Food Choices Are Not a Moral Issue

judging other people's food choices

Written by Mandi Ehman, Guest Writer

Even the staunchest real-food advocates among us have probably experienced it at one time or another…the glare – virtual or in person – of someone who disagrees with an “inferior” choice we’re making.

The current food culture in our country – as so many of us push back against the standard American diet (SAD) and discover how processed foods and inferior ingredients affect our bodies – is a really good thing, but it can also manifest itself in a rigid and judgmental attitude toward other people who aren’t making the same decisions as us.

As someone who is taking baby steps toward a whole foods diet (through reading labels, cooking more from scratch and avoiding processed sugar), I’ve often felt this judgment from other people. (Some of that has certainly been based only on my perception and not reality, but we all know that the judgment really does exist.) As our family is taking bigger steps now, I am determined that no one will feel that same judgment from me.

Food Choices Are Not a Moral Issue

I recently read this quote, which has quickly become one of my favorites:

“A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who don’t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self-definition – localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese – will find the casual carefree choices of the less-enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicurianism.”

There are certainly moral issues around food – including the lack of food for many people around the world, living out our convictions through the food we buy and serve other people, sharing the things we know with other people in an informative, non-judgemental way, and so on.

The issue, though, comes when we start to judge other people based on the food choices they’re making for themselves and their families.

We assume that because we’ve been convicted of something, they should have been too, and therefore they’re making “inferior” choices out of laziness or, if they say they can’t afford to eat better, because of poor financial management.

Understanding the Other Person’s Perspective

The thing that I think is easy to forget is how overwhelming it is to go against the stream when you’ve grown up eating processed food. Our whole lives, we’ve been taught that it’s convenient! And manufactured to have all the nutrients you need! And affordable!

There are many reasons people may not be willing or able to push back against that agenda and evaluate their food choices in their current circumstances:

  • A lack of kitchen skills or confidence.
  • A focus on making ends meet and being able to put any food on the table.
  • Being stretched by work and home responsibilities.
  • A bad experience with past attempts to improve their diet.
  • Confusion caused by conflicting information

I love this quote from the June 17th entry in My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, which I think fits this conversation perfectly: “Stop having a measuring rod for other people. There is always one more fact in every man’s case about which we know nothing.”

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, many families may be focused simply on surviving; making the best food choices for long-term health isn’t even on their radar. And remember, even if you can see how they could cut their budget or better spend their time to make healthy food choices, that doesn’t mean that they’re in a place where they feel like they want to or can do those things.

Respecting Their Right to Disagree

In some cases, someone may have read all the same literature as you and simply disagree. (Hey, it’s possible.) Thankfully, the Bible addresses this one fairly plainly:

In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses a controversy among the Corinthian believers about whether it is permissible to eat meat that has been offered to idols. He says in 8:1: “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” Later, in verse 8, he goes on to say, “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.”

We will likely never all agree about food choices, and while it is great to build a network of people who do view food and other lifestyle choices the same way you do, we also need to get along with those who are eating foods we disagree with…without being arrogant or judgmental in our interactions.
judging other people's food choices

image by Annie Mole

Be an Encouragement to Those Around You

I can tell you that the biggest single factor affecting our food choices now is a relationship with an older mom in our homeschool group, the internet research I’ve done over the past four or five years notwithstanding. She follows many Nourishing Traditions principles, sticking primarily to locally grown whole foods, and I have been inspired just by being around her and talking food with her without feeling judged. She gladly shares the things she does – as well as things she’s still learning – but freely admits that their family occasionally runs through the McDonald’s drive-thru.

Her life has been such an example of grace – making good choices without allowing them to get in the way of relationships or become rigid rules that take the joy out of food and eating – that I’ve learned that I can approach this journey in my own time and my own way without trying to live up to someone else’s standards or avoid their critical eye. And rather than leading to a standstill, that’s motivated me to move forward even more quickly.

When we judge another person’s food choice – even if we do it silently – it begins to build a wall between us, and we miss out not only on the opportunity to share what we know but also the opportunity to learn from their strengths and experiences.

