Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Food, Finance, and Judging Others

I was all set to post a long diatribe about cooking and feminism (FUN!) this morning, when I read Casting Stones: When Is It Okay to Judge? over at Get Rich Slowly. JD is one of my favorite bloggers, and this piece is a good example of why.

To summarize: He has a friend who repeatedly makes gigantic financial mistakes, and isn’t changing his behavior to address the fallout. JD knows he shouldn’t judge, but it’s difficult when he sees how bad habits might affect his friend’s family.

Then, JD reflects on a recent trip he took with a super-frugal millionaire, and how the gentleman’s little bits of pointed criticism made him feel somewhat judged. It wasn’t comfortable, and JD wondered if he was perpetuating the same attitude when it came to his broke friend.

Ultimately, he can’t help being a little judgey. And I don’t judge him for that, because I would be, too. It’s tough watching someone you love make poor decisions, whether it’s about food, money, or life in general. It’s even tougher on the internet, where problems lack context, and anonymity makes judgment as easy as writing, “You suck. I rule.”

So, let’s do an exercise. How many times have you logged on to a food or personal finance blog, to see statements like:
  • “Why don’t they just buy healthier food?”
  • I have time to cook dinner every night. She should, too!”
  • “Fat/poor people lack discipline/willpower.”
  • “What do you mean you don’t know how to chop an onion/roast a chicken/make cereal? My grandmother/babysitter/drill sergeant taught me as soon as I joined the army/was born/beamed in from Pluto. KIDS THESE DAYS.”
Have you written comments like this yourself? I know I have. Though we try to be objective here at CHG, I occasionally lapse into “What’s WRONG with people?”-style reasoning. I’m not particularly proud of it.

Here’s what I think, though: when it comes to cooking and cash, everyone comes with her own set of biases and experiences. The important thing is to recognize them, acknowledge how they color your perspective, and avoid applying them universally. Because holding others to your exacting standards A) is unfair, B) shows a stunning lack of comprehension of and compassion for others’ situations, and C) is kind of mean.

For example, here are ten of my own biases, and how they might affect CHG’s voice:

I am a woman (hear me roar), and since I require fewer calories than men, 
it’s easier to get by on less money.

I am in my early thirties, and past my treat-my-body-like-crap years.

I am childless, so I don’t have to support kids, 
and my time is mostly my own. 

I am as-yet unmarried and accustomed to independence. 
For a long time, I cooked and bought food for one. 

I have no distinct ethnic identity or culinary heritage
My family doesn’t pass down recipes, 
and non-Western cuisine is still relatively new to me. 

I am educated. I have access to information, 
generally know how to interpret it, and can apply it to my situation. 

I am usually employed, giving me a steady income and few financial worries.

I live in an urban area, which means I can’t grow my own food (see: this), 
but have access to a variety of ethnic cuisines.

I rent an apartment, so storage space and 
potential for bulk shopping is extremely limited.

I don’t own a car, meaning what I purchase is 
entirely reliant on public transportation.

Hopefully, being aware of my own biases will make CHG more helpful to folks in different situations. I may not understand what a rural, 50-something mom of four needs on a day-to-day basis, but I can keep from suggesting that a six-pack of Corona from the bodega across the street will solve all her problems.

Should you NEVER judge? No. That’s unrealistic. Some things (child abuse, Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake, etc.) are just wrong, and should be acknowledged as such. But a little more compassion might make our daily interactions – both online and with real people – a little more positive and productive.

Readers, how about you? What biases do you have? How do you keep from judging? When is it okay? Do you find it easier on the internet? The comment section is way open.

P.S. I should mention that CHG commenters are, on the whole, FANTASTIC about not being judgmental, and I appreciate the heck out of it. So, thank you for that.


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Jessa Irene (Holiday-Haven) said...

Thought provoking. I try not to post mean things ever, even when anonymous. Gentle suggestions, if anything. But I have seen people waste money, eat incorrectly and it is interesting to contemplate how it is that they do not realize what they are doing.

Reading your "situation" list was quite interesting. I am in a very different place than you, but still find your posts informative and applicable. :)

The Local Cook said...

