Let's start by saying that obviously, all living creatures need to eat food to survive. Wild animals eat biologically appropriate foods in sufficient quantities; otherwise, they don't live long. Domesticated animals such as ourselves very likely don't eat with the same combinations, quality, quantity, or frequency that we would in a state of nature. One of the reasons that we eat dysfunctionally in our culture is to express our perceived identity.
As an example, many of us have a signature beverage. Go to a cafe or a bar and watch this in action. We often have opinions about what kind of person drinks certain drinks or brands, like they're some kind of personality index. We wear beverage logos on our clothes. Our favorite beverage is probably the first thing we think of when we imagine ourselves with time off.
We have brand loyalties, a 20th-century phenomenon that has carried forward. The industry term "heavy user" refers to a patron who visits a particular restaurant chain several times a week, perhaps more than once a day. We don't just love our favorite brands, we may also scoff at those who prefer a rival brand, to the great delight of advertisers.
Some of us identify as A Good Cook or as never cooking, refusing to cook. That always seems like leaving yourself at the mercy of other people's indifferent or nefariously bad cooking, but hey. There seem to be a lot of people who derive their identity from having a special, secret recipe. Personally, I like sharing great recipes because maybe sometimes someone else will cook it and I can enjoy it without doing the work!
We also tend to define ourselves based on things we refuse to eat. A quick, surefire way to make a new friend is to share about how much you hate eating something and then discuss it with someone else who also hates it. Kale, for example. People absolutely love talking about their most loathed vegetables for some reason.
Food taboos. A common ethnic slur across epochs and cultures is to say that another group of people eats disgusting, inappropriate foods. A classic example is dog meat. Objectively, pigs test as more intelligent than dogs, and from a neutral, space-alien perspective, it's wasteful to euthanize stray dogs rather than using that perfectly edible dogmeat for our caloric requirements. Still, we tend to find the idea pretty horrible, just as we probably wouldn't eat horseflesh or rat meat either. Part of our cultural identity includes eating certain animals for food but not others.
Bacon was such a major food trend for a while there that it got into everything. Bacon maple bars. Candied bacon ice cream topping. Bacon t-shirts. Bacon band-aids. Even bacon underpants. This is weird to me because I have thought bacon was repulsive and smelly since the very first time I tasted it, at age 6 or 7. The thing about bacon is that predominantly Christians (and atheists and Satanists, I guess) eat it. It's a reliable way to weed out Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and various health nuts in one fell swoop. Sort of the opposite of a food taboo - a food gauntlet? Eat Bacon or You Can't Sit With Us.
There's probably a lot of Red State/Blue State stuff in there, too, but I promise not to go there. Gawd do I hate talking politics.
Most of what we eat, most of the time, is probably very similar to what we ate as children. We eat what our family of origin ate. There is a "correct" menu for Thanksgiving dinner, for example. Many of us eat the same dozen dinners over and over again. Why would we change? This is how we roll. We eat the good stuff, not the yucky stuff.
How much of what we eat is based on the deliciousness of it, as distinguished from the habit of it, as opposed to feeling disgust toward other options?
Most social occasions revolve around food. Can it be a birthday without cake? Thanksgiving without turkey? Halloween without candy? Food is the most obvious way we know how to celebrate, followed by booze. Food connects us. Sharing meals brings us closer to our family and friends.
This is one of the reasons why permanent changes in food intake and body image are so hard. Making these changes causes us to separate from our food tribes. Those closest to us feel that our changes are really about them. Eating together validates and legitimizes our food choices. Our peers feel that when we decide to eat differently, we are challenging the way they eat, causing them inconvenience, asking for special treatment and attention, and setting ourselves apart as "better than" or "holier than thou." How selfish!
If you're diabetic or in recovery from an addiction, too bad. That's your problem.
We don't always accommodate others very well when the Standard American Diet isn't working for them. WHY CAN'T EVERYONE JUST EAT WHAT'S ON THEIR PLATE AND SHUT UP?? This is because it's not just about food units but about WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Eating what's in front of you - you'll eat it and you'll like it, or else - can feel like being correct, dutiful, respectful, responsible, frugal, mature, sensible, and simply common sense. Other reasons to eat a certain way might be because we feel that it's fun-loving, "real," and expressive of our independence. Nobody Tells Me What to Whatever. I'm eating this because I'm a free thinker, just like everyone else here at this table. We're authentic! The big thing is to definitely not cross over and start eating like one of Those People.
Those People might include Health Nuts. So extreme. Eating based on nutritional guidelines, especially if it includes more vegetables, is loopy, almost certainly fad-based and unhealthy, probably indicative of an eating disorder. What next, pyramid power or chanting or something?
I'm a Questioner, and I'm naturally drawn to investigate anything with taboo power. Why do people care so much about [whatever topic]? Hmm, how interesting. Why is [whatever] so controversial? Can actual objective facts be determined here, or has any real research been done? This part of my personality can often rub people the wrong way. Sorry! I just have to know. When I realized as a teenager just how much juice there was in people's attitudes toward food, I couldn't leave it alone. It led to basing my own eating habits on research, not exactly a party-friendly trait. My identity includes eating rationally, based on nutrition and dietetics. This is why it surprises me so much that most people seem to deliberately avoid eating healthily, because doing so would violate their self-image as well as group status.
Who am I if I start eating differently? How many meals does it take before I change into someone else? Or do I? Can I still feel like the same person if I eat certain things instead of others? Can I still fit in with my friends and family if I add and subtract certain foods from my plate? What would it be like if I based more of my identity around other values, rather than food items?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.