much this. I actually gave up completely and only worry about how food will affect my health. I do try to be as “clean” as possible with all other goods I buy though.

  10. I have to apologize to my neighbor. After he invited me over for a bar-b-q last year, I asked if the meat was grass fed and finished. He said no and I said I can’t eat that. It’s bothered me ever since. It was a combination of me not wanting to keep being asked by him because I didn’t really like him enough to hang out with him and also a subtle way to shame him. Not good!
    Fortunately I’m much better dealing with food issues now.

    1. My neighbor raises chickens and asked if I would like a dozen eggs, and the first thought that came to mind was ‘are they eating GMO soy and corn or bugs and grass.’ My response was “I would love to have home-grown eggs, thank you so much!” I’m slowly learning to zip it.

  11. Great article. It explains why 80/20 helps keep things in perspective for me and many others. Dietary choices shouldn’t be so stringent that one becomes obsessive/compulsive about it, even to the point of forcing unsolicited advice on others. As Mark pointed out, if you scrutinize what you eat hard enough and long enough, you’ll soon find plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t be eating anything at all. Life isn’t meant to be lived like that.

  12. Wonderful post, insights and advice, Mark!

    In clinic, within our primal eating program, this is such a huge area of work–and often a huge area of challenge–for our patients.

    Food and food choices are so wrapped up in our identity, our history, our social context, our beliefs about self and others…and so on and so forth. It’s never “just food.”

    Sometimes this manifests in beautiful ways (when food and eating are the source of heart-aligned stories and connections, for instance). Other times, it leads to unhealthy, unhelpful stories, attachments and judgements about self or others.

    A big one I come up against in clinic is the belief that vegetarians and vegans are morally and ethically superior–as well as healthier. Many people who aren’t even vegetarian/vegan themselves believe this and see those who choose to eat that way as superior. We’re a bit behind the paleo-primal trending times down here in south Florida, sadly.

    As a former vegetarian (did around 10 years in my 20s), I get this. My identity and my serious yoga practice once felt very invested in eating that way (even when it was no longer serving my body and mind). Letting go of the struggle around it was hard–but of course well worth it. Now, in my 40s, people often assume I’m vegetarian because I’m thin and fit. Ha! I love telling them I’m paleo-primal!

    1. Florida is coming along! I was at the gym yesterday and a young man was speaking to and older woman about paleo and explaining why he avoided grains. I didn’t stick around to hear more but it made me smile.

      Naples, Fl.

    2. Sorry to hear about you 10 year sentence as a vegetarian, I lasted 6 months as a vegan enough. Although with enough eggs and cheese
      one can stay healthy a long time as a vegetarian.

  13. I enjoy growing and preserving some of my own food. But when I consider the amount I would have to grow and preserve (and the time and effort necessary to do so) if I had to grow and preserve nearly ALL of my food, as many did just a century ago, I realize food would be my main concern, all day, every day. Perhaps various food obsessions, worries, concerns, etc. are an outgrowth of this natural, “primal” focus?

  14. Succinctly put Mark. And yes, too much information and over-analyzing can be an obstacle at times.

  15. Great post! It made me think of that cinematic exchange between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. “I want the truth” “You can’t handle the Truth”. Food choice is like a religion. There is a too much dogma and not enough truth. In the end, both food/health and faith are a very personal journey of findings one’s own “truth”. I’m a daily “Applehead” because Mark has proven himself to be a worthy “Paleopostle”. When someone preaches Veganisim with conviction, I quietly wonder if they will also attach themselves to the Hale-Bopp comet next time it appears in the sky.

  16. Once you get older you stop caring what other people think.

    I still haven’t tried grass fed beef. Been eating the regular kind for decades and it hasn’t done me wrong yet.

  17. So true. What’s even worse is that as a parent the food choices you make for your children then define not only you but also your children which then transfers to whether or not you are a “good parent.” If you serve birthday cake with frosting you are the devil parent. If you send your child to school with carrot sticks and hummus you are a saint or you could be deemed uptight. Does your choice to stop by a fast food drive-thru really mean your child will be obese??? So many ethical assumptions between the lines of your menu choices! It’s tiring.

