Food, sex and the American obsession with purity

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Is food the new sex?

That’s the question that Mary Eberstadt asked in her 2009 paper in Policy Review. Today, when sexual license is embraced and even glorified, eating is becoming encumbered with ever more rules. Or as Eberstadt notes, our society has gone from sexually puritanical and licentious about food, to sexually licentious and puritanical about food.

For example:

…[L]et us imagine some broad features of the world seen through two different sets of eyes: a hypothetical 30-year-old housewife from 1958 named Betty, and her hypothetical granddaughter Jennifer, of the same age, today.

Betty is the stereotypical late 1950’s housewife. She cooks from cans, jars, and even serves frozen dinners. The only fresh vegetable that she serves is baked potato. Betty also has stereotypical moral views. Sex is appropriate only within marriage, and she believes strongly in the religious and social sanctions that penalize those who digress from that value.

The contrast with her granddaughter is remarkable:

… Jennifer is adamantly opposed to eating red meat or endangered fish… She also buys “organic” in the belief that it is better both for her and for the animals raised in that way, even though the products are markedly more expensive than those from the local grocery store…

Most important of all, however, is the difference in moral attitude separating Betty and Jennifer on the matter of food. Jennifer feels that there is a right and wrong about these options that transcends her exercise of choice as a consumer. She does not exactly condemn those who believe otherwise, but she doesn’t understand why they do, either. And she certainly thinks the world would be a better place if more people evaluated their food choices as she does. She even proselytizes on occasion when she can.

Jennifer’s view of sex is also radically different from that of her grandmother:

Jennifer, unlike Betty, thinks that falling in love creates its own demands and generally trumps other considerations …  A consistent thinker in this respect, she also accepts the consequences of her libertarian convictions about sex. She is … agnostic on the question of whether any particular parental arrangements seem best for children…

Most important, once again, is the difference in moral attitude between the two women on this subject of sex. Betty feels that there is a right and wrong about sexual choices that transcends any individual act, and Jennifer … does not…

Have we transmuted Betty’s convictions about sexual purity to Jennifer’s convictions about food purity?

The parallels extend further. Just as moral purity was viewed as a key to deeply longed for religious salvation, food purity is viewed as the key to our contemporary longed for salvation, a long life free of disease.

There have always been rules around food purity, of course, from religious restrictions to vegetarianism, but those rules have multiplied to embrace organic food, to include fears of genetically modified food (GMOs) and to insisting that the cure to various unexplained ills like autism lie in ever more bizarre restriction diets.

Simply put, many people believe that they can eat their way to preventing and curing disease. And our obsession with purity goes beyond what adults eat to a near religious conviction that breast milk is both preventive and curative for diseases ranging from whooping cough to cancer and everything in between.

The American obsession with purity has expanded to an obsession with purity of the entire body (with the notable exception of sexual purity). Just as religious acolytes in earlier time purified their bodies for worship by asceticism, fasting and scourging, contemporary Americans “purify” their bodies with unmedicated childbirth, vaccine refusal, and cleanses that purportedly remove the “toxins” from their bloodstreams.

The irony is two-fold.

First, much of what is viewed as “pure” is actually contaminated or flat out dangerous.

Anti-vaxxers are obsessed with avoiding the “contaminants” in vaccines and thereby leave themselves wide open to infection with deadly microorganisms.

Natural childbirth advocates are obsessed with the purity of birth “unhindered” by interventions, thereby leaving their babies and themselves open to the far greater risk of death from childbirth itself.

And the only thing toxic in the bodies of most “cleanse” devotees is their gullibility and lack of basic knowledge of human physiology.

The second irony is even more trenchant.

It seems that environmental purity may lead to more disease, not less. A certain amount of “contamination” appears to be necessary for proper functioning of the immune system. Purity may, paradoxically, trigger auto-immune diseases.

Our society has gone from sexually puritanical and licentious about food, to sexually licentious and puritanical about food. That’s not a moral or a health advance. It simply reflects our desperate need for “rules” that supposedly protect us from dangers posed by life itself.

  • sdsures

    Are you familiar with the case of the Canadian Dionne Quintuplets? They are the first known quintuplets to survive infancy. All five survived to adulthood. The discussion of purity reminds me of the way they were treated – like lab rats, isolated from the outside world. I do not believe this was ultimately for their betterment, as I’ll explain.

    (Incidentally, theirs was a home birth – unexpected, of course, because it was early – that was very, very lucky. Mother and babies survived, although the mother almost died, and of course it was touch and go with the babies for a long time. They put the babies in a basket in front of the oven. The house had no plumbing or central heating.)

    Born 2 months’ prematurely in 1934, they were taken from their parents days after they were born, to be raised by nurses and the main doctor who had delivered them in an almost clinical, laboratory-like existence. They were isolated from their many brothers and sisters, who lived with the family just across the road in Corbeil, ON. On rare occasions they were permitted to play with their siblings, but still did not interact with the outside world beyond being exhibited for the delighted public. Ontario made millions of dollars off of them. They never received a penny in compensation until recently.

    When they returned to live in the family home around age nine, they contracted things like polio (and recovered), whooping cough, etc.

    Emilie died in 1954 at the age of twenty. Her family had kept her epilepsy secret; she died after a final seizure at the convent where she was a postulant; she was left unsupervised (despite warnings she should always be watched during a seizure) and suffocated in her pillow. There was much prejudice around epilepsy at this time, and the family didn’t want the public to know.

    Marie (the smallest) died a number of years later, cause unknown. It is believed that she may also have had a seizure disorder.

    The identical quintuplet sisters were, in order of birth:
    -Yvonne Édouilda Marie Dionne (died 2001)
    -Annette Lillianne Marie Allard (living)
    -Cécile Marie Émilda Langlois (living)
    -Émilie Marie Jeanne Dionne (died 1954)
    -Marie Reine Alma Houle (died 1970)

    Yvonne, Annette, and Cecile, the remaining quints, married and divorced, and subsequently lived either together or near each other until Yvonne’s death.

    Before Yvonne died, IIRC the Ontario government finally relented and gave them some sort of compensation.

