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Heidi Farley

English 1010, TR 2:30

December 8, 2014
Why has our culture created such an anxiety over food?
Can the act of eating be compared to religion? In todays society it has become common
to place foods in so-called right and wrong categories, moralizing the act of eating and
making eating somewhat of a religion. Healthy eating is a sensitive subject and one that is
skewed because there are a lot of pressures and barriers in this world that get in our way, that
confuse us, that distract us and attempt to control us in counterproductive ways (445), as Mary
Maxfield states. We are constantly being told what diet is best and what foods are wrong for
us. All of these pressures and distractions are inevitably part of our culture, and are things that
influence us more than we realize. So what exactly about our culture has created such an anxiety
over food?

Mary Maxfields article Food As Thought: Resisting the Moralization of Eating from
the book They Say / I say is what made me first start questioning the anxiety that our society
really does seem to have when it comes to our weight and what we eat. Why is the way we eat
such a big deal now when it didnt used to be? Maxfield discusses the obsession of healthy
eating in our country and the numerous opinions of so-called experts. There are so many
different opinions, and every day there seems to be a new diet or new guidelines on what is
claimed to be right and wrong. Who and what should we really trust? Maxfield answers this
question at the end of her article when she says Trust yourself. Trust your body. Meet your
needs (446). That sounds pretty simple, right? Eat what makes you feel good, not what someone

tells you will make you feel good. The act of eating itself has seemed to become a religion as
Maxfield informs us when she says That religion presents itself in the moralizing of food, the
attempt-in how we eat-to rise above our beastly natures (446). We want so badly to be right,
and eat right, and look right, that we are willing to accept crazy diets and eat in a way that is
different than our bodies naturally would. After reading this article I started to wonder what
really has made our cultural so obsessive over weight and diet that we have become so anxious
about eating. My question came from this article: Why has our culture created such an anxiety
over food? Not only did this article talk about the troubles of skewed views and anxiety, it talked
about obesity and rising concern for our nations health. At this point I was just curious to know
how obesity has risen throughout the world, not only in America.

World Obesity Study Finds Grim Statistics: Nearly Third Of People Fat is the title of
a newspaper article in the Huffington Post, written by Maria Cheng. Cheng refers to many
experts and professionals and states that no country has been able to curb obesity rates in the last
thirty years. A few interesting facts that this article includes are that the U.S. is said to have
about 13 percent of the worlds fat population, there seems to be a link between being rich and
having a big waistline, and the people around the world are just getting lazier all the time
because of the readiness of sugary, processed foods that they dont have to work for. After
reading this article and learning about a few reasons why the world has such an obesity problem,
I realized that the obesity epidemic is causing anxiety because of the health concerns it involves.
I knew this wasnt the only thing that could cause anxiety though; even people who arent obese
are concerned about their health and may even stress more over what and how they should eat.

My next step in researching lead me to thinking about what most of us seemed to blame
obesity on these days: fast food. We seem to label the fast-food industry as the culprit for the
obesity crisis. I feel like this accusation could be adding to the anxiety that our society has over
food because many people worry about eating out in fear of becoming fat. David Freedman
wrote an article that opposed this view though. How Junk Food Can End Obesity is a cover
story that led me to my next step in research. Although I was looking for something that proved
fast food makes people fat, this piece gave me another look at the food industry. Freedman
explains that healthy food is expensive, hard to find, takes a long time to prepare, and it
doesnt always taste that great. Fast food is faster, cheaper, easy to find, and tastes good. Many
people think this way. Although there may be the desire to be healthy lingering in peoples
minds, and many restaurants and grocery stores have begun to return to natural, simple, nonprocessed foods, it is not going to change anything. I like Freedmans point when he said that a
healthy food revolution would truly only be tailored to a small, elite minority and the fat would
just keep getting fatter. I think Freedman is right here; being healthy isnt appealing or even
important to everyone. I may agree that the wholesome food movement cannot change
everyones mind, but I dont agree with him when he says In fact, these roundly demonized
companies could do far more for the publics health in five years than the wholesome-food
movement is likely to accomplish in the next 50 (pp2). So, with all of the cultural anxiety over
what is right to eat and what is wrong, and the increasing obesity problem in our country, is
it really true that the fast food industry should be the ones we rely on to improve public health?
This is my question that came from researching Freedmans article and made me interested in the
overall impact of fast food on our culture.