  18. Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent. – Epictetus

    1. “Man is not worried about real problems so much as his imagined anxiety about real problems” – ibid

      1. Aha, you know Mark is hitting the mark when his posts prompts quotes from the Stoics.

  19. Unfortunately, the stance we assume relative to our diet — values/beliefs/degree of caring or not — does not in itself have any effect on the real-world consequences of that diet. If current agricultural and livestock practices prove to be unsustainable, then we’ll suffer the consequences, regardless of our attitudes. It sometimes seems that people equate a “healthy, moderate” approach to food choices with actual environmental/social outcomes.

  20. I used to be a food snob in my own house. Sad, but true. After going primal, I just didn’t think I could let my family eat what they wanted, not if I “knew better.”
    I’ve gotten a reality check. I’m not doing anyone any favors if they’re all eating the most nutritious food on the planet, but only out of guilt & they feel miserable/resentful the whole time.
    Now we compromise. There are certain things that don’t and won’t hang out in our pantry (not if I’m buying the food anyway). But now I keep a few more treats around. Not full paleo, but less than total crap. We have pizza night once a week, homemade with a potato flour/tapioca flour crust. And if we’re out at a party, have fun kids. If you tummy can handle it, go ahead.
    I’m doing my best as a role model, but I’m not the food police. No one liked that mom/wife/friend.

  21. I’ve never been big on the whole guilt thing across the board, food included (I wouldn’t have made a good Catholic). As long as I try to make good informed decisions and know I’m trying to do the best I can for me and my family the rest will fall into place. Other peoples opinions and standards are just that… other peoples opinions and standards. Great article Mark!

  22. I did a spit-take when I saw my internet moniker in a daily blog post here. Nice!

    We’re doing a biggest loser contest in our office right now, and I’m amazed by all the bragging about how much people are suffering at the gym and in what they eat. I’m not sure if they’re in it to drop some weight and get healthier, or to make a big show of diet and exercise to prove some sort of point about their capacity to endure hardship, self-imposed as it is.

    Food should be nourishing and delicious. Exercise should be fun. If it’s not, it may be time to reevaluate.

  23. Hubby buys his own junk food and I make him rice or potatoes for the main meal. I no longer twitch if cookies are left on the counter or pie in the fridge. He’s stopped making saurkraut and yoghurt comments. It took a while to stop thinking self-righteous thoughts, but we’ve evolved. We share things like apple slices with gouda. 🙂 It can take a little time to adjust to two menus.

  24. Oh, did I love this post. SOOO exhausted with holier-than-thou food folk (who often choose a different path from mine, naturally, hence their lofty stance.) We do the best with can with the understanding we have, without our own needs and capabilities. I’m good with that.

  25. Spot on. We shouldn’t let every food choice degrade into a moral dilemma. There are so many other factors influencing our decisions and our lives, making food choices even more stressful in an already convoluted food industry is not the way to go.

    Yes, be informed on good nutrition. Do your research and due diligence, and then make the best choices you can with the resources you have available. As a recent graduate, money is tight–so yeah, I shop at CostCo, not my local CSA, and I just can’t spring for organic, grass-fed, and pasture raised all the time. I understand the benefits, but at the end of the day there are lots of factors that influence our health, and I find STRESS to be one of the biggest. I do the best with what I can, I get my sun (or take Vitamin D, because Alaska), and I move as much as possible. Following all the tenants of the Primal lifestyle will far outweigh a seemingly moral obligation to always shop/buy local produce and meats.

  26. “For example, my values support optimizing health for the greatest number and promoting sustainability whenever reasonable.”

    Great line and advice Mark.

    This article brought to mind some lines from the movie “Knob Hill”:

    Keziah: No thanks, I’m a fruitarian.

    Max: I didn’t realize that.

    William: And, ahm: what exactly is a fruitarian?

    Keziah: We believe that fruits and vegetables have feeling so we think cooking is cruel. We only eat things that have actually fallen off a tree or bush – that are, in fact, dead already.

    William: Right. Right. Interesting stuff. So, these carrots…

    Keziah: Have been murdered, yes.

    William: Murdered? Poor carrots. How beastly!