I tend to be my own worst judge. When it comes to others, my biggest difficulty is not judging people who are picky eaters or say they hate vegetables/anything spicy/anything other than a big hunk of meat and a pile of potatoes. I have to remember that I grew up in a 3rd generation Dutch american family, with Mexican immigrants in our community and so I got used to eating different foods at a young age. My parent's motto was if you don't like it, make yourself a PB sandwich. Plus I've been able to travel. My husband is also an adventurous eater and we have no kids so I find it hard to relate to people who request items that are kid and husband friendly.

Liz Tee said...

I have worked very hard to prune a lot of processed/junk food out of my life. I have a hard time when my friends don't even try to do the same. We all live in the same area and are in similar lifestyles and income brackets, so they are just as capable of doing it as I am.

OTOH, there are many people much stricter about it than I am who probably feel the same way about me.

Also, I don't/can't drink much and get annoyed by people who do. I am always thinking about what a waste of calories and cash it is. But I try to keep my mouth shut.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Really interesting! I know I have biases. I can get a little judgy when people dont want to try ethnic food or anything spicy. And while I live on a tight budget and still manage to eat well, I can get a little crazy when people claim to have to eat badly because of finances.

Of other people's biases:
I hate it when people who live in a place with a long growing season (like California) get all up in your face about eating local.
I love to eat local, and do when I can. But I live in Finland and eating local means cabbage and potatoes for about 9 months of the year. Sooo, yeah not going to eat locally all year. But it's a good goal.

laurel said...

This was a great post and you had me crying-laughing over the Sandra Lee cake comment :)

Lindy said...

My first CHG rant ever :) Here we go...It's hard not to judge...even for people who straddle the line in many facets of their lives. For instance: I'm only 27, but I have 3 kids. I was raised in an upper-middle class suburb wherein everyone's parents commuted to into DC, but my husband and I chose to move to a rural area near the river. We both have white collar government jobs but we spend most of our time outdoors--camping, rivering, gardening in our veggie garden, bonfiring, etc. We don't eat alot of meat because we only eat it from local suppliers (what with all the hormones, antibiotics, CAFO farming, and general mistreatment of small family farms by the Perdues and Tysons of the world) and that can get expensive, but my hubsband is an avid hunter also. We were both raised very much in the Christian faith but consider ourselves agnostic. Politically we're cafeteria conservatives: we're pro-life, pro-responsible gun ownership, but also pro-gay marriage, etc. So you see, in alot of ways we can see both sides of many issues and have compassion for them. Yet, when it comes to health and children, and I see people treat their children's bodies with disrespect, I do judge them and I DON'T feel bad about that. And I think the problem in this country is that everyone wants to be all PC and not be able to tell people, "Look, feeding them to the point of obesity is just a form of pleasurable child abuse, so STOP!" I have 3 kids (8, 4, and 3), a full-time job, and a house to run (on top of soccer, gymnastics, veggie garden, 5 day a week workout schedule, etc. etc.). I have a moderately strict budget and live 25 min. from a grocery store. Even with all that I manage to cook dinner at home 6 nights a week, pack my daughter's school lunches, and make everything in the house wholesome. There's no hfcs, no hydro. fats, and few prepared or processed foods at all. Any baked goods have come from my hands--I make my own pizza dough, pancake mix, what have you. THERE IS NO EXCUSE! Yes, we spend our money on QUALITY produce and meat and forgo designer clothes/shoes, jewelry, handbags, manicures, dinners out (which would be MUCH easier on me!). But if you're going to spend money on something, shouldn't it be the stuff THAT GOES INTO YOUR BODY AND MAKES IT WORK PROPERLY! Our priorities are terribly distorted, are they not? So, back to your original thoughts...I think people need to be held accountable for what their actions do to their bodies, their children's bodies AND their future, and how it all burdens society financially. I have a mother, grandmother, and two aunts that have extremely under-active thyroid glands, to the point of taking medication and having to have goiters removed (eek!), and NONE of them are even the slightest bit overweight. I'm not afraid to say that when people start giving reasons why they are obese they immediately drop quite a few notches on the integrity ladder in my book. But what really makes me livid is overweight young children. Pleasurable child abuse people, nobody wants to say that because it's unpleasant, but it's the truth.

allyspie said...