    So the reason I mentioned them is because of the lack of exposure-to-illness and the problems it caused them later on. Theirs is a fascinating but very sad story in Canadian history. Medically, I do not believe it was right for the government to not return the girls to their parents once they were medically stable, but the government did not relent under the parents’ pressure until the quintuplets were nine years old. They made money off the girls’ backs, and they liked it. Hopefully the two that are still living have found some measure of peace.

  • Ardea

    The discussion I’ve seen about this (from Steven Pinker) is that the impulse towards purity tends to fall out on a political spectrum, with conservative people still regarding sexual matters as moral whereas liberals regard food as moral.

    Here’s an Op-Ed on this topic from 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html?pagewanted=all

    Interesting that within the past week, there have been several articles on the topic of modern notions of purity (not just on the Skeptical OB- also in The Atlantic).

    I think for me a tipping point with respect to purity around the issues of food and “chemicals” came from the CNN interview with the Arizona doctor during the measles outbreak, who refused to vaccinate his child because his child was “pure”. This was juxtaposed with a family who was waiting to find out if their children – one too young for the vaccine and the other undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia – would become ill as a result of exposure from being in the same waiting room as a sick child who had been to Disneyland. Here’s the interview, with all the pathos in the family with the child waiting to find out if she would become even sicker, versus the supreme arrogance of “Dr.” Wolfson who said, “My child is pure.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/30/health/arizona-measles-vaccination-debate/

    Does he keep his child in a separate biosphere, with different water and different air?

    • sour_sadie

      Viva los Bio-Dome!

  • Emily

    I love this article. If you want to detox, get a liver.

    • Ardea

      I was just going to say that.

  • I don’t eat processed meat. Industrial farming is wrong and unsustainable, I feel better without it, and the high amount of sodium messes with the renal diet I’m on to increase kidney function.

    The kicker is that I do eat processed snacks at least once a day, and certainly consume processed wheat and corn products, which have the exact same ethical and nutritional issues, including cruelty to both man and animal and unsustainability.

    My inclusion of fresh ingredients in these processed meals, which are eaten in moderation, and cutting out of a significant portion of ingredients such as salt and sugar, helps me stay healthier now than when I was on a raw diet. Because of the food? No. Because of terrible, inorganic modern medicine.

    Oh, sorry. I meant EATING PROCESSED FOOD IS LITERALLY WORSE THAN MURDER.

  • fiftyfifty1

    It’s too simplistic to say that sex and food have swapped places. The rules for both have just changed:

    Sex in 1950s: It’s right and natural for men to pressure women into giving them sex. It’s immoral for women to give men sex unless they are married in which case it is wrong for them to withhold sex. Certain sex practices are always immoral no matter what.

    Sex now: Agreement between consenting adults is the most important thing in determining whether sex is right or not. A secondary consideration is if the sex caused any unintended harm (e.g. unprotected sex causing an STI).

    Food in 1950s: Lots of food rules and structure: You eat at the table. Food is served up, then you pray, then you eat. You have to ask for seconds and ask to be excused. You eat what is served. Meals should be “balanced” based on principles a woman learned in home economics class. Food rules based on religion (fish on fridays, kosher, Ramadan fasting etc) still strongly in place. It would be beyond the pale to sip on a coffee in the church sanctuary. Don’t eat unless food is being served and everyone else is eating, therefore snacking in front of others is not acceptable.

    Food now: What, where and when individuals eat is up to them. Food is a form of self expression, individualization and status formation. The only hard and fast rule is DON’T GET FAT.

    • KathleenAPrice

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    • Poogles

      I get what you’re saying, but almost everything you listed under food in the ’50s doesn’t have anything to do with the food itself except the “balanced” part and religious restrictions – both of which still apply today, and everything to do with how to serve and what were considered “proper manners” while eating in those days. Dr. Amy’s point seems to focus specifically on foodstuffs, not how we serve it, when, in front of who, etc.

      “What, where and when individuals eat is up to them.”

      Where and when, maybe (though there are plenty who will judge anyone who eats food “too late” at night), but I do not agree that what people eat is “up to them” in the sense that heaps of judgement come with certain food choices (e.g. Mcdonalds).

      • fiftyfifty1

        I agree with your point that a lot of the 1950s food rules were regarding when and where rather than about individuals making choices of WHAT. I think that a big part of that, though, was that food then needed to be cooked, and that cooking was the job of the homemaker/mother/women. Kids and men could not decide what to eat (beyond influencing by complaining), because women were deciding what to cook. Women were judged on what they served. A good homemaker served meals based on home ec principles of a modern balanced diet. Clinging to old fashioned, unmodern, ethnic foods could bring judgement.

      • LibrarianSarah

        Nevermind the fact that parents that don’t have “family dinners” with their children every night seem to be booking a one way ticket to worst-parent-everville. There is plenty of food judgement to go around especially among the middle class.

  • Bugsy

    Slightly OT: Would anyone mind going into the Amazon.com comment on a review of Vaccine Immunity and liking the comment or backing me up? Some idiotic anti-vaxxers appeared and are unliking it. One told me that the immunity my measles titre demonstrated could be instead from my kid’s shedding the first MMR vaccine 1.5 years ago.

    Mine was the one posted at 1:59 PM today…the third newest right now.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R3CMWB54L5GF4D/ref=cm_cr_rev_detup_redir?_encoding=UTF8&asin=B007AW2CLG&cdForum=Fx3V5L81CAADA3U&cdPage=7&cdThread=Tx3GTATLCPEEAU6&newContentID=MxD5Q2WZLR2UN0&store=digital-text#MxD5Q2WZLR2UN0

    • Cobalt

      Some of those responses are just beyond hope of reason.

      • Who?

        My brain isn’t strong enough today-I did look but nup, the mindless confident idiocy is too strong with them.

        • Bugsy

          I appreciate your checking on it!

          • Who?

            I never can resist a peep. One day there will be something original from them, and that just might have been today. Still might be, but I’m not holding my breath!

          • Bugsy

            Lol…it certainly wasn’t today, what with the criticism that titres don’t prove immunity from #1, and the criticism that our immunity was actually from our son’s magical shedding from #2.

            Science is clearly _not_ their strong point, but from the other comments there, I’m guessing that’s why they loved a book that appears to be pseudo-scientific in nature.

      • Bugsy

        Yeah, I figure that with pregnancy hormones and all, trying to post a response to their idiotic arguments would be both fruitless & infuriating.