  27. I feel lucky to get enough calories every day, so I’m not too picky when other people offer food to me. (Not everybody in the world or even in America does get enough calories.) Yesterday, for example, I was working at a school garden building a fence and I got really hungry. The Rotary Club came to the school and grilled some hamburgers and hot dogs. I ate them, with a piece of American cheese wrapped around them. I also had a Diet Coke because they were there and I was thirsty and tired. All this tasted pretty good, because I was hungry. And I was grateful for free food. It was not organic or pastured or anything like that, but it was pretty darn good. It was edible, not poisonous, and that’s the important thing. Most of the food in America is “good” in that sense: edible and contains calories.

  28. I eat what I can afford to buy and if it isn’t always grass fed and strict paleo/primal I don’t worry. I like dairy and have no allergies or problems with it, I love my aged hard tasty cheese, Jalna (an Australian company) make a beautiful biodynamic whole milk organic yoghurt that ticks all the boxes and a local company near me makes a whole milk kefir to die for along with nitrate and chemical free bacon, real free range eggs and lovely goat milk cheese. I don’t eat lots of any of it but incorporate all these foods into my diet and I feel great. I also buy an Australian made and produced super sauerkraut that is also very good and I buy that in my local Paleo cafe, it’s a big jar so lasts a while and worth the extra few dollars. I don’t have lots of time and limited kitchen space and storage so sourcing a few extra paleo goodies is ok with me.
    I was brought up on a good diet of meat veggies and fruit, everything cooked by Mum, no processed crap at all. Hard to believe the amount of garbage that is sold in the supermarkets these days.
    I despair when I see young mums with three quarters of their trolleys filled with processed boxed foods, crappy snacks, cheap pasta and bread, sugary cereals, biscuits, cakes, ice cream and a small amount of meat, fresh fruit and vegetables. Yeah, they think real food is expensive but the processed crap surely is when you see what they are paying for their weeks shop.

  29. Thank you Mark, well put and addresses a point I’ve been making of late…paleo never used to be so complicated!

  30. I think star trek had this problem solved with the food replicator – create any food you want using pure energy. So I guess it will be a race between over-populating the earth and exhausting all resources, or developing technology to a level where we can create complex things like food from pure energy…

    1. The problem I always see with the replicator is: who is going to build and repair the replicators? Oh, robots, of course! So, who is going to build and repair the robots? Oh, still other robots? And who is going to program and keep updating the the robots building robots to build replicators? Oh, still more robots? And who is going to keep an eye on the the robots programing the robots building the robots to build the replicators to allow humans to quit worrying about producing stuff?

      Oh, right, a HUGE computer… Welcome to our new overlord: SKYNET!

  31. Mark

    I understand your point but would you say that the common denominator is the person? I think that if the person can be the one who does what they truly believe, then in the essence of the true nature of the meaning everything will be okay as much as everything would be tainted if not. I think this is what you were getting at and it’s totally okay to think like this – I think most of us do when we really examine our personal belief system in the face of totality.

    Wonderful stuff.

  32. The self-shaming thing is really difficult sometimes. This morning I, gasp, had a bowl of granola and yogurt. I know it’s well within the 80/20 behavior, and I love having some granola from time to time, but it makes me feel like I’m sneaking around on myself. That goes for other food I enjoy too, like Indian food or Thai food. I also try not to be preachy to other family members, but my 13 year old son is a candyholic. “That’s enough poison!” I’ll say to him. “But Dad, I’m a kid!” he’ll reply. My 15 year old daughter is a vegetarian. I try to get her to eat more eggs, which she isn’t opposed to, but she does not like them. Sigh. I know I do not control my teenage children, but I wish they would listen to me. Has that ever been said before?

    1. Ahh, teenagers. Talk about exhausting. I must say this post hits a very deep nerve and the comments are just as interesting. I’ve got four teen/college age kids and have run the full gamut on paleo with them over the past four years. As many have posted, I started out full-on, give me some holy water and a white collar, preaching. But of course the push back was just making everyone angry and frustrated. I realized they were hiding junk food in their rooms and cars and that was a wake-up call. Was I creating worse food issues instead of healthier ones? I backed off, they relaxed, things have settled. Now they just tease me about my kefir on the counter, and I roll my eyes at their occasional bag of Doritos.
      That being said, now that they are out on their own I see their choices gravitating toward healthy and thoughtful. Maybe they did take notice along the way. “You can lead a teen to kale chips, but you cannot make them eat.”