This is something that definitely needs to be mentioned more in the healthy food blogging community. I'm trying to get better at not silently judging people, because really, I don't know their life, and it's none of my business what they are eating or why. Maybe they don't care to eat healthy. It's tempting to feel morally superior when I'm eating a salad and my neighbor is eating a Big Mac (animal rights issues aside) and I really want to get away from that type of thinking.

Anonymous said...

Good point.

I think it's nice to remember some people are better than us, some people are not... and that is in every aspect of our lives.

I do what I can to bring my family of 4 healthy, homecooked meals, 6 nights a week and I work full time. Am I buying organic, free range stuff? Not usually, it isn't in my budget. Do we eat the healthiest we could? Probably not, I have two kids and sometimes broccoli needs cheese to make it go down. But I'm doing what is the best for me at this moment in time.

Mattheous @ Menu Musings said...

It's hard to see your own biases, but I'm more biased towards people that cook for themselves (and eat healthy foods) rather than those that don't--but that might have something to do with my recent experience at a Chinese buffet-style restaurant more than anything. I try to keep from judging people most of the time (both on the Internet and off), but I find it hard to when it comes to obese people at buffets.

As for biases online: yes, it's definately easier to judge people online than off. Even though we know there's a real person on the other end of the computer it's sometimes hard for our brain to fully realize that--which is why it's so much eaiser to flame people online after a long day at work, a trip to Walmart (which I find more draining than work!), etc.

It's also easy to be judgemental in the Foodie world. "You use WHAT kind of wood in your barbeque!?" comes to mind. Or the infamous meat eaters vs. Vegetarians--that alone counts for at least 30% of the flamining and biases on the Internet when it comes to food, at least IMHO.

Toni said...

I am judgmental about people who are judgmental... yes, seriously. My philosophy is that my life is made up of the millions of choices I've made throughout my life. (Admittedly, some of them were doozies!) But they are my choices... and I wholeheartedly accept the consequences for each and every one of them. I do not want, need, expect, or desire others to make the same ones for my own validation. My choices are also not any sort of condemnation of your choices, (this is assuming, of course that you have made choices and not just abdicated all responsibility for your life...) So when I say "I can't/don't eat something" it's because I physically feel sick if I do, not as some judgment of your food habits... if you want to stuff an entire box of Hoho's into your mouth in one sitting, go for it! Just don't be snarky with me when I say I'm going for a run instead.

Daniel said...

I struggle with this issue too.

There are times when a few well-phrased judgmental comments can really shake things up and get a productive discussion going. And sometimes it's the pushback you get when you post something controversial and judgmental that helps everybody think more thoroughly and creatively about the food issues and problems we face.

But, yeah, none of this ever justifies being a jerk. Ever.

Thanks for an insightful post Kris.

Casual Kitchen

Heather Solos said...

Lady, I knew I liked you before, you've just been upgraded to <3, pure Interwebz <3. I'll be sharing this post with others. I try so hard to meet people where they are, but like you admit, sometimes it's hard to keep my hands / tongue in check.

Lo said...

What a great reminder that we all come from different places and that we have different filters through which we view the world. It's important to be true to our perspectives -- and yet not shut other people out completely.

Although I try my best NOT to judge others, it can be difficult. Why NOT try a new food? Why NOT try a different approach? Why NOT live in someone else's shoes for a day? These are the experiences that enrich us and allow us to grow as human beings.

But, I think it's important to remember when we enjoy privilege. For instance, I do have a job. I'm married to another adventurous human being. We don't have kids, and neither of us are picky eaters (though that's taken effort). We have a genuine desire to experience the world around us. It might be hard to imagine others who don't have those things (or who don't want them)... but it's sure worth trying.

Anonymous said...


Elitist much? Bully for you on your whole rant. Feel better now white christian privileged employed person who CAN MAKE CHOICE.

You should check your privliege at the door next time. Or how about this take the food stamp challenge without a hunter husband around. Or go live for 30 days a la Morgan Spurlock with an african-american janitor who empties your sanctimoniously filled trash bin after your well paid white collared government job is done.