Practical Ways to Encourage Others

Practically speaking, how do you handle social events and get-togethers with grace and not judgment, but without sacrificing our own convictions? Here are some strategies to get you started, but mostly, just love people for who they are and don’t worry about trying to change them!

  • If appropriate, bring your own food. (Oftentimes, the stranger, the better, since it invites people to ask questions and opens up conversation.)
  • Invite people to your home. In this case, it might be best to avoid the strangest offerings (kombucha?!) in favor of healthier variations of popular foods that are sure to entice their taste buds.
  • Be willing to eat the food that other people serve unless you truly have a good allergy. Even if it’s not the “best”, accepting some of it – even a smaller portion – is much better than turning up your nose at it.
  • Be open about your family’s food choices without judging theirs. If people know you are making healthier choices – and that you’re a safe person to talk to – they’re much more likely to ask you questions so that you can encourage them on their own journey.

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is to continue to make what you feel are the best choices for your family without worrying about the choices other people are making. Most importantly, consider relationships with people more important than their food choices!

Have you felt judged for your food choices? Or struggled with judging others? How do you practically put relationships above food choices?

top image by cell105

About Mandi Ehman

Mandi Ehman lives in wild, wonderful West Virginia with her husband of ten years and four beautiful, spunky little girls. As a full-time work-at-home, homeschooling mom, she runs Life Your Way, a site that blends intentional and creative living, and Jungle Deals & Steals, where it's all Amazon, all the time.

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  1. Spot on!

    I always wanted to say that, ala Gordon Ramsay.

    Oops, now you know I watch Hell’s Kitchen, which is a WHOLE ‘nother post…! Wink, wink. Can you write one called Television is Not a Moral Issue, or am I pressing my luck?!

  2. I agree that to be unkind to others based on their food choices shows a lack of compassion to others who may have different circumstances or understanding of food ethics than you do. It doesn’t help anyone to rudely judge other people’s eating habits and there are better ways to educate about food ethics. However, I passionately disagree with the statement “food choices are not a moral issue”!

    This post only deals with the idea of what is healthiest for our bodies (which IS a moral issue!). Although the Holy Scriptures speak to care for our bodies many times and tell us that we belong to God and should maintain what belongs to him with great care, what is cited here are only isolated verses about the morality of eating meat prepared for idols. That’s simply not what we’re discussing here. But if you read the end of the chapter cited it’s clear that our actions regarding food are important and have moral implications: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” The moral issues will definitely affect Paul’s choices because they affect others–which is exactly what our food choices do: they affect others! When we buy food, we vote with our money for what is ethical or what is not ethical. When we support an evil corporation like Monsanto (and I’m not exaggerating when I use the word evil) we are making a moral decision. When we buy food from a source whose practices we know and believe to be ethical we are also making a moral decision.

    Our food choices do not only affect our personal health. They affect the livelihood of people the world over as well as have a huge impact on the environment: the world God has given us to care for, and the inhumane treatment of animals in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations): the creatures God has provided us with to use wisely and protect from cruelty. Our choices have great consequences and carry moral weight. To say that food choices are not a moral issue is to say that our food choices don’t matter. And they do.

    So how do we respond? With compassion and love, understanding that this issues are complex, not everyone may have the same information we do, and that their circumstances might make good food choices difficult for their family. We can try our best to make the right choices and offer good information to our family and friends. We can treat others with respect and accept food at other people’s houses with gratefulness rather than judgement. But we can’t ignore the great influence of our actions under the guise of being “nice.” It’s certainly not “loving” to ignore the many lives that have been ruined due to corporations like Monsanto, the disastrous effects on the environment, and the grotesque treatment of animals typical on giant farming operations.

    For some great information on food and farming ethics, I highly recommend Wendell Berry’s wonderful agrarian essays. Many of them are in the collection: The Art of the Commonplace and Bringing it to the Table. A good introduction, and a fun read, is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

    I understand that the point was to combat the snobbery of some sort of food choice superiority: an unkind, unhelpful, and arrogant attitude towards others which should not be encouraged. But ignoring the moral implications of food cannot be the answer!