    • monojo

      I upvoted you! I don’t have the energy for an internet fight right now, so I won’t comment there, but you do have support!

      • Bugsy

        Yeah…let’s just say that they’re morons. 🙂 Thanks so much for upvoting me!

    • Tiffany Aching

      People saying that “measles wasn’t considered dangerous before the 60’s” always make me want to scream. I’m French and I’ve learned as a schoolgirl that the descendants of Louis XIV (his grandson and his wife + their eldest son) were wiped off in a few weeks because of measles, and it wasn’t because they were malnourished.
      The only surviving descendant (who was to become Louis XV) was saved because his governess had the good sense to take him away from Versailles. So when people tell me it’s only a harmless childhood disease I retort that it almost caused a succession crisis…

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Huh. I never knew that. I wonder what French history would have been like if Louis XV hadn’t been saved. Would the revolution have happened when and how it did? Would it have been earlier or later? Better or worse? I don’t know enough French history to even speculate. I guess it’s a little like the British heir who died in childbirth leaving the throne to be taken, eventually by Victoria. What would have happened if she’d had a c-section? Or if Kaiser Wilhelm’s mother had and he hadn’t been born with hypoxic damage? Intriguing alternate history possibilities…

        • Tiffany Aching

          Well there would have been different issues : the duke of Toulouse and the duke of Alsace, both illegitimate sons of Louis XIV, might have tried to seize the power (Louis XIV recognized them as legitimate in his testament, which was annulled by the Paris Parliement), and it probably wouldn’t have gone too well. Or Louis XIV nephew, the duke of Orleans, could have been the new king, starting a new dynasty (the Orleans family finally came to power in the 19th century). In fact he was the regent, and despite the somewhat bad reputation he earned because of his lifestyle, he was quite an enlightened leader, keen on reforms. So maybe the French revolution would have happened sooner, or maybe not at all… who knows ?

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            France might have transitioned to being a constitutional monarchy. Napoleon’s reign might never have happened, saving a whole bunch of men from a very nasty war…or maybe the duke of Orleans would have become corrupt with time and ended up just like the actual king. It’s always easy to think that the one who didn’t get in would be better.

  • First Time Mama

    I think a lot of it has to do with the illusion of control. There are so many things we are forced to acknowledge we can’t control, and when you toss in the bad news we hear all the time, it’s enough to make anyone feel like their lives are at the mercy of larger forces. People, especially those who feel insecure, will latch on to anything that makes them feel like they truly have a degree of control over the situation.

    Too bad life doesn’t really work that way.

  • lovemesomegmos

    I get that bull all the time. I’ll stick with my “horrible” processed GMOs and not buy organic. It’s done me well these past 32 years and I’ll not change for a bunch of pseudoscience malarky. There’s nothing wrong with a box of Mac and Cheese or a trip to McDonalds, as long as that’s not what one eats every day. At least once a month I have someone try and criticize my food choices and what I am feeding my kids. They are told to kiss my amazingly healthy, perfect BMI, swimsuit model body derriere.

    Not throwing the swimsuit model body description to be braggy, just trying to make a point that not eating organic and non-GMO can still mean I look like those models who swear that’s all they eat because that’s the only way to stay fit and healthy. I call shenanigans on that, and I *don’t* have good genetics in my family to be naturally skinny I had to work for it. And I can do that while enjoying a Shamrock Shake.

  • just me

    Just want to point out that for many vegans it’s not about purity. It’s a sincere wish not to contribute to animal cruelty. It doesn’t hurt that a vegan diet is better for you and the environment. But I hate when people lump veganism in with the anti-vax, pro-organic afraid-of-toxin, etc. fads.

    I don’t think Dr T used “vegan” above but I feel it was sort of implied.

    • Roadstergal

      I’m vegetarian for moral/environmental reasons, but I can’t escape the fact that there’s a helluva lot of woo under the vegetarian umbrella, so I feel compelled to call it out when it comes up.

      (I’m thinking now of the Futurama episode where Fry is trying to convince everyone that the bone vampire he hatched is harmless. “He’s vegetarian! And not even preachy about it!”)

      • Who?

        I tried to be vegetarian. It ended-after about 6 weeks-with me squaring up to a steakburger as big as my head.

        • Fallow

          I’ve alternately been a vegetarian or pescetarian for over 20 years. Whenever it comes up in a mixed group of people that I’m a vegetarian, someone always responds “I tried being a vegetarian once but then HA HA HA, I ate a pile of meat”.

          Okay, sure, I guess? What’s so mindblowingly hilarious about this statement that someone always, always makes it whenever it comes up that someone’s a vegetarian?

          I just think it’s weird/tiring/annoying/boring that I’ve been a vegetarian since I was in junior high, and people are still making the same jokes about it that they did in 7th grade.

    • notavegan

      A Vegan diet is *not* better for everyone. There are some people who seriously need meat. I went vegetarian and with my medical issues, I was not getting enough protein from other sources and landed in the hospital. I need red meat to stay healthy-ish (I’ll never been properly healthy with my issues). And don’t give me the BS of “did you eat enough ____?” I ate plenty of whatever you would say to fill in the blank, the same or more as other vegetarians and vegans that I know, and it didn’t work for me.

      Just get so ticked when people wave the “eat Vegan, it’s better for you” flag around. Um nope, eating Vegan nearly killed me.

      • Cobalt

        Veganism isn’t inherently healthy for anyone. I could eat a strictly vegan diet consisting of Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon and Skittles. A healthy diet is a somewhat retrospective diagnosis, not a rigid prescription.

        • Medwife

          Yes. My college roommate was a vegetarian who ate primarily pastaroni instant meals and fried frozen tator tots.

        • KarenJJ

          I read somewhere that vegetarianism in the past and in other countries with less food regulation, is more sustainable for the long term due to other foods (like flour and rice etc) often being contaminated with insects/larvae that provide additional protein. I don’t know if that’s true, but the idea was interesting.

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          Isn’t the coating on Skittles made from insect exoskeletons? Or is that an urban legend? Not that it’s relevant to your point.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Isn’t the coating on Skittles made from insect exoskeletons?

            Insect exoskeletons are chitin, which, while being carbohydrate, is not the same as the sugar used to make the Skittles shell.

