Saturday, 12 January 2013

Hadley Freeman - teenage vegetarians and eating disorders

I'd like to start this post by saying that I love Hadley Freeman.  I've never met her but, in my view, she is the best columnist out there.  She's funny, insightful, she writes beautifully and she doesn't take herself too seriously.

This recent article from her is vintage Hadley, sample quote:  "The idea of trends emerging from festivals always strikes me as a pretty hilarious one, and only someone who has never actually been to a festival can actually believe in this concept. Most people can barely find their tent by Saturday night, let alone deal with the idea of Working a Look."  Genius.

However, this article from her on how to parent girls is absolutely horrible.  Why, Hadley, WHY?

Why am I writing about this on a food blog?  This section:

If your daughter wants to be a vegetarian, urge her to wait until she is 16

When Lena Dunham announced that "a lot of times when you are a vegetarian it is a just not very effective eating disorder" she was duly pilloried. But speaking as someone who has been a vegetarian for 30 years and has a certain amount of knowledge about eating disorders, I'm going to defend Dunham here, even though she slightly missed the real point. Vegetarianism is not an ineffective eating disorder – it is a potential gateway to eating disorders.

Obviously not all vegetarians become anorexic and not all anorexics are vegetarian (although in my experience, in regards to the latter part of that sentence, there is a heavy overlap). But vegetarianism encourages people to divide foods between the good and the bad, and it then becomes a legitimate means of limiting one's diet. Your daughter has a whole lifetime ahead of her to think of food as something other than a pleasurable physical necessity. Why let her start early? 

I hardly know where to start! I read this and literally said AAAAARRRGGHH out loud.

I have been fuming about this on and off for days and it's taken me a while to organise my thoughts properly because there are so many disparate things that irritate me about it. I have numbered them in a pitiful attempt to pretend that they are now organised because they are in a list:

1. The cultural assumptions in it. There are plenty of communities, in particular, mine, which has a strong presence in the UK, which are vegetarian and for whom vegetarianism is a way of life that has been practised for hundreds of years and has absolutely no connection to eating disorders.

2. The clear assumption that obviously your daughter couldn't possibly have grown up as a vegetarian (related to #1). 

3. The assumption that vegetarian food is healthier. This is just wrong. Some vegetarian food is healthy. Some is gloriously indulgent. And, of course, the vast majority of desserts are vegetarian. 

4. The idea that omnivores somehow don't limit their diets. Everyone limits their diets in some way, shape or form, ranging from "don't want to eat horse meat because the horsies are cute" to "don't want to eat brussel sprouts because I don't like them". I honestly find not eating beetroot has more of an impact on my day to day life than not eating meat. (Because so many people put tasty goats cheese in with evil beetroot - why do you hate me, people who do this? WHY? But I digress.) 

5. I can't speak for all vegetarians (obviously, since the usually lovely Hadley is a vegetarian) but that bit about how vegetarians think of food as something other than a pleasurable physical necessity and divide it into good and bad and stuff.. bizarre to me. I just don't think about it that much. Honestly, I don't think I spontaneously think about meat and the fact that I don't eat it and never have very often at all. When I do think about it, it's usually because someone else has raised it in conversation or written an incredibly annoying comment piece in a newspaper about it. I really don't think, when I'm picking my sandwich from M&S, "good sandwich, bad sandwich, good sandwich, bad sandwich" or anything like that. Apart from anything else, not all vegetarian food is good. Some of it is badly cooked and some of it is beetroot and stuff.

6. Finally, and probably most importantly: I just think it is a spectacularly bad idea "not to let" your child become a vegetarian if they want to. I mean, even if you buy into this stuff about how it's the first step on the road to anorexia, is forbidding your child to become a vegetarian going to help? Does turning food into a battleground between you and your child ever help your child avoid food issues?

7. And another thing. If your daughter is on the road to anorexia, SEEK SOME HELP on how to support her. I don't think just asking her not to become a vegetarian is going to cut it.

Sorry, Hadley, I still love you but this piece was dreadful.

1 comment:

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