My next source is titled Can You Really Make Fast Food Healthy?, by Matthew Boyle.
Boyle claims there is a great paradox in our country. He states that although we talked about
dieting and being healthy, most of us dont really want to eat healthy when we walk into a fastfood restaurant. The fast food industry is working to change that. Restaurants like Wendys and
Burger King have been incorporated salads into their menus. Now they are healthy, right? Boyle
points out that some salads, like the Wendys BLT salad with honey-mustard dressing and garlic
croutons actually has more calories than Wendys Classic Single Burger. The confusion and
anxiety in our culture over healthy eating is, in many ways, growing from what my previous
source claims is the solution to our Nations health problems. The food at these fast food chains
may not seem too unhealthy, but just like the Wendys salad, sometimes what we think is
healthy really isnt. This may be annoying and confusing to some people who really do want to
eat healthy. But to others, like Boyle says, they dont really give a hoot once theyve crossed the
threshold of a fast-food joint (pp3). Even if fast food joints were to put healthier items on their
menu, they would only appeal to a small minority while the rest would continue to eat what they
normally eat: the high-in-fat, processed, tasty food. This really got me thinking about my
question. There is so much anxiety over food in our culture because even what we are being told
is healthy is really not. Most of the information we receive is not accurate or true, so no
wonder we are so confused.

At this point in my research I understood the confusion that the fast food industry is
adding to healthy eating in todays society but I wanted to look for other reasons. Maxfield
quotes in her article, there are a lot of pressures and barriers in this world that get in our way,
that confuse us, that distract us, and attempt to control us in counterproductive ways (445). So,

what other than fast food could be pressuring us, distracting us, and confusing us? Suzanne
Abraham talks about this in her article Adolescent Eating Behaviour. She discusses the public
pressure to be thin. Girls grow up, their bodies change, and they want to fit in. They begin to
desire what they think, and what they are told, is the perfect body, perfect weight, and perfect
appearance. Girls and women fear enough what others think of them that they often turn to
dieting to achieve almost unreachable results. The anxiety caused by social media and influences
is definitely something that I think add to the anxiety that our culture has over food. Girls and
women everywhere change the way they eat just so they can be accepted. These confusing,
distracting, and often controlling eating patterns of dieting develop at young ages in order to
build up self-esteem. After reading this article, I understood that although many people eat too
much and become obese like in the previous articles I read, many girls and women struggle with
dieting and maintaining a healthy weight. The confusion on what is acceptable to look like in
todays society is skewed, causing anxiety on what is acceptable to eat as well.

Abnormal eating behavior cant just be for girls though, right? Upon further research, I
discovered that boys are at risk to develop unhealthy eating habits just like girls are, and for the
same reasons too. Men are becoming more anxious about their appearance and weight, especially
those that are drawn to the world of celebrities, athletes, and body builders. This article titled
Distorted Body Image Not Just For Girls by Judi Greif, a nurse practitioner, discusses the
prevailing media influence on men and boys to be more fit, to increase muscle tone, and to lose
weight. Compulsive dieting and excessive exercise is common among boys and men, especially
those participating in a sport. There is even more confusion than I thought among males to know
the balance between healthy eating and appropriate physical activity. Just like the pressures,

distractions, and media influences that tell girls they need to be thin, boys go through the same

What is it that has created such an anxiety in our culture over food? Obesity, fast food,
misleading messages, abnormal eating behavior, and skewed body image expectations are all
things that make eating so confusing in our society. After researching reasons why our society
has become so obsessed with being healthy, yet so anxious to know what is right to eat, my
opinion is even stronger than when I started that our culture has made the act of eating more
complicated than it should be. It is hard to trust yourself when everything around you is telling
you that you are wrong, or that something else is better. There are hundreds of diets, millions of
fast food restaurants, and very prevailing media influences that truly skew our views of what
healthy really is. As I concluded my research, I couldnt agree more with Maxfields statement
at the end of her article Trust yourself. Trust your body. Meet your needs (446). Each source
opened my eyes to the confusion that surrounds us and left me with another question: Is there is
really way to improve public health as a whole?

Works Cited
Abraham, Suzanne, and Derek Llewellyn-Jones. Adolescent Eating Behaviour. Eating
Disorders (Oxford). 1. n.p.: Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 2001. Health
Source Consumer Edition. Web. 5 Nov. 2014
Boyle, Matthew. Can You Really Make Fast Food Healthy?. Fortune 150.3 (2004): 134-140.
Business Source Premier. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
Cheng, Maria. "World Obesity Study Find 'Grim' Statistic: Nearly Third Of People Fat."
Huffington Post. The Associated Press/The Canadian Press, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 Oct.
2014. <>.
Greif, Judi. "Distorted Body Image Not Just For Girls." Clinical Advisor 17.4 (2014): 111.
CINAHL Complete. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.
Freedman, David H. How Junk Food Can End Obesity. (Cover Story). Atlantic 312.1 (2013):
68. MasterFILE Premeir. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.
Maxfield, Mary. "Food as Thought: Resisting the Moralization of Eating." They .Say / I Say:
The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.
442-446. Print.