            The basis for the insect claim comes from the fact that some red food dyes originated from insects, but I don’t know to what extent the food industry actually uses insects to get the dyes or if they are synthetic. My guess is that they are synthetic. The Skittles ingredients list Red 40 Lake, which is actually classified as a “coal tar” dye, so most definitely NOT insect derived (it’s an azo dye).

            I have seen claims that skittles contain gelatin, but there is nothing about gelatin in the ingredients. Unnamed natural flavors, but nothing about any gelling agents (it’s palm oil based)

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            So the insect thing is an urban legend. All very well, but…coal tar? Maybe I’ll be wooish about red dye for a while. It’s probably relatively harmless but sounds squicky as anything (to me at least).

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Almost everything is made of coal tar. Coal tar (and oil tar) is the primary source of organic chemical feedstock. Most of the drugs on the market are made of coal/oil tar, too. So coal tar supplies the carbon, and then we use chemical reactions to turn the base precursors into stuff that is useful, including plastics, medicines and dyes.

            Coal tar is just decayed plant and animal matter (coal is more plant matter, oil is more animal, I think).

            The fact that it is from coal tar is no better or worse than realizing that the water you are drinking was almost assuredly at one time part of someones pee. So what?

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            The fact that it is from coal tar is no better or worse than realizing
            that the water you are drinking was almost assuredly at one time part of
            someones pee

            This statement shouldn’t be reassuring, and yet it is.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Not to homeopaths though, or it least it shouldn’t ….

            (water is supposed to have everything it touches, but somehow forgets the sewage it was part of…)

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            Right. If homeopathy is correct, the worst thing you can do is dilute a pollutant. Therefore, drinking urine straight up is better than drinking tap water that was once part of urine. Or, say, water that once fell over Chernobyl: better to drink directly from the power plant waste water, which is only 1X not 250,000 or so X (X= diluted in homeopathy, not concentrated).

          • Cobalt

            PETA has them listed as vegan, and this is the one area where I’d call them a trusted source.

      • sdsures

        Ditto. I need meat (ooga-booga cavewoman!) to survive.

    • demodocus’ spouse

      It’s just that many of the vegans I hear from tend to be a bit holier-than-thou about it. That said, I don’t find the current obsession with bacon or people insisting they’re carnivores to be amusing.

      • susannunes

        People who are vegans or vegetarians are slaves to a food faddist cult. Its adherents make no coherent sense. It is not natural or healthy for people to jettison meat products and live only on plants–it is unhealthy. People are omnivores. The vegan/vegetarian cult is no different than “natural childbirth.” It is all quack science.

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          My downstairs neighbor is doing it for philosophical reasons. Philosophy isn’t mutually inclusive with science. She feeds her pet carnivores Purina, though. My consort and I feed our own little omnivores (and ourselves) an omnivorous diet. The neighbor does not show any disgust at us for doing so. She has a live-and-let-live attitude. Which is good, because my previous neighbor was a massive trigger/cause for my PPD.

          • Kerlyssa

            did you mean, mutually exclusive?
            aww, crap, i just realized this is 2 years old. that’s what i get for clicking on the recently post sidebar.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            No, because ethics in science is a branch of philosophy. A woefully small branch compared to the whole. No worries, I was responding to someone who decided to chastise me this morning for thinking vegans aren’t automatically horrible or something.

        • Kerlyssa

          …you are criticizing it for being unnatural, yet compare it to ‘natural’ childbirth. Cmon, seriously. People go vegan/vegetarian for lots of different reasons, and in lots of different ways. Dietary needs vary from person to person, and community to community. Slamming them all for being unnatural cultists is pretty weird.

    • Cobalt

      I’d being turning that hatred/frustration towards the woosters that are co-opting your personal choices and making them symbolic of their cultural ideologies.

      A lower stakes example: I like to wear tank tops and flowy skirts. My baby likes to ride in a sling. However, the image those things create, especially together, is “natural parent” (with associated baggage) and people make learned assumptions when they see it. I get a little annoyed with the random individual judging my (assumed) choices, but my major aggravation is for those parents who have so thoroughly “educated” the public on those symbols.

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      I don’t eat mammals because the thought grosses me out* and I think mammals have enough brains that eating them is immoral. I do eat birds, but only free range ones, since I suspect that domesticated fowl don’t have enough brains to anticipate or fear death but do think that they shouldn’t be tortured. I was vegetarian but persistent iron deficency for a year made a change in habits necessary. I’d eat insects if I could find any preparations of them that looked appealing.

      But that’s just my thing. I don’t claim that it’s the Right Way to Eat or anything like that. My feelings on anyone who eats anything else is “that’s cool as long as it works for you.” There simply is no way to avoid doing harm to other living beings by eating: harvesting grain means killing the small mammals that have nested in that grain, habitats are destroyed to make farms, etc. Do the best you can, find a lifestyle that satisfies you and don’t worry about the fact that you’re not living a completely harm free life. It’s impossible.

      *Surgery rotation in medical school. Catarization smells identical to barbeque. That was that for mammal meat for me.

      • Cobalt

        I can assure you that domestic chickens are devoid of philosophical notions like fear of death. They do feel and fear pain, and will learn to avoid electric fencing, but they’re not big thinkers.

        • Cartwheel

          Addendum, I can also assure you that “free range” chickens are not enjoying their lives demonstrably more than cage-raised chickens.

          Unfortunately you’re just going to have to take my word for it, since large-scale chicken facilities are biosecure and I have no idea how one would go about getting a series of tours of different styles of facilities. The method available to me is available to almost nobody else (professional courtesy, basically).

          So if you’re paying more for “free range” on the premise that the chickens are happier, you are probably wasting your money.

          There is a case to be made that if you can find *pastured* poultry, they may be enjoying their chicken lives more – but only maybe, because if you are raising the normal hybrid broiler chickens on pasture, they act exactly as though they were in a house (not moving more than ten feet from a source of food and water, not really doing much in general) but with a much higher risk of predation, parasitism, and disease. How many young chickens can be torn open by a hawk and left walking around with their intestines dragging on the ground, or how many times can the whole flock be terrified by a raccoon rampaging through killing ten or fifteen at a time, before we have to start classing that as torture too?