  33. I agree with your article, Mark. I used to weigh 75 kg, and I used to have a very poor diet based on processed foods. Then I started turning my diet into a more Paleo one, and my body changed dramatically and in a very short time. I feel healthier than before, and more energetic. What touched me in your article is about friends who make remarks about what we eat. Unfortunately, I always had this! I used to have a friend who was not as healthy and slim, and every time I ate something sweet, she would lecture me! Now that I am healthy, I also get criticisms from friends who don’t like my pickiness with food! I wish there will be more literature about how to confront people who keep criticising us for what we eat, whether it is healthy or not. It seems as if people don’t respect other people’s dietary choices anymore!

  34. The ‘too much information’ has definitely had a negative effect on me as of late. For 2 years of 90/10 primal eating I had a local dairy farm I frequented where I also purchased poultry, eggs and keifer, and a large inexpensive grocery store with excellent meat selection. More than a year ago, I moved to a rural area with only small country grocery stores and quit my lucrative job to start my own business. Before, grocery trips were inspiring… The selection was excellent and I wasn’t too worried about overall costs. Now, it is despairing. I know that ‘cage free’ doesn’t mean anything, we need pastured and that is double the cost. I look at the chicken breast that are three times the size they should be and shudder, the ground beef and it’s unnatural super red color. I end up going home with a sparse cart. But then mid-week there is no food at the house so we end up eating out…same bad meat, much more expensive! I now probably average about a 60/40 primal lifestyle… But worse is that my food life no longer brings joy. Grok prayers needed!!!

  35. Another great article, Mark.

    I just want to vent – last night I went to a work related BBQ. Fortunately, there was meat (alas, standard grocery fair, but prepared tastily). I brought a primal salad and dessert. Someone else brought a veggie salad. Everything else was either SAD or carby-vegan! If I remember right, there were 3 pasta salads, 2 potato salads, 2 types of store-bought veggie burgers, buns, beans 2 ways, 3 different chips, and 4 wheat based desserts (and 1 small bowl of fruit). I didn’t say a word about my diet, but I can tell that they think I am weird; what is weird to me is to see so many vegans in TX!

  36. Factory farmed meat is never okay under any circumstances. Research the diseases that originated in factory farms. Nearly every “vaccine-preventable” illness is caused by these unsanitary and cruel practices- how many more vaccines will have to be developed so people can continue to eat this tainted meat “once in a while”, contaminating the food supply of those who choose not to?

    Eating factory farmed meat is no different than “reluctantly” supporting slavery.

    It’s a disgusting habit that is quite literally ruining the world. The last thing people need is to be told it’s okay once in a while.

    1. Preach much?

      No, actually, I don’t think it matters if your ‘substance’ is accurate… You just lectured a roomful of folks actually INTERESTED in this stuff: including calling them disgusting! “It’s a disgusting habit.” If you do it, you are disgusting.” — THAT is a verbal assault in (vegan?) sheep’s clothing. At least MY assault on you is out in the open, eh?

      1. What on earth are you talking about, dear? Nobody’s calling you disgusting, though the habit of eating filthy meat surely is. Don’t you know there are meat eaters who have willpower enough to turn down factory farmed? Don’t you?

  37. The human race seems to be on a binge of ethical purity these days. The humanitarian movement, for example, is case in point. Which isn’t to say we don’t need such a movement but like the food movements (as Mark points out) there is so much conflicting opinion about right and wrong. That’s usually a sure sign that issues are too complex for a single point of view or scientific doctrine.

    When movements are open to interpretation or opinion you end up with a range of thinking from fundamentalism to apathy. Think Islam for one controversial example, lots of sects based on same principles but different interpretations, some of them extremely fundamental.

    It’s very human to want to belong. It’s very human to want a rule book to refer to for food choices. Mark has very wisely pointed out that the rules have to be your own BUT that we should all be open minded to changing them as new evidence prevails or bending them as long as it does no harm. Not everyone can do that but we should tolerate the people who can and avoid rigid fundamentalist thinking at all times.

