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March 2, 2010 / Katie

Salads are for Good Girls, Hot Dogs are for Bad Girls

Lisa over at Sociological Images has a great post up today with an ad illustrating the “good girls” vs. “bad girls” dichotomy. Here’s the advertisement:

Lisa nails it when she says:

This is a narrative that we largely take-for-granted. We are bad when we “indulge” in “sinfully” delicious treats and good when we do not. Parallel is the narrative: you are a good girl if you resist your desires, a bad girl if you do not.

So this is problematic on two different levels. One is the tired trope that women are either good girls or bad girls, virgins or whores, heaven- or hell-bound. This simply isn’t true. There is no such thing as the virgin or the whore; these are socially-constructed cages used to try to keep the behavior of women “in line” (that is, to keep us only engaging in behavior that doesn’t threaten the patriarchy).

And the other level is that there is nothing sinful about eating a cookie or a hot dog, and there is nothing righteous about eating a salad or a wrap. Our food choices are not moral choices* insofar as we’re talking about calories, fat grams, salt or sugar content. So no, there is nothing more or less moral, or sinful, about eating ice cream vs. frozen yogurt or a hamburger vs. a veggie burger.

I was on a retreat recently and someone made a joke that the snack food that folks had brought, which included fruits and vegetables, crackers, chips, cookies, and candy, was “everything from sinly to saintful.” Now as cute as that play on words is, I really believe we tread into very dangerous territory when we start associating morality with food choices. What is this dangerous territory? Self-righteousness when we “are good” and self-flagellation when we “are bad” in the foods we eat. Eating disorders resulting from a strict, black-and-white view of food’s goodness. Spiritual disease when we conflate morally neutral decisions with major ethical dilemmas. Yeah, that’s dangerous territory. And there are so many more important things we can be doing with our time. Like challenging the patriarchy that wants us to waste all our time worrying about whether our food choices today make us good or bad.


* They are moral choices insofar as food comes to us through unjust systems, but that’s a topic for another post.


Leave a Comment
  1. Heidi / Mar 2 2010 5:51 pm

    So if I like both hot dogs AND salads, does that mean I’ve got an angel and a devil on my shoulder, a la all the cartoons? That would be oddly entertaining.

    It drives me crazy when food is given a moral value and when people judge their own value based on whether or not they are eating an EVIL FORBIDDEN FOOD! Assigning good/bad labels to food just makes them more complicated and makes our eating more disordered…and that’s a message that just doesn’t seem to be getting out to people.

  2. Brandi D. / Mar 2 2010 8:10 pm

    I read your headline and had SUCH a different mental picture, haha…. Anyway, I get similarly annoyed at moral judgments around food, because I have food allergies and there are foods I can NOT eat — which is true of everyone, there is no case in which a salad is universally “good” and quite a few in which it could be bad or harmful. People who insinuate otherwise betray their own lack of information on nutrition.

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