          (If someone’s raising a heritage breed flock, well, those are quite a bit smarter and more capable and do better outside, so that’s probably a net positive. But almost nothing that you buy in any store will fit that description.)

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            A heritage flock, being smarter, might suffer more if they are mistreated. Plus more traumatized by racoon attacks. And since I don’t have access to the breeding facility I’m really taking the word of the breeder about the conditions they live under. OTOH, I’m really squicked out by the images I’ve seen of chickens being stuck in tiny little cages where they can’t even stretch their wings out. Maybe the chickens don’t care and I’m projecting my own feelings, but there those feelings are. Hmm…maybe it’s time to go back to vegetarianism now that my iron has gotten back to normal.

            Incidentally, just to reiterate: I’m aware that my choices are, shall we say, morally imperfect and vulnerable to woo. I’m not saying that anyone else should do what I do.

          • Cartwheel

            You should eat whatever you want, I totally don’t believe in telling other people what to eat or what not to eat.

            A shorter version of my point is that I think the lay public (people who do not raise livestock) are often materially incorrect in the way they apply “animal welfare” as a criterion for what to eat.

            If that’s actually an important criterion to people (rather than a cover for something else), I figure it might be useful if I provide more information. Animals in CAFOs are often not as miserable as people seem to think.

            (I’m inclined to digress a tiny bit about for instance a situation where some foodies from a city moved out into the country and set up a fancy outdoor pig-rearing and butcher operation. They didn’t know what they were doing but they did know how to market. Demand outstripped supply, they brought in a bunch of feeder pigs from a whole bunch of sources. Their pigs started dying and sure, part of it was infectious disease, but actually also they didn’t know anything about pig nutrition and it turns out they had been starving the pigs to death. All the while telling LOTS and LOTS of people that these were happy pigs frolicking in the woods. It Just Goes to Show.)

          • Cobalt

            My chickens are all mutts (we started with a colorful variety of breeds and have replenished from them, trading out the rooster each year), none are the highly specialized meat factory type. They’re happy outside, they’re happy inside, they’re happy whenever something painful or scary isn’t happening right then (which is most of the time).

            If I wanted to break even selling their meat, I’d have to charge $10 a pound.

      • Alcharisi

        This is roughly how it is for me, as well. (I also don’t eat shellfish, but that’s a ritual restriction rather than a moral one–if I weren’t trying to keep some semblance of kashrut I would actually have no qualms whatsoever about shellfish, with the possible exception of squid and octopi.) I imagine I will eventually phase out poultry, too.
        If I were more firmly convinced (i.e. had I more solid evidence) that most mammals were conscious enough to make eating them immoral, I suspect I would be more evangelical about it. As it stands, though, my level of confidence in my view is enough to make me change my own actions, but not so high as to translate to a moral imperative.

      • Alcharisi

        I do want to add for the sake of argument, however, that there does seem to me to be a significant difference between accidentally destroying animals as a consequence of raising and harvesting crops, and raising and slaughtering animals for the express purpose of consuming them. Both involve death and suffering, to be sure, but intention does seem significant.

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          Sorry, but I’m not going to buy it. At least not without refinement: Every farmer knows that they’re destroying animals in their grain production. As far as I know, there is no ongoing work on trying to reduce the destruction of animals in agricultural work. It’s just considered a consequence and everyone shrugs and moves on. So it’s sort of like saying that it’s ok to drive through the ped zone every day on your way to work and claim that any casualties are not your fault because you didn’t intend to hurt anyone, you just needed to get to work.

          • Alcharisi

            Certainly, then, in order to be consistent, an animal advocate (especially one of a utilitarian stripe) would be well advised to work towards reducing said destruction.
            But I don’t think that means there isn’t a difference. We DO distinguish between negligent homicide and murder, even though we excuse neither. The difference may turn out to be immaterial as far as how it conditions dietary choices (again, especially if one is of a utilitarian bent), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t significant for how we think about the ethics of our relationships with other animals.

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            True, but one of the police in Baltimore is being charged with murder on a “depraved indifference” argument and one could argue that simply ignoring the issue of animals caught in combine harvesters was ignoring animal suffering for human convenience in much the same way that slaughtering animals for food is. Not sure where that gets one as far as what to eat, but I really wish someone was working on a way to deal with this problem.

            Also, milk. Cows have their calves taken away. Is that necessary? TMI, but I produced more milk than my small one could eat when I was lactating and I’m not even a member of a species artificially bred for maximum milk production. Surely a cow produces more than the calf needs. Why not just let the calf eat what it needs and then pump for any left over, with the expectation that you’ll get more as the calf is weened? Maybe there’s some inate problem with this approach because I’ve never seen anyone propose it and it seems to me that a fair number of lacto-vegetarians would pay more for milk produced this way.

          • Cartwheel

            Because calf mouths traumatize udders and also introduce bacteria to the udders, increasing the rate of mastitis, decreasing milk production even beyond the amount they consume, and lowering the quality and safety of the milk. There are also a number of diseases that are transmitted cow-to-calf through the milk, and feeding pasteurized milk is often part of an effort to reduce or eliminate these diseases.

            I’m just a vet, but there’s a dairy farmer on here too, right? I bet that person has something more to say about why not.

        • Roadstergal

          “Wee sleekit cowrin’ timorous beastie…”

    • susannunes

      It is a cult. It is not natural to be vegan and downright unhealthy.

      • Azuran

        I’m sorry, are you hunting your own food with a spear you made yourself out of wood and stones? Because it’s not like the beef you buy at the grocery store is ‘natural’ in any way.

        Who cares if it’s ‘natural’ or not to be vegan. It’s entirely possible to have a healthy, balanced, vegan diet and that’s all that matter.
        And BTW, eating too much meat is downright unhealthy as well.
        What’s wrong with someone who decide that they don’t want to eat any animals?

  • Laura

    Sort of off-topic, but not really: what do ya’ll think about this? http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/TPV3/Voices.php/2015/04/30/harvard-trained-immunologist-demolishes-

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      I got as far as “IPV (inactivated poliovirus vaccine) cannot prevent transmission of poliovirus,” and decided that the writer was probably off of her meds.

      • SporkParade

        I haven’t had the nerve to look yet, but that’s actually true. The OPV is prefered in places where there is wild polio because, while the IPV does make the vaccinated person immune, it does not prevent them from carrying the polio virus in their gut. Israel recently re-added the OPV to the vaccine schedule for this reason (thanks, Syria!).

