I have heard people (including myself!) describe the feeling after eating, say, a 7-11 hot dog smothered in plasticy cheese as “feeling dirty.” And it’s not just the nitrates. It’s the guilt and shame of eating things like a ho-ho or a ding-dong (may they rest in peace) or anything from McDonald’s. And make no mistake: the shame is not just about the fat content, it’s about the class implications of eating foods that have been deemed unclean. Eating cheap food - which urban poor and working class people are perceived as eating regularly - is the moral equivalent of being dirty (more on this in a second). I don’t know about you, but all of this clean unclean food talk reminds me of the days when I was a Sunday School teacher. What purpose do these classifications serve today in our culture, anyway?
Fear of poor people (especially poor people of color) and their potential to contaminate other non-poor/non-racialized people is a cultural staple in capitalist society like ours where there are very limited safety nets/government-provided benefits for US citizens and white supremacy is an essential part of the function of institutions. In the current age, fatness is associated with poverty. The fat body becomes a symbol of the perceived laziness of poor/working class people, who - if they were “better” citizens, as the myth dictates - would be able to work their way out of poverty and into the glorious halls of respectability. For non-poor and wealthy people the fat body becomes a corporeal reminder that represents what could happen to you if you become poor. The food that is seen as causing fatness is therefore seen as unclean - taboo. Make no mistake that race is part of this as well. People with dark skin are taught that they/we are dirty, and this permanent “dirt” (our pigment) is irredeemable. All of these things - the anxiety about racialized people and poverty - are projected onto food. Food becomes a fetish - a stand-in - for all the nuanced things we can’t entirely articulate but that are unmistakably there.
Virgie Tovar - Food Taboos: Fat & The Rhetoric of “Clean”
This is what I was thinking of when I asked about taking care of myself while not acting from my internalized oppressive mind-states.
I want to take care of my body without it feeling like punishment for being black, female, fat, lower-middle/working classed.