By: Brad Dieter, PhD
Read Time: Much shorter than Plato’s Republic
Tl;dr: Your diet does not make you morally superior. That sums this up nicely
Your Diet Does Not Make You Morally Superior
When we map out a person’s nutritional “journey” we can think about it much like a pendulum. You start on one side. Let’s call this the IDGAF side. At this point you don’t know anything about nutrition and honestly you don’t care. One day you decide you wanna look good naked and get rid of that excess body fat and become Instagram famous. This starts the pendulum going in your journey.
At some point early in this part of the journey you find some “truth” about nutrition and you decide, “My god, I found the cure for everything and this diet is gonna change the world”. You hunker in, start making superfood smoothies, Instagramming and Snapping allllll your fav meals, and becoming an evangelical about the power of this diet. If it is a MLM marketing company you also begin spamming your old high school friends Facebook messenger with “business opportunities”. This continues for an indeterminate amount of time and you either, a) learn more about nutrition and realize you probably don’t know everything you need to know, relax your dogmatism and return to a more sane, grounded, position, B) you become a radical personality and make a fruit your middle name.
This explains most peoples narrative arc through nutrition. There is a substantial social and moral issue imbedded in this journey. Let me flesh this out for you, beginning by throwing myself under this literary bus with my own story (much to my own horror).
About 7 years ago I was at a point in my life when I had begun really starting to learn about nutrition and recently discovered the awesome power of nutritional zealotry and diet dogma. Coincidently, this is typically the point that coincides with mount stupid.
It was during this time that I was sitting on an airplane and watching the person next to me eat a sandwich. As I was sitting there a thought crept into my mind, “OMG this person is eating gluten, processed deli meat, and mayonnaise, I am way better than he is”. Let this detonate in your brain for a moment. Here I was, sitting next to a complete stranger and the idea that my dietary choices made me a substantially superior human being to him was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw this person. I had effectively reached mount stupid and the calibration of my morality meter was atrociously tuned.
This is a problem, a gargantuan problem.
I was fortunate enough to have an immediate moment of reflection and spent the next 4 hours of this flight contemplating my own existence, moral fiber, and level of self-aggrandizing douchery. This 4 hour descent into the recesses of my own epistemological garbage was quite difficult and it cause me to do a lot “soul” searching. After a few months of thinking on the issue and separating my dietary choices from my moral judgments of others I tabled the issue and continued on with my life. Recently, I have had to grapple with this issue on a larger scale as I have been more and more involved with people through the internet and observe this happening quite frequently and at larger scales (Larger Scales from Monty Python and the Holy Grail feature below).
Your dietary choices do not make your morally superior to people*. Here are a few things you should consider before taking the moral high ground based on your diet.
1) You are probably wrong
First and foremost, nutrition is a quagmire with a lot of unanswered questions. Many of the positions you use to prop yourself up on the moral high ground are likely going to turn out to be false at some point or in some circumstance. A little humility in your own beliefs goes a long way.
2) Your values are not their values
6 pack abs, 20 inch biceps, and eating clean may be your definition of the best life possible. For other people solving the clean energy problem, making human beings an interstellar species, and revolutionizing buying things on the internet is their definition of the best life possible. Elon Musk might not be an Instagram fitness model and casting moral authority upon him because you had a kale smoothie this morning and he didn’t is about the silliest thing you could do.
3) You don’t wear their shoes
When you decide you are superior to someone because you follow a strict diet while they don’t you make a lot of assumptions about their lives. Maybe the just lost their significant other and don’t have the desire to focus on dieting, maybe the are a chef and they eat gluten because it helps them become a better pastry chef by knowing the exact texture and mouth feel of the pastries they make.
4) No one cares about your superiority
An entire movie was devoted to satirizing self-aggrandization and assuming superiority based on trivial things. This movie was called Anchorman. Assuming you are superior and casting a moral judgement on someone because they eat gluten, or aren’t keto, or follow paleo, is equivalent to Ron Burgundy holding himself above other people because of his hair, mustache, and ability to read from a teleprompter.
When you stop and think, it is completely absurd that anyone should case a downward gaze on someone because you count every macro and have single digit body fat and they don’t.
There is a lot of “campiness” and bickering, sneering, and scrambling for the moral high ground based on people’s dietary philosophies and dogmas. This is just silliness.
* We can discuss the ethical implications of veganism another time.