  38. I love this article. I’ve been Paleo for about 4 years. I’m a stay at home mom with a journalism background so I wanted to start a Paleo/fitness blog just to keep my mind busy. My biggest hesitation were the Paleo police that love to scrutinize. My thought was if I wanted to “cheat” I would have to hide on a closet or my blog would be completely discredited. Then I decided I’m a real person who does the best I can. That’s what I write about. I’m proud of myself for doing even better than 80/20 and when I do have something not in line with Paleo I own it, enjoy it, let my buddies know I don’t feel a bit guilty and jump back on the wagon. I feel like real, everyday, people are more inclined to try the Paleo lifestyle if they know they won’t be flogged for not being perfect.

  39. What drives me up the wall is at events like office parties or potlucks, all the women feel the need to verbally flagellate themselves before popping the bite of “sinful” food into their mouth. Apparently the unwritten rule is that it’s ok to indulge in the dessert, bread, whatever as long as you make some negative comment about your weight or appearance first. As if to apologize in advance for having the nerve to actually enjoy eating something good in front of the other women. “Oh dear this looks so good, I really need to lose weight, but just this one time …” eat. “A minute in the mouth, forever on the thighs, hahaha …” eat. I never hear men performing this perverse ritual.

  40. A common personality type I’ve seen posting comments on any websites that are nutrition or exercise related are the moral purists. I see them everywhere, including on this site and in this stream of comments. They view themselves superior and will condescend to anyone who doesn’t follow their particular food or exercise religion. It is the very reason I almost never post comments anywhere. I tire of people who have no empathy and understanding of the plight of others. I know my way and what works for me. The posters who constantly have to “correct” what others say really need to do some internal work and think about their own level of confidence and pride and seriously consider whether it may be something lacking in their own psyche that leads them to view others as beneath them and in need of education. I wish all of you the best in your own journey and I trust you to find your own way even if it is very different than mine.

  41. I love this post! My boss was asking me about why I bring my lunch and then went on to grill me about my eating habits. Laughing when she asked if I ever drink soda and I said no. Then one day she saw me wearing an activity counter band and she grilled me about that and made some jokes about it, trying to shame me. It’s not something that I usually discuss, especially at work, and have no idea why she is even interested. I guess most people don’t bring their lunch any more and if they do it’s a frozen entree. Another person was impressed with my lunches and asked me to bring lunch for him too. What?

    1. Was she trying to shame you or trying to see if there was some way SHE could eat-and-live like you (without the work and education)?

      When my friends tease me about not eating veg ({sigh} hate hate hate them; have since I was a baby in a high-chair according to my mom), I laugh… but it’s a SELF-deprecating laugh… I WISH I found them edible: man, they looks SO wonderful in the veg aisle at the stores! But I taste them and they GAG me! (Yes, I try… a friend DID get me to see that parsnips can be just slightly above edible… so, score one occasional veg into my diet?)

      But the laughing is not about shaming them, it’s a reaction to my OWN shame. (And dismay, and hopelessness…)

      1. I have a friend who describes the same hatred of veggies and the gag reflex if he tries to eat them. Have you learned anything more about this? No shaming meant..I would love to be able to understand this and find ways to help ( his request).
        I’ve wondered if there may be a shame-based pattern or events in his past that contribute to this, though it’s only speculation. Guessing there is some chemistry, genetics possibly, and some mental/emotional all combined.
        we really are complex and unique! Best to you.

  42. “No matter what the subject, we try to live our lives in alignment with our personal values. They’re priorities, but that’s not the same as dogma. I personally see alignment as gravitation. We naturally gravitate toward those choices that are in alignment with our values because we experience homeostasis when we do. Our lives are generally or increasingly congruent with our priorities, and there’s a certain peace in that.”

    This paragraph resonated with me so much ~ beautifully expressed. Thank you.

  43. “Unfortunately, if you scrutinize long and deep enough, just about any food choice can put you on the shame train. Seriously, at some point, we have to refuse to ride anymore.” I blame bottled water for all the vanity baked into food choices these days. Before Evian, water was water. Someone once pointed out to me in the 90’s that suddenly water came with a virtuousness label. If you carried bottled water, suddenly you had virtues. I’m half-kidding… great read. Good points, and I agree. Shame and pride applied to food is not getting us anywhere fast.

  44. People who single-out foods (such as meat) as “unsustainable” are missing the bigger picture.

    Foods aren’t unsustainable; populations are unsustainable.

    With enough mouths to feed, any food is choice is going to exhaust our resources.