Geesh. oh,and drag your cafeteria anti-choice butt over to this post here,

and try to unlearn a few of those white privileged habits you picked up. It's not hard and might change your life or make you seem less than an arrogant butthole.

Laura said...

One of the reasons your blog is the food blog I read most regularly is that I've found it very non-judgmental with "realistic" non-preachy tips. I (like most CHG readers I'd imagine) are just trying to do their best health/food wise within their own limits of budget/time/sanity etc.
An interesting layer to my personal issues with being judgmental, I'm a doctor who in part deals with nutrition and natural health treatments. There is a difference between suggesting that there may be a connection between a person's diet of Doritos/Mountain Dew/cigarettes and their chronic fatigue/pain/depression vs. saying the equivalent of "your suck, why don't you get your act together". I've found in general that the "average" very non-healthy eater lacks the knowledge to really understand what consequences their behavior really has and lacks that knowledge to know that change is possible and how to go about it. So the best approach is gentle education with no judgment.

wosnes said...

I like to think that I'm non-judgmental, yet I know I'm pretty judgmental!

One thing I've found to be consistently true over the years is that people (nearly) always find the time and/or money for things that are important to them. Things have to be really bad financially for folks to eliminate the things that are truly important to them.

That would seem to imply that eating well isn't extremely important to a great number of people. I'm not so sure that's true, but I think far fewer people than we realize are well informed on the issue. I think a great many people are still pretty ignorant about the whole food issue.

Anonymous said...

I see the blog mistress is too chicken shyte to let my castigation of a privileged white employed christian woman stand.

At least publish the timely link I left, miss white privilege might learn a thing a three.

Then again, I have run into judgmental "christians" such as herself, usually on a daily basis, so probably not.

But the rest may find it interesting.

Kris said...

You guys! We have our very first troll! It took CHG three years to get one, but - WOOO - we're a real blog now.

@Anon #3: I'm publishing your comments because they're perfect examples of what not to do. Thank you for that. (P.S. I don't delete comments, but they do have to be approved them before they go up, explaining the delay. Otherwise, Spam City.)

@Lindy: We may not agree, but I respect your right to express your opinion. Ignore the Anon and his/her sanctimoniously filled trash bins, whatever that means.

Diane said...

Perhaps the rude Anonymous poster is doing a meta-parody riff on the idea of being judgmental about being judgmental. Either that or you need a better review filter.

At any rate, I'm an opinionated person, and sometimes struggle with that spilling over into judgmental. It's a fine line. I do tend to be judgmental about people who drink soda. It's total crap, and a waste of money. But then again, I drink wine, which is the same...

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between between being judgmental and being mean. I'm judgmental all the time. In fact, I have judged the post of this article and each comment I read. But on the internet and in life, I try not to be mean and hostile.

I try (though not always perfectly) to ask myself the following question whenever I want to say something critical to someone: What do I hope to accomplish. If I want to help that person change I evaluate what I could say or do that would help them change...or if that is even a likelihood. Being judgmental at people is rarely going to accomplish anything, so why be that way.

Of course, I'm not saying that I don't do it...but I do put in effort not to. I have too many things of my own that I am not great at to feel like I can stand on my soap box and judge people on theirs.

The one area that I think it's important to judge people publicly on is bigotry of any kind. Staying silent in those cases feels too much like acceptance of whatever they have said.

DRosa said...

I'm freely judgmental and admit it. I think it serves an important purpose, it allows us to align our own values. Both when we judge others (I'd never eat THAT!) and when other's judge us.

I learned this lesson online when someone attacked me for being a working mom. I'd been judged and it felt horrible. And then it felt wonderful - because I realized that everything she had said I was aware of, and had made a confident choice that was best for me despite it.

There are not necessarily right and wrong ways to do things, but there are right and wrong ways for each of US. And there are better and worse ways for all of us.

Moreover, judging is important in an interconnected world - to relate it to food, my insurance premiums are higher because other people choose to eat in ways that contribute to cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It does affect me - and therefore - I get to judge.

However, there is a difference between judging someone, and being rude and disrespectful of them. I'll judge harshly someone who is rude and disrespectful when judging others.

aletheia_vox said...

When it comes to cooking and frugality, I've been heavily biased by my blue-collar upbringing - both positively and negatively.

