‘Oh and I need to keep a food diary this weekend for my homework. Everything I eat today, tomorrow and Sunday,’ announced the kidlet in her rundown of what she had been up to on her second day back at school last Friday. We were walking to our local café for a Friday afternoon treat and to meet up with one of her friends and her friend’s mum.
What? Fuck? Why? The words ‘food diary’ hit me like a brick. Immediately, I wanted to charge at her. ‘Who is going to look at it? What are you doing it for? You know that there is no need to keep a record of what you eat – we eat a really healthy balanced mix of great food.’
I took a deep breath and didn’t say any of that.
While I may not, at times, have a particularly healthy relationship with my body (stupid, broken, scarred, unable to do the things that it should etc. etc.), I do have a very healthy relationship with food. But I know that a lot of other people don’t and I am frequently concerned about how food is discussed.
Food shaming is real and can be damaging. People’s understanding of food and nutrition varies widely and when we start using words like ‘clean’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to describe what we are eating, food suddenly goes from being a source of joy to a source of judgement.
I stepped back for a moment as the kidlet continued her random commentary of her school day and, half paying attention to what she was saying (I knew there would be a quiz about it later!), I thought about how to approach the food diary thing without projecting my issues onto her.
‘So,’ I started casually. ‘What are you doing in class that relates to keeping a food diary?’
‘We are talking about healthy lunchboxes.’ She was wrangling the lead of her puppy as we were walking and pulled Sooty closer to slow her down. ‘You don’t like this idea, do you mum?’
Damn kid and her astuteness. I thought I was playing it so cool.
‘Um…well…I…Why do you say that?’
‘Because I know that you get annoyed when people talk about food in negative ways and say that some foods are bad. And I know that you think things like I Quit Sugar, and that other guy you keep saying is nuts, are really terrible because you love food and think that it should be enjoyed. Not something that is judged. Right?’
We arrived at the café and the conversation was (thankfully) cut short. She ran off to play with her friend.
The next day, we were in the car together, heading home to awaiting homework, and the kidlet said ‘One more thing. We need to say what the word ‘diet’ means to us.’
Again, I (internally) shuddered. What an ugly word. Why are they teaching kids to diet? Or even talking about diets? What is going on? I slowed down my thinking.
‘Okay’, I said. ‘How would you define that word?’
‘I would say it is the variety of foods we eat. And I would say that we have a diet that is made up of lots of different foods including fruit, meat, vegetables, bread, dairy, sometimes we have cakes and biscuits… And that we mostly have homemade food, but eat out too sometimes.’
‘Oh darling,’ I wanted to say. ‘You are so on message.’ Instead, I reached over and squeezed her knee. For a brief moment, it flashed through my mind that just maybe we were doing something right in raising this gorgeous kid.
I glanced over at her and smiled, about to tell her that I thought it was a perfect way to define the word diet. But before I could she added, ‘Oh – and Nutella. We eat Nutella too.’ She was looking sideways at me with a cheeky grin on her face.
Bang! On message. That’s our girl.