    • lovesthelord says:

      I agree with you completely. The LORD OUR GOD cares very much about the details of our lives. In the times that his word was written the issues with food were not at all the same. At that time everything was organic, the issues were more of teaching the people that he only made certain animals for food for us humans and that just because he made it does not mean we should eat it.Then he taught us how to eat things, that we should not eat anything with its blood in it and so on. When you start to study the latter days in which we live you see that YAHWAY clearly states that he is coming soon to put his wrath on those who are destroying the earth. So when you have certain knowledge of what is going on today then you should do all that you can to keep from putting your money toward the continuance of these evils. As It is written we die from lack of knowledge. I was raised almost completely on fast food and my sister and I have been sick from early childhood. I have been studying some years now on these topics and in my experience it is those that lack understanding that are the ones so quick to judge. I think it is sad and terrible how the people have been so decieved walking around so nieve putting faith in man trusting in those who deal so tretchurisly. If you didnt grow it or make it yourself try not to get so offended when someone speaks to you in truth about it. It is those that hate you that will never tell you the truth. Itry hard to teach my children the right way to deal with people on these issues as it is the majority that try to push thier food on you and get offended when you tell them it makes you sick. People mock and roll thier eyes it is a sad and misguided world in which we live. Those who love and fear the LORD should remain in prayer as the deseptions are so great the LORD has said that if he dosent cut these days short not one will be left standing.

  3. There do seem to be moral implications for food choices more than one’s own health.
    Our broken systems are now set up on exploiting the poor. Look at resources like “Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All” by Oran B. Hesterman.
    Overall, especially as Believers, when we are making choices about the items we consume the most that are only about our gratification or betterment, someone in the bigger picture is going to be hurt.
    And yes, the answer to living as citizens of the Kingdom in regards to our most prized resource, food, it is vital that we be more gracious than excluding. We must ask hard questions and seek the Spirit’s creativity on how to invite everyone into a selfless existence.

  4. Your words have convicted me ( a good thing). I have been guilty of being a health snob since I learned more about nutrition and became a health coach. I am guilty of shaking my head when family and friends choose less healthy meals. But I have to remember that it’s their choice and if they wanted my expert opinion they would ask for it. Thanks for this post. I needed to read it.

  5. In my days in middle school I usually find that the food I must choose from in the cafeteria is not always the healthiest choices. Not only this, but, feeling judged, I often left most of my plate untouched. This not only led me to eat more at home, but my eating habits turned toward the worst. Looking back I wounder how many others did the same and, knowing what I do now, how I can help others make better choices in the future.

  6. this is a really solid post. i try to work on feeding my family as whole and healthy of a diet as possible but i do have to compromise every now and then. i do not want people to feel any judgement for their food choices from me and agree it is important to eat what is set before me. with healthier eating becoming more popular, i have found lots of judgement swirling around and really don’t want to be any part of it at all. it is always refreshing to see an article like this that values healthy eating and living and yet doesn’t make a separate religion out of it. thank you.

  7. This is so timely for me. I sometimes (ok, often) catch myself “grading” the groceries of the person in the cart in front of me. I love the Oswald Chambers quote you used, because it is so true.

    Right now, the person I am struggling not to judge is myself. I just had a baby, I have a toddler, and we are working on an international adoption. I daily have to remind myself that putting “perfect” meals together three times a day is not supposed to be my number one priority.

    Thank you for letting God speak through you in this post!

  8. This post was such an a-ha moment. I’ve really been struggling with my relationship with my mother and how I was raised when it came to food choices. Since I’ve had my daughter, I’ve made better food choices, but have all of a sudden held a grudge towards my mom. This article totally brought light to why I may have those feelings and how to overcome them. Thank you so much! This was helpful on so many levels!

  9. Excellent post! Our neighbour is vegan and buys everything organic and I love the way that we can talk about food and eating without judging each other. Knowing about her food choices has made me think more about what I’m eating, even if I don’t make the same choices that she does. She’s shared recipes and food with us and I’ve adapted recipes to share with her son (who goes to my daughter’s preschool). I like what you said about learning from the other homeschool mom, who simply lives her choices without judging or pushing it on anyone else. Those are the kind of people who really make a difference. :)

  10. Great thoughts! I agree that we should give everyone around us the freedom to eat how they feel is right and good but I disagree with the idea that eating is devoid of morality. Everything we do should have in mind an alignment with the love of GOD and ‘neighbor’ – and therefore eating becomes an issue of Christian faithfulness. How can we say eating is not a moral issue when everything we do is a moral issue? Again – thanks for the thoughtful article!

