Mary Maxfield, in her article, Food as Thought: Resisting the Moralization of Eating, heavily critiques Michael Pollan, a health food advocate, for his critic of the food industry while simultaneously contributing to the investment of the food industry and for adding, even more, anxiety to an already culturally anxious society over food.
Maxfield observes Pollan’s hypocrisy about the food industry by writing “The same critic who argues that ‘any and all theories of nutrition [serve] not the eater [but] the food industry,’ nevertheless proposes his own theory: the elimination of processed food,”(Maxfield, pg. 443). Maxfield continues to expose Pollan’s paradoxical views by writing, “he’s a critic of nutrition and food science who nevertheless bolsters bolsters the American investment in those industries,”(Maxfield, pg. 443). Maxfield goes on to reject the idea that these “gastronomical philosophers” like Pollan and other nutritionists are the “protectors of health,” due to their warning of eating too much “often without any parallel warnings against eating too little,”(Maxfield, pg. 444). Maxfield identifies Pollan’s lack of evidence to support his claim connecting health with weight and goes on to attack the notion that weight and health are connected.
Maxfield’s claim is that our understanding of health is as much based in culture as it is in fact, and begins referencing academics who support her beliefs. Maxfield quotes Paul Campos, a law professor, and journalist, to emphasize the flaws there are in the perception of fatness, diet, and health. Campos notes that “lies about fat, fitness, and health…serve the interests of America’s diet industry,”(Maxfield, pg. 444) then to emphasize this point, Maxfield quotes Kate Harding, a fat-acceptance activist, “if you scratch an article on the obesity crisis, you will almost always find a press release from a company that’s developing a weight loss drug- or from a ‘research group’…funded by such companies”(Maxfield, pg. 444-445). Maxfield notes that Harding and Campos believe that the body mass index (BMI) is not valid and observes that the BMI has become a staple for medicine when it was developed to be a “purely statistical tool”(Maxfield, pg. 445) and supports the claim that BMI cannot accurately predict one’s health. Maxfield shifts the tone of her article to appeal to stop the moralization of eating. Maxfield reasons that “When we attempt to rise above our animal nature through the moralization of food, we unnecessarily complicate the process of eating,”(Maxfield, pg. 446) and goes on to say that food isn’t moral or immoral, and finishes with an appeal to her readers to “Trust yourself. Trust your body. Meet your needs.”
Maxfield’s call to stop the moralization of eating would be worthy of praise if she were not lacking in the evidence and credible sources that she herself attacked Pollan for. In a conversation about health and nutrition, Maxfield uses the opinions of a law professor and journalist, Paul Campos, and fat-acceptance activist, Kate Harding, to support her position. People who would and do have the credentials to speak about the validity of BMI and of health, in general, are medical professionals. nutritionists, health research scientists, people with degrees in medicine and health, etc, credentials that neither Campos or Harding have. Maxfield’s continued use of Campos’ and Harding’s beliefs on health is, in fact, a logical fallacy, in that she fully trusts their argument and uses it as evidence for her own claims despite their respective expertise (Law Professor and Journalist, Fat-Acceptance Activist) not being in health or medicine.
Maxfield portrays her paradoxical and self-serving way of thinking about scientific research when she says “the BMI has become medicine’s go-to means…despite research that suggests a low BMI presents a greater mortality risk than a high one, and that, in general, BMI cannot accurately predict one’s health.”(Maxfield, pg. 445) Maxfield states research (that she does not provide any sort of citation or evidence for) that a low BMI presents a greater risk than a great one, while simultaneously stating research that BMI cannot accurately predict one’s health. She lends credibility that BMI can be used to predict one’s health, and less than a sentence later, claims it cannot be used to predict one’s health.
The most flawed and dangerous of Maxfield’s logic is in her appeal to stop the moralization of food. That the focus on health and healthy eating is purely in the interest of the health food industry and weight loss industry, and to “Trust yourself. Trust your body. Meet your needs.”(Maxfield, pg. 446) Maxfield is trying to set a dangerous precedent, not in that people should eat what they want, but that obese people are perfectly healthy and should continue eating what they want no matter what medical research shows. It is one thing if you want to eat unhealthily and accept the consequence of obesity, it is another to eat unhealthily, then claim that it is healthy to be obese and then spread the blatant misinformation. It is in essence, post-truth. Maxfield, Harding, and Campos appeal to their readers with emotion, in spite of objective facts, then to back up their emotional claims, they provide cherry picked data and evidence.
The rise of diabetes and obesity in the United States did not happen naturally, it is the result of people ignoring medical research, and eating what they want because of people like Campos, Harding, and Maxfield spreading their skewed “science” and beliefs, telling unhealthy people, that they are indeed healthy and that they should accept themselves.
I am a Type-1 diabetic. I have struggled with weight and health my whole life and will continue to struggle to find the balance between what is healthy and what is not for the rest of my life. If I was exposed to the emotionally based “science” that Maxfield, Harding, and Campos champion when I was young and impressionable, I would be well worse off than I am currently. If my parents and I believed that I know my body better than medical professionals and nutritionists, I would not be living happily and healthily like Maxfield believes, I would be without toes or a leg because of the need of an amputation due to the collection of unhealthy decisions I would have made.
People should be in control of themselves. If someone wants a Big Mac, all the power to them. Where it becomes a dangerous situation is when impressionable adults and children are taught to ignore their doctors and go through life with the issues that are related to obesity, such as heart disease and Diabetes, and are okay with never changing their diet because they were told to “Trust Yourself. Trust Your Body. Meet Your Needs.”
Maxfield, Mary. Food as Thought: Resisting the Moralization of Eating. They Say I Say with Readings, 2016 pg. 442-446