When I was a kid, my great-grandma (a small town midwesterner) lived with us and did most the cooking. Between her and my mom (an immigrant from a poor part of the Phillipines), I grew up reusing bulk margarine containers until they fell apart and giving serving bowls and pots double duty as mixing bowls. Sharp knives? Forget about it.

I didn't know anybody did anything differently until I went to a small liberal arts college (let's not even get into the Ivy League grad school).

In college I became very ashamed of my frugal upbringing, thinking it branded me as impoverished and low-class. During school and the first few years after I developed a pretty bad case of "Affluenza."

Only in the past couple years (and move to NYC) have I been able to move back to the way my mom and great-grandma taught me to live. I try not to judge my friends who haven't "seen the light" yet (how judgy is that statement??), but in order to keep up my own momentum it's been necessary to really separate myself from the "Affluenza." One part of that has been in identifying it where I see it - including in other people. The challenge has been to allow others their course instead of trying to fit them into my new (old?) view of frugality.

Rach said...

"Some things (child abuse, Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake, etc.) are just wrong, and should be acknowledged as such."

Thank you for making my afternoon so much better, in the way that only referencing Sandra Lee can.

Anonymous said...

I'm a live and let live kind of person. I don't really judge too much because what you do in your life, in your home is your business. BUT I get very judgmental with people who won't buck up and stop making excuses: "I can't eat healthy because I work full time, or I can't eat right because I'm poor" or whatever, we've all heard it a million times. For some, these statement are true. For most others they're just excuses. Just say it: I'm overweight, tired, or whatever because I'm lazy or I just like the taste of a Twinkie damn it! Yes, I would rather eat McD's over my own cooking; it tastes better! If you just say the truth I really don't judge. To add to that I believe when we become truthful with ourselves we judge less and can improve upon our lives.

Starving Student Survivor said...

I was thinking about all the health and food blogs and what they think about sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners, white sugar, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, conventional honey, raw honey, agave nectar, stevia. Everybody seems to have really good reasons why the sweetener they use is the healthiest option, and why every other choice is going to make them sick.

People have opinions, and those opinions change over time as they are presented with new information. Do what feels right for you and your family at the moment, and don't feel the need to condemn what others might be doing.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to address a couple of the comments from people that claim the right to judge on the grounds that "people need to be held accountable for what their actions do to their bodies, their children's bodies AND their future, and how it all burdens society financially" or "my insurance premiums are higher because other people choose to eat in ways that contribute to cancer, diabetes and heart disease".

I am in my 50's and obese. I was a fat kid. I have tried repeatedly over the years to lose the weight, and eventually something snaps and I go on a huge binge and regain it all and then some. The last time, it took over a year to lose 80 lbs with a reasonable (not perfect, but reasonable) diet, weight lifting and walking 20 miles a week. Then I lost motivation, felt like I couldn't possibly eat enough for months and I've regained it all. I guess the problem is psychological. But if you look at me and assume that because I'm fat, I must be poor and/or uneducated, you'd be wrong. I know what I'm doing and I beat myself up over it on a daily basis.

As for raising your insurance rates? Something somewhere along the way made me terrified of doctors. I'll go to the dentist and the optometrist, but other than that I haven't seen a doctor regularly since I was a child. Me and my employer have duly paid for thousands of dollars in health insurance for me for years, and I've almost never used it - maybe dozen or so visits in the last 40 years. I am NOT a burden on your health care costs, in fact, I've been subsidizing the other people in my pool.

The point is, you are making judgments based on assumptions that may or may not be true. It's as if you missed the point of the original post completely.

GrowingRaw said...

Hhmmm... being non-judgemental is tricky when you feel strongly about something. Perhaps it's more about how you behave towards other people than what you're thinking privately. I think this anonymous poster hit the nail on the head with the comment: "I try (though not always perfectly) to ask myself the following question whenever I want to say something critical to someone: What do I hope to accomplish."

Basically, what outcome are you after? Will an opinionated rant help? Or is painting a picture laying out the facts better? What about asking questions that will help people reflect? Check with yourself whether you have really looked at the issue from different perspectives.

p.s. I'm no angel, I'm opinionated.