    • Bugsy

      She sounds like a fearful mom who happens to have a PhD in immunology that she’s misusing to give credence to her fears. A fellow immunologist read her book on the topic and stated “this book can make Fox News and MSNBC News seem fair and balanced.”

      https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/why-does-this-immunologist-reject-vaccinations/

      (Quotation above from http://www.amazon.com/review/R3CMWB54L5GF4D/ref=cm_cr_pr_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B007AW2CLG.)

  • The Computer Ate My Nym

    I don’t know if this is related or not and is probably TMI, but it occurred to me the other day that the older I get the more sex is an innocent pleasure and food is guilt ridden. No one lectures me about sex with my monogamous partner of 20 years and there are unlikely to be untoward consequences of the same. OTOH, if I eat the wrong thing I have to worry about what that’s doing to my blood sugar, blood pressure, and intestines. This is probably not atypical: I suspect a lot of US-Americans get lectured more about their eating habits than their sex lives.

  • Amy M

    This ties in well to the “Natural Parenting Lifestyle” as they assign moral value to just about every decision you could make. In a nutshell, it boils down to: “Don’t you want to give your child the best?”

    Of course the proponents of this define “best” as avoiding any and all risks including imaginary ones, so if something negative happens, it is all Mom’s fault (never Dad’s) for making the wrong choices. A child that is diagnosed ADHD in 2nd grade, for example—the extremists will decide that the kid has ADHD because mom gave him too much sugar, or let him watch too much tv and the consequence for behaving so immorally (raising the child merely adequately vs. best) is a kid with a problem. Their children only eat organic raisins for snacks, not “processed crap’ and they never watch tv, they play outside all day, every day with sticks and dirt, and because they’ve made the “right” choices, their children are neurotypical.

    Obviously, we all know that’s total bs. And the day one of their children is diagnosed with ADHD, they’ll decide it was because they had pitocin during the birth, or took a tylenol once during pregnancy—they didn’t remain pure enough. They’ll blame themselves, just like they blame any other mother, but chalk it up to ignorance (as opposed to immoral behavior) and vow they will never make that mistake again with subsequent children.

    • Bugsy

      “They’ll blame themselves, just like they blame any other mother, but chalk it up to ignorance (as opposed to immoral behavior) and vow they will never make that mistake again with subsequent children.”

      Bingo. Crazy Lactivist was expecting #2 when our friendship went south. At the time, she had become GMO-free and with a much “cleaner” lifestyle than earlier on in her parenting adventures. I had no doubt that she would rectify any and all mistakes with her first son, and that everything with #2 would always be perfect (not like she would have admitted to those mistakes, anyway…). Because in addition to being the perfect all-natural parent, the 5 years she’d had with #1 turned her to a wonderful parenting expert as well.

      • MegaMechaMeg

        God, aren’t “perfect parents” just the worst? I want to add something intellegent, but know-it-alls just set up my hackles, particularly when it is about something as subjective as parenting.

        • Bugsy

          I completely agree, and they make me mad, too. I’ve gotten to the point where I generally just avoid anyone who comes across as such, but I’m still bitter at having lost a dear friend to this BS. Better than keeping her in my life as such, but still…

          • Who?

            Time is your friend here, ladies. Many of the ‘perfect’parents in my world are off the air now that their late teen early twenties kids are not living up to the efforts put in, or the parents’ prognostications of fabulousness.

            These kids rebel, burn out, or just tune out. My daughter is currently tutoring a fifteen year old whose mother wants her to be a surgeon, father wants her to be a concert violinist. The girl wants to get the hell out of school and please herself, and is biding her time in the meantime.

            Funny how these parents think their machiavellian crap goes only one way, and forget the ‘other’ lessons the kids are learning from them.

          • MegaMechaMeg

            My SIL is a perfect parent type, only her obsession is having perfectly groomed, silent children who compete in dance. The older digs it, but my husband and I have private bets about when the younger neice is finally going to break rank and join a metal band. It is going to be so beautiful and I will be there with a tin of manic panic in the color of her choosing.

          • Daleth

            You are a most awesome aunt.

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            Ooh…can you let the board know when her first track comes out on itunes? I promise I’ll download it…

          • MegaMechaMeg

            She is three so it could be a while, but my secret heart hopes that she uses the opportunity to BURN her old costumes. Seriously, her last recital featured a black mesh corset top with cutouts and an underwire top with boob ruffles. She asked me if she had enough cleavage and I just died inside.

          • MegaMechaMeg

            It sucks to lose friends, but it sucks more to have to listen to bullshit. You have to have faith that every once in a while you can find the perfect mom friend who will understand when you say “Wanna drink wine while netflix parents our children?”

          • Bugsy

            Without her gasping in horror for my selfish need for time to myself. 🙂

  • Amy M

    Is this a typo?

    Our society has gone from sexually puritanical and licentious about FOOD, to sexually licentious and puritanical about FOOD.

    • luckymama75

      No, I had to read that a few times too but if you read it as “has gone from puritanical about sex and licentious about food, to licentious about sex and puritanical about food” it makes more sense. She’s switching the adjectives around.

      • Amy M

        Got it. Yeah, I read it a few times, and couldn’t see the difference–thanks!

  • staceyjw

    Orthorexia has to play a part in this. Disordered eating is rampant in the Western world, and orthorexia is a new twist on an old illness.

    • Bugsy

      I’d never heard of this term before and really appreciate your sharing it. Thanks!

    • Tiffany Aching

      I have a strong suspicion that many women who are obsessed with the notion of “clean eating” just found a socially acceptable way to rationalize their eating disorders. It’s almost a coping mechanism.

  • staceyjw

    When there is such a shift in what is considered acceptable to moralize about, you have to ask- why has this change occurred, and who does this benefit?

    As a (USA) liberal, it is taboo to have any view about sex other than “Its great!”, and the constant shaming of anyone that doesn’t toe the line as “prude, intolerant, antisex, fundie” ensures that those combining morality with sex will not be tolerated. Liberals are simply not allowed morality regarding sex, this was ceded to the religious right in order to further the “sexual revolution” (aka NSA, unfettered, unlimited, access to female bodies, with 0 responsibility).