  11. This was so good to hear. I feel like I have been on both ends of this. I have been forced to find a balance and definitely keep reminding myself that relationships are more important than food. Especially since my husband is reluctantly being pulled along. He refers to me as his nutter wife now.

  12. I’ve never been positively influenced by feelings of judgement or superiority in another person. I know that as I know better I do better and yet… still am unable to be perfect. I need much grace so why would I not also offer this to other people? We are supposed to love each other – and our kind and gentle responses and healthy example will speak volumes. I stay away from people who make me feel like garbage.

    • Oh, having said that, my youngest daughter and I do have many food allergies so obviously can’t just eat anything offered to us, and I don’t eat meat. But I offer to bring food to events so that we can still participate and not create stress for the host.

  13. Vanessa says:

    I disagree with you a little bit, in the fact that food can be and is a moral choice. As a Christian, I believe we should take care of the bodies we are given. I am as guilty as the next person of putting junk in my body. I made a choice this year to make a concerted effort to only put nutritional things in my body. I came to this decision after being incredibly sick for an entire year with colds, sinus infections and tonsilitis. It’s been a complete paradigm shift. Before, I was only concerned with whether or not something would make me fat. I did whatever it took to stay skinny (well, not WHATEVER, but I went to great lengths). I realized that I was, in essence, abusing my body. This is the body I was given for my life. It’s a gift. I should take care of it the best I can. I actually felt convicted about what I had been doing to my body. I didn’t initially plan on making it a life-long change, but that’s what it has become, because my state of mind has changed.

    All that being said, I do agree that we shouldn’t judge others for their choices. My decision is right for me; I’m not about to preach to people and make them feel bad for what they eat. The only times I ever say anything, is if somebody (my dad), is truly struggling in their health. In those cases, I share what I’ve been doing. It bothers me when people feel superior just because they eat a certain way. Big deal. And I’m trying to get better about eating what other people offer. It’s hard to do, because I’m so set on my way. But I don’t want to end up the person nobody wants to invite over. I have made a true effort to be open when friends and family want to go out to eat.

    Back on the subject of my spirituality/diet: something that does push me to be judgmental, is when a holier-than-thou “Christian” will preach and judge about somebody else’s lifestyle, but they are obese. I don’t think a person who abuses their body in that way should judge somebody else for watching an R rated movie, or drinking a glass of wine with their dinner. But that’s just my soapbox…

  14. Wow this is a great post! I really needed to real it for myself. I have been very frustrated with my husband for not being totally on board with the food changes I am making around the house. You are so right in that he is not in the same place as me right now. And not long ago I was eating the same foods as him without thinking they were bad choices. I appreciate the reminder to work on relationships more and to not get so hung up on the exact details of what we are eating.

    • Meaghan, I regularly have to remind myself that my husband is his own person and gets to make his own food choices as well. That doesn’t mean that I don’t share the things I’m learning with him or make healthy food for him to try, but at the end of the day, he has just as much right to choose Pop Tarts for breakfast as I do to choose homemade granola!

  15. love this article!!!! the judgement needs to stop and loving eachother needs to be our goal!!!! you preach it sister!!!!

  16. Thank you for this post! We are on the GAPS diet & the social aspect of the diet is much tougher than being on the diet itself! While I don’t want to cause separation or look like a food Nazi, for health reasons, we committed to stick to the diet strictly for 18 months. I am hopeful that we will see enough improvement so we won’t have to be so strict in the future and be less limited to the social things we can do. In the beginning, the judgmental attitudes (whether real or imaginary) bothered me, but I know I need to look at this from the other person’s point of view a lot more. It’s was really hard vacationing with my in-laws recently and watching what they fed their kids, knowing all the health issues they have. I just felt so bad for the kids. I can’t control what they eat, but I pray for them & pray that our results may inspire them. Besides improved health, that helps encourage me not to give up.

    • You’re so right, Tracy, that the judgmental attitudes go both ways, and I’m sorry you’re experiencing that as you try to do what’s best for your family!


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