Updated: Jan 24, 2022
As a Nutritionist, this is a question I'm often asked. The answer is never as simple as we hope it could be, but it rarely is when it comes to labeling something good or bad...
A food may make us feel good or bad on an individual level, but that doesn't make it inherently so.
Food is a neutral entity. It is the emotion and meaning we prescribe to it makes it seem better or worse than another food.
On an individual level, this is something that has to be defined for each person by themselves and might take in a broad spectrum of factors, such as:
How that food makes your body feel on a physical level
Past associations that make it more or less emotionally inviting
How morally or ethically aligned you are with the food
Whether or not a food feels accessible
Each person must define for themselves, over and over again, which foods feel good or bad to them. Important piece of that being the over and over again part. This is something that will (and should) shift over time. The way we think about and interact with food culture is constantly reshaping itself. Allowing for that fluidity is one of the more powerful things you can do for yourself.
All of that is true on an individual level.
On a collective level, there are some very real truths we all must face about our food supply.
Unfortunately, there are many elements of our food system that are severely detrimental to all of our bodies... yours, mine, and the Earth's.
So, while I will not deem a food "good" or "bad", I do not agree that all foods are created equal. It can be emotionally healthy to consider food neutral for our own personal relationship with food, but that doesn't mean that we should turn a blind eye to the destructive effects certain categories of foods are having on our health as a species and the health of Earth.
The individual foods in these categories are not "bad", but do deserve a deeper layer of critique during food selection:
Food that is grown in a way that rapes the Earth. Foods that are grown in a way that deplete the Earth without giving back have less nutrients, are energetically dead, and diminish the possibility of future food production. Generally, this is true of food grown with toxic pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, and broad-range mono-cropping.
Meat from industrial animal agriculture facilities. Conventional animal agriculture is one of the most environmentally damaging forms of food production. Not only does this type of meat account for almost 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, it also has some pretty dire consequences on our individual health. In short, sick animals make animals (us) sick.
Foods from other places. When we eat food that is not local (or close to local), we, not only contribute to travel-associated greenhouse gas emissions, but also miss out on the benefits provided by foods grown in our same environments. Nature is super smart. Food grown in the same environment in which we live, offers nutrients to support our needs in that environment. That and it will be more alive when you eat it.
Packaged food. This is a tricky one because packaged food is so prevalent and hard to avoid for most people. That being said, it's still important to recognize. Forget the nutrients status of these foods, waste is something we all need to think about. Each time we select a food with minimal to no packaging we are making a vote for the Earth, thereby also making a vote for ourselves.
It is important to note that I don't specify any one food on this list. I distinctly point to categories of food that are harmful. More than needing to completely ditch any one food from our lives, we should be consciously aware of our food choice's impact and consider it when deciding on whether a food works for us or not.
My hope is that this information offers insight into how to assess a food. It also is important to recognize that being able to assess food in this way at all is a privilege. Not everybody has the ability to decide which foods are best for them, which makes it even more important that the people who do have the privilege do something with it.
After all, with privilege comes great responsibility.