    It’s gone so far that criticizing even the most harmful of sexual practices (porn, prostitution, BDSM, certain kinks) makes you enemy #1, hated right along with racists, Nazis, and genocidal dictators! When such woman hating practices are celebrated as not just acceptable, but empowering, its clear that even the idea of morals has been destroyed.

    But the need for morals doesn’t just disappear (no matter how many postmodern philosophers you read), so it becomes imperative to shift the judgement to something more socially acceptable.
    Enter: Food (which is one major part of “purity in nature”)

    You can be as judgmental as you want about food, because you aren’t threatening anything.
    *And that’s the point.*
    Monsanto isn’t going to fold because some people want “pure food”; the idea of food purity isn’t upholding a system of power, or keeping half the world oppressed. But to be against porn? To aim to abolish prostitution? To see sex as more than ‘woman as sperm receptacle’? This is seen as a threat to unfettered male sexual access, as well as harmful to billion dollar businesses, and is thus, unacceptable. (Challenging patriarchy in any manner is not considered acceptable at all!)

    It is no wonder why we are seeing this change.

    • Roadstergal

      “It’s gone so far that criticizing even the most harmful of sexual practices (porn, prostitution, BDSM, certain kinks) makes you enemy #1, hated right along with racists, Nazis, and genocidal dictators! When such woman hating practices are celebrated as not just acceptable, but empowering, its clear that even the idea of morals has been destroyed.”

      Um, thanks for moralizing right at me as an enjoyer of women-hating practices. They are not necessarily harmful or woman-hating. I don’t think you’re a Nazi, but I think you’re painting in rather broad strokes.

      • Cobalt

        Sexual harm is more and more (and rightfully so) defined by context (most specifically informed consent, but not excluding unintended consequences like disease) instead of any particular act a person may consent to (BDSM, payment, having a consenting audience, whatever).

        Informed consent also ties into why I think GMO food labelling is a net good, even though I don’t think they are dangerous, inferior, or worth avoiding. If someone has a GMO-avoidant “food kink”, I probably wouldn’t cook them dinner but I’m totally fine with them being able to serve their preferences themselves.

    • LibrarianSarah

      Yeah I am just going to leave this here:

      http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/04/empowered-vs-objectified/

    • Cobalt

      “the most harmful of sexual practices (porn, prostitution, BDSM, certain kinks)”

      Harmful sexual practices are ones in which consent is violated, not ones in which consenting individuals do something that squicks you out.

      Consenting porn stars, prostitutes, and kinksters are harmed by the moral judgements of society, not by anything inherent to the details of their sex lives.

      • Inmara

        I was typing almost the same – even the most “vanilla” sexual practices are harmful if they don’t involve consent, whereas many crazy kinks are done consensually by both genders. It reminds of old joke – “Pervert is anyone who’s turned on by things that I don’t practice myself”.

      • Mattie

        The most harmful of societal practices are the criminalisation, moral judgement and lack of understanding towards those who practice ‘different’ (consensual) sexual practices. That leads to rape culture, victim-blaming, increased physical and emotional danger for sex workers, lack of support for those in the porn industry and quite possibly worst of all…50 Shades of Grey =P

    • anh

      Porn and BDSM are AWESOME. My monogamous partner and I have a ball.

      I’m a liberal and I have zero beef with those who don’t enjoy the blue films with the gusto that I do. I have a beef with those who export their personal preferences to judge those of others. I think you may be a lot more judgemental than you realise.

      Here’s a primer
      Right way: I chose to wait for marriage to have sex because it was important to me and my relationship with God. I would not have felt comfortable being intimate with someone I wasn’t pledged to
      Wrong way: I was abstinate until marriage because I have self respect and morals and would never give myself away and disgrace my body

      Right way: my partner and I are in an open relationship because Monogymy was unhealthy for our relationship and we’ve found our bond is stronger when we have the freedom to explore sexual encounters with others
      Wrong way: we are in an open relationship because I’d never allow myself to be enslaved by chains of boring vanilla conventional relationships that boring sheeple engage in

      You can be sex positive and only like missionary sex on Tuesday. It’s about accepting that different people benefit from different sexual arrangements and that’s ok

      • Who?

        I think when you are categorising rationalisations as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ you might be more judgmental than you realise.

        And surely ‘different consensual sexual arrangements’.

        • Mattie

          I don’t think they’re saying that one of the rationalisations is wrong, but rather that the ‘wrong ways’ are in themselves attaching judgement to another choice. I also have to agree that porn, BDSM, prostitution and kinks aren’t super terrible awful things ruining society. I think the lack of understanding, which in turn has led to issues with criminalisation, regulation etc… are the real problem. You as an individual can make any personal choice you like, but in doing so you do not have the right to place a moral judgement on those who make a different choice. Not in consensual sex choices, not in food choices, not in birth choices.

          • Who?

            But what if the choice leads to actual, objective harm? As some birth choices to, as parents who refuse medical treatment for children to the point of death do, as people who feed their children dangerous exclusion diets do? Or people who leave loaded guns on the kitchen table?

            How is is not appropriate to say, in those situations, where someone’s choice to exercise power over another, who can’t consent, leads to death or serious injury: That was a bad/wrong choice?

          • Mattie

            birth choices are a little trickier as the unborn baby doesn’t have rights so women can (and some do) make choices that harm themselves or the baby…the other situations, I guess would come under the same rules as non-consenual sex acts, it’s ok to judge someone for being a child molester or a rapist, same as it’s ok to judge someone who abuses their child in any way (restriction diets, other neglect etc) or who allows their child to come to harm due to their own failure to adequately maintain a safe environment…would that count as neglect?

            The issue is the grey area of bad choices being made that could potentially harm but haven’t yet. Then I guess judge away, but privately, or inform the social agencies that prevent harm (police, social workers, medical services) but it does get complicated in that instance.

          • Mattie

            Also there’s a big difference between saying ‘x was a bad/wrong choice’ and ‘x was a bad wrong choice because it wasn’t y, and y is the only right choice for everyone whatever their situation’ which is what a lot of natural childbirth, good eating, anti-vax people say.

          • Who?

            Agree with this completely-there are a hundred ways to do pretty much anything, some with better outcomes than others, and the groups you mention are very rigid at times.

          • Mattie

            Yeh definitely, people (including parents) make choices every day that they look back on and wish they had done differently, the issue is that they don’t need an entire movement of people telling them that their one mistake will ruin their child for the rest of its life, and that they should feel guilty and attempt to make it up to (the child) for the rest of their life, even if it is too late anyway.

          • Cobalt

            Children cannot consent, their guardians are ethically and legally obligated to provide appropriate care. Adults are allowed to hurt themselves.

          • Who?

            For me the whole conversation is about consent and respectfulness-respect different choices, acknowledge consent, recognise and sanction behaviour without consent.

        • anh

          I don’t care how people rationalize their decisions. I’m talking about how you TALK about your decisions with others. You can present your choices in a way that doesn’t tear down other choices. You’re angry to be labled a prude or sex negative, but you may be presenting your sexual choices in a way that denigrates others. I was trying to demonstrate that there is a right way and a wrong way to talk about sex. We can further the discussion without tearing down other people’s practices.
          You want to have a monogamous relationship? awesome. But that doesn’t mean someone in a polyamorous relationship is doing anything immoral or wrong, just because it is something you’d never choose.

    • Alcharisi

      Yeah, no. I’m actually very much concerned with feminist sexual morality–in fact, I’m writing my dissertation on it–and I agree with anh. Porn and BDSM ARE awesome.
      Are there misogynist, unethical ways to do porn and BDSM? Absolutely. But it does not follow from that that such practices are fundamentally misogynist and unethical.

  • DelphiniumFalcon

    I always the love the “I’m avoiding toxins!” argument for anti-vaxxing.

    Avoiding toxins, huh? Wonder what’s causing all that cell death during a pertussis, tetnus, or diphtheria infection?

    What was that? Those bacteria produce TOXINS, actual correctly labeled toxins that cause the diseased state?

    Well! Ain’t that a punch in the gut!

    Yo dawg, I heard you didn’t vax to avoid toxins and then caught a vaccine preventable disease that produces toxins!

    Does hitting someone with a dictionary cause them to assimilate the correct meanings of words by being in close proximity to the book? You know, like tinctures where the water was next to the other molecules for a while and so convey the benefit? This is relevant to my interests.

    • KarenJJ

      Yes! My kid had scarlet fever last year. The toxins produced by the bacteria were nasty and caused her skin to flake off like a very bad sunburn. I gave my toddler the handheld vacuum cleaner and sent him around the house after her to clean up the dead skin she was shedding everywhere.

      • DelphiniumFalcon

        But don’t you know? Only vaccines shed!

  • Mel

    My husband likes to request that “Pure Organic Food Worship” be added to a list of religious organizations.

    At first, I thought he was just being snarky. Now, I’m starting to think there is some truth there…

    • SporkParade

      Well, there are days where my main reason for rejecting food woo is, “I already follow one completely illogical and complicated set of rules on what I eat. Now these guys want me to adopt a second one? Who has the time for that?”

  • guest

    This also shows up in how quickly weight loss is expected to be achieved. If someone is no longer “sinning” by overeating, it’s expected that the weight should fall off immediately, like removing a scarlet letter.

  • sdsures

    Don’t forget the “healing birth”: if the mother didn’t get the desired unassisted or unmedicated childbirth experience she wanted the first time around, she can have another one, bring another child into the world, to “heal herself”. Nothing at all to do with the welfare of said children.

    Similarly, eating healthy food can “erase” the indiscretion of last night’s binge on takeaway…or so we think.

    • MHAM

      Ah, the “healing birth.” It drives me bonkers.
      I had a VBAC with my second child, but it was not remotely for my own “healing.” I was ready to go back under the knife in a heartbeat if my doctor said it was needed. But the “healing birth” thing is so big in VBAC circles. It should be on Dr. Amy’s bingo card.
      Whatever emotional/psychological issues were left over from the c-section were my responsibility to deal with prior to conceiving and delivering baby #2. And I did that work and put all of that to bed (and really, most of what I was stressed about regarding my first delivery wasn’t about my “birth experience,” it was about being fearful about the fact that my daughter and I both narrowly escaped awful deaths). New baby, new birth – none of that mess was/is his problem to work out for me.
      Do your best not to project your own shit onto your kids. It’s kind of a basic tenet of good parenting.

      • Sarah

        I had a relatively healing EMCS after my hellish vaginal birth.

      • araikwao

        Ugh. I had a VBAC too. It took me a long time to heal from it.

    • Mattie

      I think the idea of healing birth, or healing after a birth is reasonable. People can be traumatised by birth, any birth where an emergency happens can be traumatic for the woman and anyone there with her, this can be a vaginal birth or a c-section that doesn’t go to plan, or just something where the sense of control or composure is lost. Birth can be very scary, because it can be very dangerous, and it can change very suddenly. Unknown quantity + fear often = trauma. The problem is when one group (natural childbirth lobby) take something real like mental health conditions caused by birth trauma and use them for their own agenda, a nice safe hospital birth, or elective section can also go a long way to healing from a previous bad experience…but the NCBers won’t tell you that.

      • sdsures

        But are you suggesting that someone consciously decide to have another child solely to “heal” from the previous one? I get the feeling that isn’t what you mean, because it completely ignores the rights of the future child. Will the kid always wonder if his mom doesn’t love him as much and sees him as some sort of “birth commodity” a la Kate Tjetje?

        • Mattie

          Not super familiar with Kate Tjetje so can’t comment on the specifics. I wouldn’t suggest having another baby purely to ‘heal’ from birth, another pregnancy/birth is not the only way one can heal from a birth trauma, ideally every hospital should have staff trained in debriefing services who can help the woman/family understand what happened and why, and answer questions. I mean that if a woman gets pregnant again after a traumatic birth, it should be made clear that there are many ways to make this birth less traumatic, from birth support, to induction to elective c-section, essentially putting her in control (as much as possible) and that way reducing the anxiety.

          • sdsures

            Tjetje was a blogger (the post has since been removed) who claimed to love her son more than her daughter because the son was VB whilst the daughter was CS. Seriously. Dr Amy may have a post in the SOB archives about her.

          • Mattie

            Ew 🙁 yeh no, that is awful

          • sdsures

            Yep. From what I remember, Tjetje eventually withdrew the post.